Monday, August 22, 2011

Moving "House": Follow the Link to Bloggy Goodness!

Hello there, readers! It's time for a short update about the status of Speculative Diction, the blog. The bad news is that shortly, there will be no more new entries posted to this site. The good news, however, is that Speculative Diction will now be hosted by University Affairs, the Canadian national postsecondary news publication. Please follow this link for regular updates containing my usual commentary and crankiness on the subject of higher education policy, pedagogy, the academic profession and more!


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Shameful self-promotion vs. Meritocracy

On August 4th, an article called "How not to get left on the shelf" by Dale Sawak was posted on the Times Higher Education web site. In it, the author argued that if academic authors want their books to be read by a wider audience (or at all), they'll need to engage in some self-promotion.

The article produced an incensed response from some readers. In order to understand why, we need to translate its thesis into Stereotypical Academic Logic. Once translated, the argument looks something like this: Sawak tells researchers who already see themselves as successful (i.e., they have written and published books), that their success is actually limited (by audience, no less; practically an accusation of elitism). He also suggests that in order to achieve "real" success, authors should engage in an activity that's disdained in academe--advertising oneself.

A disclaimer here: part of my research is about the spread of entrepreneurialism and promotionalism in university governance and practice; I wrote my MA thesis in sociolinguistics, and it was a critique of internal public relations at a university. I'm not particularly keen on the idea of having to be a competitive, "marketable" academic, or that we should be forced to participate in phoney promotional activities (I don't think they work anyway) or in the kinds of performance assessments that measure "impact" with a variety of suspect statistics. But as with so many issues, there are elements of self-promotion that relate positively to doing a good job as an academic, rather than buying in to neo-liberal market-oriented self-reformation.

In all fairness there's an underlying critical point in Sawak's article, which is that self-promotion is something that all very successful academics engage in--whether or not they acknowledge it. No-one can argue that Judith Butler, Slavoj Žižek and Noam Chomsky don't "put themselves out there" (though usually the term public intellectual is applied). The suspicion of self-promotion is also part of the reason that blogging and other social media activities are often dismissed by academic colleagues and peers.

Not only are self-promoters more successful, but so are graduate students whose supervisors "push" their students' work actively. Ever wonder how so-and-so managed to get that article published in a good journal, or a helpful research assistant job, or an item that showcases their work on the faculty web page? Committee members and supervisors can help with this too, behind the scenes, and it's in their interests because your success reflects back upon them.

While the necessity of at least some degree of self-promotion may seem obvious, given the academic fear and loathing of public relations (where PR is often conflated with advertising and/or marketing or even lying and propaganda) it's actually a tough admission for professors to make.

The admission needs to be made, though, because it further disrupts the assumption made by many that meritocracy is the (only) engine powering the university. Passing on advice about appropriate networking and promotional skills should be a part of mentoring undergraduate and graduate students: one needs to know how to put one's best foot forward, simply because it opens up opportunities. As frustrating as this may seem, it's true that ideas don't tend to be recognised due to "merit" and nothing else, just as great scholarly partnerships and collaborations don't develop out of thin air. You need to meet people and they need to see your work.

Female academics, in particular, are vulnerable to the trap in which they remain silent about their own work and its value--as Lee Skallerup Bessette writes in her blog post, "Shameless self promotion". Women in general are less likely to claim expertise, which can be a detriment when it comes to succeeding in an academic career and a public profile. Female graduate students are more likely to suffer from "Imposter Syndrome" and to lack the sense of self-value that helps them develop crucial professional networks.

Granted, there's definitely some promotion-related career advice I would consider to be cynical and unproductive. For example in this article the authors assert that early-career academics must cite important scholars in the field even when their work is only "tangentially" related. I doubt this is necessary for every paper, and I'd agree with some commenters that most authors can see through a meaningless reference and many will dismiss it. Then again it's also true that we don't live in an academic utopia; some scholars do want their egos stroked. If you're willing to engage in that, then take the advice.

If you still find distasteful the idea of engaging in some form of self-promotion, think of it this way: no-one can assess the "merit" of your work unless they have some exposure to it and to you.

