Tag Archives: faculty

Out of Sync: America’s University Faculty


Every three years or so, the highly regarded Higher
Education Research Institute (HERI) at UCLA surveys large numbers of faculty at hundreds of colleges and universities across the nation.  This year’s survey of some 30,000 faculty
reminds us of how different university faculty are from ordinary Americans.

Take politics. In the latest survey, for the 2010-2011
academic year, 62.7 percent of faculty said that they were either “far left” or
“liberal,” while only 11.9 percent said they were “far right” or
“conservative.”  The notion that
universities are hot beds for left-wing politics has a solid basis in
fact.  Moreover, the left-right imbalance
is growing –a lot.  The proportion of
those on the left is rising, on the right declining. In a HERI survey three
years earlier, there were 3.51 professors on the left for each one on the
right; in the latest survey, that ratio rose sharply to 5.27, not likely
explainable solely by sample variations. Meanwhile, the middle-of-the-road
professor is becoming less common (the proportion fell from 28.4 to 25.4
percent in three years).

Contrast this with the general public. In an article
written earlier this year, Atlantic
senior editor Richard Florida concluded Americans were becoming more
conservative (opposite the trend amongst academics), with 40 percent labeling
themselves conservative, and only 21 percent liberal–one one-third the
proportion of the faculty. Also, the 36 percent of Americans who call themselves
“moderate” contrast with a much smaller proportion of faculty who are

Continue reading Out of Sync: America’s University Faculty

Three Things Colleges Don’t Want Us to Know


Universities are in the knowledge business, and the creation and
dissemination of it is at the very core of what colleges do. Yet some forms of
knowledge about higher education itself are either unknown, or hidden from the
public. Why? Release of the information would prove embarrassing and possibly
even costly to the school.

1. What Are the Teaching Loads?

This is prompted by an email I received from Bill Armstrong, President
of Colorado Christian College and former two-term U.S. Senator. He is looking
for data on faculty teaching loads and cannot find it. Going to the latest Digest of Education Statistics, I learn
that there were 7,500 faculty members teaching agricultural or home economics
courses in 2003 between the ages of 35 and 39, or that there were 1,959
full-time equivalent faculty teaching in Delaware in 2009. But in over 20
tables on staffing, there is not a word on teaching loads.

Why? I suspect the reason is simple: faculty don’t teach very much, and
far less than they used to. I have been around higher education for over 50
years, and my recollection is that at middling quality state schools in the
early 1960s, most faculty taught around 12 hours a week. At those same schools
today, the average load is almost certainly not more than 9 hours. At
top-flight universities, faculty taught about six hours a week in the 1960s,
and often 3 hours or 4.5 hours (one semester, one course, the second semester,
two courses) now.  On average, we have
seen at least a 25 percent reduction in loads.

Why? We are told it is because of the need to expand research output.
And surely the number of academic journals and other outlets has exploded.  But what percent of the research gets
seriously read or cited? Mark Bauerlein of Emory, a regular contributor to
Minding the Campus, has demonstrated that vast amounts of research are seldom
even cited, and that the number of articles written in the last 25 years or so
about, say, Shakespeare, reaches into the tens of thousands. Do not diminishing
returns set in regarding academic research like it does everything else in

Continue reading Three Things Colleges Don’t Want Us to Know

Out-of-Touch Faculty Act Out

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the peculiar coup attempt against University of Southern Maine president Selma Botman. As word of a no-confidence motion emerged, the plotters–most of whom were deeply-entrenched faculty–struggled to articulate a rationale for such an extreme move. They seemed displeased that a handful of administrators received raises when the plotters’ salaries had remained flat, but in a recession-suffering state with a legislature determined to reduce spending and an anti-education governor, no reasonable person could possibly blame President Botman for faculty salaries. The plotters also seemed to oppose Botman’s efforts to modernize the campus–but, again, they struggled to articulate a positive vision or explain exactly what Botman did that was wrong.

Continue reading Out-of-Touch Faculty Act Out

Unionize All Those Adjuncts?–Let’s Not

adjunct union protests.jpgSome two-thirds of America’s college students are taught by adjuncts, and now the battle is on over whether these low-paid, low-status workers should be unionized. Adjuncts, also called contingent faculty, are teachers hired without tenure, paid a small fraction of those on tenure-track positions, (typically $2700 per course, with minimal benefits). All three college faculty unions–the AAUP, American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association–have recently ramped up unionization campaigns while non-academic unions like the United Auto Workers have likewise entered the battle. The stakes are high both for institutions and for individuals.

