Thursday, January 18, 2024

Not Wikipedia: The Forgotten World of Academic Blogs

At first I was just going to write about the still-online but no-longer-updating 100 Reasons NOT to go to Graduate School (last post: August, 2018), but there are so many others from the glory years of blogging (2004-2020).

Confession of a College Professor (2013-2020)

This was a blog of musings by a conservative college professor ("Professor Doom") who taught Mathematics and was stuck doing a lot of remedial classes. He got cancer and died of it sometime in 2019 or 2020, and a friend uploaded the final posts. Prof Doom gave us such bangers as "Why Remedial Students Should Leave College" and "New Campus Commissar: Departmental Academic Diversity Officer" and a series on college myths. This is the same Professor Doom that published Why Johnny Can't Read, Write, or Do 'Rithmetic Even With a College Degree in 2014. I haven't read the book, but any fan of Charles Sykes' ProfScam (1988) might nod in agreement.

Inside Boston University (2013-2020)

I've mentioned Ray Carney on this blog before, but this is is his possibly-defunct blog about working at Boston University, the private college in the town of the same name in Massachusetts. Pretty much Carney (being a decent film theorist and film historian) is butting heads with the grubby masters of the Film & Video Department at BU, who are conning their young charges into seeing themselves as the next Steven Spielberg or Martin Scorsese, while Carney is a skeptic concerning the artistic merits of film because it is such a young art form, and one that is shot through with market demands. Also the Film Department is passing off lower-level courses as graduate level ones to out-of-town students, a claim that deserves investigation from whomever accredits colleges on the East Coast.

The Rate Your Students (2005-2010) and College Misery (2010-2016) saga 

Rate Your Students began as a Bush II-era (pre-crash) mockery of the schlocky Rate My Professors website (founded 1999) with anonymous professors ranting about how crappy their students were academically (all the standard BS of grade grubbing, begging for extra credit, other undergrad social diseases the non-Golden Children probably remember if they did time in an American U.) Over time they started ripping the shit buildings, shit administrations, and general second-handedness of life in most non-Ivy schools.

By 2010, Rate Your Students petered out, and a new blog run by some readers popped up the same year. College Misery picked up the slack, printing anonymized emails about the crap students, the crap buildings, the nincompoop leadership, etc. During 2014 the blog went through some backroom drama, and reader Beaker Ben ran the Academic Water Cooler (which you can only see on, unfortunately) for that 11 month period. I still don't know why College Misery closed down, and really the best of it should be published as a book. Also, Yaro IS the Christ.

Bonus: Thomas Frank Savagely Rip the American University 

In the pages of The Baffler magazine back in 2013, founding editor Thomas Frank decided to look at US colleges and things were pretty ugly. "Academy Fight Song" rips all of it, even the textbook scam:

An educational publisher wrote to me a few months back; they wanted to reprint an essay of mine that they had seen on the Internet, where it is available for free. The textbook in which they wanted to include it, they said, would be “inexpensively priced,” and authors were therefore being asked to keep their reprint fees to a minimum. The low, low price that students were to pay for this textbook: $75.95. “Approximately.”

I was astounded, but it took just a few minutes of research to realize that $76 was, in fact, altruistic by the standards of this industry. Paying $250 for a textbook is more like it nowadays; according to one economist, textbook prices have increased 812 percent over the past thirty-five years, outstripping not only inflation (by a mile) but every other commodity—home prices, health care—that we usually consider to be spiraling out of control.

The explanation is simple. The textbook publishers use every trick known to the marketing mind to obsolete their products year after year, thus closing off the possibility of second-hand sales. What’s more, textbook publishing is a highly concentrated industry—an oligopoly—which means they can drive prices pretty much as high as they feel like driving them. Meanwhile, the professors who assign the textbooks and who might do something about the problem don’t have to pay for them.

In the Spring of 2014, Frank talked to Radio Open Source, and the 18-minute interview is fascinating for all the outsiders who might read these words. For the insiders, those who have spent time in the American University in the last 25 years, cringe and have 'Nam flashbacks.