Another reason is that you're already producing PR about yourself. You re-write your own CV and cover letters, send copies of your papers for review and revision, organise and/or participate in conferences; you're concerned about your reputation and the impression you make on peers because it affects your work prospects. There's nothing wrong with all this--it's not "beneath you" to consider and engage in these things and and there's no professional penalty for it (quite the opposite). Expand your idea of "public relations" to focus on the broader idea of "relations", relationships, and it's clear that much of our communication is a part of that process; stop assuming that PR is "evil", and you'll realise it's necessary (as well as omnipresent).

As a final note, I'll talk a little bit about this blog. Did I set out to "self-promote" by writing it? Frankly, no, that wasn't the goal; I didn't start blogging because I thought it would be "good for my career". I wanted the other benefits of blogging such as dialogue with peers, sharing of thoughts and commentary, and a space to "mess around" with ideas that haven't yet made it into my formal academic writing.

The blog has led to many great conversations and connections, but it's also had a much wider readership than I ever imagined (though still fairly narrow-!). Blogging here led to guests post at University of Venus on the Inside Higher Ed site (I'm now a regular contributing writer there); it led to one of my posts appearing in the Guardian UK online, and to another post receiving attention in the Times Higher Education. While those aren't the peer-reviewed academic publications that are required for a career as a professor, they're valuable for me especially in that they relate directly to my field of research, and will reach much broader audiences than my own blog.

Let's try to avoid allowing self-promotion to be one of the "dirty secrets" of the academy, something to be sneered at or reserved for the egotistical and vainglorious, something that "real" academics don't do; after all, what's a book launch for?

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Tutorial Time: Fun with Gender & Media

Last year I was a teaching assistant for a course called "Sexuality, gender and society". Since I scored the same assignment again this year, I've already started planning for the kinds of activities and discussions we might be able to have in tutorial.

I wanted to make sure I had a solid list of interesting resources for the class, the kind of stuff that students might "get into" more as it provides examples and context for them and connects more to familiar experiences--shorter commentaries, videos and other media, blog posts, web discussions and so on. I'm thinking about emailing the class once a week with these additional links.

Here's a list of some of the resources I may end up using, depending on the syllabus. Most of these could be fitted into more than on category, so they could be used in various contexts for the course.

Gender essentialism and norms...
..."Women, know your limits" from British comedy show Harry Enfield & Friends skewers ideals of feminine decorum and passivity (and the assumption of superior male intelligence!).
..From the blog Sociological Images, a nice piece on performing masculinity, and one on "McCoy Crisps: Men are stupid, shallow, sexist sport-o-holics." Advertising at its least flattering!
...An episode of This American Life about testosterone. What's it like when your body stops producing testosterone, or when your T levels increase suddenly?
...The "nurture" side of the debate, research showing that gender differences are due to socialisation.
...A relatively recent article about Toronto parents who decided to keep their child's gender secret.
...My Body Gallery blog highlights "what real women look like" by displaying users' photos of themselves.
..Malika's Indian Trangender Blog, and a documentary called Middlesexes about trans experiences and issues; a news piece about how Australia is the first country to recognise a "non-specified" gender.

Pop culture...
...The real reasons why guys should hate on Twilight.
...The Celluloid Closet, a fantastic documentary about the history of queer representation in film.
...Buffy vs. Edward Cullen: guess who clobbers whom in this little encounter? A classic face-off between stereotype-busting Buffy and Mr. Sullen Cullen!
...A threaded discussion about female characters in the Harry Potter series; and a blog post on "The women of the Harry Potter universe". For good measure, here's a video of Hermione Granger, another atypical female character, telling Draco Malfoy what's what.
...Music videos: last year in one tutorial we had an interesting discussion about this, so I'd like to bring it back and ask students to bring in their own examples. The one I used before was Janelle Monae's "Tightrope" in which she draws on the aesthetics of 60's Motown and 50's rocker Little Richard.
...A discussion by a group of Black intellectuals and artists, about misogyny in Hip-Hop.

