“Neoliberal policy makers who have advocated for increased privatization and market-based educational reforms have produced a system that has expanded opportunity for all.” – from Academically Adrift (The Read . . . #27)

The (excerpted) conclusions: both positive and negative outcomes result from applying a market framework/economics discourse to higher education.

The positives may be surprising, but some of the negative effects on student/faculty behaviors should not be – regardless of the reader’s political persuasion.

Who would grant that an economics (or populist) discourse can affect students/faculty?


“[R]ecent surveys of students and faculty have found that faculty are more likely than students to report that being well off financially is an essential or a very important goal to them.” – from Academically Adrift (The Read . . . #25)

In general at four-year institutions, faculty are not rewarded (very much) for focusing on undergraduate instruction but on research. However, to counter this orientation as well as the quoted survey result in the title of this post, the authors suggest that faculty embrace research to fulfill a “quasi-religious commitment” (see below).

This effectively shifts blame for the commercialization of higher education away from any faculty influenced by financial incentives and onto administration/industry/govt. (which lack a “moral imperative”).

The dichotomy is a bit precious: workers/laborers must often search for (and find) spiritual meaning in what they do. The problem is not that some faculty hear a “calling” but that this frame narrative – similar to the transhistorical/educator-centered discourse that informs Realist’s (et al.’s) writing – works to etherealize the faculty (and the “true” university), their financial concerns and, by extension, the financial concerns of their students. Etherealization does not radically confront commercialization: instead, it mostly maintains the status quo.

(A second consideration: one could suppose that the commercialization of research at four-year institutions is analogous to certain aspects of CCC’s Reinvention and ask if undergraduate instruction suffers of benefits from the application of a market framework/economics discourse. As it turns out, according to the authors, the answer is rather mixed.)

bayh dole site


It always comes down to one’s “caricature”: conceding to the use of invective-filled speech acts but denying any harm is characteristic of populists-jingoists/harassers. (The Read . . . #24.5)


12Keystrokes teaches that the aim of argument is communication, not confrontation. (In contrast, quarreling tends to be about “winning” – whatever that might mean to the quarrelers.)

It is not productive to argue over personal preferences (like “best” ice cream flavors or candies).

As they progress in their academic and professional careers and engage with an ever-widening public sphere, students will need to know how to write in (more) formal situations.

It’s all quite standard, really.

12Keystrokes’ position (thus far) remains as follows:

  • We (re)present ourselves textually;
  • Realist (et al.) engages in black-or-white thinking and populist/jingoist/“educator-centered” discourses that rely on an in-crowd’s over-identification with academic degrees/critical thinking (and a curious construction of students’ SES);
  • Realist (et al.) responds to opposing viewpoints with harassment, snipey comments, fallacious reasoning, double-standards (i.e., a flagrant unwillingness to honor the presuppositions that structure reasoned debate) – all of which characterizes populism/jingoism;
  • This list is not complete.

Clearly, Sketches works through the above bullet statements.

Your comment is deceitful. Your assertion that 12Keystrokes is engaged in unwarranted criticism is profoundy unfortunate.  Realist claims anonymity enables a focus on the message, not the messenger.  You focus on anonymity (or “caricature”) to filter the message (and to deflect 12Keystrokes’ focus on the rhetoric of the message).  “Obviously” is an intensifier that asserts epistemic certainty and reinforces assumptions (silences) within a particular community or situation (contexts).  To take something as “given” requires no evidence; thus, your comment is wholly personal (arguing over preferences).  You write Realist is a caricature, a faculty member, a “he” or “she” and – with this layering of selves and unclear pronoun antecedents in place – go on to claim that Realist can be “illogical” or (harmlessly) “annoying” but a “frequent stimulator of productive conversation.”  That last rhetorical ploy simultaneously seeks to establish Realist’s character while directing the reader to place any faults on a caricature (that is, a purely abstract literary device that has somehow animated itself), surely prompting at least one colloquial retort of “How stupid do you think I am?”

An exchange between PhiloDave and 12Keystrokes that took place roughly halfway through Sketches’ four-month run (there were no posts in May) already addresses your other complaints. (Conspicuously, pedantry goes unmentioned, though your concern for that occurs elsewhere.)**

Finally, 12Keystrokes urges no rush to judge the Deen controversy that Realist dangles and pairs so emptily with unresolved Blackhawks comments; instead, 12Keystrokes invites you to consider 1) the CLA performance task, 2) Realist’s puzzlement that inappropriate language is tolerated in one context and not another,  and 3) the fact that Fish’s explanation regarding speech and context was already provided.

