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When you teach a survey course, you make choices about what to emphasize, what to leave out and what your narrative or analytical through-line for the course will be. For example, for the introduction to US history since 1865, I emphasize the relation between sectionalism and the growth of federal power.

But for lecture you can’t just do a piece of that analytical narrative every time – that would be monotonous. So to change pace and liven things up, you have certain stories you like to tell, even if they slow the insistent forward motion of survey lectures. You say, maybe, here’s a story that helps to illustrate the themes I’ve been laying out; something with a little finer grain to let us see how these issues play out in individual lives.

For example, I use the murder of William McKinley (not surprising, I suppose), the Warren Court and the Brown case; Robert F. Kennedy’s appearance in Indianapolis in 1968.

What are your favorite drop-in stories and why?

That’s a shocking infographic.”

Rick Santorum:

I was just reading something last night from the state of California. And that the California universities – I think it’s seven or eight of the California system of universities don’t even teach an American history course. It’s not even available to be taught. Just to tell you how bad it’s gotten in this country, where we’re trying to disconnect the American people from the roots of who we are, so they have an understanding of what America should be.

I suppose that narrowly speaking, he might not be lying: he might have read “something … from the state of California” that said this. That something might of course have been scrawled in green crayon on a crumpled paper bag.

But there is certainly no substantial truth in this statement, especially the notion that either of the “California system[s] of universities” is “trying to disconnect the American people from the roots of who we are”.

Someone is trying to make Santorum look like a profoundly ignorant man.

I was able to find US history courses at the CSUs:

Channel Islands
Dominguez Hills
East Bay
Long Beach
Los Angeles
Monterey Bay
San Bernardino
San Diego
San Francisco
San Jose
San Luis Obispo
San Marcos

As for the UC’s:

Los Angeles
San Diego
Santa Barbara
Santa Cruz

Here at UC Davis, of course, American history is part of the General Education requirement of all students.

And UCSF is of course exclusively a medical school. But even it offers a history of Psychiatry in the United States as part of its History of Health Sciences program.

USA Today hed reads, “Higher education vanishing before our eyes”.

Even with top grades and extracurricular activities, students may find it difficult to gain acceptance to or graduate from a four-year university after recent cuts to higher education budgets.

The month of March has been particularly bad for colleges and universities nationwide, as budget negotiations have left many institutions of higher education in the red.…

California’s State University (CSU) system announced Monday that they would close the admission process for nearly all of its 23 campuses for the Spring 2013 semester, affecting almost 16,000 students wishing to attend.

In addition, every student applying for the 2013-2014 school year will be waitlisted while officials await Gov. Brown’s proposed budget initiative to increase taxes in November. If the measure is defeated, officials will be forced to cut enrollment by an additional 20,000-25,000 students.

“By limiting enrollment we are able to concentrate on our current students,” said Mike Uhlenkamp, CSU spokesman.

Current CSU students have seen their fees rise while their class sizes have increased and their course options have become more limited; all of which has helped to increase expected graduation time from four to six years, according to Uhlenkamp.

The CSU system has already lost approximately $1 billion, or 33%, in the last 4 years due to state budget cuts.

In Britain, the Labour Party justified doing this sort of thing by a change of colors: it became New Labour, shifting rhetoric and policy, with house philosophers and lots of Thatcherite flourishes. In the US, the Democrats have simply done it.