Gender & work...
...A chart (made from a report from Georgetown University) showing that women need a PhD to make as much as men who have a BA.
...At the same time, here's a contrasting article about Canadian women making more money than their husbands.
...From The Atlantic magazine, "The end of men" looks at a "reversal" in women's fortunes that could lead to female dominance in powerful positions in the workforce.
...In Sweden, more men are taking paternity leave; and in Japan, male "Herbivores" eschew high-stress lifestyle choices of their parents.
...Mary Churchill explains why her colleague feels like she "needs a wife", a great discussion of privilege and gender in the academic workplace, where gender disparities persist.

Women in science & technology...
...Women in science don't have as many children as they'd like.
..."Why Female Science Professor?" in which the author describes her experiences as a female scientist. I brought this to class last year and it was well-received.
...Womens' continuing under-representation in science and exclusion from pay parity in STEM and technology-related fields.
...Articles about the gender gap in Wikipedia contributions.
...The Guardian UK reports on the "lost women scientists" of The Royal Society, including Caroline Herschel.

Gender & violence...
...Fulbright Scholar Rumana Manzur of Bangladesh was attacked and blinded by her husband in June, 2011.
...Article from the BBC: the United Nations has classified rape as a war tactic; and a post from Scarleteen on how men can help prevent rape.
...Homophobic violence: Tyler Clementi committed suicide "after his sexual encounter with a man in his dorm room was video streamed over the Internet without Clementi's knowledge" by his room-mate. This was one of the suicides by queer youth that prompted the "It Gets Better" project.

Experiences of sexism...
...The blog Microaggressions documents readers' everyday experiences of sexism, racism and other forms of discrimination.
...From Hook and Eye blog, "This month in sexism" provides some examples of sexism in academe.

Gender & history...
..."Songs of the Suffragettes": I was given digital copies of these fabulous old songs, which were "rescued" from vinyl by a friend in Toronto. I think in tutorial we could have a discussion about the songs' lyrics, style, and political context.
...Episode "The Damsel" from documentary series Terry Jones' Medieval Lives. This is an excellent little piece on women in Medieval Europe.
...An article about Clemence Royer, the female economist who translated Darwin's Origin of Species into French.
...An account of 19th century photographer Julia Margaret Cameron, in "Victoria and her Sisters", an episode of Simon Schama's History of Britain.
...A short piece on Nancy Wake, who was a spy in World War II; at great personal risk, "Wake committed herself to fighting Nazis after she interviewed Adolf Hitler in Vienna in 1933."

Gender & education...
...A blog post from Macleans has a discussion of the animosity towards Women's Studies in Canada.
...In the US, the UK and Canada, women have outpaced men in university enrollments and achievement. This had fed into a more general concern about boys' literacy and the "success" of males in the education system (and in life in general).
...A male author dismisses critiques of Canada's funding for international researchers, an interesting example of the discourse of meritocracy.

I hope you enjoyed the list (which is really just a brainstorm); if you have anything to add, please leave suggestions in the comments! In particular I'm looking for more resources on gender and race--especially indigenous issues--and masculinities/examples involving men (students requested this last year).

Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Month in Higher Ed: July 2011

It's that time again--time for a short PSE round-up for the past month!

In Canada, a great deal of attention was paid to the most recent State of the Nation report released at the end of June by the Science, Technology and Innovation Council. A number of articles addressed the "innovation deficit" that Canada faces, which is seen as an impediment to Canada's progress in the knowledge economy. And of course, explicit connections were made to Canadian universities (and university graduates) and their role in this form of economic development.

One interesting point I want to mention here is that Canada really does have a (relatively) long history of producing "reports" and "commissions" on the subject of R&D and what would now be called "technology transfer" or in some cases, "knowledge translation". For decades the critique has been put forward that Canadian business simply isn't innovative enough, or that Canadian businesses don't take enough risks. The Lamontagne commission in the late 1960s/early 1970s brought attention to the same problem. Government programs and policies have apparently failed to make a difference, as this article discusses.

Canadian Aboriginal education also received attention this past month in conjunction with the annual meeting of the Assembly of First Nations in Moncton, New Brunswick; the Vancouver Sun ran a series of editorials on the issue, and these as well as a number of articles took up Shawn Atleo's criticisms on the subject. Since Canada's indigenous groups--First Nations, Métis, and Inuit--have the lowest proportional enrolment and graduation in PSE nationally, the criticisms are well-founded.

