Faculty leaders on three University of Wisconsin System campuses objected to proposed new tenure policies ahead of a systemwide task force meeting on the new guidelines Monday. In a letter sent last week to the system’s Tenure Policy Task Force, chapter presidents of the Madison, Milwaukee and Whitewater American Association of University Professors chapters said that current draft policies “separate faculty from their primary responsibility for educational concerns,” and generally fail to meet professional standards for tenure.
The policy changes come in light of the state Legislature’s vote earlier this year to weaken tenure standards for public university faculty in Wisconsin, which previously were arguably the strongest in the country. The changes made it legal for universities to lay off even tenured professors for so much as program “modifications,” and campus and system administrators have since said they’ll find a way to preserve in university policy what was lost in state law. But a draft of the proposed tenure policy doesn’t ensure that that layoffs would have to be subject to any kind of faculty approval. "It is clear that [the new law] has threatened the reputation of the [Wisconsin system] as a world-class institution of higher education by enabling policies that threaten academic freedom, tenure and shared governance," reads the AAUP letter.
At a meeting on Monday, the task force heard similar faculty concerns about the draft policy. The task force said it will meet again at the end of the month before sending its final recommendations to the university system’s Board of Regents. The Madison faculty last month approved tenure protections that ensure professors only may be laid off for educational considerations that have been vetted by faculty peers, but it’s unclear whether that policy can stand if the board approves a more limited one.
I had just finished teaching my freshman composition class one day not long ago when I learned that I was an enemy of my own work. In a recent article for Inside Higher Ed, Marc Bousquet accuses me of dismissing teaching-intensive positions, or “low-caste teaching,” as something that no graduate student really wants. As for full professors like me, well, our contempt should go without saying.
Bousquet, a well-known academic labor activist and a professor of film and media studies at Emory University, was addressing my position on alternative academic (alt-ac) careers for Ph.D.s. That position is laid out in detail in my new book, The Graduate School Mess: What Caused It and How We Can Fix It. I call on graduate school professors to teach career diversity in graduate school along with academic specialization. Bousquet says, in essence, that when we promote nonprofessorial jobs for graduate students, we divert attention from the exploitation that’s built into the graduate school system.
Bousquet imagines me as an adversary, but in fact we agree more than we differ. To begin with, we both see the academic workplace as deeply and structurally irrational. Attrition rates are unacceptably high -- 50 percent -- from doctoral programs, and few Ph.D.s find the professor jobs that they have been specifically trained to do.
Too many graduate students and Ph.D.s find cold comfort in the harsh world of contingent labor. They work belowdecks in introductory courses for low wages that sustain the bottom line at many public universities. Public and private university administrators alike opt for the flexibility of adjunct and off-ladder term labor to staff their classes.
For some reason Bousquet seems to believe that I disdain those laborers and the work that they do. But readers of The Graduate School Mess will know that I value introductory teaching -- and I do it myself. (Freshman teaching, including freshman comp, is a regular part of the teaching load at my campus.) In fact, I argue in the book that only through renewed respect for our teaching mission can we begin to reform our workplace.
Bousquet has long advocated for collective action to challenge these conditions -- and I agree with him. We need to push for tenure-track jobs over contingent labor. When labor and management can’t recognize their shared interest in stable, well-supported intellectual work, it’s time to organize.
But -- and here’s where we disagree -- I don’t think collective action is the only answer to the problems we face. As I tell my graduate student audiences around the country, individual action is important also. That means realism.
If you decide to go to graduate school in the arts and sciences, first make sure you get a fellowship that guarantees a full ride. Once you’re there, don’t imagine that a professor’s job is waiting for you when you graduate. Join the union, by all means. But also prepare for the full range of possible outcomes that await you. Isn’t that just common sense?
Bousquet has staged this as an either/or proposition: to contemplate alt-ac careers would compromise the struggle against injustice in the academic workplace. I don’t think these two alternatives need to be pitted against each other. After all, the union hall used to be a place for job training and skills acquisition along with agitating.
But there’s more to it. The idea that Ph.D.s should all wind up as professors distorts historical reality. Yes, full employment for any graduate student who could finish the doctorate once existed in the academy. That was true for just one generation, during the 1950s and ’60s. Burgeoning baby-boom populations and Cold War investment swelled higher education to sizes never before seen on American academic earth.
Before and after that brief period, Ph.D.s worked both inside and outside the university walls. Partly because that fully employed generation was the biggest in the history of American academe, it gave the whole profession a case of nostalgic amnesia: we thought that time of plenty was normal when, in fact, it was a historical anomaly.
