I recently had a discussion that led me to a basic question: Why is the concept of academic freedom as a semi-protected activity limited by custom to people who teach in universities? Why doesn’t it apply to any person engaged in research and publication on issues important in our lives? What is the theoretical underpinning of the argument that non-faculty don’t have academic freedom in the same sense that faculty do? What is it that faculty actually do that is different from what I do, at least part of the time?
Is it that faculty need to be free to publish important books and articles? I have published four books as author or contributing editor (three with a university press), one of which is a five-pounder and is considered the definitive modern work in its field. I have published chapters in other major books, 36 articles or commentaries on education issues, 75 on ornithology (mostly in non-refereed outlets) and another two dozen that don’t fit neatly into categories. This doesn’t count work that I produce in my job as a college evaluator. I’m also the new book review editor for a small, well-respected refereed journal and a glorious but undiscovered poet.
Because I work as a college evaluator and routinely review faculty qualifications, I can say that my actual output of what would normally be considered scholarly work is quite similar to what I would expect of a mid-career professor at a mid-level college. In short, in terms of tangible product, I do what they do.
Is it that faculty teach? Let us define teaching. Let me know when you’re done -- with luck, I will have retired by then. I suppose we have an obligation to at least attempt to answer the question, but allow me to argue that teaching and learning take place all the time in all parts of society, whether or not a traditional cage is constructed around the putative teachers and learners.
Is the difference that I as a non-faculty member have been classified by society as fit for some tasks but not for others? By whose order? Under what theory? With what brief? Certainly as a state employee I am obligated to perform the tasks that are in my job description, and likewise obligated not to go about publicly trashing the goals of my employer. Beyond this, am I not free to pursue the truth wherever it may take me?
Universities have traditionally been assigned by society the role of pursuing truth and transferring knowledge in a semi-protected setting, if not beyond the reach of interfering powers, at least having some defenses against those powers. This is a good thing, but doesn’t it seem strange that a special kind of institution in society must be set aside for this purpose?
I do not think that the traditional collegiate cloister as our sole reservation for academic freedom works very well any more. The ability of independent scholars to operate outside institutions has increased along with the utility of the Internet. The Supreme Court wrote, in an era before the personal computer, PDA and cell phone (to say nothing of iPhone), that:
“Our nation is deeply committed to safeguarding academic freedom, which is of transcendent value to all of us and not merely to the teachers concerned. That freedom is therefore a special concern of the First Amendment, which does not tolerate laws that cast a pall of orthodoxy over the classroom.” (Keyishian v. Board of Regents, 1967)
Where, and what, is the classroom today, 40 years downstream from Keyishian? If a friend of mine publishes a detailed study of hospital spending practices, molt strategies in the American Wigeon or the perfidy of Donald Rumsfeld on a blog, Web site or other nontraditional venue, and invites comment from all comers, isn’t that just as much a classroom as an enclosed space in which one human is bleating in person at a roomful of (mostly) younger humans? Certainly the gray area is taking on more and more layers and shades with the advent of more varieties of distance-learning.
To spend a moment longer in the relatively cramped legal arena, the Supreme Court has also granted certain kinds of academic freedom protections to universities themselves, under a theory that they as institutions have a special role in society and need to have some protection from unseemly attempts to influence their work. Yes, to be sure, that is true, but there are other institutions in society, e.g., publishers, think tanks, foundations; whose role is, if not the same in structure, surely overlapping in goal and function.
At a time when more and more people of all ages get their news and information off the Internet, and when young people of traditional college age do a vast amount of their fact-gathering online (whether the facts are, if you will, true, is another question), the argument that universities need a special protected status as our principal conductors of information and values to young adults has been losing weight for years.
We see more and more corporate sponsorships of research or faculty positions and degree programs that, as a practical matter, relate solely to the products of one or two companies. The idea that the university is separate from the pressures of the outer world (and therefore that people who work there should have a special status for themselves and their work) is getting harder to sustain. Should people employed by banks, supermarkets or governments who publish academic work be afforded protection under an academic freedom theory from retaliation by their employer if the employer happens to dislike the work? I can’t think why not.
When we have resources as good as, for example, Reginald Shepherd’s teaching-blog on poetry, the argument that the traditional classroom is necessary as a baseline for the theory, practice and legal protections of academic freedom begins to look like an argument that a sufficiency of draft horses is necessary for national security.
Norms move forward. I argued a while ago ("Accrediting Individual Instructors," The Independent Scholar 18(1):10-12, Winter 2004) that we need to stop accrediting colleges and start accrediting teachers. The fact that a top-flight poet like Shepherd now contracts with students privately and engages in significant dialogues on poetry and culture via a blog is but one example of an educational trend that militates toward recognition that academic freedom, in its purposes, results and legal classification, needs to be decoupled from the nature of an individual scholar’s employment.
Academic freedom adheres to the purpose and function of academic inquiry, not to technicalities of institutional affiliation. Anyone who engages in inquiry and publication according to the norms of academe is entitled to the scholar’s woolen cloak. It may not protect against all enemies, but it serves to reduce the chill of unpopular thought.
Alan Contreras works for the State of Oregon, where Article 1, Section 8 of the Oregon Constitution allows him to publish what he pleases. His views do not necessarily represent those of the commission. He blogs at oregonreview.blogspot.com.
What will it take to make essays the standard of achievement once again in the scholarly world? This is not where we are: Books are the gold standard for tenure in most of the humanities and some of the social sciences, so much so that journal articles almost don’t even count. As august a figure as Helen Vendler assured me recently that essays could never replace books as a basis for tenuring junior colleagues. So, in departments of English as on Wall Street, counting is all that counts. “It’s the bottom line, stupid.” Countability is the thing whereby you’ll catch the conscience of the dean, as a friend of Hamlet might advise the young Danish assistant professor or the young Shakespeare scholar. Articles don’t make a thumping sound when you drop them on a table the way a body might in Six Feet Under.
I have claimed elsewhere (subscription required) that the book-for-tenure system is coming to an end, that it is unsustainable, that its growth has been an obscenity, because it was mindless, because it sought to make something automatic and machine-like play the role that should only be played by the soul. Please excuse my antiquated language: The “soul,” I remind you, is that faculty of the human body whose juices are made to flow by the exercise of judging myself whether something is of merit. In earlier publications I have charged that professors have been seeking to dodge the one activity that is most essential to their own development when they outsource tenure decisions to bureaucracies and counting replaces reading as the central job of tenure committees, because in that situation content goes by the by. Personally, for me as a publisher, the situation that has arisen is sad beyond endurance. I believe the contents of the books I publish matter. I am not selling milk, which does sustain life, but is homogenized by comparison to book. In fact, milk’s the very definition of homogenized. Each of the books I publish is different.
Books are the standard now, and for me to ask you to think that the future will feature the renaissance of journals and the replacement of the book by the essay might seem crazy. (You should know that it does not seem crazy to many of the leading university press publishers.) My suggestion is not crazy; it’s utopian. We don’t live in that world I am asking you to imagine, the world in which essays are the norm, but if we were to imagine that world could exist even for a second, how might seeing things that way cause us to change what we are doing?
We need to slow down, and remember that the essay has been the main form for humanistic discourse. The book is an outlier. Many of the writings that changed the direction a scholarly community was marching toward were essays. Think of Edward Said’s “Abecedarium Culturae” or Paul de Man’s “The Rhetoric of Temporality,” to stay in recent history and not begin, as I easily could, an epic catalog from Montaigne’s “De l’amitie” onwards. Some of the most important books are collections of essays, sometimes assembled with no pretence to forging a unity of them, such as John Freccero’s Dante: The Poetics of Conversion. One could give many examples.
There is no good reason why the essay should not replace the book, and a lot of good reasons why it should. I am tempted to say -- in order to be maximally provocative -- that anyone who publishes a book within six years of earning a Ph.D. should be denied tenure. The chances a person at that stage can have published something worth chopping that many trees down is unlikely. I ask you: How are you preparing for the future that could be yours and mine? We -- I mean the world in general -- don’t need a lot of bad writing. We need some great writing. “Pump Up the Volume” has been the watchword in the scholarly world and in America long before that movie with Christian Slater came out. “Don’t Believe the Hype” somehow got twisted into “Believe the Hype” along the way, too. Totally.
The big problem that afflicts the humanities in the United States is not a problem of quantity. Yes, I know, some politicians ridicule university administrators who retain on their staff professors who produce so little by way of income, student-credit hours served, and publications. The newspapers said that U.S. troops could “walk tall again” after conquering Granada. Will professors be able to walk tall again if they produce tall heaps of publications on the scale of manufactured goods coming out of the factories in Suzhou? (If you don’t know where Suzhou is, look it up. It’ll do you good. You are going to want to know in fewer years than you can imagine.)
No, the productivity problem of professors in the U.S. is not one of quantity, but quality. (Same is actually the case in China, too.) I recently got a book proposal that I decided to look at closely rather than reject it summarily as I knew it deserved. It consisted of a welter of confusing sentences. It was contemporary, very up-to-date, located right where the profession is. And the scholar, though young, was very accomplished in the way the world judges achievement, a dozen or more fellowships, a book from a major press, tenure too at a respectable university. But the views in the proposal were those manufactured by others and the linking of them in the proposal had no coherence, and the problem was manifest in the clumsy writing. Who had ever read anything by this young scholar seriously before, I wondered?
Has social passing come to grad school? A friend teaches in a clinic to help people from 3 to thrice 20 to remedy problems of speaking and reading. I have been curious about the stories she tells me of people in their 50s confident enough about their personal success in life to address what used to be a source of deep embarrassment -- the fact that although they could talk like a college grad they could not read better than a second-grader. It takes great self-acceptance to go to the clinic at that age and confess you cannot read and to be taught the things little kids learn.
One of the chief explanations these learners give for how it was they got by for so long without learning the basics of reading is social passing, the decision of teachers to ignore what it is they think they cannot deal with. Imagine an air-traffic controller ignoring some slight intimation a plane is going off course? You cannot, but you know that Captain Delano in Benito Cereno stifled his worries that something was amiss on the San Dominick. Problem too big for me to solve. “I’m a mere fourth grade teacher. I cannot remedy such a huge problem. The system is so much bigger than me or this kid. The principal will be angry if classes get clotted up with the unfortunate. Pass.” So a person might say to themselves privately. Are professors in grad school saying such things to themselves now? I am sure most of them are not, but some must be. Otherwise how did this person get this far writing like this? This person is not alone.