- Hi, sorry to bother you, but could you please help me? I’m confused … the description of this collection says it has 44 boxes but then there are only 20 boxes listed.
– Hmm. Let me look at that for you … [clickety clickety clickety … pad pad pad … murmur murmur murmur … stride stride stride] Yes, that’s correct. There are 44 boxes, but 24 are uncatalogued.
– [heart sinking; the catalogued 20 are from a period completely irrelevant to your topic] Would it be possible for me still to see them please?
– [pad pad pad … murmur murmur murmur … stride stride stride] Yes, though you should know that once we catalogue them the box number may change.
– [calls boxes … boxes begin to arrive … begins looking]

On the one hand, this is terribly frustrating: you’ve no idea what you will get. On the other, it’s wonderful: you’ve no idea what you will get. There are papers in folders and papers in envelopes and loose papers, snapshots and certificates and invoices, family letters and official reports, all very much as if they were picked directly out of the subject’s garage on the day after his death and stuck in acid-free boxes and then left there for decades. There is nothing of real value, though of prudence and courtesy to the material you’ve taken a few notes and snapped a few photos. Boxes come and boxes go. Time ticks by. The archives will close in forty-five minutes. At which point, in the penultimate box – in the middle of the penultimate box – stuck in backward so the title tab is facing away from you and you might have missed it, there is a manila folder crammed about to a thickness of about an inch with onion-skin papers, labeled in unsharpened pencil with the title of your topic

Someday, perhaps someday soon, The Very Last Edited Collection of Essays will roll off a university press.

For years historians have been told that There Will Be No More, because they don’t make money. When one goes to a small conference, the organizers always say, “we would like to get an edited collection out of this, but the publishers we’ve spoken to say they aren’t doing them anymore.”

For a long time, putting out an edited collection was a good way of defining a new subfield – of saying, not only am I toiling in these weeds, but so also are a dozen other promising scholars. Or of redefining an existing subfield, of saying, brave new work is still happening here. Or, very occasionally, they essay a redefinition of the field itself. Or of course they collect the short works of a major historian.

I have a number of these collections on my shelves. The ones I reach for, repeatedly, are few, and almost always of the last kind – the collected short works: Hofstadter’s Paranoid Style, Brinkley’s Liberalism and its Discontents, Haskell’s Objectivity is not Neutrality.

Despite the long era of warning that There Will Be No More, a thinning stream of them still trickles off the presses. When it stops, I suspect it will be the first kind of book to stop – before the dissertation monograph.

When they came for the edited collection, I said nothing …

It troubled me when President Obama scoldingly said, “We’re putting colleges on notice: you can’t assume that you’ll just jack up tuition every single year”. The UC has raised tuition, but it hasn’t been on its own initiative; it’s been because the state has cut funding to higher education.

Now Robert Frank riffs on Obama’s comment, attributing rising tuition to rising faculty salaries.

To recruit professors, universities must pay salaries roughly in line with those made possible by productivity growth in other sectors. So while rising salaries needn’t lead to higher prices in many industries, they do in academia and many other service industries.

As they say about the International Jewish-Zionist Monetary Conspiracy, if there is one I want my share.1 I don’t think rising faculty salaries are the primary cause of increasing tuition costs.

Frank’s colleague Ronald Ehrenberg has been more eclectic – and I think more persuasive – in attributing the rise of tuition costs.

These include the aspirations of academic institutions; our “winner-take-all” society; the shared system of governance that exists in academic institutions; recent federal government policies; the role of external actors such as alumni, local government, the environmental movement, and historic preservationists; periodicals that rank academic institutions; and how universities are organized for budgetary purposes and how they select and reward their deans.

Or consider this report:

  • The main reason tuition has been rising faster than college costs is that colleges had to make up for reductions in the per-student subsidy state taxpayers sent colleges. In 2006, the last year for which Wellman had data, state taxpayers sent $7,078 per student to the big public research universities. That’s $1,270 less (after accounting for inflation) than they sent in 2002.
  • Public universities have been reining in overall spending per student in recent years. Flagship public universities’ spending per student has risen from about $12,400 in 1995 to $13,800 in 2006 after accounting for inflation. But since 2002, spending at public colleges has generally not exceeded inflation.
  • Increases in spending were driven mostly by higher administration, maintenance, and student services costs. Public universities spent almost $4,000 per student per year on administration, support, and maintenance in 2006, up more than 13 percent, in real terms over 1995. And they spent another $1,200 a year on services such as counseling, which was up 23 percent. Meanwhile, they spent about $8,700 a year on classroom instruction for each student, up about 9 percent.
  • Big private universities, powered by tuition and endowment increases, have increased spending dramatically while public schools have languished. Total educational spending per student at private research universities has jumped by almost 10 percent since 2002 to more than $33,000. During that same period, public university total spending was comparatively flat and totaled less than $14,000 a year.

