From the category archives:

The Academy


by Dr Davis on August 3, 2014

Are English departments becoming irrelevant?

A colleague sent a link to Pulling the Plug on English Departments in The Daily Beast.

“Within a few decades, contemporary literature departments will be largely extinct,” Pulizzi submits before predicting that “communications, composition, and media studies will take English’s place.”

Rather than expressing anxiety, or at least, worry over the impending destruction of one of the only mechanisms for introducing young Americans to a pillar of art, human history, and the Western tradition, Pulizzi credulously asks, “Why should college students read narrative prose when they get their fill of stories from television, cinema, and interactive video games?”

…the future of a text-free college education does not seem outlandish.

The author is opposed to this, as I am, though our freshman offerings (and those at the rest of the state) has dropped “literature” as traditional literary readings.

Studies and experiments also demonstrate that reading comprehension and retention rates are superior among people who read from a printed page as opposed to those who get their information from an electronic screen.

I wonder if these studies (which I have not read and which are not linked) are referencing simple electronic screens or if they are talking about the typical chunked and short internet readings available. Is the author saying that because I read my novels on my iPad via the Kindle application that I no longer have long-term focus or that I’m letting my reading muscles get flabby? If he’s saying that–and he isn’t clearly NOT saying that–then I want some citations.

While far from a cure all for social ills, literature, more than any other medium, increases and enhances the ability to empathize.

Yes, yes, it does. It’s why “Teaching the Taboo: Reading Mental Health and Mental Illness in American Literature” was important enough to me that I wrote and published and article on it.

I particularly appreciated my colleague’s call to arms, in response to the article and the physical re-location of our offices:

“[I]t might be good to contemplate what we do and come roaring out of the box, no apologies made for trying to challenge our students to rise above the general intellectual sloth that surrounds us.”



by Dr Davis on August 2, 2014

My favorite undergraduate professor retired this year and sent me a note about the experience.

Imagine a slightly dry wit and a slow voice:

My special pleasure at the moment is getting emails from the provost about events I won’t have to attend and duties I won’t have to fulfill. That part’s delicious.

I laugh every time I read it.


Working on Research: Practical Idea

by Dr Davis on July 30, 2014

When you’ve been working on a topic for a while, over time and across multiple stops and starts for teaching and service and life in general, you can lose the focus of your topic. If you’re like me, you may find that you have already done the work you have started to re-do. Sometimes you will find them too late; you have finished the project and sent it off and then discover that you had more/better/more complete information that did not end up in the submitted project.

Now, when I am working on a project, I go through relevant and related folders and look at what is in them so that I’m not repeating work that I have already done or missing work that I should have repeated.

It’s a habit I hope to cultivate and would like to encourage in others.

Last week I sent off a project that I think is fairly well done and I hope that it will be accepted or at least receive an R&R in a few months time. And this morning, working on my next project, I discovered information that I intended to put in that particular project. So now I have a new file, in the folder where the final copy sent out as a submission rests, that reads “Use on XX if R&Red.”


25% Employment Rate

by Dr Davis on June 28, 2014

If you knew that someone was going into a field where they could only get employment at a 25% rate, would you encourage them? Apparently that is the situation with students in English looking to go into academia. Guide to Grad School Survival says there is a one in four chance of becoming a professor.

People don’t go into this field for love of money, but surely the chances of being hired should make a difference.

Yet I continue to teach graduate students and to encourage them to follow their goals. Why?

One in four will make it. That is true.

And the other three may find something just as fulfilling in related areas, perhaps staff in academics or as faculty-staff liaisons. If they don’t, being bright and capable people, I expect they will find jobs somewhere else that are fulfilling.

Finally, for some of them, the experience of the pursuit of the degrees will be worth it, even if they never go into the field. While I was frankly overwhelmed at times in my PhD program, I was doing what I wanted to do and thrilled to be doing it. If I had never gone back into full-time instruction, I still would have felt blessed to have done it.

That’s why, while I make clear that the path is not easy and many won’t make it into academia, I still cheer my graduate students on.


