September 04, 2003

NYU President's Radical Proposal

Dr. Sexton says he is determined to increase the attention undergraduates get. Besides pressing tenured professors to spend more time with undergraduates ó both in the classroom and out ó he wants to create or make formal new categories of faculty members. These include 'teaching professors' who are not judged by their research, 'cyberfaculty' members who specialize in the use of the Internet and 'arts professors' who do not have Ph.D.'s but are highly regarded in their fields.

-- Karen W. Arenson, "NYU President Says Teaching Isn't Such a Novel Idea"


John Sexton, former Dean of NYU law school and now President of the university, wants to renew his institution's undergraduate teaching mission. To that end, Sexton has put forth a bold proposal to create new categories of faculty whose primary purpose would be to teach undergrads. "But in an academic culture where tenure is the grand prize," reports Arenson, "Dr. Sexton is struggling with how to accord them status. He said he would find other ways to reward and honor them and assure them of academic freedom."

Rewards? honor? academic freedom? Hell, I'd sign on in a New York minute. So too would Laura at Apt. 11D (permalink bloggered; scroll to "Lunchtime Reading"). So where do we apply?

Granted, I'm a little sceptical of the "cyberfaculty" concept. I can't help thinking of the University of Phoenix, the egalitarian university where all faculty are treated equally, which is to say, equally badly (for a quick summary of the intangible rewards of teaching at Phoenix, click here).

Still, I welcome any public discussion that moves beyond a tacit endorsement of the current two-tier system. And I predict that faculty opposition to Sexton's proposal will be framed in such a manner as to utterly ignore the reality of said two-tier system. "'If there were a specific proposal saying that we are now going to recruit 200 faculty who are not on the tenure track but will teach the same courses, there would probably be a lot of opposition," Dr. Jolly [last year's chairman of the NYU faculty council] said, "because it would be a direct attack on tenure."

Well. As the article points out, "N.Y.U. already has instructors whose only assignment is undergraduate teaching, including its many adjuncts, who have little status. Typically, they teach a course for a few thousand dollars or less."

Now, here's an interesting difference of opinion. NYU's adjunct faculty union claims "the university employs more adjuncts than full-time professors (there are 2,700 part-timers per semester or 4,000 each year, and about 3,000 full-time faculty members) and adjuncts do 70 percent of undergraduate teaching." Meanwhile, "N.Y.U. officials call the 70 percent figure ridiculous, but decline to provide any other, except to say that adjuncts teach no more than 15 percent of undergraduate classes in the arts and sciences and more at some of N.Y.U.'s other schools." Who are we to believe? 70 percent does sound almost unbelievably high, but 15 percent sounds unbelievably low and frankly, I don't believe it. Whatever the exact figures (and I'm inclined to give more credence to the union on this one), the undeniable fact is that a lot of undergraduate teaching at NYU is currently done by adjuncts.

So Mr Jolly's statement prompts me to repeat a few points about adjunctification that I have already stated on this weblog too many times to mention. First, the growing reliance on adjunct faculty is already an attack on tenure. Second, as I see it, the failure of full-time tenured faculty to oppose the increased reliance on adjunct faculty means that full-time faculty have already ceded the moral high ground on this issue. Invocations of academic freedom ring hollow when the prounouncements come from those who stand idly by while the classrooms at their own institutions are increasingly turned over to an academic underclass who lack any sort of job security or academic freedom. And finally, quite apart from the moral issue, in practical terms, if you allow one kind of attack on tenure (i.e., adjuntification) without making any real effort to resist or oppose, then you shouldn't be surprised to see another sort of attack follow in its wake.


ADDENDUM:

Miriam raises some good questions (permalink bloggered; scroll to Wednesday, September 03) about the vagueness of Sexton's proposal, and suggests that "what's being described here really seems to be a stepped-up adjuncting system."

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at September 4, 2003 10:28 AM
Comments
1

As I read the quote, "cyberfaculty" are not detailed to teach online courses. They're supposed to teach about the online world.

I could be wrong about this, however.

Posted by: Dorothea Salo at September 4, 2003 11:30 AM
2

On the percentage of adjuncts vs. t-t faculty teaching the undergraduates: I pulled up the NYU English department's faculty list and compared it to their undergraduate course listings. Yikes. And that was without counting freshman comp (is that in a separate writing program?). If the results are even remotely typical, then the union's 70% figure makes sense. English departments tend to have higher adjuncting figures than others, so it's necessary to adjust for inflation, as it were.

