Friday, December 19, 2014

The Academic in the Coffee Shop

I wrote the majority of my dissertation while seated at a tiny table in the corner of dimly lit coffee shop. At the time, I didn’t have my own office, and working at home was anything but productive. My cat would sit on my keyboard, and I went stretches staring longingly out the window. So, I spent countless hours at my local coffee shop, churning out pages in that melange of extreme focus and nervous agitation that copious cups of caffeine can trigger. For the better part of a year, my clothes reeked of freshly ground coffee beans, and in this period, my own nerdy version of Cheers, all the baristas knew my name (and beverage of choice). It was a magical—and expensive—time in my life, but I wasn’t eager to repeat it.

When I started my faculty job, I was excited to finally have an office. In what has now become a tired cliché, office space was limited and competition for coveted offices in my department was (and remains) fierce. Office space was so scarce that, when I was hired, the dean couldn’t guarantee me an office in our building. In the end, I was issued a decent space near colleagues in our building—a little office with a window and collection of relatively new furniture.

Prior to the start of the semester, I tried to purchase a few decorations to liven up the space. I pictured an eclectic mix of artsy, globally inspired photographs and shelves lined with books. My degree, newly framed and prominently displayed. Evidently, I thought these things would make my office seem legitimate. As it turned out, my office never quite lived up to these expectations. Things got busy, and decorating took a back seat. Fortunately, having an unadorned office wasn’t a major issue.

Within a few weeks, I learned that my colleagues were only sporadically in their offices. In fact, the message I received was that faculty avoided being in their offices at all costs. Sure, they came in for meetings and office hours. Otherwise, however, they took advantage of the beautiful autonomy this profession grants by working elsewhere. (This, of course, is the great irony of faculty fighting over offices.)

Because our office hours only occasionally overlapped, I was surprised by how little I saw of my colleagues, even those whose offices were in close proximity. In order to get to know people in my department, I reached out to them and asked to meet one-on-one. Where did we usually meet? Coffee shops. Soon thereafter, I started meeting up with a colleague for structured writing time. Because I was joining his routine, I followed his lead. And so it was, after a brief respite, that I found myself once again spending large chunks of time in coffee shops.

This wasn’t a terrible turn of events. I was getting to know my colleagues, and I was writing, which I have gathered is important in this gig. Coffee shops are also a great way to learn about a new place and get the pulse of a community. In between sentences, I would often overhear conversations or observe random moments in people’s lives. Frequently, I would look up and see other faculty from around campus working through a stack of grading. It struck me that there are a variety of spaces in which academic work gets done. This is partly due to technology changes, which also means there may be generational differences that influence which spaces faculty prefer.

Thanks to the internet and widely available, free wifi, faculty are able to access a great deal of the materials they need to work from multiple places. For example, provided I have wifi, I can access through my library a range of e-books and virtually any journal article I need to aid my research. Since my courses are hybrid, I do a fair amount of student-interaction through a web-based video platform. I access student assignments and enter grades through a website. I expect that the same is true for many faculty members, suggesting that, for many of us, work is less of a location than a list of (probably overdue) tasks. If wifi is the key criterion for workspace, why not find a place that has, historically, fostered creativity?

The centrality of the coffee shop to academe makes sense in this regard. For centuries, coffee shops have been hubs of information exchange and knowledge production. I’ve seen and read a few historical papers about the role of coffee shops in spreading radical ideas, fomenting rebellion, and sparking literary innovations. Academics today are simply continuing this long tradition. 

Yet I was reminded recently that the nomadic academic wasn’t always the norm. One Friday afternoon, after most faculty had vacated the building, I chatted with the dean about how quiet it was. This comment seemed to induce nostalgia, as he shared that the profession was quite different when he started as an assistant professor. Back then, prior to the advent of the internet, it was much harder to work from home. You needed your physical books and files. It just wasn’t practical to lug everything home with you each night. As a result, he said, more faculty were in their offices, and there were more opportunities for informal interactions. Some of the older faculty in the building still preferred to come into the office everyday. He misses those moments of community.

As I listened to the dean, I reflected on my own return to the coffee shop. I didn’t go back for massive lattes or funky music—I went purely for the chance to connect with colleagues. In academe, the mixture of autonomy and the internet seems to mean, at least in my little world, that people simply aren’t around that much. As an assistant professor who is new to the campus, the result has been brief yet recurrent feelings of isolation.

Since I don’t foresee the internet disappearing anytime soon, this might mean that universities need to put more effort into building community among faculty members. It seems that at least a handful has a dedicated faculty club, which might provide one venue for faculty to get together. It could also be that there is no “fix,” in which case I’ll just suck it up and suck down a few more coffees.  

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Many Reasons Academics Work So Much

This week, Philip Guo, an assistant professor at the University of Rochester, wrote an article for Inside Higher Ed on why academics feel overworked. This is certainly not the only piece about how much academics work, or the only piece debating the appropriateness of professors feeling overwhelmed by the numerous demands on their time. The nature of work in faculty life is practically its own genre. Guo's contribution to the conversation is the argument that academics don't have a boss and their work comes from multiple, independent sources that have no knowledge of one another.

Reflecting on this argument, it strikes me as reasonable and probably part of the equation. Professorial work comes from many places, and we academics are largely responsible for filtering what we decide to do each day. As a freshly minted PhD in my first semester as an assistant professor, I've had a fair amount of time to think about (and complain about) my job. In so doing, I've identified a few other reasons why academics work so much. Although we often complain about external pressures to perform, most of these reasons are internally generated.

1. The lines between work and non-work are fuzzy.

Academic jobs require a high degree of passion. Many of us elected to go to graduate school and pursue intellectual work because we derive immense satisfaction from exploring questions, discussing issues, and sharing our expertise. Honestly, sometimes our work doesn't feel like work. I've been known to read a book about my research area in bed before calling it a night. For my wife, this is completely bizarre and further evidence that I'm the nerdiest person she knows. Those moments feel leisurely, but they are also scholarly. So, we sometimes work too much because we love what we do and don't always recognize it as work.

2. We are our own arbiters of "enough."

There are certain lower limits on academic work. We often have determined teaching loads. Tenure criteria sometimes spell out a minimum amount of research activity to achieve promotion. However, there are no upper limits: more of everything is always seen as better. As Guo pointed out, we don't have a "boss" and don't really have a great sense of our performance until periodic reviews roll around. Like most salaried jobs, professors must regularly have internal conversations about whether or not they have accomplished their goals or "done enough." Because there is no external or contractual yardstick of "enough," we decide for ourselves. And the result of this deliberation, I believe, is a perpetual sense that we haven't done enough, even when we recognize that we are working ourselves to exhaustion.

3. Academics are prone--really prone--to competitive comparison.

I have yet to meet a professor who isn't in some way motivated by prestige. We are swayed by a narrative that we work in meritocratic institutions in which the best and brightest are rewarded for their efforts. In order to establish we are among the best and brightest, we compete. Sure, there is a fair amount of collaboration and collegiality in academic work. But for anyone who thinks the life of a professor is that of an isolated, contemplative hermit, let me enlighten you: it can be cut-throat and brutal race with no clear end game. And the race is rigged in ways that benefit certain individuals over others. Moreover, we often judge our success through reference to successful peers. "If I want to be known," we say, "I need to do work like so-an-so (high profile academic) who publishes a book a year." Of course, there some folks who are less influenced by competitive comparison. They march to their own beat, and I commend them for that. However, they seem to be the exception to the rule.

