The abuses placed upon adjunct faculty members by college administrations are legion, long-standing, and not likely to lead to change anytime soon -- despite intermittent committees, activist organizations, and other groups of well-meaning but naïve educated people. Still, hope blooms eternal and the forces of justice press onward. I am not about to add to that fray, but rather, will reflect upon a higher caste of faculty. How much higher, though, is up to debate.
Administrations rationalize their un-evenhanded -- at times underhanded -- treatment of the one or two or three section per term laborer by saying that he or she is probably enmeshed in graduate work, and the adjunct experience is a fine training ground for future full timers. But what of that group designated as non-tenured full-time faculty: Those with the one-year contracts with no promise? They labor on without the dream of a full-time job, for they already have one. In fact, in many cases they are worthy enough to receive a full plate of benefits: A job with a health plan, full-time status, and office space commensurate with that of (can we dare utter its name) an associate professor?
Yes, these are good things. If not an answered prayer for an academic, at least such a position may appear as a sign of one. But the academic fine print and the job market challenges this purported academic coup. For while the adjunct may dream of tenure-track possibilities when the dissertation is done or that refereed journal cherry picks his or her article off the crowded transom, what dreams does the year to year full-time teacher have?
For half a decade the door of my office in the humanities department was located at 45° angles to two others across the hall, forming an invisible equilateral triangle. From this vantage point, I witnessed the injuries of cast and class of this species of scholar. One office was easily visible by a leftward turning glance. It was inhabited by an associate professor; the office further up was apportioned to a full-time non-tenured year-to-year man. While the geometry was ineluctable, the effects upon these two professors -- equally matched in education, competency, and age -- was all too palpable. As the months and years went by, and the mien of the overworked scholar grew wearier, I recalled an essay by Isak Dinesen wherein she lamented the suffering of oxen, who because of the insensitivity of the farmers to notice how poorly designed were the creatures' wooden collars, doomed the poor animals to a lifetime of suffering. On the other hand, the harness designed by the administration in funding the non-tenured position was a sophisticated, bureaucratic one, albeit devoid as well of any empathy to relieve the stress of this educated beast of burden.
The associate professor would jauntily enter the department domain in good cheer, spotlessly attired in a gray suit, well-groomed hair, and freshly shined shoes. While her job duties may not have been those of a managerial professional in the business world, her appearance would pass muster without a thought in the corporate corridors. She differed from her counterparts in business, however, since she needed make her appearance only twice a week. She taught two classes -- both "upper level" -- and dashed about the hallways as if her requisite time at the institution was something of a novelty, even an adventure. Not so the faculty member whose office abutted hers. He walked with a slow slouch. His demeanor reflected the toll of his job was heir to. His face poorly hid the toil of teaching twice the number of sections and grading hundreds of freshman compositions: first drafts and final. On occasion he could summon up a smile or a retort. But it was clear these were temporary anodynes, and even though his contract went from year to year basis to a guaranteed two-year stint, his reward for his labors were as threadbare as were his clothes.
He was friendly to his neighbor of higher status as she was congenial with him, although I could not help but notice a mote of resentment settle in his eye and a subtle gritting of the teeth from time to time as he turned from a brief interchange with his colleague back to his office. Eventually I noticed other subtle signs of unsucessful attempts at hiding his discontent. When new candidates for tenure-track positions were interviewed, he’d often show up and cordially inquire about their views on teaching or ask pertinent questions regarding their experience. However, I had the troubling feeling this was a pose, that beneath his professional stance, there stooped a disheartened soul that cringed at the idea the next academic year would bring in a new faculty member with higher rank than his. Why he did not apply for these positions himself is a mystery. He certainly seemed to have the qualifications. Perhaps after so many year-to-year years, he believed he had been apportioned his lot. Was he a representative of a new millennium academic Uncle Tom?
As for the professor who resided beside him during those years -- the one who kept bankers' hours -- it never seemed she was aware of the irony of being placed so geographically close yet so professionally apart from him. I suspect, however, she was grossly unmoved or unaware of the life on the other side of the thin slab of sheet rock that separated them.
There is an old adage that the three best things about college teaching are June, July, and August. This seemed to be the case for the solidly tenured half of our duo. When the first inklings of summer tinged the end of the academic year with warmth and greenery, she was off to parts unknown to the rest of us. But for her counterpart, these months were filled with summer teaching assignments (as many as could be legally and logistically taken on). Which led to another irony of academic life. Since the year-to-year contract covered only nine months per annum, summer school pay was lowered to an adjunct's compensation. So, as is the case with bureaucracies such as certain local governments, operations that exist outside the law, and corporate whistleblowers, it seems for the non-tenured faculty, no good deed goes unpunished.
Izzy Academic is the psuedonym of a writer and college teacher who resides on the East Coast. His previous column recounted the visit of a famous writer to a college where he taught.
The analysis of citations -- examining what scholars and scientists publish for the purpose of assessing their productivity, impact, or prestige -- has become a cottage industry in higher education. And it is an endeavor that needs more scrutiny and skepticism. This approach has been taken to extremes both for the assessment of individuals and of the productivity and influence of entire universities or even academic systems. Pioneered in the 1950s in the United States, bibliometrics was invented as a tool for tracing research ideas, the progress of science, and the impact of scientific work. Developed for the hard sciences, it was expanded to the social sciences and humanities.
Citation analysis, relying mostly on the databases of the Institute for Scientific Information, is used worldwide. Increasingly sophisticated bibliometric methodologies permit ever more fine-grained analysis of the articles included in the ISI corpus of publications. The basic idea of bibliometrics is to examine the impact of scientific and scholarly work, not to measure quality. The somewhat questionable assumption is that if an article is widely cited, it has an impact, and also is of high quality. Quantity of publications is not the main criterion. A researcher may have one widely cited article and be considered influential, while another scholar with many uncited works is seen as less useful.
Bibliometrics plays a role in the sociology of science, revealing how research ideas are communicated, and how scientific discovery takes place. It can help to analyze how some ideas become accepted and others discarded. It can point to the most widely cited ideas and individuals, but the correlation between quality and citations is less clear.
The bibliometric system was invented to serve American science and scholarship. Although the citation system is now used by an international audience, it remains largely American in focus and orientation. It is exclusively in English -- due in part to the predominance of scientific journals in English and in part because American scholars communicate exclusively in English. Researchers have noted that Americans largely cite the work of other Americans in U.S.-based journals, while scholars in other parts of the world are more international in their research perspectives. American insularity further distorts the citation system in terms of both language and nationality.
The American orientation is not surprising. The United States dominates the world’s R&D budget -- around half of the world’s R&D funds are still spent in the United States, although other countries are catching up, and a large percentage of the world’s research universities are located in the United States. In the 2005 Times Higher Education Supplement ranking, 31 of the world’s top 100 (research-focused) universities were located in the United States. A large proportion of internationally circulated scientific journals are edited in the United States, because of the size and strength of the American academic market, the predominance of English, and the overall productivity of the academic system. This high U.S. profile enhances the academic and methodological norms of American academe in most scientific fields. While the hard sciences are probably less prone to an American orientation and are by their nature less insular, the social sciences and some other fields often demand that authors conform to the largely American methodological norms and orientations of journals in those fields.