In his Enemies of Promise, Cyril Connolly lambasted Joseph Addison, co-founder of the journal The Spectator because he was “an apologist for the New Bourgeoisie.” The problem: Addison wrote playfully and unapologetically about nothing, casting a smokescreen in front of his readers. Addison is like Zizek. If Zizek is a success -- and you know he is -- the consequences are worrisome. The kids who flock to see him might try to write like him. In fact, if the elders present Zizek as a star speaker, then what is a kid to think? If this stuff flies, my prose -- a young scholar might reasonably say -- can crawl and stumble and I can become a superstar of theory, too.
I believe sometime in the dark backward and abysm of time, when Zizek was closer to Hegel and Lacan, he must have been a good expositor of the thinking of Lacan, but he is not now. He’s an entertainer, an ersatz version of real explorers like Derrida and Umberto Eco. People used to complain bitterly about the way Derrida, DeMan, Deleuze wrote. Such people’s problem was that they did not pause to read what newly emergent scholars wrote. Derrida and the others wrote perfectly well. Their sentences were difficult to read, perhaps, but they parsed. It is different with Zizek. The torrent that flows from him is like (to go to a realm he’s visited to criticize someone else and very unfairly, too, I might add) a toilet overflowing.
As one critic of his writes, “He does not develop a clear-cut idea, nor does he structure a book around a definable topic. His proofs are mostly introduced with an ‘of course,’ or ‘it is clear why’. He delivers what his fans want -- razzamatazz.” Pascal wrote, “A maker of witticisms, a bad character” ( Pensees, p 12). Let me give a sentence of his to be concrete: The first sentence of the Preface of his new book For They Know Not What They Do is: “There are philosophical books, minor classics even, which are widely known and referred to, although practically no one has read them page by page (John Rawls's Theory of Justice, for example, or Robert Brandom's Making It Explicit) -- a nice example of interpassivity, where some figure of the Other is supposed to do the reading for us.” First of all, even if you accept the Lacan-lingo (“other”), what could the made-up word “interpassivity” mean? And why would I want to know when, second, the sentence in which it occurs is a lie, not a clever one, but a stupid one. Almost 300,000 people have bought the Rawls and the reading of it was so important to enough of them that they have kept their copies of the book, so the used book market is not swamped with copies. And Brandom has nowhere like the same sales, but his book is an international sales success. Remember the “blancmange” skit in Monty Python? Zizek’s writing is “blanc-et-noir mange.” It was a style. Eliot complained the West was but a heap of broken images. Zizek, in this still a Soviet sympathizer, wants like Kruschev to bury us in the heap of his verbiage. It’s not fun anymore, if it ever was. Beware, Mr Zizek, Connolly also says that “one can fool the public about a book but the public will store up resentment in proportion to its folly.” Words suffer under the whip of such a taskmaster.
If words lose out, so do we all: We are in danger of losing our souls, our backbones, our bearings. We are in danger of losing the civilization that was created in the West in the Renaissance. Until I’d read Ingrid Rowland’s book on 16th century Rome, the Rome of Raphael, I had not known about what I’ll call “the Renaissance of the sentence.” I’d lived in Florence when I decided to study the Italian Renaissance, and I’d gotten a very concrete sense of the how, what, when of the Renaissance of architecture at Santo Spirito. I knew about the Renaissance of narrative plotting from immersing myself in Ariosto and Milton and seeing the debate about plotting over Tasso. But the Renaissance of the Sentence -- it had never occurred to me. Hadn’t the monks kept the art of the sentence alive through the Dark Ages? Short answer: No.
Ingrid Rowland recounts how Angelo Colocci (aka “Serafino Aquilano”) pioneered the transformation of writing in vernacular Italian. No longer was it revolutionary to use the vernacular instead of Latin; no, revolutionary was using the vernacular with rhythm, with passion. The point of writing in such a way was because it unleashed a power one could have using word to “unlock the emotions through a combination of words and music.” To write in this way was to have style, what Colocci called “modo.” Sure, one could write about sexy topics in the vernacular, as shown by the author of Hypnerotomochia Poliphili, one of the most famous books of the Renaissance, but the results were not sexy, because the Italian was in a ponderously Latinate style. Sexy sentences got to have rhythm. As Rowland wonderfully describes what I, not she, call the Renaissance of the Sentence, (but my description owes all to her interpretation of the historical record), Castiglione wrote in a manner that “set standards for vernacular style: like the building blocks of a classical temple, the subordinate clauses interlock, one after another, to construct the sonorous bulk of Castiglione’s monumental run-on sentences.” Castiglione brings “epic muscularity” of Michelangelo’s sculpture into sentence construction. The writers of the Renaissance had figured out what made Ancient writing click, and they’d found a way to do it on their own.
What I’m saying is that the first step to re-establishing the essay as the standard in humanistic writing is to reinvigorate the sentences we write, so that, when one reads an essay, one feels it. One feels it the way one tastes -- and here I’m going global -- a good curry. It really sets you back. Or maybe forward. Style, maniera, modo is what we readers demand. The humanists of the Renaissance knew the Romans had the ability to put sentences that had concinnitas, but that their ancestors in what we call the Middle Ages had lost that ability. When the Ancients constructed the Arch of Constantine, it stayed together for centuries, even though neglected. Concinnity -- what a splendid word!
It seems to me that when bad styling of sentences became accepted, we got used to it. We compensated for the lack of quality and impact of the sentences that people wrote as evidence of their scholarly abilities by asking them for more of them in the hopes we could get the same buzz going that we used to get from fewer sentences. Last year I ran a panel at the Modern Language Association on “Slow Reading,” and today I’m advocating slow writing. Editors are in the position to make this change take place.
Now, I can hear you saying: Who am I to think I can turn the academic world around?
I suggest that what we in scholarly publishing -- books and journals -- need to do is to simultaneously go down-market and upscale. I am also an editor for a journal, a member of the editorial board of the Duke University Press journal boundary 2. We decided to change our policies to deal with a whole set of changes that have beset the academic world since 1989. Before I talk about the specifics of the changes in policy, I ask you to step back to take in the bigger picture. It’s important to see our moment in historical perspective from the Oil Crisis of 1973-4, which had a profound effect on university libraries, until 1989-2001. Because of the oil crisis of the early 70s, librarians cut back drastically on purchasing books but maintained journal subscriptions. As a result some publishers decided they could raise prices on serials with impunity. It was license to print money. The result radically distorted university library budgets.
After September 11th the universities finally decided they could reduce purchases of journals as much as they’d cut back on books. I’m talking about general trends. Of course, there are exceptions to what I’m saying. The development of electronic forms of publication provided the justification for the cutbacks. There was a sense that if a library switched its purchasing to electronic media, it was not really cutting back, because there were alternative avenues for publication. This was partly true, but in the meantime, there was a growing sense that educators needed to be policed better and given measuring sticks for productivity. Thus, the demand for books increased even at the time the budgets for purchasing books were slashed. And libraries were appropriately looking for opportunities to cut subscriptions to print journals that were perceived as unnecessary.
Journal editors felt the need to rethink what they were doing to make themselves seem more essential, less cuttable. In the meantime, the good intellectual and academic times that ran from the late 60s were over. The wonderful flowering of new theories in almost every field of academic endeavor had run their course. In literary studies, for example, the great excitement of theory had mutated into the police state tactics of the New Historicism that in fact often focussed on policing, setting rules, enforcing market conditions. So it was not a time for developing new journals and readers’ interests were waning. When people did not understand de Man and Foucault, there was interest in essays by scholars telling readers they’d finally come to understand these gurus of the postmodern, but this sort of thing gets stale. It got really stale. And we found our pages filling with careerists eager to add another line to the cv. Jonathan Arac, one of the lead editors of boundary 2, describes the new policy for acquisitions for the journal in these simple terms: We decided to serve our readers more than our contributors. Paul Bove summarizes the changes in the journal editorial policy as consisting of four criteria:
1. ordinary language, not jargon 2. essays first, scholarly articles second 3. application of the “cui bono?” test to all submissions 4. contents of journal must educate the readers and serve the audience, not the careers of the writers
We must, he said to me, appeal to the curiosity of the reader and recover the right to use the word “stupid” as a judgment call.
A journal, hopefully, stretches on and on. Editorial principles will change if the journal stays as flexible and fluid as the sentences that we hope will appear in it. It should be structured to make the needs of the readers primary, those needs as imagined by the editors in an act of empathy and political responsibility. How could one set up a journal or any publication where essays were being gathered in order to make them command respect. We have some work to do on this at boundary 2, but we are trying to demand more of ourselves in order to give more to readers.
I am involved in a project now where the essay is the monarch, where we have set up editorial procedures to push us, the editors, to publish the best essays, and that is my book, forthcoming in Fall 2009, called The New Literary History of the United States, whose chief editors are Greil Marcus and Werner Sollors. In publishing it’s always about how to rig things for the best results, knowing there’s going to be a lot of resistance coming in from every which way.. The book depends on the chief editors and the members of the editorial board leaning on the best people they know to contribute. But having done that, how can you be demanding? Beggars can be choosers, I say!! We set up the editorial procedures to make sure the personal loyalty of the editors to contributors doesn’t interfere with the loyalty of the publication to its readers. I’ve been through this twice before with the French and German literary histories in 1989 and 2004, but I think we’ve improved things! Working with my chief editors who have each had a lot of experience editing the work of others, we set the editorial procedures up to fight the lazy writing habits that have entered the academic world over the last decades.
When Edward Said predicted the decline of writing by professors in the early 1980s, I did not believe him; but he was right and I was wrong. A lot of bad habits developed, and now they are protected by power by those who write poorly who have now risen in rank as a result of what I called “social passing” in educational levels above the primary and secondary schools. We had fights and had to have emergency meetings of the board for Hollier’s New History of French Literature because, although Hollier was demanding and so were we at Harvard University Press, some members of the board did not think we had the right to make professors revise to the degree that every page would be readable.
What an outrage! I remember the would-be contributor whom we were demanding more of who said “But I’ve written the perfect New Historicist, feminist, deconstructionist essay. You dare not tamper with my very self and voice. And we dared not tell Professor Polonius that he did not have any writing voice at all. You cannot be comical-pastoral-tragical (I am playing on what Polonius says at Hamlet 2.2.397.) and speak in any tongue in which humans have spoken. We nearly turned down an entry by one of the chief editors of that book. With the Marcus/Sollors I confess to having stacked things towards readability by making one of the founding editors of Rolling Stone be one of the two editors-in-chief of the volume. Guilty as charged. The way I have set up the Marcus/Sollors is all around the essay. The book is a collection of 220 essays that resonate in surprising ways so that the whole is much greater than the sum of the parts, but each individual part is a free-standing essay.In the making of this book I have pursued the essay so strongly that I have made it function in a new way like an individual instrument in Alexander’s Ragtime Band.