A quick anecdote on competitive comparison before moving on with the list. I was recently at a workshop for new faculty in my field. Over dinner, conversation shifted and several people began discussing the ways in which they were positioning to move to a better institution. We've only been on the job for a few months! The pull of prestige can be remarkably strong.

4. We are increasingly subject to productivity management.

Yes, many of the things driving faculty to work so much are internally generated. However, there are a few that are not. Increasingly, the expectation is that faculty demonstrate, through measurable outcomes, their productivity. This means documenting virtually every detail of our jobs. I worked in university administration at a public research university for seven years. We are talking the height of bureaucracy here. Not once did I have to record my activities as I do as a faculty member. To some extent, the notion that faculty members enjoy extreme autonomy is a myth. Our time is becoming managed in order to satisfy the whims of administrators and legislators. The ability of faculty to challenge this process is compromised due to the steady erosion of shared governance.

5. There is a norm of overwork.

One result of so many articles being published about academics working so much is that it creates a norm. Faculty, in their day-to-day interactions, help to create and perpetuate this norm. Conversations about how much we work, how little we get paid, and how frustrated we are with the system are so ubiquitous it's jarring when we come across someone who seems to actually have balance in their life. As a new faculty member, when you enter a space where everyone talks about how behind they are in grading, how huge their inbox is, or how many meetings they have to attend, you start to wonder if your time should be similarly taxed. You start to question, "Have I really done enough today?" And so the cycle begins anew.

There are probably other reasons why academics work so much. Some people are workaholics and just happen to be professors. Some people use work to escape from or compensate for something entirely different. Some people are legit academic rockstars whose work does real good in the world. Some people just do a lot of work and are grateful to have the opportunity.

In my mind, I've stopped paying too much attention to questions of why I'm working so much. Rather, I've started to put real thought into whether I'm using my time in ways that allow me to flourish. Similarly, I've focused my attention on thinking through the question: what kind of academic do I want to be? It's not that thinking through reasons we are overworked is futile. I just don't have the time to over-analyze it because I have a stack of papers to grade.

Monday, November 3, 2014

The Institutional Man: In Defense of Service in Academe

When I started my faculty job, I received the some advice that I believe to be common in academe: "focus on your research and teaching. Those are the only things that truly matter."

In this context, "matter" equates to "counting in you tenure case." I appreciate this advice on some level because the underlying message, one that I have heard many times now, is that my colleagues want me to stick around for the long haul. They want me to be successful here. In their eyes, they are protecting me from onerous service and providing me space to establish my research program and become comfortable teaching. They have instructed me not to volunteer to serve on any committees for as long as I can. "Enjoy being new," they tell me.

What no one explained to me was how isolating and, at times, utterly devoid of meaning it can be to spend entire days researching and preparing classes with minimal engagement with the wider institution. Don't get me wrong. I feel enormously privileged that I can freely pursue research topics that interest me. No one seems to mind if I do that in my office or in a local cafe (where I am ridiculously more productive). I get a great deal of satisfaction out of interacting with my students in the classroom and during office hours. I'm not tucked away in a dark, damp, tiny office with no human contact. There has been a plethora of coffee and lunch meetings with colleagues. And, yet, I sorely miss being anchored--thoroughly connected--to the institution. It seems I am an institutional man (I recognize my language here is gender-exclusive. It's a play on Whyte's The Organization Man.)

By "institutional man," I mean that part of the reason why I love working in academe is contributing to the betterment of the institution. I don't think of a university as simply a platform to do my research. I like being involved in shaping the institution's present circumstances and future possibilities. I'm the person who in graduate school served on the university senate and eagerly read about task force deliberations. I studied my university's history, knew the location of every building on campus, and walked each day through the quad with a sense of my place in the networks that made the institution function. Work assumes new meaning when you feel weaved within the institutional fabric. Having only worked at my present university for about one semester, I recognize it will take time for this type of connection to develop. However, it seems much more difficult to accomplish this when the predominant narrative I hear is: "serve yourself and stick to your tribe."

Herein lies the problem for me with avoiding service. I know that research and teaching should be prioritized over service. However, I feel strongly that service and an affinity with the institution could enhance my research and teaching. In what may become a (dangerously) recurring trend, I have ignored common advice for junior faculty members. I started volunteering for committees. I reached out to others who, from my vantage point, are both successful scholars and people who serve the institution. Those people who lead workshops on applied learning, facilitate mentoring through the Center for Teaching Excellence, and serve on the faculty senate. Many of these people are not superstars with national reputations. They aren't "publicly engaged" scholars. They do their work and strive to make the institution better.

What I'm learning is that, as a junior faculty member, there isn't a set formula to follow. You make choices based upon your values and cobble together a trajectory. In so doing, you sometimes have to shrug off advice that doesn't work for you. For me, that advice was to shirk service at all costs. I'm consciously making space in my career for service because, despite what colleagues say, it matters--it matters to me. I'm willing to accept that it may consume time that I would otherwise spend doing my research or preparing for classes. Managing trade-offs seems to be half the battle in academic life. My hope in writing this is that other junior faculty members reflect on the aspects of the job that are most meaningful to them. Create space to emphasize those things, even if they are at odds with prevailing wisdom.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Blocking the Inner Voice in Faculty Life

I've been an assistant professor all of two months, and I love my job. I'll probably laugh at that sentence come spring semester, when I begin my 3-3 teaching load. But for now, I am happy with my courses, impressed by my students, and feel welcome within my department. In other words, I have good reason to be thankful.

This doesn't mean that there are no challenges. Each day, I learn something new, and I spend a good deal of energy simply trying to understand administrative processes and departmental history. There are other challenges as well. Psychological challenges. When I started this job, I promised not to let it rule my life. I decided that if I can't achieve some semblance of balance and be a professor, I'll find a new line of work. Achieving balance by itself requires a great deal of effort. It's not as simple as working less. And balance doesn't just mean exercising, which seems to be the "solution" proposed in many advice columns. I've been a runner for years, and hitting the pavement isn't a guaranteed ticket to emotional wellbeing.  No, achieving balance is a complicated struggle, usually waged in my mind.

I have to fight against an inner voice demanding that I give more of my time and energy to work. This inner voice, I think, is an amalgam of external messages that I internalize. Messages from my graduate school advisors about how they earned respect. Messages derived from comparing myself to colleagues. Messages about what it takes to win tenure. Messages about staying relevant and earning prestige in my discipline. The reason I fight against this inner voice is that I recognize it is at odds with my authentic self. Prior to entering academe, I cared more about differentiating myself from others than competing with them. Status was not a motivator for me, and I never would have imagined selling my soul for a lifetime job. So, I try my best to block this inner voice in order to give room for my authentic self to emerge. Here's a few illustrations of this process based upon recollections from the past two months on the job.

1. I went out of town a few weeks ago to visit my family. When I went back into the office, a colleague dropped by and asked me about my weekend. The inner voice suggested I respond as follows: "It was great, but I didn't get any work done. So, I'm stressed and will be grading all day today." I checked this impulse and instead replied: "It was great. I didn't get any work done, but it was worth it." The thing is, I would never tell a colleague to feel bad about prioritizing family over work. Why should I not apply that same value to my own life? When I block the inner voice, I make an effort to enjoy and own not working.