I wonder what Mark Thoma himself thinks.

1Or half-share, if you insist.

If you’ve ever wondered to yourself why I don’t edit, say, the Keynesian section on the New Deal on Wikipedia, you might want to look into the now much-covered story of Timothy Messer-Kruse’s valiant effort to get Haymarket treated properly. (We have previously drawn on Messer-Kruse’s excellent work here.)

To be clear, this is, if not quite laziness on my part, then simply a prioritizing of time and energy. I believe in what Messer-Kruse is doing and I wish him greatest success.

Yesterday in the Aggie one read,

The UC sent cease-and-desist letters to on Nov. 10, 2010, a note-sharing website owned by the Santa Clara company Chegg, as well as on Jan. 10, 2011, appealing to the websites to stop encouraging students to post notes on their sites. They remained in negotiations for several months before the sites removed the content.

Today, I received an email from someone named Tracy King, Content Administrator, reading

Hi there,

Thanks for being part of the Notehall family. We are working hard to expand our services at UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA-DAVIS and need your help.

Apply to be a Note Taker this term.

The Position:
The job is a flexible semester long position. Depending on the class you cover you can earn up to $450.

The responsibilities:
• Take notes for a class you’re currently enrolled in
• Create study guide for exams
• Earn commissions
• Make money for being a good student!

Apply Now

I don’t think the UC is making much of an impression on Notehall; if they took down the content, they are apparently now keen to replace it.

Michael Bérubé runs the numbers on Penn State:

In 1985, the state provided 45 percent of Penn State’s budget; in 2011 it provided 6 percent. In 1985, in-state tuition was just over $2,500; today it is over $16,000. Over the past twenty-five years, the cost of a public college education has increasingly been offloaded onto individual students and their families, as education has been redefined from a public good to a private investment.

And he concludes:

A fully privatized Penn State no longer has any reason to call itself “Penn State.” Indeed, the name would amount almost to false advertising, since there would be nothing “State” about us. And that means a whole new vista would be open to us – and in different ways, to Temple and to Pitt. In two words: naming rights … Let the bidding begin.

My hopes are in the title.

Mitt Romney is flacking for his campaign donor’s business, “Full Sail University.” I eagerly await even one of our leaders sending his children to such an outfit.

The biggest changes in my research since I became a historian have come about because of the usefulness of laptops and digital cameras. When I started doing scholarly research, note-taking was still done using pen and paper (or pencil and paper for particularly careful archives). In the 1990s, however, computers suddenly became really portable, and could be carried into the archive and used to take notes. Suddenly, my high school typing class really started to pay off: ten fingers of typing madness.

My first real research workhorse was a PowerBook 160, 7 lbs and 25 MHz of raw computing power. Allied with a homebrewed Filemaker Pro database, this laptop carried me through a large chunk of my dissertation research. The main limitations on the PowerBook were its battery life (circa two hours) and the range of restrictions that archives put on the use of laptops. The former meant that there was often a mad rush for available outlets by scholars (the old British Library was particularly difficult; if you didn’t get there by 9 am, you weren’t getting a seat in the one row with available plugs). The latter meant that I had to be careful to check with each archive on what they would allow before visiting. The PowerBook did have an unexpected benefit: it got warm when being used, which was nice in archives with less than sufficient winter insulation (yes, I’m looking at you, Colindale).

