GenX women in higher ed from around the globe

Posts Tagged ‘Faculty’

Talking Back to Academic Stereotypes

In Conversations on 2012/04/11 at 22:00

Each month, the writers at University of Venus share their answers to a question we pose for the higher education sector.

This month’s question comes to us from Melonie Fullick: What is your least favourite stereotype about academic work?

Melonie’s question for March is prompted partly in response to a recent controversial piece in the Washington Post – Do College Professors Work Hard Enough?. Also see Kaustuv Basu’s response at Inside Higher Ed.

Bonnie Stewart (Canada)

Perhaps the stereotype of academia that frustrates me most on a daily basis – other than the notion that ideas are inherently impractical – is the binary stereotype of faculty vs. administration. I know it gets enacted and perpetuated on both sides, and it has roots in very real differences in perspective on what we are doing in the complicated institutions that are universities. But. But. The more the stereotype gets thrown around and taken up in media, the simpler it becomes, somehow: the more “real.” And then we players take up our various roles and the show goes on. I’ve sat on both sides of the fence; I’ve played my part in reinforcing the walls. And there are real critiques to be made, don’t get me wrong. But this binary opposition? Gives the impression not only of camps but of two equally legitimate yet irreconcilable positions. And I don’t believe that’s true on any count.

Elizabeth Lewis Pardoe (US)

The assumption that all ‘teaching’ happens either in a lecture hall or a laboratory raises my ire.  Some of our students’ most profitable pedagogical moments happen in conversations apart from the structured curriculum.  Faculty and staff presence – mental, physical, and emotional at department parties, dorm events, or just stopping to chat in the hall – transforms the student experience as powerfully as any lecture, lab demonstration, or seminar discussion, but these hours rarely count as valuable and thus billable.

Sarah Emily Duff (South Africa)

I am annoyed by the stereotype that those of us in the humanities and the social sciences don’t work as hard, or produce work as ‘important’ (whatever we may mean by that), as those in engineering, maths, or the natural sciences. This is an irritant on a kind of mundane level – on the level of snide comments from scientist colleagues – but it trickles down to the way in which we’re funded. At a recent meeting about postdoctoral funding provided by the state, I commented that the money available to humanities scholars was considerably less than that for natural scientists. Not only was my annoyance greeted with amusement, but neither the university nor the funding body were willing to engage with my views.

Melonie Fullick (Canada)

The idea that learning and teaching can be rationalised, managed, quantified and controlled. The more governments, students and families “invest” in education, the more we see pressure for accountability about “results”. But as Elizabeth mentions (above) teaching and learning don’t just happen in the classroom during scheduled hours, which is why it’s so hard to “pin down” how much time it takes to learn and exactly how it happens. We also haven’t found a way to measure learning, so attempts at “quality control” in education often do as much harm as good. We’re trying to standardize something that’s pretty idiosyncratic, and when we impose measures on the un-measurable we’re also creating false expectations. So to see these assumptions reinforced on a regular basis in the media is incredibly frustrating.

Afshan Jafar (US)

The idea that the total number of hours we work can be quantified by simply adding our time in the classroom and office hours per week, drives me crazy! That’s simply show time…there’s a lot of work that needs to be done backstage and offstage which most people don’t think about. And that’s just the teaching aspect of our jobs! Don’t get me started about research and service…

Anamaria Dutceac Segesten (Sweden)

I find the idea of the academic as  a nerd to be quite unfair and irritating. I think the iconic photo of Albert Einstein has had a contagious effect and now the quintessential image of the academic/researcher is something between a madman with a bad hair day and a misunderstood genius (and most often a man, as well). Most of these stereotypical academics also wear thick glasses, spend most of their time in a lab, have problems expressing themselves in a common language and feel uneasy in the real world. Obviously, nothing could be further from the truth. We Generation X women have, among other things, the mission to dispel these false notions about academics and let the world see us as we are, beautiful people engaged in and with our societies, who can talk to both the grocer and to the President.

Janni Aragon (Canada)

My least favorite stereotype about academic work is the idea that I don’t work a 40 hour work week. I have kept track and I work between 55-70 hours. I more than earn my salary. Most weeks I work for a few hours on both Saturday and Sunday.

Lee Skallerup Bessette (US)

I can’t stand that people think that I  have no idea what the “real world” is like because academia is so unlike the real world. Like getting fired or no job security or low pay or “expecting results” (anyone remember this scene in Ghostbusters?)Certainly we run on a different schedule, but we deal with all of the same job-related stresses as most professionals (as tenure-track professors) and, let’s be honest, low-wage workers (on the adjunct side). It’s different, but no different than being a doctor, versus being a middle-manager, versus being in sales, versus running your own business.