2. I met with my department chair recently to talk about my goals for the upcoming year. Typically, these meetings are designed to review faculty members' performance the previous year, in addition to goal-setting. Since I'm new, there was no performance to review. My chair explained that tenure criteria related to research had been changing over time. It was no longer the case that one peer-reviewed publication per year was sufficient. Her advice was to make sure I was using the time gained from my course release this semester to publish. After this meeting, the inner voice told me: "Cancel your plans to go to the wedding this month. You've got to get moving." I almost immediately went home and asked my wife if we could skip out on the wedding and visit our friends some time in the future. I pushed aside the inner voice and told myself: "You did not become a professor to live like a hermit. Structure your time in the coming weeks, meet your writing goals, and recognize that you are better at research when you feel fulfilled." I did my best to keep my writing projects moving forward, and I tried not to beat myself up when unexpected things came between me and research. As it turned out, the writing was good. Oh, and I went to that wedding. When I block the inner voice, I work at my own pace and at a higher standard.

3. Just the other day, I pulled into my driveway, turned off the car, and just sat for a minute. It wasn't a particularly taxing day. I didn't teach or attend a slew of meetings. But I was exhausted. I knew I had about 45 minutes before I needed to start dinner. I kicked off my shoes and headed toward the couch with every intention of taking a nap. As soon as I closed my eyes, the inner voice whispered: "You have 45 minutes before anyone else gets home. Look up those articles you didn't get to and start reading them." Sadly, I gave in to the inner voice in this instance. I got up, opened my laptop, and started typing the URL for the library homepage before my authentic self intervened: "You have already worked a full day, remember? You started at 8:00 this morning and worked strait through lunch. Why is this more important than giving yourself a rest?" I didn't get around to taking that nap, but I was annoyed enough with myself to learn a valuable lesson. When I block the inner voice, I recognize that I am already working hard enough.

These are just three illustrations among many. I don't always block the inner voice. Frequently, in fact, the inner voice is the only voice I hear. Nevertheless, I'm struggling--dare I say, working--to do faculty life my way. And I hope sincerely that other professors do the same. Don't talk about how busy you are. Don't complain about not working over the weekend. Don't suggest that a normal work week is insufficient.

I recognize there are factors at play here, factors seemingly beyond our control. Courses need to be taught. Committees need to be staffed. Emails need to be read. Families need to be fed. The work needs to get done. But I believe there are many moments in which we have an opportunity to make choices about the type of faculty life we want to make possible. And I think that life might be better for everyone in academe if we all block the inner voice.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

What Role Do Faculty Play in the Corporatization of Higher Education?

Yesterday, I wrote a post about recent claims that administrators in higher education increasingly have corporate backgrounds. This trend, it has been argued, explains a range of phenomena related to the corporatization of higher education, such as treating students as customers and hiring adjuncts. I challenged this argument in two ways. First, I gave reason to question the idea that administrators increasingly have corporate backgrounds. We don't actually have data (to my knowledge) that confirms this. Second, I suggested that while presidents are easy targets, responsibility for the corporatization of higher education does not fall on the shoulders of a single actor. Instead, I offered that all of us in the academy are complicit.

David Perry, an academic and writer whose work I admire, read the post and took issue with this last point. He tweeted:

In particular, he thought the argument would be more compelling if I could cite concrete examples of faculty contributing to the corporatization of higher education. So, I decided to think on it and write this post. What role do faculty play in the corporatization of higher education?

First, let me get all dissertation-y and provide a working definition of corporatization. I think of corporatization as an example of privatization within higher education (as compared to privatization of higher education, in the sense of state liberalization of a largely public higher education sector to allow for private providers). Bruce Johnstone provided one of the most comprehensive definitions of privatization within higher education. It's a good working definition for this post. He wrote:

Privatization...refers to a process or tendency of colleges and universities (both public and private) taking on characteristics of, or operational norms associated with, private enterprises. Although the term is not a precise one..., privatization connotes a greater orientation to the student as consumer, including the concept of the college education as a "product"; attention to image, competitor institutions and market "niches"; pricing and the enhancement of net earned revenue; and aggressive marketing. Priviatization also suggests the option of management practices associate with private business, such as contracting out, or "outsourcing"..., aggressive labor relations and minimization of payroll expenditures, direct decision-making and "top down" management, widespread use of audits and accountability measures, and an insistence that units...contribute to profitability.

Scanning through this definition, most of the practices seem far removed from what we typically associate with the academic profession. Faculty members push against any effort to think of students as customers, they lash out against "top down" management and promote shared governance, they question the utility of many of the products purchased to improve workflow, and they frequently don't champion accountability measures (think of post-tenure review). So, at first glance, my colleague is probably right to say that faculty should not bear responsibility for changes they did not enact. If anything, many faculty should be recognized for their efforts to oppose corporatization. Such opposition helps explain the irrefutable and mounting tension between faculty and administrators.

Yet, I still had the nagging sense that pointing the finger at administrators--and often a single administrator--is too simplistic. So, I offer here some tentative explorations of how faculty share some responsibility for corporatization. These ideas, many of which are inspired by higher education research, have been in my brain oven all of 12 hours, so feedback is heartily welcomed. I'll state here and reiterate that my position is not that faculty are to blame for corporatization. Here we go...

1. Faculty are administrators, administrators are faculty - Despite claims of the CEO-as-administrator, many leaders in higher education still follow a trajectory that started on the lowest rungs of tenure-trackdom. The administrators that are so heavily critiqued by faculty were often once faculty themselves. This means that either: a) some dramatic transformation happens when faculty become administrators that alters their thinking and precludes any identification with faculty or b) conditions in higher education create challenges and constrain possible solutions, meaning corporatization arises as faculty-administrators try their best. In any case, the point is that it's difficult to draw a clear line between faculty and administrators.

2. Faculty are people, people like nice things - This may rub a few people the wrong way, but the amenities arms race has been going on for a longer period time than many faculty realize. I wonder if opposition to new buildings was as vociferous when funding was more generous. I've heard plenty of faculty complain about their offices and classrooms. I think many would welcome the opportunity to work in new facilities, even if this required a tuition or fee hike. I went on a campus tour with new faculty once, and they were just as giddy about new recreational facilities and Starbucks in the library as students. In other words, faculty enjoy and come to expect amenities on campuses just like everyone else.

3. Faculty research, research requires money - Faculty are status addicts. The one activity that almost universally delivers status in the academy is research. In order to fund their research, faculty have courted corporate donors. Now, this is not true of all faculty. I'm in education - ain't no corporations funding my work. Select faculty members have also oriented their research to intersect with market demand. They view their discoveries as intellectual property that can be protected through patents. And they look to license these patents or use them to create spin-off companies. Although we are still probably talking about a minority of faculty at certain institutions, data shows that the number of faculty-entrepreneurs is rising (shout out to Slaughter and Rhoades).

