faculty

Why one adjunct gave up on college teaching and created his own business

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One longtime philosophy adjunct comes to terms with academic job market -- on his own terms.

Yale Professors Move to Create Faculty Senate

The Yale University Faculty of Arts and Sciences has voted to form a faculty senate. The faculty was one of the last of its kind in the Ivy League not to have a senate or similarly formal representative body. Tensions between the faculty and administrators highlighted that fact in 2012, as some professors questioned the university’s partnership with the National University of Singapore to create a new college.

The vote was initiated by the Faculty Input Committee, an ad-hoc group of professors that investigated shared governance on campus, starting last year. Steve Wilkinson, a professor of political science who chaired the committee, said via email: “Our committee looked at a number of peer institutions and we realized that we’re an outlier. Most other universities, as their faculties have grown significantly in size, have moved from the traditional town meeting model to an elected representative body which reflects the broader faculty’s interests and concerns.”

Wilkinson said his own opinion was that a faculty senate was a good idea, regardless of the Singapore debate. “Universities are grappling with lots of big issues where faculty input is needed -- budget issues, MOOCs, internationalization, to name just a few – and faculty also have a role to play in providing advice on a whole host of other more routine issues that affect the [Faculty of Arts and Sciences],” he said.

A Yale spokesman said the President Peter Salovey will appoint a faculty committee early this semester to design the structure, staffing and rules of the new senate. The committee will report back to the full Faculty of Arts and Sciences by December for a vote on the plan.

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Report Documents Ties Between Libraries, University Presses

Ties between libraries and their institutions' university presses are growing, according to a survey released Tuesday by the Association of American University Presses. A report issued with the survey results praises this collaboration, but urges both parties to work to avoid duplication of services and to coordinate their activities.

 

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Review of Peter Charles Hoffer, 'Clio Among the Muses: Essays on History and the Humanities'

Intellectual Affairs

The nine muses are a motley bunch. We’ve boiled them down into a generic symbol for inspiration: a toga-clad young woman, possibly plucking a string instrument. But in mythology they oversaw an odd combination of arts and sciences. They were sisters, which allegorically implies a kinship among their fields of expertise. If so, the connections are hard to see.

Six of them divvied up the classical literary, dramatic, and musical genres – working multimedia in the cases of Erato (inventor of the lyre and of love poetry) and Euterpe (who played the flute and inspired elegaic songs and poems). The other three muses handled choreography, astronomy, and history. That leaves and awful lot of creative and intellectual endeavor completely unsupervised. Then again it’s possible that Calliope has become a sort of roaming interdisciplinary adjunct muse, since there are so few epic poets around for her to inspire these days.

An updated pantheon is certainly implied by Peter Charles Hoffer’s Clio Among the Muses: Essays on History and the Humanities (New York University Press). Clio, the demi-goddess in charge of history, is traditionally depicted with a scroll or a book. But as portrayed by Hoffer -- a professor of history at the University of Georgia – she is in regular communication with her peers in philosophy, law, the social sciences, and policy studies. I picture her juggling tablet, laptop and cellphone, in the contemporary manner.

Ten years ago Hoffer published Past Imperfect, a volume assessing professional misconduct by American historians. The book was all too timely, appearing as it did in the wake of some highly publicized cases of plagiarism and fraud. But Hoffer went beyond expose and denunciation. He discussed the biases and sometimes shady practices of several well-respected American historians over the previous 200 years. By putting the recent cases of malfeasance into a broader context, Hoffer was not excusing them; on the contrary, he was clearly frustrated with colleagues who minimized the importance of dealing with the case of someone like Michael Bellesiles, a historian who fabricated evidence. But he also recognized that history itself, as a discipline, had a history. Even work that seemed perfectly sound might be shot through with problems only visible with the passing of time.

While by no means a sequel, Clio Among the Muses continues the earlier book’s effort to explain that revisionism is not a challenge to historical knowledge, but rather intrinsic to the whole effort to establish that knowledge in the first place. “If historians are fallible,” Hoffer writes, “there is no dogma in history itself, no hidden agenda, no sacred forms – not any that really matter – that are proof against revision… Worthwhile historical scholarship is based on a gentle gradualism, a piling up of factual knowledge, a sifting and reframing of analytical models, an ongoing collective enterprise that unites generation after generation of scholars to their readers and listeners.”