And that we get 2-4 months off for summer.

Ana Dinescu (Germany)

I cannot stand the dream that academic work is purely academic work. I am keeping myself as far as possible from the image of the academic spending hours and days in the libraries, writing amazing and outstanding books and articles. I wish this is true, but I know that the reality is rather different. Sometimes, you should spend more time writing financial reports than sharing your research and, last but not least, you should take more jobs to enable you to save at least two or three months for independent writing and research.

What about you? Which stereotype pushes you over the edge?

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed

Do-Nothing Weekend

In Lee's Posts on 2012/03/26 at 21:31

Lee Skallerup Bessette, writing from Morehead, Kentucky in the US.

It’s SuperBowl Sunday. My husband is making food for tonight’s festivities; the kids are upstairs napping (or at least resting quietly). It rained most of the weekend, so we were essentially stuck in the house. It’s still too early in the semester for my students to have handed anything in for me to grade, but at the point where lectures are still pretty rote. I finished revising a paper this week, resubmitted, and realized I don’t have any other looming deadlines that desperately need to be met. While there are always thing that can be done, there was nothing pressing that needed doing.

I had nothing to do this weekend.

My kids are still young enough (or I live in a town small enough) that we’re not rushing around for sports teams and other activities all weekend. We did go grocery shopping (no small feat with two kids under the age of 5), played with play dough, drew pictures, read stories (my almost-5-year-old is desperate to read on her own), watched movies, danced, sang songs, and just chilled out. The kids created their own games and imaginary worlds. We folded clothes (I’m going to enjoy this short-lived phenomenon where my kids are excited to help fold laundry).

I played Bejeweled until I had a cramp in my arm. I took a nap.

These kinds of weekends, where my husband and I are both home with the kids and there are no looming deadlines or obligations hanging over us, causing us to rush, stress, and generally need a day-off from the weekend, are rare. For so many of us in academia, the weekend isn’t for resting but instead for getting everything done that you didn’t have time to do during the week. We grade, we research, we write, we answer email, we get administrative tasks done over the weekend. For every Thursday afternoon we’re seen at the store, there are countless unseen weekends in the office at home or at school working to try and keep our heads above water. Often those Thursdays at the store are so that we don’t have to try and do battle with the crowds and/or our kids on the weekend.

So that we can get more work done.

I don’t remember the last time I had a weekend where I did nothing (ok, very little). Sometime in October, I think. And I’m not even sure if I should count that weekend I’m thinking of because I was really sick and thus didn’t do anything. No, I’m talking about those weekends where you get to do something you enjoy and at the same time not feel guilty on Monday for avoiding/neglecting/setting aside your professional responsibilities. A time when you actually enjoyed yourself over the weekend.

There are conferences; deadlines for abstracts, revisions, and submissions; grading; open house weekends; recruiting trips and fairs; more faculty meetings and other administrative work; campus social events that we “have” to show up for; thesis defenses and the celebratory drink afterwards; on-campus interviews; grant application deadlines; dates for submitting progress reports towards tenure; class prep, but also beginning to choose your books for the next semester; scheduling meetings; curriculum meetings; professional development courses…This is, indeed, what we signed up for when we became academics and an academic couple. But the demands of the day bleed into those hours set aside for family, like evenings and weekends.

Of course, not all work is a chore; I finally finished a few guest blog posts I had been meaning to do for a while but just couldn’t find the time. I started to read a novel that is directly related to my work and research. But I was relaxed while doing them, unencumbered by the weight of having to do them, instead enjoying choosing to do them at my own pace. There is a difference.

I don’t foresee this happening much going forward. It will be a sprint from now until the semester ends, and then it’s conference season, traveling to see family, getting geared up for the fall semester, and then it all starts again.

Maybe I’ll be able to grab another weekend “off” sometime in July.

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed 

Groundhog Day: Being Off the Tenure Track

In Uncategorized on 2011/05/11 at 08:55

Lee Skallerup Bessette, writing from Kentucky in the USA

(Disclaimer: This is an honest post. I expect to be criticized because I am complaining. While I am grateful for my current position, with 75% of current faculty teaching off the tenuretrack, we need to start speaking out about all the reasons this trend is both wrongheaded and destructive. We are the majority, and we can’t be fighting amongst ourselves or silenced because of fear or shame. This post is in honor of Antonio Calvo.)

