faculty

How to engage more faculty in leadership roles (essay)

Judith S. White provides advice on how to engage more faculty members in leadership roles.

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Oregon President Weighs In on Blackface Findings

The president of the University of Oregon, Michael H. Schill (right), has weighed in on the continuing controversy over Nancy Shurtz, a law professor whom the university found violated anti-harassment policies when she wore blackface to a party to which she had invited students. Since the university in December announced its findings that she had violated policy, many experts on the First Amendment and academic freedom have criticized the university, saying that it should not be punishing what was an expressive act by Shurtz, regardless of how offended many people were by her act.

In an email message to the campus, Schill -- who is a law professor as well as president -- acknowledged that the issues are complicated. While stressing that under Oregon's procedures, the provost was in charge of handling the case, Schill defended the idea that some sanction of Shurtz was appropriate. "Some of her students felt that they were in a similar situation to students in a classroom being subjected to harassing speech, as they felt pressure to attend and to remain at the event. They felt that they could not leave without jeopardizing their standing in the class, and they also felt that the offensive nature of the blackface was the equivalent of hearing the N-word," Schill wrote. "In these circumstances, should the university have ignored the event or should it have taken action proportionate to the offense? What lesson would we be teaching our students if we let the incident end without even an official letter of reprimand?"

Further, he denied that academic freedom was endangered because of the university's handling of the case, as some have suggested.

"Some commentators have taken to the barricades and suggested that any finding or action taken with respect to Professor Shurtz will ultimately open the door to firing professors for expressing their political views," he wrote. "Really? In law, we call this the 'slippery slope' argument or 'the parade of horribles.' While I have tossed and turned for nights over the fact that the university found that a professor’s expressive conduct constituted harassment, I think the reaction of those commentators is overly dramatic and not supported by anything that took place in this case. Go online and you will find that Professor Shurtz remains a member of the law school faculty. Name a single faculty member who has been punished by the provost for his or her political views. This has not happened, and you have my vow it won’t happen as long as I occupy my office in Johnson Hall."

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Teaching a course all wrong yet making it work (essay)

Teaching Today

While Michael Nelson may be doing everything wrong in his upper-level undergraduate course on the American presidency, he finds it somehow seems to work.

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Advice Newsletter publication date: 
Thursday, March 2, 2017
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History professors say even survey courses should make students think like historians

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Professors say even introductory courses should make students think like historians.

Anthropologists Seek to Protect Academic Freedom

The American Anthropological Association established a Rapid Response Network on Academic Freedom and affiliated with Scholars at Risk to strengthen its commitment to free inquiry, it announced Monday. The response network is a diverse advisory group of anthropologists with scholarly expertise on academic freedom issues, to be chaired by Marc Edelman, professor of anthropology at Hunter College and the City University of New York Graduate Center. Scholars at Risk is an international nonprofit that works to protect threatened scholars and promote academic freedom.

“The pattern of events in the U.S. and around the world in 2016 indicates a gathering storm that threatens the academic freedom of anthropologists and other academics,” Alisse Waterston, association president and professor of anthropology at CUNY's John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said in a statement. “Historically, these threats have been most effectively mitigated when scholarly and professional associations like ours have investigated and spoken out against attacks on academic freedom.”

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Adjuncts Included in Unemployment Guidance

The Labor Department has updated its guidance for temporary unemployment in ways that adjunct advocates say may make it easier to collect benefits between academic terms. The department’s 1986 Unemployment Insurance Program Letter doesn’t mention higher education and has long been used to deny part-time faculty members’ requests for coverage on those grounds. A newly released letter from the department “supersedes” the old guidance “and applies to all levels of education for public and nonprofit educational institutions, including primary, secondary and postsecondary education.”

The document mentions adjuncts specifically, saying that their numbers have increased significantly and that many “have contracts or offers to perform services in subsequent years or terms that are contingent on factors such as funding, enrollment and program changes.”

The New Faculty Majority, a national adjunct advocacy organization that campaigned for the updated letter, called it “long-overdue guidance to address the new reality of contingent academic employment in higher education. … [This] is a tool that adjunct faculty can use at the state level, both individually and collectively, to ensure that state agencies are correctly understanding and applying federal law.”

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Historians make predictions and recommendations and explore their role in the Trump era

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Scholars debate what his election means, whether efforts to band together as a discipline to oppose him were wrong and what the future may hold for their field.

When job seekers ask for help, they benefit the ones they ask (essay)

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Students and postdocs should not be wary of asking for help from professionals in their network, argues Thomas Magaldi, as they provide those professionals certain valuable assets.

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Study finds women don't get same credit men do for co-authored papers

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Study of economics faculty members finds that men get credit where women do not.

Conservatives are actually quite happy in academe (essay)

Given the well-known ideological imbalance of professors on our nation’s college and university campuses, quite a bit has been written about how conservative faculty members are a “beleaguered minority,” the rare “campus unicorns” and even “a minority [which] is being systematically repressed in America’s elite institutions.” Those claims have been bolstered by research that has revealed that some faculty members overtly discriminate against others based on their political dispositions and that many professors are “forced into passing” to hide any ideological leanings that could have serious professional and social consequences.

