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The Teaching Track? Really?
October 16, 2012 - 9:29pm

I have some very strong feelings about the recent suggestions (both here in the States and in Canada) that higher education would be better off if there were two streams for faculty: research faculty and teaching faculty. Of course, the details of the quasi-proposal are sketchy, and one anecdote does not a case make (isn’t this what we teach our students?). But, as someone who is on the “teacher track” at the moment, it doesn’t provide a solution of any kind for higher education’s woes.

First of all, hiring a whole bunch of teacher-track “professors” (as it isn’t clear that we would be considered professors at all) won’t help budgets; the entire argument is predicated that we are “cheaper” than research faculty. Guess what? Adjuncts already are. Besides, what are we doing by saying that we will pay those who teach the majority students within university system less than research faculty? Wait we’re already saying that and the message is, education doesn’t matter. At least not enough that we want to pay for quality people in front of the classroom.

How much less will instructors be paid? Personally, I am paid about 50% of the average full professor salary at my institution (but still twice as much as I would as an adjunct). How much more will we have to teach? The idea is that instructors are a) cheaper and b) can teach more because that’s “all we have to do.” But of course, there comes a point where the students’ experience suffers, as we teach too many students, too many classes. Particularly at places like mine that don’t have graduate student TAs, it’s more difficult to run large sections of a class. 

How integrated will instructors be in the decisions within the institution? Will this “track” ever lead anywhere (tenure, promotion, administration, etc)? Will we have any say in what we teach within the classroom? How the university is run? Why should we? All we do is teach, right? And, if we only need a masters degree, clearly we lack the education to understand the complexities of the institution or to make important curriculum decisions. If you think I’m being over-dramatic, I’ve heard these very things expressed to me by tenured faculty. Those “happily-ever-after” stories cited in the article about instructors all have PhDs, undercutting the argument that only having an MA would in fact be better.

I have to give the University Affairs piece credit because it does point out that nowhere does anyone show how student learning is improved one way or another by using non-tenure-track teaching-only faculty. But this idea that teaching-only faculty do no research is false; even introductory-level classes need professors who are up-to-date with the changes going on within the field. Take Freshman Writing; the digital turn, so to speak, has radically changed how and what we teach in our classes, but there would be (conceivably) no funding or support for attending conferences, accessing journals, or even contributing to the scholarly conversation. Because, again, all we do is teach.

There are so many things that make me angry about these articles. I’m tired of being told that I should just suck it up and accept being “just” a teacher. First off, I’m not satisfied because I am referred to and thought of as “just” a teacher to begin with. I’m not satisfied with second-class citizenship and I’m not satisfied with a system that essentially has a small ruling class who can rule for life. I read somewhere that the future of higher education is an even smaller handful tenured professors whose sole role is research with another handful of administrators whose purpose is to supervise the instructors, dictate curriculum, etc. If we move towards a teaching-only stream, this is what higher education will look like. We need to restore funding, revive the tenure-track, and start placing the value on both teaching and research again (instead of any of the other things we spend chunks of money on).

To do any less is to give up on the university. 

 

 

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