Hoffer’s strategy is to improve the public’s appreciation of history by introducing it to the elements of historiography. (That being the all-too-technical term for the history of what historians do, in all its methodological knottiness.) One way to do so would be through a comprehensive narrative, such as Harry Elmer Barnes offered in A History of Historical Writing (1937), a work of terrific erudition and no little tedium. Fortunately Hoffer took a different route.

Clio Among the Muses instead sketches the back-and-forth exchanges between history and other institutions and fields of study: religion, philosophy, law, literature, and public policy, among others. Historians explore the topics, and use the tools, created in these other domains. At the same time, historical research can exert pressure on, say, how a religious scripture is interpreted or a law is applied.

Clio’s dealings with her sisters are not always happy. One clear example is a passage Hoffer quotes from Charles Beard, addressing his colleagues at a meeting of the American Historical Association in 1933: “The philosopher, possessing little or no acquaintance with history, sometimes pretends to expound the inner secret of history, but the historian turns upon him and expounds the secret of the philosopher, as far as it may be expounded at all, by placing him in relation to the movement of ideas and interests in which he stands or floats, by giving to his scheme of thought its appropriate relativity.”

Sibling rivalry? The relationships are complicated, anyway, and Hoffer has his hands full trying to portray them. The essays are learned but fairly genial, and somehow not bogged down by the fundamental impossibility of what the author is trying to do. He covers the relationship between history and the social sciences – all of them -- in just under two dozen pages. Like Evel Knievel jumping a canyon, you have to respect the fact that, knowing the odds, he just went ahead with it.

But then, one of Hoffer’s remarks suggests that keeping one’s nerve is what his profession ultimately requires:

“Historical writing is not an exercise in logical argument so much as an exercise in creative imagination. Historians try to do the impossible: retrieve an ever-receding and thus never reachable past. Given that the task is impossible, one cannot be surprised that historians must occasionally use fallacy – hasty generalization, weak analogy, counterfactual hypotheticals, incomplete comparisons, and even jumping around in past time and space to glimpse the otherwise invisible yesteryear.”

And if they did not do so, we’d see very little of it at all.

 

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English professor scans the landscape upon forced retirement (essay)

Earlier this month I stepped into a classroom to begin the last semester of a 24-year teaching career.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not retiring. I am not “burned out.” The truth is rather more banal. Ohio State University will not be renewing my three-year contract when it expires in the spring.

The problem is tenure: with another three-year contract, I become eligible for tenure. In an era of tight budgets, there is neither money nor place for a 61-year-old white male professor who has never really fit in nor tried very hard to. (Leave aside my heterodox conservative politics and hard-to-credit publication record.)

My feelings are like glue that will not set. The pieces fall apart in my hands.

This essay is not a contribution to the "I Quit Academe" genre. (A more accurate title in my case would be "Academe Quits Me.")

Although I have become uncomfortably aware that I am out of step with the purposeful march of the 21st-century university, gladly would I have learned and gladly continued to teach for as long as my students would have had me.

The decision, though, was not my students’ to make. And I’m not at all sure that a majority would have voted to keep me around, even if they had been polled. My salary may not be large (a rounding error above the median income for white families in the U.S.), but the university can offer part-time work to three desperate adjuncts for what it pays me. (In case you're wondering, I had tenure at Texas A&M, where I was for 21 years, but relinquished it to come to Ohio State.)

A lifetime of learning has never been cost-effective, and in today’s university -- at least on the side of campus where the humanities are badly housed — no other criterion is thinkable.

My experience is a prelude to what will be happening, sooner rather than later, to many of my colleagues. Humanities course enrollments are down to 7 percent of full-time student hours, but humanities professors make up 45 percent of the faculty.

The imbalance cannot last. Doctoral  programs go on awarding doctorates to young men and women who will never find an academic job at a living wage. (A nearby university — a university with a solid ranking from U.S. News and World Report — pays adjuncts $1,500 per course. Just to toe the poverty line, a young professor with a husband and a child would have to teach 13 courses a year.)

If only as retribution for the decades-long exploitation of part-time adjuncts and graduate assistants, 9 of every 10 Ph.D. programs in English should be closed down — immediately. Meanwhile, the senior faculty fiddles away its time teaching precious specialties.

