The Board of Regents for the University of Wisconsin System on Friday unanimously approved a set of amendments to a layoff policy for the Madison campus that many faculty members opposed. The changes -- such as the elimination of guaranteed severance and the stipulation that the university will “consider” alternative appointments faculty members pegged for layoffs for budgetary or educational reasons rather than “pursue” them -- were previously approved by the board’s Education Committee.
Ray Cross, system president, said the final Madison policy protects “the principles of academic freedom and sustain[s] the university’s standing in a competitive, global marketplace for faculty expertise.”
Campus Chancellor Rebecca Blank, who previously supported the faculty-backed layoff policy drafted in response to major changes to the legal definition of tenure in Wisconsin last year, said in a statement that what the regents approved “is consistent with our peers. This is important in our ability to recruit and retain our top faculty. … After a difficult nine months of debate, I hope everyone will give this new policy a chance.”
Faculty members on Twitter and elsewhere disagreed with those assessments, arguing that the changes made a significant dent in shared governance.
Faculty members in the California State University System will be get a 10.5 percent raise over the next two years, according to a tentative agreement announced Friday that staved off a strike planned for next week. Salary negotiations had stalled as the California Faculty Association, the faculty union for tenure-line and non-tenure-track instructors, pushed for a 5 percent raise while the university system offered 2 percent. But this week’s deal includes a 5 percent raise in June, another 2 percent raise in July, and an additional 3.5 percent raise in 2017. Some instructors will be given 2.65 percent bumps next year, as well, to address salary compression.
System Chancellor Timothy White told The Sacramento Bee, “Salary problems take many years and will likewise take many years to solve …. [The agreement] gives us the breathing room we need to achieve this with the help of lawmakers.” According to the Bee, nearly 10,000 tenured or tenure-track professors in the system make an average of about $84,000 per year, while non-tenure-track lecturers and part-time instructors on average earn a per-class equivalent of a $50,645 salary. California Faculty Association, affiliated with the American Association of University Professors, the National Education Association and Service Employees International Union, represents 26,000 tenure-line and non-tenure-track faculty, librarians, counselors and coaches across CSU's 23 campuses.
I don’t know if it’s a coincidence that not long after I became chair of my department, I grew a beard for the first time in my life. Those two moments should have had nothing to do with one another: facial hair and academic leadership do not have any intrinsic bond. Neither Animal House’s Professor Dave Jennings nor The Paper Chase’s Charles Kingsfield Jr., for example, had beards. Most faculty members I know do not have beards. Hipsters have beards. Deadheads have beards. Out of all the chairs I worked for at four different universities, none had a beard.
For the last 14 years, I shaved every day for work. Last December, I stopped. It was winter break, and I hate shaving. For some reason, when spring semester began, I kept the beard.
Beards have been described as breeding grounds for bacteria, fecal matter and even brewer’s yeast. Chairs, on the other hand, are assigned to four-year terms and usually get a nice office. While dissimilar, these two life instances intersect for me as some sort of important gesture.
Beards are symbolic of many cultural traditions, such as those associated with religion (Hasidim, Sufis, Sikhs), craft beer (brewers) or Southern rock (Gregg Allman’s tight, short beard vs. Hank Williams Jr.’s respectable beard). There are famous beards such as those grown by ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons or the Lubavitcher rebbe. As with religion or popular culture, academic beards are hardly novel. There is a Facebook page devoted to the subject, a no longer active blog that featured academic beard profiles and a research project at the University of Exeter that studies the history of beards.
Beards are not new to academe, but a beard is new to me. My only other experience with a beard was when I was in the army and stationed in a remote outpost with one other soldier. The commander for our brigade arrived one day in a surprise inspection and quickly spotted my appearance. I hadn’t shaved for several days. He berated me for the stubble all over my face. “But the conditions,” I complained, indicating the lack of running water or porcelain basin among our poorly constructed tent. “Conditions!” he screamed and threw a water jug at my head.
