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Reporting on higher education needs more diverse voices, and the NYT is NOT on it

Well, if I’m going to blog about this, I might as well go big or go home, so here’s my rant, more or less pieced out from the NYT recent pieces on academic conferences and the “value” of a professor. Both pieces were written by scholars who, when we talk about privilege (and being a full time academic IS a privilege) are within the top rungs. I call these pieces “academic clickbait” because they make us all go “BUT THAT’S NOT HOW ACADEMIA REALLY WORKS” and write response pieces, which in turn (because we’re good scholars and we cross-link and attribute) give them even more clicks. Remember when I said that these pieces were click-bait? This is a genre most perfected by Nick Kristof, who got us all angry because we were told we weren’t engaging enough with the public and we still lived in the ivory tower.

So, two folks I really like took the NYT’s bait and responded two most excellent pieces, which are respectively David M. Perry in defense of the academic conference, and Kevin Gannon, explaining that he was too busy teaching to be lectured to on the value of professors. I really like both David and Kevin and their responses to the NYT’s academic clickbait, particularly because they come from the SLAC world.


What I said on Twitter this morning remains true, about the lack of diversity in the voices that exists in academia and the public discourse around it, and it is important to remember that three of the responses I saw were by white male academics who are full time faculty members, two at small liberal arts colleges (David and Kevin) and one tenured at an R1 (Dan Drezner, whom I also really like). It is true that David and Kevin’s responses DO add to the diversity because they present us not with the R1 (research university for those not of you in the world of academiquese) view, but with a SLAC view. And Dan reminds us that the risk with these op-eds is that a common, day-to-day reader would simply take what they read at face value and form a grossly oversimplified view of what higher education looks like. But voices from scholars of color, female academics, adjuncts, are still nowhere to be found.

I took the bait too, but I swear that there is a reason why I am doing so. As I said, to add diversity to the conversation you would also need to hear, as I indicated, from marginalized academics, adjuncts, graduate students, female scholars, academics of color, and queer scholars. Those who, like David and Kevin indicate about the case of professors at SLACs, face structural inequalities in the world of higher education day in and day out. And I’m queer, Latino and I teach in a Mexican institution but maintain an international presence. So I figure I had something to add to the conversation. I recognize my own privilege (full time, TT, 2-0 teaching load), but I am also part of communities that have traditionally faced marginalization.

I have previously defended the value of academic conferences, particularly because that’s where I get a lot of exposure to my work in English, seeing as I teach in a Spanish language institution. I have also previously showcased the challenges of public engagement for marginalized academics given the realities of structural inequalities and marginalization processes that are deeply embedded in traditional academia.

So, I issued a challenge on Twitter: we DO need to rethink academia, but collectively. Not by getting individually angry at these op-eds, but by starting, continuing, and furthering our conversations about what needs to be done to change higher education, and THEN do it. I will acknowledge that these op-eds do start conversations amongst ourselves, I just wish we did not need them to have these talks. And again, I insist on the lack of diverse voices in mainstream reporting and opinion pieces on higher education. Hopefully this new wave (trust me, we will get another academic click bait piece in 3…2…1) of thought pieces will force us to engage more deeply with the issues facing modern academia, particularly how to create opportunities for public engagement for scholars on the margins.

EDIT: Speaking of more diverse voices, LD Burnett and Melonie Fullick also wrote responses to Bauerlein that are totally worth checking out, and much more interesting than the academic clickbait we were subjected to.

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