In the UK, the Sutton Trust released a report, "Degrees of Success", that examined undergraduate admissions at Oxford and Cambridge universities. The report showed that "[f]our schools and one college sent more students to Oxbridge over three years than 2,000 schools and colleges across the UK". These results were taken by a number of commentators as a sign that accessibility in the UK is still heavily skewed by socioeconomic class at the primary and secondary levels. In other words, it matters where you go to secondary school, more so than whether you receive high A-level grades. These critiques are all the more potent at a time when PSE policy in the UK is being radically re-vamped along marketised lines, with most universities raising tuition close to the full £9,000 now allowed by the government.

And lastly, as most readers will be aware the United States has been undergoing a political and economic crisis that's reached fever pitch as the month of July draws to a close. The US debt limit must be lifted by Tuesday, August 2nd, and the Republicans seem to be taking this time to blackmail the President; indeed, it looks like they've created a situation where Obama must take responsibility for debts racked up by his predecessor/s, whilst ceding to Republican demands in the moment and ultimately accepting that his chances of re-election have been reduced to, practically, nil.

In the midst of this maelstrom, the Pell Grant program (among other initiatives) has been on the chopping block in various versions of the debt deal that have been proposed thus far. Though the Pell program is so far preserved, federal student aid programs have already been targeted for "savings" in the past and this is likely to continue as cost-cutting measures are introduced.

UPDATE from the Chronicle of Higher Ed: "Debt-Ceiling Deal Provides $17-Billion for Pell Grants".


As a side note, my short contribution to University of Venus piece on UBC Fulbright Scholar Rumana Manzur was re-published in the Guardian UK online, on July 13th. This month we also heard part of the sad conclusion to Rumana's story, which is that she has been permanently blinded by the wounds inflicted on her by her husband. You can make a donation to help Rumana, using this web page.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Know Your Value

Summer is “conference season” in higher education, a time when many professors, graduate students and administrators find themselves hastily packing the smallest possible suitcase in order to spend three or four days in some remote and/or obscure location.

Conferences can be a great academic opportunity and are presented to graduate students as such. You can meet others and share ideas, as well as giving and receiving feedback and discovering new possibilities for collaboration. But to be realistic, conferences are also an expensive (and therefore a somewhat exclusive) opportunity. Attendees must pay for travel, accommodation, and of course the ubiquitous registration fees. In the past I was able to do presentations in the U.K. and in Washington D.C., and at other conferences within Canada, only because I had a federal grant supporting my studies. These were incredibly rewarding experiences that I wouldn’t have been able to access otherwise.

The high cost of conferences is an example of the strangely skewed economy of the academy. For many graduate students, it’s an expense that is beyond their limited budgets. Yet there is little hope of finding an academic job without attending and presenting at conferences during the course of the Ph.D. Grad students aren’t paid for the time we spend writing conference presentations, or for the presentations themselves; nor are we reimbursed for the travel costs. It’s all considered part of the investment we make in our own careers.

In fact, budding academics do a lot of unpaid work, including peer reviewing, writing book reviews, and producing journal articles (we even hand over copyright to the journals, who then profit from our labour). It’s considered both a privilege and a necessity to have something published, since reviewed publications are another “must” in the process of building an academic career. While we are paid to teach, that’s the work that tends to lack prestige and is not considered as helpful for long-term career development.

What this means is that in graduate school we get used to working for nothing, even as we’re expected to invest heavily in expensive professional development activities. By attending conferences, we pay for the opportunity to present our work to our (future) peers, who are the primary “gatekeepers” to academe. This system helps to perpetuate privilege because only “those who have afforded to work for free will get jobs. The vicious circle is maddening” (Ernesto Priego, July 2, 2011, Twitter).

Thus in spite of increasing accessibility in terms of enrolments, graduate education still tends to be stratified by socioeconomic class (and plagued by high attrition rates). Who can afford to spend time on publication papers and conference proposals and travel, when they must earn money for tuition and rent?* For grad students, especially those from under-privileged circumstances, this can be a trap; and the assumed, eventual “payoff” is now less available than ever as tenure track hires decrease and low-paying contract teaching becomes the norm for an ever-greater proportion of new Ph.Ds.