Not many of the other chairs in our college have beards. No one else in our department has a beard. The dean has a mustache, but no beard. The university president is clean shaven. I could think of my beard as a privileged moment, where I, and other mid-40s men like myself who cannot grow hair on a small patch on the back of our heads can grow a lot of hair all over our faces and chin. My beard might be mistaken as a statement about authority, except chairs have little power other than what is imagined by the faculty members who are not chairs.
Until I became chair I assumed, as others do as well, that the chair is a formidable being with grand oversight and reach. Chairs are supposed to have “vision,” construct “four-year plans” or be able to follow a “strategic plan.” Don Wu’s The Department Chair Primer: What Chairs Need to Know and Do to Make a Difference outlines several criteria chairs should consider as worthy of emulation when imaging their ideal departments: governance, faculty compensation, faculty mix, workload and budget. He does not mention beards. So far, in my capacity as chair, I have nominated colleagues for election to the Faculty Senate without telling them I did so and authorized the purchase of a water cooler to be placed in our hallway.
Instead of projecting authority, my beard minimizes my ethos as representative of university power. For instance, I was invited to a recent meeting with the university audit team overseeing efficiency across the colleges. When I entered the room, the audit team took one look at my scraggly beard and large arm tattoo of a lion and rose and probably thought I was a biker in the wrong place or a hobo looking for a train. “Are you still growing that thing?” a colleague asked me the other day as I left the men’s room. Early in the semester, the director of a humanities program in our college confused me for someone else in the hallway. I have been mocked by junior faculty at departmental meetings for growing a beard.
My beard, in particular, has a large gray patch right in the middle of my chin. Does this gray mark me as distinguished? Does it classify me as scholarly the way the stereotypes of corduroy jacket patches or pipes once did for the cliché image of well-versed academic men?
The beard is mostly a banal feature of the face. Hair grows. You remove it, but it grows again. As department chair, my days involve a great deal of banality: writing letters of support, leading meetings, attending meetings, writing more letters of support, figuring out who dumped coffee in the men’s urinal, approving pizza orders for student club meetings.
Roland Barthes writes a great deal about banality, but at no point can I find him discussing growing a beard. In his pseudo-autobiography Roland Barthes, Barthes classifies the self through an alphabetical organizational scheme. At one point, Barthes discusses classification of the self by a beard-related passage: “Like Harpo Marx losing his artificial beard in the glass of water he is drinking out of, you are no longer classifiable, not out of an excess of personality, but on the contrary because you pass through all the fringes of the phantom.” Barthes’s point is not just that the self is divided, but that it loses itself -- it loses its sense of classification and categorization -- often via contradictions, often via a lack of place in the world. Chairs, despite our imagined power, might relate to that feeling of lack or contradiction of categorical place.
A chair is someone who might find him or herself without a place in the world, even if firmly established within an academic hierarchy of responsibility and rank. Who are we among a set of organizational binaries that frame academe? Colleague/not colleague, manger/faculty member, friend/boss, teacher/administrator? In our college, the Faculty Senate debates whether or not chairs are faculty. Chairs oversee budgets, hiring, petty differences, relationships with other departments, initiatives, recruitment of students. We do this work knowing that one day we will leave the large office we occupy and return to a small concrete-block office hidden away down the hallway, possibly across from the men’s bathroom. What I am today, I will no longer be tomorrow. Beard or no beard, the chair does pass through the fringes of the phantom at some point. All of this so-called authority, we should tell ourselves often, will, at some point, end; it will vanish like a phantom image.
An academic beard evokes the cliché such as the distinguished professor or the hipster graduate student. Even with a beard, I am too short to be mistaken for a hipster, too poorly dressed to be thought of as distinguished. With a beard, I think of the pompous and drunk professor Michael Caine plays in Educating Rita or the Charleston Southern University professor Paul Roof, who lost his job after an image of his wild beard appeared on a Holy City Brewing beer label. I wonder if I am beginning to resemble my mentor and dissertation director, whose large white beard serves as an emblem of his academic presence in rhetorical and digital studies.