This suggests the following:

  • Realist does not read/write carefully enough (or with enough understanding);
  • Realist (instructor at HWC) rushes to distance herself/himself from Deen (celebrity chef);
  • Realist mistakes the simple decision to reject/mute Deen/MTV.com for complex reasoning (which would require some analysis of the limit of “free speech”);
  • Transfer has not occurred.

Exactly what does this “caricature” wish to satirize?

Page’s “Paula Deen’s Menu: Foot in Mouth” jibes with Fish, and both men are correct: thanks to Deen and Realist, there are healthy conversations to be had that have little to do with bicycles. Have those conversations, Kamran.

Or don’t.

*12Keystrokes is not engaged in mere name calling. Quite unexpectedly, this reply made for an excellent summary of Sketches thus far, so the decision was made to contribute it as a separate post.

**Your concerns over pedantry suggest that you have been criticized for it.

Academically Adrift analyzes the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA) – a direct (albeit general/“generic”) assessment of critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing – as well as other assessment tools to report that four-year college students are not learning very much, especially during their first two years. Academic degrees may not always be that academic. (The Read . . . #24)


See “The Read . . . #23” for a video re: the book’s findings. Find excerpts from the video/book in “The Read . . . #25.” Click on the following links for reviews/criticism of Academically Adrift.


One can certainly locate Academically Adrift within a long line of similar studies that bemoan the loss of academic rigor in American education, but one cannot easily dismiss the study as yet another rightwing piece in a (policy) narrative that seeks to commodify education: Academically Adrift slants to the political Left. Besides, some readers remember the release of A Nation at Risk (1982) – and the “culture wars” that gave us Closing of the American Mind by A. Bloom and The Western Canon by H. Bloom – so they know at a glance that Academically Adrift does not fit that narrative.

Many educators now entertain the notion that the loss of academic rigor in American education has been ongoing for at least a few decades: arguably, that decline is manifest in Realist’s writing. Consider the sample CLA performance task/snapshots below and the links in https://haroldlounge.com/2013/06/01/pop-jingo-framing-the-stakeholders-goals-and-problems-related-to-reinvention-so-broadly-allows-realist-to-recast-reinvention-as-a-colonization-effort-a-corporate-takeover-and-even-a-civil-war/.

Correction re: “The Read . . . #23”: The video is titled “Learning During Unsettled Times” and presents a talk by one of the authors of Academically Adrift.
cla export one jpeg
CLA export two jpeg

Once again, a post by Realist relies on rhetorical questions to express “concern” for “our students” and their (academic) degrees, but then the post itself demonstrates no identifiable discipline-specific expertise and no critical thinking. Who is served (by that)?* (The Read . . . #23)

A rhetorical question is one that is not answered because the individual posing the question either believes the answer to be self-evident or seeks to provoke an emotional response. No answer is desired. At times, an author can use rhetorical questions to facilitate further discussion. (“Hypophora” is when a question is asked and then answered.)

Many students and a few HWC/CCC faculty and staff answered SFTB’s question. However, the students’ responses did not lead to any kind of sustained discussion facilitated by SFTB, the students’ instructor (who may not have been SFTB), or Lounge authors ( https://haroldlounge.com/2013/04/25/the-read-from-this-side-of-suite-711-20/).  This suggests that the question was rhetorical.

SFTB’s question invokes economic/social class issues but then does not go on to engage those issues. 12Keystrokes has chosen to consider the invocation of those issues by unpacking SFTB’s question, beginning with the concept academic/academic degree. (In later posts, “who is served?” will be considered.)

Academically Adrift/the video above (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zGjzmP2rpGo) examines a broad range of 24 diverse four-year institutions but is still applicable to the discussion at hand. It’s also relevant to a discussion about the utility of semester-by-semester program maps.

*Occasional minor errors owing to the casualness of the Lounge or the bustle of work and home do not concern 12Keystrokes. However, 12Keystrokes believes that if one repeatedly invokes the value of academic skill sets, one should demonstrate those skill sets.

