Academic work as a Moral Tale: An agony in a mere six fits [Part 3]

By | December 6, 2014

Fit the Fifth

So at the moment, there are a series of groups of faculty, who often have relatively little in common with one another:

  • The old-line tenured faculty, pursuing the traditional faculty courses and roles and quite comfortable with how things are working out, but aging and moving towards retirement. They may or may not hold administrative titles as well. Some are super-stars; some aren’t.
  • Newer tenured faculty, those who might have received tenure grants within the last 5-7 years; these people are understandably worried about their futures and whether or not the tenure grants will actually mean anything in the long run, since universities have made it perfectly clear that they have no hesitation in declaring faculty surplus whenever they choose to declare a fiscal emergency. This group is internally divided into the recognized rising academic super-stars and those who aren’t. Everyone can tell the difference.
  • Younger faculty on the tenure-track but not yet tenured; these people are often fairly frantic, since they know the odds of actually achieving tenure in the present institution are well less than 50-50, and they face the prospect of having to start all over again somewhere else; they’re desperately trying to meet all of the requirements for research, teaching, publication, and service, but almost inevitably failing to achieve their overall goals. And if they don’t manage to score one of the few remaining tenure slots, they are at serious risk of slipping down into the next group.
  • The new adjunct pool, consisting primarily of younger PhDs who aspire to faculty positions, probably have applied unsuccessfully for tenure-track slots, and who either to keep their hand in the game or because they really love teaching, have accepted positions that carry significantly lower salaries than do regular faculty positions, usually without benefits, faculty status, or any job security in terms of reappointment to classes from term to term. They may have to take several such positions to make ends meet. They are generally subject to strict rules and expectations but little positive reinforcement. Lately there is a movement in some schools toward greater “involvement” of adjunct faculty; this generally entails participating in extra committee work without extra pay.
  • The old-line adjuncts, who are primarily working professional in medicine, law, and engineering, teaching a class or two here and there partly for personal gratification and partly out of a sense of obligation to share their experience with rising students. Their classes are generally long on stories and short on theory, but they do bring a needed real-world element to professional training. Most of them are successful in their fields and don’t need the money, so they are perfectly satisfied with their compensation, sometimes foregoing it entirely.
  • And then there are the new old adjuncts, folks like me who have had fairly extensive academic and professional careers but who still need to make a living or at least to supplement a limited one and who for one reason or another find themselves out of a mainline academic role. A number of us have fallen victim to “financial exigencies” at their institutions; even tenured professors have been let go on those grounds in some places. Others were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.
  • And finally, there is a diverse group of post-docs, research fellows, clinical faculty, research assistants, “course developers”, administrators with one foot in the faculty, and other academic hangers-on – all of whom have some claim to academic status, probably aspirations to other roles, and definitely a stake in how the educational enterprise is shaping up.

Reviewing all these different groups, each of which may contain elements as diverse within as between the groups, makes it abundantly clear that coming up with an approach toward organizing faculty resources in the new emerging higher education model isn’t going to be an easy proposition.

So what’s going to happen? Fit the Sixth will try to tie it all up. Maybe..