Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Once Upon a Time in Academia

In comments here, "40yearsold, noTT" promised a story. Here it is:

Dear Readers:

I'm a 40 year old philosophy instructor without tenure (I'm working as an adjunct this year in a very fine department, but this may be the last year I can afford to continue in the discipline). The odd thing about my story is that I actually gave up a secure teaching position last year and, despite the fact that I was unsuccessful in all 85 of the TT and VAP competitions I sought last year, I find I cannot regret my decision to leave my former job.

For reasons of discretion, I haven't had the ability to discuss my choice with very many people at all. I'd be interested to hear what the rest of you smokers think of it, and how many other people have found themselves in similar circumstances.

Here's a summary of what happened. Many years ago, a local community college was transformed into a four-year college. More recently, it became a university. However, owing to a strange series of events and a couple of loopholes, it managed to do this without introducing a system of tenure or even of faculty titles. Instructors spend their first two years on a sort of probation, at the end of which they become 'regularized' rather than tenured. Once one is regulated, one's work is never reviewed again. Some smokers may recognize this as standard in the community college system. The faculty at this university strongly support the view that a lack of tenure, etc. makes the school more "collegial."

A few years ago, this institution's philosophy chair initiated a process to start a philosophy major. As part of this process, nearby schools were invited to give input. The response of at least one nearby research university was that the proposed major would seriously disadvantage its graduates. Among other things, nobody in the department was current or even competent in mainstream analytical philosophy. Hence, a position was created by the department to rebut this criticism. This position was advertised, in classic two-year college style, only internally and for a very brief period. For various reasons, I learned of this fact and won the 'competition'. A week after my hire, I helped the department make their final case for the major, assuring the skeptics that we would all keep current and bring students to a high standard. The major was granted and I began work.

One thing I didn't realize until a little later was that many of my new colleagues had felt rather put out by the suggestion that the work they had previously been doing was inadequate for a major. Another thing I took for granted was that my colleagues were being sincere with me in saying that they were excited to have such a dedicated teacher join their ranks. That error led to my undoing.

In the years that followed, I devoted myself entirely to the department. I ran a club; I held extended office hours; I ran extracurricular reading groups; I initiated a colloquium series that brought 10-12 visiting philosophers to the campus each year; and I worked with my students on papers that they might later present at nearby undergraduate conferences. Whenever one of our students had a paper accepted, I would organize a student carpool to the conference. When students wanted to study areas of analytic philosophy beyond our meagre offerings, I would run a directed study section. All this left me no time for publications, but I imagined that my place at the school would be assured due to my strong enrollments and reviews.

However, my former colleagues blamed me for the fact that their enrollments were sometimes very poor. Just to be clear: that isn't my interpretation of their view, but exactly what they said to me at meetings (even in front of student representatives). They literally told me that, since none of them had any wish to take part in extracurricular activities, attend conferences, or keep current with the literature, my openly doing so was making them "look bad" and creating an imbalance in the way we and our courses were valued by students. I was asked to cease and desist. I took this up with the dean, but unfortunately the dean turned out to be a strong advocate of the mediocracy and a close personal friend of many of my colleauges.

When my colleagues cancelled the directed studies sections I had planned to offer, there was a student outcry. How were they to have a chance at following their older peers in presenting at conferences, getting into grad school, and generally getting the sort of education others had been receiving? And why shouldn't other measures be taken to increase enrollments, such as making the senior member of my department actually attend all his classes (he often admitted with a smile to frequently cancelling classes or exams or showing up an hour or more late)? These questions made my colleagues feel more sure that I was the spawn of Satan. As a result, they took several measures.

First, they told the phil. majors that it was sheer lunacy to think that one needed any special guidance to be great at philosophy. They claimed that one of their graduates had recently been accepted into a top 20 PhD program (what actually happened was that a student had merely audited a course at the top department in question in order to qualify for admission elsewhere). They also claimed, falsely, that no doubts of any kind had been raised about the major during the qualification process.

