Category Archives: Graduate Students

GOP Tax Bill Would End Higher Education as We Know It

Guest blog post by Jenny C. Bledsoe, Emory University

In today’s Vox article about the GOP tax bill’s plan to count graduate tuition waivers as taxable income, Jen Kirby suggests that most graduate students on fellowship work in laboratories: “since you’re cleaning petri dishes, the university waives that tuition.”[1] In a Washington Post article from today, Ted Mitchell, president of the American Council on Education, explains how many people benefit from graduate school tuition waivers, “Roughly 145,000 graduate students benefitted from this in 2011-12, the most recent year for which data is available, with roughly 60 percent working the critical fields of science, technology, engineering and math.”[2] The unnamed 40%, I suppose, are graduate students in the (less critical) humanities and social sciences. Significantly, graduate students in the humanities, especially in English and writing programs, are often responsible for teaching introductory undergraduate courses as well as upper-division courses at some institutions.

I am happy to see the issue being raised in the mainstream media—after all, this issue needs as much attention as possible if we are going to convince our Congresspeople to remove these damaging provisions from the bill—but most writers have emphasized the effects of the change on STEM graduate students. As Kirby writes in Vox, “the tuition waivers would also hit the STEM fields particularly hard.” It is not productive to debate who is more adversely impacted; if this bill passes, all graduate students will experience negative consequences to their personal finances. For the humanities, making tuition waivers taxable income will further de-incentivize enrollment in PhD programs, and colleges and universities will eventually have a major staffing problem on their hands, one that impacts undergraduate education as much as graduate education.

The GOP tax bill would have cascading effects for universities across the country. Humanities PhD students are responsible for teaching many undergraduate courses, including first-year writing and general education courses that meet requirements for undergraduates in all majors. If students in PhD programs are struggling to meet their basic needs (more than they already do) because of paying large federal income tax bills out of their meager stipends, they will have to take on extra work. Dedicating more time to simply making ends meet, graduate students will have less time to devote to the undergraduate students they teach, thus lowering the quality of undergraduate education.

In addition to causing current graduate students to struggle financially while finishing their programs with this increased tax burden, this tax change—especially as it affects those attending private institutions with extremely high tuition costs (consider my institution, Emory University, where the first three years of a PhD program currently hold a yearly tuition charge of $61,200)—will effectively deter low- and middle-income students from enrolling in graduate programs. We are all advised not to start a PhD program unless it pays a living wage, and there are few places where the current stipend would still provide a living wage after the tax increase. How would universities be able to ameliorate the tax burden for graduate students without cutting funds from other parts of the university budget?

Graduate school in the humanities is already a gamble with few tenure-track academic job prospects. The increased debt load and years of living in or close to poverty would likely not pay off for most students. Eventually, there would be fewer and fewer lower income people in graduate programs, and those pursuing PhDs would likely be independently wealthy and not in need of institutional support to attend. Colleges and universities would have a shortage of qualified lecturers to teach undergraduate classes. You might say that adjunct labor would meet that need. That would likely be the case at first, but years down the line, that adjunct pool would also decrease in size given fewer people pursuing PhDs. And if the people pursuing PhDs were mostly wealthy, they wouldn’t need to accept low-paying adjunct positions to make ends meet. Even if universities could meet their course needs with adjunct labor, adjunct instructors cost more than graduate student instructors. Universities would have to offset this cost with hikes to undergraduate tuition or cuts to other parts of the university budget.

This tax bill will undoubtedly have further ripple effects that reach outside higher education and into American society. If passed, this bill would seriously limited access to higher education and thus career advancement opportunities. Our only recourse is to call our representatives and senators and explain the devastating impact of this bill on American higher education. We must prevent these anti-education provisions from passing Congress in this bill or others in the future.

[1] https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2017/11/7/16612288/gop-tax-bill-graduate-students

[2] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/grade-point/wp/2017/11/06/the-house-gop-tax-bill-would-raise-the-cost-of-college-we-cant-let-that-happen/?tid=ss_fb-bottom&utm_term=.8308e42f48f5

What Do the Interfolio Fee Changes Mean For You? (A Rundown)

On July 10 Interfolio announced changes to its fee structure for job applicants.

 

  • Accounts are now free (note: through institutional memberships like MLA job applicants were previously able to make free Interfolio accounts)
  • Delivery prices are no longer for individual letters or applications. In a new system called Dossier Deliver they are now charging a flat $48 (USD) for 50 electronic and mail deliveries

At first glance these changes look beneficial. Interfolio costs for sending out applications and letters were always one of the factors that compounded the many structural stresses of the academic job market. Delivery costs for applications could vary wildly.

Still, a number of issues emerged that are not addressed in the FAQ about the new Dossier Delivery system. Here, we will walk through some of our questions and concerns along with the responses we received from Interfolio:

Q: If we have the Dossier Deliver package, what is the cost for deliveries beyond those 50?