Figuring out the process happened piecemeal. I didn’t plan ahead of time how to use the new technology, I just took it with to the archives and tried to use it. That meant that the laptop became an electronic notepad/typewriter at first, but I quickly began to figure out ways to use it to better advantage. I learned to program Filemaker, to set up ways to make each note individual and linked to a source citation. I figured out ways to use keywords so that I could gather the individual records into larger groups when I needed to use them. Later, as I was writing, I figured out how to apportion records to particular chapters. The result was barebones, primitive, and resolutely black and white:


The above was a personal memoir of a British soldier in the First World War from the Imperial War Museum.


This was an entry for Martin Ceadel’s book on pacifism in Britain in WWI.

The second record comes from a later iteration of the database and the improvements are evident. In an odd sense, the research notebook grew with the research, sprouting new features and new abilities as I went along. The advantage was that I could do more with it. The disadvantage was that retrofitting a feature left a fair number of earlier entries out, and it was often difficult to update them. Nor, I should note, did I particularly learn the lessons of this impromptu development. I’ve continued to adopt new technology but have essentially figured out how to use it as I go along. There are any number of my scholarly tools, electronic and otherwise, that have been fitted and retrofitted, made for one purpose and then pushed to do another.

Next: digital cameras.

Some excellent advice.

  • It is best to go on the job market your last ABD year, so that you’ll appear fresh AND it’s preferable to have your degree in hand and a few years of teaching experience.
  • One should publish aggressively in field-leading journals and seek to publish one’s dissertation as soon as practicable in order to stand out AND it’s best to go the more traditional route and hold back on publishing one’s research so as to save it for the tenure probationary period.
  • One should cultivate as wide a teaching competence as possible so as to serve a variety of departmental needs AND one needs to have a clear, narrow specialization.
  • One should jump at the opportunity to do adjunct work in order to stay in the field and develop one’s teaching portfolio AND one should be cautious about doing adjunct work lest it leave you with the taint of being a second-rater.

Excellence in truth, not in usefulness.

I’ve taught the introductory historiography and methods seminar to incoming graduate students three times, and each time I’ve assigned Richard Evans’s Telling Lies About Hitler. Originally, the point in assigning it was to draw a line beyond which respectable historians must not go; together with Ari I had picked a number of other books that showed acceptable, even laudable, creativity in interpreting and extrapolating from sources – Return of Martin Guerre, Unredeemed Captive, others – and I wanted one that showed an unarguably inexcusable abuse of sources, so that we might know the difference. And what better choice than a tale about Holocaust denial?

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Shorter Obama administration: yes, we will preserve acknowledged social ills against which we’ve inveighed when prevailed upon by massive expenditures of money and influence. No, I guess this is not so much reason for hope or evidence of change.

Last year, the Obama administration vowed to stop for-profit colleges from luring students with false promises. In an opening volley that shook the $30 billion industry, officials proposed new restrictions to cut off the huge flow of federal aid to unfit programs.

But after a ferocious response that administration officials called one of the most intense they had seen, the Education Department produced a much-weakened final plan that almost certainly will have far less impact as it goes into effect next year.

The story of how the for-profit colleges survived the threat of a major federal crackdown offers a case study in Washington power brokering. Rattled by the administration’s tough talk, the colleges spent more than $16 million on an all-star list of prominent figures, particularly Democrats with close ties to the White House, to plot strategy, mend their battered image and plead their case.

No reason for disappointment here.

Under the title, “Watch this man,” the London Review of Books publishes Pankaj Mishra’s review of Niall Ferguson’s Civilization. The essay opens with a riff on the “this man Goddard” scene from The Great Gatsby, in which Tom Buchanan rails against the decline of the white man’s West. Noting that “Goddard” stood in for Lothrop Stoddard, the real-life racist, Mishra refers to the arguments of Ferguson’s first major book, The Pity of War, as “Stoddardesque laments about the needless emasculation of Anglo-Saxon power.” Mishra refers also to Ferguson’s “bluster about the white man’s burden.”
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If you want to know why tuitions at American universities are rising, don’t look at the likes of me: faculty compensation isn’t going up. Felix Salmon explains what you might guess:

spending on faculty compensation is never more than 40% of total spending, and “has remained steady or decreased slightly over time”. Then have a look at the numbers.

