We have seen the enemy and we are not him.

25 04 2010

From a review of yet another book that explains why Academia is going to hell in a handbasket:

Some people believe that university presidents and governing boards are primarily responsible for the growing numbers of NTT [Non-Tenure Track] faculty members at American universities. According to this view, university policy makers have chosen to hire more NTT instructors as a cost-cutting measure.

[John G.] Cross and {Edie] Goldenberg challenge this common perception. They point out that university presidents spend most of their time raising money and managing crises and usually do not concern themselves with the details of hiring NTT teachers. Indeed, Cross and Goldenberg observed, “[U]niversity administrators appear to be unaware of the employment patterns that are developing in their own institutions” (pp. 96-97). Likewise, governing boards typically focus on matters that are external to the university and probably don’t even know how many NTT instructors are employed at their institutions.

In fact, Cross and Goldenberg argue, senior university administrators have little control over day-to-day academic decisions. Instead, tenured and tenure-track faculty often determine academic policy at the department or college level, especially at the nation’s elite universities; and the decisions they make can have the effect of increasing the number of NTT instructors that need to be hired.

For example, a department chair may allow senior faculty to teach low-enrollment graduate-level courses in their research specialties while assigning large-enrollment undergraduate courses to NTT teachers.  Departments may give reduced teaching loads to professors with funded research projects or give faculty reduced teaching loads for assuming department-level managerial responsibilities. All these decisions put pressure on universities to hire more NTT faculty members to teach classes that were once taught by the regular faculty.

I don’t buy it.

I’ve heard our President acknowledge a number of times that our problem is that everyone at our school works too hard as it is, which means we don’t have enough faculty as a whole. This is particularly true for committee work, which is essential to running the place effectively, but from which most my colleagues will flee from like the plague not because they’re lazy but because they’re over-committed already.

I think we need to focus on growing the higher-ed pie (which would include converting as many NTT positions to tenure track positions as possible) rather than spread blame around about who’s not carrying their weight bailing out a sinking ship.


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