In today’s Academic Minute, Susan Kalisz, assistant professor of biology at the University of Pittsburgh, is linking the diet of deer to the success of the animals' surrounding fauna. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.
A ritual of the spring commencement season in the United States is for colleges and universities to invite the most prominent speaker possible to their graduation ceremonies. These luminaries typically offer anodyne platitudes for the graduates and their parents, and, if they are sufficiently famous, the local media as well. This year, an unusual number of speakers have withdrawn from participation because campus groups have complained about their views or actions.
Recent casualties include Christine Lagarde, the head of the International Monetary Fund, who withdrew from Smith College’s ceremony when 477 students and faculty signed an online petition complaining about the IMF, and Robert Birgeneau, the former chancellor of the University of California at Berkeley who canceled at Haverford College, where 50 students and faculty members complained about his handling of student protests at Berkeley and demanded he agree to nine conditions, including apologizing and supporting reparations for the protesters. Several invited speakers have gotten into trouble because of their support of the Iraq war a decade ago, including former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at Rutgers University and (a year ago) Robert Zoellick, former World Bank head, at Swarthmore College.
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There are some counterexamples. Last year Jesuit-run Boston College did not pull the plug on Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny, despite pressure from some Roman Catholic leaders and a boycott of commencement by Cardinal Sean O’Malley. Some were peeved that Kenny’s government supported a bill legalizing abortion in Ireland. This year University of California Hastings College of Law in San Francisco stood by University of California President and former homeland security secretary Janet Napolitano, who was criticized by some students for her agency’s immigration deportations.
What’s the Problem?
Why should very small numbers of students and faculty cause commencement speakers to cancel and university administrators to fail to stand up for the speakers? Typically, the speaker says that he or she does not want to bring controversy to a festive occasion, and the administration responds: “We respect the speaker’s wish and, by the way, this does not reflect on our commitment to academic freedom.” A very small number of people, sometimes with rather bizarre complaints, cause an entire institution to change plans, generally for no good reason.
Speaker Fortitude Needed
While a few picketers and perhaps a bit of heckling may be unpleasant, especially on graduation day, most prominent speakers have experienced much worse. Unless there threatens to be a serious public safety problem, the speakers should honor their invitations, perhaps even reflecting on whatever controversy might occur in the talk. There is simply no reason to walk away from a bit of controversy. Indeed, the lesson for the graduates may be salutary.
Administrative Courage Desired
Administrators should try as hard as possible to convince the speaker to participate, ensure appropriate public safety support, and stand up for the principles of campus dialogue, free speech, and academic freedom. The fact is that permitting a small minority to dictate who can speak on campus is a violation of academic freedom and the important commitment of any university — to permit a range of views to be presented on campus.
Top administrators and the academic community in general have become so risk-averse that even a minor possibility of disruption can lead to giving up any battle for principle. Basic academic values need to be protected — campus speakers, including and perhaps especially commencement speakers must be assured that they can express their views. No doubt most of the speakers who decided to pull out commencement exercises this year were motivated by a desire not to make things difficult for the university or for themselves.
The campus community itself, including students and professors, must respect the right of the university to invite commencement speakers to campus and permit free speech on campus. The protesters often claim that commencement speakers are official representatives of the college. The speaker, they claim, has no right to address the commencement even if the topic of the talk has nothing to do with, for example, a war that ended a half-dozen years ago, or if the speaker is affiliated with an organization, such as the International Monetary Fund, that may be unpopular among a small campus group. If students or faculty want to make their views about an individual, an event, idea, or organization made known, they can issue statements or even protest at the commencement, but it does not seem appropriate to demand that the university withdraw an invitation. This is especially the case for many commencement speakers, who are at least sometimes chosen with considerable campus input in the first place.
What Is To Be Done?
The current situation shows weakness by both the speakers and, especially, university leaders. It shows a remarkable lack of judgment and perspective by the “critics,” who try to blackball distinguished people for some past flaw or opinion. It is time for the higher education community to get some perspective and some backbone.
Philip G. Altbach is research professor and director of the Center for International Higher Education at Boston College.
