• College Ready Writing

    A blog about education, higher ed, teaching, and trying to re-imagine how we provide education.


Instructor < Professor

Once again, being an instructor isn't all that it is cut out to be.

March 19, 2013


(Thanks to my friend Brian Croxall for bringing this to my attention and lighting this fire under me, and others, on Twitter.)

I’ve written about this issue before (actually, many times before), but given the news out of NYU, it needs repeating: being an instructor (ie full-time but off the tenure-track) isn’t a substitute for being a tenured or on the tenure-track. We are seen as less-than. We are treated as less-than. And we get stuck in a perpetual machine that marginalizes and keeps us in a position that is less-than. Even with a union.

I am tired of being told how “lucky” I am to have my position. I am tired of being told that I am in the position I deserve (because if I was really all that, I’d have a TT position). I am tired of being told that I “chose” this position; I choose to keep my family together, which should not automatically disqualify me from ever holding a TT position. I work in my currently position because I have student loans that need to get paid. I have also chosen (and it is a choice; it’s not in my job description, as everyone enjoys pointing out) to keep working my butt off on my research, while trying to stay on top of my profession and discipline, but no one ever mentions  those choices, just the one where I happened to put family first. I am tired of being told that because of my position, I can’t possibly understand the complexity of the university system, of the demands of research and service, or that my voice or vote could possibly be informed enough.

It’s dismissive, it’s condescending, and (given that the majority of those working off the tenure-track are women and visible minorities), more than just a little sexist and classist. There. I said it. I went there.

I am tired of being told to stay in my place, to not speak up, for fear of offending those “above” me, who have the same education as I do. That my complaints are baseless, that I just need to be happier, which will make my life better, easier. Stop seeing the systematic ways in which you and your colleagues are being kept down, kept quiet, kept separate and unequal.

There is all this talk now about the new book Lean In, which gives advice to women on how to ascend to positions of power. I haven’t read the book, but I wonder, where am I supposed to “lean in” to? For instructors, it’s worse than a glass ceiling; it’s a glass box. There is no lateral movement, no upward mobility, no seat at the table. You can blog, publish, go to conferences, speak, refine that CV, work that job letter, be everything they want you to be, and still not get a seat at the table.

The arguments that are being used to keep the instructors separate from the “real” faculty are the same ones being used to keep the humanities separate from the “real” disciplines. There is a real irony in that at NYU it is the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, two typically distinct and different fields. How is it that they “allow” science faculty to vote on issues in the humanities departments, and vice-versa? Isn’t what they do “different”? Shouldn’t we make the argument that a biology professor couldn’t possibly understand what an English professor does and therefore should have absolutely no say? And in that case, why even have shared governance at all? How could a professor ever understand how complex it is to run a university?

What the NYU situation highlights is that the tenure and tenure-track professors expect the instructors to vote in as selfish and self-serving ways as they have voted in the past. But that those votes would come from a place of ignorance (rather than their enlightened self-interest?). But then again, they get it right when they identify their non-tt colleagues as “dangerous.” That, I think, is true. But dangerous for whom? We are the majority. And the day that we figure that out and actually use to our advantage, to the advantage of our students, and to the advantage of the academy, which is being dismantled around us, then we all benefit. That the tenured and tenure-track faculty see the non-tt faculty as a threat I think says more about what they value, and the health and well-being of the academy ain’t it.


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