The journals included in the databases used for citation analysis are a tiny subset of the total number of scientific journals worldwide. They are, for the most part, the mainstream English-medium journals in the disciplines. The ISI was established to examine the sciences, and it is not surprising that the hard sciences are overrepresented and the social sciences and humanities less prominent. Further, scientists tend to cite more material, thus boosting the numbers of citations of scientific articles and presumably their impact.
The sciences produce some 350,000 new, cited references weekly, while the social sciences generate 50,000 and the humanities 15,000. This means that universities with strength in the hard sciences are deemed more influential and are seen to have a greater impact -- as are individuals who work in these fields. The biomedical fields are especially overrepresented because of the numbers of citations that they generate. All of this means that individuals and institutions in developing countries, where there is less strength in the hard sciences and less ability to build expensive laboratories and other facilities, are at a significant disadvantage.
It is important to remember that the citation system was invented mainly to understand how scientific discoveries and innovations are communicated and how research functions. It was not, initially, seen as a tool for the evaluation of individual scientists or entire universities or academic systems. The citation system is useful for tracking how scientific ideas in certain disciplines are circulated among researchers at top universities in the industrialized countries, as well as how ideas and individual scientists use and communicate research findings.
A system invented for quite limited functions is used to fulfill purposes for which it was not intended. Hiring authorities, promotion committees, and salary-review officials use citations as a central part of the evaluation process. This approach overemphasizes the work of scientists -- those with access to publishing in the key journals and those with the resources to do cutting-edge research in an increasingly expensive academic environment. Another problem is the overemphasis of academics in the hard sciences rather than those in the social sciences and, especially, the humanities. Academics in many countries are urged, or even forced, to publish their work in journals that are part of a citation system -- the major English-language journals published in the United States and a few other countries. This forces them into the norms and paradigms of these journals and may well keep them from conducting research and analysis of topics directly relevant to their own countries.
Citation analysis, along with other measures, is used prominently to assess the quality of departments and universities around the world and is also employed to rank institutions and systems. This practice, too, creates significant distortions. Again, the developing countries and small industrialized nations that do not use English as the language of higher education are at a disadvantage. Universities strong in the sciences have an advantage in the rankings, as are those where faculty members publish in journals within the citation systems.
The misuse of citation analysis distorts the original reasons for creating bibliometric systems. Inappropriately stretching bibliometrics is grossly unfair to those being evaluated and ranked. The “have-nots” in the world scientific system are put at a major disadvantage. Creative research in universities around the world is downplayed because of the control of the narrow paradigms of the citation analysis system. This system overemphasizes work written in English. The hard sciences are given too much attention, and the system is particularly hard on the humanities. Scholarship that might be published in “nonacademic” outlets, including books and popular journals, is ignored. Evaluators and rankers need go back to the drawing boards to think about a reliable system that can accurately measure the scientific and scholarly work of individuals and institutions. The unwieldy and inappropriate use of citation analysis and bibliometrics for evaluation and ranking does not serve higher education well -- and it entrenches existing inequalities.
Philip G. Altbach
Philip G. Altbach is director of the Center for International Higher Education, at Boston College.
Submitted by Cary Nelson on September 12, 2006 - 4:00am
It was Monday, September 4th. The faculty at Eastern Michigan University had been on strike since September 1st. Picket lines were up at a dozen places on campus -- before the administration building, at all campus entrances, at loading docks, construction sites, and elsewhere. There was an inevitable, fluid conversation ongoing about what to do the next day. Should there be a mass meeting, a rally? Where should it be held? Events could derail any plans, but classes were scheduled to start on Wednesday, and it did not look like the administration would put an acceptable contract offer on the table. So people almost certainly needed to assemble the day beforehand.
Other Michigan public universities had accepted offers of raises ranging from 3-4 percent. Despite realizing that their faculty members were already at the low end of the Michigan pay scale, the Eastern Michigan administration had offered 2 percent and combined it with a new premium to be assessed for health care that amounted to 1.6-1.8 percent of salary. The package was a wash. The union was also looking to help the students, who were unsurprisingly agitated that some classrooms had deteriorated to the point where neither heat nor air conditioning worked properly. Heavy coats worn in winter classrooms did not help note taking. So Eastern Michigan's faculty union, a unit of the American Association of University Professors, asked if the administration would be willing to receive an annual report recommending priorities for classroom repairs. The administration refused.
Their offer was an overt challenge to the union. Then the administration ramped up the pressure by adding that it would walk out of negotiations if the strike was not called off by 10 Tuesday night, the evening before classes were to begin. Late Tuesday morning consensus was reached that, save two pickets per site, everyone should gather that afternoon. Time and place were still in flux. I was in town, as national AAUP president, to offer my support and speak at the meeting. I was worried that no one would show up and said so. "They'll be there," union president Howard Bunsis replied with a smile. I cannot say that I was reassured.
What I had not calculated was how an extraordinary level of faculty solidarity would mesh with new technology. My previous experience with multiple picket sites had involved quite a bit of sending messengers running back and forth across campus. Now there were people with cell phones at every site. This was especially helpful when particular locations required additional troops, as when people needed to work at turning away delivery trucks. On one occasion I persuaded a Teamster member delivering hamburger buns to call his office, which agreed to cancel the rest of the week's deliveries. At a major university construction site, the concrete trucks had nonunion drivers. A cell phone call reached the concrete supplier, whose union loaders agreed not to load more concrete trucks. Other activists were taking cell phone messages in their cars and delivering water, picket signs, and modest edible treats as needed. Several retired professors took particular pleasure in running these on-demand delivery services.
I spent several hours on Tuesday morning visiting picket sites, introducing myself and talking with faculty, students, and university workers. The faculty were unvaryingly determined, though also anxious. False rumors abounded, as usual, but cell phone calls kept them under control. I hadn't thought of cell phones as rumor control devices, but they enable members involved in job actions to make rapid contact with the leadership. The deeper anxiety was centered on the disruption of their faculty identities. They wanted to meet their classes on Wednesday. Most simply asked to be treated the same way other Michigan employees were being treated. A few said they'd settle for any offer that wasn't blatantly insulting. But because they were faculty they could not just picket; they had to talk these issues through. Happily, it was a bright Midwestern day. Spirits overall were more than high; they were stratospheric. Professors of English and engineering were one; they had shed their disciplinary skins. They were now part of that universal faculty that now and again focuses on their common destiny and mission.
