Academic Joke

 Posted by on 1 February 2005 at 11:00 am  Academia, Funny
Feb 012005

I absolutely loved this joke from Eugene:

A beautiful student goes to a male professor’s office and says, in a breathy voice, “Professor…. I’d do anything to get an A on your exam.”

“Anything?,” the professor asks, conspiratorially.

The student leans closer. “Anything,” she says.

The professor says, “Would you… study?”


Academic Plagiarism or Academic Bureaucracy?

 Posted by on 21 September 2004 at 6:34 am  Academia
Sep 212004

Over at the Volokh Conspiracy, Juan Non-Volokh posted some comments on a rather strange case of plagiarism by a Harvard law professor. A passage from a book by Yale law professor Jack Balkin was printed in a book by Harvard law professor Charles Ogletree as if it were his own. Juan quotes a bit of the Harvard Crimson article which explains how that happened:

Ogletree told The Crimson that he had not read the passage of Balkin’s book that appears in his own work. An assistant inserted the material into a manuscript and intended for another assistant to summarize the passage, according to Ogletree’s statement. The first assistant inadvertently dropped the end quote, and the second assistant accidentally deleted the attribution to Balkin before sending a draft to the publisher.

When the draft returned, Ogletree did not realize that it was not his material, he said in the statement.

As Juan notes, that means “Professor Ogletree did plan to publish the work of others — in this case, his student research assistants — under his own name.” Juan opines:

Of course it is common for prominent figures to use ghostwriters in preparing manuscripts, and many authors include material prepared by — and perhaps even drafted by — research assistants and others. In this Professor Ogletree would hardly be alone. But is this the appropriate standard of scholarship for a tenured law professor? At Harvard? Perhaps I have an old fashioned perspective on these sorts of things, but I am disturbed by the idea of tenured professors at prestigious institutions using research assistants to draft portions of their scholarly work. It this a reasonable view? Or do I have an outmoted view of legal scholarship? After all, attorneys regularly sign documents draftd by others, so why shouldn’t law professors do the same?

I think that Juan is quite right to be disturbed. And the semi-justification offered by one of his readers, Fabio Rojas, quoted in this post, offers no comfort:

During grad school, I discovered there were two modes of “legitimate” academic work: craftsman and bureaucrat. The craftsman worked alone, or with one or two colleagues, to carefully write papers and books. This is the “classic” scholar approach. When you think of a philosopher mulling over every turn of phrase or a historian carefully citing ancience documents, you are thinking “craftsman.”

Much to my surprise, I also learned that a lot of scholars are “Bureaucrats”: they have grants, research assistants and a large network of co-authors. This kind of scholar is more like an architect – he designs the overall project, but an army of helpers puts together the final project.

At first I was horrified, but I came to realize that some research has to be conducted in this fashion. You simply can’t conduct national surveys all by yourself. At the Chicago Soc dept (where I got my Ph.D.) you had a lot of both. Sociology (and political science as well) produces research that requires huge team efforts as well finely crafted individual work. Lot of mass surveys/experiments as well as carefully argued social/political theory.

I also realized that big name scholars get their reputation by being brilliant craftsmen or by being extremely competent academic entrepreneurs. I grew up worshipping the craftsmen – Ron Coase is a great example – infrequent, but outstanding publications. But now I realize a lot of famous names only produce their quantity because they rely to heavily on assistants.

I was shocked to find out that a legal scholar whose work I respect writes a fairly small amount of his later work. He often hires brilliant grad/law students to do most of the leg work and then he assembles the products into his larger manuscripts. It’s simply impossible to write a book every other year, fly around the world, teach classes, be a consultant and satisfy your university service requirements without a lot of help.

Given that’s a path to success, I’m not surprised that the work becomes sloppy very quickly. Scholars barley have time to closely monitor every product they produce. Not every highly productive scholar is that way, but more of them operate that way than we’d admit.

All of that is well and good: Some academic projects require the help of a small army of research assistants and assistant writers, while others are best done solo. Some professors excel as bureaucrats, while others are better suited for the role of the craftsman.

Yet the question remains: Should professors present the work of their students as their own? Surely not. Students who write portions of a text richly deserve the credit of co-authorship. Students who substantially contribute to the research behind a text deserve at least a footnote or two of credit. Part of the job of a professor is to help along the careers of his students. To take credit for their work subverts that purpose, as the open recognition of work done through co-authorship adds substantial weight to a CV. Such attribution is also directly in the interest of the professor. Students will likely be more careful with a text (such as in proper attribution of sources) if their own name is on the line. And the blame for mistakes can be more easily spread to the culpable party if co-authors are openly acknowledged.