4. Faculty are no strangers to adjuncts - To say that the adjunctification of the academy is a purely administrator-driven process is ludicrous. Faculty vote on professional degree programs taught by adjuncts. Faculty buy out courses knowing the courses will be taught by adjuncts. Faculty become department chairs and even hire adjuncts. Faculty marginalize adjuncts. (All the preceding, it should be noted, creates a distinction between "faculty" and "adjuncts." I don't agree with this distinction, viewing all faculty as faculty, but I use it here for clarity.) I've read article after article about how faculty know about the treatment of adjuncts, realize the number of adjuncts is rising, and do nothing.

These are just a few ideas. Again, my point is not that faculty are to blame for corporatization. Rather, my position is that this has been a group effort, born of a pervasive mindset--what many have called neoliberal governmentality. We can think of corporatization as a car speeding down the road. Faculty aren't in the driver's seat, and they may even be in the back urging the driver to slow down, but they are still in the car with everyone else. A response to my argument might be that faculty are simply reacting to conditions they did not create. There is validity to this response, but I think it too easily absolves us all of some part in the changes to higher education. Others might suggest that while faculty are complicit in corporatization, just like administrators, students, parents, and staff, they have played a smaller role. I think this is also true but doesn't take them out of the show altogether.

If we want to prevent the corporatization car from speeding down the road, we can't simply point a finger at the driver. Nor can we swap out the driver and put a faculty member in their place. It'll require a group effort because it was a group effort that led to the journey in the first place. In the words of the late Howard Zinn: you can't be neutral on a moving train.

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Former CEO as College President? Not So Fast

Are America's colleges and universities increasingly run by former CEOs? The answer is: honestly, we don't know. We don't have the data. However, that hasn't stopped a number of observers from suggesting that higher education has gone to hell in a handbasket chiefly because its leaders are introducing norms and practices derived from time spent at corporations.

For example, in her recent piece for the National Post, Rebecca Schuman included the following as one reason that, since the late 1990s, higher education has been in a precipitous decline:

...universities — especially public institutions, ever-starved of tax revenue and ever-more-dependent upon corporate partnerships and tuition — started hiring CEOs as administrators, most of whom gleefully explained that they would start running these public, nonprofit entities like businesses.

She linked the rise of the CEO-as-administrator to treating students as customers and adjunctifying the academy. Consequently, luxury dorms have been built in response to customer demand and academic freedom has been dismantled as more and more work is completed by faculty outside tenure-trackdom. In other words, two of the most controversial developments in higher education in the last decade, namely the amenities arms race and the increasing reliance upon contingent academic labor, are products of the encroaching presence of former CEOs in leadership positions at colleges and universities. Schuman is not the first and probably won't be the last to make this claim.

Now, it's certainly possible that there has been an uptick in the number of institutions recruiting people with business acumen for leadership positions. In fact, it makes perfect sense. Given that institutions increasingly must consider marketing, branding, and making money to compete and meet rising costs, there are obvious advantages to hiring someone who was previously responsible for marketing, branding, and/or revenue generation at a large organization in a competitive marketplace. Many academics have never done these things. This has not stopped several institutions from demanding that their next president come from the ranks of the faculty. And it should be noted that, even if said president were a historian of the nineteenth century south, faculty members have made fantastic leaders for as long as higher education has existed. But I digress. 

While I agree that the employment backgrounds of college and university leaders can help us understand the nature of change in higher education, we should be wary of easy answers. Before we jump to conclusions about the CEO-as-administrator, we need to collect data. (*Dibs* I'm planning to do this in the near future.) Even armed with this data, however, we can't claim, as so many do, that former CEOs are the cause of corporatization and its attendant maladies. In the short term, we might be able to assess the degree to which a certain employment background (academic v. private sector) among administrators relates to variables like the proportion of part-time faculty. All of this is a long preface to this key point: corporatization is absolutely an issue in higher education, but I'm not certain we should look to the employment history of administrators as an explanation.

I would, rather directly, look to strings attached to money coming from corporations. For example, the Center for Public Integrity has been reporting about large sums of money that the Koch brothers have donated to various colleges and universities nationwide through their charitable foundation. The money has often gone to fund research centers or faculty positions that promote free-market ideology and the shortcomings of government intervention. I would look to the political economy of education policy-making, which has subverted the notion that higher education is a public good that demands investment of public funds. And I would look to the pervasiveness of market rationality in virtually every facet of the academy. 

This last point merits reiteration. Although presidents are easy targets, the reality is that all of us are complicit in the corporatization of higher education. It is, by now, a deeply ingrained mindset. Which is to say that change is going to require a great deal more than ensuring that college leaders are not corporate big shots. It is going to require a long, hard look in the mirror. 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

There's So Much Awful Advice for New Faculty

It's the beginning of the semester at most colleges and universities nationwide, meaning it's also advice season for new faculty. This is the time of year when The Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed publish a string of pieces from older, wiser faculty to help us novices survive tenure trackdom. I've decided to stop reading these pieces for several reasons I'll share here. And it's not because I know everything I'll need to thrive.

First, a chunk of the advice is completely common sense. It's not just common sense to me. It's quite literally common sense. Included in this category are the suggestions that we learn the culture of our departments and try to be nice to our colleagues. I'm not sure anyone, in any profession, would walk into a new job thinking: "I'm going to completely ignore what's going on around me and try to be a jerk." So, I'm not sure that this advice really needs to be verbalized. If there are people who approach a new faculty job this way, chances are they are too self-absorbed or socio-pathic to read advice pieces and take them seriously.

Second, a chunk of the advice is contingent upon the institution type. Writers of advice pieces will understandably draw upon their own experiences to spin humorous cautionary tales or chronicle how they saved a new faculty member from an embarrassing blunder. I understand this approach: you write what you know. But what you know doesn't necessarily speak to where I'm at. You may be talking about teaching generally, but your ideas are informed by lecturing to 300 undergraduate students, not developing online modules for working adults. Let's face it: there are few universal rules when it comes to being an academic. We work in a fabulously diverse occupation, rending most advice useless in practice.

Third, a chunk of the advice treats academe like a secret society or game demanding a particularly nuanced strategy. And, trust me, I get it. The stakes are high. There are unwritten codes. This is a unique profession in which your colleagues vote on our promotion. But at the end of the day this is a job. Every job that I've held was political and stressful. I trusted my instincts and stayed true to myself. If I can't do that as a faculty member, why would I want to work in this department, institution, or field? I recognize that "being myself" is a privilege, but it shouldn't be. It should be the only advice given and the only advice we, as new faculty, accept. In some ways, the narrative that treats academe like a game and new faculty as clueless rookies does more harm than good. If we all treated this as a job, even if (as many others have noted) it is a calling, it would be easier to walk away at the end of the day and draw clear boundaries. We would put up with a lot less foolishness.

Lastly, much of the advice leaves me feeling more panicked than prepared to succeed. I start worrying about things that, honestly, probably don't matter all that much. I think about whether I'm being nice enough or getting too friendly with my students. Before long, I give in to the perennial academic pastime of overthinking everything, which means I'm not thinking about the really important things, like editing that manuscript or developing that creative discussion idea. I swirl around in a tornado of self-doubt and tenure fear.