“The discourse that comes to him,” Barthes declares, “is banal, and it is only by struggling against that original banality that, gradually, he writes.” I am the opposite. The discourse that comes to me, I might counter, is banal, and in that banality, when discussing beards or being chair, I write. Within academe, we concern ourselves too often with issues of power and struggle -- representational power of the text or political power of daily life; those who yield power or those who do not have power -- but seldom with the banal.
With this fairly new administrative role, I want to leave aside grand issues, such as power, in favor of banal issues such as beards. Such banal moments allow me, for a moment, a banality I can appreciate -- unlike constantly writing letters of support or planning meeting agendas -- a banality that slows down my passing through the fringes of the phantom by giving me a moment of classification. I have a beard. I am department chair. As I soon conclude the first year of a four-year term, my other written moment of banality might be the knowledge of the fragility of perceived power in general: at some point, I tell myself, beard and chair position, too, will end.
Jeff Rice is Martha B. Reynolds Professor in Writing, Rhetoric and Digital Studies at the University of Kentucky.
California Faculty Association, the faculty union for the California State University System, on Thursday postponed indefinitely its five-day strike planned to begin April 13, after negotiators for both parties reached a tentative salary agreement. Terms of agreement have not yet been released, but the union was pushing for a 5 percent pay increase while the university proposed an initial 2 percent bump. Once ratified by the union, the agreement will be voted on by the university system’s Board of Trustees in May. California Faculty Association, affiliated with the American Association of University Professors, the National Education Association and Service Employees International Union, represents 26,000 tenure-line and non-tenure-track faculty, librarians, counselors and coaches across CSU's 23 campuses.
New book argues that students involved in campus protests over controversial speakers or ideas should instead support a marketplace of ideas in which all notions are heard and the best rise to the top.
Service Employees International Union got two big wins this week, at Boston University and the University of Southern California. In Boston, full-time, non-tenure-track faculty members voted 135 to 36 (out of 275 eligible instructors) to form a union affiliated with SEIU; the union already represents 800 adjunct professors on campus.
In California, a hearing officer for the National Labor Relations Board ruled that an earlier, failed union election involving non-tenure-track faculty members in the Dornsife College of Arts and Letters must be held again, due to significant administrative interference. Hearing officer Yaneth Palencia found that “Provost [Michael] Quick engaged in conduct that was so aggravated as to create a general atmosphere of fear making a free election impossible,” such as by allegedly suggesting that joining a union would make faculty members ineligible for various forms of shared governance.
A spokesperson for Boston said the vote was an “unfortunate outcome, but we will negotiate in good faith once today's election results are officially certified.” Quick said via email on Thursday that the Dornsife election "was free and fair. The USC faculty knows I am a strong supporter of faculty governance and never threatened it. Further, our efforts to remain compliant with state employment law can not be interpreted as anything other than being required by law."
When the Wisconsin Legislature took tenure out of state statute, faculty members at the University of Wisconsin at Madison hoped they could preserve the status quo in a campus policy. But that hope is fading amid new proposals on a policy for layoffs of professors.
A regional office of the National Labor Relations Board dismissed on Tuesday a petition from a group of tenure-line basic science faculty members at the Tufts University School of Medicine to hold a union election. The decision was based largely on a set of tests to assess faculty members’ managerial status established by a major 2014 NLRB decision concerning an adjunct faculty union bid at Pacific Lutheran University. The NLRB regional office said the members of Tufts’ proposed unit were in fact managers under those guidelines and therefore ineligible to form a union. Additionally, science faculty members with labs and direct reports are supervisors, according to the decision.
Siobhan Gallagher, a Tufts spokesperson, said in a statement that the university is pleased the NLRB office “recognizes the significant authority that our faculty members have in critical areas of the school’s management. We look forward to continuing dialogue and collaboration with our faculty.”
Jason Stephany, a spokesman for Service Employees International Union, with which the proposed unit is affiliated, said the NLRB decision "validates faculty concerns over the definition of tenure at the School of Medicine. … Tufts faculty disagree with several key points that form the basis of the regional director's overall ruling, and we will review our options for a potential appeal in the coming days."