Then, they had a rather confrontational meeting with me, apparently styled after an AA intervention. They warned me that, by presenting students in class with the central metaphor of climbing a mountain through taking more and more advanced courses, I was damaging the harmony of the department. Iinstead, I was to begin to present philosophy courses as a collection of 'foothills', none higher than any other. Second, I was blamed for bringing students to a particular undergraduate conference from which some returned complaining that they had been unable to join any discussions on advanced topics despite having taken upper-level courses in the relevant subdiscipline (the instructor of the core course in question seems to have used the course as a platform for his own religious views, and not to have introduced any of the technical details or even the terminology of the field). These complaints reached the chair via the student representative, and I was asked to give them a list of all the 'suspects' -- that is, all the students who had attended the conference -- so that they could ferret out the malcontents. I refused to play ball.

It was made clear to me that I had to choose between conforming to the wishes of my colleagues (which would have included curtailing all extracurricular activities, being complicit in whatever claims those colleagues wished to make about the successes of former graduates, etc.) or else being branded as a troublemaker and ultimately running into institutional trouble. I saw this as a choice between egoism and principle, and went with principle.

I think I had had some fantasies about my leaving making more of a difference than it did. After I left, some of the core students switched majors or migrated to other schools. But many of them are still there, and the department is presumably recruiting new students as before. These new students will have little, if any, exposure to contemporary philosophy (nearly all the upper-level courses currently on offer focus on the reading of novels!), so I suspect the major will continue for years to come, just as it would have had I not left. To some extent, that makes me wonder whether sacrificing my career was worth it. At the same time, though, I feel glad I took a stand.

Anyway, that's the story. I wonder what other people think of it, whether others have had similar experiences, and what they did. Thanks.

27 comments:

Anonymous said...

You were right to leave. That situation sounds toxic.

Xenophon said...

I've considered applying for jobs at these former CCs, and I always ended up looking at all the faculty with master's degrees and thinking, this is really going to be tough. Let's face it, while PhDs can take quite a while to earn, they're really just tickets to the dance, minimum qualifications at best.

Then again, I see a lot of SLACKs where the faculty are clearly so far out of the mainstream of the discipline that I really feel sorry for their students, who don't know any better. Even worse is when those students end up in grad school, and suddenly realize how much they've been let down.

Then again, I did apply to a job this year (I'll be nice and not name names) where the philosophy professor who was directing the search had a PhD in Comp Lit, and seemed to only teach ethics and fiction courses. Why is it that everyone thinks they can teach ethics?

Which is all to say: fucking tough situation. If you'd asked for advice beforehand, I would have perhaps suggested you chill for a couple of years, publish your ass off, and try to keep a steady paycheck while looking for work elsewhere. But in retrospect, I think you made the right decision for you. Sometimes the paycheck's just not worth it. At least you got a lot of solid teaching under your belt. That should help you when you apply for teaching positions.

40y0noTT said...

Thanks for the thoughtful response, Xenophon.

Yeah, I got some teaching experience under my belt, but it turned out not to help me in the job market this year. That's interesting, also. I found out the reason why when I met some members of a search committee at the Pacific this year.

This is what happened: as I mentioned in the story, the school where I used to teach stops evaluating instructors after the second year. I was in my 4th year when the nonsense started getting unbearable, so at that point I was a couple of years away from my last term of complete teaching evaluations.

So, the set of teaching evaluations I sent off in my applications was incomplete. I found out at the APA that this made me look as though I were hiding some really bad reviews. The other strike against me was that I only had one letter from someone who had watched me teach (the school did have an 'open door week' in which I participated, but none of my colleagues ever accepted my invitation to visit my classes).

Luckily, I had taken advantage of two opportunities in my last year. The administration was testing a new online student evaluation program and wanted volunteers for it (we were assured that the evaluations would not count for anything, contrary to what I had wished), and I signed on. The other opportunity was that a retired member of the department (from the years when the department seemed to be fairly engaged) agreed to drop by a different course this past fall and do a peer review. He sent that along to the dean, and wrote a great letter for me.