One does not have to be a Marxist to yell, “Exploitation!” Endless tales of “Gypsy Scholars” abound–young men and women struggling with no job security to teach as many as six courses per semester, occasionally at multiple schools, lacking any health or pension plan at a salary comparable to working at McDonalds. Meanwhile tenure-track colleagues, some of whom may be brain dead, enjoy a princely wage (with generous benefits) for teaching identical courses. So, what better way to eliminate this blatant unfairness than unionization?

Continue reading Unionize All Those Adjuncts?–Let’s Not

After 5,500 Publications on Melville, What’s Left for Number 5,501 to Say?

What does a young academic need to do to qualify for tenure? For the answer, take a look at this recent survey of provosts. In a set of questions regarding tenure, the key question was, do you agree with this statement?: “Junior faculty today confront rising standards for tenure–standards that many of their senior colleagues could not have met when they were up for tenure.”

An overwhelming majority of provosts agreed–71 percent from public doctorate universities, 72 percent from public masters universities, and 65 percent from private doctorate universities. This finding is important, not because it marks a major trend of recent times, but because of the opposite–at least that is the case in my area, the humanities. The rising standards have been in place since the mid-1970s, when the job market started to tighten up after massive hirings in the late-60s and early-70s. When I came out of grad school and hit the job market in the late-80s–a bad time to look for a tenure-track post–I and my peers grumbled about how little sympathy we got from 50-year-old professors who were able to snag a job before they even finished their dissertation, and were able to earn tenure by completing their dissertation and publishing an article or two.

Continue reading After 5,500 Publications on Melville, What’s Left for Number 5,501 to Say?

Who Wants to Be Evaluated by Students?

Student Evaluations.jpgMany in the academy, whether on the left or right, will agree that in the late 1960s, a fundamental change took place in the balance between student demands and faculty authority.  At about the same moment when many schools began eliminating comprehensive examinations to assess the competence of students in their major subjects, these same schools introduced what has become known as teaching evaluations. These evaluations have become the staple of administrations everywhere.  They are used to decide tenure and promotion decisions, and in some cases they are mandatory (e.g., a student cannot know her final grade for a course until she fills out an evaluation, provided conveniently online).  Such enforced democratic participation is pursued with the kind of determination once attributed to the enforcement practices of grade-school teachers.

It seems nearly impossible to imagine that once-upon-a-time, such institutions as Columbia University struggled over whether to promote to tenure someone whose politics were considered “radical”. The origins of the American Association of University Professors, founded in 1915, devoted itself for forty years to the protection of dissent and academic freedom. Students played no more than a whispering role in such disputes.

Continue reading Who Wants to Be Evaluated by Students?

How Administrations Undermine Their Faculties

the fall of the faculty.jpgIt’s no secret that America’s colleges and universities have become bastions of political rectitude. This is often attributed to the left-liberal political orientation of the faculty. Typically, however, the administration, not the faculty, is the driving force behind efforts to promote campus diversity, to build multicultural programming and to regulate campus speech.  The president of the University of Rochester, for example, recently announced a 31-point “diversity plan” saying that diversity was a “fundamental value” of his university.

What accounts for the solicitude shown by university administrators for this progressive political agenda?  The chief reason is that a pitched battle for control of the university is under way, and by championing left-liberal causes administrators hope to bolster their own power

Faculty Bewildered as Administrators Siphon Off Money

“Inside Higher Ed” reports that Dartmouth College, facing a $100 million budget gap, is taking more funds from endowed chairs and endowed programs to help pay for administrative costs, alarming faculty, some of whom think the move is unethical.

Here is a first reaction to this news: we still think faculty run our institutions, but I’m not sure that is correct any more. Administrations run them, and more and more we are seeing the bureaucracies siphoning off funds from academic enterprises, including faculties.  At almost every school, bureaucratic spending has grown much faster over the past decade than spending on faculty salaries and the like.  There are several reasons for that, I think, but the big point is that the balance of power has shifted.  One thing that struck me on the Dartmouth experience was how much support we had from many faculty members, even those who disliked our politics.  What they liked was that we were railing against the proliferation of bureaucracy and the diversion of resources from the classroom. In many ways the modern academy has become much like the Washington administrative state: the bureaucracy/adminisration has grown in size and power and the legislature/faculty has shrunk. Of course the people (the students) become more and more irrelevant!

Is “Productivity” a Dirty Word on Campus?

If the 80 percent of faculty at the University of Texas-Austin with the lowest teaching loads were pushed to teach just half as much as the 20 percent of faculty who do most of the teaching, tuition could be cut by more than half. That’s the stark conclusion of a preliminary report from the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, and it is understandably causing a stir in the academic world.

Here are some of the findings:

One, the “productivity” of professors ranges widely in terms of teaching and research.   One fifth of UT Austin faculty handle more than half (57 percent) of the total student credit hours.  At the same time, the “least productive 20 percent teach only 2 percent of all student credit hours.”

Two, the 20 percent who do most of the teaching also bring in 18 percent of the campus’s research funding, a fact that leads the authors, Richard Vedder, Christopher Matgouranis and Jonathan Robe, to state that heavy teaching duties do not “jeopardize their status as researchers.”

Continue reading Is “Productivity” a Dirty Word on Campus?

On Maintaining the Line Between Teacher and Student

My article here, “Professors Should Dress like Professionals,” speculated that the loss of classroom authority was at least partially traceable to a decline in sartorial standards among the professoriate. 

            More, however, is involved than shabby attire. It is the systematic attempt to demolish the line between teacher and students that is the culprit. Consider the use of titles–students once addressed their teachers inside and outside the classroom, even if the instructor were young-looking freshly minted Ph.D., as Professor Smith, not ‘Prof” or, heaven forbid, by first names (“Doctor” would also suffice though awkward) . If informality did occur, it would immediately be corrected–“That’s Professor Smith.” Students were addressed with “Mr.” or “Miss.” Yes, in today’s egalitarian atmosphere such formality seems archaic and stiff, but the convention served to remind everyone that the professor, not the students, were in-charge and this, in turn, brought respect.

            This arrangement was deeply ingrained. It took me a few years after obtaining my Ph.D. to address my former professors by their first names though I was now also a professor (well-published and teaching at an Ivy League school, to boot). A similar formality occurred at my high school reunions–classmates 50 years out of high school still today talk of Mr. Martino or Mrs. Hill, and in most instances nobody even knew their first names, not that it mattered. 

Continue reading On Maintaining the Line Between Teacher and Student

Faculty Research and Student Success: A Tough Mix

The American Federation of Teachers has just issued a report that outlines the institutional conditions of “student success,” including the role of the faculty.  (The report itself is here.) 

Much of the document is predictable.  The criticism of reigning assessments of student learning and graduation rehearse familiar arguments about “one-size-fits-all” and “not-all-learning-is-measurable” and “insufficient-funding-for-authentic-assessment.”  And, of course, the document insists on putting teachers at the center of design and planning processes, with lots of government support.
But we shouldn’t be overly cynical about the intentions of AFT in wading into large-scale policy matters.  We need more teachers involved in the national discussion of assessment, curriculum, and retention.  Furthermore, AFT recognizes in the document that outsiders are crucial, too, even business people:
“Regular opportunities should be taken to obtain the views of stakeholders such as students and business representatives, disciplinary associations, civic leaders and other community organizations about the efficacy of the educational program although, in the final analysis, education decisions should be driven by educators.”
But there is a complicating factor to faculty involvement in student success that the document overlooks entirely.  AFT envisions teachers
• “Being available and providing proactive help to students in puzzling out the requirements of the academic program and the course subject matter”
• “Advising students on their career goals”
• “Offering early and continual feedback and formative and summative assessment of student progress” 
• “Participating actively in institution-wide reviews of progress in carrying out a student success agenda”
• “Supporting individual faculty members in attaining professional development, improving their pedagogy and technological skills, and strengthening other aspects of the faculty skill set.”
Something is missing: research/scholarship.  (The entire document mentions “research” and “scholarship” twice each time, none of them substantive mentions.)  In highlighting faculty responsibilities for student success, AFT overlooks the primary working condition of teachers employed by research universities: publish or perish.  If faculty members don’t produce (whether by bringing in research dollars or churning out publications), they don’t get promoted, garner nice annual raises, or impress colleagues anywhere else.
On that model, too much time with students amounts to career endangerment.  The “feedback” and “proactive help” and “advising” AFT announces must strike an assistant professor as altogether unrealistic.  “Are you kidding?” they ask.  If they don’t get that book manuscript accepted, they may be out of the profession forever.  If the grants don’t come through, their salary suffers.  Every hour spent talking with an 18-year-old about career plans is an hour lost, not gained.  
This is to say that all the incentives at research institutions work in the opposite direction of the AFT faculty-involvement model.  For non-research institutions, the model is worth following, but for research institutions, unless the incentives change, the heightened participation of professors won’t happen.

