Monday, November 16, 2009

Professors fear erosion of the freedom of speech

Published: Sunday, Nov. 15, 2009 10:37 p.m. MST
PROVO — The First Amendment is designed to protect you when you speak, but what if it didn't anymore?

That's the concern of the American Association of University Professors, which issued a report last week, "Speak Up, Speak Out: Protect the Faculty Voice," an in-depth look at a Supreme Court decision that has permanently changed the way public employees speak and could potentially affect university professors in the same damaging ways.

"Real education is impossible without academic freedom for faculty and students," said Utah Valley University philosophy professor Scott Abbott, chairman of the university's AAUP chapter. "It's all interwoven. If you start restraining academic freedom in one area, it would trickle down. I could imagine a whole culture where people are afraid to say what they think."

The potential fear comes from the 2006 Supreme Court decision in the case Garcetti v. Ceballos.

Richard Ceballos was a deputy Los Angeles district attorney who claimed he had been denied a promotion because he challenged his superiors on the validity of a search warrant.he high court upheld the district court's ruling that Ceballos' First Amendment rights had not been violated because they said he commented as a public employee, not a private citizen.

That means if a public employee speaks out against his employer and gets fired or demoted, he or she may not have legal recourse under the First Amendment.

The high court's ruling didn't specifically address professors as public employees, but since then, several lower courts have applied the ruling to the academic world, siding against professors who claimed they were punished for speaking out.

The ruling makes sense for a district attorney's office, where employees speaking out against superiors could damage the goals of the office, said Christopher Peterson, University of Utah law professor and the college of law's associate dean for academic affairs.

However, at a research university, the primary obligation is to speak up about new ideas, which can often be provocative and controversial, Peterson said.

"So for university professors, when we see currents in society that might tend to undermine our ability to have free exchange and intellectual discussion, that's very troubling," Peterson said.

Abbott said he believes there is a healthy academic environment in Utah, but he and the AAUP are still worried about the potential ramifications of the ruling.

BYU professors said they have no concerns about the ruling, as it doesn't affect private colleges, said Jim Gordon, BYU law professor and former associate academic vice president for faculty

Gordon added that academic freedom at BYU is already protected by BYU's academic-freedom policy, which has been approved by BYU's regional accrediting body.

Although those academic-freedom policies may differ between private and public institutions, the AAUP has no problems with religious schools like BYU or Notre Dame requiring different standards for their professors, O'Neil said.

The organization only requires that such standards be clear and consistently imposed, with due process given to all employees who violate them.

BYU has been on the AAUP's censure list since 1998 for its perceived lack of academic freedom in how it handled the dismissal of several faculty members for controversial comments.

The school is not rushing to get off that list.

"Our concern is continuing to provide the best quality education we can to our students," said BYU spokesman Michael Smart.

[click here for the rest of the article]

    But Abbott — who left BYU in 1998 after being denied full-professor status due to comments offensive to the administration — said he's proud of the gumption shown by UVU, then UVSC, to uphold its 2004 campus invitation to controversial filmmaker Michael Moore, despite significant backlash.

    "There was open discussion and heated debate," he said. "And there were shouts and boos. All of that is a positive thing for a university. We're better off if there's open and lively debate of issues."

Thursday, November 12, 2009

12 new lectureships

Matt Holland said in the senate meeting on Tuesday that there were going to be 12 new 3-semester lectureships, a response to the number of our classes currently being taught by adjunct faculty members.

Obviously we need more full-timers, so in that sense this is a good step. And if some of our best adjuncts are hired for these positions, it will be doubly good.

But somewhere thinking this through it all gets complicated.

Departments need tenure-track faculty members hired through national searches, and this doesn't help that.

Adjuncts who have taught here well over time deserve some kind of job security, along with better pay, and this doesn't address that for most of them.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Chronicle Article on Adjunct Professors and Student Needs

David Keller sent this. Here's a link and also the article.

The Chronicle Review


October 20, 2009

If Colleges Valued Students, They'd Value Adjuncts

By Isaac Sweeney

I walk down the noisy hallway, where the students push and shove their way into the narrow stairway they use between classes. I break from the crowd and glance to my right. Through the half-closed blinds on the glass doors, I see most of my colleagues gathered in the conference room. They look serious, intently listening to the one in the corner, who seems to be giving the speech of his life. I am witnessing important business, I think to myself.