Consider some of the undergraduate courses being offered in English this semester at the University of Minnesota:

  • Poems About Cities
  • Studies in Narrative: The End of the World in Literature & History
  • Studies in Film: Seductions: Film/Gender/Desire
  • The Original Walking Dead in Victorian England
  • Contemporary Literatures and Cultures: North American Imperialisms and Colonialisms
  • Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgendered Literature: Family as Origin and Invention
  • Women Writing: Nags, Hags, and Vixens
  • The Image on the Page
  • Bodies, Selves, Texts
  • Consumer Culture and Globalization
  • The Western: Looking Awry
  • Dreams and Middle English Dream Visions

To be fair, there are also four sections of Shakespeare being offered there this semester, although these are outnumbered by five sections of Literature of Public Life (whatever that is). Maybe I’m missing something, but this course list does not make me salivate to enroll at Minnesota the way that Addison Schacht salivates to enroll in classics at the University of Chicago in Sam Munson’s 2010 novel The November Criminals:

I could study the major texts of Latin literature, to say nothing of higher-level philological pursuits, all the time. Do you know how much that excites me? Not having to do classes whose subjects are hugely, impossibly vague — like World History, like English [like Literature of Public Life]. You know, to anchor them? So they don’t dissolve because of their meaningless? I’ve looked through the sample [U of C] catalog. Holy fuck! Satire and the Silver Age. The Roman Novel. Love and Death: Eros and Transformation in Ovid. The Founding of Epic Meter. I salivated when I saw these names, because they indicate this whole world of knowledge from which I am excluded, and which I can win my way into, with luck and endurance.

That’s it exactly. The Minnesota course list does not indicate a whole world of knowledge. It indicates a miscellany of short-lived faculty enthusiasms.

More than two decades ago Alvin Kernan complained that English study “fail[s] to meet the academic requirement that true knowledge define the object it studies and systematize its analytic method to at least some modest degree,” but by then the failure itself was already two decades old. About the only thing English professors have agreed upon since the early ’70s is that they agree on nothing, and besides, agreement is beside the question. Teaching the disagreement: that’s about as close as anyone has come to restoring a sense of order to English.

In 1952, at the height of his fame, F. R. Leavis entitled a collection of essays The Common Pursuit. It was his name for the academic study of literature. No one takes the idea seriously anymore, nor does anyone ask the obvious follow-up. If English literature is not a common pursuit -- not a “great tradition,” to use Leavis’s other famous title -- then what is it doing in the curriculum? What is the rationale for studying it?

My own career (so-called) suggests the answer. Namely: where there is no common body of knowledge, no common disciplinary conceptions, there is nothing that is indispensable. Any claim to expertise is arbitrary and subject to dismissal. After 24 years of patiently acquiring literary knowledge -- plus the five years spent in graduate school at Northwestern, “exult[ing] over triumphs so minor,” as Larry McMurtry says in Moving On, “they would have been unnoticeable in any other context” -- I have been informed that my knowledge is no longer needed.

As Cardinal Newman warned, knowledge really is an end in itself. I fill no gap in the department, because there is no shimmering and comprehensive surface of knowledge in which any gaps might appear. Like everyone else in English, I am an extra, and the offloading of an extra is never reported or experienced as a loss.

I feel the loss, keenly, of my self-image. For 24 years I have been an English professor. Come the spring, what will I be?

My colleagues will barely notice that I am gone, but what they have yet to grasp is that the rest of the university will barely notice when they too are gone, or at least severely reduced in numbers — within the decade, I’d say.

*****

My reply to my critics.

D.G. Myers has taught English for 24 years at Texas A&M and Ohio State Universities. A version of this article previously appeared on his blog, A Commonplace Blog.

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UCLA produces statement designed to protect faculty from inappropriate open records requests

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Following recent open records requests targeting controversial professors at other institutions, UCLA releases statement to protect the privacy of scholarly communications.

Chicago State again seeks changes in highly critical faculty blog

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Two months after Chicago State demanded that faculty bloggers take down a controversial website for violating the institution's trademark rights, administrators are again threatening legal action.

Professor Arrested in Attack on His Fiancée/Student

Robby Burleigh, a professor at Baton Rouge Community College, has been arrested on charges that he attacked his fiancée, who also is one of his students, The Times-Picayune of New Orleans reported. Police records state that the fiancée is pregnant and that a fight started over her desire to keep the baby. Burleigh teaches philosophy of religion, biomedical ethics, introduction to ethics and introduction to logic at the college. He faces charges of domestic abuse battery, false imprisonment and simple criminal damage to property. He told authorities that he did pin down his fiancée, but only to try to "calm her down."

 

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Essay calls for reform of tenure and promotion system

It's time to admit the biases in current promotion systems, and to work to prevent them, writes KerryAnn O’Meara.

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Sociology professor whose course was questioned will return to Boulder

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Patti Adler will stay on at U. of Colorado, but blasts the way the university questioned a class lesson on prostitutes.

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