I came to a depressing conclusion about my career recently: I have reached the pinnacle of my job. Not even a year in, and I have smacked up against the glass ceiling of working as contingent faculty. There are no performance raises or promotions. No (or few) upper-division courses. No university committees or curricular administrative duties. This past year will closely resemble every upcoming year until I retire or leave my current university. But even if I do leave, being off the tenure-track (and a trailing spouse) means that it will be a new school, but an almost identical situation, unless I quit teaching and move into an administrative position.

I read my fellow UVenus bloggers talking about how challenging (and ultimately rewardingtheir jobs are, or how much intellectual variety they encounter in their position, and I am envious. I remind myself that “the grass is always greener” and that I chose to be in the position I am in, but it butts up against my ambition. That’s right, I am ambitious and that leads to restlessness. I want to move upward, or at least forward, and be in positions that offer new challenges. And, yes, one of my interests is university administration and leadership. Where I currently sit, that path is closed off, or at least very limited.

Wait, you must be saying, aren’t you the same person who wrote that the tenuretrack position isnt all its cut out to be? Indeed, I am, but I think the larger issue is how out of balance working in academia has become; those who are on the tenure-track are doing more and more administrative work because there are fewer and fewer people to perform those duties. And I, for one, would be willing to take on some of those duties, if it were properly compensated.

I think that’s one of the biggest hurdles that contingent faculty faces: constantly being undervalued and under-appreciated. We have the requisite talents, skills, and ideas, just not a position that uses them. The myth that the contingent faculty ranks are filled with under-qualified, failed scholars is just that, a myth. And, if it isn’t a myth, a 75% “failure” rate for academics is pretty dismal. Being repeatedly told we should just be grateful for our jobs and shut up only allows for the myth to perpetuate itself. We are failed scholars because we allow others to define us as such.

There is also the larger question of the ever-shrinking pool of leadership candidates in higher education, or at least candidates who are actually academics. This is especially acute when you consider that a majority of those off the tenuretrack are women and visible minorities. In ten, twenty years, who will be leading our colleges and universities? I understand that few academics have any interest in leadership positions, but I would think that the number would significantly increase if we looked in that pool that makes up the 75% majority of faculty members working today. Many have already displayed leadership qualities by redesigning programs, starting student groups and community outreach programs, etc, usually with no compensation or recognition. Others have been busy leading union chapters and negotiations, starting groups such as the New Faculty Majority, and speaking out about contingent issues. Aren’t those skills what we are looking for in higher education leadership?

(No, you don’t need to point out that the corporate university has no room in their leadership slate for those whose experience is union-centered; this is part of the problem, no?)

Tenure is important not just because of academic freedom and job security (oh, and student success), but also because it opens the door to other opportunities, opportunities that are unavailable to those who are not on the tenure-track. We are not “failed scholars,” nor are we all simply satisfied with teaching, with no interest in research or administration/leadership. There is talent and ambition just waiting for an opportunity. The university that finally realizes this and acts on it will be in the forefront in reinventing higher education moving forward

So, what are you waiting for?

Lee Elaine Skallerup has a PhD from the University of Alberta in Comparative Literature. She has taught in two Canadian provinces and three States, and is now branching out as an Edupreneur. You can visit her blog at and follow her on Twitter (@readywriting). Lee is also a regular contributor at University of Venus.

Senior Instructors and the University Space

In Guest Blogger on 2011/05/10 at 02:45

Janni Aragon, writing from Victoria, British Columbia in Canada

After working for more than ten years in higher education as contingent faculty (adjunct in the US and sessional in Canada), I got my first full-time, tenure line job two years ago. I’m now giving my job some careful thought. My salary started in the Assistant Professor range based on the same equation that the research tenure-line faculty have: year PhD earned, years of teaching, publications, and more. My benefits package is the same, as well. What makes the Senior Instructor position markedly different is that it is more cost-effective in terms of the sheer number of courses and students taught.

At the campus where I am employed, Senior Instructors are a combination of the full-time tenure-track instructor and the seasonal sessional faculty. The Faculty Agreement states that Senior Instructors are teaching-intensive faculty. The normal load is 8 (yes, you read that right) courses per year. Senior Instructors are assessed based on 80% teaching and 20% service. There is not an expectation for publication; however, if a Senior Instructor publishes it is assumed that the publications will focus on pedagogy or perhaps the scholarship of teaching and learning.

I am in year two of teaching three courses in the Fall, three in the Spring and two during the Summer. I am the department’s only Senior Instructor and I am also one of the department’s Undergraduate Advisors. In other faculties, the teaching load might vary. I have a colleague in the Commerce Department who only teaches six courses, but also is the advisor for one of the graduate programs. Another colleague in English teaches four each term and has the Summer term “off.”

