Friday, August 27, 2010

college Faculty Professionalism – Ethical Responsibility and Precarious Work Pt. 3

3. Am I an academic professional?

All of this is, for me, largely a matter of academic interest (pardon the pun), because I am not a professor, even though I work as a faculty member of a university. Indeed, I’m tempted to say that nothing in the AAUP Statement on Professional Ethics applies to my work, since the only persons whose rights and responsibilities are named in the Statement are people who bear the title of professor. For the Statement also shares in common with other professional codes of ethics that it addresses members of an occupational group who assert for themselves a high level of professional authority, autonomy, and self-regulation. It speaks to a relatively powerful group about the appropriate use of its power. Not being a “professor,” I may ask to be forgiven if I suppose I need not seek and state the truth, nor encourage the free pursuit of learning by my students, nor accept a share of responsibility for the governance of my institution, nor abide by its policies. To take up the gambit of Hamilton’s criticism of professors’ “failure,” I may assert, on my behalf, that since I am offered none of the job security so jealously defended by the tenured minority, that I shall not be governed by any professional ethical responsibility.

Strangely, I am generally mistaken for a professor, by students and by professors. To most outside observers, too, I look almost exactly like a professor in almost every way.

I hold a Ph.D. degree in Philosophy. Before completing my degree, and in the years since, I have engaged in multiple long-term scholarly projects, published several peer-reviewed articles, as well as book chapters, conference papers, and book reviews. I have also presented several dozen papers at academic conferences, mainly at the international level. I have taught numerous courses in the philosophy major, many general education courses, including courses in the university’s honors program, and I have designed several courses. I have served as a thesis advisor, and written numerous letters of recommendation for students aspiring to enter graduate and professional schools. I have served for many years on my university’s academic senate, and participated in numerous committees. I have been on editorial boards for journals and scholarly societies, and of course as a peer reviewer as well, including writing letters of support for colleagues at other institutions pursuing tenure, promotion, even a Fulbright fellowship. I have performed as much of the work of a professor as many tenured professors — and if I may say, much more than some.

I have also never held a tenure-line appointment. For the past 12 years, I have taught at a campus of the California State University, an institution whose primary mission is decidedly teaching and preparation of graduates to serve in professional positions – though, in most cases, admittedly not elite professional positions. Our university graduates large numbers of future teachers, nurses, management personnel, and a handful of future professors, doctors, and lawyers. My teaching course load has never been less than eight courses per year. Officially, my workload includes nothing but classroom instruction, meaning that any scholarly work or work on university committees is not only strictly voluntary (i.e., unpaid), but also unrecognized by the university. In common with the vast majority of my non-tenure-track colleagues at colleges and universities throughout the United States, I am also deemed ineligible for many forms of support for my academic work, in particular support for research and scholarship — monetary support for travel, access to grants, allocation of paid workload to research, etc. The protection of academic freedom and of the integrity of academic work provided by tenure is expressly and permanently forbidden to me in this position, as is the rank and status of “professor.”

I am in a paradoxical position. I meet any reasonable minimal standard of academic professional prerequisites. I have engaged actively in the academic and other professional pursuits at the core of the ideology of the professoriate. Yet clearly, the perquisites of professionalism are in large measure denied to me. If it is the case, as Hamilton and Gaff suggest, that the social contract of academic professionals is based on the proposition that the educational and research mission of academic institutions requires that the professoriate be assigned the rights and responsibilities of professors, then I believe I must conclude that my work is not governed by this contract.

Nonetheless, I have also been extremely fortunate that the union representing all faculty employees in the California State University – the California Faculty Association – has successfully bargained an agreement that provides among the very best working conditions for non-tenure-track faculty in the US. The vast majority of my similarly deprofessionalized colleagues across the US have much lower salaries, less generous or no benefits, worse teaching workloads, and even less institutional support. To some degree, at the CSU, the similarity of our working lives to those of our tenure-track colleagues has led to broader recognition of our commonality of interests, and even of the right of lecturers to be treated with respect. This respect for lecturers is rarely expressed by CSU administrators, and in other systems, lecturers, adjuncts, part-timers, or whatever they are locally known as, can generally count on a permanent working condition of demoralizing, dehumanizing treatment. We know a great deal about some of the worst conditions this majority of the faculty face. They must scramble to make ends meet, often teaching at multiple institutions, not all of which provide them office space, a phone, a computer, or other basics. They wait until days before – or even after – the beginning of academic terms for their work assignments and contracts (contracts they have no power to negotiate without collective bargaining, where that is legal and available to non-tenure-track faculty). They are often asked to teach courses for which they have limited academic or professional preparation, but just as “warm bodies” in the classroom. Their work is subject to oversight, but almost never peer review; evaluations, if any regular system of evaluation is in place, are generally in the hands of department heads or administrators. They must be wary constantly to avoid offending students or administrators, so as to avoid instant termination. Even when able to handle all of these problems, these faculty are, in the phrase repeated by many contingent faculty activists, never more than 15 seconds from complete humiliation.

Under these conditions, not only is there no institutional or collegial support for upholding any of the professional ethical obligations in the AAUP Statement on Professional Ethics, it is often the case that a lecturer’s job and livelihood depend on that lecturer’s failure to observe those well-meant principles. I do not mean to suggest that these worst-treated college faculty become unscrupulous; they simply know, as an everyday part of their working lives, that they cannot afford to seek and state the truth as they see it; that they can only encourage their students’ free pursuit of learning to the limit of each student’s comfort and each administrator’s whim; that they are largely forbidden membership in the community of scholars and prohibited from taking part in faculty governance; and that academic freedom is not their right, but a privilege enjoyed by the tenured elites.

Certainly, these faculty experience the failure of the social contract to sustain college faculty professionalism. Contrary to Hamilton, it does not follow that the failure of the social contract is the faculty’s failure – at least, not this faculty’s failure, not the failure of the vast majority of faculty in the United States. The majority of the faculty never had a chance to fulfill this social contract.

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