As I said on my blog yesterday, Sexton's proposal seems awfully lacking in specifics. It sure looks like adjuncting to me...

Posted by: Miriam at September 4, 2003 01:19 PM
3

quote "a bold proposal to create new categories of faculty whose primary purpose would be to teach undergrads. "But in an academic culture where tenure is the grand prize," reports Arenson, "Dr. Sexton is struggling with how to accord them status. He said he would find other ways to reward and honor them and assure them of academic freedom."
endquote

I am not trying to be (as we say around my house) "stupid on purpose" but I do feel slightly confused about why these teaching faculty can't just be given tenure--if tenure is what rewards, honors, and assures people of academic freedom.
There are at some institutions (for example, teaching hospitals) "research professors" who have tenure but don't teach. The reverse, faculty who have tenure but don't research, is the case at many institutions--including research institutions. The good president's quandary seems somewhat a straw person...
If he comes up with a way to protect the academic freedom of these teaching faculty without giving them tenure, then I'd be the first to argue that the research and the research/teaching faculty get the same protection--and give up tenure. Lifetime guarantees of employment sound too much like the divine rights of kings...

Posted by: sappho at September 4, 2003 01:56 PM
4

I give him credit for at least being willing to consider some innovative approaches, unlike the vast majority of university administrators. But a couple of quibbles:

1)The "cyberfaculty" idea doesn't make much sense to me. The Internet is just one item in the set of tools that can be used in teaching. Specialized faculty for this (outside of the computer science department) makes about as much sense as specialized corporate executives who focus on business that use electricity.

2) Why would the "teaching faculty" be denied tenure if it is to be retained for others? If the issue is protecting academic freedom, wouldn't it be at least as important in teaching as in research?

I have my doubts about the value of tenure in today's world, but the question seems to me to be independent of whether a prof is focused on teaching or on research.

Posted by: David Foster at September 4, 2003 03:08 PM
5

David, the denial of tenure probably isn't so much teaching vs research as that they'd like as few of their new hires as possible to be on tenure track.
They're trying to find a nice name to cover this up.

Posted by: Barry at September 4, 2003 04:19 PM
6

Hi IA. Do you think that tenured faculty and their unions will prevent Sexton from really making any changes? Will they see this as a threat? Not just in terms of losing their own tenure, but the fear of losing money?

When the CUNY contract was being negotiated a couple of years ago, there was a proposal to substantially increase the pay of adjuncts. If a full time professor was supposed to teach 8 classes and the entry level salary was $40,000, then adjuncts were to get paid $5,000. This proposal was immediately dismissed. The unions wanted all available money to go to the tenured track faculty.

Despite the morality of fairly compensating adjuncts, tenured faculty have no interest in helping their non-tenured colleagues. For change to happen, it will have to come from parents and administration.

Posted by: Laura at September 4, 2003 09:17 PM
7

"Do you think that tenured faculty and their unions will prevent Sexton from really making any changes? Will they see this as a threat?"

I certainly think they will try to prevent him from implementing any changes.

I have to say, I'm of two minds about this. I think Barry is right, this is a fairly transparent attack on tenure. And I hate to side with cost-cutting administrators against faculty.

However, the fact is that a lot of teaching is currently done by adjuncts who work for shockingly low pay under really crappy conditions. And the creation of non-tenurable but better-paid jobs could be a really good thing for a lot of academics who work outside the tenure track.

In the past decade, a lot of tenure track jobs have been eliminated in favor of part-time contracts. I'm not optimistic about the possibility of converting/returning those part-time jobs to full-time tenurable positions. First, it's clear that full-time faculty and their unions don't care, and aren't going to do anything to improve the lot of adjuncts. Second, if it's difficult to hang onto something that is under attack, it's extremely difficult, and often well nigh impossible, to get something back once it has been taken from you (or once you have voluntarily ceded it). I believe the tenure-track jobs that were lost over the past decade are gone for good.