At lunch time I made my way back to the negotiating room where I had first arrived the day before. It was a busy space. The union had been asking the administration for health care statistics for a year to no avail. Suddenly, at the penultimate moment, the data had arrived. Ordinarily this would have been a disaster. In the past, interpreting the numbers with sufficient mastery so as to suggest alternative solutions would have taken weeks. But the chapter president is a business faculty member more than comfortable with spread sheets. What's more, the days of the smoke filled bargaining hall had long disappeared. Each member of the bargaining team sat in front of a computer. A ten foot high projection screen let everyone see spreadsheet proposals.
Meanwhile it had been decided that a large campus auditorium was the right place to meet. PowerPoint demonstrations were being prepared. E-mail messages went out to faculty. A phone tree got to work. An hour later we walked into an auditorium packed with hundreds of faculty. Scores of red AAUP caps dotted the room. There was applause, laughter, cheers, and pointed questioning, all echoing sharply against brick walls. My own presentation was easy. I assured everyone of continuing support from the national AAUP, and I emphasized that they were not fighting for their own interests alone. A highly conservative governing board was seeking to deny faculty any influence over their terms of employment or working conditions. This was a battle we needed to win for the country as a whole. Over 40 years in the academy I have never seen a faculty so unified and determined. It was astonishing and exhilarating. Certainly the administration had a hand in inadvertently unifying the faculty. But constant communication between the leadership and the members helped turn anger into collective action.
The overwhelming majority of faculty contracts are, of course, negotiated without a strike. Both parties ordinarily prefer a solution and, despite competing financial aims, are willing to work toward one. The Eastern Michigan administration's determination to break the faculty's will is not unprecedented but surely atypical.
As we left the hall a huge storm broke. Nothing less could have kept people from the picket lines, though when the skies cleared faculty were out on the streets again. A hundred of them were still there at 10 p.m. that night, chanting "Talk, Don't Walk" before the administration building.
Meanwhile we were back at negotiations. There I got to see a master at work. Ernie Benjamin, a 30-year veteran of collective bargaining, was in town from the national AAUP office to advise the campus professors. He would quietly predict every administration action before it happened. He estimated they would deliver a "last and best" offer minutes before they broke off negotiations, just so they could claim we hadn't responded to it. We decided to draft a counter offer without seeing their terms, though Ernie, as it happened, predicted exactly what they would propose. The team reduced its demands somewhat, printed out new spreadsheets, and delivered them to the administration negotiators at 9:58, immediately after receiving their's. At first the administration representatives refused to accept our proposal, claiming it was already 10 p.m., but our people proved otherwise.
The following morning, more than 90 percent of faculty members honored the strike and did not attend their classes. Students picketed the administration the rest of the week. The union had advised new faculty to meet their classes, since they would otherwise not have health care coverage initiated. But the faculty had spoken with one voice, though a strike carries a special emotional burden for them. They would prefer to be partners with the administration. They cannot leave their classrooms, their offices, and their labs without psychologically leaving much of themselves behind. It is not just a job; it is who they are. At Eastern Michigan the administration decided to exploit that special loyalty. The faculty stood together in support of shared governance and fair practices. When nearly 400 faculty met again on Friday, not one suggested calling off the strike. Sometimes solidarity deserves to be remembered forever.
Cary Nelson is president of the American Association of University Professors and a professor of English at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Like many professors at this time of year, we are receiving calls for academic papers to be presented at conferences of our main associations. Papers, along with the publishable manuscripts that often emanate out of them, usually are weighted significantly both in annual reviews and promotion and tenure processes.
So it surprises us that often many academic units do not invest adequately in professional development, paying for travel and expenses for faculty members to attend conferences and partake in activities that benefit individuals as well as institutions.
Conference offerings keep professors on track -- especially if they are on the tenure track. Sessions cover influential new books, exciting scholarly breakthroughs, and hot-button topics ranging from assessment to free speech zones. Also, the more paper acceptances and presentations that a department or school enjoys at conferences, the more prestigious that unit will seem to others. That plays a role in recruitment and retention of future and current colleagues.
A record of presentations by a particular department or school also may have assessment or re-accreditation value. There are service opportunities for professors who become chairs of divisions where they can build or enhance their national reputations. Also, faculty members who win election to serve on standing or executive committees elevate their programs and institutions yet again.
As senior scholars who are active in our associations and who realize the benefits of that in annual reviews and P&T processes, we have consulted with peers to develop a “bill of rights” to safeguard and enhance professional development funds (assuming, of course, you have them).
Rights and Responsibilities
All ranks of professors -- including adjuncts -- deserve professional development. However, it is imperative if you are on tenure track. Along with mentoring (often done by continuing faculty members for little or no reimbursement), your unit should set aside research funds necessary to place papers in conferences and later get them published in journals or books. Tenure decisions can be harsh or even fickle; standards can be high; and your career -- dare we say, life -- can be put on hold during the typical six-year process.
You deserve professional development.
True, tenure may represent an institutional multi-million-dollar investment in a professor. The question is, how has the unit invested in an assistant professor before that tenure decision is made and then afterward through promotion to professor? Moreover, with many institutions mandating post-tenure reviews, professional development is important even at the highest levels to maintain national reputations or innovative research. And finally, conference participation can be as much about teaching or pedagogy as research, with everything from panel presentations to poster and discussant opportunities. In other words, professional development is important in the small teaching college as well as the large public research university.
As such, we have conceived this bill of rights:
1. Pre-tenured professors should enjoy reduced teaching and/or service responsibilities.
2. Pre-tenured professors should receive additional, tangible incentives -- fewer advisees or summer research stipends.
3. All ranks of professors should have access to research assistants if your program has graduate students.
4. All ranks should have a teaching schedule that allows at least one free day per week so that you can do research.
5. You should have a somewhat flexible professional development fund, not only enabling you to travel to a conference but also to pay membership dues in at least one flagship association related to your discipline.
6. Your professional development fund should be at least $1,000 annually.
7. You should have access to an administrative or a faculty committee to approve funds in excess of that amount for exceptional accomplishments -- top paper acceptances or outstanding book awards., necessitating more travel or extended hotel stays.
8. You should receive additional funds if you are a chair or vice chair of a division in your major association, enabling you to attend mid-winter or plenary sessions.
9. You should receive additional funds or release time if elected to national office.
10. You should receive recognition in annual reviews, newsletters and departmental communiqués for your association-related accomplishments, providing official documentation for annual review and P&T purposes.
With all rights come responsibilities. Keep in mind that documentation can go against you in personnel reviews and decisions. If your research and publication records are mediocre when you have been given graduate assistants and reduced course, service and advising loads, your department chair and colleagues will have ample proof that the investment was squandered.
In other words, you are expected to perform.
Focus your efforts on one or two major associations in your discipline, attending conferences relevant to your research or teaching. You are expected to practice fiscal restraint. Do not pad expenses for meals or insist that conference tours to historic sites in host cities are part of your research protocol. You should come prepared to present at conferences without visiting the hotel’s business offices for extra copying or other clerical and computer chores. Concerning Internet, conferences often provide free wireless access or computer banks for you to e-mail colleagues, family and friends. So there usually is no need to pay expensive hotel room rates for Web access.
