Sunday, April 05, 2015

Tenure track--Letter #33

Dear Governor Ducey,

I've been thinking a lot about administrative bloat since I had my teeth cleaned on Wednesday by my dentist who shook her head over "the bureaucracy." I tried to defend it. There are some good programs to help students stay in school. Diversity programs are important. Access to education is important. IT is probably necessary. Recreation has its place. I've been having conversations with colleagues about the big salaries of upper admins and the number of administrative assistants in areas that aren't even departments, like marketing and assessment. The grant-procuring machine requires a thousand employees, it seems. The "ensure you're not wasting government money" divisions seem to employ more staff than English Departments. I don't mean to target all admins.  I don't want anyone to lose their jobs. Jobs are good! But thus far, it is only the faculty who have been asked to bear the brunt of the budget cuts. Our caps have risen. Our travel budgets slashed. Our loads raised.

Tenure track faculty are targets in headlines and the state houses but it's not TT faculty ranks that have grown.  The rising cost of tuition cannot be laid at the feet of the TT. "The number of full-time faculty members in the C.S.U. system grew from 11,614 to 12,019 between 1975 and 2008, the total number of administrators grew from 3,800 to 12,183 — a 221 percent increase," Paul Campos wrote in the April 4, 2015 issue of the NYT. While administrative positions grow, TT faculty positions have been replaced by contingent ones. The word "contingent" makes an administrator's lungs breathe easier. Contingent means that in another budget cut, that faculty, unlike a tenured person, can be cut, supposedly saving the school tons of money, letting the TT folks pick up the slack until the budget gets a little better and part time faculty return to teach classes at even lower salaries.

In the national discussion of higher ed, "Tenure" is often the target. "Tenure" connotes privilege, laziness, free-ride, faculty governance, and worse (and the reason for its existence), freedom of speech. Although no one I know has ever been fired from my university regardless of their tenured status, "tenure" suggests a different model than the free-market economy abides. I should have to struggle, and strive, and prove my worth with paperwork, and fret, and keep my mouth shut, especially if I want to work for the government. People hate the idea of "tenure" more than they hate people who don't do their jobs and still keep them. That happens in every business. Every work place has people who work a lot and others who get a free ride. But "Tenure" flies in the face of the idea of work. Work should suck, is, I think, the complaint. People with tenure love their jobs. You can tell by the way they do work they don't technically have to do.

The professorship at large seems to "do work it doesn't have to do." My colleagues who run the student research/lit mag aren't on the tenure track. They advise students, sit on committees, just like their colleagues who are tenured. Does an admin assistant stay late, unpaid, to make sure a student has registered for the classes? Maybe. I'm sure there are a few who do. But every one of the professors I know is doing more stuff than they are supposed to, regardless of the track they're on. It's unfair that lecturers and adjuncts get lumped in with the tenured as part of the problem, because they are the ones doing that extra work for the students they feel compelled to serve, thereby performing subversion without receiving the benefit of protection the subversive idea of "tenure" is supposed to provide.

I've made this argument about the volunteerism of teaching already. It's a sign these letters are going to have to be shorter and more to the point or end, but this letter goes in a slightly different direction to say, "professor" and "tenure" are threatening things to an economy that is hell bent on "productivity" and "return on investment." Administrators spend hours showing how they have met productivity levels and ROIs. Professors spend hours working with students, wishing they didn't feel they needed to document their work to show that in fact, they are doing more than what their contract obliges them to do. They just want to do a ton of work without feeling that the ax is not coming for their jobs of their ability to do them well.

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