So we now have a situation where probably over half of all undergrad teaching is done by an academic underclass. And we are probably never (I mean, not ever) going to return to a situation where most or much of the teaching is done by the tenurable. Thus, from the perspective of adjuncts (ie, half the faculty), tenure is a lost cause. So I'm inclined to say, Forget about tenure and try to cut a better deal. Eg., full-time renewable 3-year contracts. The creation of new categories of faculty, below the rank of tenured but above the rank of adjunct, might represent just such a better deal. Or it might not. But as I see it, any proposal that might improve the position of roughly half the faculty now teaching in 4-year colleges and universities deserves attention.

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at September 4, 2003 09:55 PM
8

"Lifetime guarantees of employment sound too much like the divine rights of kings..."

Yes.

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at September 4, 2003 09:56 PM
9

This is an age-old management technique: divide-n-conquer. Of course, the academic work force is already divided, but this is ridiculous. Sexton is no worker's friend. Before you could say "flexible workforce" he'd be cutting deals with the cyber-peons to screw over the classroom peons then using that leverage to hack at the tenured profs position. Once they got the tenure base salaries down, they'd go back and tell the peons that their pay is extravagant because it's 50% of what the tenured folks make. And so on, round and round. It's a race to the bottom with only one winner -- management.

Posted by: che at September 5, 2003 03:41 AM
10

My god, Che. Do you really think administrators are "management" and all faculty are "labor?" Tenured faculty are capital, the power behind and the essential hirers of the administrators. One step below the administrators are the adjuncts, the proletarianized teachers. What false consciousness are you smoking?

Posted by: Roger Sweeny at September 5, 2003 01:37 PM
11

While this may be slightly off-topic, I want to raise an issue which occurred to me when I read the original NY Times article on this. Sexton claims that he wants to raise the teaching standard at NYU to match places like Amherst, Bryn Mawr and Williams. But he---like so many academics--seems to believe that professors at these colleges are not scholars. This really enraged me. I want to one of
the schools mentioned above (Bryn Mawr) and I want to point out that these schools require scholarship and the ability to teach for tenure (in fact, scholarship sometimes trumps the ability to teach). In graduate school, many
of the historians whom I read (as required reading) taught at schools like Amherst, Oberlin, Vassar etc. These were the leading scholars in their field.

This idea that professors from small prestigious liberal arts schools are good teachers but mediocre scholars is damaging on several levels. First, it creates a culture which says that it's okay for someone to be a poor teacher if they are a great scholar at a research university (this is bogus!). Second, it creates a two-tier system, implying that students at places like Carleton or Smith get an education which is inferior to that of Harvard as they do not have access to great scholars and great scholarship (here's the joke: my two brothers who went to Harvard think I got a better
education than they did---I think so too).

So, while I am concerned abt the possiblity of creating (yet another) two-tiered hierarchy in the ranks of academia, I'm also more than a little irritated at the fact that the belief
that one cannot be a great scholar and a great teacher is getting validation.
Why not hold scholars at NYU to the standard which scholars at Colby, Swarthmore and Haverford must meet?

Posted by: Susannah at September 5, 2003 01:44 PM
12

I taught math at NYU for a couple semesters, and was taken aback to find that some of the upper level math courses were taught by my fellow grad students (and in some cases, like the Intro Stats class, I had to teach some of the grad students about certain topics so they could pass it on to their classes.)

At my undergrad institution, NCSU, I had tenured math profs as my teachers. Most were good teachers. Interestingly, the department also had some tenured teachers -- people who didn't have a PhD in math, but taught subjects like College Algebra and Precalculus. The department realized they needed people who were the best teachers, who were focused only on teaching, to teach the classes where the students were least prepared; for a time in the 80s they got a few of these people and gave them tenure. On the grad student side, TAs who didn't pass a teaching seminar, involving teaching a precalc topic in front of 3 professors, had to grade papers instead of teach. I don't know what NCSU's teaching staff is like now. Come to think of it, I don't remember =any= of my classes being taught by anybody other than a professor.

Posted by: meep at September 5, 2003 01:57 PM
13

Susannah --

Yes, the folks at top rate liberal arts schools are truely teacher-scholars, but they are indeed held to a standard of fewer publications than folks at research universities. That's part of why people at liberal arts colleges often write significant books after tenure -- they have a different pace.

A related question is "if teaching is the actual job of your institution why DO you keep the research faculty around?"

The idea that teaching and research are truly a single skill (so closely related that without excellence in one there isn't the other) is laughable.