I am an adjunct instructor in an innovative writing department in Virginia. It doesn't take long for me to realize that I'm looking into a conference room of full-time faculty members. Then I remember that it's the second Wednesday of the month and time for the faculty meeting. Adjunct faculty members are invited, too, in my department, but it just so happens that the meeting is always on Wednesdays at 11:15 a.m., when most of the adjuncts are scheduled to teach so that the full-time faculty members can have this meeting.

Such is the life of the adjunct, and this outside-looking-in method of inclusion has been going on for far too long.

I am not bitter about my low salary, my lack of benefits, the uncertainty of a job next semester, or the terrible summers, when a lack of available classes means a lack of income. I'm actually thankful. I realize I don't have a Ph.D., nor do I have mounds of teaching experience. It was almost a gift, I sometimes think, that I was hired at all.

Before working here, I was a newspaper editor who had taught only one class for one semester at a nearby community college. I fell in love with teaching during that semester and decided I wanted to pursue it as a career. Entering the land of the four-year university was an amazing experience. I was full of adrenaline and nerves. My colleagues and department were supportive: Both full-and part-time faculty members were always available to answer my questions and give me the advice I needed to become a better instructor. In conversing with part-time faculty members in other departments, I heard horror stories about how they were treated

with far less respect.

That was two years ago, and as time has passed, I have come to realize that my department is still top-notch when it comes to adjuncts. At least we are invited to meetings and get departmentwide e-mails. Unfortunately, I have also come to realize that this university—like many around the nation—fosters an inherent disregard for all adjunct faculty members. The university benefits by cutting costs; the full-time faculty members and departments benefit by being able to focus more on specialty classes, service assignments, and research; and the students benefit by … oh wait. It's the students who lose out.

In the classroom, I exude confidence. I walk tall, tell jokes, and keep students' attention. I can lead discussion like nobody's business, and I can wing it if I need to. And that's a good thing, because I am often not prepared for class. Sometimes, I admit, I haven't even read my own assigned reading for the day. It's not that I don't want to; it's just that I had to take on those extra two courses at the community college and finish up the freelance article so I could pay the mortgage for the month. Winging it usually works OK. But sometimes it doesn't.

My not being prepared for class is only one way in which the students suffer. More and more, I find myself completely drained by the end of the day. In the middle of a great discussion, a student directs a comment to me. To the detriment of the discussion, I stopped listening a few comments ago, thinking instead about my decreasing checkbook balance or the dishes that have been piling up as I have been grading papers. Or I stopped listening just because I have had similar discussions four times already today, and I am, frankly, bored and/or exhausted. At least once, I stopped listening because of the loud construction across the street, where the university is building a new performance center. And I couldn't help but remember the news a week earlier that budget cuts had put my job in jeopardy.

In the end, how much does it matter to my department, and to my university, if I do a good job? It's not like I can share this information in any formal setting.

When I leave the classroom, I know I could have done better. That isn't an empty thought; I try to do better every day, every semester, every school year. And maybe my efforts succeed—maybe I do a little better. But I can't help but wonder: Is it enough? If some of

these distractions that come with being an adjunct were taken away, wouldn't my students benefit? If I could talk about teaching and listen to others talk about teaching in that conference room, wouldn't my students benefit?

Again, I am not bitter about the money (or lack thereof). I chose to enter this profession this way, and I can choose to leave anytime I want. What makes me uneasy is that cheap labor seems more important to academe than quality instruction. Colleges and universities seem to value football stadiums, basketball teams, new performance centers, unnecessary renovations, and whatever project gets supported with money that could go to adjunct faculty members more than the learning of students who are taught by adjuncts. It's not a money issue; it's a priority issue.

Adjunct faculty members can never fully teach to their potential unless colleges rethink their priorities. If institutions value their students' educations as much as they claim, they need to better embrace adjuncts. Perhaps it is about offering adjuncts a fair wage and more job security. But maybe just valuing their input or asking for their opinions would be a good start.

Again, I am in a top-notch department when it comes to adjuncts. But it seems that the other adjuncts and I should be in that conference room somehow; that's where it starts. We may not have the appropriate titles underneath our names. We may not have been through the rigors that terminal degrees require (though some of us have). We may not have the proper publications to our credit. All those things are important, no doubt.

What we do have, though, is a lot of students. Does it get more important than that?

Isaac Sweeney teaches writing at James Madison University and Blue Ridge Community College.

Copyright 2009. 