Overall, if we exclude for-profit schools, which were a tiny part of the landscape in 1999, we have seen tuition fees rise by 32% between 1999 and 2009. Over the same period, instruction costs rose just 5.6% — the lowest rate of inflation of any of the components of education services. (“Student services costs” and “operations and maintenance costs” saw the greatest inflation, at 15.2% and 18.1% respectively, but even that is only half the rate that tuition increased.)

The real reason why tuition has been rising so much has nothing to do with Baumol, and everything to do with the government. Page 31 of the report is quite clear: “except for private research institutions,” it says, “tuitions were increasing almost exclusively to replace losses from state revenues or other private revenue sources.”

In other words, tuition costs are going up just because state subsidies are going down. Every time there’s a state fiscal crisis, subsidies get cut; once cut, they never get reinstated. And so the proportion of the cost of college which is borne by the student has been rising steadily for decades.

Because there’s no petition like repetition, and it’s that most wonderful time of the year again, here’s an oldie, from four years ago when the world and this blog were young and pulling the gowans fine. It’s still the first blog post that comes up when you google my name (don’t google my name), so we might as well run it again. For the rust is on the leaves and the rime is on the meadow, and autumn breezes are blowing into our mailboxes the inquiries of would-be graduate students – so many more than there are spaces for. Here then is an avuncular saying, as from a sadder and a wiser man.

Every year I want to write this post, and every year I think of it too late — which is to say, after we’re in the thick of hiring and graduate school applications. And I wouldn’t want to post it then, because if I did, people would think I was breaking the rules of discretion and referring to some specific applicant.
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Anthony Grafton on the crisis (“if there is a crisis,” as 1984-era Hal Riney would say) in higher education. One thing that’s sure: the effort to crack into the top athletic tier isn’t the right answer. At least, it’s not the answer if the question is, “how do you make colleges better?”

After such knowledge, what forgiveness? The system runs, in part, on its failures. Administrators count on the tuition paid, from borrowed money, by undergraduates who they know will drop out before they use up many services. To provide teaching they exploit instructors still in graduate school, many of whom they know will also drop out and not demand tenure-track jobs. Faculty, once they have found a berth, often become blind to the problems and deaf to the cries of their own indentured students. And even where the will to do better is present, the means are often used for very different ends.

In many universities, finally, the sideshows have taken over the big tent. Competitive sports consume vast amounts of energy and money, some of which could be used to improve conditions for students. It’s hard not to be miserable when watching what pursuit of football glory has done to Rutgers, which has many excellent departments and should be—given the wealth of New Jersey—an East Coast Berkeley or Michigan. The university spends $26.9 million a year subsidizing its athletic programs. Meanwhile faculty salaries have been capped and raises canceled across the board. Desk telephones were recently removed from the offices of the historians. Repairs have been postponed, and classroom buildings, in constant use from early morning until late at night, have become shabbier and shabbier.

When critics argued that it made no sense to support football at the expense of teaching, an official spokesman replied: “The university’s direct support to athletics represents only about 1 percent of the Rutgers budget.” Presumably he counted on readers not to know that in any large organization’s budget, the entire amount of money that is not committed years in advance is no more than 1 or 2 percent—or, to put it more specifically, that athletics has swallowed the money that could otherwise have been used to improve the university’s core activities. Christopher Newfield is not the only sober, informed observer who believes that political elites are deliberately attacking middle-class education.

This advice on business writing, although pitched against academic writing, actually seems like pretty sound advice for academics, except maybe for the advice to use “I” and “you”. But: don’t assume a captive audience, get to the point, cut, especially cut fancy words, and it’s okay to begin sentences with conjunctions—all of that sounds pretty good.

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