With those two things, I did manage to get a superb adjunct position this year (though I had to beg and plead to get the faculty secretary to include the two reviews in my file). The department where I'm going to work as an adjunct has made clear that I will be evaluated and will have lots of chances at peer reviews.

So, here's hoping!

Anonymous said...

"I've considered applying for jobs at these former CCs, and I always ended up looking at all the faculty with master's degrees and thinking, this is really going to be tough. Let's face it, while PhDs can take quite a while to earn, they're really just tickets to the dance, minimum qualifications at best."

Xenophon, I'm not sure what you mean by this. Do you mean that faculty with "just" a Master's degree aren't really qualified to teach philosophy? Or do you mean that people with Master's degrees aren't really qualified to call themselves philosophers? I'd really like some clarification.

Whatever you are saying, it **sounds** like you are saying something to the effect of "People who only have Master's degrees are somehow less philosophically competent than people with Ph.D's."

Anonymous said...

Well, people with just Master's degrees are, in general, less philosophically competent than people with Ph.D.'s. If that's what he's saying, it sounds fine to me. What's your beef?

Euthyphronics said...

8:17, if you meant "philosophical competence" to be equivalent to "intrinsic philosophical ability", then if Xenophon had said that I'd see the beef. But that's a terribly uncharitable interpretation. I read him as stating that people with MAs only are less qualified to teach philosophy and do other things in the neighborhood. Since a PhD is a qualification and MA-onlys lack it, again, where's the beef?

(You might be thinking: what about all those MAs or equivalent teaching while earning their PhD? But there's a big gap between a cohort of non-PhDs delivering (some!) classes in a program run by established and experienced PhD-holders and that same cohort more or less comprising the program in its entirety.)

Anonymous said...

...it **sounds** like you are saying something to the effect of "People who only have Master's degrees are somehow less philosophically competent than people with Ph.D's."

If you deny that, ceteris paribus, someone with a PhD is more philosophically competent than someone with only an MA; then would you also deny that someone with an MA is more philosophically competent than someone with only a BA in the subject?

Obviously, there's more to philosophical competence than a piece of paper. And I would argue one can learn a tremendous amount through teaching. But, that said, extensive formal training, especially if one is able to study with first-rate people, yields advantages for philosophical competence that are very difficult to acquire by other means.

40yonoTT said...

I'm enjoying this discussion about PhD vs. MA. Still, I can't help mentioning the interesting fact that nearly all my colleagues there had PhDs. Here's a rundown:

Dr. A earned a PhD in existentialism from a good school long ago. Following in the existentialist tradition, A's scholarly activity is entirely devoted to writing the great novel.

Dr. B earned a PhD from a school in a faraway, non-English-speaking land. B is often frustrated by an inability to engage fully with English-speaking students in free conversation, and tends to prepare Powerpoint lectures and show films rather than conduct discussions. B is a religious enthusiast and home-schools B's children in order to help them avoid contact with secularism. This takes up more or less all of B's free time.

Students have left B's upper-level seminars talking about 'David Donaldson' and 'Paul and Patricia Churchill' in a garbled manner. When I once tried correcting these names, the students protested, showing me handouts from B's classes.

Dr. C studied and teaches aesthetics. Assignments for C's upper-level courses typically involve having students show and give short presentations on their favorite film scenes, create works of art that were inspired by the course readings, etc.

Dr. D is an older Wittgensteinian who isn't aware that W's views on the phil. of language have been challenged by Kripke and others (whose alternative views D turns out to be totally unfamiliar with). Perhaps students would learn some good things from this, but D hardly ever teaches philosophy. Most of D's time is spent promoting a modification of an interdisciplinary 'great books' program in which the canon is gradually being replaced with graphic novels and music reviews, and in which students are encouraged to create amateurish replicas of famous temples, etc. as projects.