It’s perfectly fine for an opinion community to champion writing that stirs the pot, makes “political hay” or performs for an in-crowd, but that community should acknowledge that there isn’t anything particularly academic about the writing. To this plain end, the Sketches have thus far identified two straw men – 1) free speech, and 2) the caveat re: correlation and causation in social science research.

There is a harm caused by Realist’s (et al.’s) writing.

Pop-Jingo (Too). Both academic and non-academic credentials get converted into wages and social prestige and are further converted into many other things, such as social mobility, civic engagement (democracy) – or arguments that pack this process of economic/social conversion into populist, jingoist, and “educator-centered” discourses. (The Read . . . #22)

Cultural Currency

A diploma from an academic college signifies the attainment of certain academic skill sets, while a certificate from a non-academic college signifies the attainment of more “mechanical” skill sets. Both types of credentials are cultural currency that can be exchanged for wages and social prestige. Should graduates be called upon to demonstrate their skill sets but fail to do so adequately, their worth as employees and the worth of their credentials (and/or institutions granting the credentials) may be called into question.


Anyone who has ever purchased faulty repair services for a major appliance (e.g., a furnace or dishwasher) most likely called into question not only the particular repair job but also the technician’s training/certification. It all seems clear cut and measurable with mechanical skill sets: the repaired appliance either will or will not operate.

Academic skill sets are more difficult to measure. For example, as young children we all made many leaps of faith each day when dealing with teachers, counselors, doctors, lawyers, and so on: we didn’t understand all that they were doing, and even if we as children knew their skill sets were inadequate, we weren’t able to articulate an evaluation of those skill sets until we reached adulthood and (ideally) could draw upon a wealth of life experiences and a good education. Looking back on such memories, most would agree that there is a need for more immediate and standardized metrics, particularly when it comes to academic skill sets.

However, as often noted on the Lounge (see https://haroldlounge.com/2013/05/07/true-story/), mere degree completion is a crude indicator, and economic metrics fall short due to the nature of the goods and services created by higher education. (It’s not that the goods and services are immaterial but that critical thinking, say, unlike a widget, cannot be so easily quantified/compartmentalized.) Others (http://citycollegeschicagoreinvention-truths.blogspot.com/2011/04/expose-of-manipulation-of-data-used-to.html) point out that performance data must be comparative and contextual to be meaningful (and not misleading); further, although a performance data analysis may lower the cost and improve the efficiency of widget production, it is less likely to do so when applied to the cost/efficiency of degree production. (For example, factoring in grants, scholarships, government subsidies, level of prepatory education, transfer/non-transfer prior to degree completion, and a host of other variables that living beings bring to the equation clouds the cost/efficiency of degree production.)

Lastly, there is the caveat about correlation and causality when it comes to social science research.*


VFA blurb

VFA might very well address the concerns expressed above. Or not. Read more at http://www.aacc.nche.edu/Resources/aaccprograms/VFAWeb/Pages/VFAHomePage.aspx. More backstory re: the current climate of accountability can be found at http://www.aaup.org/article/accreditation-and-federal-future-higher-education.

Credentials of Academic, non-Academic, and Economic Value

SFTB’s question assumes a simple, reductive correspondence between credentials (like badges) and skill sets. Of course, credentials function as cultural currency, so arguments about the fidelity of metrics belie the simplicity of accurately converting cultural currency (i.e., skill sets) into wages and social prestige. Here on the Lounge the conversion to economic value is particularly suspect while the conversion to “social prestige” is not. For Realist et al. “academic” is privileged over “non-academic” not just because of skill sets but because putative categories of people/professions are already held in place ideologically; consequently, the argument runs that academic degrees likely enable social mobility, uphold democracy, and stimulate capitalism, while non-academic degrees likely enslave their holders to the totalizing logic of capital.

But both academic and non-academic credentials get converted into wages and social prestige and are further converted into many other things, such as social mobility, civic engagement (democracy) – or even arguments that pack this process of economic/social conversion into populist, jingoist, and “educator-centered” discourses. (This list is not meant to be exhaustive.)

As many are fond of saying: follow the money.

Thus, SFTB’s question.

*(Of course setting aside correlative/experimental evidence in order to privilege speculative/anecdotal evidence is a rhetorical ploy on both Don’s and Dave’s part. Other than some tonal similarities, however, the two anecdotes are not parallel. https://haroldlounge.com/2013/05/07/true-story/)