So, I stopped reading the advice pieces, electing to believe in my ability to learn and make incremental improvements. Truthfully, I wish that some older, wiser faculty would give up writing them. If you really want to write something for fellow faculty members, share pedagogies that you found effective. If you're feeling the itch to mentor a new faculty member, swing by their office or invite them to coffee. Find out about their life and aspirations, then give them personalized advice. If it's really about our success, and not somehow about you, then I would think this approach is more effective than writing an op-ed.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Higher Education Programs and Public Comprehensive Institutions

Prior to joining the faculty at UNC Wilmington, I worked on two papers that examine public comprehensive institutions. When I started these projects, public comprehensives were just part of a panel dataset. I had never attended one of these institutions as a student, and my professional career had been confined to a single public research university. Over the past few months, I have thought about public comprehensives frequently, and my study of them has intensified. A number of questions have surfaced as I experience first-hand the unique features and challenges of what have been called America's forgotten colleges and universities.


One such question is the nature of higher education programs at public comprehensives. Without looking at the data, my sense is that there are many graduate programs in higher education at public comprehensives, despite the attention the concentrates around the big-name programs. As is true of all public comprehensives, these programs may be the workhorses of higher education credentialing nationwide. And they may increasingly employ graduate students seeking faculty positions in higher education. I offer below a few tentative observations on what it means to work and study in a higher education program at an institution like UNCW. My hope is to investigate some of these observations systematically in the near future. In the meantime, perhaps they will spark thought and conversation.

1. Were are a small island in a teacher preparation sea. This strikes me as common to many higher education programs in schools and colleges of education. Higher education programs are usually one small slice of a pie that spans all levels of education, and teacher preparation absorbs much of the limelight for good reason. Nevertheless, there are two reasons why the higher education islands at public comprehensives might be especially small and isolated. First, many public comprehensives began as normal schools, meaning teacher preparation is not simply a course of study. It permeates the history, identity, and mission of the institution. Teacher preparation may be one of the primary ways the institution serves the region, and K-12 education majors may be numerous. Second, there is a good chance that higher education programs are small in size relative to other programs or departments. What this means is that, when you work and study in a higher education program at a public comprehensive, many of the speakers and similar opportunities are geared towards K-12 issues. Other faculty have little sense of the research that you do or what careers in higher education entail. And even the dean, who may heartily support the program, rarely showcases your program. None of this is a travesty, of course. There is value in existing off the radar sometimes. And, thankfully, we're talking about educators here, and even if they don't "get" your work, your colleagues tend to be inclusive and sociable. You simply become accustomed to blank stares when asked to discuss your research or courses.

2. We are the only show in town. This observation is contingent upon the geographical location of the public comprehensive. But let's assume that many public comprehensives are, as their name often indicates, regional in nature. There many not be a plethora of other institutions nearby. This means that higher education programs at public comprehensives may well be the only credentialing body for professionals in the field. This is not at all problem. In fact, it may justify the existence of the program in the first place. However, it is possible that these programs become the go-to professional development service for campus employees looking to advance their careers. Depending upon the tuition policies for staff, this may mean that programs with a large number of campus employees bring in less tuition money. It may also mean that curricula skew towards practice and away from policy. On the flip side, having large numbers of campus employees enables a great synergy between the institution and the program. At UNCW, we have been able to work with current and former students to develop practicum sites, internships, and applied learning opportunities. Another dimension of being the only show in town--one that I had never considered--is that higher education programs at public comprehensives may well educate large numbers of community college leaders. As is true at other colleges, a terminal degree is increasingly necessary to assume high-level positions at community colleges. For many community college professionals, even those coming from strikingly different disciplinary backgrounds, a doctorate in higher education opens doors. This is a fantastic way for higher education programs to be engaged in local communities, but also has ramifications for curricula and advising. It strikes me that the curricula of most higher education programs features theories and research based upon institutions other than community colleges. Courses in community college leadership may need to be offered. And faculty (like me) may not have as much experience with community college career options and, therefore, need to do some homework to offer advice.

3. In a field with strong national organizations, we are regionally-inclined. I was trained at a public research university where the norm was that graduate students attended national conferences like NASPA, ACPA, and ASHE. Not only did we attend, many of us, as graduate students, worked to present papers and become involved. Public comprehensives tend to be regionally-oriented, partly because of their missions and partly, I suspect, because their budgets can't support travel to national conferences. As an applied program in a professional school at a teaching institution, research expected of graduate students differs from programs at larger universities, making presenting at a national conference more difficult. This observation may be specific to UNCW, where our program has only existed for a few years and the reality is that students are not expected to attend national conferences, often because there is not readily available funding to help them cover the costs. Those that are employed while working towards a degree could pay out of pocket, as many graduate students often do, but salaries in a smaller city could make travel to a large city for 5 days feel like a luxurious vacation. With this in mind, it does appear to be the case that our program is tapped into regional professional conferences, which provide rich opportunities for networking and development. The pull of increasing the program's profile over time may shift the culture such that participation in national organizations becomes more popular among students.

These are but a few observations as I ponder the nature of higher education programs at public comprehensives. Over time, I'll continue to give thought to what it means to be a new faculty member in a new higher education program at a public comprehensive. I'll also flesh out some of distinctions of graduate preparation programs in higher education at public comprehensives. One day, I'll start to collect some data to evaluate whether these observations are relevant outside my bubble. I invite others to share their experiences as students or faculty at public comprehensives to better develop this account.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Faculty Norming at a Public Comprehensive University

I recently completed a rite of passage for new assistant professors: new faculty orientation. Although this is my first tenure-track gig, it is not my first new faculty orientation. I helped organize new faculty orientation at my previous institution, a research one university. As a result of this experience, and the three-day academic bootcamp at UNCW, I've come to understand new faculty orientation as a norm-setting process. Professors are taught what it means to excel in their new university and helped to adjust to a new culture. New faculty orientation, in other words, is a reflection of the norms by which professors are expected to abide. As such, the format and content of new faculty orientation reveals a great deal about campus environments. Spending several days learning about my public comprehensive university was a startling reminder that attending a research one university did not prepare me for faculty life at every type of school.

At my previous institution, new faculty orientation was not mandatory and lasted one day. Only about one-third of new faculty showed up. A few remarks were given over breakfast by an academic administrator (though it is worth noting that neither the president nor chief academic officer were present). The presentation that probably received the most attention focused upon the promotion and tenure process, encouraging new faculty to start on the right foot by establishing their individual research programs. There were then two breakout sessions: one dedicated to securing grants and another centering upon tips for effective teaching. After lunch, new faculty were split into groups by college for more intimate conversations with facilitators. The event ended with a resource fair, wrapping up in the early afternoon. The fact that new faculty orientation was not mandatory sent a message about the strength of the academic community and the institutional commitment to developing junior professors. Overall, the core message of the orientation was to concentrate one's energies on their individual research in order to get tenure. These are faculty norms at the university, and collectively they form part of the culture in which I was socialized as a doctoral student.

By contrast, UNCW offered a multi-day introduction to the campus, students, and city. On the first day, we met two-dozen administrators across the campus, including the chancellor and provost. We learned about the make-up of the student population and the values of the university. For the last half of the day, we split into groups to consider various aspects of liberal arts learning objectives. This was the first of several sessions dedicated to teaching. That evening, we were invited to the chancellor's house for a swanky reception. The second day consisted of campus tour, including a detailed history of higher education in the state. We visited several facilities to showcase the university's contributions to the region and faculty engagement with the public. On the final day of orientation, we took part in a teaching institute largely related to applied learning, which is a significant initiative at the university as a result of its recent accreditation. The tone of new faculty orientation was clearly different from what I experienced at the research one institution. We heard over and again that faculty at UNCW cared first and foremost about the quality of their teaching. They were involved in the region. And you know what stood out most to me? Research was hardly mentioned. Tenure never entered the conversation.