In academic medicine, co-authorship of articles is standard when attending physicians and residents collaborate — which is why articles in medical journals often have three, four, or five authors. Less substantial contributions are also appropriately noted in footnotes. As far as I understand, such acknowledgement of the contributions of graduate students is also fairly standard in collaborative works in sociology, psychology, economics, and the like. If academic lawyers are going to be bureaucrats rather than craftsmen, then they need to honestly acknowledge that by giving due credit to those under their management.

The fact that court decisions are often substantially written by law clerks and that books by politicians are often ghostwritten by professional writers not relevant. That is work-for-hire, which is a whole different animal. Without a work-for-hire agreement, no professor should (either in a legal or moral sense) take credit for the work of his students. More importantly, no reputable academic institution ought to allow professor to make use of work-for-hire. What is forbidden to students as plagiarism — buying work to pass off as one’s own — ought to be forbidden to professors. In the context of academia, I can’t think of enough unpleasant words for such a practice, although dishonest, unprofessional, hypocritical, and abusive come to mind.

Professors can be bureaucrats without being plagiarists — and their colleagues ought to insist upon it.

Tenure and Bias

 Posted by on 19 September 2004 at 1:05 pm  Academia
Sep 192004

The idea that tenure protects academic freedom is a joke. Those with unwanted opinions (i.e. non-leftists) can be easily weeded out of academia long before the protections of tenure are ever applied. So I was pleased to read this op-ed by a former Middlebury College president arguing against the tenure system. Dr. McCardell writes:

To faculties and governing boards: tenure is a great solution to the problems of the 1940′s, when the faculty was mostly male and academic freedom was at genuine risk. Why must institutions make a judgment that has lifetime consequences after a mere six or seven years? Publication may take longer in some fields than in others, and familial obligations frequently interrupt careers. Why not a system of contracts of varying length, including lifetime for the most valuable colleagues, that acknowledges the realities of academic life in the 21st century?

Moreover, when most tenure documents were originally adopted, faculty members had little protection. Today, almost every negative tenure decision is appealed. Appeals not upheld internally are taken to court. Few if any of these appeals have as their basis a denial of academic freedom.

I certainly agree with McCardell that the greater flexibility afforded by a contract system would be good for all concerned, I wholly disagree with his presumption that academic freedom is alive and well at our universities. The problem with tenure is not that academic freedom is wholly secure, but rather that the protection afforded by tenure is “too little, too late.”

Just yesterday in the grad lounge, I walked in on a spirited conversation making great fun of all those ignorant and stupid conservative students, particularly those who claim discrimination by professors and instructors. After listening a while, I noted that the present conversation surely proves that conservatives have no reason to complain or worry about discrimination against them. At least some of my fellow graduate students understood the irony.

If I were a less cantankerous or more sensitive person, I would find the hard leftism at Boulder’s philosophy department completely overwhelming and intolerable. Instead, I’ve learned to take a sort of pleasure in occasionally needling my fellow graduate students with my primitive and backwards ideas. All considered, that’s probably not a very healthy attitude to adopt, but I doubt that I could endure graduate school any other way.

And speaking of graduate school, I have reading to do!

Institutionalized Fraud

 Posted by on 29 June 2004 at 9:19 am  Academia
Jun 292004

An astonishing article in The Chronicle of Higher Education details the ways in which fake degrees are being used in academia to advance careers:

While experts on diploma mills — broadly defined as unaccredited institutions that require students to do little or no work to earn degrees — warn of the damage they do to the integrity of higher education, many satisfied customers say they get their money’s worth. “Just the ability to put Ph.D. behind my name is what I was looking for,” says Wayne J. del Corral, who teaches finance part time at Tulane University. “It’ll make things a lot easier with respect to submitting papers to journals and so forth.”

He also appreciates that his diploma from Lacrosse University looks so real. “The seal is very nice,” he says.

And that’s not the worst of it:

Valdosta State University’s Web site lists an assistant professor of management as “Dr. Jack Malehorn.”

What the Web site doesn’t say, and what students and colleagues probably don’t know, is that Mr. Malehorn’s Ph.D. is from Shelbourne University.