Dr. E earned a degree in mainstream philosophy from an off-the-map PhD program. E is not exactly current with the state of play in the field, as I discovered through this exchange shortly after I got the position:

E: "You know, I think I met you before your interview! Weren't you at that lecture at X University? I have a friend at a community college near X who invited me to that."

Me: "Yes, that's right! That was when David Chalmers came to give that amazing talk on Y."

E: "Hm... I think I remember the talk, but I don't remember his name. Do you mean the guy with the hair like this?"

E was rarely able to attend the colloquia I organized because they often interfered with the 'doggie play dates' E set up with neighborhood dog owners.

Anonymous said...

What I take from this post is that the APA has to crack down on institutions where "Philosophy" is supposedly taught, but the instructors lack proper training/qualifications in the discipline. It's bad enough that we have a shortage of jobs for legitimate Ph.D.s in the discipline, but to add insult to injury some of those scarce jobs are going to non-philosophers. I taught for two years at a small college on the Western slope of the Colorado Rockies. While I was there, the Environmental Studies professor, who had a Masters in Great Books, wanted to start a Philosophy minor. He showed me the different requirements/competencies for the ethics component and I noticed that something was missing. So I asked "What about Meta-Ethics?" He responded with the question "What is Meta-Ethics?" After helping him design the Philosophy minor, he repaid my efforts by making sure that my contract was not renewed for a third year. He gave my Philosophy courses to an English Lit professor who had devoted a small portion of his dissertation to a discussion of Martin Heidegger's views on technology. I complained to the APA, but they did nothing. We members should sign a petition and force the APA to crack down on these schools that give philosophy teaching jobs to non-philosophers, put them on the list of banned institutions or something.

Anonymous said...

I can really relate to this narrative. I had my own similarly bad experience where the principle that the administration and faculty operated on was: "No good deed goes unpunished."

What I found really therapeutic was reading Lee Miller's book Teaching Amidst the Neon Palm Trees: http://www.leeryanmiller.com/popular-works/TEACHING-AMIDST-NEON-PALMS/index.htm

While he's a political science professor, his experience is very similar to ours. In my case, reading the book helped me to move on and not dwell too much on the stupidity of people at a single dysfunctional institution.

Anonymous said...

I must say that I am bothered by all of this snide commentary about people with just Master's degrees.

When I was going through my my Ph.D. program, one one of the best faculty members there was an old-school Oxbridge-trained analytic philosopher. He had an impressive publication record, filling up several pages worth of C.V.. He had a significant, and international reputation as a philosopher. His sole qualification--a B.Phil.

This sort of thing used to be a lot more common than it is now. There was a time when a Master's or a B.Phil. would qualify one to hold a tenured position at a major university, and no one would bat an eye at it.

Conversely, as I am sure everyone has noticed, having a Ph.D. is no guarantee of either research productivity, or even basic philosophical competence.

I would propose that the idea that one has to have a Ph.D. just to "get into the dance," that it represents minimal competence is really a result of the pressures of the recent job market.

I would further propose that the attitude I have seen here says more about the posters, than it does about the merits of the M.A.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the first comment... sounds toxic enough to warrant leaving. In situations like these I'm curious about what role/responsibility a chairperson or dean has to force the crazies to play nice.

Anonymous said...

I also know a few high school dropouts who can give a medical diagnosis better than some MDs. The AMA still won't let them practice medicine. But someone without any training or qualifications in Philosophy can still teach the subject. The APA still has to do some catching up with the AMA. The M.A. Degree qualifies someone to teach in that discipline at the college level or in exceptional circumstances as an adjunct at the university level.

Mr. Zero said...

I guess I don't understand this MA/Ph.D. controversy. On some level, an MA in philosophy prepares you to teach at the college level. But the idea that having an MA is just as good as having a Ph.D. is beyond silly. I say this as someone who spent two years in a terminal MA program. I have a master's. The extra courses I took on the way to the Ph.D. made a difference. The dissertation I wrote made an enormous difference.

The fact that people used to approach these things differently in the good old days is irrelevant now. Nowadays, the MA is not a terminal degree. Even departments that offer it as a terminal degree see it as a way of transitioning into a Ph.D. program.