Despite ending completely exhausted, I was impressed with the scope of orientation at UNCW. I was inspired and intimidated by the talented senior faculty members I met over the course of the event. They were running clinics in the community, leading study abroad programs, addressing food desserts in nearby housing projects. And they were clearly passionate about teaching. It was apparent to me that the university's teaching-orientation was not just rhetoric. It was the substance of faculty life. And I wasn't at all prepared for it. Sure, I had known in taking the job that the university was teaching-oriented. But this was the first time that this concept really sunk in. I saw it firsthand. In order to be successful, I need to put serious thought into the design of my courses and my practices as an educator. I have no doubt that research is still important. Tenure may not have been a discussion topic during orientation, but it is still part of the deal. Overall, however, my exposure to norms at UNCW confirmed that my doctoral training at a research one university did not prepare me for the realities of a public comprehensive institution. I spent the majority of summer thinking about nothing except my research program and journal submissions. I felt early pressures to begin building my tenure case. I fiddled around with courses, but generally figured I would follow the familiar formula of courses I took in my graduate program. I'm beginning to think this was the wrong strategy, one too heavily influenced by research one norms.

To anyone looking to go on the job market this fall, I urge you to give thought to faculty norms and how you will fit in a campus culture that may differ significantly from where you trained. If you decide to take a job at a public comprehensive university, consider that teaching-orientation isn't just rhetoric. Don't give into the temptation of assuming that, regardless of the school, research is the crux of faculty life. In many ways, teaching is what makes public comprehensive universities vital to higher education. At a time when colleges and universities are subjected to constant critique and scrutiny, there are places whose culture places a premium on teaching and engagement. I'm thrilled to be at such an institution, even if its norms caught me off guard.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

The Many Faces of Academic Work

The act of creating an essay, irrespective of its resemblance to "legitimate" scholarship, is for me the essence of academic work. Over the past three weeks, I have been settling into a new city and, therefore, writing very little. I've managed to put together a few posts, one of which, surprisingly,  received a wonderful amount of circulation. Aside from these posts, however, I've largely been preoccupied with other activities. And the lack of writing has on many occasions left me feeling slothful. Today, I decided to pick apart the notion that writing is the basis of academic work. In the end, I feel like I've been doing a great deal of work, much of it academic in nature. I want to bring these activities to light, as a reminder that we shouldn't trap academic work in rigid boxes. (A hat tip here to David Perry, who pointed out that academics often fail to see themselves as workers.)

One of these non-writing activities is making it possible to write in the first place. By this I mean that I've spent a large chunk of energy working to carve out time and space to be contemplative and calm. Having just moved, this activity in practice entails unpacking boxes, arranging furniture, installing requisite technology, and catching up on lost sleep. It means seeking out community by subscribing to the local paper, finding a gym, and testing out markets. It means having a space where it feels appropriate to write. Attempting to write before each of these steps were completed proved impossible for me. I would argue that they are building blocks of academic work. Even those who are not moving often (and many academics, it seems, are moving constantly) need time each year to re-establish a rhythm. It may be the case that some academics have mastered doing work anywhere and anytime. For the rest of us, the process of creating conditions conducive to creativity most definitely is academic work.

A second activity that has commanded my attention is planning courses and attending teaching-related professional development. Teaching is something that most academics do, yet a colleague remarked to me this past week that we spend remarkably little time talking about it. Designing a course takes time, especially if its goal is significant learning. I've been reading, taking notes, tweaking syllabi, and building online spaces for student to access materials and connect. In order to do this, I've had to severely compartmentalize my thinking. It hasn't been possible for me to design courses and write at the same time. This is certainly true on the days that I've attended an applied learning seminar at my new university, which is phenomenally helpful, but leaves little time to write. I imagine that I'll soon have to strike a balance. In the meantime, we should acknowledge that preparing to teach and working with others to improve teaching is academic work. And it is hard.

A final activity that has become my modus operandi is walking in a perpetual state of confusion and curiosity. I know very little about where I am or where to go for resources. I don't know people in my department, so I've tried to walk around and strike up conversations. To have some presence before things get too busy. Questions have filled virtually every available free space in my brain. For example, on my first day in my office, I put a few books on the book shelf, opened my laptop, looked around and mumbled: "What do I do now?" I spent two hours trying to figure out how to work the copier. Seeking answers to questions has either left me relatively immobilized or sapped me of energy. Being confused or looking for answers to questions may not go on my third year review, but it's work in which many of us engage.

I'm happy to be writing today, as it means I might be on the cusp of finding my groove. But I shouldn't beat myself up if this is just another random sprinkling of words into a sea of non-writing activities. Because many of those activities, despite their lack of prestige, are not simply necessary to do good work. They are work. I would venture to guess, in fact, that they constitute the bulk of academic work, no matter how much attention writing gets. So, having found a moment to reflect and write, now it's time to get back to it. Happy working, one and all.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Assault on Student Affairs

Student affairs professionals, take note: higher education reformers have set their sights on your offices, programs, and services. I first sensed that a target was now on student affairs at an event earlier this summer on "hacking" the university. The introductory speaker at the event claimed that there is no evidence demonstrating that being on campus or interacting with faculty benefits students. I wrote in response to this event that the speaker was apparently unfamiliar with the vast body of scholarship conducted by and on behalf of student affairs. A series of articles released yesterday by The Chronicle of Higher Education reflected a similar lack of knowledge. Increasingly, ignorance of student affairs is rampant. The present narrative is dangerous and threatens to undermine precisely the learning and development higher education reformers demand.

Let's take a closer look at the contours of this narrative. The first article, titled "The Comfortable Kid," was featured on The Chronicle's homepage. The underlying message of the article is that, through various recent developments, colleges are coddling students. The source of this obsession with comfort is a student-as-consumer ethos in which decisions are made according to what makes students happy. The article acknowledges that this ethos is connected to a necessary desire to care for students in ways that help them learn and develop. What's interesting is that, amidst this discussion of the tension between coddling and care, the article quickly pivots to the history of student affairs. In other words, if students are being coddled or turned into "marshmallows," in the words of the article's author, student affairs is responsible. It is student affairs professionals who have encouraged the individualization, customization, and personalization that characterizes today's college experience. Interestingly enough, many of the examples cited in the article of protecting students from discomfort that causes them to intellectually grow come from academic affairs. Nevertheless, the narrative remains one in which the comfortable kid inhabits a bubble constructed by student affairs.

The case can be made that student affairs sometimes goes overboard in its desire to make the college experience inclusive and sensitive to multiple identities. But student affairs is also responsible for challenging students in crucial ways. It pushes them to dialogue with one another to recognize and appreciate differences. It asks them to try new experiences that make comfort zones far more porous. It develops opportunities for students to hold one another accountable and assume leadership positions. And it connects curricula with local communities. I would argue, in fact, that student affairs does a better job than academic courses of forcing students to contend with cognitive dissonance. Such experiences outside or alongside the classroom sometimes require that student affairs provide layers of support to allow students to reflect and take measured risks. To some, this support resembles coddling, leading to a misinformed narrative in which student affairs is preoccupied with comfort. A deeper understanding of student affairs reveals that support is a simply a means to incrementally challenge students.