There are lots of reasons -- political, social, administrative -- that higher education fell from that postwar paradise, but fall we did. The beneficiaries of that one generation of unprecedented academic prosperity are now in their seventies and eighties. It seems high time that we changed our assumptions to reflect the realities of our students and not their grandparents.
We therefore need to prepare our graduate students for the actual jobs that are waiting for them: not only professors’ jobs but also a whole diverse range of opportunities. Our graduate students know this. They want their graduate education to prepare them for the real world of experience that they -- and we -- live in. We have to do this for them, because they’ve trusted us with helping them to shape their professional lives.
So let’s change graduate school as well as the conditions of labor within it. The space between activism and pragmatic reform doesn’t have to be a chasm. We waste time when reformers fight each other instead of trying to change a workplace that they agree needs changing.
Leonard Cassuto, a professor of English and American studies at Fordham University, is the author of The Graduate School Mess: What Caused It and How We Can Fix It (Harvard University Press, 2015).
A tenured associate professor of Spanish at San Diego State University who was accused of sexually harassing four female students, allegedly asking one of them to dress as a French maid, no longer works for the university, NBC 7 first reported. According to documents obtained by the news station, which has been following Vincent Martin’s case for some time, he was either fired or resigned this month.
In 2011, shortly after starting at San Diego State, Martin allegedly asked a student he’d accused of plagiarism and offered an assistantship to make up the class to meet him at a hotel in Seattle wearing a maid’s costume. The university has since determined that Martin harassed three other students, including one who offered to babysit his young child, according to NBC. Martin received a 30-day suspension in two of those cases, and last week a university spokesperson confirmed that Martin is no longer employed there.
The university said in a statement that it "is limited, legally, with the disciplinary actions we can take until the faculty exhausts his or her due process." A decision letter from a previous arbitration hearing revealed Martin resigned from a job at the University of Delaware after he was accused of harassing a female student there, according to NBC. The San Diego Union Tribune reported that the ongoing allegations against Martin, and the university’s response -- which some said wasn’t serious enough -- prompted student protests on campus earlier this year.
The American Political Science Association is moving forward with plans to adopt new transparency standards for published research, over many scholars’ concerns that the change comes too soon with too little discussion. In a lengthy announcement last week, the current, future and immediate past presidents of the association said the Data Access and Research Transparency Guidelines (DA-RT) initiative was necessary to protect the scholarly integrity of both quantitative and qualitative work, to promote “shared engagement around a set of evidence and plausible interpretations,” and to enable replication of results and checks on interpretation of data.
“The social sciences, like the natural sciences and medical research, are facing rising expectations for accountability,” the association presidents wrote. “Publishers such as Cambridge University Press, Oxford University Press and Sage are similarly moving to support greater transparency of evidence and analytic strategies. Our legitimacy as scholars and political scientists in speaking to the public on issues of public concern rests in part on whether we adopt and maintain common standards for evaluating evidence-based knowledge claims.”
Jennifer Hochschild, association president and the Henry LaBarre Jayne Professor of Government and professor of African and African-American studies at Harvard University, wrote the letter, along with David A. Lake, president-elect and the Jerri-Ann and Gary E. Jacobs Professor of Social Sciences, distinguished professor of political science, and associate dean of social sciences at the University of California at San Diego, and Rodney E. Hero, immediate past president and professor of political science and Haas Chair in Diversity and Democracy at the University of California at Berkeley.
They acknowledge in their note some scholars’ concerns that the transparency standards will be adopted by 27 major political science journals starting Jan. 16, and pledge to establish a task force on professional ethics to address some of the outstanding issues. Among other concerns, critics of the standards have questioned how more data access and transparency can be achieved regarding confidential data from human subjects. “Disagreements will surely persist, but we hope that decisions about policies such as DA-RT will be based on deliberation, mutual trust and shared accommodation; that is the mark of a professional association of which we can all be proud members,” the letter says.
Adjunct faculty members at Temple University have voted to unionize and to join the Temple Association of University Professionals, which already represents tenure-track faculty members at the university. Seventy percent of adjuncts voted in favor of the move. The union is an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers.
Gonzaga University School of Law has offered buyouts to all 17 of its tenured faculty members following a 28 percent dip in enrollment since 2011, Inlander and Above the Law reported. Like many other law schools, the institution’s applicant pool has decreased, in Gonzaga's case by more than one-third since 2011. Rather than drastically change its admissions criteria, Gonzaga chose to shrink enrollment, at the expense of its budget.
Four of 17 faculty members have accepted the buyout, and no more are expected to. Dean Jane Korn told Inlander, “Every dean had to make a decision to lower standards or take a budget hit, and we decided to take the budget hit. … We did this to avoid problems in the future.” Gonzaga is staffed for about 175 students per class, Korn said, but enrollment was just 125 in 2014.
