Something very unusual has happened. I have been tagged by Historiann to write a piece on the failures of higher education. In particular in response to the recent article written by Tony Grafton. Almost everything written on this subject deals with either the US or to a lesser extent the UK. These are two countries I have never taught in. Although I do have my PhD from the UK which is one of the reasons I am for all practical purposes banned from ever teaching at a US university. Instead all of my teaching experience has been in Asia and Africa.
I do not like writing long blog posts. That is what writing books is about. So I am going to do my contribution as a series of shorter posts. This will give me time to think about what I am writing and more importantly give my few readers time to absorb my random thoughts.
For a long time African PhDs left the continent to go work in the US, Canada, the UK, or Europe. Now that brain drain is starting to reverse. While history departments are shrinking in much of the English speaking world, one place it has been growing is at the University of Ghana. This year the department has hired six new people. Of these six I am the only one with a PhD not from the US. Other departments such as philosophy have also recently hired scholars from North America as well. So now there exists the first trickles of a brain drain of people with doctorates in the humanities from the US to Africa.
When I first got my PhD from SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London) and returned to the US, I applied to over 300 universities in the US and did not get a single interview despite having two books and a number of peer reviewed journal articles published. What I learned is that publications do not count for anything in the hiring process. The only things that count are personal connections and ideological viewpoints. If you believe like I do for instance that racial discrimination was an official policy of the Stalin regime towards groups such as the Russian-Koreans and Russian-Germans you will find it nearly impossible to find a job at a US university. There are ideological gatekeepers. If I had been smart I would not have bothered to apply to any US institutions. It was merely a waste of time, effort, and postage. I should have been applying to schools in Africa.
So while I was the first to arrive here in January 2011, I am not the last. I suspect that a lot of other qualified historians and others will find Africa an attractive place to work. Here I do not have to worry about ideological litmus tests. Here my publications actually count for something. Here I only have to teach two preps and four sections a semester. But, I get paid extra for the two sections I teach at City Campus. I know the University of Ghana does not yet have the international prestige of most large US universities. However, unlike many US universities, the University of Ghana like Ghana as a whole is on the way up. In contrast it looks like higher education as a whole in the US is in decline.