Faculty members in arts and sciences at Rollins College have voted no confidence in President Lewis Duncan, The Orlando Sentinel reported. Faculty leaders said that Duncan has not worked well with them, or communicated well to the college. In a statement, he said that he disagreed with the criticism, and that he has "honored" the principles of shared governance.
How is it possible for instructors in the liberal arts to teach most of the undergraduate classes in the typical institution and still feel like second-class citizens? Maybe that’s the source of the problem — teaching general education to all those majors in other colleges of a comprehensive university.
Liberal arts are important, particularly because they instill critical thinking across the disciplines. General education — cornerstone courses in English composition, economics, history, modern languages, philosophy, psychology and sociology — is an essential part of the college and university experience.
However, the aim here is not to tout the humanities and social sciences but to approach the issue of second-class citizenry from a curricular standpoint so that institutions realize the cost of general education and the toll it takes on low-paid colleagues, with little demand after graduation for their majors, including ones with advanced degrees.
In a 2007 piece about low salaries for history professors, Stanley Katz, president emeritus of the American Council of Learned Societies questioned whether (a) universities were "systematically discriminating against the humanities in setting compensation" and (b) the humanities were "a throwaway part of the faculty and curriculum, to be less valued than income-producing ideas and behaviors?"
We keep telling young Americans that a bachelor's degree in history is as valuable as, say, a chemical engineering degree — but it's just not true anymore. All degrees are not created equal. And if we — parents, educators, entrepreneurs and nonprofit leaders — maintain this narrow-minded approach, then we are not just failing young indebted Americans and their families. We are harming the long-term vitality of our economy.
Last year the financial news outlet 24/7 Wall St. reported the best and worst college degrees, defining both best and worst by average salaries upon graduation. Predictably, the "best" majors in ascending order were "Physical and Related Sciences," "Computers, Mathematics and Statistics" and "Engineering," with annual salaries ranging from $80-91K. On the bottom in descending order were "Literature and Languages," "Liberal Arts and History," "Psychology" and "Visual and Performing Arts," with salaries from $50-58K.
The duties of liberal arts deans are more complex than those of any other university officer, including the president. They are tasked not only with overseeing a complex unit often the size of a regional university at flagship institutions; they also must rely on a budget model that rewards the number of classes and non-majors that they teach — rather than the popularity of their own majors — so that basic education can be vended to the masses.
At public research universities, this also requires huge graduate programs and ever larger classes. Thus, there is little incentive for liberal arts departments to focus on enrollment, recruitment and retention of their own majors.
Of course decreases in enrollment bring repercussions, as we shall see later.
To fulfill their mission, liberal arts deans have to ensure that their professors do not feel like second-class citizens, especially when it comes to curriculums. After all, faculty members own the curriculums and those in the liberal arts should be free to innovate and experiment with new courses just as their counterparts do in more specialized professional and technical colleges.
Sooner or later, however, the astute dean realizes that you can generally educate other majors only if you restrict curricular growth in the humanities and social sciences because the typical budget model will not allow you to teach non-majors and expand your degree programs.
At that point, most liberal arts deans fathom what they have gotten themselves into as they try to manage departments as diverse as African-American studies, anthropology, communication studies, creative writing, economics, English, French, German, journalism, Latino/a studies, music, Native American studies, philosophy, political science, psychology, religion, sociology, Southeast Asian studies, Spanish, speech, technical writing, theater, and women’s studies. Add to that the advising office, the language lab, the multicultural center, the multimedia center, the writing center, the student newspaper and television station, and the multiple emphases, sequences, options, tracks and degrees associated with each of the above disciplines.
Unluckier deans also oversee colleges of liberal arts and sciences. So now add basic courses for all students in astronomy, biology, chemistry, mathematics and physics, each requiring adjuncts, support staff and assistants in addition to lab space for the entire institution.
The most unlucky liberal arts deans also are asked to house and advise all undecided majors, taking responsibility for what should be a university college. Now add assessment, recruitment and retention to the position responsibility statement.
Just as salaries in the humanities and social sciences lag behind others, liberal arts deans also typically earn less than their counterparts in other colleges. According to the 2012 survey of the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources, the average salary of liberal arts deans at doctoral institutions is $180,000, thousands below that of counterparts in agriculture; business; computer and information sciences; engineering; and veterinary medicine.
Small wonder, then, that liberal arts managers last only about 4-5 years in their positions while university presidents enjoy an average 8.7 years’ tenure, according to a study by the American Council on Education.
An article by Susan Resneck Pierce cites that study, emphasizing the exhaustive list of duties assigned to the dean of liberal arts and sciences at Lewis & Clark College, where she once served as academic vice president. The list required 216 words, condensed here to 52:
Inspiring leadership, progressive management, promotion of excellent teaching and research, development of external partnerships, articulation of institutional goals for growth, side-by-side fund-raising with the president, compelling visions to attract a wide array of donors, astute financial management skills, and leveraging of budgetary systems to enable long-term strategic planning.
Finally, the dean was expected to develop "the financial resources necessary" for the college to support the above aspirations.
Pierce concluded that these and "a myriad of additional reasons" explain why liberal arts managers usually are short-timers.
To teach all those majors in other colleges, armies of graduate teaching assistants are needed. That would be fine, except there are few jobs for many of those students once they earn advanced degrees. If you consider supply and demand, you quickly come to the conclusion that teaching assistants in the humanities and social sciences are needed from a job market perspective only while earning degrees, not afterward.
It gets worse. As professors in the liberal arts create new and narrower courses, programs and degrees, they must rely on adjuncts, those low-paid master teachers who take over classes that graduate students can’t and/or professors won’t do. Adjuncts, the real second-class citizens, have large teaching loads because so many are needed to cover curricular expansion.
All this worked out in the past before business-driven budget models were introduced, based on demand for a major, and before legislatures tightened appropriations. Add a recession to the mix and a mandate or two, as in this report by the National Governors Association’s Center for Best Practices, recommending lawmakers persuade colleges “to move beyond their traditional emphasis on a broad liberal-arts education to thinking more about skills for specific jobs.”
The result? When economic benchmarks are used, the humanities and social sciences are viewed as dispensable.
Often they become targets during reorganization when institutions eliminate departments and degrees because insufficient attention has been given to such considerations as curricular glut and declining levels of enrollment, recruitment, retention and placement rates. Other less controversial strategies can lighten the load of liberal arts management and create an even playing field for the professoriate.
Work with the dean. Faculty can streamline curriculums, ending sequences and eliminating most prerequisites so students advance more quickly in degree programs. Units can require lower and upper core courses on vital topics with all other classes as electives, rotating them every other year rather than offering them every semester. Professors should help with recruitment of students, increasing undergraduate enrollment to ensure that programs are viable. Faculty advising is essential in retention and placement efforts. Departments can require undergraduate plans of study so their students can finish degrees in four or fewer years and then promote graduation rates to build enrollment.
Consolidate departments. If faculty members fail to work with the dean, or if the budgetary situation warrants, it is preferable to consolidate departments and degrees instead of eliminating them. Rather than underwrite numerous academic units, administrations can combine them into schools of humanities and social sciences, thereby honoring tenure of professors. For instance, related academic units — ones that deal with society, say, such as cultural anthropology, political science and sociology — would combine within a collective structure requiring fewer chairs and support staff. Curricular streamlining is essential now, with cornerstone courses across disciplines and specializations in each major. Similar consolidation can be done with all or some of such humanities as history, English, modern languages, philosophy and religion.
Recreate university college. If your institution lacks a university college, create one for undeclared majors and locate support centers and laboratories there, along with reassigning to the new dean all responsibility for general education. If your institution has a university college, recreate it to handle general education and remove those responsibilities from colleges of liberal arts and sciences. Pay adjuncts well to teach those courses in the excellent tradition of letters. This will go a long way toward eliminating or reducing need for large graduate programs for which there is little demand after graduation. Over time, without graduate assistants, curricular offerings will decrease because someone has to teach all those courses. Faculty numbers and support staff can be adjusted to meet actual interest in the major, with increased research and grant expectations for continuing professors.
Reassign responsibility. Faculty senates can identify general education themes in the arts, communication, ethics, language, natural sciences, and society and then require deans of other colleges to provide them within their own existing curriculums. For instance, a philosophy requirement can be tailored for each college, from "Ethics and Engineering" to "Veterinary Medical Ethics.” Composition classes can focus on topics associated with each college, too, such as issues in agronomy, education, business and so forth. Granted, faculty senates would have to guard against program duplication, restricting these thematic areas only to general education, but deans of other colleges would relieve some of the burden from the liberal arts, again providing that even playing field so that graduate programs meet demand and all professors have similar teaching loads and research expectations.
The root of second-class citizenry is easy to discern. Liberal arts colleges are expected to provide two things while other colleges are not: their own pedagogies plus general education. There may be other venues to resolve this dilemma, but denigrating the liberal arts and their essential basic courses is not one of them. Rather, we should seek curricular and organizational alternatives to revitalize higher education, reducing budgets and with it, student debt, instilling new respect for the rigors, cost and value of general education and recruiting a new class of scholars with research and grant expectations as well as instructional ones.
Michael Bugeja is chair of the Contemporary Leadership Committee of the Association of Schools of Journalism and Mass Communication.
A student at Florida Atlantic University says that he was suspended from a course for refusing to engage in an activity he said was insulting to his faith. While the university has announced that the activity won't be repeated, it is contesting many details of the student's story.
The student says that as part of a class in intercultural communications, students were told to write the word Jesus on a piece of paper, fold it, and then to stamp on it, CBS4 News reported. The student, who is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said that when he refused, saying the exercise was insulting to his faith, he was suspended. The story was quickly picked up by conservative news and websites, with headlines such as "Professor Makes Students 'Stomp on Jesus.'"
The university released a statement in which it said that it could not comment on experiences of any one student, citing privacy laws. The university said that "no students were forced to take part in the exercise; the instructor told all of the students in the class that they could choose whether or not to participate." Further the university said that "no student has been expelled, suspended or disciplined by the university as a result of any activity that took place during this class."
Nonetheless, the university statement added: "This exercise will not be used again. The university holds dear its core values. We sincerely apologize for any offense this caused. Florida Atlantic University respects all religions and welcomes people of all faiths, backgrounds and beliefs."
I dreaded meeting with Virginia Tech student Seung-Hui Cho in fall 2005. Though he had not made overt threats, his manner and affect seemed to be at odds with his whispered claim that he was being satirical when he wrote an accusatory poem about his classmates. But I was serving as chair of the English department at the time so it was my responsibility to deal with troubled students.
Eighteen months later, when Cho stormed the campus, killing 32 students and faculty, I realized how great the risk had been. And now, after Sandy Hook, Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association and others are suggesting that our response to threats like these should be to arm teachers. Some teachers agree and are arming themselves for school. Legislators in some states are trying to make it possible for faculty members at public colleges and universities to arm themselves on campus.
Teachers in Harrold, Texas, for example, have been permitted to carry weapons since 2008; and the March 2012 State Supreme Court ruling in Colorado means that those with a concealed carry license have the right to bear arms on the University of Colorado campus, though the university instituted new rules banning guns in dorms. Other states have similar provisions. Given the latest tragedy in Connecticut, this issue will be an even more contentious one in the future.
Although I support an increase in the number of resource officers on our campuses (i.e., trained members of law enforcement), particularly as we already have uniformed officers in about a third of our schools, and campus police and threat assessment teams working effectively with educators in many of our colleges, arming teachers in schools or colleges is a bad idea.
This conclusion is not based on a naïve romanticization of American education or an underestimation of the threat. I knew Cho could carry whatever he wanted in the backpack he planted emphatically at his feet when he sat down in my office. I knew his silence could be the silence of excruciating shyness or the kind designed to be menacing. There were times when his anger seemed palpable; his agony vengeful; his misogyny apparent.
At what point, however, does a professor draw a weapon? In her office? In a packed classroom? When the student-suspect reaches down to get something from his backpack? At what point does a perceived threat become an actual one? How many mistakes are we liable to make, and at what cost? How often will we be tempted to demonize difference because it scares us?
Were Cho to have stormed into my office, guns blazing, wearing his customary blank expression, his sunglasses and baseball cap obscuring his face, what good would a gun have done unless I already had it at the ready? If he had been armed with a 9mm Glock — one of the weapons he used 18 months later in his attack on a dorm room and classrooms at Virginia Tech — would I have needed a semiautomatic as powerful as his to have had a chance of defending myself and my staff? If he’d had about 300 bullets, as he’d had when he launched his attack on the campus, would I have needed a similar cache in my office drawer?
Should teachers’ guns remain loaded in their desks at all times, or should they be carried in handbags or holsters? Many of these weapons are heavy and difficult to conceal. How would teachers disguise the fact that they are packing heat from their students? How often would a nervous teacher misinterpret someone’s gesture and discover, too late, that it isn’t a gun he’s pulling out from his backpack after all? It’s the novel he’s written and wants her to read.
Many things are not made manifest to us before guns are drawn, even though we may suspect something is deeply amiss. In 2005, two years before his rampage, Seung-Hui Cho was still a student, not a student-shooter. He was still willing to seek help, still hoping to become a novelist. He was angered when I repeatedly urged him to go to counseling, but he also realized he needed to go. He sought out help, as he’d told me he would. Tragically, he was not able to get the counseling and medication he needed, even though he was later ordered by a judge to receive outpatient treatment.
Shootings like the ones at Columbine, Virginia Tech, and Sandy Hook Elementary — reside at the intersection of many thorny, often competing issues including gun violence, accessibility to long-term mental health treatment, privacy laws, and an individual’s civil rights. And though common sense tells us we need more security in our schools, we can’t blast our way to a solution.
College professors and K-12 teachers are not law enforcement officers. It’s our responsibility to notice students who are seriously troubled and bring them to the attention of professionals trained to respond in crisis situations, which is why I reported Seung Hui-Cho to various units on campus. In cases where there is no record of violence, however, even the most experienced teachers, counselors, and law enforcement personnel cannot easily predict whether or not a threat is imminent. But we can detect extreme anguish, consuming loneliness, and unbridled anger in young people and try to intervene before these become toxic.
The opportunity for meaningful intervention on the part of educators is in the years, months, and days before the gun is drawn. And though some of us will try and fail, the period leading up to a tragedy like this is still the time when peaceful intervention is most likely to succeed.
A lone teacher should never be asked by the NRA or anyone else to use a lethal weapon to save her students. The chance of failure is far too high, the cost far too great. Teachers and students must be empowered by society to learn together in peace. We have a right to expect this, and a duty, as educators, to demand it,
Colleges and universities could educate more students or cut costs considerably if they asked professors to teach more courses, says a report issued Wednesday by Education Sector and the American Council of Trustees and Alumni. The report uses information from Education Department surveys on the teaching loads of tenured and tenure-track faculty members to argue that there has been a serious erosion in the average number of courses taught by faculty members. "From 1987-1988 to 2003-2004, the average number of courses tenured and tenure-track faculty taught per term ... declined 25 percent. It is hard to overstate how dramatic this decline has been. For example, liberal arts colleges tend to specialize in teaching, and yet professors at liberal arts colleges taught less in 2003-2004 than professors at research universities did in 1987-1988," the report says. "All of this matters because low teaching loads are extremely costly. At four-year universities, the decline in teaching loads has increased costs by $2,598 per student."
The report notes limitations on the data, particularly that this particular survey has not been conducted since 2003-4.
Faculty leaders questioned the findings and methodology. Rudy Fichtenbaum, president of the American Association of University Professors, noted that the report starts by stating that faculty salaries often make up a majority of college budgets. He noted Education Department data showing that faculty salaries make up less than 30 percent of costs at community colleges, and less than 20 percent at four-year colleges. Fichtenbaum said that the calculations of student savings were thus based on a false assumption about the role of faculty salaries in college budgets. Further, he noted that the salaries of full-time faculty members have been declining as a share of all instructional expenses.
Craig Smith of the American Federation of Teachers said via e-mail that the report "uses outdated data and a simplistic argument to blame faculty for the rising cost of college." Smith noted that colleges have shifted more and more instruction to non-tenure-track faculty members, who tend to be paid only for teaching and on a course-by-course basis. "This report appears to willfully ignore the increasing reliance on underpaid and under-supported contingent faculty and the resulting increased demands on the shrinking number of tenure-track faculty to handle responsibilities outside of the classroom," he said.
A prominent professor at Columbia University's journalism school has sued the institution, charging it with misusing an endowment fund, The New York Times reported. Sylvia Nasar, co-director of the business journalism program and author of A Beautiful Mind, charges that Columbia was supposed to match a $1.5 million gift for an endowed chair Nasar holds, so that Nasar or others holding the chair would have funds both for salary and research. Instead, the suit charges, Columbia didn't match the funds and Nasar had to pay for many of her research expenses. Columbia has declined to comment on the suit, saying it does not discuss litigation.
In 2010, the Swedish Academy awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo, who is serving a 30-year term in an undisclosed prison near Beijing. Last year, the Swedish Academy selected for the literature prize Mo Yan, a pen name that means being silent. The latest joke in China sums up the two divergent fortunes of the country's only laureates: one is called silence; the other is silenced.
If the earlier prize had angered the Chinese government, the most recent one puzzled Chinese literary critics. "Why Mo Yan?" everyone asked during my recent three-week lecture tour in China. Someone suggested that I was partially to blame because I had included the author in the most recent edition of the Norton Anthology of World Literature. In truth, Mo Yan had gotten his lucky break much earlier when his early novel Red Sorghum was turned into a hugely successful movie, and a second lucky break in an excellent Swedish translator.
This answer didn't quite satisfy my audiences, who found this writer, who tends to revel in seemingly archaic rural worlds, out of touch with their own urban experience. The only person in China who is happy about both Nobel Prizes is Tong Quingbing, a professor of literary theory at Beijing Normal University, who taught both Liu Xiaobo and Mo Yan there and who is known to boast about his two famous students.
The Chinese Government and many Chinese don't count Nobel Prizes for Chinese living abroad, often because they and their works are banned. And yet the literary production of the Chinese diaspora, especially in the United States, is too significant to be ignored, and Chinese scholars are now paying attention to writers like Ha Jin. Even though he is barred from returning to China, Ha Jin can now see some of his novels, for example his most recent Nanjing Requiem, favorably reviewed in China.
During my lecture tour, the topic of greatest interest was capitalism. How did American writers respond to the convulsive forces of industrialization and capitalism in the 19th and 20th centuries, my Chinese hosts and students wanted to know? I offered as resonant examples writers like Frank Norris, whose Trilogy of the Wheat described the power unleashed by the Chicago Stock Exchange and Eugene O'Neill's Hairy Ape, which identifies with the awe-inspiring energy of a steamboat. I described this literature as "capitalist sublime" because writers like Norris and O'Neill approached the overwhelming power of capitalism in ways similar to how 18th century philosophers described unimaginably large numbers and overpowering storms.
When I traveled through China on the sleek bullet train at 200 miles per hour past a landscape of power plants, factories, and gigantic developments, I understood why Norris and O'Neill resonated. Chinese newspapers revel in records, the speed with which the latest battery of high-rises has been built, the latest increase in production. Everywhere, superlatives abound. At the same time, the human and environmental costs are becoming more difficult to ignore. Writers like Frank Norris or Eugene O'Neill didn't have any illusions about the destructive powers of capitalism, either; the sublime was a way of understanding that as well.
I was struck that my Chinese audiences had a rich experience of the capitalist sublime, but they were less familiar with the most hard-nosed defenders of capitalism like Joseph Schumpeter, whose term "creative destruction" fits the current Chinese experience better than any. Ayn Rand was completely unknown as well, though my description of her novels and theories resonated with the harsh face of capitalism in China. Rand's glorification of egotism, by contrast, led only to gasps of astonishment.
The biggest problem for urban Chinese right now, and the subject of the latest set of superlatives, is the explosion of housing prices. Everyone talked about it, on trains, over dinner, after lectures. Those who are priced out are kicking themselves for having waited too long while others rattle off the latest increase in home values (10 million rmb, one teacher told me, about 1.6 million dollars, for a modest Beijing apartment). Students complain that they will have to find work at home because they will be forced to move back with their parents. Those who buy rely on family networks to raise the funds for the down payment. Small wonder that a play like David Mamet's Glengary Glen Ross, the best American work on real estate, is of interest here.
The future of Chinese letters and its relation to world literature is closely bound up with the country's experiment in marrying its one-party system to market capitalism, what the Chinese now refer to, with a chuckle, as "capitalism with Chinese characteristics" (a modification of the official "socialism with Chinese characteristics"). Who will describe its new heroes and new victims? How will writers — and other artists — capture the powers, the superlatives, the destructions, creative and otherwise, of this new brand of capitalism?
The next Chinese Nobel Prize in Literature will probably not be a writer of rural life, like Mo Yan, but a Chinese David Mamet aiming at the world's largest housing bubble. Or, if we are unlucky, an Ayn Rand with Chinese characteristics.