The Faculty Senates at North Dakota State University and the University of North Dakota have passed resolutions objecting to a requirement that professors sign an oath of loyalty to the state's constitution, The Forum reported. They object because the constitution includes a definition of marriage as applying to only relationships between a man and a woman. The senates are asking to create a way for faculty members to state their objections to that provision, as conscientious objectors.
In today’s Academic Minute, Raj Morey, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University, discusses the potential harm that may arise even from indirect exposure to explosions. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.
The collegiate athletic model is under attack. A Greek chorus chants the refrain: college athletics are professional athletics; college athletics are divorced from campus life; college athletes are students in name only. Second verse same as the first.
The NCAA has three choices.
1. Do nothing. Hope the noise goes away. Bet that neither college athlete unions nor Congress will step in to fill the void.
2. Give up on the collegiate model, go pro, and pay college athletes.
3. Recalibrate the collegiate model to get closer to what colleges and campuses are all about while finding ways to enhance services and benefits to college athletes.
The NCAA Division I Board, comprising university presidents and chancellors, chose Door Number 3. It created a Steering Committee to get it done. (Division I includes all major football powers; its teams compete in the lucrative men’s basketball tournament.) So far, so good.
No issue in college athletics is exclusively academic/campus or exclusively athletics. Both perspectives need to be at the table if policy solutions are to be well-vetted and balance the requisites of athletics and the campus.
Directors of athletics (ADs) administer athletic programs. Of course they need to be heard, loud and clear, on the rules that govern their operation. Faculty athletic representatives (FARs) are faculty members with oversight of athletics on their campuses. Their voice is critical to re-energizing the “college” part of college athletics and monitoring to prevent relapse.
Suppose, however, that one believes, against all evidence, that issues can be neatly cubbyholed as academic or athletic. Suppose one believes that the collegiate model over all, in perception and substance, can be recalibrated with minimal faculty input. Suppose one believes the faculty role can and should be restricted to deal with academic issues only.
Well, let’s see where that takes us. In the current Division I structure, the Academic Cabinet, with nine faculty representatives out of 23 members, deals with academic matters – initial eligibility, continuing eligibility, academic integrity, evaluation of transcripts, etc. In the current structure, authority to develop a metric for assessing acceptable team overall academic performance, and the enforcement mechanism to push improvement, vests in a 16-member Committee on Academic Performance (CAP), where two FARs serve along with presidents and chancellors and campus athletic and academic administrators.
In the proposed new Division I, the functions of the Committee on Academic Performance and the Academic Cabinet will merge. It looks like the new Cabinet will have 20 members and report directly to the Division I Board. Best guess is that its membership will mirror CAP rather than the current Academic Cabinet. If so, faculty members will have two or at most three seats out of 20.
In the Division I governance model proposed by the Steering Committee, the Board will move from an operational policy-making role to one of oversight. The reason: presidents and chancellors have neither the time nor the focused operational expertise to be hands-on administrators.
But the Division I Board plans to stay active and hands-on with regard to the Academic Cabinet. Writ large, this makes sense. Athletic academic reform needs presidents and chancellors at the helm. For the most part, they were faculty members before they were administrators, and they understand academic issues from the inside.
Academic issues are neither understood nor resolved in a vacuum, however. Issues in a medical college also are academic. But a university president would not try to perform surgery. Or to set the criteria for how an operating room should function.
Under the Steering Committee’s proposal for how all other (non-academic) policy will be adopted, a new Division I Council will do the heavy lifting. Twenty-three of its 38 members (60 percent) will be ADs. Another four will be conference commissioners. Two spots are reserved for athletes. The remaining nine spots will have conference and other campus athletic administrators and, oh yes, FARs will be included in the mix. Unless my math fails me, that works out to maybe five FARs. And these five will come from schools in all three Division I subdivisions.
Schools in the five major conferences -- ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac 12, and SEC -- are the main target for claims that the collegiate model is a sham. They also face the greatest external pressures, from litigation to potential legislative intervention. These schools will have autonomy to handle some matters. For everything else the new Division I Council will be in charge.