(And I'm not totally sure this stuff about the olden days is accurate. My impression was that in the olden days the MA was the community college degree, but you wouldn't normally be able to find work at a four-year college on the strength of an MA. The B.Phil seems to me to be a different animal, closer to a D.Phil--the requirements for which, I understand, are more focused than the requirements for the American Ph.D.--than an MA. But if somebody who knows more about this than me wants to weigh in, I'd be grateful.)

Obviously, having a Ph.D. is neither sufficient nor necessary for scholarly productivity or teaching competence. But that doesn't mean it's not a sensible qualification. The extra five years of training, and in particular writing of a dissertation, make a big difference.

I am dubious of this "APA" stuff, for a few reasons. For one thing, the APA doesn't really have the authority to tell departments who they can and cannot hire. It's not as though they are a licensing/accreditation agency, like a Bar Association. For another thing, any authority the APA might claim would be completely unenforceable. For a third thing, if the APA did have this authority and the capacity to enforce it, they would totally fuck it up.

Anonymous said...

Did Aristotle have a PhD, MA, BA?

No, but we was competent.

Anonymous said...

8:26's comment is stupid. What lesson are we supposed to draw from Aristotle's twin properties of philosophical competency and not having an advanced degree? Well advanced degrees didn't exist then. Of course the commonly accepted biographical facts about Aristotle have him staying in school for something on the order of decades. So if they had PhD's back then, or had any use for them, I am pretty sure Plato would have given him one. He doesn't seem that stingy with praise. Also Aristotle was a genius. When obvious geniuses come along we tend to cut them some slack on the degree requirements (Kripke and Wittegenstein come to mind. Kripkenstein strikes again). But most of the people who get terminal MAs are not geniuses. Same goes for PhDs, even PhDs from Leiter top 20s. That is why we need qualification and certification standards, because most of us aren't so smart that we wear our obvious superiority on our sleeves. Standard qualification minimums and certification guidelines help those who hire tell the difference between the qualified and the not when it is not obvious from simply chatting with the person (or in Kripke's case looking at the results of his logic hobby in high school).

BunnyHugger said...

I think there's some conflation between "no non-Ph.D.s are competent philosophy teachers" and "in general, non-Ph.D.s tend to be less competent philosophy teachers than Ph.D.s" going on in this discussion. I'd hope that philosophers would know better than that.

Anonymous said...

Zero, the Bphil is not closer to the Dphil, it is, at least at Oxford, a degree one picks up on the way to the Dphil. at different schools, Leeds for example, they offer, I believe, an MA, Mphil, Dphil, and PhD, although they do not offer a Bphil, which I believe more or less mirrors their Mphil. The Bphil (and Mphil) is a research degree (no classes), while the MA (at leeds) is a taught degree (no thesis). It seems as if they have taken an american MA and split it.

Mr. Zero said...

thanks, 9:24.

Ben said...

B.Phil and M.Phil are equivalent degrees, it's merely an anomaly that Oxford retains the title B.Phil in Philosophy (other subjects offer M.Phils). Confusion arises because what an M.Phil means is variable: in Cambridge it's a one year Masters, but in Oxford two. An M.Phil is also sometimes awarded to failed PhD candidates.

These days, someone is unlikely to get an academic job with only a B.Phil, unless they were close to completing a doctorate. But in the old days that was quite common. Hence I've often seen jobs that require PhD or equivalent experience/publications. Some quite senior people lack doctorates (Derek Parfit for one I believe), but no one would consider them unqualified.

40yonoTT said...

Thanks very much for your posts, everyone. I've really enjoyed reading them, and will write more soon (I'm rushing out for the day).

One thing, though: as I noted above, all but one of my incompetent former colleagues _had_ PhDs.

So, this discussion of MAs/MPhils/BPhils vs. PhDs doesn't actually address the situation I described.

Anonymous said...

"Did Aristotle have a PhD, MA, BA?"

