Thursday, September 30, 2010

Building Academic Air Castles: A Thirsty

Darla invited us to dream. The AAUP is urging us to consider "multiple ways to [tenured] salvation." And the Coalition on the Academic Workforce is surveying contingent faculty in an attempt "to develop institution- and discipline-specific information as the basis for a more textured, differentiated, and realistic picture of contingent faculty members’ working lives and working conditions."

Current attempts to reform the university may well come to naught, as similar efforts have in the past. But, if you had your druthers, what would the majority of academic jobs look like? Would all of them offer at least the possibility of tenure? Would all of them include -- and reward -- teaching, research and service? Would some faculty members specialize in just one or two of the three? Would such specialization last for a whole career, or would there be an opportunity to switch focus from time to time? Is it possible to offer such an option without making teaching the "booby prize" for those whose attempts at research and/or department-level administrative posts don't cut it?

If you ran the university, what would our jobs look like? Please answer below.


  1. If I ran the academic world, everyone hired to teach would be tenure-track, unless he or she specifically wants to be adjunct (and there are a few--like those who teach at night after the day job or teach a class or two after retirement).

    In addition to that, there would be different tenure tracks: research/publishing and teaching/service to college. Seriously. Everyone would be required to do a little of both, but individuals would specialize--you know, like we do when we're grad students. Some people are better suited to research/publishing, so their duties would focus primarily on that (but they would also teach); some people are better suited to teaching/service to the college, so their duties would focus primarily on that (but they would have to pull a little weight in the research/publishing).

    No one would choose when arriving; that would be part of the job description.

    I know it's naive. I'm high on cold medicine.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. I would take Greta's idea and tweak it a bit. There would not be so many committees and those committees that did exist could not have a meeting longer than one hour without a vote or a damn good reason (both would be preferable).

    Finally, all coaches could only make as much as the average professor at the school. That's it. No more.

    I would also institute free beer night for faculty, staff, and graduate student TAs at the student union. No undergraduates allowed. Anybody caught bringing an undergraduate would be officially blackballed from all future beer nights and docked a month's pay for being an idiot. I don't care how hot he/she is and what your chances of getting laid are. No undergraduates. Period.

    Mathsquatch out.

  4. I'd say teaching and service, or research and service, but not a service-free job. Cuz I am TIRED of sitting on committees my higher-falutin' colleagues won't bother with. And I still believe in faculty governance despite the fact that it seems to have gone the way of the dinosaur.

    Tenure for all except those who don't want it, yes. And the ability to cut back to 50% at 50% pay (even go research-only) when kids are small without repercussions. And to stop the clock a year for major promotions for a kid, serious illness, whatever.

    Also: no administrators, up to and including the president, who have not achieved Full Professor status in an actual academic discipline, and business and law do not count. In fact, no people with business degrees or CEO experience running any university, anywhere. OK, maybe B-schools, but that's it.

    And yeah, Mathsquatch. Coaches. Totally.

    Thank god, our committees don't meet if there is nothing to vote on. For this I am grateful.

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. How I would reform the American university system, if I were dictator, which I hope never happens in the U.S.A., so this can't possibly be definitive:

    (1) Abolish student evaluations of teaching, and go with peer review exclusively.

    (2) Abolish all undergraduate education majors. Students who want to teach K-12 should become proficient in a real major first. Tell them to major in the sciences, and especially the humanities: this might help them a lot.

    (3) Do a thorough review of the administration, and cut 1/3 or more of the positions paying over $100k/year. Sometimes I think a whole university could be run by a dozen secretaries. I would avoid cutting the office that helps students get jobs, though.

    (4) Fund research professor positions, in order to do something about "the postdoc problem." These people will be required to involve qualified students in research.

    (5) Institute population control, with limits to the number of new Ph.D.s granted, much like the medical and legal professions do.

    (6) Reduce coaches' pay to that of ordinary faculty members of similar seniority.

    (7) Require what are essentially professional sports teams to pay for themselves.

    (8) Abolish the "Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning," or the "Center for Center for the Scholarly Advancement of Learning and Teaching," or whatever they call themselves this week. This might save some money, but it might not have as much as a reforming effect as intended, since no one pays any attention to them anyway.

    (9) Adopt a teaching model of what was done in the sciences in the post-Sputnik era (1958 to mid-'60s). Science education was never so good in the United States, because we were genuinely afraid, and we didn't mess around.

    (10) Put more emphasis on student responsibility, accountability, and standards. Stop recruiting so many marginally qualified students, and stop retaining so many marginal students.

    I'm just getting started...

