Full-time, non-tenure-track professors at Rutgers University are celebrating after winning key bargaining goals in their new contract. Career titles outlining paths for promotion have been established for teaching, professional practice and librarian faculty members, similar to those already in place for clinical and research non-tenure-track faculty members. Explicitly non-renewable contracts have been abolished, as has the title of “assistant instructor.” For non-grant-funded faculty members, appointments will be for one to five years, and advance notice of non-reappointment is now required.
Current assistant instructors also will be absorbed into the rank of instructor as of July and those assistant instructors making the minimum salary for their rank, about $34,000, will be paid the minimum salary for instructors – about $39,000. (No other raises for non-tenure-track faculty are included in the agreement). The union, which is affiliated with the American Association of University Professors and American Federation of Teachers, covers all tenure-line and about 1,000 full-time adjunct faculty at all three Rutgers campuses.
Ann Gordon, a recently retired, longtime, non-tenure-track research professor of history at Rutgers’s main campus at New Brunswick, said that the university previously had no strategy for managing the career paths of non-tenure-track faculty, but that the new agreement – reached after many months of negotiations -- puts it ahead of many peer universities on that issue. In a statement, a Rutgers spokesman said the contract recognizes the “important role” of non-tenure-track faculty there. Some 1,300 part-time adjuncts at Rutgers are unionized with the AAUP and AFT, but in a separate unit. The contract does not affect them.
Ray Cool, an assistant professor of health, physical education and recreation at Western Michigan University, will be reimbursed after his paycheck was stolen by hackers, he said Monday. The news came a day after MLive reported that the university had not reimbursed Cool for the paycheck, which was stolen in mid-December. A hacker using a computer in New Mexico accessed Cool's university account and changed the routing number for his direct deposit from a local credit union account to one in Utah. By the time university public safety detectives traced the hack, all that was left in the Utah account was $11 -- some $1,500 short of his paycheck (the amount does not reflect his actual salary; Cool has several automatic deductions, such as to a retirement account, that were apparently unaffected by the theft).
In response, the university offered Cool an advance on his next paycheck but did not reimburse him for the missing check. Cool said he was frustrated by the university's stance, as it was their system that had been breached. But on Monday, the university informed him via email that he would be "made whole" financially, he said. Going forward, Cool said, "They need to make sure the system protects faculty and staff."
Cheryl Roland, a university spokeswoman, said in an email that she did not know how the hack occurred, but suspected it was the result of an organized phishing attempt. The university's backup verification system picked up on the problem and sent emails to both Cool and a second victim, a university staff member who also has been reimbursed, telling them their bank routing numbers had been changed, she said. But neither Cool nor the second employee opened the message until after the funds had been diverted, a week later. The university has indefinitely suspended online changes to direct deposit information, Roland added.
In today’s Academic Minute, Adam Gordon of the State University of New York at Albany discusses a common behavioral pattern found in living things from honey bees to humans. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.
The president of Elizabeth City State University is planning an additional 65 layoffs, up to 30 of which would come from faculty positions, to deal with financial shortfalls, the Associated Press reported. The positions of four deans would also be eliminated. The actions would follow 46 layoffs last fall.
Students and others at Memorial University, in Canada, are angry over one question on an assignment for computer science students, CBC News reported. They were asked to determine whether a rape victim, especially after being mocked online, would be likely to kill herself. Critics say that there was no need to use such an example for the computer science course. The professor did not respond to the network or Inside Higher Ed.
Evanston, Ill., home of Northwestern University, regularly sees town-gown skirmishes over new construction. Now an off-campus, non-university project that might serve those visiting Northwestern has some local residents concerned. Evanston Now reported that the Southeast Evanston Association has sent an email alert to members urging them to scrutinize plans for an extended stay hotel to be sure that it affiliated with "a hotel brand that will maintain a high quality of business, and not devolve into cheap housing for transient academics."
Inside Higher Ed emailed the association to seek more information on the dangers of transient academics, but has not heard back.
A Duke professor recently used the magic word in an op-ed article she published, resulting in an invitation to visit a U.S. Senate office to discuss legislation affecting millions of children.
The magic word was "I." It's a word academics should include more often when writing op-ed articles for audiences beyond their campuses.
The professor wrote about her research showing orphanages in developing countries to be better than many Americans believe. She argued that well-intentioned legislation now before Congress would close too many orphanages and harm children unlikely to be adopted by nurturing families. The senator, one of the legislation's sponsors, was among those who saw the article.
That's impressive impact for a 750-word op-ed article, which requires far less time to write than a scholarly journal article or book. A well-written op-ed can change minds, sway hearts and affect policy. It can advance the author's career and the university's reputation. It also can serve the public interest, bringing faculty expertise to debates about everything from national security to the arts.
For faculty to play this role, however, they need to become more willing to use the word "I."
In the case of the orphanage op-ed, which our office edited and placed in several papers around the country, the author had the advantage of making an interesting point about a timely issue affecting children. What made her article compelling, however, was how she opened with a story about a Cambodian teenager who was forced to leave an orphanage and ended up becoming a "karaoke girl" who has sex with customers. The author wrote that this teenager illustrates the problem she has seen in several countries.
She maintained her first-person voice through her final paragraph, where she expressed satisfaction that Congress is addressing this issue and hopes the bill will be modified to continue supporting orphanages. To describe what she did in movie terms: She started with a "tight shot," pulled the camera back to show the "long shot" and used a character throughout to propel the narrative.
This approach is dramatically different than in most journal articles. There the author typically reveals the conclusion only at the end, festooned with caveats, after requiring the reader to wade through pages of experimental protocols or dense analysis. That approach simply doesn't work with a newspaper reader who is sitting half-awake at the breakfast table, flipping through the editorial pages en route to the local news and sports scores.
Academic articles also eschew the use of "I" or "me." Their authors learn in graduate school to rely on the power of their data and the brilliance of their arguments. Pundits should dazzle with their intellect, they're told, not with anecdotes or emotion. As scientists and others like to point out, the plural of anecdotes is not data.
That's true, of course, but also self-defeating when it comes to placing an article with the editors of op-ed pages, where competition can be intense. This reluctance of academics to come down from Mt. Olympus and share their stories is one of the biggest reasons why so many of them are disappointed when editors reject their articles. It's certainly possible to address an issue effectively with a third-person "voice of the expert," but academics should not consider this their only option.
My colleague Keith Lawrence and I have helped Duke faculty members and students place dozens of op-ed articles every year, something I also did while running an op-ed service for a decade at the National Academy of Sciences. We've learned that, all things being equal, articles fare better when authors share their own experience along with their professional analysis. If you are a physician-scientist who is concerned about national health policy, this means telling us what happened yesterday to Mrs. Jones, the woman who said she can't afford the medication you prescribed. If you are concerned about fracking, describe the homeowners who told you their water tastes strange.
You shouldn't violate anyone's confidentiality and you don't want to sound like a reality TV star. When you share your own humanity, however, your words ring truer. Readers care more about what you are saying. This is why presidents of the United States, regardless of party, place "real Americans" next to the First Lady when they deliver their State of the Union speeches. They know viewers will pay more attention to Lieutenant Smith, the brave soldier who just returned from Afghanistan, than to an abstract discussion about military policy.
Why do we have the Ryan White CARE Act and other laws named for individuals? Why do politicians on the campaign trail inevitably tell us about the family they met yesterday? For better or worse, human beings make sense of the world through examples. Academics who recognize this are not trivializing themselves or disavowing the intellectual rigor of their research. Rather, they are embracing reality and engaging readers effectively.
Americans who read op-ed pages are not stupid. They are more educated and engaged than the public as a whole. Many have expertise of their own. But they're also busy and, like all people, are wondering how an issue affects them personally. As they gulp a cup of coffee and race through the morning paper before heading to work, they want to hear real stories and voices.
They also want to feel a connection with the author. If you are a professor at Penn hoping to place an op-ed with The Philadelphia Inquirer, for instance, look for a way to mention something that makes clear you're a neighbor.
Many academics approach op-eds as an exercise in solemnity. Frankly, they'd improve their chances if they'd lighten up. Newspaper editors despair of weighty articles -- known in the trade as "thumb suckers" -- and delight in an academic writer who chooses examples from popular culture as well as from Eminent Authorities.
Most of all they want to see the magic word "I." More academics should use it.
David Jarmul is the associate vice president for news and communications at Duke University.