Sunday, February 28, 2010

Report by the Coalition on the Academic Workforce

Coalition on the Academic Workforce has recently issued a report on the working conditions in academia. The report confirms everything that those who have worked in the higher education system have known, feared and warned against for a long time:
Over the last forty years, there has been a dramatic shift in the instructional staff at US colleges and universities. Increasingly, institutions of higher education have hired faculty members who are not on the tenure-track and, in large part, are hired in part-time positions. In 1970 faculty members in part-time positions represented only 22.0% of all faculty members teaching in US colleges and universities; in 2007 they represented 48.7%. Of faculty members who are fulltime, well over a third do not have access to tenure. When graduate teaching assistants are included in the calculations, barely onequarter of the instructional staff are full-time and have access to tenure.
Just stop and think about this for a moment. Three quarters of the teaching faculty members are underpaid, overworked, underqualified, and have no job security. Three quarters of all people who teach college courses are terrified of losing their jobs if they say or do something the administration does not like. It's obvious that this system does irreparable damage to the quality of teaching.

Even though non-tenure-track faculty could be working for the same university for decades, they are still discriminated against in terms of compensation and the opportunities open to them at their departments:
Despite their permanence and vital contributions, full- and part-time non-tenure-track faculty members are often shortchanged by colleges and universities—in hiring, salaries, office space and equipment, as well as opportunities for review of job performance and professional development and advancement as both teachers and scholars.
To put it more bluntly, the non-tenure-track faculty members are often treated as shit. Unless, of course, they are a family member of some completely shameless member of the college administration, who puts their power in service of this particular person. Which, in turn, always produces even more resentment and tensions among faculty members.

One of the suggestions that CAW makes to improve this situation is the following:
The number of tenure lines should be sufficient to cover courses in the upper-division undergraduate and graduate curricula and to ensure an appropriate presence of tenured and tenure-track faculty members in the lower division.
This is a great suggestion that addresses a very important issue. Parents who go to great lengths in order to send their children to renowned universities usually have no idea that the more well-known a university is, the less it is likely that their children will be taught by an actual tenured or at least tenure-track faculty members. Most undergraduate courses at Ivy League universities are taught by people who do not have a doctoral degree in the discipline they teach. In more modest schools, undergraduate students have a lot more chances of being taught by people who have a PhD in their field and who have an active and current research agenda in this field (which, of course, is indispensable to ensuring high quality teaching.)

Colleges keep trying to save money on the things that are of central importance, while huge sums of money are being wasted on unnecessary, silly things such as college sports teams, huge unnecessary buildings, investments into real estate, etc. University education should be about acquiring knowledge, first and foremost. In the recent decades, however, it seems like everybody has forgotten that the primary reason students come to college is to learn.

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