Yeah, but what kind of peer review did he have to subject his work to before it was published. :D

Sorta The Same said...

I was in a similar situation to 40YO, no TT. The job was a TT job though . One thing I would underscore is that being hired into almost any job nowadays means that you are (probably) more motivated, more intellectually prepared, more energetic, and (in some cases) more accomplished than those who hired you. Many older philosophers came of age during a time when jobs were plentiful, research expectations were more modest, and accountability vis-a-vis teaching almost non-existent. You have to be a helluva lot better now just to get a job. Today's new faculty have to be entrepreneurial and are professionalized much more rapidly than those in the past.

The upshot? Some of these older folks may welcome you initially, but may quickly resent your abilities, qualifications, and initiative. Without going into the details, that's what happened to me, and I left the position under circumstances to 40YO's. I don't think anyone should apologize for wanting to do their jobs well, but it's worth being mindful that some will perceive new faculty not as an asset, but as a threat.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 8:17 here. I asked the clarification question about MA/Ph.D. degrees.

I teach Philosophy full-time at a CC. I am pretty sure that NEITHER an MA NOR a Ph.D. in Philosophy properly prepare anyone to do the kind of work which is required by most teaching environments. It is not to say that everyone is unprepared, but merely to say that those who are are fortunate enough to have had mentors or professors who went above and beyond the norms of our profession to teach them how to teach properly, or have learned (as I have) through self-education and professional development activities through the institutions where we manage to find work.

For the record, I have an MA. And, though I am glad to have been hired into my position, I fully realize that my MA (despite officially-qualifying me for this job) really did absolutely nothing to prepare me for it. Most degree-holders may have teaching experience, but rarely to they have anything resembling decent teacher training. I'm actually pretty sure this is a huge part of why our field is in the haphazard, absurd state it is in now. (That's another story.) It seems very clear to me now -- having thought literally thousands of students in half a decade's time -- that failure to properly and systematically prepare graduate students for teaching philosophy is an endemic and largely disregarded problem.

Having read the comments, I think we might want to separate out some idea. Being a "competent" philosopher can mean a lot of different things. So can being a "properly trained" philosopher, or a "good" philosopher, or a "qualified or credentialed" philosopher. And all of those things are different from being someone who is good, qualified, competent, or credentialed teacher. And all of these things, on top of having different meanings to different people, are themselves distinct: a person can be one without being another.

I think using a degree as a place hold for evaluating a person's GENERAL competence as either a philosopher or a teacher is a poor way to do so. 40YONoTT makes that quite clear -- his colleagues all held doctorates, but were clearly not competent (at least, as far as the narrative provided indicates) in their professional capacities, as either educators or philosophers.

Using a degree as way to evaluate the extent of someone's training is perfectly reasonable; but there is no necessary connection between the DEGREE OF TRAINING (hence, degree) and an individual's philosophical or pedagogical competence. Hence, the assertion that a Ph.D. has spent more time training than an M.A. is -- uncontroversially, trivially -- accurate.

Asserting, however, that "Ph.D.'s are really just tickets to the dance, minimum qualifications at best" is silly. Is a Master's from a top program still worth less than a Ph.D. from an unranked school? What about a Master's student with good publications versus a Ph.D. who can't get any? Surely, we see this kind of thing ALL THE TIME. If the dance is "Being credentialed to get certain kinds of jobs", then, yeah, doctorates are required. If the dance is "Being good and capable at doing philosophy" then, yknow, maybe -- depends on the person and the degree.

Degrees are useful measures of whether or not people got certain degrees. People get degrees all the time who don't deserve them, and people get denied them who deserve them.

Consider also many people who don't ever do BAs in Philosophy, and go on to do excellent philosophical work. Is a BA in philosophy a necessary ticket to the Graduate School dance? Again, preferably, but not necessarily.

There are lots of different ways of being a (good, competent, whatever) philosopher, and a degree is one way to do it. Same with being a (good, competent, whatever) pedagogue.