If we want change to happen so that essays become the norm of scholarly publication for tenure for junior people, then we will have to make it happen. It is in our power, but it will not happen unless we make a concerted effort. We need to make changes in our journals, as I described we did with boundary 2 and the Marcus/Sollors. . We need to do what we might fear will be dumbing down our publications by insisting upon clearer language set forth in rhythmical sentence. The reason for the persistence of gobbledy-gook is that it’s a lot easier to hide mediocre thinking under the cloak of gobbledy-gook. If we insist upon clarity, we will miss those moments of professional “stuplimity” (to use my dear author Sianne Ngai’s word) caused by the deep unclarity of the sort we get from Zizek. But we’ll win back readers. We want to publish writings people will talk about.
The real, dirty secret of academic publishing, as a daring author of a letter to the editor of Nature had the courage to say, is that it’s too easy to get published nowadays: “Let’s admit it . . . one can publish just about anything if one goes low enough down the list of impact factors,” wrote Vladimir Svetlov of the Department of Microbiogology at Ohio State University. There are procedures for refereeing and they make some difference in an international context (this is going to be a bigger and bigger issue in the years to come), but those procedures don’t in and of themselves guarantee anything. In fact, where I hear people talk the most about journals edited according to international standards for refereeing, it often attached to mediocre publications and is a reason for excluding from counting towards one’s record publication in essays it is almost impossible to get into because they have their own, very high standards, like Critical Inquiry.
A good journal has a direction, a mission and scholarly goals. The for-profit publishers know how to set up a journal that gets credibility in the most facile way possible. It has become harder to make money from journals since September 11th. The old tricks won’t work, but the authorities in the universities have not adjusted to them and in some way they feed into them, feed into the undermining of scholarly standards. The profit motive undermines true credibility of many scholarly journals. I have been clipping the articles from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and other papers that document the assault on the authority of scholarly journals by a number of for-profit operations. It has become a lot more dangerous to edit a scholarly journal, especially in the medical sciences where there is big money to lose when the claims for a Big Pharma product are contested by a scientist. I have a big sheaf of such essays gathered over the last three years. All this would be bad enough were it not that papers like the Wall Street Journal also run essays by -- what is the right word for it? -- people like Professor Thomas P. Stossel of the Harvard Medical School saying that scholarly journals “are magazines,” no better than the magazines you find in the grocery store with no more authority than such publications. The pull-quote from the essay reads: “Why are scientific journals regarded with such reverence?” This shameful screed was meant to undermine scholarly journals. To say the least such talk is of no help in the effort I am encouraging to bring more authority back to the scholarly journal.
We live at a time when I can see that a whole series of great developments are emerging in philosophy, literary studies, and other fields. We are on the verge of great things, and they are apparent in a number of articles appearing in journals and some of the projects have developed far enough to merit publication in book form. But these are also desperate times for many, a time of uncertainty and false prophets. Now, Mr. Zizek is about to be shut up by a whole set of people who are tired of hearing him blab his mouth. About time! But, look, it’s America: There are still a lot of snake oil salemen ready to try to convince you that up is down. Beware! As we prepare for the next thirty years we need to refind our foundations, to re-establish learning on the best foundations, and the best one of all is the sentence that the Renaissance reinvigorated. A sentence is not like a laundry line on which we pin words so they can flap in the wind. No, a sentence “is a sound in itself on which other sounds called words may be strung.”
Will the Internet, will Google destroy the scholarly journal? Will blogs spell the end of little magazines? I hope not. Look at N + 1. There’s no authority in being disseminated by the Internet in and of itself. As Benjamin wrote of technology, it is is a force for good and ill; all depends on humans subordinating the tool to human needs. The iron we smelt we can use to make railway tracks that bring us together and movie cameras we use to make art that brings us together. Or that metal can be made into bullets and bombers. It is up to us. The tools don’t determine our course. That’s why we have to go back to fundamentals, to the sentence, to judgment -- it’s no surprise those words can mean the same thing -- to reassure others, and more importantly,ourselves that what we do is essential. Against the bluster and braggadocio of a Zizek and so many other boastful denizens of the Roaring Nineties, let us affect the modesty that seems to be endemic to the essay!
Lindsay Waters is executive editor for the humanities at the Harvard University Press. This essay is adapted from a talk he gave at the meeting of the Council of Editors of Learned Journals, held in December at the annual meeting of the Modern Language Association. His Enemies of Promise came out from Prickly Paradigm Press in 2004, and then from State University Press of Sao Paolo in 2006 and will come out from Editions Allia in Paris in 2008 and from Commercial Press in Beijing in 2009.
Although it is far from the norm, a few colleges pay their assistant professors more on average than they do their tenured professors. Although such pay scales might harm the egos of tenured professors, they can benefit colleges.
Organizations often pay high salaries to (1) attract new employees, (2) keep existing employees, (3) compensate workers for unpleasant working conditions and (4) compensate workers for taking on risks. These four criteria support colleges giving relatively higher salaries to assistant professors.
Consider a college that has some extra money to spend on faculty salaries. In many fields, this college competes intensely with other schools for talented assistant professors. So the college could increase the quality of its faculty by using its extra money to boost assistant professors’ salaries.
Compared to assistant professors, tenured professors rarely switch jobs. Our hypothetical college probably won’t lose a significant number of its non-superstar tenured faculty if it doesn’t allocate its extra money to raising their salaries. (And the college can always cut separate deals with it superstars.) So to maximize the quality of its faculty, the college should create a pay structure in which tenure-track assistant professors earn more than tenured professors. As the following example shows, a college can do this without ever decreasing a professor’s salary even if the professor is promoted.
Tenured Professor’s Salary
Assistant Professor’s Salary
[If an assistant professor were promoted at the start of 2010 he would make $83,000 in both 2009 and 2010.]
Assistant professors in many ways have harder jobs than tenured professors do. They have more pressure to publish. They usually spend more time on class preparation because they have taught their classes relatively few times. And, keeping in mind their looming tenure bids, they often feel compelled to be more deferential to their senior colleagues than they would prefer. Those who care about economic fairness consequently should support the idea of assistant professors making more than tenured professors. And those who care about markets should understand that the less pleasant the job, the higher salary you must pay to attract top talent.
Job security is a large part of tenured professors’ compensation. So even if a tenured professor has a somewhat lower monetary salary than an assistant professor does, he probably, over all, receives more total compensation than his non-tenured colleagues. After all, I suspect few tenured professors who are not superstars or close to retirement would agree to exchange, say, $3,000 in extra salary in return for abandoning tenure.
Markets compensate intelligent risk takers. For example, investing in the stock market yields a higher average return than investing in safe government bonds does. Up or out tenure decisions foist enormous risk on tenure-track assistant professors. Ph.D.’s in practical fields in which many non-academic jobs are available should be willing to take on tenure risk only if they are suitably compensated for it. In contrast, however, being a tenured professor is one of the safest jobs on the planet, and consequently you would expect markets to pay tenured professors a negative risk premium that reduces their salary.
It’s relatively less risky for a college to increase its assistant professors’ salaries. For reasons economists don’t fully understand, employers almost never decrease their workers’ nominal salaries. So if a college gives a raise to a tenured professor, it is stuck paying this raise until the professor retires. In contrast, if an assistant professor becomes too expensive the college can simply not reappoint him.
I’m actually surprised that the academic market doesn’t induce more colleges to pay greater salaries to assistant professors than to non-superstar tenured professors. Tenured professors, however, have on average vastly greater bureaucratic power than their untenured co-workers and perhaps such power discrepancies explain why at most colleges tenured professors earn more than assistant professors.
Some might claim that not rewarding tenured professors for their long experience would harm their morale. But I wonder how many talented assistant professors have had their morale damaged (or indeed have even voluntarily left academe) because they are paid less than some of their less talented and less hardworking senior colleagues.
It’s a brave new world for tenure-track faculty members, graduate students, and postdocs these days. New and aspiring professors enter an academy in which the traditional boundaries defining faculty work, the “Big 3” of teaching, research and service, are blurred and, in many cases, disappearing as modern scholarship becomes increasingly collaborative, cooperative, and integrated. For example, not only do we pull the most recent research results into our class lectures but, increasingly, we actively involve our undergraduates in the research enterprise. Institutions of higher education appear to promote this redefinition of faculty work by encouraging professors to weave together aspects of teaching, research and service, especially in areas that lend themselves to collaborative inquiry and scholarship. In some cases, grant competitions and other types of administrative support are in place to foster this integration, but there’s an elephant in the room.
Faculty searches at many institutions of higher education already acknowledge this shift, actively seeking candidates who are multi-disciplinary in their training, teaching, and service interests, and who are used to blending these activities. For many incoming faculty members in the sciences, the silos that defined training and teaching 15 or 20 years ago have given way to team-based approaches to graduate training, postdoctoral mentoring, teaching, and field and laboratory-based research. Similarly, the training model for many social sciences includes traditional research methods and data-oriented training merged with community outreach opportunities and service learning. Frequently, these experiences are interdisciplinary, bringing together interests and scholars that deepen understanding of an issue and provide more comprehensive data or possible solutions. These trends would appear to be entirely positive.
Enter the elephant.
Colleges and universities are sending very mixed messages to faculty members on where integrated research, teaching, and/or service work fits in their progression through the reappointment, tenure, and promotion systems that literally make or break their careers as professors. Many colleges show that they support and encourage integrated work, for example, by providing administrative and financial support for such activities through internal grants and centers, but when the time comes for reviews, professors find themselves in the position of essentially defending their activities. This is because many existing review criteria are designed with the “Big 3” in mind as separate factors, as a result of being formulated at the first half of the last century in terms of an academy that focused on itself as a free-standing intellectual center and less on being a resource for and an integral part of the communities that surround and support it.
When faculty members approach the review process at our university and elsewhere, the value of faculty work that blends the “Big 3” is unclear and difficult to measure. In some cases, integrated faculty work, especially integrated research and teaching, is seen as an aberration that requires justification, additional documentation, and assurance of the value of the activity in question. Indeed, the degree to which this message is unequivocally delivered varies somewhat, but as a general rule, a Google search of Web-accessible review criteria for many types of academic units returns requirements for justification of integrated or collaborative work. Examples of the types of validation required include but are not limited to:
Detailed explanation of why the integrated work can be classified as both research and service, and what proportion of the work falls into each category.
In the case of multi-authored or multi-participant projects (and this is common for integrated work), descriptions of individual contributions of all collaborators.
Explicit justification of why an integrated or collaborative approach was used.
Assurance that the integrated work is occurring in addition to the candidate’s activities in the traditional divisions of faculty work, especially in the case of research.