Shelbourne does not exist. It never existed. It claimed to be based in Ireland, but actually was one of more than a dozen names used by an international diploma-mill company that sold degrees, beginning in the mid-1990s, for $500 to $2,500, according to an investigation last year by the Federal Trade Commission. The company, based in Romania, sent millions of unsolicited e-mail messages around the world, promising recipients that they could receive degrees without doing any academic work. Along with the diplomas, the company also provided fake transcripts and phony letters of recommendation.

When contacted by The Chronicle, Mr. Malehorn at first denies that his Ph.D. is from Shelbourne, even though his résumé says it is. “No, no, I’m sorry,” he says. “I wish I could help you.”

After further inquiries, Mr. Malehorn acknowledges that his doctorate is, in fact, from Shelbourne. He also contends that he did actual academic work to obtain it. “It was all through an Internet connection,” he says. “My dissertation certainly seemed legitimate.” His boss doesn’t think so. Kenneth L. Stanley, dean of the College of Business Administration, says he knew before hiring Mr. Malehorn that he had a fake Ph.D. “Hell, we knew it was worthless,” says Mr. Stanley. “Give us a break!”

But he hired Mr. Malehorn anyway because, according to the dean, it’s not uncommon for professors, or even top administrators, to have bogus credentials. “I’ve dealt with provosts with degrees from mail-order institutions here in the United States,” Mr. Stanley says. (He declines to name any of those provosts or their institutions.)

What’s important, he argues, is that Valdosta State does not recognize the degree, nor was it a factor in the decision to hire Mr. Malehorn. “If Jack had come here and we had hired him thinking, ‘Oh, well, he’s doctorally qualified,’ and we’re claiming that qualification, then we’re idiots and he’s wrong,” says Mr. Stanley.

Contrary to the dean’s insistence, however, it appears that Valdosta State does consider the degree valid. Why else would the professor be referred to as “Dr.” in the bulletin that announced his hiring in 2002? Why else would he be listed as “Dr.” in the university’s telephone directory and on the management department’s Web site? And why else would he be allowed to call himself “Dr. Jack Malehorn, Ph.D.” when he contributes articles to the Journal of Business Forecasting?

When all that is brought to Mr. Stanley’s attention, he is quiet for several seconds. “It’s a little embarrassing,” he admits. He recalls referring to Mr. Malehorn as “Dr.” on several occasions, including in front of students. “I guess, you know, we’re guilty of institutionalizing a fraud,” says Mr. Stanley.

The dean pledges that references to Mr. Malehorn’s Ph.D. will be deleted from official university material. Six weeks later, the management department’s Web page still calls him “Dr.”

Professors who fake credentials are bad enough, although perhaps to be expected on occasion. The fact that some administrators are willing to not just look the other way, but also promote the fraud is astonishing and disgusting. Perhaps the administrators don’t see much value in academic degrees — but that would be an even greater fraud since such degrees are the allegedly valuable product offered by their universities. Really, it’s horrible any way you slice it.

Update: An earlier version of this post was all screwy in its formatting, such it presented material from the article as if I wrote it. (Hey, at least it wasn’t an article on accidental plagiarism!) I regret any confusion that might have caused.

Moving Down the Food Chain?

 Posted by on 30 April 2004 at 5:36 pm  Academia
Apr 302004

Eric O’Connor of Critical Mass has some interesting comments on her choice to move from her tenured position as a professor of English to teaching English in secondary school. After lamenting the terrible job market in academia, she writes:

There is one market, though, that is WIDE OPEN for humanities M.A.’s and Ph.D.’s, and that is the independent school market. “Independent” is mostly a contemporary code word for “private,” though it can also mean “charter.” Your Ph.D.–or, if you are ABD, your M.A.–is a very attractive qualification in this market. In contrast to the public school system, it counts as a teaching qualification (thus preventing you from going back to school to get a highly redundant ed school teaching certificate). Independent schools are eager to add people with advanced degrees to their faculty–in part, this raises the profile of the school and looks good to parents and donors, but far more importantly, these schools recognize that refugees from academe can make marvelous high school teachers. They know this to be true because their faculties are already full of them.

