The Journal of Higher Education 74.2 (2003) 236-238
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Traveling Through the Boondocks: In and Out of Academic Hierarchy by Terry Caesar. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2000. 203 pp. $19.95. ISBN 0-7914-4660-3
Most higher education faculty in the United States are not employed at prestigious colleges and universities, those institutions with national reputations. Terry Caesar is one of the majority of faculty and Traveling Through The Boondocks is his account of, and thoughts about, life in academe's "middle," as exemplified by his life in the "boondocks" at Clarion University. He is concerned with how to represent the exclusion experienced by the faculty laboring in the boondocks. And at the end, he admits his "deep and abiding antipathies to academic life" (p. 169).
Caesar's book is part of a recent literature (e.g., Lamal, 2001; Lamal, Rakos, & Greenspoon, 2000; Martin, 1998; Nelson, 1997; Readings, 1996) that views with alarm such developments as the adoption of a business model by the managers (formerly administrators) of higher education. This literature calls attention to the "managerialization" of American higher education and the concomitant "proliteriazation" of the faculty, with students now being considered as "customers" who must be catered to. Although these are subtexts of Caesar's text, his primary focus is on higher education's institutional hierarchy. Caesar presents no quantitative data in support of what he has to say, but he cannot be faulted for that because he did not intend to write that kind of book.
A theme throughout the book is that the doctoral-granting institutions set the parameters and determine the criteria by which the other institutions are to be characterized and judged. Caesar analyzes and takes exception to this state of affairs. He says that the discussion about American higher education "badly needs not so much more voices as voices from different institutional positions" (p. 17). Instead, the politicized agendas of the boondocks institutions trail along after those of the elites, while other agendas grow further apart. Over and over again, second-rate universities are "recognized in order to be categorized, and then categorized in order to be dismissed or patronized" (p. 30).
Caesar discusses the "inescapable" conflict between two separate conceptualizations of academic departments, the department as a professional organization and as a social one. And at the second-rate institutions, sociality matters very much, because, says Caesar, research does not. Caesar maintains that at the second-rate institutions, faculty within departments "want to get along with [End Page 236] each other because we have to" (p. 181). The likelihood of moving to another institution is low. Among other things, this means that everyone gets tenure. No one wants to risk rending the social fabric by voting against candidates for tenure. Just as one's reports of observations of colleagues' teaching can be expected to be positive. As Caesar says, "these reports are finally not about teaching but departmental unity" (p. 94). Indeed, he has such disdain for peer teaching evaluations that he readily admits to having written some without having bothered to observe the evaluations' subjects teaching. And apparently the low esteem in which such reports are held is shared by his colleagues and administrators, who year after year plod through the same meaningless exercise. One wonders how widespread this dismal, unedifying spectacle is.
One's institutional affiliation is crucial. The first-rate institutions are the loci of the resources and low teaching loads that allow for published research, which in turn results in political power within one's discipline. But, says Caesar, "it is my own conviction that what 'everybody knows' about the politics of institutional affiliation in the profession has scarcely begun to be articulated, and publicly barely at all" (p. 61). Nobody likes to consider the hegemony of the first-rate universities or even to characterize the "subjugated status" of the second-rate ones. Such hegemony is exemplified with respect to grants, where the right institutional affiliation, according to Caesar, can determine an applicant's likelihood of success...