Thursday, June 11, 2015

Contingent Faculty in Underwater Basketweaving

I'm trying to think through how the Berube and Ruth's proposal might work here in flyover country, where most of our contingent faculty are good teachers with non-terminal degrees.  (That is, they have MAs in, say, history of underwater basketweaving, rather than PhDs in that, or MFAs in underwater basketweaving.)

How would they fit?

Currently, tenure track underwater basketweaving faculty teach 4/4, with about half of each person's load being either largish underwater basketweaving appreciation type courses or introduction to underwater basketweaving courses.  Then they teach a first/second year course in their area of underwater basketweaving (often for majors and GE), and a third/fourth year course mostly for majors.  (The department does a ton of GE service, as you'd guess.)

But contingent folks teach 5/5, with a steady diet of introduction to underwater basketweaving, and only the occasional intro of first/second year course, depending on their "specialization" and the curricular needs. 

Would the teaching intensive folks retain the 5/5 load and add service and advising requirements?

Would they retain the focus on intro courses?

Let's put it another way: typically, English departments are responsible for composition courses.  Is Berube willing to teach two comps a semester once a year so that the new teaching intensive tenure track folks in his department get to teach in their field some, since someone will have to teach those composition courses?  (I'm not trying to be pissy about the comp thing, but I'd be looking at two comps a semester probably once every year or two if we switched things up to be more equitable, and I think I'd be in serious mental health jeopardy if I did that.  About half my teaching load is comp, and I work really hard to teach it well, but it's very hard to teach, and teaching it means that I have to spread my intellectual energy from upper level early modern to lower level intro lits, to something very different.)


  1. I don't think Berube and Ruth are thinking about departments with 4/4 tenure-track loads at all. As others have pointed out, that's already a teaching-oriented tenure track -- and really, the only question is whether your department needs more tenure lines (in which case your M.A.-holding contingent faculty would lose their jobs, quite possibly in favor of people less-experienced in teaching comp in that context, and quite possibly less willing, on a longterm basis, to live in the community for the sake of doing so), or to stick to the present system.

    Also -- I know this bears no weight with administrators, and apparently even the NCTE has yielded this point in the past few years, but the MLA still recommends that teachers of writing-intensive classes have a load of no more than 3 sections, or 40-60 students, a term. It sounds like your contingent colleagues are holding down something approaching twice that load, and you're coming close to exceeding it yourself some semesters.

    And I teach a 4/4/usually 2 in the summer, nearly always all-writing-intensive load, made up almost entirely of variations on the same junior-level writing-in-the-disciplines-type course, with the occasional leavening of a single section of gen ed lit (which is no longer writing-intensive, because my department, under heavy pressure from the administration, raised the course caps too high for that to be realistic). So my usual load is 4 sections of a writing-intensive course, with a total of just under 90 students. But I don't have service/advising responsibilities, or research expectations. So we're nowhere near meeting those guidelines, either, except when my tenure-track colleagues (most of whom have a 2/2 load) teach 2 writing-intensive sections.

    At our place, a sane teaching track would look like most of my tenure-track colleagues had two decades ago: 3/3 with significant service expectations and moderate research expectations (or perhaps, more realistically, heavy service expectations and modest research -- probably mostly research-of-teaching -- expectations). That would still be different from the 2/2 research-intensive faculty (some of whom actually have the option to go to a 3/3 with the same service expectations but more modest research expectations), but that's possible only because the 2/2 is in place for most of the tenure-track faculty.

    I strongly suspect that my institution is far more like the one Berube and Ruth envision than yours is. I also strongly suspect that, nationwide, somewhere between as many and far more faculty teach in institutions like yours than like mine, which makes your questions extremely relevant.

  2. At HU, we have instituted a policy that anyone who works full-time has to have a terminal degree, unless you're already tenured and have been there for 30 years or something. That MA/30+ years applies to some of our most prominent professors, who, by the way, never do research, but are on every committee known to humankind. The new hires, though, all have to have terminal degrees. Even in a creative field, like creative writing, art, whatever, it's preferred that they have a PhD over an MFA, even though the MFA used to be considered terminal. And in some places maybe still is.

    Anyway, we do not hire people as full-time faculty unless they have a terminal degree. So Berube and Ruth's call for hiring only terminal-degree employees is already happening here. We do have some people with MAs teaching part-time, but they will never ever, ever be hired full-time, unless they get a terminal degree, and certainly not tenure-track without the PhD. Thing is, as academia has gotten glutted with PhDs, the bar keeps being raised (for hiring standards, for research standards, etc.). That accounts for all the PhDs in contingent roles. It also accounts for the research creep at schools like mine. The administration wants us to be a better school, so they want faculty to do more with less. It's a problem, though, because faculty are leaving in droves. But the administration sees no problem because there are so many PhDs looking for jobs. So we're all expendable. The ultimate downside is that there is little ability to build/create programs because of the inability to retain faculty. The students lose every time. The faculty who leave win. Everyone who leaves always goes someplace better. Someday I plan to leave too, but it will take some luck, or a book, or administrative experience, or all three, to make it happen.

    And ha, ha, ha. I really don't foresee any literature professors at a place like Penn State teaching composition. I could be wrong, but even I (in my crummy 4/4) try to avoid it as much as I can. (I recognize this avoidance as a fault in my character. But with teaching the grand Humanities class, teaching comp at the same time is suffocating in the worst way possible.)