Clearly, part of the purpose of these guidelines is to assure that candidates are, in fact, making substantial and relevant contributions in research, teaching and service, and are not “double dipping” when engaged in and reporting integrated work. Moreover, when more than one individual is involved in a project, there can be concern that participation and responsibility for the project is not spread equally. It could be argued, however, that integrated work and collaborations produce positive outcomes that can be measured in ways besides the number of journal publications, student course evaluations, or the number of committee reports generated, many of which are not captured in traditional review guidelines.
For example, the definitions of contributions to a scholarly field can be expanded beyond the traditional disciplinary divisions and the journals associated with them for generations. Instead, equal weight can be given to relatively new but high quality venues dedicated to collaborative and integrated research, teaching and service. A great example of such an area is science education, in which science faculty conduct research on K-12 science education and classroom approaches. Additionally, work products, activities, and outcomes occurring outside traditional journal publications (i.e. applied work with non-profit organizations, governments, communities, or civic organizations) can be given greater weight in the review process.
Importantly, the collaboration that often goes hand-in-hand with integrating aspects of teaching, research and service has garnered significant support from several respected groups in higher education, and provides an additional challenge to faculty evaluation. This sentiment is well-articulated in a 2005 National Research Council report on fostering “independence” in emerging scientists: “An 'independent investigator' is one who enjoys independence of thought -- the freedom to define the problem of interest and/or to choose or develop the best strategies and approaches to address that problem. Under this definition, an independent scientist may work alone, as the intellectual leader of a research group, or as a member of a consortium of investigators each contributing distinct expertise. Specifically, we do not intend 'independence' to mean necessarily 'isolated' or 'solitary,' or to imply 'self-sustaining' or 'separately funded.'"
This definition is fundamentally different than the definition of independence that is used in many review documents which are based on the way we conducted ourselves as faculty members 20+ years ago. It is certainly different from the definition used, formally and informally, by review committees in many universities, and does not fit especially well with the team approach that often characterizes integrated teaching, research and service among our best and brightest faculty. The traditional definition is of a solitary, funded, scholar, recognized in his or her own rite as a contributor to the discipline, who does research, teaches, and serves in the silo of his or her discipline and institution and keeps each area of his or her job (teaching, research, and service) strictly separated.
It could be argued that in a world without the digital, data, and real-time communication and knowledge access capabilities of today, engaging in collaboration or attempting to integrate research and teaching, for example, was much riskier, and had the real possibility of diverting a pre-tenure faculty member’s attention, resources, and focus. Without electronic media, for example, the lag time between current research findings and the classroom or lab was much longer, and would conceivably be somewhat of a diversion from the focus of a course or project.
Today, however, the world is a very different place, and it is entirely possible for faculty members, regardless of career point, to collaborate, cross disciplines and time-zones, and get the on-demand data and communication they need to develop highly effective integrated research, teaching, and service activities and projects that provide incredible experiences for students and show, unequivocally, the value of the university. Doing this successfully can be a career-building centerpiece for some of our most innovative, committed, and promising faculty. As institutions, we strive to recruit the brightest, most promising faculty, many of whom are doing wonderful integrated research, teaching, and service work. It’s time for us to meet them halfway by creating review criteria and systems that reward this new definition of independence. Are review committees really so rigid that they can’t handle one list that combines research, teaching and service rather than three lists?
Mary Coussons-Read and Tammy Stone
Mary Coussons-Read is a professor of psychology, an associate dean at University of Colorado at Denver and the founder of Powerful Mind Coaching, where she coaches parents in academia and blogs about the trials and tribulations of balancing home, a research career, and academic administration. Tammy Stone is an associate professor of anthropology and an associate dean at the University of Colorado at Denver.
Congratulations! You have a tenure-track position. Now what? Seriously, how are you going to make the transition from tenure-track to tenured? What is the best way to spend your time? How much emphasis should you put on teaching? What are the scholarship expectations? Where should you publish? Do you need to be first author? Should you continue working with your graduate advisor? Should you stick to safe avenues of inquiry or take chances with new ideas? How many committees should you sit on? How many campus initiatives should you join? What, if anything, can you turn down? What is the relative value of teaching, scholarship, and service?
When I started my own tenure-track position I had the same questions. I perused published sources and quizzed colleagues to gain insight. I believed that by identifying the right steps to take, people to meet, ways to teach, scholarship to pursue, committees to seek out, and committees to avoid, I would bring clarity to the ambiguity of the tenure process. Unfortunately, my desire to cobble together a magical checklist was still plagued by a fundamental problem. My approach made getting tenure the primary goal.
On the surface, this is perfectly reasonable. Tenure provides job and financial security, as well as the ability to take risks in one’s scholarship and the opportunity to help shape the future of one’s institution. Yet, I believe a superior approach is to get a tenure-track position and then immediately remove the idea of “getting tenure” from your daily (or perhaps even moment by moment) thought process. That’s right. Getting tenure should not be your primary goal (though admittedly this is secretly a “how-to get tenure” article). Instead, your goal should be to follow your interests, your passion, your curiosity, and your creativity. In other words, you should follow all of the things that got you into this field in the first place.
In my first year, I experienced anxiety because the guidelines for getting tenure were somewhat vague. As I progressed in my second year I decided to be proactive and ask the then-chair of my department, David Strohmetz, about my status and trajectory. My anxiety laden query was met with a straightforward suggestion: “You can only do so much. If it doesn’t happen to be enough, you learn from the experience and move on.” I wanted to hear that I was meeting expectations and would assuredly do so in the future. Yet, his advice was the catalyst I needed.
His advice tacitly suggested that adopting a new perspective on the tenure process was more appropriate than constant progress reports. With this foundation, I decided to develop a personal philosophy based on my own priorities. As Morrie Schwartz said in Tuesdays With Morrie “…the culture we have does not make people feel good about themselves….And you have to be strong enough to say if the culture doesn’t work, don’t buy it. Create your own.” I suspect he wasn’t talking about the culture of academe, but the words are no less poignant. I did not feel good about the ambiguous tenure expectations. Rather than buying a five to six year quest through the labyrinthine tenure process, I’d forge my own path.
Admittedly, I had doubts. The social psychologist part of my brain had a strong suspicion that this “new philosophy” might merely be an attempt at dissonance reduction that was masquerading as a more noble effort. Luckily, in a stroke of serendipity, I was in the midst of preparing a Introduction to Psychology class on motivation. It was abundantly clear that I should start practicing a bit of what I was preaching.
To determine the genesis of my own motivation to pursue a tenure track position, I went back and re-read my research and teaching statements from my initial foray into the job market. At the top of my teaching statement was the quote that got me into academia in the first place.
“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” – Confucius
Clearly, as I explained in Intro Psych, this was a case of intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation. If I relied on extrinsic motivation, the goal of tenure was achieved by meeting the requirements generated by the university. If I relied on intrinsic motivation, the goal was to focus on my own desire to pursue projects, my own love of teaching, and my own sense of social responsibility to the students, department, and university.
As Robert Bellah and colleagues point out in Habits of the Heart, intrinsic and extrinsic motivation influence whether you see your position as a job (i.e., those who seek extrinsic rewards such as salary, and view the position as a nuisance or obligation), a career (i.e., those who seek extrinsic rewards such as power, enhanced prestige, and advancement), or a calling (i.e., those who seek intrinsic rewards such as self-fulfillment, and view the position as indistinguishable from one’s own goals). I quickly realized that I did not want a job, should not view this as a career, and instead should simply pursue my calling.
During yearly informational meetings with the provost, tenure-track professors asked questions focused on the relative value of teaching, scholarship, and service, and what materials were worthy of one’s tenure dossier. This line of questioning attempts to derive a clear formula of “if I do X, Y, and Z, tenure will be a sure thing for me.” The solution was not provided. Ultimately, the tenure decision is much too complex for such a formulaic approach. If the primary goal is not to simply get tenure, a formula is of little interest. Instead, from my perspective, if I spent time on the things I was passionate about, I would enjoy myself, be productive, and tenure would hopefully follow.
As the oracle at Delphi suggests, this approach requires one to “Know thyself.” That is, you need to clearly know what energizes your teaching, what topics you enjoy, what your academic goals are, what areas of scholarship interest you, and what service efforts you value. I asked myself “in an ideal world at an ideal college, what would the tenure requirements be?”, “If you could research anything, what topics would you study?”, “What is the best way to dedicate your time to service?”, and “Ideally, what would your scholarship expectations be?” The answers were the foundation for my own tenure plan. But alas, one should not go blindly into the fray. It is helpful to have colleagues review your plan.
Creating your own standards helps avoid the trap of striving for the minimum standards. Setting your own standards also allows you to avoid seeing the tenure process as a series of arbitrary hoops to jump through, and instead allows you to enjoy the steps along the way. By focusing on your interests, your plan may be more ambitious than necessary, and may include activities that do not count toward tenure. Although this may be “invisible work”, filling your vita is a secondary concern. I found that many activities that were not worth their weight in “tenure-track value” relative to the time I devoted to them were valuable to me, and valuable to the students.
Ultimately, by doing what you love, you are doing “enough” for your academic career. Granted, there is a possibility that it might not be enough for your current position. Once again, “You can only do so much. If it doesn’t happen to be enough, you learn from the experience and move on.” If you find yourself moving on, by following your passion you’ll have built a record that highlights your strengths and true interests. This way, you can more easily find a college that values the qualities and activities that you value. The alternative is trying to get tenure by doing things to fit in that may compromise your true interests. If you are truly a bad match for your institution, can you tolerate that for your entire career? Tenure doesn’t need to come at the expense of happiness, professional fulfillment, or your sanity.
Focusing on the intrinsic joy of your calling, rather than the extrinsic process of tenure, should also promote post-tenure productivity. If you simply work to get tenure, you engage in goal-directed behavior that provides motivation only when the goal exists. If you get tenure, where will the motivation come from? Doing what you enjoy has the benefit of increased efficiency, and ultimately productivity. Rather than seeing students as potential obstacles to the positive teaching evaluations I needed, or writing a manuscript to meet a scholarship requirement, you can teach and engage in scholarship to share knowledge. By following your true interests during the pre-tenure years you establish a pattern of behavior that becomes routine. If these are activities you enjoy, why would you stop? You won’t “be done” or think “now I can coast.” Instead you will have a sense of fulfillment and anticipation of future opportunities.
In the end, a tenure candidate can spend energy on trying to do all the “right” things. I suspect this energy leads to greater anxiety and stress. This type of energy comes at the expense of creative energy that could invigorate one’s teaching, scholarship, and service. When you get tenure, you want to have the satisfaction of knowing it was truly earned on your own terms and not something you lucked into because you took the “right” steps, knew the “right” people, or played the politics “properly.” So was I happy to get tenure? Absolutely. Was I relieved that the arduous, stressful, and ambiguous process of trying to get tenure was finally over? Not at all. I stopped trying years ago.