T&P and Imagery

by Dr Davis on June 18, 2014

I have been thinking about my tenure and promotion portfolio quite a bit, as it is due in the fall, and I had a lot of thoughts about it relating to the chapter from Rice on imagery.

In the post, I wrote, How would images change composition if we were working on them first?

I wonder if I worked on images for a particular section first, or worked with images about a particular section first, what that would do to/for my portfolio.

Just for Fun: Search and Find
Just for fun, I am going to take 10 minutes and search for images that I think might/could be useful for my portfolio. Ready… Set… Go…

What Searches?

Okay. So in ten minutes, what did I look for?
university There are no images of University in Wikimedia Commons from the United States.
rhetorical appeals

That means I started with words (unlike what was suggested by Ball, as per my notes on “Assessing Multimedia Rhetoric”), but I was focused on images. (Not necessarily having images in mind first.)

What I found were not the kinds of things I would have expected/wanted, though some of them were particularly interesting.

I am posting my ideas of “the best.” In this case, these may not be images I ever use.

Images and Thoughts.

Michael Reschke, WC CC3

Michael Reschke, WC CC3

This is labeled an icon of teaching.

Livewire9609, WC CC3

Livewire9609, WC CC3

While we are getting rid of our Mac labs, since most of our students have computers now, I thought the image offered some interesting discussion points–including digital literacy, working with students individually, etc.

jtneill, WC CC3

jtneill, WC CC3

This was the “blank” for a particular sociology research report, but I thought it might be useful for illustrating how research moves and impacts various categories of the t&p portfolio.

For instance, I gave a conference presentation which won an award and the editor of a peer-reviewed journal attended and asked me to submit the article. After I did, and finished the revise and resubmit, the article was published. Then it was quoted in the New York Times.

However, the “research process” doesn’t match that connectivity. So it wouldn’t work for that, but it does give me an idea of a visual I could create.

Sculpture.rhetoric cathedrale.Laon in bk 100+ yrs WC pd

This is a sketch of the sculpture of Rhetoric from the Cathedral in Laone. I wonder what the missing hand might be said to represent.

Jonathon Oldenbuck, WC CC3

Jonathon Oldenbuck, WC CC3

This is from Edzell Castle in Angus, Scotland. As I am in Scotland right now, it seemed relevant. It also, to me, looks like a woman dancing around on books. For some reason, I thought it might be how others view me. … A bit crazed, but really carefully crafted.

The Grammarian teacher rhetoric historyFlorence 1437 WC pd

This image was in linguistics, but is the grammarian, which would have been a teacher of rhetoric. It is medieval, from 1437-1439, which is a time period I teach in literature. It has two pupils, but they are very much the teacher and the students separated.

Nachitka Barrett released to public domain.

Nachitka Barrett released to public domain.

This is a mystagogue, a person who initiates others into mysterious knowledge–so an educator. I like the imagery of conglomeration; it reminds me a bit of the difficulty of juggling all we need to do. However, I also do not think that it is a positive image and I don’t want to artistically/rhetorically suggest professor as monster.

J Bulwer 1644 bk illus gestures for rhetorical appeal due to age WC pd

These are illustrations from 1644 that show gestures for various rhetorical appeals. I like the set, but I don’t think they would “make sense” in my portfolio, but would instead add complication.

Now that is an idea. Instead of the mystagogue, I could use these gestures from rhetoric to show the complexity aspect… I will have to think about that more.

Success or Failure?
While I am not sure this is the best idea ever, it certainly is an improvement over the “listing” first idea from “Juxtaposition Thinking.”

I did gain some things from the images. The idea of complication seemed to keep coming up.

I also think I will probably end up having to purchase (or create) my own images for the portfolio if I have more than a few.

Why only if I have more than a few? Because I already have a few that I think would work. They are pictures of my students, the school, my work, etc.



Tenure & Promotion: The Process

by Dr Davis on June 6, 2014

ACU Hunter Welcome columns horizontalMy SIL was told that if her articles get published (she has two in R&R), she should immediately submit for tenure. … Her university has a one-shot pass/fail tenure process.