I spend lots of face time with our undergraduate students and this is a really good position for me. But, it is not for everyone. I am reviewed annually, like the other full-time faculty, and I also qualify for time off. However, my tenure review for the possibility to become a Teaching Professor is not until after year 11! The big reviews are at years four, seven, and eleven. This is brutal. However, I view it as part of my job security and the reality of where higher education is today. After two years, I do feel that I am lucky to have this track—I am a good teacher and mentor and I enjoy the work.

I do think that more universities should adopt this full-time, two track model. I know that there are lots of other instructors in higher education who have superior skills at teaching, service, and research; who would thrive on this model. I have job security and I know that I am in a collegial department. I have always enjoyed research, don’t get me wrong, but when this job was posted—it sounded like a dream come true. Teach as much as I was currently teaching but get paid considerably more and be regular, full-time faculty?! When I have had conversations with other Senior Instructors, it’s obvious that we share an interest in teaching. Most of us resign ourselves to teaching during the Summer months—May-August at our institution. Then, we attempt to get research completed during the other two months.

The Senior Instructor model is also good for students. They need more instructors at the front of the classroom who are tried and true experienced teachers. To me, this means instructors who are permanent faculty focused on teaching and all that this means. I attend our Learning and Teaching Centre’s workshops related to teaching, technology, and student retention and I am always trying to learn more about effective teaching. I know that many of my part-time colleagues do this as well, which speaks volumes to their dedication to an institution that has invested so little in them. Anecdotally, I do not see many full-time colleagues outside of those in leadership or administrative positions attending many of the teaching or retention workshops. This is cause for another discussion.

I have left untouched the conversation about how universities are moving away from the old models and employing more contingent faculty. I know that this is the reality for so many of my dear friends and colleagues across the globe. I am suggesting that the Senior Instructor track might offer job security with a teaching focus and a regular faculty salary and benefits.

I have heard that the majority of Senior Instructors are women. Although I have not verified this, it would not surprise me to discover that it was true. Most University of Venus readers know all too well that women faculty predominate at the more junior and vulnerable end of the academic pipeline.

Janni Aragon is a Senior Instructor of Political Science in the Department of Political Science at the University of Victoria. She is an occasional blogger at University of Venus and her areas of interest are varied: Gender and Politics, Women and Technology, American Politics, Feminist Theories, Youth Politics, and Popular Culture. Currently she is working on a co-edited Introduction to Women’s Studies textbook and when she has time, she blogs at

Listserv Tattletale

In Guest Blogger on 2011/05/02 at 11:02

Guest blogger, Bonnie Kaserman.

“For openers, I don’t think you understand the difference between descriptive and normative statements, and you’ve obviously got a chip on your shoulder about male and female, and who knows what else. Your take on the article is simplistic, and trivial… As it stands, all I hear from you is angry woman in academia who’s mighty self-righteous… Maybe we’ll get lucky and others will say something worth paying attention to.”

A female graduate student contributed to a listserv thread regarding an article published in popular media. Her anti-racist critique didn’t have the nuance of professors with decades of experience, but she made sincere, solid points. The above quote was the response of a tenured faculty member. When she posted a response clarifying her argument, she was met with more vitriol. A few listserv members responded to defend her. The listserv moderators responded with a statement about listserv protocol. Almost unbelievably, the faculty member continued his diatribe.

I subscribe to several listservs: departmental, disciplinary and inter-disciplinary. At each scale of listserv coverage, there are important announcements, calls for papers and opportunities for insightful conversations. However, there have also been disturbing exchanges. I have witnessed threats, derision, and blatant racism, including cad remarks about someone’s presumably non-white last name. The opening example was an exchange between people I’ve never met. Witnessing it made me sad and angry. I can only imagine the personal hurt and public shame that the grad student (may have) felt as well as the impact on listserv members who remained silent.

The faculty member’s posts, seemingly akin to that of Internet trolls, might go as far as violating the sexual discrimination policy of the university server hosting the listserv. There are also (a lack of) political implications. Audrey Kobayashi states “such personal attacks serve absolutely no purpose toward effecting social change. Rather than target a society in which (presumably) we all have an interest in effecting change and improvement, they attack individual people, as though … by undermining the moral qualities of those individuals we also undermine their intellectual position…”

Deborah Tannen suggests that agonistic modes of attack are the prominent route of academic critique. If we look closely at how students engage in the classroom, most are simplifying the points that they or others are making. Class debate and larger academic discourse becomes about tearing down others’ arguments, and it’s a lot easier to tear down than to explore arguments and find nuance. It seems the strategies deployed on the listserv in abusive posts hold similarities to less contentious exchanges. I wonder if agonism is amplified on listservs, where maybe it’s easy to forget that we are speaking to real people?