Linked within this article is one on student services spending. The article's title suggests that spending on student services is rising because colleges are competing through amenities. It notes, but largely dismisses, other explanations, such as meeting the needs of non-traditional students, increasing resources related to enrollment, and fulfilling regulatory burdens. We cannot deny that spending on student services has increased at most colleges and universities, and the trend is problematic. However, as the article correctly shows, a portion of this spending has gone to vital services like counseling students coping with mental illness and developing programs to prevent sexual assault. The article then rather mysteriously shifts to a discussion of student services throughout history, including a few quotes from noted higher education historian John Thelin. Thelin traces the rise of student services to the 1980s and, for some odd reason, bashes student affairs. Talking about his former students who have gone into student affairs, Thelin recalls: "They started describing student services not as extracurricular but co-curricular," he says. "I think the idea was to legitimize and ensure the survival of some of the things they were offering." This quote showcases another dimension of the narrative against student affairs.

Student affairs becomes merely an expenditure category whose evolution over time is a factor of colleges competing through amenities. The tone of the article makes clear that this spending is considered wasteful and detracts from the teaching mission of colleges. Missing in the narrative is any recognition that student affairs is instrumental in promoting learning on campuses across the country. An investment in student services isn't just an attempt to attract applicants with pretty buildings. Surveys tell us time and time again that significant learning happens through experiences outside of the classroom--experiences that are designed, implemented, and assessed by student affairs professionals. Although the amenities arms race in higher education warrants close scrutiny, we should not in the process denigrate student affairs as extracurricular activities masquerading as legitimate learning opportunities. We risk throwing the baby out with the bathwater, as student affairs often makes learning truly come alive in college, regardless of whether or not it is in a fancy, new building.

There is an assault on student affairs that is gaining momentum. The narrative that constitutes this assault is one that equates student affairs with wasteful spending and turning colleges into a country club. As someone who researches the neoliberal university, I am certainly sympathetic to any discussion of consumerism in the context of higher education. But I believe the assault on student affairs undermines significant efforts to help students learn and develop as critical thinkers and citizens. Student affairs professionals would be wise to follow this narrative and pay heed to some of the very reasonable critique. However, they should also push back and fight false claims that student affairs is unrelated to spending on those activities that promote active learning. They should challenge false claims that student affairs is all about comfort.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Taking Action for Adjuncts

After being surrounded by a sea of boxes for the past few days, I have some time to step away from unpacking and relax. I'll have more on this process of moving for a new academic position and my efforts to integrate in the community soon. In the meantime, I'm responding to a provocative article in Chronicle's Vitae. In "Blaming the Victim: Ladder Faculty and the Lack of Adjunct Activism," Lori Harrison-Kahan highlights the silence of tenure-track faculty with respect to the inequities of adjunct/contingent/tenure-ineligible faculty. At the conclusion of the article, Harrison-Kahan writes:

Through the labor movement taking place in Boston and across the country, contingent professors are using their newfound voices to begin formulating answers. But it is also the responsibility of ladder faculty to take action, to openly acknowledge how exploitative labor and hiring practices have affected the lives and work of those unprotected by tenure. 

I quite agree. Yet I wondered aloud what, precisely, would taking action for adjuncts entail? Initially, I had difficulty coming up with ways that tenure-track faculty can address inequities adjuncts experience. Chalk this up to my naiveté or lack of experience. However, I realized that my previous employer, the Office of Faculty Affairs at the University of Maryland, provides a few examples. Here are the steps this forward-looking office initiated or implemented over the course of the past two years. These steps illuminate several courses of action for tenure-track faculty at other institutions to demonstrate activism for adjuncts.

1. Get a sense of numbers and issues - Many institutions do not meaningfully keep track of the number of adjuncts they employ. Although all of this information should be available through the human resources record system, it is often the case that no one is tasked with collecting it or presenting it to show trends. This was the case at the University of Maryland. When you don't know how many adjuncts are employed at the institution over time, it is difficult to realize how the academic labor force is changing. A task force was convened by the Senate to study adjuncts, and it became patently clear that, over the preceding decades, the university's reliance upon adjuncts had exploded. Tenure-track faculty numbers remained constant, while adjunct numbers ticked upwards. As a result, the university's academic labor force now includes more than 60% adjuncts. In addition to understanding the proportion of adjuncts employed at the university, the task force conducted a survey of adjunct working conditions. The findings were revealing: no recognition, exclusion from governance, lack of promotion, outright abuse, and so on. So, one early step that tenure-track faculty can take: request that a study of adjuncts be conducted and periodically updated. Encourage other tenure-track faculty to support the initiative and even participate in the committee or task force. When the report is finished, disseminate it widely in your department.

2. Create opportunities for more inclusive governance - Raising awareness is important, but it fails to change material conditions. One of the findings of the task force at the University of Maryland was that, despite the fact that adjunct numbers where steadily rising, the seats in the Senate allotted to adjuncts remained constant. Additionally, it was often the case that adjuncts had no voice in departmental decision-making. This means that adjuncts are becoming more and more vital to the operations of the university, yet excluded from the formal structures of enacting change within the institution. Such exclusion makes it possible for inequities to continue, as adjuncts have few opportunities to express their opinions or share their experiences. Tenure-track faculty can help to re-calibrate this power differential. A second step is to fight to have adjuncts included in departmental decision-making. Don't simply rely upon adjuncts to implement the curriculum you create--partner with them and draw upon their knowledge. Furthermore, propose that systems of institutional shared governance reflect the realities of the academic labor force and that the composition of seats are periodically reviewed. 

3. Include adjuncts in departmental and campus recognition opportunities - One of my responsibilities was to determine which departments across campus include adjuncts in their annual rewards. The answer: hardly any. All departments and colleges honored outstanding tenure-track faculty. And the institution had a number of prestigious awards for the very best faculty. However, only a few departments and colleges made adjuncts eligible for awards or created a separate award for adjuncts. Indeed, there were more awards for graduate students than adjuncts. A third, relatively straightforward step is to rewrite the eligibility rules for faculty awards to include adjuncts. It makes sense that adjuncts, by virtue of their specific responsibilities, may not be eligible for all awards. Nevertheless, it strikes me as unreasonable and cruel to have, for example, an outstanding teaching award that is not open to a long-term adjunct who teaches multiple sections of an important course with great student reviews. If departmental politics get in the way of including adjuncts, at least propose to create a separate award. The important thing is to start thinking about how adjuncts can and should be recognized for their good work. 

4. Ensure that professional development is open to all faculty - Hosting a conference on engaged scholarship? Invite adjuncts. Organizing an orientation for new faculty? Invite adjuncts. Creating a series of luncheons to promote cross-disciplinary research? Invite adjuncts. Step four basically means re-imagining the concept of faculty. Any opportunities for tenure-track faculty to do their work better should be made available to adjuncts. Because they are also faculty. Tenure-track faculty should ask when opportunities are announced, when they register, and/or when they arrive if adjuncts can also attend. 