It goes without saying that bad conference behavior is legendary in academe. We have witnessed or heard about colleagues who were drunk, rude, solicitous and even harassing at conventions. If you are spending your department’s money, you had better behave appropriately, not only at your designated session, but also while in public (and private, too).
Neither should you attend conferences to scout for other jobs. Colleagues may hear first- or second-hand about your ambitions, and that can jeopardize rather than enhance future funding. You may think that you can fool a colleague about why you are at the meeting, but experienced colleagues easily can discern job-hunters from attendees -- sometimes by way of attire, sometimes by the company they keep.
General rule: If you use professional development funds, act professionally. Set a good example because the conference grapevine is digital and global. In fact, the best way to be recruited or to impress influential scholars and editors is by presenting stellar research at your session and interacting appropriately with others during your entire stay.
Billing Your Bill of Rights
At the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication at Iowa State University, each professor gets a $2,500 professional development account to use for travel, membership and participation. If the researcher requires more funds for significant projects, we bring the matter to our executive committee, which can recommend enhancements. We pay extra for conference memberships for faculty serving as association officers. We invest in conferences because there is no better return on the dollar to retain and recruit faculty.
By and large, this perception is shared. In an informal survey of deans across the country we found good investment in professional development. At the journalism program at California State University at Long Beach, new faculty members receive $2,000 per year in travel/conference/research support. Additional funds can be -- and frequently are -- obtained from elsewhere on campus. We saw the same pattern at Arkansas State University, where the College of Communication finances at least one and sometimes two or more trips to scholarly conference per year for all faculty. Our colleagues at Syracuse University receive $2,500 for every faculty member (junior and senior) to use for travel, and if a faculty member can make a good case -- and funds are available -- he or she can receive more.
The University of Missouri School of Journalism provides $500 per faculty member per year for travel. Those who present at more than one conference routinely apply for and receive additional funding. Many administrators consider funding to attend conferences part of a total package to attract and retain faculty. Shirley Staples Carter, director of the journalism program at the University of South Carolina, says that, in addition to funding travel to regional and national meetings, her college also provides reduced course loads during the first semester to complete conference papers or journal submissions, a summer research stipend and a faculty research mentor.
We also know of departments that invest as little as $200 per person for travel and conference attendance, and a few that invest nothing at all. (We’ll spare those units the embarrassment of disclosure.) However, we’ll be eager to check the comments sections below this article to get a feel from Inside Higher Ed readers about how widespread inadequate funding actually is across disciplines and institutions.
A goal of this article is to counter oft-heard excuses for insufficient funding and to make suggestions on how to remedy that.
Making a Commitment
Of course we realize that budgets are tight and may continue to be so for years to come. But there are steps that every department can take to ensure adequate funding for conference attendance and participation.
The first step is making a commitment to professional development. That can occur informally with your chair or dean or formally in a faculty meeting through a resolution.
Making this a priority is one thing. Financing it is another.
Unit heads who repeatedly state that they lack funding might also be less than transparent on how the budget is being allocated. Some chairs may be top scholars and poor fiscal planners. Situations will vary from department to department, of course, and what one person may deem frivolous (alumni receptions, say) another may deem vital. Concerning budget, sometimes professors themselves are to blame in that they increasingly add to the curricula to teach pet or low-enrolled courses, requiring ever more adjuncts to teach large or required courses, wasting supplemental budgets that otherwise can be used for professional development.
Chairs also can commit to the cause by creating a “faculty excellence” or “research fund” for the express purpose of professional development, soliciting support of benefactors. Unit heads also can raise funds externally for speakers, student organizations and/or other in-house events, re-dedicating funds previously set aside for those functions to professional development.
Professors also should investigate institutional research incentives. Iowa State University and the University of Missouri have programs to help fund research-oriented international travel, for instance. There are also programs for matching funds associated with initiatives identified by deans of colleges.
And it goes without saying, especially at research universities, that grant acquisition not only can fund conference-related research but also the graduate assistants necessary for top papers and eventual peer-reviewed publication.
Finally, chairs and professors should keep detailed records to provide documentation for annual review and P&T purposes and to showcase the value of conference attendance and participation, using that data for assessment purposes.
If the outcomes are impressive over time, everyone from students to benefactors will see the value of the investment. Professors will augment lectures with cutting-edge research. Department chairs will be able to fund-raise more effectively and increase budgets, recruiting new faculty to your program and retaining your most accomplished colleagues.
Michael Bugeja and Lee Wilkins
Michael Bugeja, author of Interpersonal Divide: The Search for Community in a Technological Age (Oxford University Press 2005), directs the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication at Iowa State University. Lee Wilkins, author of The Moral Media: How Journalists Think about Ethics (Lawrence Erlbaum, 2005), is a professor at the University of Missouri School of Journalism and associate editor of The Journal of Mass Media Ethics.
Occasionally I make presentations to groups of administrators and department chairs about the issue of contingent faculty -- that portion of the professoriate, now well over half, who work in insecure, untenured and untenurable part- or full-time appointments. I argue, as the American Association of University Professors has argued for years, that the widespread and ever-increasing reliance on contingent teachers and researchers is a major threat to the quality and stability of higher education, since it undermines academic freedom, shared governance, and traditional academic values.
In case there is any doubt, I point out that this threat stems from the working conditions of contingent faculty, usually imposed by administration, not from the individuals doing the contingent work. If the main purpose of higher education is, as its name seems to suggest, education, does it not make sense to direct the bulk of resources into a highly qualified, well-supported faculty instead of into facilities, technology, and sky-high presidential salaries?
I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how many people in the room tend to agree with me -- though perhaps this only indicates how bad the problem has gotten. With 65 percent of the faculty now off the tenure track and 46 percent holding part-time appointments, it’s getting pretty hard to keep our heads in the sand. But what, audience members want to know, can they as department chairs or mid-level administrators do about this? What do contingent faculty need?
What contingent faculty need, of course, are non-contingent appointments. They need academic freedom protected by tenure and they need adequate compensation and professional support. The most important thing that administrators and chairs can do, both for contingent faculty and for their students, is to fight for this standard whenever they can -- and many do, and some are successful.
But, as I am often reminded, we need to be “realistic.” And the reality is that many contingent faculty members, and especially many part-time contingent faculty members, face working conditions that are very far from this standard, and are employed at institutions where the creation of more tenure-track positions is unlikely to happen soon. That’s why the AAUP has adopted policies to improve job security and due process for individuals who do hold contingent appointments at the same time that we illuminate the negative consequences of the proliferation of such appointments. The AAUP’s 2006 Recommended Institutional Regulation on Part-Time Faculty recommends the following, among other things:
State the terms and conditions of every appointment in writing.
Allow for a hearing if a part-time faculty member is dismissed before the end of the term.
If part-time faculty members are not reappointed, give reasons.
