Sunday, September 5, 2010

Rethinking and Reshaping Higher Education

All over a variety of media this season, one of the targets of ire has been tenured professors and education in general (from high school on up, although we see quite a focus lately on post-high school education). For those of you who have missed it, here's an essay in The New York Times that sums it up nicely. Several books have just been published that call for an end to tenure and an end to how college has been done. These authors have been on the interview trail to promote their books, and I've listened.

I've felt a profound sense of disconnect.

Where are these professors that these books excoriate? People who earn over $100,000 a year? I've never met a one. People who only work a few hours a week? In what teaching universe?

I know the answer: at some of the most elite universities. But let's be bluntly honest: most higher ed faculty aren't teaching in that world.

The higher ed faculty I know are teaching an extra class for free or taking furlough days. They're grumpy, but they know they're lucky to hang on to full-time teaching jobs. I also know plenty of people cobbling together a pittance by teaching lots of classes as an adjunct and working in tutoring centers.

Even faculty at state schools aren't living the life of leisure described by these books. They may have a 3-3 teaching load, but they have scads of other duties.

I suspect that these authors are mad about a state of affairs that hasn't existed in years, or decades. I had a similar sense when I read Christopher Hitchen's God is Not Great. Hitchens wasn't describing a church that I had ever known. He was still mad about Church, as it existed in the middle of the twentieth century. If he had explored the Church of the 3rd world in the 21st century, he might have really found something to worry about.

Still, these authors make some valid points. Many of us are teaching a curriculum that was valid for the middle of the 2oth century, but may need some rethinking for this century. That's a topic for another post, but a question for today: if you were remaking college curriculum, how would you shape it? An Economics professor takes a stab here. What would your answer be?


Karen J. Weyant said...

Great Post! I read these articles and think the same thing: who are these people? The faculty members I work with sometimes teach as much as 24 credits a semester on top of those extra duties no one knows about. (In my world, meetings often take up to 10 hours a week!)

Sandy Longhorn said...

Yay! Great post. I ditto everything Karen says above. However, I do have to admit that our feeling of disconnect may come from teaching in the humanities. I've heard tell and seen the figures for some of the tenured folks teaching in computing and business and the sciences. I was told that salaries were based on what people could earn in the non-academic world and those science and industry jobs pay more. Another chip on the poet's shoulder.

Jeannine said...

My Dad worked for almost forty years as a professor; in his last year, as he turned 70, they had him on a 4/4 schedule, plus his volunteer and committee activities (also pretty brutal.) I never thought of professoring as an "easy" job, let's just say.
PS - Aren't about half of all people teaching at universities adjuncts now?

Kristin said...

Thanks Karen, Sandy, and Jeannine, for reading and commenting.

The adjunct rate can be as high as 60-70%, and it varies widely from place to place. But in most schools, yes, it's around half.

And I think that jobs throughout the higher ed system are tougher. Even as the Science and Technology folks are earning more money than those of us in the Humanities, those earnings are dependent on how much money their labs bring in, which in turn, takes an amazing amount of grant getting/keeping/documenting work.