  8. You work on multi-year contracts for some stability but not let's face it folks, we're not the Supreme Court.

    You work to fulfill the needs of the university so if they need a teacher, you teach. If they need research for snazzy brochure pictures, you get in the lab. Hell, if the football team needs a running backs' coach, you learn to call the option. If you don't like that arrangement, polish your resume or get to work. I know, I know, it sounds as if you're working at a *job*. Guess what, you are.

    You serve on committees that you can contribute to but we hire actually qualified people to make the rest of the decisions.

  9. (11) Require higher standards in written and spoken English for all faculty, something along the lines of proficiency required for a graduating senior. I know, that can be awfully low, but it's a whole lot better than what we have now.

  10. Cap the highest-paid admin at something like 10 times that of the lowest-paid full-time faculty memeber, even if you call them something like "academic staff."
    Eliminate inter-collegiate sports entirely.
    Eliminate most committees. "Service" requirements and development days and such would have to be justified. They would be presumed un-needed unless they can show merit.
    Divide research and teaching. Encourage "research" as taking more classes ourselves--a music history prof, for example, might take a class in the history of their music instead of doing arcane studies into uses of the flute in Riga in the 1630s.
    Encourage people who simply want a career to go to career-oriented schools. Ban jobs from requiring a BA when it's not needed.
    Make unis and colleges justify why they need a PhD for jobs which won't do research. Encourage a second MA/MFA/etc. instead (as above).
    Don't let HR people ever decide who is qualified or how much they should be paid.

    1. Aren't most students getting degrees because they want a career? I'm sure there are people who want to study for the sake of learning or in the hope of becoming professors, but without those people who simply want a decent jobs, universities would not be able to function except on a reduced scale and many of them wouldn't even exist. My own degree was in Translation, so I would have preferred not to need a BA but to go to some kind of vocational school or career-oriented college specializing in my field and granting some sort of diploma that would still allow me to work but would not have the false prestige of a university degree. On the other hand, banning jobs from requiring degrees is not feasible because many people already have degrees and won't retire any time soon. Or, naturally, they would say what degrees they have and employers would simply choose those with degrees even if specifically asking for one would not be permitted.

  11. (1) Administrator positions (Chancellor, Deans and so forth) to be filled only by actual faculty in appointments limited to three-years. Three years of back-to-the-trenches before a new administrative appointment.
    (2) Administrators maintain at least a 1/1 teaching load.
    (3) Faculty with administrative appointments keep the same salary -- plus Summer salary equal to 2/10ths of annual salary.
    (4) Professionalization of varsity sports. Varsity teams operate as a separate corporation, with salaries of their choice, and pay royalties to the school for the use of its name (university business is not sports business).
    (5) Varsity athletes to get whatever salary they want. But they do not put a foot in the court with a less than 2.8 GPA.
    (6) Dorms and other residences to operate as separate corporations. The school licenses them and subsidizes them with a 5% of average student R&B -- which they lose if they go way beyond the pale (university business is not hotel business).
    (7) Nix computer labs. Give / require to buy a netbook with wireless phone connection to every student. IT takes care of classroom, research and office computing (university business is not entertainment / porn business).
    (8) No computers in libraries. (Liber = book for Pete's sake. Use your netbook.)
    (9) No course management software. Faculty to build their own bloody web pages.

  12. The change I'd like to see is getting rid of the Distinguished Professor title, at least at my university. These people get paid six figures to do absolutely nothing. They don't teach, they hardly even show up on campus, and they all have the nicest corner offices with full-time assistants (also in their own private offices), who are paid a respectable salary to sit around on Facebook all day, since their bosses never actually show up and there's nothing for them to do. Many of them have never even taught anywhere before, they just happen to be industry experts. We pay them for the privilege of putting their recognizable names on our list of faculty to lure in prospective students who might be fooled into believing that they will be taught by these Distinguished Professors. For marketing purposes, I understand why we have them, but they shouldn't be titled "professor" since they don't teach. Maybe "Scholar-at-Large" or something like that. And they should have to use the department secretary like everyone else. Their assistants should all be fired and give up their offices to the adjuncts, who currently share one tiny room that is always crowded. The Distinguished Professor title, cushy office, and full-time assistant should be reserved for people who actually teach classes.

  13. "Scholar at Large" sounds too much like "San Diego at Large", a very cheap comedy show (1986-1990?) produced/hosted by Larry Himmel, the weatherman at KFMB-TV. If you know who Rick Rockwell is, this show was his first time in front of the camera. Just call them figureheads, because that's what they are.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.