For part-time faculty who have served for three or more terms within three years, give notice of reappointment a month before the term’s end, even if it is conditional on enrollment or other considerations.
Provide very long term part-time faculty -- those who have taught at least twelve courses or six terms within seven years- -- with a comprehensive review that results in either part-time tenure, appointment with part-time continuing service, or non-reappointment.
Similarly, administrators and chairs can fight to preserve and increase tenure lines whenever possible -- often a complicated and long-term battle -- and take immediate steps to improve working conditions for the contingent faculty currently employed in their departments and programs.
The key to improving working conditions, of course, is ensuring that all faculty members have a voice in decision-making, so that they can identify the issues that are most important to them. The following suggestions, gathered in conversations and e-mail exchanges with a variety of contingent faculty members, might serve as a starting point for discussing the working conditions at your institution, any problems that should be remedied, and benefits that could be added, either for every part-time faculty member or for those with seniority.
Basic Tools and Access
Provide every faculty member with a phone number, voice mail, and an institutional e-mail account so he or she can easily be reached by students. List all faculty members by name in campus and department directories.
Create dedicated office space, even if it’s shared by several people. Every faculty member should have access to a desk, a bookshelf, a functional computer, and a place on campus to meet with students. Expecting students to meet with faculty in food courts or faculty members to answer student e-mail and prepare exams in open computer labs undermines professionalism and privacy.
Make sure all faculty members have reasonable access to their buildings, offices, faculty bathrooms, and copy rooms. Too often, part-time faculty who teach at night or on weekends arrive to find things locked up. If you trust them to teach your students, you can trust them with keys.
Funds for Non-Classroom Teaching Activities
Compensating only for classroom hours means hourly wages are quite low once other teaching activities are factored in. Offer some funding for part-time faculty to:
Develop a new course.
Supervise an independent study course.
Attend required meetings and orientations.
Hold office hours.
Funds for Research and Professional Development
While students expect faculty to remain current in their fields, many contingent faculty receive no support for doing so. Offer some funding for:
Attending a conference or presenting a paper.
Attending required professional development meetings and orientations.
Keeping up membership in disciplinary associations.
Include all faculty in the information pipeline. Part- as well as full-time faculty should have institutional e-mail accounts where they get department-wide messages, memos about institution business, and the like.
Make a handbook for new part-time faculty. Describe program or department , nuts and bolts such as where to get copying and supplies, as well as academic elements such as expectations for courses, grading scale, grade challenge procedures, and the academic honesty policy. Include information about the shared governance structures and note if part-time faculty have access.
When benefits are available to part-time faculty, include information about them on Web sites, in handbooks, and/or alongside the information provided to full-time faculty.
Inclusion in Community
Create a department-wide or college-wide faculty e-mail list to encourage participation within the local faculty community.
Treat contingent faculty as colleagues, and encourage inclusiveness and collegiality. Invite contingent faculty to departmental events, staff/faculty meetings, commencement, and other functions and celebrations.
Create a mentor system that helps incorporate contingent faculty into the life of the department or program.
Establish a process for complaints and resolution of complaints, and include contingent faculty in this process. Consider establishing a contingent faculty ombudsman or advocate position.
Establish systems of regular communication between supervisors and contingent faculty.
Allow contingent faculty to serve on committees and to be part of governance (and pay them for doing so).
Provide tuition remission or free classes.
Provide all faculty with equal access to library facilities and equal borrowing limits.
Provide all faculty with equal access to parking and recreational/athletic facilities.
Provide part-time faculty with cost-of-living increases on a similar system to full-time faculty.
It may surprise some administrators to learn that even the most fundamental of these suggestions -- such as providing part-time faculty with access to photocopying facilities or with information about departmental events -- are not in place at some institutions. On the other hand, many of even the most ambitious are in place -- or are well within reach -- at institutions that have union representation for part-timers, strong faculty advocacy organizations, or chairs and administrators who are attentive to the working conditions of all faculty members.
Gwendolyn Bradley is a senior program officer at the American Association of University Professors.
What tools should colleges use to reward excellent teachers? Some rely on teaching evaluations that students spend only a few minutes filling out. Others trust deans and department chairs to put aside friendships and enmities and objectively identify the best teachers. Still more colleges don’t reward teaching excellence and hope that the lack of incentives doesn’t diminish teaching quality.
I propose instead that institutions should empower graduating seniors to reward teaching excellence. Colleges should do this by giving each graduating senior $1,000 to distribute among their faculty. Colleges should have graduates use a computer program to distribute their allocations anonymously.
My proposal would have multiple benefits. It would reduce the tension between tenure and merit pay. Tenure is supposed to insulate professors from retaliation for expressing unpopular views in their scholarship. Many colleges, however, believe that tenured professors don’t have sufficient incentives to work hard, so colleges implement a merit pay system to reward excellence. Alas, merit pay can be a tool that deans and department heads use to punish politically unpopular professors. My proposal, however, provides for a type of merit pay without giving deans and department heads any additional power over instructors. And because the proposal imposes almost no additional administrative costs on anyone, many deans and department heads might prefer it to a traditional merit pay system.
Students, I suspect, would take their distribution decisions far more seriously than they do end-of-semester class evaluations. This is because students are never sure how much influence class evaluations have on teachers’ careers, whereas the link between their distributions and their favorite teachers’ welfare would be clear. Basing merit pay on these distributions, therefore, will be “fairer” than doing so based on class evaluations. Furthermore, these distributions would provide very useful information to colleges in making tenure decisions or determining whether to keep employing a non-tenure track instructor.
The proposal would also reward successful advising. A good adviser can make a student’s academic career. But since advising quality is difficult to measure, colleges rarely factor it into merit pay decisions. But I suspect that many students consider their adviser to be their favorite professor, so great advisers would be well rewarded if graduates distributed $1,000 among faculty.
Hopefully, these $1,000 distributions would get students into the habit of donating to their alma maters. The distributions would show graduates the link between donating and helping parts of the college that they really liked. Colleges could even ask their graduates to “pay back” the $1,000 that they were allowed to give their favorite teachers. To test whether the distributions really did increase alumni giving, a college could randomly choose, say, 10 percent of a graduating class for participation in my plan and then see if those selected graduates did contribute more to the college.
My reward system would help a college attract star teachers. Professors who know they often earn their students adoration will eagerly join a college that lets students enrich their favorite teachers.
Unfortunately, today many star teachers are actually made worse off because of their popularity. Students often spend much time talking to star teachers, make great use of their office hours and frequently ask them to write letters of recommendation. Consequently, star teachers have less time than average faculty members do to conduct research. My proposal, though, would help correct the time penalty that popularity so often imposes on the best teachers.
College trustees and regents who have business backgrounds should like my idea because it rewards customer-oriented professors. And anything that could persuade trustees to increase instructors’ compensation should be very popular among faculty.