Posted by: Michael Tinkler at September 5, 2003 03:52 PM
14

The idea that teaching and research are truly a single skill (so closely related that without excellence in one there isn't the other) is laughable.

Oh, I don't know. I'd say it depends on what one is teaching and whether it relates to one's research or not. I know that I myself tend to give more interesting lectures and have more fun with the students -- sentiments which the students themselves express -- when I'm dealing with a topic with which I have direct in-field experience. Similarly, my research is often better when I think about sharing it with a general audience rather than caging it into a sterile specialist's realm.

It may not be _essential_ to research in order to teach or vice versa but I wouldn't call the notion laughable -- I'd say that it may be rare in practice but worth rewarding when such synergy appears.

Posted by: Rana at September 5, 2003 11:52 PM
15

I think Sexton is on to something. Whether he has the right answers or not I do not know. I hope he gets a chance to try, because the system is very broken and it desperately needs to be fixed.

Why do I say this. Well, the cost of higher education is high (Close to $45K/yr at top tier schools, and state schools which used to be bargains are quickly loosing that status) and increasing at higher rate than almost anything other than health care. This is causing a lot of financial stress among middle class Americans.

No business can long survive like this. But why is this happening and how do you fix it?

My suspicion is that the business model, the research university, is falling apart. And, in truth it may not have made much sense at the beginning. As Michael Tinkler said above "The idea that teaching and research are truly a single skill (so closely related that without excellence in one there isn't the other) is laughable." There are lots of issues.

The looming tenure debacle was set up when Congress, in its infinite wisdom, deleted the provision of ADEA that allowed colleges to require the mandatory retirement of tenured faculty. Now the last wave of tenured faculty from the late 60ís and 70ís are beginning to reach their golden years. Faculty meetings bid fair to look like nursing home bridge games. And health insurance costs will spiral out of sight. The cost of either continuing to employ the superannuated or buying out their contracts will be astronomical.

Graduate education is another issue. It is very expensive and the returns to the students are minimal. What is the purpose of the dissertation? Outside of the fact that the current faculty had to write one, does the institution or the society at large gain more than the cost of copying, cataloguing and storing the things. And the post graduate publications, I weep for the dead trees.

The methods of undergraduate education also bear a lot of scrutiny. Why are there lectures? Video tape is now 25 years old, and DVDís are ubiquitous. Are we using technology to our best advantage? I am a great beliver in face to face meeting, and small seminar style classes, but can we supplement them with technology?

Other issues need to be examined. What ever happened to classes on Fridays or at 8 a.m. ? Empty buildings are very expensive.

Another pet peeve of mine is the junior year abroad. If the student does not need to be on campus for 8 semesters, then lets cut the length of time in residence for a degree.

I really do not know how to fix the system, but I do know that we need to a better job of educating college students and we need to get costs under control.

----------------------------------------------

A few responses to other comments:

Miriam: "On the percentage of adjuncts vs. t-t faculty teaching the undergraduates: I pulled up the NYU English department's faculty list and compared it to their undergraduate course listings. Yikes."

I am very happy that D-1 did not go to NYU.

--------------------------------

Sapho: If he comes up with a way to protect the academic freedom of these teaching faculty without giving them tenure, then I'd be the first to argue that the research and the research/teaching faculty get the same protection--and give up tenure.

I think that tenure has just as much to do with academic freedom as it has to do with fly fishing. I would like to repeat some comments that were made in a prior thread on the subject.

No, it [tenure] just changes the identity of the censor. What chance does someone who really dissents from the prevailing orthodoxy have in most departments? To ask that question is to answer the larger one.

It's hard to get tenure unless you have already demonstrated that you have nothing of consequence to say. [A Weekly IA Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence winner]

Some might want to claim that tenure-track people suppress their exciting, fertile, unorthodox ideas because they think they won't get tenure if they express them. I'd say - based on a good deal of experience - that university professors in the humanities tend to be timid followers and therefore are very unlikely to have ideas of any kind, threatening or unthreatening. . . Most people who truly have generative and unorthodox ideas will pursue them pretty much under any conditions short of a gulag.

---------------------------------------

Laura: "When the CUNY contract was being negotiated a couple of years ago, there was a proposal to substantially increase the pay of adjuncts. If a full time professor was supposed to teach 8 classes and the entry level salary was $40,000, then adjuncts were to get paid $5,000. This proposal was immediately dismissed. The unions wanted all available money to go to the tenured track faculty."