5. Question contracts and ladders - A major finding of the task force at the University of Maryland was that contracts made a mockery of job security. Fear of losing their job was motivating adjuncts, not the possibility of promotion based on strong work. This creates two points of action for tenure-track faculty. For those in positions of power to hire adjuncts, work with human resources to figure out how to offer multi-term contracts for adjuncts that have strong performance records. Some adjuncts must live semester to semester, without knowing whether or not they will have a job from fall to spring. Such uncertainty is not only emotionally damaging, it disrupts the continuity that allows instructors to develop relationships, improve courses, and become stable enough to give back to the university in other ways. Another point of action for tenure-track faculty is to request that adjuncts have clear job descriptions and a ladder for promotion. Just as tenure-track faculty know what they must do to move from assistant to associate, adjuncts should know what to do to move from lecturer to senior lecturer. Each title should have clear guidelines and include an opportunity to renegotiate payment. 

In summary, tenure-track faculty should not be silent. They should acknowledge that they are complicit in the plight of adjuncts and realize that the destinies of all academics, regardless of rank, are intertwined in the neoliberal university. Tenure-track faculty should locate or create opportunities to get a sense of the numbers and issues, make governance more inclusive, include adjuncts in recognition processes, open professional development to all faculty, and question contract systems and ladders. 

I'm sure that I've only scratched the tip of the iceberg and, given that my time as a lecturer was short-lived, I can't speak on behalf of adjuncts. I can only work to follow these steps as an assistant professor at my new institution, if they haven't been initiated yet. I would love to hear from others with a stake in this conversation: in what ways can tenure-track faculty take action for adjuncts?

Thursday, July 10, 2014

More Insight from Einstein's Academic Career

This post is part of a series called Published and Perished: Lessons from Lives of the Mind. The series comments on the present through the experiences of professors past. The next post in the series will feature Robert Koch, the relatively unknown scientist who discovered the bacteriological basis of tuberculosis, cholera, and anthrax. 

I recently wrote about Albert Einstein's experience on the academic job market for The Chronicle of Higher Education's Vitae. The piece was based upon my (summer fun) reading of Walter Isaacson's 2008 biography, Einstein: His Life and Universe. It struck me that I only captured a small part of Herr Professor's fascinating journey in academe. In tracing Einstein's initial struggles, alt-ac adventures, and eventual triumph in securing a professorship, some might accuse me of painting an overly rosy portrayal of a trying period for anyone, let alone one of history's most complex personalities. I offer this addendum to the article in the hopes of providing a more nuanced narrative arc.

Once again, Einstein's personal story connects to contemporary issues among academics, including competition, divorce, anxiety, striving for prestige, and frequent relocations. Einstein was remarkable for his childlike wonder at the cosmos and ability to devise stunning mental experiments, but he was rather unremarkable in constantly paying high personal costs in exchange for his unique version of a life of the mind.

I ended my article with Einstein's first official academic appointment as a junior professor at the University of Zurich. Given Einstein's quickly ascending reputation in the scientific community, it did not take long for opportunity to knock. After just six months, he was offered a full professorship at the German section of the University of Prague. Foreshadowing a string of similar decisions, Einstein accepted the promotion and uprooted his wife and two sons from the city they loved. Although the University of Prague was eager to poach Einstein, his Jewishness again posed a problem that initially looked to derail the entire move. The ministry preferred another candidate--one who wasn't Jewish. However, upon learning that he was the second choice, the preferred candidate excused himself from consideration. What is interesting is that, at the time, Einstein did not readily identify as Jewish and struggled to acknowledge membership in any faith community. His appointment was only finalized after he begrudgingly accepted a law in the Austro-Hungarian Empire that he enter a religion on his official documentation. Einstein's choice? He wrote: "Mosaic." (Einstein embraced his Jewish identity, becoming a prominent Zionist. However, he never actively practiced Judaism.)

Einstein's career was gaining momentum, but his home life was unraveling. He met his wife, Mileva Maric, while they were both students at the Polytechnic in Zurich, and they bonded over a love of science. There has been lively debate about the role Maric played in Einstein's early breakthroughs, suggesting, if nothing else, that she was a capable intellectual in her own right. Maric had dreams of becoming a professor, but she was not able to pass the requisite exams to continue her studies. Being a female scientist at the time also defied gender norms, and she likely endured a range of structural obstacles to fulfill her aspirations. Maric became mother to three of Einstein's children and surrendered her scientific aspirations. While Einstein spent hours poring over mathematical equations and losing himself in thought, Maric raised Einstein's sons with little support and experienced severe depression. Resentment festered between the two, and Maric was vocally unhappy about the move to Prague. Einstein was unequivocal about retreating into his work during times of personal crisis. So it was that he spent increasingly long periods of time away from home. In a bid to rescue his marriage, Einstein left Prague and moved the family back to Zurich. Around this time, he had also struck up a flirtatious correspondence with his first cousin, Elsa.

Before long, Einstein was lured to another university in Berlin. It would be his fourth academic appointment before the age of 35. The decision to relocate the family once again was sweetened by the job offer, which allowed Einstein to research with no teaching or service obligations. (In the parlance of university administration, Einstein would have been an "all-star appointment" and, therefore, above the quotidian duties of a professor. This was also before widespread obsession with faculty productivity.) As I previously noted, Einstein was not a strong lecturer. His celebrity status often meant that his lectures were initially well attended, and students sometimes warmed to his quirks and anecdotes. Nevertheless, "compelling speaker" and "dedicated teacher" could not reasonably be listed on his curriculum vitae. The move to Berlin also had personal motivations: it would bring Einstein closer to his romantic interest, Elsa. He was probably aware that moving to Berlin would also mean the end of his marriage. Living in Berlin brought the family closer to Einstein's mother, who was never pleased with her son's choice in Maric. On the eve of the Great War, Einstein and Maric separated. Their painful divorce was finalized around the cessation of conflict in 1918.

Amidst this familial strife, Einstein became completely engrossed in a competition to generalize his theory of relativity. A gifted mathematician appeared to be approximating an equation for general relativity, sparking a creative burst within Einstein. The resulting four papers laid the conceptual and mathematical basis for the theory of general relativity, although whether Einstein truly beat his competitor to the equation is still subject to debate. In the process of racing to stake his ground, Einstein suffered anxiety, slept very little, and often forgot to eat. His deep concentration allowed him to complete masterful scholarship, but his emotional health was compromised. On more than one occasion, Einstein had to put off visiting his sons in order to recoup from the strenuous pursuit of discovery. While he was an undisputed genius, Einstein regularly prioritized work over family.

A complete examination of Einstein as an academic uncovers a few useful lessons and multiple harsh realities. In my article, I highlight the way that Einstein, in his early years, found an intellectual oasis outside of academe and frequently mocked the academic enterprise. Yet he was not immune to the academy's enticements, namely prestige, and proved unable to reconcile tensions between his personal and professional commitments.

I'm drawn to Einstein's story not because I believe he is representative of academics. More than anything, I simply found his experience intriguing. I share almost nothing in common with Einstein, and yet there is something familiar about his meandering path through academe. There is something universal about his trials and triumphs, which is surprising because we so often think of him as one-of-a-kind.