But my proposal would be the most popular among students. It would signal to students that the college is ready to trust them with some responsibility for their alma mater’s finances. It would also prove to students that the way they have been treated at college is extremely important to their school.
On Monday, April 14, the American Association of University Professors released our annual report on faculty salaries. As anyone who has examined our report over the years knows, we provide literally thousands of pieces of data each year, from the specific (such as the average salary for a female associate professor at one specific institution among the 1,400 colleges and universities around the country that send us data) to the general (such as the average salary for all full professors nationally). Monday’s Inside Higher Edarticle on the report raised a question regarding one of the most general figures. We reported that the increase in the overall average salary for a full-time faculty member for 2007-08 as compared to 2006-07 was 3.8 percent, and noted that this increase was less than the annual rate of inflation (4.1 percent). The controversy -- if it can be called that -- emerged when IHE asked us how the change in average salary for each of four reported ranks could be higher than the change in the overall average. We provided a detailed response, which IHE forwarded to the American Council on Education for comment. Although generally very complimentary about our annual report, ACE pronounced this particular conjunction of statistics “a curious result that stems from a flawed methodology.” Since in the world of quantitative analysis that’s a serious charge, I appreciate the opportunity to answer it.
In fact, our number is reliable and our methodology is not flawed. I’ll explain briefly why that is so (and post more detail here.) But I also think it’s important to explain the difference between the two basic measures of faculty salary we report. For the calculation in question, we include only institutions that supplied data last year as well as this year. We calculate the average salary for each year and for each rank, and then the change between the averages. The percent change figures for each rank are independent of each other; the overall change is not simply the average of the figures for each rank. It reflects the fact that, although the set of institutions is held constant, the faculty mix changes. The number of full professors or assistant professors is not constant from year to year, and the proportions in each rank change. We found that the distribution of faculty across ranks shifted toward the lower-salaried ranks from one year to the next, which is one reason why the change in the overall average was less than the changes in averages for specific ranks. However, I think the fundamental issue here is not about statistical methodology, it’s about which questions are being asked and how best to answer them.
In our annual report, we provide answers to two basic questions. (That’s an oversimplification, but useful for understanding the present issue.) One question is “What was the change from last year in the average salary paid to full-time faculty members?” (That’s the 3.8 percent number.) The other question is “What was the average change in salary received by full-time faculty members who continued at their institution from the previous year?” (That number, overall, turns out to be 5.1 percent.) It may seem to some readers that the difference between the two question is “just semantics,” but that’s not the case at all. Answering the two questions requires collecting different kinds of data, and provides different information for different audiences.
The controversy is over answers we provided to the first question, the change in average salary. Essentially, this is a question about cost to the institution: On average, across different types of institutions, what is the salary paid to a faculty member and how has that changed from last year? (We also provide the answer for specific categories of institutions, and for individual ranks.) The answer is important because it contributes to the ongoing discussion on how colleges and universities spend their money and what type of educational experience students have as a result. That was, in fact, the theme for this year’s report: “Where Are The Priorities?” Based on the evidence we assembled this year, spending priorities for higher education institutions are shifting away from employing tenured and tenure-track faculty, and we think that indicates a fundamental shift in the nature of higher education. The rapidly increasing amounts spent on salaries for presidents or football coaches may still be mostly symbolic when measured against a college or university’s entire budget. But when institutions simultaneously argue that there is no money for faculty raises, or meet increased enrollment by hiring more part-time or temporary faculty and requiring more teaching from graduate students and postdocs, the symbolism indicates priorities that are out of line with the core mission of teaching and research.
The answer to the second basic question in our report provides a different kind of information for a different audience. It’s for the individual faculty member who wants to be able to judge how he or she fared on compensation when compared to faculty members at other institutions. For this purpose, we collect and publish data on the “continuing faculty increase.” This is a unique feature of the AAUP report, not available anywhere else, and it requires us to collect different data from the institutions. The “continuing faculty increase” tells the faculty member who remained employed at the same institution what kind of raises similarly situated faculty members received for this year. (The figures do include the effect of both salary increases and promotions.) We provide this information by faculty rank, for individual institutions as well as in aggregate form, although not all institutions supply these data. And of course, we also provide average salaries by rank in our institutional appendices, so that individual faculty members can compare what they earn with what faculty at other specific colleges and universities earn. Our data are not perfect, they do not show every nuance or answer every specific question. (Many readers may not realize that we do not receive individual-level data on faculty members, but rather aggregate figures by rank and gender for each institution.) But they do provide answers to numerous questions about faculty compensation and where that fits in the spending priorities of the institutions.
Now how does this relate to the controversy over this year’s report, and the question of “flawed methodology”? I believe that the issue arose because commentators were trying to answer the second question with figures designed to answer the first. We reported (in the condensed formulation of our press release) “Overall average salaries for full-time faculty rose 3.8 percent this year, the same as the increase reported last year. But with inflation at 4.1 percent for the year, the purchasing power of faculty salaries has declined for the third time in four years.” This is a statement about the change in the overall salary level; the comparison to the inflation rate indicates that faculty salaries are not rising as fast as other cost factors in higher education, a subject on which we have commented regularly in our annual reports. Unfortunately, it seems that some readers mistook this statement to mean that the average faculty member received a 3.8 percent raise this year, which is not the case. From what I have seen of the specific criticism leveled by ACE officials, their attempt to make our overall percent change figure “weighted” grew out of this mistaken interpretation, since their argument was that the average for any given faculty member should reflect the range of the averages for the various ranks. In the process, they calculated an “average of averages” that produced a higher figure, but which is not appropriate for this analysis.
As Saranna Thornton suggested in the Inside Higher Ed article, this apparent methodological dispute actually points to a legitimate (and important) research question. (Terrific! A topic for next year’s report already!) The result for this year, as in previous years, reflects a change in the overall composition of the faculty. The shift for this one-year period is relatively small, but is reflective of a national trend we’ve been tracking for years: the increasing use of non-tenure-track appointments, even within the full-time faculty. We may also be seeing the ongoing consequence of the wave of faculty retirements we’ve been expecting for quite a while now, as more junior colleagues replace those who retire. It would be interesting to see how this has affected salaries over a longer time period.
As one IHE commenter pointed out, the compensation data we collect each year do not include pay rates for part-time faculty. As we have documented on numerous occasions, part-time faculty members receive wages that are not even close to proportional to those of their full-time counterparts, and the number of part-time faculty members continues to grow. Unfortunately, the collection of comprehensive data on part-time faculty pay would require a different survey process, since many institutions do not have accurate centralized records on part-time faculty pay. Even so, as part of our annual economic status report, we have analyzed available data on part-time faculty pay from the U.S. Department of Education’s National Study of Postsecondary Faculty (see our 2006 report). We also released separately the Contingent Faculty Index 2006, which provided the first-ever listing of counts of full-time and part-time contingent faculty (and graduate student employees) for individual institutions, by name. We hope to update that report later this year. Also in 2006, we released an updated set of our Recommended Institutional Regulations, including one that specifically calls for due process protections for part-time faculty in the hiring and renewal process. (It’s Number 13, available on our Web site.) And our 2003 policy statement “Contingent Appointments and the Academic Profession” builds on three decades of policy work in this area. I really do hope that we can find a way to collect and publish useful data on part-time faculty pay, since there is no more central issue in higher education today than the consequences of the increasing use of contingent faculty appointments. The AAUP has responded forcefully on this issue and will continue to do so.