Gary W. Lewandowski Jr.
Gary W. Lewandowski Jr. is associate professor of psychology at Monmouth University.
America is up in arms about bonuses for AIG executives who raked up astronomical losses that have (almost) brought our economy to its knees. While most Americans have to deal with the fear of (or actual) job losses, declining values of their homes, evaporating retirement funds, they see hundreds of millions of their tax dollars being paid to the very individuals who created this mess. Compensation practices at AIG and other Wall Street firms not only violated a common sense of fairness, they also turned out to be self-destructive: they rewarded excessive risk-taking and disincentivized responsible risk underwriting at AIG or responsible banking practices at Citibank, Bank of America and others.
Seduced by the enormous rewards associated with betting on derivatives, AIG executives (and the bankers at the other firms) sabotaged their ability to perform the important but more mundane tasks of insuring the homes and retirements of the average tax payer or lending to the businesses that employ them. And they never realized they were cutting off the branch on which they sat until they dropped.…
In higher education we might shake our heads over the insane amounts of money involved, but when it comes to warped reward systems that sabotage an entire profession’s ability to perform its most important function, we don’t have to look far.
A few weeks ago I talked with the provost of a large research university. When the conversation touched on faculty priorities, the provost explained the parameters that determine career progression and remuneration at her institution. They are not very different from those at most research universities in this country and might sound familiar to many. Her hierarchy (in order of importance) of what faculty should do to be considered successful and paid generously was something like this:
a) Win a Nobel Prize b) Write a research grant that attracts millions of dollars from the government (if the money comes from the NSF or the NIH instead of the treasury it is not called a bailout, but a “research grant”) c) Conduct research, publish profusely and speak on as many conferences as possible to generate publicity, win prizes and have their research quoted by others d) Secure patents on their research e) Write a textbook that becomes a standard in their field f) Sit on a few doctoral committees to attract and nurture the next generation of researchers g) Teach a basic undergraduate courses that prepare students for the more demanding classes in the junior and senior year or graduate school h) Be an effective adviser
She pointed out that while a) - e) have direct financial rewards attached to them, f) - h) do not. But then she made an important point that shows that the warped logic of AIG’s compensation system is alive and well on our campuses: “The punishment for being a good adviser is that you get more advisees. That makes sure that you have less time to do any of the activities a) - e). The more you do for student retention and success, the more you cement your status at the bottom of the pecking order. And that is not lost on our faculty.”
The result? In this case a freshman drop-out rate of 18% (which is still below the national average of 25 percent, but much higher than it should be). If faculty are focused more on research than on the success of their students, they are behaving rationally and in accordance with the metrics used by their employer. On many campuses teaching and advising are considered to be hard or impossible to measure, ergo they do not get rewarded, ergo it is considered acceptable and inevitable that too little time and effort are invested in them.
But is this more than just a lame excuse? Systems to assess the effectiveness of teaching have been around for a while. And now there are systems that measure the effectiveness of advising, too. Yes, the effectiveness of teaching and advising can be measured! The true reason they are not seems to be that it is a lot sexier to chase the fast rewards of large research grants than to focus on the mundane tasks of making students successful.
Faculty embrace the value system of their employers as much as the executives of AIG’s Financial Products Division used to. Similarly, their bosses in the cabinets of their institutions seem to have lost focus on their core missions as much as the management committee of AIG had during the derivatives bubble. The coming lean years will show how much of the branches that support our higher ed institutions have been cut away in the past by a compensation system that incentivizes failure not only of students, but maybe also of entire institutions.
Christoph Knoess, is a higher education consultant and founder of Engaged Minds, a services company focused on increasing student retention and success. His Web site is at http://www.engagedmindsinc.com.
In his provocatively titled recent book, The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t, Robert I. Sutton argues for zero tolerance of “bullies, creeps, jerks, weasels, tormentors, tyrants, serial slammers, despots, [and] unconstrained egomaniacs” in the workplace. These individuals systematically prey on their co-workers, especially the more vulnerable ones, leaving their victims feeling humiliated, belittled, and demoralized. Their weapons include personal insults, threats and intimidation, hostile e-mails, public ridicule, and scornful interruptions. In the environments that they poison, enthusiasm for work gives way to anxiety, resentment, and a longing to get out.
The importance of a civil workplace struck Sutton more than 15 years ago during a department meeting at Stanford University, where he teaches. As his colleagues debated hiring a candidate for a faculty position, one of them remarked, “Listen, I don’t care if that guy won the Nobel Prize ... I just don’t want any assholes ruining our group.” Sutton describes the group as a collegial and supportive small department, “especially compared to the petty but relentless nastiness that pervades much of academic life.”
Although he goes on to cite many businesses that have the zero tolerance policy that he advocates, he does not return to his bleak characterization of academic life. Neither does he explore the reluctance of universities to hold faculty members to the rules of conduct that many businesses are implementing — rules that supplement standard prohibitions against harassment and discrimination — even while they apply them to staff. At my own university, for example, exempt and non-exempt staff are explicitly required to “cooperate and collaborate with other employees in a spirit of teamwork and collegiality” as a condition of their employment. Faculty members are not.
The reluctance to adopt a code of conduct for faculty members stems in part from a belief also expressed in corporate workplaces: that geniuses must be jerks and that some belligerence, indifference to others, and rudeness are inseparable from the achievements of a Steve Jobs or Bobby Knight. Sutton counters this view by observing that not all successful people are jerks and that jerks succeed despite their cruelty to others, not because of it. I would add that the odds are slim that the professor yelling at the departmental secretary spends the rest of his day bringing about a Copernican revolution in his discipline.
Sutton also argues that even in the extremely unlikely event that the bully is a genius, he still does more harm than good — which is why a Bobby Knight or Michael Eisner eventually wears out his welcome. Making exceptions for seemingly special cases can be damaging, not only in spawning imitators but in depressing the initiative of others. Sutton rightly emphasizes that “negative interactions have five times the effect on mood than positive interactions”: “a few demeaning creeps can overwhelm the warm feelings generated by hoards of civilized people.”
However, the November 1999 American Association of University Professors statement on collegiality as a criterion for faculty evaluation — while conceding the importance of collegiality to teaching, scholarship, and service — favors limiting a faculty member’s evaluation to these three areas on the grounds that vigorous discussions are essential to academic life. Adding collegiality as a yardstick, the AAUP asserts, is not only unnecessary — it risks “ensuring homogeneity,” “chilling faculty debate and discussion,” and curtailing academic freedom by stigmatizing individuals who do not fit in or defer to the group:
In the heat of important decisions regarding promotion or tenure, as well as other matters involving such traditional areas of faculty responsibility as curriculum or academic hiring, collegiality may be confused with the expectation that a faculty member display “enthusiasm” or “dedication,” evince “a constructive attitude” that will “foster harmony,” or display an excessive deference to administrative or faculty decisions where these may require reasoned discussion. Such expectations are flatly contrary to elementary principles of academic freedom, which protect a faculty member’s right to dissent from the judgments of colleagues and administrations.
Weeding out the gadflies, critics, and malcontents (via the criterion of collegiality), according to the AAUP statement, leaves us with the “genial Babbitts” and casts “a pall of stale uniformity” on what should be a scene of vibrant debate.
“Should be” is the key phrase here. The individuals Sutton is criticizing — the bullies, jerks, and so on — themselves chill debate through personal attacks, intimidation, and invective. One sign of this is the relief felt when they are away. Instead of disappearing, dissent blossoms, as individuals can now express ideas without fear of vicious recrimination and unfounded attack.
Thus, some faculty members have begun exploring codes of conduct, not because they want to squelch free debate but because they want to enable it. They are especially concerned about the most vulnerable faculty members – often newcomers with fresh perspectives and much-needed enthusiasm – who may shy away from departmental deliberations lest they jeopardize their personal futures. The motivation behind codes of conduct is not to make everyone agree but to let everyone feel free to disagree, allowing all voices to be heard.
The literary scholar Linda Hutcheon offers a version of this argument in her recent essay “Saving Collegiality,” in Profession, published by the Modern Language Association. While acknowledging the potential dangers of poorly worded and insensitively enforced codes of conduct, Professor Hutcheon reaffirms the importance of mutual respect, civility, and constructive cooperation to healthy debate: “Harmonious human relations need not stifle the right to dissent that we all so rightly treasure; instead they can make dissent easier, because safer. I fail to see how inclusivity and collaboration would necessarily chill debate.”
I think that this mounting interest in collegiality stems from the intensification of the forces arrayed against it:
A star system that widens inequities between the haves and have-nots and equates academic success with a reduction in teaching loads, service commitments, and other work on behalf of the institution.
Greater reliance on adjuncts and part-time faculty with little connection to the departments that hire them.
Tension between administrators and faculty exacerbated by top-down methods of management and increased demands for narrowly defined measures of accountability.
A poor job market that places individuals at institutions where they may not want to be, thereby fostering feelings of estrangement, disdain for colleagues, and single-minded efforts to leave via one’s research.
Recourse to e-mail as a substitute for face-to-face collaborative decision-making. Its impersonality unintentionally licenses individuals to fight and distrust one another even more (as Sutton explains, “apparently this happens because people don’t get the complete picture that comes with ‘being there,’ as e-mail and phones provide little information about the demands that people face and the physical setting they work in, and can’t convey things like the facial expressions, verbal intonations, posture, and ‘group mood’ ”); and, finally,
Inadequate salaries and benefits at many universities, deepening resentment, stoking competition for increasingly scarce material rewards, and adding new urgency to often longstanding rivalries and feuds.
Add to these forces department chairs who are inadequately prepared for dealing with conflict, and an already fragile community begins to pull apart, giving antisocial behavior even freer rein.
The disintegration of community takes a special toll on academic workplaces. In a chapter of tips for surviving nasty people and hostile workplaces, Sutton mentions developing indifference and emotional detachment, limiting contact with one’s adversaries, and doing the bare minimum required by one’s job — in effect, disengaging. These are not solutions but survival strategies intended to assist individuals stuck a demoralizing job that they cannot change or escape.
So collegiality turns out to be important as well as endangered: important because necessary to the free discussions, voluntary service, and constructive collaborations that universities depend on and endangered because so many institutional developments militate against it. Thinking about the collegial atmosphere of a particular institution, one of the contributors to the Profession symposium wonders if it might not just be “the luck of the draw,” the happy byproduct of a mix of people who just happen to get along, rather than the result of institutional intention.