A: Interfolio will have an option for individuals to buy tiered (5, 10, and 15 deliveries) packs if they exhaust the original 50 deliveries allotted for the year

Q: How long will the $48 flat fee for Deliver be good for? Is it annual?

A: The flat fee is annual. The 50 delivery credits last for the one year before expiring.

Q: Does “deliverable” mean that each individual Interfolio letter counts toward the 50, or would a cluster of letters for a single position be just 1 toward the 50?

A: A cluster of letters delivered to one application or email would count as 1 delivery. Interfolio has eliminated the cost difference between deliveries

Q: Is there any way to have a cheaper rate for delivery if someone only wants to apply for any number of positions less than 50?

A: No, because Interfolio is eliminating individual costs for deliveries

In short, many of these changes benefit job applicants. 

The major remaining criticism: If there will be a tiered service system, why not make it available not just after the original 50 credits allotted for a Dossier Deliver account? After all, for reasons ranging from temporary but renewable jobs, to smaller disciplines to the unpredictable number of job postings each year, many Interfolio users may send out far fewer than 50 applications a year, but they would be doing so for several years. For these users the annual flat rate model would not have the same benefit.

(Thanks to everyone who shared their concerns with me on social media about the Interfolio changes! If there any points I may have missed, please contact me at christine.yao@gmail.com or  @yao_christine)

Navigating CFPs for the MLA Convention

Yesterday (28 February) was the last day to post calls for papers for the 2018 MLA Convention. If you are looking to present a paper next year, you will probably start scrolling through the list, searching for key words, and typing up a meticulous abstract in the hopes of making it onto a panel.

There are great resources on writing up an abstract that succinctly conveys the importance, originality, and pertinence of your research—see, for example, these posts from Grad Hacker and The Professor Is In.

But every conference is different. What should you keep in mind about the MLA when applying? For a start, that there are different kinds of CFPs, reflecting different streams of conference organization. This may not be obvious if you simply search CFPs for key words or names, but knowing the differences could help you craft a more effective abstract.

The “Browse Calls for Papers” page offers links to five subcategories of CFPs: (a) Allied Organizations, (b) Special Sessions, (c) Forums, (d) MLA Committees, and (e) Working Groups. Let’s take these one at a time.

(a) Allied Organizations: these are professional societies external to the MLA, like the Cervantes Society of America and the South Asian Literary Association. So if, for example, you are already a member of the Poe Studies Association (or thinking about joining!), you might find their proposed sessions especially pertinent, and a great way to connect with other specialists.

(b) Special Sessions are proposed by individual members and reviewed by the Program Committee. If you submit to a Special Session, it is worth considering what the session organizer needs in order to create a successful proposal and how session proposals will be scored, and then composing your abstract with those goals in mind. Focus on the specific relevance of your project to the theme and aims of the session.

(c) Forums (unlike Allied Organizations) are internal to the MLA, and each member may have five primary forum affiliations. If you do not have any forum affiliations, log in to the MLA site and go to Membership >> My MLA >> Forums in order to sign up!

(d) MLA Committees organize panels on a range of professional and scholarly concerns. Looking to contribute to current debates on activism, pedagogy, or the digital age? You will find these opportunities (and more) here.

In 2018, the CSGSP will put forward panels on “Interviews in the Digital Age,” “Possibilities of the Public Humanities,” and “Precarity and Activism.” Check out the descriptions and send us your proposals!

(e) Working Groups are new for the 2018 Convention, and the format aims at facilitating intensive, seminar-style collaboration. Participants exchange materials beforehand and meet over multiple days at the Convention. Look out for a Working Group CFP that resonates strongly with your research.

Good luck with your abstracts, and hope to see you in New York!

Abstracts for CSGSP roundtable “Teaching as Theoretical Practice”

As you make plans for the MLA, be sure to add session 403, “Teaching as Theoretical Practice” to your calendar! Graduate students and professors from a range of institutions and disciplines will discuss how they integrate theory and teaching in the undergraduate classroom.

See the abstracts below, and join the conversation on Friday, 6 January, from 5:15-6:30 pm in Room 303 of the Philadelphia Marriott.

 

Hybrid Teaching, or the Performance of Comparative Theory

Germán Campos-Muñoz (Appalachian State U) and Mich Nyawalo (Shawnee State U)

The transcultural and methodological negotiations embedded in the discipline of Comparative Literature are coterminous to those of the teaching practice. As a virtual locus that attempts to relocate cultural background onto the foreground, the classroom coordinates comparatism of the most complex order–not only intellectual, but also social, institutional, professional, and political. The prestige of hybridity in our contemporary academic institutions, with its commitment to multiculturalism and multilingualism, further exacerbate the internal comparative structure of the classroom. What alternatives does this realization offer for a practice of Comparative Literature that seeks to disrupt the orthodox chasm between teaching and theory, or wishes to be pedagogical and theoretical at once?