My university has a three-stage tenure portfolio plan.

The year before the actual t&p is due, a portfolio has to be turned in–as if it were real. This portfolio is reviewed by folks in the process who give feedback. You have time to work on what needs revision or expansion.

Turn in your actual t&p portfolio. It’s due in September. You will hear back sometime between December and February.


If your t&p portfolio did not pass, you have one more year to create a t&p portfolio that will get tenure. This includes doing any/all of the things people have mentioned to improve your portfolio along the way.

Where I Am
This summer I am living in the British Isles and working on the first stage of my tenure and promotion portfolio.


Syllabi Trigger Warnings?

by Dr Davis on June 4, 2014

The New York Times posted “Warning: The Literary Canon Could Make Students Squirm,” which addresses the idea of notify students about what hard issues are involved in the readings on the syllabus.

Colleges across the country this spring have been wrestling with student requests for what are known as “trigger warnings,” explicit alerts that the material they are about to read or see in a classroom might upset them or, as some students assert, cause symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder…

The debate has left many academics fuming, saying that professors should be trusted to use common sense and that being provocative is part of their mandate. Trigger warnings, they say, suggest a certain fragility of mind that higher learning is meant to challenge, not embrace.

Ms. Loverin [a sophomore at Santa Barbara] draws a distinction between alerting students to material that might truly tap into memories of trauma — such as war and torture, since many students at Santa Barbara are veterans — and slapping warning labels on famous literary works, as other advocates of trigger warnings have proposed.

While I have not thought of this specifically before, I would not be opposed to some applications of trigger warnings–especially for post-traumatic stress disorder issues (such as particularly specific descriptions of battle or rape). General, applied to literature warnings, seems a little odd. Gulliver’s Travels is size-ist. Really?

My favorite sentence in the whole article, however, comes from the president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education: “It is only going to get harder to teach people that there is a real important and serious value to being offended.”


Academic Salaries

by Dr Davis on May 25, 2014

PhD Comics has an interesting scale with academic salaries. It doesn’t match my uni’s salaries, but it is interesting.


Rhetoric of Academics: Love the Work

by Dr Davis on February 10, 2014

In Love and Other Secondhand Emotions the author talks about class differences in discussing work.

For me, the question was never “Do I love this more than anything else?” It was “Am I good enough at this to have some breathing room?,” or “How bad would it be if I had to do this every day?,” or “How bearable is this?” Those were the kinds of questions my mother asked herself about her work, and those were the questions she encouraged her children to ask about their own prospects.

I hadn’t thought about it before, but I think it probably is about class differences.

Today that is a good thing for me.

Today my business students presented on entry level salaries in their positions (among other things). It was downright distressing how many of them will make more than I do right out of college.

If I went back to school, I could make more than I do.

But I also wouldn’t love what I do. I do love teaching. I work hard to be the best at it that I can be. It is more than bearable, though sometimes I feel like the “good enough to have some breathing room” is how well I am doing.

I love teaching. I am grateful that I get to teach my students. They are amazing.

I have two who got off track but have come in this week saying, “I messed up. Here’s what I am doing. Do you have any other suggestions?”

That is so cool.


Rhetoric of Academics: Making a Living

by Dr Davis on February 3, 2014

I’m thinking a lot today about the rhetoric we use in relationship to our profession. This has been brought on by a series of readings, mostly unrelated to each other in terms of clear point-by-point connections, but related to each other at least through my interest in them and that they have comments about how we speak (mostly) about the profession.

Won’t Make You Rich

William Pannapacker @pannapacker
Saying academe “won’t make you rich” obscures the reality that most academic workers are adjuncts making $2,700 per course on average.

My response to this was, who makes $2,700 per course? I know there are some places that pay $4,000 a course, (I believe it was University of Anchorage.) but Cost of Living there more than makes up for that difference.)

But this was actually a later post. His earlier post said this:

William Pannapacker @pannapacker
Think we need to stop telling students that going into academe “won’t make you rich,” as if material considerations were purely mercenary.

What about the mercenary material considerations?
My eldest son chose not to go into teaching, even though he is good at it and enjoys it, because “it’s twice the work for half the money.”

I think he would have been okay with twice the work or half the money, but not both.

What did Pannapacker mean by mercenary material considerations? Maybe he meant that we shouldn’t say “you won’t get rich” because students aren’t really concerned about being rich. If that is what he meant, then I definitely agree.

If Pannaker meant we shouldn’t talk about work in terms of finances, which I do not think was his point, then he would be way off track.

But his first post in the list (the later Twitter post) actually clarifies what he meant. Don’t tell your students they won’t get rich. Tell your students they will barely survive financially.

Why don’t students believe that?
So why would our students, who read as well as we do–and sometimes read more, believe us when we say academics don’t get rich? They know it’s not necessarily true.

People tend to dwell on the extremes. So the professor who sold the freshman calculus book and owns a multi-million dollar home in Canada is news as well as the full-time adjunct with a PhD who gets food stamps.

Students aren’t idiots. They know these are the extremes. They don’t expect to be on food stamps and they don’t expect to own a multi-million dollar home in Canada (or anywhere else).

What they do expect is to be in the middle. It’s the norm.

What is the middle?
My response to Panneker’s post, which probably did not appear particularly relevant, said:
They read. “study shows that at UC-Boulder tatt prof ave salary $103,513.teach & office hours ave 4.93 hrs/wk” –It was Twitter. I only had 140 characters.

I read the above statement just yesterday in the comments on an article about adjuncts, I believe. Yes, WNPR News: Adjuncts in Academia.

A study under way shows that at UC-Boulder tatt professors have an average salary – excluding a myriad of benefits – of $103,513. They teach and hold office hours for an average of 4.93 hours a week (and that’s for the 30-week academic year). They publish an average of 0.63 papers and 0.06 books a year; the median number of citations of their works is 3.35 per professor/year. In a word: the faculty at Boulder are paid high salaries for teaching 148 hours a year and for publishing works that are not only extraordinarily little in number but are demonstrably of almost no interest to their fellow academic.

The commenter’s point was that professors get paid too much to do too little.

This is what students think is the middle.

At My University
Even at my school, where ft tt professors make considerably less than their public school counterparts, there are professors making six figure incomes. Students may think, okay, I won’t make that starting out, but they do think that eventually they will get there. And they might–if they are teaching business or law.

What students at our college don’t realize is that those six figure incomes are the extremes here.

The university employs very few adjuncts (both percentage and in raw numbers) and most of those are truly part-time. They teach a class or two and they are rarely hired two semesters in a row. They cannot make a living on it, a fact true of most adjuncts anywhere, but there is not systemic abuse. This semester my department, the largest on campus, has 1 adjunct teaching 2 classes. I am fairly sure if a department were hiring multiple adjuncts for multiple classes it would be news on campus.

Students here know you can’t make a living as an adjunct. They haven’t even seen people try it, though they may have seen past graduate students cobbling a living together doing a combination of full- and part-time jobs. But they also know that there are plenty of people doing those full-time positions and living on that salary. They assume the part-time work is for love of the discipline—which it often is.

What happens when you tell students academia is a poor choice for a career?
Students don’t believe it. I think the number one reason they don’t believe it is because it is our career. We are the professors doing what they want to do and we are saying don’t do it. Normally that would make us an expert. In this case, though, I think it works against us.

They see the professors telling them they won’t survive surviving. They don’t see the loans, the unfixed floors, the vacations that are working trips funded by grants. They don’t even see our salaries, since we are private.

They may look at professors at public universities and think that is the norm and they look at the range of salaries and expect to be in the middle—not realizing that the range of salaries is dependent on both time in the field AND the field.

In the humanities, our students will start at the bottom—if they can find full-time work.

But students don’t believe that. No one believes that. Everyone always believes they are the exceptions.

Dr. Lee Skallerup @readywriting and I have had this conversation before. I have a ft-tt position. I was an adjunct for years. She has a ft, non-tt position. She was an adjunct for years. Our students see us having made it and they think that they will make it, too.

That’s why they don’t believe us.

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