Given this narrative, conservatives in the academe should be miserable. But my own research shows that we are not. Let me tell you why.

I should first mention that, contrary to the prevailing wisdom, conservative faculty are just as happy as their liberal counterparts, if not more so. In fact, in 2014, two-thirds of conservative faculty on a nationwide survey responded “Definitely yes,” the most positive on a five-point scale, to the question “If you were to begin your career again, would you still want to be a college professor?” Nationally, an average of 58 percent of all faculty members said they would, while 56 percent of liberal faculty responded in such a positive way -- 10 points lower than right-leaning faculty.

Interestingly, tenure does not play a role in levels of satisfaction, either. Tenured and nontenured conservative faculty members are both highly satisfied, at 65 percent and 61 percent respectively. The numbers look different for faculty members who identify as liberal: of those, 62 percent of tenured faculty would remain a professor compared to only 49 percent of those who aren’t tenured -- a nontrivial difference.

That asks a question: Why are conservatives not miserable?

I think social-identification theory plays a huge role here. The theory argues, in its simplest form, that groups such as families, classes and teams are sources of esteem and pride, and that can lead to a sense of belonging in a complex and often divisive world. Scores of experimental works have shown that being in a small, particular in-group feels quite different and more personally meaningful when one compares oneself to the larger, other dominant out-group. Thus, it is wholly reasonable to think that conservative faculty members see themselves as minorities in opposition to a growing and more powerful liberal majority. Being part of this smaller and nondominant group helps shape career goals and personal outlooks, and it informs a worldview that may lead to quite a bit of personal happiness and comfort for any faculty members with an us vs. them perspective. Ironically, this feeling of being part of a small group can be empowering, given the right circumstances.

In fact, this in-group and out-group structure was certainly empowering for me personally. Even before tenure, I relished being in the ideological minority at Sarah Lawrence College. As a moderate, I stood out like a sore thumb relative to many of my fellow faculty members. In the campus popularity contest, I was a noncontender. My lack of outwardly left-leaning political leanings meant that I was not in competition for the hearts and minds of so many varied constituencies on the campus. I was not included in many of the informal social gatherings and meetings, but rather than being offended at not being invited, I relished the flexibility that being “unpopular” gave me in my schedule.

While that exclusion might upset some people, I found that being in this position gave me the freedom to teach political history and social movements in a balanced, multifocal way. I could talk about the enduring positive and negative impacts, for instance, that the Reagan-Thatcher era has had on the socioeconomic and political climate that exists today without heavy scrutiny or protest, since everyone already knew I was “different.”

Moreover, not being part of the campus “power elite” gave me the chance to really think about where I was intellectually situated within the larger academic community. I realized that viewpoint diversity is increasingly absent on college campuses and, despite pushback from faculty members and students, I took great comfort in seeing it as a personal and professional mission to present my students with a greater variety of ideas and frameworks for thinking about the world. Conflicts about ideas, as well as debates over the merits of various philosophies and approaches to problem solving, should be the bedrock of a college experience. It is how we progress as a civilization.

Accordingly, I taught my classes with the desire to correct this troubling intellectual imbalance in mind. To my surprise, swimming against the current and being part of the out-group made my teaching and work with students an unexpected joy. For instance, seeing a freshman’s eyes light up when he discovers a new way of looking at a public policy issue, or listening to three seniors debate farm subsidies from a multitude of political viewpoints -- those are the intrinsic benefits of teaching with ideological diversity at the forefront.

Thanks to social media and the ease of staying connected, I know that many other conservative-leaning academics feel the same way, and many of them have similar stories to my own.

This feeling that our teaching is instrumental in bringing balance back to campuses may explain why there are ideological differences in satisfaction based on tenure between conservative and liberal professors. For those professors who feel they are in an ideological minority, and therefore see their teaching as an important part of diversifying the campus pedagogy, the pretenure “publish or perish” paradigm is not the singular goal.

The idea of balance may also help explain why survey work reveals that conservative faculty members place far more emphasis on teaching relative to research, while liberal-identifying faculty members prioritize the latter. Although circumstantial, the survey work does lend credence to the idea that conservative faculty members may be reacting to the progressive echo chambers and increasingly prevalent liberal bubbles on their campuses, and therefore they view teaching, rather than publishing research, as a more important part of their mission as faculty.

While the data and narrative I’ve presented here are certainly not conclusive, it certainly is the case that I and my conservative colleagues are far more professionally fulfilled than many accounts would suggest. Samuel Adams wrote, “It does not take a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority, keen on setting brushfires of freedom in the minds of men.” Being an increasingly small minority has lit such a fire under many of us.

Samuel J. Abrams is a professor of politics at Sarah Lawrence College and a research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution.

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