Associate Professor of English, University of Michigan-Flint. I research and teach rhetoric and writing.
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Mayors And Governors Rebut Trump Administration Position At Climate Summit

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Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto at a city climate action event in San Francisco in September. Peduto is representing U.S. mayors at the United Nations climate meeting underway in Katowice, Poland, this week.

Federal officials at the U.N. climate meeting are ignoring climate science and touting coal and fossil fuels. But local and state authorities pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on their own.

(Image credit: Josh Edelson /AFP/Getty Images)

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betajames
13 hours ago
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counting to zero: the hapless math of English Studies

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In The Chronicle of Higher Education, Jonathon Kramnick offers an analysis of the contemporary academic job market in English in comparison with its state 20 years ago (coincidentally when I was first on the job market). This can be put in the context of statistics on the awarding of phds from the NSF. This chart shows degrees by subfield since 2006 and this one, which shows only major fields, gives a view back to 1986.

To my eye there are some curious rhetorical turns in Kramnick’s article. He recognizes the significant declines overall in the job market and especially for tenure-track positions (old, but worsening news) with the note that writing jobs remain comparatively strong. Of this he speculates “The rising proportion of tenure-track jobs in composition and creative writing appears to reflect a change happening within the structure and mission of many departments even as they get smaller.” This apparent change suggests to him “that the jobs crisis may be worse than it seems.” Really? For whom? I suppose one might similarly suggest that it is not as bad as it seems (though really it’s bad for everyone).

But here’s the funny part. He determines, with a few caveats, that the decline in literary studies jobs is evenly spread across all periods and fields and that as such “the field structure of English stands out as remarkably and encouragingly firm.” 

I don’t know. To me this is like standing on the curb and remarking at how evenly all the parts of your house are burning down. 

But let’s circle back to those phd stats. Though the chart going back to 1986 only shows the major field of “Letters,” you can see that in general there’s been modest growth in the number of degrees awarded as the number of jobs have significantly declined. Looking at the other chart, though the numbers are only indications (since the fields are self-reported by institutions), between rhet/comp and speech/rhetorical studies, there are ~250 degrees per year over the last four years of the report. It’s hard to compare this with job opportunities as jobs on MLA and elsewhere are often listed in multiple categories. However, generally speaking, there aren’t enough jobs for all the rhet/comp degree recipients, but the situation is comparatively worse for those in literary fields. Regardless, there’s nothing here for anyone to suggest creating or expanding phd programs. And the oft-remarked, ongoing decline in numbers of English majors only reinforces this evidence.

Kramnick ends by offering this observation about the failing job market. “

That pinch is real and urgent. It requires our care and our hardest thinking. But there is no evidence that individual fields need to fight it out, or that any one of them is going extinct.

In other words, we’re all in this together. We ought to do everything we can to understand how best to respond to the shrinking market — how to lobby for more jobs, how to reshape Ph.D. programs, and how to decide whether all such programs can be sustained.

How can I put this? It isn’t good news that the “field structure” remains firm. It’s one of the primary pieces of evidence, if not sources, of English Studies’ problems. It means that even as we declined we failed to do anything different. Anyway, I think for English it’s pretty much all over but for the crying at this point. I mean, there’s going to be literary studies for the foreseeable future. It’s just probably at around 1.5% of undergraduates rather than the 4% it was 20 years ago. 

As for my own field of rhetoric, I’d say its survival will depend on its almost wholesale transformation away from printcentric, belletristic traditions that still typify its research practices and much of its teaching. A multidimensional transformation is required. One that recognizes communication is/is becoming

  • digital/multimodal (we’re sort of there, but the varieties keep expanding faster than our adaptions to them and as a field we still don’t have enough practical-technical expertise)
  • global/multi-cultural-ethnic-etc (doing a better job of valuing cultural and human differences and the challenges of communicating across them)
  • data-driven/machinic (we have to do better at handling data and understanding the role that machines play in every aspect of rhetorical activity from invention to delivery)
  • specialized/technocratic (again, we’re doing a decent job of moving away from the premise of “general writing skills” but we’re still not adapting quickly enough to the proliferation/shifts of expertise)
  • public/distributed (somewhat in an opposite direction to the last point that more people are performing a wider range of rhetorical-compositional practices. E.g., who would have thought that technical communication would become a quotidian practice? Well anyone who’s seen a “how-to” video on YouTube or visited a wiki. 

And those are just the ones I can come up with on the fly. I’m sure there are many other equally observable shifts. The point for me at least is that all of this is quite different from where we were 30-40 years ago when we were really just graduating the first large generation of specifically trained rhet/comp scholars, when Maxine Hairston was talking “winds of change,” when we were just taking on postmodernism and cultural studies, or when we were just starting to talk about computers and composition. (In other words, the field I was introduced to in the mid-90s.) These days we need completely different specializations and coursework from undergrad to grad, even while we still connect to the history and tradition of rhetoric. 