Another IHE commenter argued that because AAUP is an advocacy organization, our research must be biased. Yes, we are an advocacy organization. We advocate for academic freedom as essential to the functioning of higher education in a democratic society. To ensure academic freedom, we advocate for tenure and “a sufficient degree of economic security to make the profession attractive to men and women of ability.” (The words are from 1940, but the principle remains vital today.) We advocate on the basis of principles, and we advocate for the profession as a whole. Yet the AAUP has recognized for decades the importance of collecting and presenting data objectively, since only in that way can we be assured that the arguments we advance rest on a sound empirical foundation. Our approach has been to collect data on the basis of specific, consistent criteria, and to publish them in sufficient detail to allow our members and all those interested in higher education to draw their own conclusions. In our annual reports, we provide context by describing aspects of the broader economic situation, of which faculty salaries are only one part. We do not create rankings and we do not make lists of “the best” institutions. We pretty much let the data speak for themselves.
We welcome questions, and we try to provide answers. And we look forward to continuing the urgent conversation about the fundamental transformation of the academic profession -- and what we can do about it.
John W. Curtis
John W. Curtis is director of research and public policy at the American Association of University Professors.
Although it is far from the norm, a few colleges pay their assistant professors more on average than they do their tenured professors. Although such pay scales might harm the egos of tenured professors, they can benefit colleges.
Organizations often pay high salaries to (1) attract new employees, (2) keep existing employees, (3) compensate workers for unpleasant working conditions and (4) compensate workers for taking on risks. These four criteria support colleges giving relatively higher salaries to assistant professors.
Consider a college that has some extra money to spend on faculty salaries. In many fields, this college competes intensely with other schools for talented assistant professors. So the college could increase the quality of its faculty by using its extra money to boost assistant professors’ salaries.
Compared to assistant professors, tenured professors rarely switch jobs. Our hypothetical college probably won’t lose a significant number of its non-superstar tenured faculty if it doesn’t allocate its extra money to raising their salaries. (And the college can always cut separate deals with it superstars.) So to maximize the quality of its faculty, the college should create a pay structure in which tenure-track assistant professors earn more than tenured professors. As the following example shows, a college can do this without ever decreasing a professor’s salary even if the professor is promoted.
Tenured Professor’s Salary
Assistant Professor’s Salary
[If an assistant professor were promoted at the start of 2010 he would make $83,000 in both 2009 and 2010.]
Assistant professors in many ways have harder jobs than tenured professors do. They have more pressure to publish. They usually spend more time on class preparation because they have taught their classes relatively few times. And, keeping in mind their looming tenure bids, they often feel compelled to be more deferential to their senior colleagues than they would prefer. Those who care about economic fairness consequently should support the idea of assistant professors making more than tenured professors. And those who care about markets should understand that the less pleasant the job, the higher salary you must pay to attract top talent.
Job security is a large part of tenured professors’ compensation. So even if a tenured professor has a somewhat lower monetary salary than an assistant professor does, he probably, over all, receives more total compensation than his non-tenured colleagues. After all, I suspect few tenured professors who are not superstars or close to retirement would agree to exchange, say, $3,000 in extra salary in return for abandoning tenure.
Markets compensate intelligent risk takers. For example, investing in the stock market yields a higher average return than investing in safe government bonds does. Up or out tenure decisions foist enormous risk on tenure-track assistant professors. Ph.D.’s in practical fields in which many non-academic jobs are available should be willing to take on tenure risk only if they are suitably compensated for it. In contrast, however, being a tenured professor is one of the safest jobs on the planet, and consequently you would expect markets to pay tenured professors a negative risk premium that reduces their salary.
It’s relatively less risky for a college to increase its assistant professors’ salaries. For reasons economists don’t fully understand, employers almost never decrease their workers’ nominal salaries. So if a college gives a raise to a tenured professor, it is stuck paying this raise until the professor retires. In contrast, if an assistant professor becomes too expensive the college can simply not reappoint him.
I’m actually surprised that the academic market doesn’t induce more colleges to pay greater salaries to assistant professors than to non-superstar tenured professors. Tenured professors, however, have on average vastly greater bureaucratic power than their untenured co-workers and perhaps such power discrepancies explain why at most colleges tenured professors earn more than assistant professors.
Some might claim that not rewarding tenured professors for their long experience would harm their morale. But I wonder how many talented assistant professors have had their morale damaged (or indeed have even voluntarily left academe) because they are paid less than some of their less talented and less hardworking senior colleagues.
It was September of my first year as assistant professor at a liberal arts university when I read the announcement about teaching a summer online class. Summer seemed a long way off and the idea of the extra money I could earn was enticing. (My new baby, new mortgage, and the ever-lamented low pay of assistant professors weighed heavily on my mind.) As an avid user of Blackboard, I felt more than well-prepared for the task of teaching online and I thought it would be fun to challenge my teaching skills by depending entirely on the Internet to communicate class material to my students. Additionally, I was delighted to be able to teach students a seminar in my specialty area, cognitive neuroscience of memory. My university offered extensive course development and online training, including an assigned instructional designer for the entire process, so I fearlessly signed on for the adventure.
As I faithfully attended the monthly training meetings for Just in Time Technology (ex: how to use Skype) and for Course Design (ex: what is the conversion of 14 weeks pacing into a 30 day class), it began to dawn on me that I had underestimated the time and preparation required for my online course. I was one of a handful of new faculty who had added summer teaching to their first year obligations. As we sat in our classes and were shown the innovations of the online veterans, I doubt I was the only one who was feeling overwhelmed with bells and whistles. The online teaching veterans had planned every detail from music clips to the customized picture that would be shown behind the course title when students logged in. I learned that there are more than three ways to present a syllabus electronically, that I should probably post a video introduction of myself, and that the bar for creativity is set very high when an origami project can be successfully taught online. I had confidently thought I knew a lot about technology but I admit I had never considered such intricacies as whether presenting exam questions one-at-a-time or all on one page resulted in better student performance and ensured protection against cheating. As a cognitive neuroscientist, I know quite a bit about learning and memory but my mind was boggled by pedagogical concepts like “visual arguments” and “muddiest points,” and by the practice of making “concept maps” out of course material. As the summer crept closer and closer, I started to think that I had made a tremendous mistake.