But other contributors rightly counter that some steps can be taken, especially by department chairs, to foster collegial professional relations: for example, modeling respectful treatment of others, expressing appreciation, hosting social events and lunch meetings, sharing information, informally consulting with and involving colleagues, distributing responsibility, supporting reading groups organized around certain topics, setting up forums where faculty members can discuss teaching or present their research — in short, creating a vibrant social context for decision-making and debate. It can be harder to demonize people you eat lunch with or see at a reception with their children. One contributor to the symposium shrewdly defines a dysfunctional department as “one where the main interactions with the faculty are around tenure decisions.” Embedding difficult discussions in a network of relationships cushions their potentially divisive impact.
At the same time, another contributor to the Profession symposium, Gerald Graff, makes the important point that these “soft” ways of nudging faculty members into collegiality, though necessary, are not sufficient. As “add-ons” or “Friday afternoon solutions,” they must compete with other priorities in a busy professor’s life. When deadlines call and the pace of the semester picks up, attendance drops off and enthusiasm wanes.
Professor Graff argues for supplementing these measures with structural changes in the curriculum such as team teaching, exchanging classes with a colleague at mid-semester, and teaching one another’s books. Overcoming the customary isolation of teaching enables collaboration to be incorporated into what we do every week.
There remains, however, the problem of those admittedly few angry, disruptive individuals whom no one would want to teach or mix with — the “bullies, creeps, jerks, weasels, tormentors, tyrants, serial slammers, despots, [and] unconstrained egomaniacs” that I started out this essay with.
It is always tempting to ignore these individuals, hope they’ll go away, or find some way of excusing them. In “When Good Doctors Go Bad,” Atul Gawande observes the extraordinary lengths physicians will go to look the other way even when one of their colleagues repeatedly botches surgeries, abuses patients, and triggers lawsuits. As with many cases of professorial misconduct, the people in the best position to see the damage being done can be in the worst position to take action against it: junior physicians, nurses, staff members. Meanwhile, senior physicians are held back partly by the tremendous work involved in documenting and substantiating evidence of incompetence and partly by social pressures.
There’s an official line about how the medical profession is supposed to deal with these physicians: Colleagues are expected to join forces promptly to remove them from practice and report them to the medical-licensing authorities, who, in turn, are supposed to discipline them or expel them from the profession. It hardly ever happens, for no tight-knit community can function that way.
As in academic departments, intervention gives way to avoidance but at great cost, in the one case to the incompetent physician’s patients, in the other to the abusive professor’s colleagues and students, who sometimes come into play as prizes to be fought over or enemies to be scorned because they have sided with a rival.
Even so, despite the odds against it, in hospitals and doctors’ practices sometimes the bad physician loses his license or gets sanctioned in some other way.
In universities, here is where a carefully designed faculty code of conduct can become necessary — as a last resort, when other interventions have failed and the behavior in question falls through the cracks of the faculty handbook. The threshold for invoking the code should be high, not just by one isolated outburst. But the expectation of collegial behavior, of cooperating and collaborating with other employees in a spirit of teamwork and collegiality, should be there — not as a distinct criterion for promotion and tenure but as a condition of employment for faculty as well as for staff. Once faculty members make the difficult decision to act against a disruptive colleague, they must have the means of doing so, lest powerlessness and frustration make their demoralization even worse.
After a code of conduct is institutionalized, it becomes everyone’s responsibility to use it. In my experience, most people treat others in the academic workplace with respect, consideration, and care, conduct code or no conduct code. My intent here has not been to legislate collegiality but to make sure that in those rare instances when enough is enough, when egregious behavior persists and reaches a carefully defined tipping point, faculty members and administrators are in a position to do something about it.
Michael Fischer is vice president for academic affairs and dean of the faculty, as well as a professor of English, at Trinity University, in San Antonio. Prior to joining the Trinity administration, he was dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and professor of English at the University of New Mexico. A longer version of this essay will appear in Change and is available on the magazine's Web site.
The financial sector catastrophe and consequent worldwide recession are a crisis of “ethic” proportion, in Vanguard founder John Bogle’s words. Higher education’s own responsibility for the failures of ethical leadership in business, the gatekeeper professions, and government should trigger a careful self-assessment. Could it be that the academic profession, whose members both educate and serve as role models in the formation years for leaders in business, government, and all the other peer review professions, is falling short in its own ethical responsibilities?
A major theme of "The Future of the Professoriate: Academic Freedom, Peer Review, and Shared Governance," the first in the Association of American Colleges and Universities' new Intentional Leadership in the New Academy series of essays, is that the academic profession has been failing for many years in its ethical duty to acculturate new entrants into the tradition and ethics of the profession. The central argument in "The Future of the Professoriate" is that members of a peer-review profession cannot aggressively justify and defend their control over professional work when they do not both understand the profession’s social contract and internalize their responsibilities under the social contract. The social contract of each peer-review profession is the tacit agreement between society and members of a profession that regulates their relationship with each other, in particular the profession’s control over professional work. Essentially, in order for the public to grant a peer-review profession more autonomy and control over the work different from the control that society and employers exercise over other occupations, the public must trust that the profession and its members will use the autonomy at least to some degree to benefit the public in the area of the profession’s responsibility, not abuse occupational control over the work merely to serve self-interest.
The simple fact is that all the data available indicate that a substantial proportion of graduate students and faculty members do not clearly understand the profession's social contract, academic freedom, shared governance, and each professor's and the faculty's specific duties that justify the profession's claims to autonomy. Osmosis-like diffusion of these concepts and duties does not work. There must be required education on professional ethics for graduate students and entering and veteran faculty just as there is for law students in all states and members of the legal profession in many states. (Academic Ethics (American Council on Education/Oryx Press, 2002) outlines the content of this education.)
The governing boards of many colleges and universities represent the public in the social contract between the public and the academic profession. "The Future of the Professoriate" argues that the boards and their senior administrative teams have faced substantial market changes in higher education in recent decades; the current budgetary disaster driven by reduced taxpayer support for public higher education and reduced endowments is among the most difficult of these market changes. While members of all peer-review professions carry an ongoing burden to justify to the public (and the boards representing the public) the profession’s occupational control over the work, carrying this burden is particularly critical during a time of rapid market change.
The report's analysis is that during this period of market change, the academic profession has been almost totally missing in action in mounting a robust public defense of both how the public benefits from the profession’s autonomy and control over its work in the form of academic freedom, peer review, and shared governance and how the profession and its members are actively fulfilling their duties under the social contract. Paradoxically, while we are educators, we are not educating. The situation is similar to the failure of the medical profession to mount a robust public defense of its autonomy during the 1980s and 1990s when the health care market changed toward managed care that dramatically reduced the medical profession’s control over its professional work.
At a significant swath of institutions, the academic profession’s defense of the social contract has focused on rights and job security. As Eliot Freidson in Professionalism: The Third Logic (University of Chicago Press, 2001) has observed, when the peer-review professions defend their social contracts, they typically rely on a rhetoric of rights, job security, and “good intentions, which [are] belied by the patently self-interested character of many of their activities. What they almost never do is spell out the principles underlying the institutions that organize and support the way they do their work and take active responsibility for [the realization of the principles].” They do not undertake responsibility for assuring the quality of their members’ work. The academic profession’s anemic defense of its social contract confirms Freidson’s observation.
The predicable result of an anemic defense of a profession’s social contract during a time of market change is that the society and employers will restructure control of the profession’s work toward the regulatory and employer control typical for other occupations -- essentially the default employment arrangements in a market economy. This is what has been happening to the academic profession. The boards at many colleges and universities have been renegotiating a sweeping change in the academic profession’s social contract over many years to reduce the profession’s autonomy and control over professional work. "The Future of the Professoriate" details how the renegotiation is most evident with the dramatic increase in contingent faculty to the point that, by 2003, 59 percent of all newly hired full-time faculty started in non-tenure-track positions.
The academic profession must not resign itself to the current trend toward contingent faculty, but it cannot reverse the trends toward a higher proportion of contingent faculty and less occupational control over professional work by employing a rhetoric of rights, job security, and good intentions. However, professors cannot defend the social contract without both having the knowledge necessary to make the defense and actively meeting their duties under the social contract. The single most important step for the profession is improving the acculturation of graduate students and veteran academics into the tradition and ethics of the profession. The best starting point at each institution may be a simple faculty self-assessment of the degree to which the faculty is helping new and veteran faculty members understand and internalize both the minimum standards of competence and ethical conduct for the profession (the ethics of duty) and the core values and ideals of the profession (the ethics of aspiration).
If the academic profession at many institutions does not undertake these responsibilities, then this crisis of ethic proportion will continue, and the trajectory for the academic profession for the next twenty years will, in all likelihood, look like the trajectory for the last thirty years. Members of the profession will continue a slow transformation toward employment as technical experts subject to the dominant market model of employer control over work.
While many in the profession believe the battle is against oppressive governing boards, administrators, and market forces, the battle is actually for the soul of the profession. Imagine a world in which each professor at an institution had fully internalized the tradition and ethics of the profession. We are educators. From a position of knowledge and moral authority, not just self-interest, we could then convince the public -- and, most importantly, the governing boards and administrative leadership who are trustees for the public good of creating and disseminating knowledge -- that academic freedom, peer review, and shared governance best serve the institution’s mission.
Neil W. Hamilton
Neil Hamilton is professor of law and director of the Holloran Center for Ethical Leadership in the Professions at the University of St. Thomas.
Is the institution of tenure supportable? No, but not for the reasons you may think. Routine complaints about iron-clad job security and lack of accountability miss the point. But so do pleas for academic freedom from outside (and largely notional) political forces. The real danger of tenure is that it threatens academic freedom instead of protecting it.
The issue is now more acute than ever because financial stresses have created a situation in which normal academic job competition and jockeying for position have been raised to a fever pitch, a desperate scramble among scores of talented people for a slice of the shrinking academic pie. At the same time, public awareness of the costs of maintaining university professors has underlined a significant social change: Taxpayers no longer believe anyone, however brilliant or productive, should get a lifetime guarantee of job security. And they suspect, rightly, that many of those enjoying that privilege may not be so brilliant or productive.
But, while some professors now privately admit an opposition to tenure, many more continue to view it as their rightful inheritance, equal parts compensation for the uncertainties of graduate school and mark of professional advancement in a system where incremental rises in status are as important as pips on the collar of a subaltern. No tenured professor has any reason to criticize his gravy train. Nor does any tenure-track junior professor, sweating out the first few years of professional review. And no graduate student, criticizing academic privilege, could fend off an automatic sour-grapes reply. In any case, grad students, the academic world’s drudges, are usually too fearful to speak out. Enjoying a status somewhat less than that of the departmental janitor, they live in daily terror that the poobahs in the department will decide they are troublemakers who don’t really merit good letters of reference. Hence the cone of silence: All in all, tenure remains sacrosanct because nobody with any standing has a stake in criticizing it.