Compare that with Kramick’s observation that over the last 20 years the fields of literary studies have remained basically static. I realize he doesn’t quite mean it to come out that way, and of course there have been various “turns” and theories have come in and out of fashion. But really if we looked at those undergrad courses, how many of the assigned readings would be the same? Would the students be asked to do different things? Sure things are a little different. But that has to be put in contrast to the fact that the communicational practices and literacies of most of humanity have been completely overturned during this period. 

I mean I’d give rhet/comp a “gentleman’s C” for its efforts to keep up, but English Studies is obviously failing, as every indicator will tell you. And I just am not sure how rhet/comp manages to do better while tied to literary studies. I also don’t think rhet/comp has much chance on its own. 

So… yay!



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betajames
15 hours ago
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Sincerely, Edward Abbey

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Edward Abbey to a correspondent:

The ideal off-road journey? I’ll tell you: under water. I would like to see every four-by-four on earth, every three-wheeler, every dirt bike, trail bike and Big Foot truck driven straight into the Marianas Trench, three thousand feet below the surface of the Pacific Ocean, and parked there — left there — for the duration.

For the duration of what? For the duration of this techno-industrial-commercial slime-mold that is transforming our planet into one vast battleground of Cretins against Nature. With the Cretins winning.

What’s wrong with the horse? Or the burro? Or the bicycle? Or even, God help us, the human foot? Why should not Americans especially learn to walk again? There is this to be said for walking: it is the one method of human locomotion by which a man or woman proceeds erect, upright, proud and independent, not squatting on the haunches like a frog.

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Customs Border And Protection Paid A Firm $13.6 Million To Hire Recruits. It Hired 2

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Jobs with CBP have been notoriously difficult to fill, in large part because of the polygraph exam applicants are required to undergo.

A report by the Office of the Inspector General revealed Accenture, contracted to help hire 7,500 new agents, is "nowhere near" completing its goals and "risks wasting millions of taxpayer dollars."

(Image credit: John Moore/Getty Images)

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betajames
18 hours ago
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Michigan, Great Lakes at risk for oil spills beyond Line 5, report says

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As Michigan lawmakers race to create a deal to protect Line 5, a new report flags 15 areas across the Great Lakes where habitats are vulnerable to oil spills.
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Rapid global warming is pushing Arctic into "uncharted territory"

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In yet another disconnect between the Trump administration's science findings and its climate policies, a new report released Tuesday found that rapid Arctic climate change has pushed the region into "uncharted territory," with a host of sweeping changes that are transforming the vast area.

Why it matters: The Arctic contains some of the most productive fisheries in the world, and it acts as the Northern Hemisphere's refrigerator, supplying most of the frigid air that invades the U.S., Europe and Asia during winter. As the report lays out, some scientists have shown that the rapidly warming Arctic is altering weather patterns in the mid-latitudes, contributing to deadly extreme events.


Details: The new report, known as the Arctic Report Card, is a peer-reviewed document produced by dozens of researchers. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) oversaw the research and the report's release at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union in Washington.

Findings: The report found that the Arctic continues to warm at about twice the rate of the rest of the globe, resulting in less snow and ice to reflect incoming sunlight.

  • The annual average air temperature across the Arctic from October 2017 through September 2018 was the 2nd-warmest such period on record, just behind the same period in 2015–2016.
  • All 5 of the hottest years on record in the Arctic have come since 2014. Records extend back to 1900. "The multi-year persistence of record and near-record warmth since 2014 is unlike any other period on record," the report states.
  • As ocean temperatures increase, toxin-producing phytoplankton have increased in number and geographical range, leading to a steep rise in paralytic shellfish poisoning in humans, the report says. Alaska now has one of the highest incidences of this shellfish poisoning in the world.
  • Populations of reindeer and caribou are declining, with a drop of 56% from a total estimated population of 4.7 million to about 2.1 million over the past two decades. The largest declines have been seen in populations across the U.S. and Canada.

Startling sea ice statistics:

  • The Arctic sea ice cover is becoming thinner, younger and more prone to melting each summer.
  • In March 1985, sea ice that had survived at least 4 summers made up 16% of the Arctic ice pack at winter maximum. In March 2018, it made up less than 1%.
  • During 2018, there was an unprecedented mid-winter sea ice loss in the Bering Sea, which shocked scientists. This ocean, which is typically ice-covered at the time, lost an area of ice the size of Idaho during February.

Yes, but: The Trump administration continues to issue climate science reports that show this is an urgent issue to address, while pursuing policies to boost consumption of fossil fuels that cause global warming. This dichotomy was visible at the press conference, when reporters pressed NOAA acting administrator Tim Gallaudet on whether the science agency has communicated its findings to the White House.

“I personally have not briefed the president on climate change. I can’t answer the statement of has anyone ever, I don’t know that."
Tim Gallaudet, an oceanographer and retired rear admiral

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