A month before the class was supposed to start, I finally buckled down and decided to strive for simple and leave the major innovations for the next round of online teaching. I planned my calendar, finalized my syllabus, created my assignments, and most importantly, customized the course Web site (without a customized log-in picture). On the first day of class, I nervously checked (repeatedly) to see who had logged in and what areas they had visited and I worried once again that I was overloading myself since I had only recently finished an energy-zapping spring semester. For many of my students, this was also a new experience as my university is a traditional, residential institution, but the first day went by with only a few hitches and panicked e-mails. The second went by without any problems. This pattern held throughout the whirlwind of the course and then, suddenly, it was over. When I finally had a chance to reflect and read over student evaluations, I realized – shockingly – that teaching online my first year had actually been a great learning experience for both me and my students rather than a quick and easy way to earn some extra money. Here’s my take on online teaching:
Reducing the amount of content does not mean reducing rigor for students or work for me. Like many others who have never taught online, I had entered this experience thinking that online courses were a little bit “fluffy.” I have a newfound respect for my fellow online professors. While my online course had fewer total journal articles than I would have expected my 14 week course to read, the standards I set for my online class were just as challenging as for my traditional classes. I was pleased to find that most of my students were able to meet these standards and a few even surpassed them.
Online classes monopolize time, but it’s worth it. My online class took up more of my time than any one of my on-campus classes does in a regular semester. Because I was teaching in a new venue and because I could not be physically present to teach my students, I found myself living on the discussion boards and AOL instant messenger (apologies to my family!). This was particularly true because many of my students were not psychology majors – or science majors of any kind – so they needed me to set a foundation for them. Asking them to learn about concepts like long term potentiation and the role of the hippocampus in memory meant that I spent hours each day monitoring the discussion, redirecting threads, emphasizing important points, and guiding/prodding their intellectual development. The good news is that this paid off, according to student feedback and performance.
Students can learn just as effectively online as in a traditional classroom, with some tweaks. I normally encourage a lot of class discussion and I give immediate verbal feedback so I was worried about how this would be possible online. It turns out that discussion boards work really well for this but you have to be vigilant about monitoring (see above). I would post discussion prompts and students would respond to the prompts, or post about their own insights. Writing so consistently with frequent feedback and being able to see their own thoughts written out helped students to steadily improve the quality of their writing. Students were required to ground their comments in the context of the readings and to support their comments with evidence from the readings. The distinction between posting an “I think X” comment and an “I think X because Y, Z, & Q” was a real challenge for the students but I found it is easier for students to write logically than it is for them to speak logically in an in-class discussion. It was exciting to see their intellectual growth and the improvement in their scientific writing ability as the course progressed.
You can create a safe and open classroom dynamic without being in a classroom. Both my students and I thought that the anonymity and lack of group meetings would make the class unnatural and lonely for each individual. Many students commented that they thought they’d feel isolated from their classmates since they would not see them physically. Instead, the discussion board allowed them to interact with their classmates and to “feel like [it] was a real class.” Posting an initial introduction and then posting daily afterward resulted in class cohesiveness even though the students never saw each other face-to-face. At the same time, the lowered inhibition of posting online freed students to make bold statements and to disagree (politely) about research conclusions, which made for wonderful discussion.
Project collaboration is not a good idea in an online class. Although I am usually a champion of group work because it mimics the collaboration that is key to scientific progress, I took a leap and required students to work independently on journal article presentations. I presented the first journal article and then let the students choose their own article for presentation. Viewing an individual student’s attempt to explain primary literature allowed me to quickly ascertain and target gaps in learning. I might have missed those gaps if the student had worked in a group because someone would have taken up the slack for the member who was falling behind. Fortunately, most students extracted a substantial amount of knowledge for the topic on which they presented (as evidenced by their exam performance and discussion board posts) and many expressed pride in their newfound expertise. Student presenters in each topic unit also monitored the discussion boards with me and responded to their classmates’ posts which allowed peer-to-peer teaching to take place.
Although I am a relative novice in the teaching arena, I appreciated the chance to revive my teaching mojo. I was forced to be creative about how to present course material and ensure that my students had a solid understanding of the information. I also realized I needed to revise my opinion of online teaching and those who participate in it. I now know that online courses are not a pale and lifeless version of traditional courses or worse, a “pay for an A” scam in which everyone teaches him/herself and everyone gets a good grade. Online courses can be distinctive and worthwhile ways of teaching in their own right.
Amy Overman is assistant professor of psychology at Elon University.
Endowments have plummeted, alumni will donate less, and students won’t be willing to pay as much. Because of all this financial trauma, colleges will inevitably expect more from their faculties. But I urge college presidents and trustees, in responding to this situation, not to make inflexible demands of professors, but to rather empower us to decide which sacrifices we shall bear.
Colleges need to reduce costs, and one way could be to cut professors’ salaries. But some professors would do a lot to maintain their incomes, so why not give us the option of keeping our salaries as long as we agree to teach an extra class or take on significantly more administrative responsibilities? After all, if some professors did more work, a college or university could postpone when it needed to hire new employees.
To make up for a hiring freeze, some colleges might be tempted to force all professors to teach additional classes. But some professors live frugally, have lots of family income, or would do most anything to preserve research time. Why not let these instructors take, say, a 10 percent pay cut in return for not having extra teaching responsibilities?
A hiring freeze might also necessitate some professors taking on more administrative duties. But no school should push all professors into doing what college administrators do. If, for example, one instructor hates meetings while another dreams of being a dean, let the former teach one of the latter’s classes, thereby freeing up the latter’s time for paperwork.
Colleges should present professors with a menu of sacrifices they must pick from. Of course, there will have to be some planning so that not too many professors pick the same option. Perhaps the most senior faculty members would get their first choice from the menu, and less senior members would get to choose only among sacrifices consistent with their institution’s needs.
But a better way to allocate sacrifices would be to have professors bid for what they want. For example, a college could declare that all but 100 members of the faculty must teach an extra course each year. Professors could then bid with their salaries for one of the 100 slots, with some kind of limitations built in so that not too many professors from the same department win the auction. The auction winners would be the professors who value money over time, and the “losers” those who value time over money. Each professor would be making the choice that best suits his or her needs. True, affluent professors might seem to have an advantage in such an auction, but it would be the least affluent who would most benefit if the auction’s revenue prevented the college from cutting everyone’s salary.
Departments, too, should be given choices over how to share their college’s financial hardships. A department, for example, might be told to either postpone its next hire by a few years or give up half of its administrative budget. Each department would use its knowledge of its own needs to make the decision that would best serve it and would probably best serve the college.
Professors care about many aspects of their jobs, including salaries, teaching loads, administrative work, sabbatical opportunities, travel money, office space, research expectations, and grants. Most professors accept that, because of the financial crisis, our terms of trade with employers will become less favorable to us.
By giving professors options over how these terms will change, schools can potentially get more out of their professors while inflicting less harm on them (and so encountering less resistance). And this most holds true if different professors can make different choices, rather than the college negotiating with the faculty as a whole for all professors to make the same sacrifice.
James D. Miller
James D. Miller is an associate professor of economics at Smith College.