Research has demonstrated the impact of contention on online group dynamics. Forexample, “women-centered groups whose moderators place restrictions on the number or nature of messages that can be posted, particularly when contentious (challenging, insulting, etc.) messages are discouraged, tend to flourish, with large, active memberships and widespread participation.” Who is less likely to engage from listserv discussion because of contentious or violent exchanges? Those who have been traditionally excluded from the academy?

On several occasions, I’ve read responses to abusive discourse that ask that the conversation take place off the listserv: to send private emails rather than listserv posts. Is it because those comments are seen as unnecessarily clogging up inboxes? Because contention is uncomfortable? Because it’s easier not to know about it? Do these individuals think that all speech is covered by the terms of academic freedom? Do we assume the right to say whatever we want?

My worry: To suggest private exchange as a solution is to propose that abuse is appropriate as long as no one knows about it.

Imagine receiving those emails without witnesses, without a community that will (hopefully) support you. And hierarchies online do matter. If you are a grad student, having a faculty member advocate for you, be in solidarity with you… well, it’s key. I don’t like an inbox full of invective, but I wouldn’t mind an inbox full of messages of support and productive engagement. Doesn’t support and productivity aid in nourishing academic community?

I wonder how these interactions influence how people interact off the listserv. Is this how we are being taught to interact in our departments? To interact with each other in private conversations? If these listserv interactions are partially constitutive of today’s academic freedom, then what does that say about our present state of academic responsibility?

Bonnie Kaserman is a writer, researcher and artist raised in North Carolina. Her blog “(un)becoming academic” is featured on the website for the Canadian higher education publication Academic Matters. In both Canada and the United States, she has been dedicated to Supporting Women in Geography, an organization enhancing the participation of women in the discipline.

Administrators and Teachers: Working on the Same Agenda?

In Anamaria's Posts on 2011/04/22 at 02:07

Anamaria Dutceac Segesten, writing from Lund, Sweden

I confess having a hesitation when deciding on the title of my post today. Should it be administrators OR teachers? Maybe even administrators VERSUS teachers? Of course the last alternative would be an exaggeration, but I dare you to say that it never felt that there was such a tension at your university. I went with the conjunction AND because in the end this is what I’d like to discuss: the relationship between these two groups of hard-working people who make universities go round.
By administrators I mean not the deans and the provosts and the presidents of universities. For the purposes of the present post I include in this category the administrative personnel that deal with technical matters (the computers in one’s office, the projectors and the stereo systems in the classrooms). In the same category I would place the economists that keep track of the daily expenses of any department, as well as those people who work in the registrar’s and bursar’s offices, the people who order pens and papers and toner for the printer. The people who make sure your salary is being paid at the end of the month. People who are part of the university organization but who do not teach.

I know that there are many readers of this blog who wear different hats: some days they are the administrators and some other days they are the teachers. This is an advantage, as it allows one to be sensitive to the priorities of each of these worlds. Two worlds? Yes! This brings me to one of my main points: my feeling is that administrators and teachers live in two separate universes. These universes must coexist, but it appears that they do not blend into each other but rather survive as parallel life forms, only temporarily connected and who seek, as two magnetic poles of the same kind, to distance from each other as quickly as possible.

The three goals of the university, most generally defined, are to teach, to research and to communicate the results of teaching and research to the society. It should appear obvious that these goals are the same for both teachers and administrators. In many ways universities are just like any other organization, and the work of administrators is to some extent similar to what they would do should they be employed in another company or organization. But the work of teachers is specific to the university. A university without teachers and researchers is no longer an institution of higher education. Therefore it seems logical to me that the relationship between the administrative and teaching personnel should be one of collaboration, where the administrators SUPPORT the teachers.

However, it has been occasionally the case that administrators developed a parallel agenda to the one put forward by the teachers. The teachers’ needs and demands have been judged excessive, and the job of the administrators has been to make sure that the teachers’ ambitions are under control. Why do you need a new computer? Why do you need new software? Why do you need advice on how to report the last conference’s expenses?

In an ideal world, the teachers would present their goals and the deriving practical necessities to the administrative personnel, who would be able to help them achieve these goals. Together the two groups would agree on what is possible, doable and in the best interest of the university. In the less-than-ideal world the teachers’ and the administrators’ agendas are different, and in the worst case, almost incompatible, leading to inner tensions within the organization. This cannot be to anyone’s benefit.