Our presentation ventures an answer to these questions by assessing two distant cases of World Literature in which teaching is both thematized and performed: the 2nd-century Greek tale “Herakles,” by Syrian rhetorician Lucian of Samosata, and the novel The River Between, by contemporary Kenyan writer Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o. In both works, experiences and social tensions stemming from intercultural exchanges and hybridity are articulated and tackled through pedagogical imperatives and classroom spaces. As a performative exercise of comparative theory and collaborative pedagogy, both presenters will work on texts belonging to his co-presenter’s fields of specialization, peer-review their findings, and compose conclusions emerging from the comparison of both cases.

 

From Practice to Theory: Collaboration in the Composition Classroom

Joanna Grim (Lehigh U) and Dana McClain (Lehigh U)

Collaboration represents a common practice in the composition classroom, including small group discussions and peer review, yet the extent to which it shapes the writing process, as well as classroom and community relationships, often remains unacknowledged. Building off of our interest in collaborative writing methodology, we co-designed a course in which students utilize collaboration to develop their own opinions and arguments and to explore and critique collaboration in different social contexts.

In our course, Teaching and Learning through Collaboration, we examine collaboration in different cultural contexts. Students analyze collaboration in settings such as the workplace, sports, music, the college campus, and the local community in order to understand how collaboration addresses and/or reproduces imbalances of power and authority. Through group assignments like a multi-modal project addressing a specific social justice issue, students practice collaboration and theorize how it can be used to dismantle unequal power structures and create a more just world. We hope the course will lead students to engage in future collaborative work, both in the classroom and beyond the university, with greater intention and thoughtfulness.

Teaching this course has also influenced our development as scholars. We are interested in how collaborative research and writing can challenge prevailing values in the academy, especially the emphasis on individual success, which can lead to isolation. We plan to teach future iterations of this course and to do further research into how collaboration among students and teachers at both the undergraduate and graduate levels can encourage the creation of supportive academic communities and new opportunities for intellectual and personal growth.

 

Performance and the foreign language and culture curriculum: theory and practice

Anna Santucci (Brown U)

My work focuses on the exploration of language creation as performance and on theater-based pedagogy in relation to the of teaching of foreign languages and cultures. Paying attention to the crucial role played by bodies in the production of language and culture can help us answer more thoroughly the MLA call for a FL curriculum able to produce “educated speakers who have deep translingual and transcultural competence” (2007 “Foreign Languages and Higher Education: New Structures for a Changed World”, 3-4). In my research and teaching practice, I strongly advocate performance-based teaching of language and culture at all levels of the curriculum: from improvisational and culturally meaningful participatory activities for the beginner classroom to full-fledged theatrical productions for the advanced classroom. Research on theater and education in general, and in more recent years on performance and foreign language and culture teaching in particular, has been constantly growing; engagement with the theater and performing arts has repeatedly been praised for promoting active and embodied learning, facilitating the dissolution of cognitive barriers, fostering cooperation among students, stimulating critical thinking, and supporting the development of trans-cultural competence. My presentation will explain how my research informs my teaching and vice versa, providing examples from my developing dissertation and my teaching experience: my research based on performance theories, which investigates language as embodied cultural practice (from Aristotle’s mimesis, through Mauss’s habitus, to Carrie Noland’s kinesthetic production of culture), language-learning as liminal play (from Richard Schechner’s conception of play and Victor Turner’s notion of liminality), and the relations between theater proper and the FL and culture classroom (how issues of empathy/alienation and theories of participatory theater by practitioners like Bertolt Brecht and Augusto Boal relate to the inter-cultural encounter), significantly shapes the daily choices I make as a teacher, while my practical classroom interactions with my students help me anchor my theories and productively interrogate the tensions between qualitative and quantitative research in my field.

 

English Remix: Curating and Enacting a Posthuman Classroom

Sarah Shelton (U of Texas at Arlington)

This presentation looks at where posthuman pedagogy is now in order to imagine where it might take us that humanism and humanist education can’t. And at how such imaginings translated into praxis (and back into imaginings and into praxis again and again) in my own classroom this past semester.

In “Reuse, Remix, Rewrite,” a sophomore literature/special topics course, I purposefully approached classroom design and pedagogical praxis from a posthuman instead of humanist schema. This did not include digitizing my entire classroom and turning my students into cyborgs. Far from this misconception of what posthumanism is and what a posthuman approach can do for individual classrooms and for education in general, my approach relied heavily on the material turn and the excellent work that art education has already done in posthuman pedagogy. Focusing on Karen Barad’s theories of intra-action and onto-epistemology as well as Hillevi Lenz Taguchi’s application of those very theories to early childhood education, I sought to not design and implement (two separate stages), but to curate and enact (two intra-acting time-spaces) a posthuman English classroom that reframed reading and writing as ontological acts, not simply tools to make students better citizens or employees. This shift in my thinking/approach allowed for a fluid pedagogy that saw meaning not as waiting to be deposited or discovered, but as being made between all actors (from bodies to desks to texts to ideologies and beyond). Such a pedagogy necessitates a reframing of the classroom itself as a unique, unpredictable and not repeatable chronotope and presented several challenges as well as significant successes, including the Journal assignment this presentation focuses on.