The five conferences will have a weighted vote equal to about 38 percent of all Division I votes. Right now, one representative from each of the five major conferences will cast the conference vote. The Steering Committee declined to guarantee a strong FAR voice from these conferences by having 10 representatives -- an AD and FAR -- from each of the five conferences.
No doubt the Steering Committee faced a massive task in devising a new governance model. A lot of divergent interests were on the table, and a lot of stakeholders had to be accommodated. Liaisons to the Steering Committee met with Conference commissioners and ADs to get their input as the governance model was being built. FARs were not included.
With so many moving parts, any proposal had to be a compromise. Some compromises optimally weigh all interests. Some, like the present governance proposal, do not. Hopefully, there still is time to get it changed.
The Steering Committee’s task was to frame a new Division I governance structure to preserve and enhance the collegiate model. Try defining a university without mentioning faculty. It can’t be done.
But the proposed new Division I governance structure for college athletics leaves faculty as the odd person out. Go figure.
Josephine J. (Jo) Potuto is the Richard H. Larson Professor of Constitutional Law and faculty athletics representative at the University of Nebraska College of Law.
Smith College lost its planned commencement speaker, Christine Lagarde, when she withdrew because of criticism of her selection by some who objected to the organization she leads, the International Monetary Fund. Now many Smith professors have signed a statement saying that they agree with Smith's president, Kathleen McCartney, that a commencement invitation does not mean everyone at the college needs to agree with the speaker's politics. The professors said that they stood behind their president's analysis: “An invitation to speak at a commencement is not an endorsement of all views or policies of an individual or the institution she or he leads. Such a test would preclude virtually anyone in public office or position of influence. Moreover, such a test would seem anathema to our core values of free thought and diversity of opinion.”
Connecticut's Board of Regents for Higher Education is "deeply dismayed" at the recent promotion of Ravi Shankar, an associate professor at Central Connecticut State University, to the rank of full professor, it said in a statement Thursday. "We believe that faculty and staff must be held to the highest standards inside as well as outside the classroom."
Shankar, a professor of poetry, was promoted by the board earlier this week, following a recommendation for promotion from the university, the Hartford Courant reported. But the board was unaware that Shankar is serving a two-week portion of a longer, pre-trial jail sentence. The charges against Shankar involve violating probation for past credit card fraud and drunk driving. "As a result of the information that came to our attention earlier this week, the Board of Regents has asked the CCSU administration for an immediate and full investigation surrounding the process resulting in the recommendation to promote Dr. Shankar," the board said, adding that the university is "engaged" in the investigation and preparing a report on the case. Shankar could not immediately be reached for comment. Jack Miller, university president, said in a statement that it was ultimately his duty to inform the board of Shankar's incarceration, but that he did not, due to the complex nature of the professor's legal case. He said the university is investigating the circumstances surrounding Shankar's promotion at this time.
Northeastern University adjuncts are the latest to vote to form a union affiliated with Service Employees International Union, they announced Thursday. The union, with about 900 members, is SEIU's biggest in the Boston area. The union also represents adjuncts at Tufts and Lesley Universities there. SEIU is trying to organize adjuncts at institutions across metro areas nationwide; the Northeastern announcement comes on the heels of "yes" union votes at Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, Howard University in Washington, and Mills College in California in recent weeks. SEIU called the Northeastern vote a "bellwether victory" in its Adjunct Action campaign. The vote was 323 in favor to 286 opposed. In a statement, Stephen W. Director, Northeastern's provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, said "Northeastern will now bargain in good faith with SEIU about the terms of employment for part-time faculty members who were eligible to vote in the election."
I hadn’t intended to write one of these letters, ever. I thought that loyalty was part and parcel of being a colleague; however, I wasn’t put on the course schedule after two decades of teaching here.
You let me discover this by myself – with no explanation. And the timing could not have been worse. My spouse is unemployed; our child is in college. We may have to leave our home.
I know: There are hard times all over. Why should it -- or could it -- be different for my family?
When nonrenewals happen, one’s imagination runs wild. If there was some perceived deficiency for which I was nonrenewed, it’s probably better to know, though my self-esteem is currently flattened. And if it were simply an error, it would seem natural that an error could be quickly fixed. Instead, I am in limbo.
If my nonrenewal was (as someone close to me suggested) due to adjunct activism, that could be devastating – but true. “Oh, now I understand why that topic was important to you,” a family member said.
Alternatively, you may not be mulling over any of this. As a distant member of the busy department, I am probably not on your radar. Perhaps the department never really knew me fully as a teacher or scholar. The few times I tried to discuss my own intellectual life or community activities or writing, tenured colleagues appeared uninterested. A friend was even told: “Don’t talk about your ideas to colleagues too much.”
Like others in academia, you may assert that responsibility for sustaining or creating positions lies above or beyond – the dean’s office, the provost, the VPs , the president, the board of trustees, even trends around the country.
But while I am wondering how I will meet next year’s expenses and pursue what I consider my vocation, I am also wondering if you could help stem the erosion of positions. You might be able do this: if not for my generation, then for the next. You do have the power.
Perhaps you can show me that my bad-day comparison of the role of adjuncts in the university “family” as comparable to forgotten kids in the homes of the distracted rich is not valid. Perhaps you can show me that fierce battles you fight elsewhere in the university arena and within your scholarly discipline can be fought for less visible colleagues. Perhaps you can go to the mat for your department as a whole and possibly the future of your … our … academic discipline.
Some people think instructors of a certain age have lost their currency, in every meaning of the word. I may find it hard to buy groceries and may need to take out a loan to buy required health insurance – I lack that currency -- but I never lost my intellectual currency. If you think your adjuncts are stagnant or too tired to excel, do something. Evaluate, provide in-service … and be prepared to discover that you might be wrong.
An energetic, dedicated colleague with 40 years as an adjunct was extremely depressed in fall. I had never seen her as anything other than capable and charismatic. Nonrenewed. No perceived deficiency in her skills – rather, new colleagues, new chair.
Another colleague has left the country, tired of not knowing how she would pay her bills.
I am now down at least one-third of my anticipated $30,000 income in a good year for teaching 10 to 13 courses annually at various schools. Ultimately, there is no Machiavelli guide to being an adjunct, though one might try to be strategic.
Personally, I rolled with the course assignments and never fussed when things didn’t go my way. It has been suggested to me by someone outside of academia that too smooth an employee may be perceived as disengaged. Want two classes? Get one … or expect two, then get one, if that. Always be prepared to be “bounced,” no matter what your load. Risk overload at multiple schools rather than not being able to pay bills. Teach morning, noon, night, weekend, online.
Some may be thinking: Get a real job? Jobs are not abundant in my region. Publishing? Dwindling. Libraries? Shrinking. Bookstores? Nonexistent. Human services? Despite rhetoric about our society’s mental health needs, few openings.
Alt-ac jobs on campus or lectureships at two-year schools? Have tried. Private high schools? Few slots, no go.
Someone said recently: I can’t imagine why an adjunct would keep at it after three years. I tried to find other paths. Ironically, every time I have applied for a full-time job that has not come through, full-time and part-time colleagues have said, “But you don’t really need the job. You have a spouse.” Is this the 21st century?
A well-meaning friend offered that a door shutting might mean a window opening. It feels, to me, like the door is shutting and the windows are painted shut.
Exit strategy and career plan are, of course, ultimately one’s own responsibility.
While I figure out what I can for myself: Can there please be forward thinking in colleges or universities on how to cultivate, advance or utilize existing talent without strategies that boot talented instructors out – deliberately or accidentally -- in our maturity? Other industries value retention and experience.
And when it comes to classroom management, literacy acquisition, writing skills, minority outreach: Believe me, adjuncts can enter a campus discussion, given the chance.
Those on this path should be careful. One may end up vulnerable while sick or dead after a termination, or -- as I sense myself becoming -- dejected. And as the case of Mary-Faith Cerasoli recently retaught me, I may be one illness or mishap away from the street.
This century may see things getting worse for adjuncts. In the unsolicited words of a former full-timer who left for greener pastures, “Don’t get caught” in the part-time pool.
But one could get caught.
Or set free at the absolutely worst moment.
The author has been a college instructor for more than 20 years.