Two Lawsuits and a Funeral

In Ponderings of a Peregrine Pinoy Professor on 2011/04/19 at 10:37

Rosalie Arcala Hall, writing from Miagao, Iloilo, Philippines

Recently, two events engendered some serious self-reflection on my “why I am in the teaching profession” question: two landmark sexual harassment cases against colleagues and the sudden death of a retired Political Science professor. They expose the lack of a clear sense of private/public boundaries among academics with respect to their students, and the good or evil that arises from it. In a society such as ours where the power exerted by the teacher inside the classroom is rarely contested by students (nor by colleagues under the guise of “academic freedom”), a significant amount of impropriety in student-teacher relationship goes unnoticed or simply brushed aside.

When news about the sexual harassment cases first became available, I was outraged over what appeared to be a culture of silence and denial; it seemed that administrators and colleagues turned a blind eye over swirls of pregnant rumors because there is NO written complaint. This was despite the highly public Facebook comment thread discussion about the practices and multiple victims of the nameless harassers. Because of the emphasis on social harmony, nobody (not even our University’s gender office) has had the balls to confront the alleged harassers although their reputation was widely known. For many years, students were left to navigate this moral land mine by avoiding the teachers themselves; with hapless victims finding no recourse except in the anonymity of Facebook pages. I was equally alarmed by the knowledge that despite the presence of a decade-old legal framework in the university against sexual harassment, certain innocuous “practices” have been allowed to persist despite clear impropriety: dating students, making students submit papers/assignments or “consult” in their homes or beyond official university hours, exchanging highly personal email and SMS communications with students with no academic bearing, the list goes on.

The morass in which the community sunk because of these cases stood in sharp contrast to the testimonies during the necrological services of a former professor who was legendary for his irreverence and eccentric but unquestionable bond with his students. He terrorized students with his Socratic methods; he forced students to question conventions. On the drinking table and out-of-classroom excursions (involving alcohol), he nurtured young minds and built lasting friendships. At his final resting place, many came to pay him tribute: former students now Senators, mayors, lawyers, businessmen flying in from Manila and Mindanao. A Facebook page created upon his death brought an outpouring of sentiments from hundreds whose lives he touched. Here was a man who took the seriousness of teaching to heart– spending money for booze and meal subsidies on students too poor to make it through four years of college. His practices were unquestionably improper by any standard, but he was never accused of a breach of trust.

The harassers and the unforgettable mentor were products of a system that has no clear normative standards of “boundaries” in the relationship between students and teachers. It is also a system that conveniently ignores the inherent power asymmetry in a student-teacher relationship constraining, nay making it impossible for a romantic or friendly bond to exist that is not tinged with malice. There is a misunderstanding that the job of a teacher is to be friends with students. It is not, although one can certainly hope of such as a by-product. At best, teachers should endeavor not to break the students’ trust and to provide useful guidance.

In my two decades in the profession, my students have been no more than a parade of faceless entries in a grade sheet I have the occasion to seriously ponder upon only at that moment. I hardly remember their names, except perhaps if they had written such exceptionally crafted term papers or thesis projects. I take care of my conduct to avoid even the appearance of impropriety; I never socialized with students outside the classroom. I don’t expect to be a subject of a sexual harassment complaint nor would I expect my students to gush endearments at my funeral. Occasionally, I get an ego boost from former students who remember me and say something positive about me years after they graduate. Toeing the invisible line of academic conduct makes for an uneventful life.

Teaching or Service?

In Uncategorized on 2011/04/13 at 21:30

Lee Skallerup Bessette, writing from Kentucky in the USA.

I am a full-time instructor. At my institution, this means that I have a heavier teaching load, but it also means that I have no service responsibilities whatsoever; no committees, no advising, no curriculum reform, no administrative duties, nothing. My department allows for me to participate in departmental committees and tries to ensure that we, the instructors, are properly represented, but at the end of the day, we are not required, nor do we receive any credit. In fact, our yearly evaluations are restricted to speaking about our teaching. In other words, even if we have served on committees or performed other “service” duties, it will not be mentioned.

The problem becomes when the lines are less clear. Where does teaching start and service begin? If I am working to, say, help revamp how developmental writing is taught, am I in fact acting as a teacher or an administrator? If I am doing it for myself, then we expect individual teachers to revise their courses, thus making it a part of my responsibilities as a teacher. But, when it crosses over to program-wide changes…

Here is a rock and a hard place where I currently find myself: change is coming, and as an instructor, I can either have the change done to me by those who clearly have the responsibility of service, but often don’t actually teach the courses in question, or I can participate and potentially get sucked into a service role that I will not be rewarded for in any way. Neither option, to me, is particularly appealing.

