Review—Stoner, by John Edward Williams

Stoner (1965), by John Edward Williams

A brief commentary by Frank Wilson stimulated me to read the book. More on his thoughts later.

The story begins with a two-paragraph recap of his his life—entering the University of Missouri in 1910, receiving his PhD, his acceptance of an instructorship there, his lack of ascension in the ranks, and his death in 1956. Right away, the reader knows there are problems ahead, e.g. ”Stoners’s colleagues, who held him in no particular esteem when he was alive, speak of him rarely now; to the older ones, his name is a reminder of the end that awaits them all, and to the younger ones it is merely a sound which evokes no sense of the past and no identity which they can associate themselves or their careers.”

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There are too many PhDs.

100 Reasons NOT to Go to Graduate School#55 There are too many Phds. (Hat tip: Instapundit) The money quote from Glenn Reynolds:

“Colleges benefit from this situation, because there are so many well-credentialed people desperate for teaching positions that they will work for very little money. This would not be such a problem if the world outside of academe had more use for people with PhDs (see Reason 29). The fact that it does not is why there are so many people with doctorates who now find themselves working in part-time temporary teaching positions with no benefits (see Reason 14). . . . Perhaps most scandalous is what legitimate research universities have done to devalue the PhD, which is now awarded in fields ranging from hotel management to recreation and (most ironic of all) higher education administration. In the meantime, universities continue to lower standards for graduate degrees. The traditional American master’s degree—which once required a minimum of two years of study, the passing of written and oral comprehensive exams, as well as the writing and defense of a thesis more substantial than many of today’s doctoral dissertations—has been dramatically watered down. Will it be long before the PhD suffers the same fate?”

Since I don’t have an advanced degree, one could surmise that I could be displaying this piece as a sign of jealousy against those who do have them. No, the people I know with expensive educations and the credentials to prove it are mostly admirable folks who deserve credit for their hard work and their achievement (and they all benefited from their investment). I do, however, have an interest in what seems to be an “education bubble,” the high costs associated with securing any kind of degree from a reputable institution, and the poor prospects of employment after one goes into debt and does all that work. I simply ask: In 2011 and the foreseeable future, is it worth it? After all, it is possible to educate oneself without going to Brown or Pepperdine and build a good life.

Plumbing sounds like a good career choice—then read all the great works by those famous dead white males in your spare time.


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Academic Bias

An article titled, the bias of self-selection, begins with:

The “leftist domination of college faculties,” sighs David French of the Alliance Defense Fund in a post at National Review Online, is “by now inarguable.” The argument has shifted to its cause.

The cause is bias.

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Campus liberals sacrificed free expression on the altar of political correctness

Article from Utne Reader—lacking courage, we now speak twaddle to power and intimidators.

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Megan McArdle Revisits Bias in Academia

In her latest piece at The Atlantic, Megan McArdle writes a long article on bias in academia mentioning the many angry comments to her previous post. (This relates to my post of February 9th which referred to her original article.) The article follows in its entirety, but the link provides numerous new and revealing comments on this hot topic:

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“Social Scientist Sees Bias Within”—No kidding?

As if most people with common sense didn’t already know that there is bias in the social sciences…. Nonetheless, John Tierney wrote an interesting article on tribal-moral communities in academia significantly prone to it—in the New York Times.

Frank Wilson commented on it. Also, Ann Althouse picked it up, quoting University of Virginia social psychologist Jonathan Haidt: “They’ll embrace science whenever it supports their sacred values, but they’ll ditch it or distort it as soon as it threatens a sacred value.”

Update: Megan McArdle also had something to say: “Trying to be more conscious of one’s own bias, and even to attempt to work against it, should not be such a hard task for people as brilliant, open-minded, and committed to equality and social justice as I keep hearing that liberal academics are. So it doesn’t really seem like so much to ask.”

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Linguistic Costuming

In this piece from The Chronicle of Higher Education, Rachel Toor, an assistant professor of creative writing, comments on bad academic writing and asks, “Why do we want to sound British?” She refers to the common practice of “linguistic costuming” saying that often “we want to sound more aristocratic than our roots.” It’s an entertaining article.

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