There is another major factor in tenure’s culture of belief and that is simple psychology, exacerbated by the rampant professional envy of the academic world. The main reason people want tenure is because other people have it. Many academics do not admit this, maybe not even to themselves, because standard arguments about academic freedom are available to them, arguments that make tenure’s critics look crass. Even young academics, previously the victims of exploitation, quickly become rabidly pro-tenure when they cross the bright line onto the tenure track. Though they may complain about the perfidy of their complacent elders, there is nothing that gets the goat of junior academics more than the thought that tenure might be denied them. But now try offering a few deeper objections. Who needs academic freedom in a constitutional democracy, where freedom of expression is already guaranteed? Or, more slyly, what possible objection could there be to speaking frankly about topics in which most people have utterly no interest? Most academic work, especially in the humanities, is published for an audience smaller than a successful cocktail party, and the rest falls stillborn from the press, ignored by citizen and colleague alike.
So fears of outside persecution and job endangerment are, well, pretty academic. Campus scaremongers like the Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship would have you believe that tenure is the last ditch in a trench war against crusading left-wing ideologues, unfettered postmodernists, radical feminists, committed social constructionists, and similar forces of evil. But every academic knows that far more persecution comes from petty egomaniacs, advancement-seekers, and envious colleagues within departments than from public disapproval. Tenure has no business justifying itself by reference to that kind of internal threat, which is not really about academic freedom but intramural power struggles.
Moreover, tenure hasn’t proved much protection against internal politicking, whether personal or cultural. Just ask the members of the University of British Columbia’s political science department, forced in the mid-1990s to undergo re-education programs by an internal political correctness mafia. And when public disapproval of an academic’s ideas does become an issue, on the other hand, as in the celebrated case of controversial eugenicist Philippe Rushton at the University of Western Ontario, university administrators and department heads are often lily-livered in the face of it. Tenure won’t help you if your university president decides you’re too embarrassing to keep around.
So much for the first-blush case. Are there good arguments for protecting academic freedom anyway?
Despite what bottom-line, tax-cutting ideologues say, there are. Work which appears useless may be extremely important, indeed worthy of public support, even (or especially) if it’s dedicated to questions beyond the ken of political calculation. Useless is not the same as valueless, at least in a world where use is measured largely in financial terms. But some goods, like truth and beauty, are literally priceless.
The times are not ripe for that kind of argument, of course. Nowadays people are growing increasingly impatient with appeals to higher (but invisible) goods and cultural benefits, and sure enough, some critics of tenure go so far as to argue that universities should behave like private businesses and survive in the free market or die, in which case tenure would become an inefficient human resource policy to be abandoned with alacrity. But if you argue against tenure by appealing to market pressures and productivity, you miss tenure’s real shortcomings. Because the problem with tenure isn’t that it lacks cost-effectiveness — defined reductively, universities on the whole lack that. The problem is that it doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do; namely, encourage the free speaking and innovation that scholarship allegedly is in service of.
Academic freedom becomes more important, not less, when the market dominates our calculations of worth, meaning there is more reason, perhaps, that there ought to be some kind of exemption for thinkers and writers from the crush of market imperatives and the crass utilitarianism that marks social spending.
That’s assuming that we as a society want higher learning at all and are willing, at least in principle, to support research universities with our tax dollars. Let us say, for the sake of argument, that we do want these things. We could then argue that tenure was necessary to preserve the existence, and relevance, of the useless. Like a Chinese emperor’s paid critic or Lear’s fool, tenured professors could be viewed as a thorn in the side of the state, a prickle of critical awareness and originality whose sting is in everyone’s interests. The emperor needs to know who his enemies are and what they are thinking; he also needs to know that he is limited in his knowledge and wisdom. Hence the most valuable kind of useless knowledge may be whatever is most antithetical to the desires and assumptions of the state.
Would the status quo’s academic critics, thus domesticated, feel happy? My hunch, looking around at a few of what Roger Kimball called in his rabid, eponymous book “tenured radicals,” is that they’d feel just dandy about it. Of course if academics become too domesticated they lose their relevance, which is precisely the ability to speak out harshly and tell the truth. And that undermines this entire delicate argument. Then academics are both useless and irrelevant, an unhappy but common duality in today’s universities. The paradox of tenure as a means of protecting academic freedom is this: It is only justified by someone who despises it. Tenure cherished is tenure made indefensible. It is only by living up to the challenge of telling the truth, in other words, that artificial exemption from market forces and social utilitarianism can be justified.
So there is in fact an argument for protecting academic freedom, even in a tolerant democracy like ours, but it is one that would apply to precious few of today’s academics. The point sharpens the question of whether tenuring individuals is the best way to secure academic freedom. The two issues are so intertwined now that separating them is almost impossible: attack tenure and you must be attacking academic freedom, by definition the act of a philistine.
But not so fast. There are grave dangers in investing individuals with too much significance here. The valuable principle is academic freedom, freedom for the courageous and honest to tell the truth. It is not that this or that person should be forever immune from challenge about her or his job — a confusion made into policy by various faculty associations in this country, who rationalize defending the unworthy individual by referring to the “principles” behind tenure. This confusion has many deleterious effects, and anyone who has attended a university is familiar with them. The problem, as we all know, isn’t really tenured radicals — would that there were more of them. The problem is tenured mediocrities, of whom there are all too many.
Unfortunately, but to nobody’s surprise, the institution of tenure tends to make academic departments conservative. Since tenure decisions are made by senior faculty, all of them tenured themselves, there is a natural tendency to reproduce the status quo. Academics deny this, but their acts betray them. Arguments about “the standards of the profession” and the “fixed criteria of good scholarship” look increasingly strained as those who narrowly conform are rewarded while those who deviate are punished.
The genuine threat to academic freedom, as every junior professor knows at heart, comes not from the world at large but from the senior faculty who hold the keys to job security and status. This threat is usually ignored because it concerns those clinging to the lowest rung of the academic ladder: graduate students and junior faculty. But there is a debilitating effect on young minds when conformity counts more highly than originality. Junior faculty emerge, shaken, from their three-year review meetings, coping with the assessment of their progress to tenure. Have they published enough journal articles? Are they the right kind of articles? In the right kind of journals? Have they served on enough committees? Have they, most of all, sufficiently impressed the departmental power-brokers with their malleability, deference, and ability to echo the opinions of their seniors?
It would be wrong to suggest that there is no element of objective quality assessment in this process, of course, or indeed that all judgments of success within a discipline are reducible to judgments of conformity. They are not, and originality without rigor is not scholarship but modishness. Yet if departments and disciplines, like all corporate structures, do have an in-built tendency to recreate themselves in their own image, truly original thought will frequently fail to fit the bill. It is a rare tenure committee that is willing to approve “non-standard” career paths.
This is especially so now that competition for academic jobs is at an all-time high. You can sample the fear created by this tight employment market by visiting the annual December meetings of the Modern Language Association, the American Philosophical Association, or any of the other big disciplinary professional groups. Here job candidates haunt the hallways like the academic undead, proffering their unwanted résumés to anyone with a heartbeat. Some tenure-committee members realize that they would not survive a nanosecond in the crucible of today’s job market, and the resulting insecurity sometimes leads them, perversely, to be even harder on their juniors.
The resulting strain on junior academics is considerable. You will frequently hear them speak of their “vulnerability” or offer an impending tenure review as excuse for lacking a social life. You cannot blame them, indeed it is only rational, if they begin to retrench and try to pump out the sort of articles that will look good on their curriculum vitae. Give them credit: they will do their best to be original, to break some new intellectual ground. But it will not be — it cannot be — their chief concern.
The point of the institution of tenure, its only possible point, is intellectual innovation. The justification for removing academics from the hurly-burly of market forces, the nearly insane imperatives of capital, is that it gives them the breathing room to be original without fear of economic reprisal. We as a society need that free speaking, for not all good thought is popular thought. We want our scholars to pursue the true and the interesting without having to calculate the results in terms of economic use-values. Even the fact that many fail to make the most of it should not reflect badly on the institution — as long, that is, as there exist a few who take the opportunity seriously, who use their freedom to challenge and to lead. As it stands, too few are doing that to justify the self-satisfied majority.
Mark Kingwell is professor of philosophy at the University of Toronto and the author of 12 books, including A Civil Tongue (1995), Concrete Reveries (2008), and Glenn Gould (2009). A version of this essay appeared first in Academic Matters, the journal of the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations.
The single most important structural change in higher education over the last two generations has been the massively increased reliance on faculty teaching intensively in contingent positions — 33 percent in 1975, 66 percent 30 years later in 2005, roughly 70 percent now. No other reform means anything unless we can obtain job security and academic freedom for the majority of college teachers. It will require solidarity from tenured faculty.
The only true solidarity among current faculty members requires granting tenure to all long-term contingent faculty members. All. One hundred tenured slots for 9,500 contingent faculty members is not solidarity. It’s a mud-wrestling contest with tenure as a prize. Nor does a tiered division between two classes of faculty — 50 percent tenured and 50 percent expendable, or 75 percent tenured and 25 percent contingent — constitute the principled structural change we need. What do we gain if we set as our ideal the permanent diminishment of most of our colleagues’ lives? What good is a compromised ideal? Why congratulate ourselves for selling out?
The only goal worth fighting for is full justice for all who teach. No solution that throws most existing faculty serving in contingent positions under the bus is acceptable. Solidarity is not a weasel word. It’s not about compromising with power. It’s about reaching out to the disempowered and offering them hope. Every other year some two hundred contingent, sessional, or precarious faculty from North America — the titles vary by country — gather together at a COCAL meeting to share their strategies for reform. Most have spent their working lives being eaten alive by the higher education industry. And yet they have held onto their humor, their charm, and their pedagogical passions. I cannot betray them. Nor will the American Association of University Professors do so. In its new policy paper — "Tenure and Teaching Intensive Appointments" — the AAUP recommends that all long-term contingent faculty members be granted tenure.
Since tenure can be awarded to both part-time and full-time faculty members — a person could have tenure at a less than full-time percentage appointment -- the AAUP’s proposal carries no necessary cost. It does not, in all honesty, guarantee faculty members a living wage. But it does give them the job security they need to advocate for better working conditions without fear of reprisal, and it eliminates the sometimes crippling stress accompanying at-will employment. It gives all faculty access to shared governance, including the ability at most institutions to serve on curriculum committees, so that the folks who do the teaching will actually have a say in course planning and development, something that has always been a fundamental AAUP principle. It goes a tremendous distance toward unifying the faculty and reinvigorating faculty solidarity. And because -- unlike conversion proposals that call for full-time appointments for all -- it does not cost money, tenure-for-all can be promoted on the basis of principle alone.