When we talk about research not being a requirement, there is a clear benefit to both the institution and the individual if the instructor chooses to continue doing research. My institution would seem to understand that link by making available funding to go to conferences, do research over the summer, and other activities. For me, it helps my C.V. and, depending on my research, makes me a better teacher, not to mention a more satisfied employee. For the institution, they receive the prestige of their name appearing in conference programs or publications and happy, “cutting edge” instructors.

Service becomes a much more problematic proposition. Who really benefits from the service the faculty (tenure and non-tenure track) provide? What is the benefit of excluding instructors from the service requirement, and thus the administrative process? For me, the only real benefit is cost; an instructor is paid less than a tenure-track faculty. In some ways, not being required to perform service duties is a gift; more time for teaching, less time in endless meetings. And it is the benefit the university supplies me; we’ll pay you less, but we’ll also expect less from you.


With the ever-increasing number of faculty who are off the tenure-track, the people who are running the university are becoming more and more disconnected from the people actually doing the teaching. As an instructor, I go to departmental meetings if only to have my face seen by the tenure-track and tenured faculty: I am here, I exist. It is all too easy to “forget” that instructors (and adjuncts) make up a large piece of the teaching puzzle when they are never at the meetings or events. We never learn the inner-workings, nor do we have any say. I want to help rework the way we teach developmental writing because I don’t want it done to me; I don’t want to be implicitly told, you’re good enough to teach the classes, but not good enough to have any say on how they are taught.

We are hired by the university because we have the proper credentials and experience. We are approved by our (strict) accrediting board. But because of a decision to save money (among others), we are excluded from the larger process that takes place within the university. There is extra money to be had for those who look to do research, why isn’t there a similar pool of funds to support instructors who are or want to perform more service or administrative duties? What is so sacred about the tenure-track that says those of us who aren’t on it can’t take on official leadership roles?

This is another reason why I am so discouraged about the direction and future of higher education. For an institution that claims to value inclusiveness, it sure goes out of its way to make sure a majority of us receive the message that we aren’t welcome at the grown-up table where the decisions are made, at least not if we want to eat.


Power, Passion, and Pedagogy

In Uncategorized on 2011/04/07 at 22:11

Elizabeth Lewis Pardoe, writing from Evanston, Illinois in the USA

Most readers of Inside Higher Ed know of the fracas that followed an x-rated, after-class demonstration for a psychology course at Northwestern. I was not there and leave it for others to judge whether Professor Bailey crossed a critical line between the educational and the exploitative. However, I think the international attention given the event reflects its perfect storm of academia’s greatest sensitivities.

Sex and scholarship persist as a potent combination. Harvard has grappled most openly with the long tradition of physical affairs born of pedagogical relationships. The poster-couple held up to defend these unions as the natural products of shared passions – a opposed to the seductive nature of power whether wielded with guns or grades – remains the illustrious economist John Kenneth Galbraith and his student turned spouse, Catherine. Anyone working in the academy knows more recent examples of classroom conversations concluded between bed sheets.

These heterosexual scholars’ unions play to traditional romantic fantasies of male mentors rescuing shy yet smart girls (Mr. Rochester and his Jane) or honing the rough edges of the precocious but unpolished (Henry Higgins and his Eliza). We may question the power relations in the resulting unions (I intentionally employ the possessive above), but they underscore as opposed to overturn normative assumptions about sex. In the days before such seductions raised eyebrows, a bright young woman at whom no instructor made a sexual advance questioned the attractiveness of her brain and her body.

The homo-social nature of many education institutions from ancient Athens to post-war Princeton raised the spectre of homosexual relations hidden among the ivy. This nexus of power, passion, and pedagogy proved more threatening to the veneer of upward mobility via the university. Send your sons or daughters into a homo-social institution and they might stay for the protection of a homo-sexual safety zone. For parents petrified of ‘perversion,’ this possibility invoked terror in a way the prospect of their daughter’s wedding to a respected professor never could. In Germany, such a daughter would bear the lofty title “Frau Professor Doktor.” Her gay brother might be a Professor Doktor, but his partner would never gain public recognition let alone his title. No progeny would secure familial status when the aggrieved would-be grandparents had gone to their graves.

The academy continues to roil with anxiety over permuted passions. David Brooks recently wrote that “people learn from people they love.” The comment contains the best and worst that higher educational institutions have to offer. Students must love to learn; instructors must love to teach; but the line between the types of love is far more fragile than CS Lewis would like to believe. In 1993, an editorial in the Harvard Crimson declared, “One of the biggest sparks for any relationship can come from shared interests. Isn’t it logical that such commonality could be found between an instructor who teaches a particular course and a pupil with enthusiasm for the subject matter?” Physical passions can indeed ignite from intellectual ones, but the differential in power between pedagogues and pupils ought to extinguish the flames no matter how noble.

