My third post to this blog of a professional organization could start out talking about the argument I had with New Faculty Majority people, about adjunctification and related matters. They kept saying they did not want tenure, only long contracts and good pay, and that people like me were utterly antiquated, unfair, and “tone deaf” to still be thinking about things like tenure and academic freedom, much less shared governance. They wanted to teach and go, with research optional and they kept saying tenure is dead, we are just employees now. They took pleasure in this and I thought I was on the moon.
But are they right? Has everyone become an atomized, neoliberal subject? Is my idea of what a professor is gone? Is the effort I put into Senate and AAUP misplaced (I think of it as central, key service activity like serving on editorial boards, writing letters of recommendation, but am I wrong)?
A friend said,
You are looking at what may well be the semi-wreckage of our profession.
First, yes, the AAUP is at least a potentially dying organization. It is in a spiral brought on, economically, by too much dependence on a union population that is dwindling owing to court decisions and likewise brought on, economically, by the inflexibility of a mostly male and admittedly occasionally well-meaning geriatric oligarchy (perhaps a “geriocracy”?). However, I don’t think that it is quite done for if we can manage to get in new leadership and start on a new direction in the next few elections. I disagree: I think the problem is its traditional focus on tenure and academic freedom, which the contingent not only do not have, but to which they do not necessarily even aspire (job security being different from tenure). Now that everyone is contingent, and those who are tenure-track or have tenure don’t realize that is because of the AAUP.
With regard to your first point: Well taken. Actually, I think about half of the remaining outspoken people believe primarily in “free speech” rather than the more disciplined academic freedom while the remainder believe primarily in the sanctity of their careers, i.e., they want to preserve their careers because they see something worthwhile in them and they have a suspicion that academic freedom might be part of that mix, but, first and foremost, they are careerists. That is one reason that the CBC mentality is so dangerous: it licenses thinking of rights and prerogatives in terms of jobs and careers, which are rather less principled things. [Emphasis added]
Point two: I do believe that Faculty Senates matter but that they need some updating. Nobody gives a hoot about the outcome of a debate on the official “order of business” for the Senate (this bit of wrangling happened at LSU last week), but plenty of people do give the aforementioned hoot when they think something will impact them, i.e., when the press is around giving administrators good or bad press. We need a whole lot more people who will go public and who will use tactics from politics and advertising along with their usual academic armaments.
[Emphasis added] I guess that might help make administrators care. I don’t know.
Point three: I agree with Newfield that we need to keep in mind the public good. The underlying problem, however, is that we no longer have the kind of educated public that we did back during the Enlightenment. Until we put some juice in the liberal arts and educate people about basic philosophical principles and about the nature of governments—even at the expense, say, of taking a course in more politically correct topics—we aren’t going to get anywhere with the public good theme. Put another way, there must be a public before there is a public good, and it must be a good, i.e., educated, public. [Emphasis added]
Point four: Sad to say, many of our colleagues are like our students, wanting enough money to buy toys and pay for kids’ dance lessons and not much more. Few are able to take on the mammoth challenges arising from our new age of very large populations (i.e., it’s a whole lot easier to be a man or woman of letters in colonial America with a few million people than in a world with seven billion who are all inundated with messages from commercial social media sources). We may see a further fracturing in the faculty between those who are activists and fed up and those who are homebodies and want to do nothing other than cash checks. Perhaps such a civil war within the faculty would not be such a bad idea, for it would separate the doers from the non-doers.