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The Last Professor …


Even in the excitement of these past few days and the anticipation of tomorrow, I can’t help but asking for comment from ephblog readers on the Stanley Fish article in today’s NYT: http://fish.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/01/18/the-last-professor/

Ringing so loud to me is of course, the reference to Art History and the lifetime effect of Faison-Pierson-Stoddard.

Without meaning to take away from the Winter Study discussions, I commend the article for its’ ‘compare and contrast’ of two purposes of education.

Unlike many of the readers of ephblog, I am not an educator. I am an old ad guy. I would like to read comments from those who regularly write on salaries, tenure, diversity, and the issues basic to the current Tyng Scholarships discussions.

In my opinion, the article provides even more reason for the importance of ‘elite’ colleges and the emphasis on the liberal arts. Yes, David, I even question the teaching of econ 18 in a Williams environment and its’ fit to a view of learning v a tool for business success.

Is Williams the home of the Last Professor or is this view of education
passe in a world of Master’s of the Universe?

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#1 Comment By sophmom On January 19, 2009 @ 11:38 am

Did you say Stanley as in F-I-S-H? Something tells me Ken will be dropping by. :-)

Meanwhile, I look forward to reading the article. It always takes me a while to digest Fish, though, so…

#2 Comment By rory On January 19, 2009 @ 11:47 am

i’d like to read the book before expanding on the topic, as Fish’s article is too brief to account for the variety of influences that would lead to a percentage increase in adjuncts, etc. but without harming the elite niche that liberal arts ALWAYS has been.

Corporate universities and community colleges are not evils, nor are they necessarily, by expanding, trying to replace the liberal arts model. but the liberal arts model has never been one that has pushed for more access…or, at least, not significantly more. it is elitist, but that is not, in and of itself, necessarily a bad thing either.

how many english professors were tenure-track in 1950? How many now? How much have those traditional schools in which such professors exist expanded? and in what direction?

and how much has the practice of buying out classes affected the percentage of faculty in the humanities? That is, few humanities professors can afford to buy out classes with researhc funds, many more social and natural scientists can. Might that explain things as well? but again…is that explanation a good thing, a bad thing, or neutral? god knows, buying out classes at my institution has led to a frustratingly small number of graduate courses being offered every year.

#3 Comment By sophmom On January 19, 2009 @ 12:10 pm

Okay. I read it, and I’m still digesting.

But in the meanwhile, I have to say, I just can’t believe that in an entire article, the gist of which is the “crisis” that the humanities face, there is not one mention of Kronman’s, “Education’s End” or for that matter, Ephblog’s fabulous CGCL of 08!

P.S. Rory, what do you mean by “buying out classes”?

#4 Comment By Alexander Woo On January 19, 2009 @ 1:52 pm

I’ll say something about the general discussion in another post later (hopefully), but to explain for sophmom on ‘buying out classes’:

Faculty at colleges and universities are obligated, contractually or by common practice, to teach a certain number of courses per year. (The number depends on the institution and sometimes also the subject.)

A research grant sometimes includes a provision that allows the faculty member to teach fewer classes. This is arranged contractually in a number of ways. The grant may pay the university directly to allow the university to hire someone to teach the classes instead. Alternatively, the faculty member might temporarily become a part-time faculty member with reduced salary, with the grant paying him directly to replace the lost salary. Various other alternative arrangements also exist.

The faculty member is expected by the granting agency to spend the time which would have otherwise been spent on teaching the additional classes on the research specified in the grant.

At a major research university, almost all the science and engineering professors buy out some of their teaching. An average Biology professor at a major research university might teach only half as many classes as an English professor, and some Biology professors might almost never teach (except for supervising graduate students) at all.

#5 Comment By sophmom On January 19, 2009 @ 8:45 pm


Thanks so much for the explanation. It not only clarifies Rory point for me, but gives me a much better understanding of the entire topic…complicated.

#6 Comment By frank uible On January 19, 2009 @ 10:00 pm

Isn’t the search for truth, justice and beauty its own reward? I have known a lot of folks who seem to be interested not in the search for truth, justice or beauty but only advantage, and I envy none of them.

#7 Comment By eph ’07 On January 26, 2009 @ 1:29 pm

Every time I read something like this, it makes me wish I hadn’t just sent out those graduate school applications. And yet I don’t wish that, really….