The Village Voice piece linked above tells the story of one such refugee, who is happily earning twice what he would have made as an adjunct teaching at a private high school in New Jersey. I’ve met a number of such refugees from a number of schools this year. The schools themselves have been as different from one another as people are–but at all of them, the refugees say, entirely independent of one another, that the work they have found in the world of independent school teaching far surpasses the academic life. All say they are able to do the sort of intensive, personalized teaching they dreamed of doing as college teachers, but could not do in a higher ed setting; all say they feel more intellectually alive than they did in academe; and all say, too, that they have a much greater sense of purpose and of professional satisfaction than they did in academe. They are palpably happy, and the differences they are making in kids’ lives are real and meaningful. They also have summers off and, having jumped the assembly-line production schedule of the academic track, can follow the far more ethical and constructive course of pursuing their own research and writing projects when and as the spirit moves them. The pay ain’t bad, either.

Locating and applying for such jobs could not be easier. There are agencies whose entire mission is to match you with schools that are looking for candidates like you. The agencies are entirely free to the candidates. They are not gimmicks. They work.

Why do you hear absolutely nothing about this career option from within academe? Why do academic departments pretend this entirely dignified and deeply meaningful career path does not exist–even though it could be just what many of their otherwise unemployable Ph.D.’s, not to mention their dissatisfied faculty, are looking for? Why do they treat as beneath their notice a type of work that they ought to be embracing as a seriously significant alternative to the dead-end academic career of the adjunct? Do I really have to ask?

The comments from those who have made such career moves bears out her generally positive assessment of this path. The only downside seems to be the complete lack of respect given to the decision by other academics, even though the terrible job market isn’t exactly a secret. (Such elitism is relevant to those who do not wish to give up their research goals, as it might make publication much harder, if not largely pointless.) Along those lines, Amanda Leins notes:

I have been following your blog off and on over the last year. I finished my PhD coursework in Classics last year, and decided to say to hell with academe for all of the reasons that you have so eloquently placed before your readers. I now teach Latin, History, and Anthropology at an independent school in NY, and could not be happier with my choice. I left the lofty position of my chosen field after 9 years dedication, both as an undergrad and a grad student.

I would like to add another point of view to why these types of jobs are not heralded by the academic communities. In my field, as in others, I presume, teaching at an institution that is not either a college or community is a sign that the person who left “can’t cut it” and his or her work never was and could never be up to the rigorous standards of XXXXX University. From the discussions I had with various members of the faculty at my graduate institution, teaching middle and upper school is really a reflection of the limitations of the person who leaves; there is no personal glory to be earned if it isn’t higher ed! Leaving is perceived as admitting that one is weak/unintelligent/not dedicated/insert other adjective here.

I still struggle with my decision–even though I don’t regret a moment of it. Nevertheless, the stigma of teaching somewhere else besides a university or college is very strong. Am I happier? Yes. Am I doing what I wanted to do all along, namely teach Classical literature, culture adn archaeology? Yes. Do my peers understand? Many of them do not. To them, I am washed up, a disgrace–good riddance! Despite the fact that I received a fellowship at the graduate level that was university-wide and only open through nomination by department, my presence there in that instituion was clearly a mistake made on the part of the administration; my choice to leave proved that.

For a while now, I’ve considered teaching in secondary schools as an option. One obvious reason is the general glut in the academic job market. But I also have some particular reasons for wishing to stay in our present location. Paul has an excellent job that would be hard to adequately replicate elsewhere in the country. Colorado is one of only six states that is not either in or approaching medical malpractice crisis, plus the state offers fairly good protection for gun rights. Colorado is also one of the few climates in the United States amenable to both Paul’s and my tastes. There is also a large contingent of smart, serious, and friendly Objectivists along the Front Range. Leaving Colorado isn’t out of the question, but I’d certainly be reluctant to do it in order to teach at Podunk U. For the moment, I’m simply trying to keep as many options open as possible.

Of course, I can’t expect to find too many openings for philosophy teachers in private and perhaps charter Colorado high schools. To get my foot in the door, I’d really need to be able to teach some primary subject, e.g. math, science, history, English. Without a doubt, history would be of the greatest interest to me. Since the course of history is driven by philosophy, the particulars form a basis for philosophical inductions. My interest is not merely driven by philosophy though, as I do find the subject fascinating in its own right.

So my basic thought is that I might pursue an M.A. in history, likely after the Ph.D. in philosophy is finished. Even if I end up in academia, the extra degree might help my job prospects, particularly if I choose related areas of focus in each. Of course, all of that is rather far off. But if I’m going to keep my options open, then I need to plan for it!

