Ancrene Wiseass

A would-be medievalist holds forth on academia, teaching, gender politics, blogging, pop culture, critters, and whatever else comes her way.

My Photo
Location: United States

Yes, this really is yet another blog by a disillusioned grad student. I sympathize, but that's just the way it has to be. For hints as to what my bizarre alias means, click here and here and, if needed, here and here. To get a sense of what I'm up to, feel free to check out the sections called "Toward a Wiseass Creed" and "Showings: Some Introductory Wiseassery" in my main blog's left-hand sidebar. Please be aware that spamming, harassing, or otherwise obnoxious comments will be deleted and traced.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

The Future of the Academic Faculty: Some Questions

The latest edition of MLA's Profession appeared in my mailbox this week, and I've been browsing. In an article by Annette Kolodny on "How English Departments (and Their Chairs) Can Survive into the Twenty-First Century," I came across the following paragraph:

. . . The definition of what constitutes the faculty is itself undergoing radical transformation. "Nearly half of all faculty members work part time, and more than half of new full-time positions are off the tenure track." As Martin Finkelstein, a professor of education at Seton Hall University, put it, "college teaching is moving toward a contingent work force" . . . . Little wonder, then, that several department chairs cited as their biggest challenge the need to find some way to keep non-tenure-track faculty members happy, productive, and nonsuicidal. Additionally, as chair after chair explained, the status of non-tenure-track faculty members affects not only their morale but the morale of the entire department. Tenure-track faculty members who already feel overworked and underpaid are angered by the notion that they are somehow exploiting the non-tenure-track adjuncts and part-timers by shifting onto them those courses that the tenure-track faculty members supposedly can't or won't teach. And in their heart of hearts, the tenure-track faculty members know full well that those without tenure-track positions are often as smart, talented, and meritorious as they are. Of course, the non-tenure-track faculty know this as well. To say the least, the situation is a breeding ground for guilt, resentment, and jealousy--not collegiality (156).
This is an alarming portrait, and it raises a number of questions for me:

1) Is it now at all possible to be anything other than irresponsible or inaccurate in speaking of or treating contingent faculty members as "the academic fringe" in any way (if, indeed, it ever was)?

2) Is the end of the tenure system as we know it the logical, inevitable, or perhaps even preferable outcome of the situation Kolodny describes?

3) Is it at all reasonable, under these circumstances, for graduate students to expect to get tenure-track jobs? If it isn't, whose responsibility is it to explain that to them, and at what stage?

4) Does the experience of people reading this blog bear out what Kolodny's saying, in particular about the dynamic between tenured and contingent faculty members?

5) What is this scenario most likely to mean for the quality of training undergraduates receive at American colleges and universities--and, by extension, for the overall education of the nation's adults?

I'm eager to hear any responses you may have--or any questions I haven't thought of.