If You’re Looking for Something to Sign…

You might try this:

In reaction to the March for Women’s Lives events this past weekend (which I attended and from which I have returned energized and more committed than ever to reproductive rights) Karen Hughes, Bush’s “former” advisor, remarked that “I think after September 11th the American people are valuing life more…and I think those are the kind of policies the American people can support, particularly at a time when we’re facing an enemy, and really the fundamental difference between us and the terror network we fight is that we value every life.”

Uh uh, so American women and men who support abortion rights are like people who fly planes into buildings.

Demand that Karen Hughes apologize .

Wow. Two posts in one day. This Village Voice stuff is going to my head. (Also the Surry County Court Records I have transcribed and am now checking are really tedious and updating the blog is, well, not tedious.)

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Hell Hath no Fury Like a Grad Student Scorned

It seems, despite the fact that this blog averages five visits a day and these visitors only stay for an average of 0 seconds, that I’m famous.

(a)musings of a grad student was mentioned in the Village Voice in an article about discontented graduate students. As the article says, A new group of tortured, funny, largely anonymous websites are providing an outlet for academics who feel like they’re getting spanked by their alma mater. They have names like Invisible Adjunct, (a)musings of a grad student, Beyond Academe, and Barely Tenured, and they address the emotional just as much as the practical consequences of competing in, and losing, the academic job-market lottery.

Well, I hope I’m not “tortured,” and I’m certainly not anonymous (which may be something I regret later on). I’m also not sure I’d put myself in the position of feeling spanked by Harvard–at least not yet. My complaints do include our substandard health insurance (but at least we have some), narrowing teaching opportunities for grad students beyond their fourth year (although I’ve been offered teaching next year), the new news coming out of the grad school indicating that in order to get our fifth-year funding we must prove that we are in our final year (yeah, yeah, very funny–make us teach full time for two years and then magically expect us to finish–ha ha).

Overall, though, I think I have it pretty easy. I’m shortly to be published, and I got a paper into a conference into September. I had a fellowship this semester that’s allowed me to live and work in Virginia and spend lots of time thinking about my dissertation. Things in the world of this amused grad student could be a lot worse.

The Village Voice suggests my future might look something like this: Forget about marriage, a mortgage, or even Thanksgiving dinners, as the focus of your entire life narrows to the production, to exacting specifications, of a 300-page document less than a dozen people will read. Then it’s time for advancement: Apply to 50 far-flung, undesirable locations, with a 30 to 40 percent chance of being offered any position at all. You may end up living 100 miles from your spouse and commuting to three different work locations a week. You may end up $50,000 in debt, with no health insurance, feeding your kids with food stamps. If you are the luckiest out of every five entrants, you may win the profession’s ultimate prize: A comfortable middle-class job, for the rest of your life, with summers off.

I’ve known people who’ve ended up like this. But, I am an eternal optimist. Hopefully someday I’ll make my way to a tenure-track job, a little house, a large vegetable garden, a pile of cats and dogs, and maybe a llama. In the mean time, I’m interested to see how Columbia’s effort to unionize turns out. The idea’s been bandied about at Harvard; I’m of two minds about it but as I find myself more strapped for cash and in need of better benefits, I suspect my indecision could swing towards open and active enthusiasm.

Princeton on Grade Inflation

Officials at Princeton University have proposed limiting the number of students who can get an A+, A, or A- to 35%, according to this New York Times article.

While I am opposed to grade inflation generally speaking, I’m not sure this is the solution either. This solution still demeans the B; students who get Bs will know they are not in the top 1/3 of their classes and so will prospective employers. Moreover, I suspect this solution would make life miserable for teaching assistants, who will be the first line of attack for students who are unhappy with their B+s and want to be bumped up. I can tell you from first hand experience how unpleasant these little interviews can be.

Of course, I don’t think I have a solution that will work any better myself, except for one that calls for a change in which the public views higher education. Part of the problem for elite and expensive universitites like Princeton or Harvard is that students and parents who are paying more than $35,000 per annum for college cease to see learning as an end to itself and instead see themselves as consumers of credentials who are entitled to an A. This is the attitude that needs to change, but how to do it is beyond me.