An answer to my other post

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.


5 thoughts on “An answer to my other post

  1. I will be up for tenure this year, and I think it is dying. I hope to get it, but in some ways view it as a trap that limits my mobility and my research (because there is then so much service). If I don’t get it, I will most likely leave academia because the contingent and lecturer positions are not for me, and there are hardly any TT ones left anymore. While I am not thrilled with the neoliberal position, the position you describe also seems unrealistic to me, or representative of a time when professors had wives, and servants, and students who summered in Europe, and their salaries covered toys, and dance lessons, and travel, and conferences, and house repairs, or perhaps it didn’t matter because they had independent income. While many aspects of that position seem nice, I’m also not sure I want to return to the times when most of today’s students would not be in college at all, and I do want my salary to cover those things (it can’t do them all and childcare). I feel like there should be a better third position, but I don’t know what it is yet.

    1. Can you say more?

      Do you mean academic freedom and shared governance correspond to … something like the life of a certain Harvard professors in the 1920s?

      I’m not at all convinced that entrepreneurial universities and super-high tuition are, or should be the price we pay for having more people in college. Of course, I am from California in the days of the master plan, when college was more accessible than now.

      1. I don’t mean that they correspond to it, but that type of system is where they seem sustainable to me, because it required so little effort. I don’t like the entrepreneurial university either, but I guess it is that I don’t trust the current university to provide academic freedom, or tenure, or shared governance over my lifetime, and I want to be prepared for the end of it.

  2. Right. This is what I am thinking — those things might be gone, and giving up nostalgia for them might be the only way to conserve energy for teaching and research. But who, then, will work to roll back this insane tide of high tuition and adjunctification … and through what paths?

    1. That is the question! I guess I feel it is best to give up the nostalgia for things that seem mostly gone to put energy into envisioning something new that isn’t the neoliberal entrepreneurial university. What is that? I have no idea, but I hope someone figures it out!

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