While all this may seem “normal” to those working within academe, just try explaining the conference system, for example, to someone who’s completely unfamiliar with the way academic careers work. My mother has often asked “when are they going to start paying you to go to these things?”. Viewed from this angle, it’s no surprise that the “investment” in graduate education, specifically the Ph.D, can seem like an illogical one (in spite of all the non-material benefits)—or even a “raw deal”, as many other commentators have framed it already.

The “academic economy” I described may have made more sense in the now-distant past when tenure-track jobs were more readily available, and when publishing was something you could leave until after graduation. But permanent-track professors actually don’t really do these things (publishing, conferences, and so on) for “free”. They earn a stable salary and they receive institutional support for research-related activities, which are considered part of the job. On the other hand, graduate students and early-career academics—particularly those who find themselves doing a lot of contract teaching or other part-time work—are less likely to have the time and resources to fully develop their CVs; and as the academic job market has tightened, the bar has been raised in terms of the level of professionalisation required.

It matters how students “get ahead” in graduate school because the most successful Ph.D students go on to become faculty who help carry forward the university as an institution. If the academic profession becomes a “labour of love” for all but the most elite students and professors, what are we saying about the worth of our education system and our concern for diversity and accessibility within it? What example are we setting for future students (and potential professors)—who will they be?

The contemporary university appears to undervalue the skills, talents, and education of many grad students, rewarding only those committed to an extremely narrow track of professional development and willing and able to make the (material) investments necessary to pursue it. Meanwhile, in other contexts our Ph.D-related experience is much sought after. My recent experience in a career course** has been somewhat eye-opening in this respect. While all members of the group are Ph.D candidates or graduates, we each had a hard time coming up with lists of our “skills” because we’re so used to taking our own capacities for granted. Yet once “translated”, our collective experience and expertise was impressive, and applicable to many of the most interesting positions turning up in job searches.

My point is not that we should do nothing for free, or that we should all leave the academic profession for higher-paying jobs in other areas. What I want to emphasise is that many graduate students have little sense of the worth of their contributions beyond the logic of the academic system (and this has psychological effects, too). While it may no longer lead to a full-time, permanent faculty job, the PhD is not a devalued degree; it’s only under-valued in the academic marketplace, because desirable jobs are scarce.

Because academe presents itself as a meritocracy, often those who “fail” tend to blame themselves for it. But “pure” meritocracy is a myth. This is why knowing your own value means understanding not just what you have to offer in multiple contexts, but also that you have real choices, that there are fruitful possibilities, and that given the kinds of sacrifices involved, “traditional” academic work may not be the best among them.


*In Canada, there’s some assistance to be had: students may win non-repayable merit grants and fellowships through provincial and/or federal governments. The university where I’m studying also has some options for reimbursement, through our Graduate Students’ Association, the academic union, the Faculty of Graduate Studies, and sometimes through individual programs and departments. There’s increasing demand for all these different forms of funding, but at least some support is available.

**The course is called “Conscious Careers” and is run by Jo VanEvery and Julie Clarenbach.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Month in Higher Ed News (June, 2011)

It's been a very busy month, so I thought I'd try something new--a "round-up" of some of the biggest news stories in post-secondary education, and also little bit about what I've been up to (on this site, around the web, and even in the "offline world"!).

In Canada, Statistics Canada recently released Education Matters: Insights on Education, Learning and Training in Canada, including the results from the last (not latest--last) cycle of the Youth in Transition Survey (YITS). This was the best available data source for looking longitudinally at Canadian students' post-secondary choices and their post-degree career paths, so the survey's cancellation is a big loss for Canadian PSE policy making.

It was a big month for the provincial government in Ontario with many education announcements rolled out across the province, including a five-year plan for PSE called Putting Students First. Accessibility will certainly be the emphasis; the government (if re-elected) plans to add another 60,000 student spaces, 6,000 of them in Masters and Ph.D programs. There were capital funding announcements as well, including a new Engineering building for York, science lab upgrades for UT Mississauga, and a new Liberal Arts building for McMaster (which has had a private donor secured since 2007). The government also announced its continued support for the expansion of accessibility initiative Pathways to Education.

