Tom Woodward is at it again, his recent rash (does 2 constitute a rash?) of mock Chronicle articles are downright hilarious. Be sure to check out “Student Brainwashing Proves Effective” and “Colleges Consider Using Human Skin Instead of BlackBoard.” What I particularly like is Tom attack on the Ph.D. is the guiding logic for all authority in higher-ed, questioning those three letters is akin to heresy and insubordination at academic institutions like the university, and that’s why I love Tom so god damned much, he ain’t afraid of no suckers. And when we talk about diversity in higher-ed, the diversity of degrees and experience isn’t something that can be raised without great trepidation, in fact. it’s a degree-based caste system. There, I said it!
And while I’m republishing the first few paragraphs of Tom’s re-writing of the Chronicle article on the CUNY WordCampEd conference that came out last week, I highly recommend you check out Mikhail Gershovich’s “BlackBoard, This Song is Not About You: More on CUNY WordCampEd,” which provides an inspired and crucial corrective to the Chronicle article.
Colleges Consider Using Human Skin Instead of Blackboard
By Tom | June 5, 2009
—Another mock Chronicle article – or Chronicle mocking article. If it weren’t so easy I’d try to get it declared an Olympic sport.
original article here by JEFFREY R. YOUNG
footnotes, italics and a few minor deletions by me below
Jim Groom sounded like a preacher at a religious revival when he spoke to professors and administrators at the City University of New York last month. “For the love of God, open up, CUNY,” he said, raising his voice and his arms. “It’s time!” But his topic was technology, not theology. A number of studies have correlated religious zealotry of this type with insanity and anti-social behavior.
Mr. Groom is an instructional technologist at the University of Mary Washington, and he was the keynote speaker at an event here on how to better run CUNY’s online classrooms. The meeting’s focus was an idea that is catching on at a handful of colleges and universities around the country: Instead of using a course-management system to distribute materials and run class discussions, why not use free blogging software — the same kind that popular gadflies use for entertainment sites? I’ll answer my own question. Because it’s for gadflies and entertainment sites, damn it. Trusting your course to something so common, so un-academic would be like settling for a non-terminal degree.
Brilliant stuff! I love it 🙂
There’s something about the analysis in the first paragraph of this post that doesn’t sit right with me.
Tom doesn’t need to work too hard to attack or question credentialing in the academy since the Chronicle already sets the stage in the original article by ignoring all that stuff. Everyone is labeled Mr. or Ms. instead of Prof. or Dr. Not that I really mind, but you’d figure a professional pub would adhere to the profession’s conventions. Oh, Chronicle! You iconoclast!
Thanks, as always, for the plug, Rev.
It is strange to me they ignored all the credentialing.
Maybe it just took to much work to get that straight.
We wouldn’t want that kind of hassle to interrupt the story they planned to tell.
Hey all — Love the parodies! Just so you know, it is Chronicle policy to refer to people we quote as Mr. or Ms. instead of Dr. (unless they are medical doctors). The New York Times follows the same policy. You’ll notice that every Chronicle article follows this convention, so it’s no slight to any of the people in the stories you mention. Top editors set that policy, and I passed along your feedback to them.
Regardless of whether or not the Chronicle recognizes titles in their articles—which is not a concern for me—the larger question remains in terms of my own issues with the stratification of what is and is not valued in the academy.. I understand this argument has nothing to do with CUNY WordCampEd or even the article Jeff wrote, but more specifically with Tom’s own satire of an institutional logic. Pray tell, why at a liberal arts teaching college (cause that’s what UMW is despite the name) does every professor have to have a terminal degree? In particular, save the fine arts they need a terminal degree in research, which they will be doing very little of over the course of their career given the course load, expectations, and nature of the experience.
I just feel like we have bought into an all-encompassing faith system regarding credentials that is not necessarily wrong, but rather all-encompassing—and therein lies the issue. How can an institution of learning fail to make finer distinctions when it comes to people and possibilities?
@Jeff My response to your article isn’t a parody — at least it’s not funny on purpose. We sure would love to have you chime in, if you are so inclined. (And I hope you come to the next one. We’re going for a chessboxing battle royale between Jim and Michael Chasen with Tom as referee.)
Jim, I’m kind of unclear where this is coming from (not that I necessarily disagree.) Keep in mind, to use a local example, that Luke and I built [email protected] and cultivated an institutional investment in it before we were credentialed. I don’t expect that the fact that we now have letters after our names will have any impact on the work we are doing and will continue to do. But maybe I am not thinking out enough. Is there a broader context you have in mind?
The context is far broader than this article, it’s more about the academy in general, and Tom’s mock article just gave me the occasion to consider it. This is obviously not pointed at anyone in particular, but rather at the status quo of thought around what makes a good teacher/researcher. How does that translate into the field of edtech, for example? I guess these are larger questions I am wrestling with as I think about what it is we are doing and why. Especially given your post wherein the idea of changing the academy on some deeper level is the point, not tools or technology or even a field like instructional technology. I’d hate to think anyone would take my ideas personally, because they are not an attack on anyone, but a deep-seated and unspoken undercurrent that runs through every university or college, and has some impact on everyone working at one——and whether or not we acknowledge it, it remains extremely contentious.
Don’t get me wrong, Jim, I’m not taking any of this personally, just trying to understand the broader context of your argument with which I tend to agree. If I took it personally, I’d call up Harry Dean Stanton and Kurt Russell and ask each to key one side of your minivan.
It seems that in EdTech, as in other fields, what matters is the pragmatic impact your work has on teaching, student engagement as well as how your thinking resonates in the work and writing of others. It also seems as though the credential is not a barrier or a marker of caste in EdTech as it is in, say, teaching at research institutions.
But then again, I used to say the degree doesn’t matter because I didn’t have one. Now I say it because I do. Go figure.
Issue #1 — The Chronicle (and NY Times) policy to only call medical doctors by that title has always seemed pretentious to me, especially since it seems to me that it buys into a 19th C. understanding of the professionalization of medical doctors (and the exclusion of all others, including academic Doctors of Philosophy, from using a title that had been around in other forms long before European and American formal schools of medicine).
Issue #2 — practically, the terminal degree is privileged in universities/colleges (liberal arts or research) because their accreditation is based in part on have certain percentages of teaching faculty having attained a terminal degree in the area in which they teach.
@Jeff I echo Luke’s kudos to you for being a good sport about the parodies–and I definitely understand (and have seen before) the Chronicle’s policy of naming only medical doctors “Dr.” It really doesn’t bother me much, usually, and I thought the parody was funny (especially when the NY Times put Jim’s title of Instructional Technologist in scare quotes! I’m glad you didn’t do that!).
And I think the academy’s insistence on terminal degrees as a marker of credibility is probably a bit silly–but it’s the least of the sillinesses of this type! You can drill down a lot deeper–my PhD is from CUNY, and my original faculty position was at a community college in CUNY, so I’m very used to being sneered at by those who are credentialed or employed by “better” schools.
These are the kinds of sillinesses (credentials, meaningless standards, accreditations that aren’t really answerable to students or to teaching or to learning) that are being eroded these days, and that’s a very good thing. School 2.0 will not be in school–and students care more about what and how they learn than the letters after the name of the person with whom they’re learning–and may even care more about the learning itself than any letters they themselves might learn.
That’s the direction we’re going–that’s the direction universities tend to be missing as they desperately hold on to old models–and (returning to our WordCampEd) that’s the direction we were celebrating a couple of weeks ago! (and still)
Oops–that’s “letters they themselves might *earn*”
Hmm, just read my own comment above and found it incredibly prententious.
Pot signing off…
That “pretentious”. Stupid virtual keyboard.
I agree with Joe, you are being a good sport, and the edtech crowd seems like a particularly tough, particularly because we control the means of production 🙂 Actually, that’s not entirely true, and a post I have in mind is going to discuss what exactly an article like the one you wrote means for a group like ours at UMW.
You don’t sound pretentious at all, in fact I take the blame for framing this in a kinda of hostile way when it comes to the terminal degree. It wasn’t my intention, and as I told Mikhail offline, I have to re-frame the discussion so it doesn’t seem so pointed and charged. Let’s face, you and I both know the PhDs at UMW are my bread and butter, and without you all doing this stuff my ranting would have no proof to back them up 🙂 Talk about biting the hand that feeds, jesus. So, anyway, this post is kind of an abortion, which makes it fit nicely into the rest of my blog 🙂
Yeah, I think your bringing a deeper complexity into this question in terms of Junior Colleges vs Senior at CUNY, no less having a CUNY degree–they have a PhD program? :)—says much more than my original thinking was really getting at. I think the erosion of some of this is happening, and it’s funny that I should bitch about it given I am one of the one’s this very erosion may be benefiting. Anyway, I wish you would have written this post, because you frame the whole thing far better than I can. You, my friend, are the good sport 🙂
For me, the most important part of the Ph.D. was writing the dissertation, which in the humanities at least is the ultimate bootstrapping project. It was excruciating getting started, and it took me a long while actually to start, but by the end I had mastered certain aspects of advanced self-directed learning in ways I don’t think I would have otherwise. And I set the course for all the work I’ve done in Milton studies ever since. So yes, I think the degree matters, and I think it can matter in authentic ways that can empower higher education.
That said, I understand that the Ph.D. process and esp. the dissertation don’t necessarily work that way for everyone, and that they can sometimes cause great harm that gets perpetuated throughout the system and for a lifetime following. But that’s a problem with the way we conceive and practice graduate education, and one that the Carnegie Foundation tries to tackle in their recent book on the formation of scholars. If you can get past the praise of the Ph.D. as the “gold standard” of all education (they laid this part on with a trowel–I found it repellent), I think the ideas about how to make the whole process more transparent, more communal and collaborative, and more genuinely about the learning are very good ones.
And all of that said, I hope you know that I reject and resent the caste system you refer to. It is real, and it is destructive. The Ph.D. is a worthy accomplishment, or it can be, or it ought to be. But the terminal degree does not create a “priestly class” (as I once heard it called, which really made my gorge rise) nor does it magically confer enlightenment or inspiration or creativity or all-encompassing authority upon its holders. What degree could possibly do that?