Adjunct Faculty Members at UVU

I am making waves in my department right now to raise the pay for adjuncts regardless of university policy or legislative decree.  I am supported by some of my colleagues, but exactly what to do is yet undecided.  My argument is this: We pay our adjuncts such a low rate that any time given by them toward their classes outside of class time lowers their pay toward the minimum wage.  That, along with the need to work several jobs to make up for the paltry wages earned as adjuncts at our school, makes it prohibitive for adjunct faculty to commit to writing assignments and other projects which allow for critical thinking and the development of those skills.  Our pay scale for part-time teachers promotes a memorization/regurgitation model of education (if you can call it that).  Our students are not taught valuable skills, our programs are not motivated to develop toward more mature standards, and our students will not be equipped with the necessary skills to compete with graduates of better-funded universities.

 The adjunct pay issue relates to several other issues of low quality at our college and, I would argue, is among the leading concerns for our institution.  Others in my department are upset about adjunct pay for moral reasons; we should not be exploiting those people as we do.  I have accentuated the argument that it harms our students and our institution because that seems to hold more water than the concern about exploiting people.  I like the idea of using our concerns for our students and our programs as motivation for raising adjunct compensation rates for political reasons, but of course I would like to see them compensated appropriately simply for moral reasons as well.  I think we need to address the adjunct issue for those reasons as well as others, but in the end any of our arguments should, in my opinion, always focus on the standards of quality for our students and our institution.  That would also hold for academic freedom, full-time faculty ratios, protection of tenure, etc.  It just seems to make more political sense.

Thanks for listening, but I must admit that I think there is little desire for quality education among our legislature and even our campus administrators.  Critical thinking skills are looked down upon in our community and state, and our college has an anti-intellectual bias (sad as that is for a "university"), so there may be resistance to improving adjunct pay that goes beyond simply saving money.  Still, we ought to pressure for change for several reasons, but the good of our students is one very good one.  Peace!

Jeff Torlina

Adjunct Faculty Members at UVU

There is a new report from the national AAUP on "Conversions of Appointments to the Tenure Track (2009)": 

They note there that we're not alone as a university most of whose classes are taught by adjunct faculty members: "By 2007 . . . almost 70 percent of faculty members were employed off the tenure track." They see universities at a tipping point: "In addition to injuries to students, campuses that overuse contingent appointments show higher levels of disengagement and disaffection among faculty, even those with more secure positions. The committee sees a steadily shrinking minority, faculty with tenure, as increasingly unable to protect academic freedom, professional autonomies, and the faculty role in governance for themselves -- much less for the contingent majority."

This might be an issue we should take on, and would include at least these two intimately interwoven aspects:
1. raising adjuncts' pay to a less scandalous level
2. raising the percentage of full-time faculty across campus

As adjunct pay rises, there will be less and less recourse to using them in such numbers and more and more impetus to hire full-time faculty. It's first of all a moral issues, at least in my mind. It's not right to exploit our adjunct colleagues. The aaup report lists several ways universities have begun to convert long-time adjuncts into full-timers, because it's also not right to simply shoulder adjuncts aside. None of the models seem ideal (to the aaup committee) but they share a commitment to fairness and to higher percentages of full-time employment. 

In addition to the AAUP report, here are a few related thoughts:

The development of everything from curriculum for new majors and policies for departments and the university and pressures like accreditation (which is coming around again much sooner that the normal 10 years) and assessment and so on has members of the faculty, at least the good ones, working far beyond what I've ever seen elsewhere, at least in terms of service. Committee assignments at Vanderbilt and BYU were much more broadly distributed than here.

That was the case because (1) most of the curriculum and most of the policies were already in place and the institutions weren't changing so precipitously, and (2) there were many more members of the full-time faculty to share the burden. If one takes a look at departments here, it is evident that most of the teaching is done by adjunct faculty members, none of whom share the service component of what we do (nor should they). In History, for example, a handful of faculty members has brought forth the new major, has developed and taught a whole list of upper-division courses for the major, and currently teach 3 or 4 different preparations per semester to make the major possible. 86% of the students taught by the department are taught by adjunct faculty. There simply aren't enough full-time people. Most departments on campus are in a similar situation.

This is different, I think, from the perceived need departments everywhere always have for new faculty lines. It's not a matter of needing a medievalist to complement the baroque specialist. Most departments are simply and woefully understaffed in terms of full-time faculty.