A Cautionary Tale

 Posted by on 10 January 2004 at 12:03 am  Academia
Jan 102004

Gather ’round children, to hear a cautionary tale about what happens to the poor suffering students of a professor fed up with incivility in the classroom. Heh.

As I was just telling Paul, I’ve learned a great deal about surviving in academia from bloggers, this time via SCSU Scholars.

A Small Thought About Academic Philosophy

 Posted by on 18 July 2002 at 11:21 am  Academia
Jul 182002

Tom Stone (of Episteme Links) sent me a thoughtful note about my blog entry about switching my focus from ethics to epistemology, pointing out some the upsides and downsides of either choice. While writing my reply, I came up with this pithy formulation:

The danger in ethics (and politics, to some degree) is that the Objectivist ideas are regarded as obviously false and evil. So we hear stupid objections like that egoism can’t be a moral theory since moral theories concern restraining self-interest or that the egoist would want everyone else to be altruists, and so on.

The danger in metaphysics and epistemology is that Objectivist ideas are regarded as passé, as already having been considered and rejected. Debates about realism in perception or about grounding knowledge in experience often take this form, even though the Objectivist view is similar to, but not the same as, those viewed discarded by history.

That’s hardly the whole story of Objectivist ideas in academia, but it is an important part, I think.

More on Tenure

 Posted by on 22 March 2002 at 9:13 am  Academia
Mar 222002

OpinionJournal has an interesting piece on the fairly legitimate grievances of grad students pushing for unionization. Many of those problems, the article argues, stem from the tenure system. The irony of all those leftist university professors overseeing “the closest thing America has to serfdom” is certainly not lost on me.

In e-mail, someone brought up the difficulties of moving from a tenure system to any other system (like multi-year contracts with a good grievance system). Perhaps professors who already have tenure would simply have to be aged out of the system. Incoming and untenured professors would only be offered the new system. Tenured professors would have the option of moving to the new system, but if they chose to retain tenure, they would not have access to the grievance system and some other benefits. Some might choose the new system, some would stick with the old. Eventually, tenure would die.

Also, why don’t professors have to retire at age 65 anymore? Is it government regulations or something else?

Honesty and Tenure

 Posted by on 19 March 2002 at 10:02 am  Academia, Honesty, Responsibility
Mar 192002

Steve Simpson pointed me to this op-ed by Robert Bartley on the myriad of recent scandals in the “supposedly high-minded quarters” of society, from academia to the Catholic Church. Dishonesty seems to be on a rampage. But there may be reason for hope, as Bartley suggests towards the end of his piece:

On whether we have experienced a general erosion of standards, I think I can rest my case. Human nature, of course, remains a constant over time and across fields of endeavor. What matters is accountability, that is, whether we as a society are willing to sit in judgment on each other. And perhaps the anecdotes above in fact suggest that in this post-Clinton era we’re making some progress; at least the issues are coming to light and creating some agony in church, government and universities.

But it only gets more interesting. Barley goes on to suggest businessmen do not share the “immunity from accountability” that tenured academics and civil servants have. They are not protected from their own immorality by the cushion of a more-or-less guaranteed job.

In my opinion, the tenure system doesn’t really protect professors against political ax-grinding. Those with unpopular opinions are simply weeded out before tenure is awarded. The downsides to the tenure system, in terms of ensconcing terrible professors and permitting little effort, are considerable. A system requiring competence and diligence while protecting professors against unjust politics would surely not be impossible to construct.

Intellectual Fraud

 Posted by on 4 March 2002 at 4:08 pm  Academia, Ethics, Honesty
Mar 042002

The fraudulent scholarship of Menchu, Bellesiles, and company is a rather interesting case study in the importance of honesty in professional life.

As Nathaniel Branden points out in his discussion of honesty in The Basic Principles of Objectivism, fraudulent scholarship brings about the very opposite of the desired ends. Intellectual frauds want their work to be noticed. Without notice, they will neither advance their cause nor become famous. Of course, by attempting to achieve these ends dishonestly, they risk damaging their cause and reputation. But actual detection is not their only problem.

The mere possibility of detection frustrates the lying scholar’s goals because popularity of his work engenders scrutiny. The very same attention to the ideas which motivated the original deception becomes a threat. The attention of other scholars must be avoided, because such attention risks exposure. Who doesn’t pose a threat? People too dumb to understand the ideas. People who are too lazy to investigate them. People who are too dishonesty to care whether they are true or not. What a pathetic crowd of admirers that would be!

Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha