Boston University journalism professor abandons class mid-semester

Isabel Wilkerson, prizewinning author, decided she didn't have time for her course at Boston U., so she left. The dean is sympathetic, but students aren't.

Former Penn State Prof Charged With $3M Fraud

Federal authorities have charged Craig Grimes, a former professor at Pennsylvania State University, with fraud, making false statements and money laundering associated with $3 million in federal grants, the Associated Press reported. The charges relate to grants from the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Energy. Grimes did not respond to requests for comment.



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Controversy Over Journal Article Questioning AIDS-HIV Link

One editorial board member has resigned and another may follow, after the publication in the Italian Journal of Anatomy and Embryology questioning the link between HIV and AIDS, Nature reported. The paper's lead author is Peter Duesberg of the University of California at Berkeley, who has for years questioned that link -- much to the consternation of most AIDS scientists who believe it has been well established.

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NJIT Faculty Council upset with presidential search process

Professors at New Jersey Institute of Technology say speed doesn't justify ignoring the faculty role in selecting a president.

Essay on the summit of adjunct leaders

The New Faculty Majority (NFM) summit, "Reclaiming Academic Democracy: Facing the Consequences of Contingent Employment in Higher Education," held on Saturday, 28 January, at the Grand Hyatt in Washington, DC, was full of bitter ironies. The gathering was convened in conjunction with the annual meeting of the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U). But when Carol Geary Schneider, president of the AAC&U, asked in the opening plenary session who had availed themselves of the "crosswalk" she had established between the AAC&U and the NFM, it became distressingly clear that for most AAC&U members "in conjunction with" apparently meant little more than "in the same hotel as." At one end of the long hallway, NFM members talked about the challenges of keeping body and soul intact while teaching 4-4 jobs to which they had been required to reapply every year for 20 years; at the other end, university administrators browsed a book exhibit whose keywords seemed to be finance, management, outcomes, and assessment. At one point in the NFM proceedings, a faculty member from Oakland Community College held up a handbook for deans she'd purchased at the other end of the hallway and noted that adjunct faculty merited only one mention, under the heading "budgets."

Adjunct, contingent faculty members now make up over 1 million of the 1.5 million people teaching in American colleges and universities. Many of them are working at or under the poverty line, without health insurance; they have no academic freedom worthy of the name, because they can be fired at will; and, when fired, many remain ineligible for unemployment benefits, because institutions routinely invoke the "reasonable assurance of continued employment" clause in federal unemployment law even for faculty members on yearly contracts who have no reasonable assurance of anything. What would it take to put these faculty members on the national radar? What would it take to make their working conditions a major issue for the higher education establishment — not only AAC&U but also, and most important, accrediting agencies? Would a national summit in Washington do the trick, perhaps?

I used to say that you could tell the difference between people inside and outside higher education by asking them if they knew what a provost was. Now I think a better metric might be to ask them if they know what adjunct or contingent means. A few weeks ago, Vice President Joe Biden startled professors everywhere by remarking that tuition increases are attributable in part to the fact that faculty salaries have "escalated significantly"; one would have hoped that Biden, whose wife, Jill, has taught for many years as an adjunct professor in community colleges, would have known better. But that strange, unfounded belief is only a symptom of a much larger phenomenon. The NFM summit was convened, according to NFM President Maria Maisto, in response to the White House Summit on Community Colleges in October 2010, which included no adjunct faculty members as participants. And today, even the NFM’s friends in Washington (few and far between, to be sure) haven’t gotten the message quite right: in a videotaped greeting to the attendees, Representative John Tierney (D-MA) spoke warmly of adjunct faculty members and the importance of the summit, noting that 40 years ago, 80 percent of America’s college teachers enjoyed the protection of tenure, whereas now only 54 percent do.

At Tierney’s misstep, the entire NFM summit sighed as one. Taking the podium a few minutes later, Gary Rhoades, of the Center for the Study of Higher Education at the University of Arizona, remarked ruefully, "even Representative Tierney got it wrong: the number of tenured faculty is under 30 percent. That's why you're the new faculty majority."

Rhoades proceeded to mark another bitter irony, one that goes to the heart of the enterprise: colleges promote themselves, especially to first-generation students, as a pathway to the middle class — but, increasingly, colleges do not pay middle-class wages to their own faculty members. The contradiction is deepest at the lowest tiers of the academic hierarchy, where, Rhoades said, underpaid adjunct faculty members are effectively "modeling what is acceptable as an employment practice." It is no wonder that adjunct faculty members are so politically invisible: apparently no one wants to say to high school graduates, "Go to college, work hard, and someday you can get a job teaching college — at a salary of $20,000." It casts a pall over the American dream.

In response to Rhoades and Schneider, a woman from the University of Cincinnati, one of the few administrators in attendance, replied that the summit needed to address the “850-pound gorilla in the room,” namely, the overproduction of Ph.D.s. To scattered applause, she insisted that she would not be able to hire English professors at adjunct wages if there weren’t so many English Ph.D.s glutting the market. I was sitting at a table with David Laurence, the director of research for the Modern Language Association, and I glanced over at him, since we had been discussing this topic at breakfast. The session ended before Laurence could respond, but he asked to open the following session with some useful data. To wit: according to the 2004 National Study of Postsecondary Faculty, 65.2 percent of non-tenure-track faculty members hold the M.A. as their highest degree — 57.3 percent in four-year institutions, 76.2 percent in two-year institutions. There are many factors affecting the working conditions of adjuncts, but the production of Ph.D.s isn’t one of the major ones.

These numbers have implications that go far beyond the usual debates about the size of doctoral programs, because they illustrate how inadequate it is to say simply that all non-tenure-track faculty lines should be converted to the tenure track. Precisely because adjuncts are so invisible, it is not widely understood that many of them have held their jobs — at one institution or at many, on a year-by-year basis or on multiyear contracts — for 10, 15 or 20 years and more. I keep running into people who speak of adjuncts as bright, energetic 30-year-olds who enliven their departments and disciplines, working in the trenches for a few years before getting their first tenure-track job. There is no shortage of bright and energetic adjuncts, but not all of them are 30 years old; the average age at the NFM summit seemed to be considerably higher, and the NFM statement "Forging a New Way Forward" closes with a proposal acknowledging that many adjunct faculty members cannot be "converted": 

Reform efforts that involve restructuring should prioritize upgrades for people rather than conversions of positions, in order to respect the value of the ongoing service that existing employees provide. All reform or restructuring efforts should build in some form of protection for currently serving faculty in order to prevent further harm to these faculty who have served in contingent appointments, without proper support or compensation, for so long.

During one of the breaks, I spoke to a participant who worried, understandably, that the summit was preaching to the choir. "To some extent, I suppose," I said, "but then again, the choir needs to find out who’s in the choir, and it needs to figure out what it wants to sing." It is no small thing for adjuncts to gather in Washington and try to lobby, precisely because their job security is so precarious: as one adjunct from Cape Cod Community College put it, a better designation than adjunct or contingent might be the term a Spanish-speaking colleague offered her — los precarios.

I attended the summit to listen rather than speak, and listen I did, as my colleagues off the tenure track discussed ways of addressing students, administrators, legislators, unions, parents, and the general voting and taxpaying public. Laurence and I distributed (with permission from the NFM) the MLA’s 2011 document Professional Employment Practices for Non-Tenure-Track Faculty Members: Recommendations and Evaluative Questions, and Donald Rogers of Central Connecticut State University gave me a copy of  Standards for Part-Time, Adjunct, and Contingent Faculty, from the Organization of American Historians. I talked to dozens of faculty members from institutions around the country and made a note to buy Adrianna Kezar’s Embracing Non-Tenure Track Faculty: Changing Campuses for the New Faculty Majority and Joe Berry’s Reclaiming the Ivory Tower: Organizing Adjuncts to Change Higher Education. And after listening for six or seven hours, I did have two suggestions to offer my breakout group in the afternoon.

First, it is going to be very hard to tell people that many college faculty members are exploitatively underpaid. It's going to be a particularly tough sell in communities already devastated by prolonged economic hardship. But it might be possible to play on the still-widespread belief that college professors are professionals and that parents who are sending their children to college should have some expectation that professors have the professional resources — offices, phones, mailboxes, e-mail and library access, meaningful performance reviews, participation in department governance — that make it possible for them to do their jobs. Let's say you need an attorney, I suggested, and you go to a firm that fobs you off on an associate who has to consult with you in a hallway because he doesn’t have an office. Who would stand for that? Is it O.K. that your kid is going to a college that treats its faculty that way?

Second, it is going to be even harder to tell people that non-tenure-track faculty members need a measure of job security and academic freedom if they are going to be able to do their jobs. It amounts, I suggested, to telling parents, students, administrators, and legislators that they have to fight for the right of professors to challenge their students intellectually, free from the fear that they will be fired the moment they say something unfamiliar or upsetting about sexuality or evolution or American history or the Middle East. This argument will resonate with people who understand what higher education is all about. They are a subset of the American electorate, but they know why academic freedom is essential to an open society, and they believe in the promise of higher education. The question is whether they can be persuaded that the promise of higher education is undermined when three-quarters of the professoriate is made up of los precarios.

Michael Bérubé is president of the Modern Language Association and the Paterno Family Professor in Literature at Pennsylvania State University. A longer version of this essay is available here.

Colleges embrace social justice curriculum

As liberal arts colleges reconnect with their activist roots, new programs take hold.


Esssay reflecting on a professor's classroom experience, as student and faculty member

When I first began teaching — as a master’s student, with one section of English composition capped at around 20 students — I was as optimistic and idealistic as you’d probably expect. I was going into the noblest profession, and I was going to make a difference in the lives of young people who might not otherwise learn to appreciate literature or express themselves through writing. Although I was nervous on that first day of classes — sweating in my suit and tie on an unseasonably hot late August day — I was excited nonetheless.  I promised myself that I would inspire my students the way the professors at my beloved alma mater — St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York — had inspired me.

Of course, by then I knew some professors who weren’t so inspiring. I had overheard complaints about student apathy, about administrators who just didn’t get it, about being overworked and underappreciated. One senior professor tried to caution me against academe, telling me that he actually regretted how he’d spent his life. Each year, he warned, the students seemed lazier, the job of teaching them harder. And much less rewarding.

I thought, "Clearly, this is someone who needs to retire to make way for some new, more enthusiastic blood." Specifically, my blood.

It's 12 years later now; if things go according to plan, I will soon earn tenure. And I'm wondering now if the 23-year-old master’s-degree student was perhaps uncharitable toward someone who might have known some things he didn’t.

In terms of an academic lifetime, I'm still a relative newborn, yet I feel like I know a bit more about the frustration and exhaustion that might cause a college professor to wonder if he had wasted his life. I once received a paper wherein the student claimed that "John Lenin" had used his career in the Beatles as a stepping stone to seize control of Russia; last year, I read a paper that advanced the idea that "back in the day" — by which the writer meant the 1990s — people didn’t commit adultery, and homosexuality didn't exist.

The pedagogue in me gently corrects students' misconceptions. The educated person in me shakes his head and laughs at such fundamental misunderstandings. But sometimes, the part of me who has to grade the papers — the part of me who is conscious of the 14-hour workdays, the amount of effort I’m putting into this job of educating these students — wonders "Is this really what I ought to be doing with my life? Is it possible to really make a difference in these lives?"

This question gets repeated every time a student's cell phone rings in class, or every time I discover that a student's essay is actually a copy-and-paste job from Wikipedia, or every time a student who got a D on the first submission of a paper "chooses" to not improve the next draft — or even talk to me about the suggestions I’ve so helpfully written on the paper. Except each time I repeat the question in my head, I do so with more profanity.

"I had so much respect for my own professors," I tell myself. "Yet these students seem to be mocking my efforts."

It's easy to understand why those who have been doing this for their entire lives might get frustrated, isn’t it? It’s depressing, to think that the college experience now is so degraded, compared to how we remember our own college years, a time of discovery and the excitement that comes with acquiring knowledge.

My good friend — and former teacher — Bob Cowser Jr. has written in one of his personal essays that memory is "a dream we dream about the way things were, no more true and no less fantastical than other kinds of dreams." Certainly, as I continue to teach young adults and begin to creep toward middle age, I’ve noticed that my own memory has sort of cleaned up my past, often to the detriment of the students who inhabit my present.

The student who had "so much respect" for his own professors, in fact, consistently fell asleep in his first English class — a survey of British literature that met at the ungodly hour (for an 18-year-old) of 8 in the morning. He once handed in a research paper without a works cited page because, you know, he had better things to do than edit his own paper before handing it in. He even showed up for a late-afternoon psychology lab after spending the early afternoon working on a six pack of Milwaukee’s Best and proceeded to giggle like an imbecile every time the untenured, undoubtedly overworked instructor said the phrase "sexual arousal." The topic for the day was — you guessed it — sex, which meant that the juvenile snickering went on longer than even Beavis and Butthead would have found tolerable.

Yet if you had told me then that my behavior demonstrated disrespect for my professors, I would have been shocked. And saddened, too. Because I wasn’t exaggerating before — I had such profound respect for my professors. When I looked at these people — Tom Berger and Natalia Singer in English, Liam Hunt in history, Ron Ortiz-Flores in sociology, Andrea Nouryeh in speech and theater, and countless others — I knew with all of the conviction I had at 18 that these were the smartest people I’d ever met. I suspected that I could ask any of them anything and be assured that their answers would be the correct ones. Their obvious intelligence made them seem confident, self-assured, and, ultimately, kind of intimidating to a kid from upstate New York’s leatherstocking region who still had a comic book collection and who spent his summers bagging groceries at the Shop-N-Save rather than reading Proust while backpacking through Europe.

So, though I respected their obvious intelligence and valued the insights they shared with me, my own admiration for them prevented me from asking them the questions I knew they could answer. My fear of looking foolish caused me to choose ignorance.

As a professor and as a human being, I’m very aware of how ignorant I remain to this day. And I know, now, that those professors I idolized — and idealized — must have been aware of how limited their own knowledge was, and were probably plagued by the same doubts that plague me. Part of being an educated person, of course, involves acknowledging how much we don’t know.

I'm afraid, though, that our students don’t realize this about us—that they might think that, from the lofty perch our superior knowledge has provided for us, we’re looking down at them, judging them for their ignorance. Or that we will judge them, if they expose that ignorance to us by asking the questions they suspect we know the answers to.

This is a difficult job, and it's hard to hold onto idealism even without the type of self-mythologizing sense of nostalgia that, I've noticed, so many people my age frequently tend to embrace. Students don’t say, write, or do frustrating things out of hostility (most of the time); they’re not trying to make my job and, consequently, my life more difficult. These are people who have elected to go into significant debt in order to benefit from whatever knowledge I have to offer. They are occasionally ignorant — just like me. Unlike me, they haven't yet learned that there is no shame in admitting ignorance, when one is trying to learn. But that’s O.K., really. They don’t need to ask for my insights; their presence on campus asks for them. As I prepare to enter the next phase of my academic life — moving beyond my 12-year "grad student/ assistant professor apprenticeship" — I hope that I’m able to keep this truth in mind, and thus resist fatigue and bitterness.

Of course, if one of the papers in this stack beside the computer contains the claim that Paul McCarthy took advantage of Beatlemania in order to seek public office and hunt down communists in the entertainment industry, all bets are off.

William Bradley teaches English at Chowan University, in Murfreesboro, N.C. He's less ignorant than he was a decade ago, but he still has a lot to learn.

Adjuncts come together to demand fairer treatment

The New Faculty Majority, representing professors off the tenure track, gathers for first-ever summit.


Illinois-Springfield Senate Chief, Linked to E-Mail Scandal, Quits

Tih-Fen Ting, professor in environmental studies at the University of Illinois at Springfield, resigned as chair of the Senate at the campus on Friday, after being linked to an e-mail scandal, The News-Gazette reported. Ting was found to have sent numerous e-mail messages from faculty leaders (which they assumed were not being shared with administrators) with the chief of staff of the president of the university system. That chief of staff has since resigned amid a report suggesting she sent anonymous e-mail messages to faculty leaders, seeking to influence their stands on various issues.

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Appeals court revives suit on dismissal of anti-gay psychology student


U.S. appeals court orders trial in case that pits religious rights against discipline's standards. Ruling concerns advocates for student press by citing controversial Supreme Court decision.



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