There you have it. Like every other union they will see their employer in bankruptcy before they will yield an iota of privilege.

----------------------------------------------

Susannah: "Second, it creates a two-tier system, implying that students at places like Carleton or Smith get an education which is inferior to that of Harvard as they do not have access to great scholars and great scholarship (here's the joke: my two brothers who went to Harvard think I got a better education than they did---I think so too).

Harvard is and has for many years neglected undergraduate education in favor of coddling its superstar faculty. Larry Summers has conceded as much The joke is that the viewers of CNN see more of the Harvard faculty than Harvard students. My children are not allowed to apply to Harvard, they can get the same education much cheaper at a State U in the Midwest.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at September 6, 2003 12:06 AM
16

A couple of quick responses:

Miriam: "On the percentage of adjuncts vs. t-t faculty teaching the undergraduates: I pulled up the NYU English department's faculty list and compared it to their undergraduate course listings. Yikes. And that was without counting freshman comp (is that in a separate writing program?)."

Yes, freshman comp is a separate program -- the Expository Writing Program -- which, at the time I was a graduate student at NYU was entirely staffed by TAs. Ostensibly, these TAs were drawn from across the disciplines, but in actuality, most came from English, English Education, American Studies, Performance Studies, and other humanities-based fields. We taught a 2-2 load (as much teaching, that is, as our advisors were doing) for approx. $10K/year, which, as those of you who've lived in Manhattan know, didn't go far.

However, the school ran into some serious staffing problems when the drive toward unionization (which began right after I graduated) met the graduate school's determination to up its rankings by becoming highly selective in the admissions process. With the number of English graduate students drastically reduced, EWP was led to institute a number of "full-time" (though I can't quite remember if they determined "full-time" to be 4-4 or 5-5) non-tenurable positions for ABDs.

The English department has been appallingly dependent on adjunct and graduate student labor for years. The department has recently instituted a requirement that its tenured/tenure-track faculty do more of their teaching to undergrads, and -- horrors -- actually advise undergrads, too. The good news about Sexton's proposal is that it will help to relieve them of such drudgery.

Michael Tinkler: "Yes, the folks at top rate liberal arts schools are truely teacher-scholars, but they are indeed held to a standard of fewer publications than folks at research universities."

This comes as news to me, as one who is currently undergoing a tenure review at a top-rate small liberal arts college (SLAC). No, my institution has not purposefully introduced the impossible-to-meet research standard that has spread throughout the Ivies and their hopeful emulators, a standard that has been used as a means of avoiding having to tenure junior faculty, which allows the institution to save money on relatively expensive associate professors which they can then spend on stars instead. The standard here is humane, but equivalent to that of most research institutions: a book, or an equivalent accumulation of exceptionally well-placed articles. Yes, the standard was lower in years past, and thus yes, a number of my senior colleagues don't produce the levels of research that members of my cohort are required to, but this idea of the scholarly life of the SLAC being conducted at a leisurely pace -- which translates as SLAC as intellectual backwater -- is outdated and offensive.

Posted by: KF at September 6, 2003 02:23 PM
17

"The looming tenure debacle was set up when Congress, in its infinite wisdom, deleted the provision of ADEA that allowed colleges to require the mandatory retirement of tenured faculty."

I've linked to this before, but I think it's worth re-linking to James Shapiro's "Death in a Tenured Position."

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at September 6, 2003 09:50 PM
18

Not quite on topic, but I'm worried about Robert's children.

My children are not allowed to apply to Harvard, they can get the same education much cheaper at a State U in the Midwest.

That's a pretty limited view of what college is for. Nevermind the education; you send your kids to Harvard for the connections and the prestige. "Harvard" on a resume goes a very long way and attending the school puts one in a network of people that will be invaluable throughout one's life. No school in the Midwest is the same.

If the choice is between Harvard and Midwest U, you should send them to Harvard, even if you know in advance that they won't so much as see a single professor while they're there. [Did I just channel Chun? Perhaps, but he's right this time!]

Posted by: ogged at September 7, 2003 11:58 AM
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Ogged:

I assume that you have gone to an exorcist and stopped chunneling chan or channeling chun or whatever:-)

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at September 8, 2003 12:57 AM