Allowed to burn, the ring of fire encircles far more than the lovers. The special student’s special relationship enrages peers. The faculty philanderer makes his or her colleagues check every movement and comment for fear that they too will be thought to desire more than a student’s ideas. We talk with doors open and desks between us to avoid the slightest sniff of impropriety.

I think parents’ fear that their sons and daughters will engage in ill-advised sexual dalliances on campus played a greater role in the Bailey brouhaha’s appearance on the BBC homepage than their disgust at those sons’ and daughters’ view of an non-collegiate couple’s ‘deviant’ behavior. Professor Bailey projected the sexual tension that runs through much of academic life on stage in living color. It reminded everyone of the potential for pedagogical relationships to harbor sexual content, and the world squirmed.


The Virtual Chair: Academic Management by Remote Control

In Ponderings of a Peregrine Pinoy Professor on 2011/01/13 at 04:44

Rosalie Arcala Hall, writing from the Philippines

After two decades in the academe, I have purposely avoided being nominated to any administrative position. This came from an earlier conviction that I would rather be a serious scholar than a paper-pushing bureaucrat. Because the pool of would-be university administrators seems to draw disproportionately from a handful of PhD holders, I thought it was a great disservice to have such expensive education wasted on the banality of managing. Besides, being tied to a desk job is the antithesis of my desire to travel abroad.

I was finally persuaded to be Division chair after my junior colleague decided to step down unexpectedly. My motives were mixed: I felt that I ought to “take a turn” as a way of giving back to my institution; to introduce reforms in the way the University does business; to mentor the junior faculty to be courageous and aggressive in applying for grants; and to inspire my colleagues to publish internationally. I bit the bullet but not without reassuring the Dean and my colleagues that henceforth I will no longer accept additional travel commitments from the ones I already have. They all cringed when I posted my personal calendar from November to February (I was going to be away two weeks for every month); and the forthcoming meetings and conferences I expect to attend on a regular basis. My terms were clear: they can have me, but they will have for the most part a “virtual” chair. I won’t observe a 9-5 Monday-Friday routine (my early morning writing ritual is sacrosanct); my electronic signature and email correspondence are official; all intra-department communication (announcements, notices, minutes of meetings, even fund-raising and donations) will be circulated in the yahoo group for the department. I will force the faculty to adopt 21st century technology and its attendant values of openness and expediency (decisions in real-time).

I started with the fundamentals. I had the faculty directory and yahoo group updated; built and publicized a faculty list of recent publication and research (to bring attention to non-performers); examined the office’s finances (particularly the way the faculty fund for conferences is used); worked out relay system with the staff; and established a “perimeter” in the office where I could not be disturbed. I kept a running tab of Divisional concerns (a separate diary) which I noted and crossed out once accomplished. I kept a supply of brewed coffee, tea, biscuits and treats for tête-à-têtes with colleagues, students and visitors. It was fine for the first two weeks I was physically around.

My dry-run, however, as a virtual chair was dismal. Before going to 10-day conference in Austria, I had tediously prepared paperwork and left detailed instructions to the staff and faculty in charge for two activities: the Division-sponsored guest lecture on the Mindanao conflict and the Division status report during the college meeting. The lecture went off without a hitch; the report was a total botch because the secretary did not relay the information to the reporting faculty accurately. With more preparation (and plan B in case the person in charge fails to deliver), I am optimistic that the scheduled publication workshop and the personnel consultation for first semester load distribution in January and February will proceed smoothly, even when I am away in Kyoto and Yogyakarta. Over the Christmas holidays, I was actively posting official communications throughout the yahoo group. Most people responded; others did not (and they will surely get a reprimand). The staff were front-loaded with tasks which must be completed in early January before my plane takes off. I am convinced everyone else’s learning curve on my management style will occur soon.

Can an academic really be good BOTH as a scholar and an administrator? In the sample of my University’s administrators, the answer is no. There simply is no time to do anything else. In my two-month stint thus far, I can very well see how one could get easily sucked into the position. What could be more life-draining than having to face a 3-inch pile of paper to be signed, many of which actually the Chair has no business of (e.g. countersigning student request for overload when such has already been approved by the academic adviser) and to sit through two-hour meetings which can be done over email? But I am determined to be a statistical outlier (meaning, I will publish and research as much as I can) and also to win in my crusade of re-thinking the physicality of being chair.

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed.