Friday, May 28, 2010

Confessions of a Tenured Professor


Confessions of a Tenured Professor

May 11, 2010

I must confess right off that I did not become a contingent labor activist until I turned 60, a mere six years ago. Until then, I was a fairly typical senior professor, passionately involved in teaching my students and interacting with my tenured colleagues on a variety of faculty governance committees. I have also pursued a fairly active research agenda. In addition to publishing my own scholarly articles, I have edited over a hundred books dealing with modern German literature, Jewish history and women’s studies. This year saw the publication of the third book I have written on Oskar Panizza, the 19th-century German author.

When I began teaching at Columbia and Barnard in the 1960s, almost all the positions in their German departments were tenure-track. I came to SUNY New Paltz in the 70s, when there were only a couple of virtually silent and invisible part-time adjuncts among the 35 teachers in the entire Foreign Language Division. It was not until a few years after the dawn of the new millennium that I, like Rip Van Winkle, "awoke" after decades to a brand new reality: the number of tenure-track faculty in my department had shrunk to a mere 10, while some two dozen adjuncts were now teaching the bulk of our foreign language courses. Yikes!

As everyone in academe now knows, the professoriate has experienced a radical transformation over the past few decades. These enormous changes have occurred so gradually, however, that they are only now beginning to receive attention. The general public has remained largely unaware of the staffing crisis in higher education. As contingent colleagues around the country came to outnumber the tenured faculty and as they were assigned an ever larger share of the curriculum, they became an inescapable fact of academic departmental life.

Nationally, adjuncts and contingent faculty — we call them ad-cons — include part-time/adjunct faculty; full-time, nontenure-track faculty; and graduate employees. Together these employees now make up an amazing 73 percent of the nearly 1.6 million-employee instructional workforce in higher education and teach over half of all undergraduate classes at public institutions of higher education. Their number has now swollen to more than a million teachers and growing.

I must confess that belonging to the de facto elite minority makes me very uneasy. Most tenured faculty view themselves as superior teachers with superior minds. In this view, the arduous six-year tenure process clearly proves that all of us are superior to "them" and have deservedly earned our superior jobs by our superior gifts and our superior efforts. I must also confess that we tenured faculty really do appreciate the fact that ad-cons have unburdened us from having to teach too many elementary foreign language courses, English composition and the many other tedious introductory, repetitive and highly labor-intensive classes, to which we tenured souls have such a strong aversion that it must be genetic.

[the rest of the article HERE]