faculty

Essay on the importance of finding the right writing environments

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Tryo Tracts

When we write, we need periodically to rethink where, how and with whom we do so, suggests Nate Kreuter.

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2 Faculty Senates Object to Oath in North Dakota

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.

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Academic Minute: Traumatic Brain Injuries

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.

 

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New NCAA governance structure marginalizes faculty members (essay)

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.

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Smith Professors Regret Withdrawal of Commencement Speaker

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.”

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Professor Wins Promotion While in Jail

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.

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Northeastern U. Adjuncts Approve Union Bid

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."

 

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The plight of one adjunct, and many (essay)

Dear Academic Department:

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.

Sincerely,

Saddened

The author has been a college instructor for more than 20 years.

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Don't evaluate scholarly research on public impact alone (essay)

Recently, the value of academic research, especially in the humanities and social sciences, has been questioned. The current majority party in the House of Representatives has proposed cutting science funding for social science research and eliminating all funding for the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts. New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof accused faculty of engaging in specialized research disconnected from the interests of the reading public and policymakers, resulting in a broad conversation about whether or not faculty engage in the public sphere.

There is no doubt that academics have a responsibility to engage public debates. In many ways, the university is the critical conscience of a democratic society. It houses experts in various spheres of life who must use their knowledge to enhance the public’s understanding of vital issues. Academic freedom ensures that scholars use their knowledge to inform questions of public importance.

Yet academic research’s value cannot and should not be measured, as some seem to suggest, simply by how many readers a journal article or academic monograph reaches. The purpose of academic scholarship is to engage in disciplinary inquiry — to further scholarly conversations. Such work will never be accessible to the general public since it, by definition, works at the boundaries of knowledge and takes a certain amount of prior knowledge and expertise for granted.

This is not something new. It was recognized by the ancient Roman statesman Cicero in his work The Ideal Orator. Cicero distinguished between oratory, in which one speaks to and with the public, and philosophical inquiry, in which one seeks truth.

Because orators wish to speak to the public, “the procedures of oratory lie within everyone’s reach, and are concerned with everyday experience and with human nature and speech.” That is simply not possible when engaged in scholarly inquiry, however, since scholarship “draws as a rule upon abstruse and hidden sources.” To Cicero, this meant that in inquiry, “the highest achievement is precisely that which is most remote from what the uninitiated can understand and perceive, whereas in oratory it is the worst possible fault to deviate from the ordinary mode of speaking and the generally accepted way of looking at things.”

Because academic research is specialized and takes place on the boundaries of what is known, it requires a community of experts. Disciplines form the communities of inquiry that enable academic research to take place. These communities require a critical mass of scholars to evaluate new work and to develop new knowledge.

As a result, even academics cannot read the work of all academics. As a historian, for example, I rarely read and cannot truly understand publications in academic medical journals, nor journals in chemistry or physics or other fields in which I lack the necessary specialized knowledge and engagement with the academic literature. I never doubt the value of these journals, however, for encouraging new ideas and practices in medicine, or chemistry, or physics. Whether in the natural and physical sciences or the humanities and social sciences, most academic work is by definition inaccessible to the uninitiated.

This is not a bad thing. In the discipline of history, for example, I would worry if the primary criterion for the importance of a piece of academic scholarship were the number of nonacademic readers. As Paula A. Michaels recently put it, if academic history relied primarily on popular readers, most history (and the history of most people) would never get written.

Again, this is true not just for the humanities or social sciences, as is often implied in public conversations about academic research. Public funding for basic research in the sciences is vital to promote the public good, but scientific research is increasingly being privatized, subject to commercial interests and philanthropists.

Basic research in all fields is vital for innovation. The value of a particular piece of scholarship — whether measured in the number of readers, the impact on knowledge, or new products — cannot be known a priori. Every academic researcher is an entrepreneur, every book or article a startup.

Most small businesses fail, but that does not lead Americans to question the value of entrepreneurship. They should have the same attitude for scholarship: most articles may not have a dramatic impact on the field or the public, but we cannot know which ones will. That’s why we need to encourage startups and encourage creativity throughout the academy, just as we do in the economy.

The measure of success also has to be related to the “markets” that academic research serves. In the case of medical research, it is fair to ask whether academic research produces new knowledge that improves medical outcomes.

In the case of such fields as history, then, we must ask whether academic research informs history’s practitioners. The primary places where history is practiced, of course, is in schools. We must ask whether the curriculum offered in history courses at all levels — from elementary school to graduate school — is shaped by scholarship. Similarly, we should ask whether museums and historical societies offer interpretations influenced by academic research? If so, the case is made: historical outcomes have been improved, just as good medical research improves medicine’s outcomes.

What is true for doctors and historians and other academics is also true for ministers. Few churchgoers read specialized theological journals, but the theological questions explored in these journals affect how ministers engage in their daily work and the ideas that they use to inform that work. No one would doubt that ministers, like doctors, need to have a sophisticated understanding of their theology, even if much of it may be inaccessible to the broader religious public.

None of this is to suggest that academics do not have a responsibility to reach out to the public. Fortunately, we have gifted writers within and beyond the academy to do this. First, as Ezra Klein pointed out, journalists mediate between the academic world and readers. Of equal importance, as Klein noted, over the past few decades, academic publishers have locked up research behind expensive paywalls that serve the interests of publishing companies rather than the public. Published research must and should be made available to all who seek it.

There are also academics who translate academic knowledge for the reading public. They do so through blogs, op-eds, magazine articles, and media appearances, but also through books. Almost every discipline can name many scholars whose books have reached a wide audience. These scholars represent what Cicero referred to as “the ideal orator,” capable of uniting, in Cicero’s words, “wisdom and eloquence.”

Moreover, as teachers, almost all faculty members must strive to be ideal orators, combining wisdom with effective teaching in order to reach out to students in ways that help students make the connection between academic inquiry and broader public and personal questions.

In sum, academic research’s value cannot be measured by simple metrics about the number of readers. We must accept that the very nature of scholarship, whether in the humanities or the sciences, whether in medicine or religion, requires an expert, and therefore a limited, community of inquiry. Most academic work will always remain inaccessible to outsiders.

All faculty members have the responsibility of being ideal orators in the classroom, but the very nature of scholarly inquiry means that most cannot and should not seek to do so in their published research. We must celebrate those scholars who can and wish to combine wisdom with eloquence, however, for they ensure that academic conversations will enter the public sphere. At the same time we must always remember that the only reason ideal orators — whether in the classroom or the public sphere — have something worth sharing beyond the academy is because of the specialized research taking place within the academy.

A more sophisticated understanding of the value of academic research, and especially basic research in all fields, would help us recognize not only the contribution scholarship makes to the public good but also how it does so.

Johann Neem is associate professor of history at Western Washington University and author of "Experience Matters: Why Competency-Based Education Will Not Replace Seat Time."

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Adjunct Continues Hunger Strike After Hospital Visit

Mary-Faith Cerasoli, a New-York area adjunct professor of Spanish and Italian, visited the hospital Wednesday after a five-day hunger strike outside of Nassau Community College. Cerasoli, who taught at Nassau this year, said she was protesting unfair working conditions for adjunct faculty there, including a recent proposal – never voted on – by the Board of Trustees to fire those adjuncts who went on strike in September over union contract negotiations. Cerasoli also says she wants New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to respond to her call to help improve working conditions for adjuncts. Declared healthy by a doctor, she is continuing her strike.

“Institutions of higher education provide working conditions that starve many contingent faculty of their livelihoods,” Cerasoli said in a statement, “so I felt a hunger strike was exactly the right way to highlight the problem, particularly at Nassau, a college that just recently retaliated against adjunct faculty who took a stand against exploitation by striking earlier this year.”

In March, Cerasoli gained national media attention when she protested outside New York State’s Department of Education wearing a vest saying “Homeless Prof.” Racked with student loan debt, she does not have a home and at times lives out of her car. Cerasoli said she has appealed to Cuomo to help adjuncts, but she has not heard back.

Cerasoli’s supporters have taken to Twitter under #hungryhomelessprof. The hashtag is similar to one that was created last year memorializing Margaret Mary Vojtko, an elderly adjunct professor of French who died alone and homeless after working for many years at Duquesne University. A Facebook page dedicated to the strike encourages adjunct supporters to show solidarity with Cerasoli by skipping a meal and by other means.

Cerasoli, who has a thyroid condition, is drinking only water and sleeping in her car during the strike.

Nassau Community College officials did not respond to a request for comment. Cuomo's press office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Charles Loiacono, president of the Nassau Community College’s Adjunct Faculty Association, an independent union, said Cerasoli’s “plight is a disgrace to academe. She is a victim of the shameful treatment adjuncts receive throughout the system.”

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