Anonymous said...

I am a teacher of philosophy in the UK. I am appalled by way your colleagues treated you. I am the only philosophy teacher in my school and my colleagues leave me to my own devices. I run a very successful lunchtime club, and classes for my year 10's and 11's. Don't they realise that you must keep up in order to progress!!!!

Anonymous said...

Anon 5:51

I'd place my bets on the MD being a better doctor than someone with a nursing degree or a self-studied healer. Same with someone having a Ph.D. in Philosophy rather than an M.A. In Philosophy or someone well read in the pop culture and philosophy genre. Although the degree does not guarantee expertise, it makes it highly likely that the degree holder is an expert. Having a Ph.D. in a discipline other than Philosophy is not highly correlated with having expertise in Philosophy. Yet many candidates without degrees or formal training in the discipline of Philosophy manage to take jobs normally reserved for professionally trained philosophers. Why? Because of the same attitude you have that being a good philosopher or teacher of philosophy requires little or no formal training in the discipline. If you made the same claim about teaching physics or medicine, people would think you're crazy!

40yonoTT said...

Thank you very much for all your comments, everyone. It's good to know that others have been in the same boat and agree with my decision. And I will look at those readings, for sure! I've also found the details about Jaime Escalante's misfortunes interesting. If someone of his renown and talent for teaching can't win against these people, who can, I sometimes wonder?

So yes, all this seems to point to something very wrong at an institutional level. I certainly agree that many of the majors, minors, and graduate programs in philosophy serve mostly to harm the students who take them and that those programs should not continue to run. But the question is, how to stop these horrible meat grinders from cropping up and running?

The discussion of PhDs vs. MAs, and the need for pressure on the part of some body like the APA, is interesting; but at the same time, both seem to miss the mark. As Mr. Zero said, the APA just doesn't have the right kind of power, and would probably mess the thing up anyway. And as another commenter said, a PhD is not sufficient evidence of dedication or competence in teaching (as is shown, again, by my own experience of incompetent, unmotivated former colleagues with PhDs).

However, I still think there are things that can be done, and that we in fact must do. I hope we can discuss that.

Here's one example of a place where we can work to stop the perpetuation of such programs. Where I was teaching, departments starting a major or graduate program had to get permission from an ad hoc committee. This committee was made up of faculty members from other departments. I noticed that, of more than 200 applications that had been made under this system, only one had been denied. Why is that? It seems that those who join these committees tend to be very lenient, and to think it's some sort of magnanimity to be indulgent with such proposals. Why do these committee members fail to consider the interests of the thousands of students, etc. who will be harmed by their decisions?

Another example: when I was a PhD student at a not-at-all-Leiterrific school, things were very crappy for all of us. I met with my supervisor only twice during my dissertation-writing phase: once to sign some papers putting my committee together, and once at the defense. That was typical. The 'comprehensive exams' were a joke that wasted everyone's time and bore no relevance to the current work any of us wanted to do; several of the MA students had been accepted in late January and told they would lose their spots if they didn't decide by early February; those same MA students were given ridiculous TA allocations in courses in which they had no background (plus each of the five new TAs were given four different courses each to TA for, despite the simplicity of allocating things differently), etc.

We all did what we could to do something about the situation through diplomacy and internal mechanisms, but to no avail. However, there was to be an external review of the department that year. So, we prepared ourselves and went in well-armed with documentation of the outrageous situations in which we found ourselves. We presented our case collectively and in a calm, reasoning spirit. The external reviewers seemed genuinely surprised and disturbed.

However, when the report came in, all it said was that the graduate program was wonderful, that a few (unnamed) kinks were still to be found here and there, but that the committee had every confidence that the faculty would work them out in good time, given their wonderful commitment to excellence, etc.

I now realize that this sort of falling-asleep-at-the-switch is typical of these committees. Why is that? How can these academics be so enmired in cronyism and so lacking in judgment and ethics that they can participate in these sorts of 'you scratch our back, we'll scratch yours' arrangements?