Graduation season in Canada brought with it a number of articles (and a book) critiquing Canadian universities and questioning of the value of post-secondary education, particularly in the face of rising student debt loads. The current (disheartening) career situation for post-secondary graduates is influenced by generational/historical economic trends, and reflected in the negative news coverage and the ongoing debate about the role of the university in preparing young people for (economic) life.

And lastly, Canadian mathematicians have continued with their critiques of NSERC's key Discovery Grants competition, its review system and award allocation results. They argue that while Canada has gone out of its way to establish prestigious faculty positions (such as the Canada Research Chairs and Canada Excellence Research Chairs), the funding arrangements at NSERC leave many world-class researchers without adequate resources. NSERC has responded, arguing that the reaction to the funding changes has been mostly positive and that the mathematics community is largely to blame for its own misfortune.

June also brought two major, and highly anticipated, policy developments overseas--one in the U.S. and one in the U.K.

In the United States, the final revised version of the Gainful Employment legislation was released on Thursday, June 2. This policy is designed to regulate the private, for-profit colleges that often exploit low-income and otherwise disadvantaged students. The for-profit colleges have put a lot of cash and effort into lobbying against this legislation. However in spite of its potential benefits, some of the less positive implications of the policy could extend into the rest of the PSE "sector" in the U.S.

In the UK, the long-awaited, much-decried government White Paper on PSE was released this week to an immediate volley of critiques. Though I have yet to read all 83 pages of it myself, there's already plenty of commentary to check out as well as existing analyses of the marketisation and privatisation tactics being employed by the U.K. government (including the short one I wrote in May).

Also in the UK, AC Grayling's new private liberal arts university received huge amounts of flak from various quarters, including accusations that they'd copied syllabuses (syllabi?) from other institutions.

...And a little bit closer to home...

At the beginning of the month I was at Congress in Fredericton, New Brunswick, where I presented at two different associations' conferences. The first presentation was on graduate education (for the Canadian Sociological Association), and the second was about media coverage of the Canada Excellence Research Chairs (CERC), for the Canadian Communication Association. I posted a link to the CERC presentation (on Prezi) here. Congress was a great opportunity to "bump into" people I already knew, and also to meet some of those Tweeps I hadn't yet seen in person.

After more or less successfully using Prezi for the first time at Congress, I wrote two blog posts for Jo Vanevery's blog, here and here.

From June 16 to 18 I attended WorldViews Conference on Media and Higher Education, in Toronto. This month's posts here at Speculative Diction included three live blogs from WorldViews (day 1, day 2 and day 3) as well as two follow-up posts on universities and the media (you can read them here and here if you haven't yet seen them).

Later in the month I was very pleased to be recruited to University of Venus blog as a regular contributor; soon afterward I collaborated with Lee Skallerup, Afshan Jafar and Mary Churchill, on a series of written responses to the attack on UBC scholar Rumana Manzur by her husband in Bangladesh.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Universities & the Media, Part 2: Why the Media Matter

Yesterday I wrote about some of the main themes we find in current media coverage of post-secondary education, and of universities in particular. Much of this coverage is highly critical of various aspects of university education and in many cases these criticisms are entirely justified, particularly from the perspective of students and parents, who represent a large audience for education coverage.

In spite of highlighting relevant issues, the critical arguments made in the media and in the "crisis literature" (and even in the comment sections of news websites) often seem ill informed. So while there are serious problems with some of the changes happening in universities, the debates that happen in the media don't necessarily contribute to public debate in a productive way.

This is why one of the themes throughout the WorldViews conference was the presence or absence of "trust" in the university-media relationship and the ways in which the university can be "mis-represented" when it does not actively seek to inform publics about the nature of its role, its functioning, and its usefulness to society.

The assumptions underlying many critiques of post-secondary education tend to be the same assumptions that then frame suggestions for the reform, or renewal, of universities. It's often argued that we must either return to (the best aspects of ) the university of the past, or destroy the institution utterly and begin again with a lighter, cheaper, more innovative and adaptable model, one that can somehow resolve the weighty tension between democratic and meritocratic that has become so much more evident in recent years; all the while becoming financially self-sustaining.

By some commentators, the techno-futuristic (and somewhat libertarian) argument is made that the introduction of new disruptive technologies, particularly the Internet and digital media, will force universities to change themselves and offer "value beyond content" as it were--since all "knowledge" will be available to students on the Web.

I think these arguments often ignore or discount the relational nature of education and conflate information with knowledge, assuming that education is the "delivery" of a product. They also reflect commitment to technological determinism, the idea that technologies drive social and cultural change; and they seem to assume that a high degree of individualism is necessary/desirable.

One issue I did not hear discussed at the WorldViews conference was whether post-secondary education earns more media attention now than in the past, and whether the nature of the coverage has changed over time. Because this question informs a part of my dissertation, I had it in my mind throughout the conference. I became interested in the question through having done media discourse analysis in the past, and through analysing universities' public relations materials for my MA project.

The small amount of preliminary research I've done shows an increase to the amount of coverage universities receive, over a 30-year period. I'll need a much more exhaustive corpus of news coverage from the 1970s and 1980s before I can say for sure, but I think the coverage has probably changed quantitatively as well as qualitatively, and that that's the case then there are plenty of reasonable explanations for the change. (I was focussing only on one university, as well; I'd love to expand that and study the issue in more depth for a larger project.)

For one thing, universities now receive far more "exposure" to different publics; more people come into contact with universities than in the past. This is a process that began decades ago and has waxed and waned over time, but at the moment PSE enrolments are higher than ever before and so the student exposure alone has increased significantly. This process of massification (which I've also discussed here) was mentioned by Philip Altbach at a panel on the second day of the conference, but that was the only time I saw the issue raised explicitly.

Not only are there more students in the universities, but these students are paying more for their education. Tuition tends to be on the rise in the U.S. (e.g. in the collapsing California system), in Canada, and most notably of late, in the U.K. where the government has raised the tuition cap from about £3,000 to £9,000. The cost of education is being transferred onto the individual even as the value of education to the individual is seen to be in decline.

This form of privatisation tends to encourage a consumerist attitude towards education, and changes the dynamic between universities, students, parents and also the media. Rankings tables create comparisons between institutions that allow for informed consumer "choice" (among other things); Macleans magazine designs its yearly university rankings issue as a guide for student/family stakeholders. Because students are assumed to rely on their parents or families for this money, parents too become increasingly invested in the "quality" of university education.

Universities have responded to marketisation, and to the privatisation/diversification of their funding sources, by investing more in strategic communication including advertising and branding, various forms of public relations, and reputation building efforts aimed at different key stakeholder audiences (public/taxpayers, students, parents, the government, granting agencies, donors, alumni and so on). These efforts tend to affect media coverage as well.

Why does media coverage matter? With all the trends taken into account, it's clear that government policy, not only in post-secondary education but also in science and technology, intellectual property, and other knowledge policy areas, affects more people than ever. It's therefore more likely to be the subject of heated public debate.

Universities need to pay closer attention the ways in which universities and PSE in general are discussed in newspapers, on TV, in magazines, and on the Internet, because these media have a strong hand in setting the terms of that important discussion. This is also where the terms of policy may be set out openly, where members of the voting public begin to make choices about what they support politically.

Attitudes and beliefs are circulated, reinforced, and re-formed both in the news and in the discussions that happen that are based on or triggered by media coverage. And what people believe, they tend to act (or vote) on. Universities have ramped up their efforts to present themselves positively, yet coverage of university education has been dominated by overwhelmingly negative discourses.

What is the disconnect happening here, and what can universities do to better inform the debate about them that ultimately happens beyond their walls, and beyond their control? How do universities adapt to this fast-paced communicative context wherein critiques and problems are amplified so rapidly? I think this is one of the major challenges not just for universities but for all organisations, at a time when negative messages can easily "go viral" through social media.* Universities, with their deep institutional roots and their immediate connection to young people, may feel this pressure even more. They'll also need to find an answer to it, since the (real and mediated) experiences of today's students will eventually shape the decisions they make about the educational systems of tomorrow.

[*I'm interested to see whether universities begin to engage differently with students who already attend, and to enlist them in ongoing efforts to build reputation and shape expectations of future students and their parents.]