Some administrators will no doubt respond with calls for flexibility in hiring, but the adjunct army that teaches composition, math, and introductory foreign language courses is not providing services likely to prove unnecessary in any imaginable future. Administrators may come and go, but the adjunct army persists. The AAUP’s new statement, it is important to note, supports a traditional probationary period before tenure is awarded. That probationary period provides sufficient time to decide whether a given set of teaching responsibilities will be fleeting or permanent. Meanwhile, thousands of faculty members serving in contingent positions — some of them for a decade or two or more — have effectively "passed" their tenure review by virtue of being hired back year after year. Future part-time hires would undergo appropriate peer review during their probationary period.
Would administrators simply terminate their adjunct army, rather than tenure them? The very size of the long-term adjunct cohort in many systems makes that impractical. The practical educational and administrative consequences of suddenly jettisoning many of an institution’s experienced faculty members would be considerable. Demands for comprehensive conversion to full-time positions would be another matter, which once again demonstrates why the alternative demand for tenure is more realistic. The AAUP’s proposal, paradoxically, is at once modest and revolutionary. Of course its implementation would still benefit from solidarity with tenured faculty.
"Solidarity" is the original rallying cry of worker-empowered union organizing. Its invocation recalls generations of consciousness-raising, of group identification, of class interest recognition, of bodies risked and bodies broken. There were times when the call for solidarity could not overcome racial divisions, when the discourse of solidarity could not link black and white bodies arm in arm. And there were times when it could. Solidarity encompasses the ideological glue that held groups together. It is the concept that gave courage and meaning to imperiled, solitary souls on those most lonely of union nights. Here is Sterling Brown’s “Sharecroppers,” first published in 1939 in Get Organized: Stories and Poems about Trade Union People:
When they rode up at first dark and called his name,
He came out like a man from his little shack.
He saw his landlord, and he saw the sheriff,
And some well-armed riff-raff in the pack.
When they fired questions about the meeting,
He stood like a man gone deaf and dumb,
But when the leaders left their saddles,
He knew then that his time had come.
In the light of the lanterns the long cuts fell,
And his wife’s weak moans and the children's wails
Mixed with the sobs he could not hold.
But he wouldn’t tell, he would not tell,
The Union was his friend, and he was Union,
And there was nothing a man could say.
So they trussed him up with stout ploughlines,
Hitched up a mule, dragged him far away
Into the dark woods that tell no tales,
Where he kept his secrets as well as they.
He would not give away the place,
Not who they were, neither white nor black,
Nor tell what his brothers were about.
They lashed him, and they clubbed his head;
One time he parted his bloody lips
Out of great pain and greater pride,
One time, to laugh in his landlord’s face;
Then his landlord shot him in the side.
He toppled, and the blood gushed out.
But he didn’t mumble ever a word,
And cursing, they left him there for dead.
He lay waiting quiet, until he heard
The growls and the mutters dwindle away;
“Didn’t tell a single thing,” he said,
Then to the dark woods and the moon
He gave up one secret before he died:
“We gonna clean out dis brushwood round here soon,
Plant de white-oak and de black-oak side by side.”
If we take Brown’s poem as a fable for our own time, we know well who our landlords are and why their will and their power must be resisted. We know what brushwood must be cleared. And we know that on campus it is contingent and tenured teachers who must flourish side by side. These are the values we take on when we dare to speak the name of solidarity. It signifies a history and a tradition we would do well not to betray.
There is nothing, to be sure, that limits solidarity to union organizing. Historically it has been used to describe kinship bonding in preindustrial societies. All of us will recall it as the graphic and verbal emblem of the Polish struggle to free themselves from Soviet domination. The Polish struggle began as a trade union movement in 1980 and then became something more. Solidarity unionism — a concept translated into action in the United States by the Industrial Workers of the World or IWW after its1905 founding — promoted the idea that workers should take direct action against a company without paid union representation. Solidarity may thus very well refer to exactly what faculty serving in contingent positions need — direct action unmediated by union hierarchy.
For the immediate question for those of us in academe is clear: Will the call for solidarity link temporary and tenured bodies? Will it link the academic workforce behind principles of job security, fair wages, and necessary benefits for all? Are there examples of solidarity in action powerful enough to hail all of us?
Contingency has been the most gradual of the changes shaping higher education. Faculty members serving in contingent positions had slowly but inexorably come to dominate higher education's teaching workforce over 40 years. Not that they dominate anything else, for their authority anywhere in the industry -- from the classroom to administration to governing boards -- could hardly be less. For half a century tenure had been the key guarantor of academic freedom. Now tenure is available only to a minority of faculty members.
It was not long ago that I would have said very little evidence exists to show that tenured faculty members gave a damn about anyone else. But then I visited an AFT local in southern Illinois, and the tenured faculty talked proudly about making salary increases for contingent faculty the first priority in their most recent contract negotiations. It wasn’t an altogether popular plan at first. But once it succeeded, everyone became an advocate. No one ever said solidarity was easy.
The challenge of solidarity became still more acute over the last year, as real or imagined budget crises gave administrators the will to cut positions and salaries. Forced with a furlough demand, the AAUP local at the University of Northern Iowa reopened its contract negotiations. The union accepted furloughs, but only on condition no adjunct positions be cut. Faced with similar demands, California Faculty Association activists in the 24-campus California State University system confronted a bloody-minded administration that would not guarantee that furloughs could be traded for job security. Tenured CFA members agonized, then voted for the furloughs in solidarity with their contingent brothers and sisters. In the end, the Cal State administration cut thousands of lecturer positions anyway, thereby assuring that the union will not settle for good faith negotiations again.
In the version of late capitalism that prevails in the United States, do not expect to find such workplace solidarity outside unionized settings. The self-interested careerism that has shaped tenured faculty identity for two generations does not hold much hope for solidarity. Most tenured faculty literally do not understand the culture of contingent faculty -- the interests, priorities, values, work patterns, or social and professional relations that shape their daily lives. Thus "You are not us," the implicit rebuke of the tenured faculty to their contingent colleagues, has evolved into "we are not you," the rallying cry of part-timers themselves. In the world of part-time employment, your transient "colleagues" pass unnoticed, like ships blind to each others' passage beneath the noonday sun. Yet even that blunt metaphor is inadequate, since it entails potential daytime visibility. Some departments concentrate part-timers in evening courses. Since those faculty members only feed on the curriculum at night, they are sometimes nervously referred to as "vampires." Perhaps that is a useful provocation. If it triggers a moment of recognition, tenured faculty may realize they are our vampires. We called them up and assigned them to our darkness. They are us, the faculty.
As I argue in No University is an Island (New York University Press), at institutions relying primarily on faculty serving in contingent positions, the appearance of new faculty or disappearance of continuing faculty is often unmarked. No sense of community obtains. The college is literally not a meeting place, a space of interaction, for its faculty, many of whom may retreat to the parking lot immediately after class to travel to another teaching job. A department in an institution staffed with contingent faculty is often essentially a structure filled with nameless bodies. The campus is recognizable only through its buildings and its students. In institutions without tenure, academic freedom and shared governance are often nonexistent.
Despite all this, the AAUP believes the solution is not to abandon tenure but to grant it to everyone who has taught full-time or part-time for a standard probationary period. We’re not talking about making a few tenured slots available to faculty serving in contingent positions. We are talking about granting full-time or part-time tenure to everyone with more than six years of local teaching experience. We are urging ending contingency as we know it. The solution is to find the solidarity necessary to achieve that goal.
At many institutions, of course, the tenured and contingent faculty already have largely identical responsibilities. Major research universities may, however, respond that they hire adjuncts for one skill set (teaching) and award tenure on a much broader skill set (including research). That said, at COCAL IX in Quebec in 2010 I talked to a long-term University of California lecturer who was told his several books in his field amounted — as far as the university was concerned — to “nothing more than a hobby, like gardening.” Writing books was not part of his UC job description. So the “skill set” argument is sometimes dishonorable. My personal recommendation to serious research universities is this: Give long-term adjuncts tenure and then stop hiring additional faculty not tasked with the full range of faculty responsibilities.
Along with tenure must come all the components of a traditional faculty role — control over the curriculum, control over faculty hiring, authority over due process and peer review, and a structural role in budget decisions. Otherwise the corporate university still wins. It will be no good for higher education long term if contingent faculty have job security and academic freedom in the classroom without full participation in shared governance. Indeed the only reason faculty serving contingently have some classroom rights now is that the instructional workforce is too difficult to police, but forces like the assessment movement may yet change that. We need to seek comprehensive professional status for teaching intensive faculty. Anything less will create a deprofessionalized proletariat higher education workforce once called faculty members. What I once scandalously called “Comp Droids,” dedicated robotic deliverers of prepackaged, sanitized content, will become the norm not only for introductory courses but for higher education as a whole. For the slow march of contingent demographics will prevail unless we find the will to resist.
Can the existing faculty unions — dominated either by tenured faculty or by K-12 teachers who have no academic freedom — fuel the will to resistance? Not without pressure from below. That’s not to say that the AAUP, American Federation of Teachers and National Education Association have not begun to address the problem. Even flawed solutions have helped put the issues on the table, and modest goals like small-scale conversion programs can productively coexist with comprehensive tenure. The AAUP is steadily ramping up its enforcement of our 2006 revision of our Recommended Institutional Regulations No. 13, which grants long-term part-timers expectation of continued employment. But nonrenewal without due process remains the norm throughout much of the industry, and union contracts for part-time faculty have a long way to go before meaningful job security and full participation in shared governance, let alone adequate wages and benefits, are obtained. As for full-time faculty teaching contingently, the AAUP’s 1940 statement, endorsed by over 200 higher education organizations, has yet to secure for them the tenured status it guarantees. Permit me to say that seventy years of non-enforcement does not fill me with confidence. What is missing is the pressure from below that might wake everyone to the need for solidarity. We cannot look to the majority of tenured faculty for solidarity unless faculty serving in contingent positions are willing to make daily life difficult for everyone on campus, to make business as usual impossible.
If administrators are able either to increase the percentage of contingent faculty members in the wake of the recession or to fire long-term contingent faculty members en masse, we will leave the current crisis in much worse shape as a profession than we are now. We were already at the tipping point; the current crisis can easily take us irretrievably beyond it.
The only real solution — tenure for all who teach — would also benefit from serious collaboration, rather than competition, among existing unions representing faculty members. We would do well to see interorganizational solidarity in the form of coordinated national efforts by the AAUP, the AFT, and the NEA to organize contingent faculty.
Cary Nelson is national president of the American Association of University Professors.