An engineering professor at Lehigh University and his wife were convicted of defrauding NASA by letting graduate students and researchers do all the work on a $700,000 project, the Associated Press reported. Yujie Ding and his wife, Yulia Zotova, reportedly obtained federal grants to develop a climate change sensor. But Zotova, who was supposed to oversee the project in her husband’s Lehigh laboratory, reportedly never came to work. Prosecutors said the sensor start-up was merely a front through which to seek grants, and that Ding didn’t disclose his role in the company to Lehigh.
Zotova, who is a physicist, argued in court that social anxiety prevented her from visiting the lab, and that she worked on the project from home. The couple’s attorneys also said that NASA ultimately got the prototype single-photon detector it had paid them to develop, The Morning Callreported. But a jury convicted Ding and Zotova on six of 10 fraud counts, based on the belief that they missed opportunities to inform NASA of Zotova’s changing role in the project, according to the Call. They each face up to 20 years in prison.
ProQuest (an online repository of “information content and technologies”) decided several weeks ago to cancel its group subscription to Early English Books Online for members of the Renaissance Society of America. This decision sparked a huge uproar on Twitter and across social media.
Scholars whose libraries don’t subscribe to this collection of early texts watched helplessly as their research agendas eroded before their eyes. And there were pedagogical implications, too: many academics used the access to these materials to give their undergraduate students the opportunity to do significant research with primary sources.
This furor raises a host of questions about the work of humanities scholars and access to archives and other materials. We know what a scientific lab looks like and requires, but what about the work of historians and literature scholars whose labs are far-flung, overseas, and sometimes even reside in the cloud, in the form of electronic resources?
My colleagues in chemistry and biology can give me the location and physical address of their labs somewhere on our campus. And chances are good that the university has given them funding to help finance that lab. My lab, however, is in Madrid. And London. There I have worked in archives and libraries, reading manuscripts and rare books that I cannot access any other way.
My current research, for example, hinges on a 15th-century manuscript that’s only available for 20 hours a week in the library at the royal palace of San Lorenzo El Escorial, an hour north of Madrid. And sometimes my lab is even in the cloud -- for example, when I rely on electronic resources like collections of digitized books or manuscripts. And certainly I use a host of online collections to aid the research of my undergraduate and graduate students.
All of this, then, should prompt humanities scholars to reimagine humanities research and to frame it within the conceptual model of the sciences, which has greater currency -- and funding -- in the academy.
First, the lab is a physical space, a destination, a place where you go to gather evidence and do research. So when I go to the National Archives in London, I am not simply traveling overseas to look at some things; I am going to my lab. And while I don’t need a lot of materials for that lab (a laptop and a pencil will usually stand me in good stead), I do need an airplane ticket and money for food and lodging. That is my equipment equivalent. And I should be funded accordingly. If my lab is in the cloud and the resources are available electronically, I should also have the financial support to access them.
Second, for academics in all disciplines, the lab is a collaborative space where we engage not just with our scholarship but also with our students. We invite them into our world to help them learn the research methods of our discipline, thereby equipping them with transferrable skills. So if I require access to online resources to make that possible, I should be funded accordingly.
But, some people will be quick to argue, my lab doesn’t make money for the university in the form of external grants -- or if it does, those grants are typically tiny when compared to grants in the sciences. To that, I reply with the following: my lab is remarkably efficient and flexible. The cost of a research trip pales in comparison to the costs incurred in helping a new bench scientist start a lab at a university.
And if you make a small investment in a collection of online primary sources, I can reach a staggering number of students. Because my lab is a flexible, almost virtual space, and students don’t have to occupy the physical space of a science lab, I can expose even more of them to the research opportunities that these electronic repositories create. All 75 students in my Western Civilization survey can begin to learn the transferrable skills of identifying a research question and leveraging the evidence to answer it. All 35 students in my upper-division course for majors can further hone those skills and habits of mind.
So let’s embrace the vocabulary of our scientist colleagues. Let’s talk about our labs and how flexible and efficient they are. I’m no Pollyanna. I don’t think this conceptual shift will result immediately in more funding for the humanities or a greater valuing of humanities research. But I do think we risk the further erosion of the status of our work within the academy unless we come up with new and more resonant ways of talking about it.
And it never hurts to stand up for our labs. The Twitterverse erupted with a quick and pointed campaign when the news of ProQuest’s decision landed. This backlash definitely played a major role in its reinstatement of the group subscription within less than two days after the original announcement. Pretty successful defense of humanities labs, I’d say.
Elizabeth A. Lehfeldt is dean of the Jack, Joseph & Morton Mandel Honors College and Mandel Professor in Humanities at Cleveland State University. She blogs at Tales Told Out of School.