23 January 2014

Because this is what the humanities look like....

This is not my life, but throw a rock into undergraduate higher ed and it will hit a classroom where this is the reality lived by the person running the class--this responsiveness to students squeezed into the interstices of life, this lack of resources, this desperation, this self-doubt:
... I continue to do the best possible job I can in the classroom, and increasingly, out of it: as any teacher will tell you, nowadays you can almost never leave your job in the classroom, or your office (if you’re lucky enough to have one), or the library or cafeteria, which are, as an adjunct instructor, the two places I usually meet my students—my “office hours.” As an instructor at three separate colleges, I maintain three separate emails, which I have to check at least twice a day, even on the weekends. I won’t go into the amount of hours I spend grading essays, but I will say that I spend at least 10-15 minutes on each essay I grade—sometimes longer, depending on how much help the student needs—and I have 142 students, who each write between 4-6 essays each semester. You can do the math. They are graded after my son falls asleep; they are graded before he wakes up; they are graded while I eat lunch; they are graded, in bits and pieces, while my students do a freewrite; they are graded in the single adjunct lounge with its single, barely working,
computer, at a community college whose adjunct coordinator freely admits that the ratio of adjunct to full-time faculty is 5:1, a lounge that has contained, since I began working there almost two years ago, a sign that reads, “Adjuncts—please be sparing with your use of supplies. They must serve everyone. Thank you.” These “supplies” have only, in the time I’ve worked there, consisted of a copy machine, a single stapler, and a handful of paper clips.
and this:
 All of the pride that I take in the job that I do, and do, I have no problem freely stating, very well, is sucked from me when I have to find a way to describe the situation of the adjunct, the bizarre logic that my mind bats about like a cat with string:

If I was worth it, they’d hire me. 
They have hired you.

I want to be a college professor, it’s what I’ve desired and worked toward my whole life.  
You are one.
A real one. I want to be a real teacher. I want to be a real boy. I am tired of being a puppet.  
You are a real teacher. No one can take away those moments you have in the classroom. No one can devalue that. 
Someone does. Lots of people do.  
No student, no outsider who didn’t know the ins-and-outs of this system would be able to tell the difference, in a classroom, between you and a full-time faculty member.

Couldn’t they? Couldn’t they? Couldn’t they smell it on me, the shame, the despair, the hopeless sense that I’ll have to either give in and do something else just for the money, or remain in genteel poverty, “faking it”, forever? Am I a marked woman?
Read the whole thing here.

As Joshua Boldt pointed out in a recent Chronicle Vitae column, questions about the future of tenure already sound dated:
Sure, tenure's a good idea.  I hope it endures.  I mean, it sounds nice. 
But I have a different question that I believe is even more important: not “Where will tenure be in 10 years?”, but “Where will professors be in 10 years?” Because as of right now, things are not looking good. While we worry about the erosion of tenure (which affects a very small proportion of academic labor), the entire profession is crumbling. It’s like painting your living room while the house burns down.
The anonymous "Open Letter" quoted above is addressed to "Full-Time Colleagues," whose implicit contempt, as described in the essay, makes the adjunct's job harder than it needs to be.  But the problem goes beyond the ill-treatment of adjuncts at the hands of clueless tenure-stream faculty.  Lots of tenure stream faculty are perfectly nice to their adjunct colleagues, many exploitative adjunct jobs emerge from the murk of misplaced institutional priorities independently of faculty interests and desires.  The problem is, the profession that many are trying to preserve is not the profession that many faculty actually experience.  Nor is it the profession that's currently educating lots of college students.  The adjuncts occupying the classrooms, however, have little purchase on the conversation

Claire Potter (aka The Tenured Radical) is addressing the tenure-stream professoriate and wannabe professoriate when she offers "a few ideas for how we might address the dirty problem of writing guilt and academic publishing hell," but in doing so, she suggests some ways to reconfigure the humanities to reflect the professional lives that many in the profession are actually leading and the significance of the humanities for audiences other than a handful of tenure-stream specialists.
Maybe part of why the humanities are feeling so fragile is that we are pouring our energies into writing books that the vast majority of people do not wish to read. Why wouldn’t it be okay to stake out a program of research and write a series of articles instead? Do an exhibit? Create a website? Put on a play?
She urges faculty to reconsider the supremacy of books as the means of professional advancement and to take more seriously short-form writing.
This is different from the “How should XYZ count for tenure and promotion?” conversation. That is an important discussion, but what is more important is that short form writing is a serious way for scholars to stay in touch with their own intellects and, better yet, to communicate as humanists with a broader public.
Even Potter, though, says nothing about humanists writing about what happens in the classroom, writing for and about those fundamental interactions in the first years of college that define "humanities" for future taxpayers. Maybe humanists are feeling fragile because (1) a lot of us get identified as adjunct teaching faculty first and "humanists" second, (2) because what "humanists" do is generally dissociated from the labor that adjuncts do: getting college students to read and write critically and to take on board humanistic subject matter, (3) and because while those gen. ed. tuition dollars pay the bills, there's no place to talk or write about giving the students who take the courses value for money.

The scary part of these omissions is that the conversation about what should happen in classrooms (best practices, goals, outcomes) is taking place at the hands, not of humanists, but of people who speak of things like "a portable and competency-based framework for general education."


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