What Is Texas A&M up to?

image001.gifSomewhere in America the president of a public university is getting hammered by the chairman of the board of regents. The hammerer—let’s say he owns a chain of automobile dealerships – is arguing that the president must get faculty costs under control – or else.

“Admit it, John,” the chairman says to the president. “Your faculty are a bunch of lazy, overpaid whiners. You’ve got six months to figure out a pay-for-performance plan, or start looking for another job.”

A former physicist who understands well the hornets nest he’s about to fall into, our beleaguered university president is left with little choice but to come up with a quick and dirty plan.

“Give me a spreadsheet,” he orders his senior vice president for budget and planning. “I want every faculty member in this system to have a dollar value attached to his or her name, reflecting their net contribution to our bottom line. Then I want a faculty salary schedule to reflect that.”

The president got his spreadsheet. A former physics colleague who was awarded a Nobel Prize some twenty years ago saw his salary slashed in half. Though he’d become a star teacher since his Nobel, his research grants had been dwindling for years. By contrast, there was the recent hire in the Construction Management program. She was a new Ph.D. who was already bringing in tons of industry money for “research.” In contrast to the Nobel Laureate, her salary would shoot up 35 percent. Our university president could think only about what Albert Einstein once said: “Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted.”

Continue reading What Is Texas A&M up to?

Tenure Is Fading–Is that Really So Bad?

The New York Times Room for Debate page hosted a forum last week entitled “What If College Tenure Dies?” As the preamble rightly notes, the question follows from an increasing shift in university personnel away tenure and tenure-track lines and toward adjuncts and lecturers hired on temporary contracts. The numbers are stark:

In 1975, 57 percent of all college professors had tenure or were on a tenure track. In 2007, that number had fallen to 31 percent, and a new federal report, to be released in the fall, is expected to show another decline for 2009 . . .

What will happen when the rate slides into a non-critical mass (less than 20 percent)?, the Times asks.

Continue reading Tenure Is Fading–Is that Really So Bad?

Another Source of Disengagement

One of the most dismaying statistics that comes up every time the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) publishes its annual results is the “professor-student interaction” figure. In 2009, NSSE reported that fully 40 percent of first-year students “Never” discussed with their teachers ideas or readings outside of class (see here for the report). Fully 38 percent of them did so “Sometimes,” while only 15 percent did so “Often,” a paltry seven percent “Very often.”

The numbers mark a fair measure of just how much students value their teachers as a resource, a guide, a mentor. For the vast majority of them, teachers run a class, that’s all, issuing a syllabus and grading assignments. They don’t care to visit office hours and talk about Crime and Punishment or the Founding Fathers or supply-side economics, much less general intellectual matters that come up in their just-begun college career.


Lots of reasons, but a story in a forthcoming book by Craig Brandon entitled The Five-Year Party (web site here) provides one of them. A few years ago, Brandon was a journalism instructor at Keene State College in New Hampshire. One day he was asked to serve as faculty advisor to the student radio station, and he gladly agreed. He met with the students who ran the station and judged them lively and thoughtful. But over the next week or two when he listened to the station in his car driving to and from work, he reacted in shock.

Continue reading Another Source of Disengagement

Saving U Mass From Its Faculty

The National Education Association has just published its annual higher education journal, Thought & Action, whose 2009 edition contains a special focus: “A New Progressive Era for Higher Education.” The essays (which are not yet available on-line) lament the declining government support for public institutions—all while providing (unintentional) examples of why the public might doubt the wisdom of pouring more money into higher education.
Take, for instance, the tale told by Max Page, a professor in the University of Massachusetts-Amherst’s department of art, and sociology professor Dan Clawson, whose recent publications include such only-in-academia topics as “Class Struggle in Higher Education” and “Neoliberalism Guarantees the Future of Social Movement Unionism.” Page and Clawson relate how a small group of UMass professors—mostly from “Labor Studies and Sociology, with long activist resumes”—formed a group called Save UMass, to protest the education funding priorities of the Massachusetts state government.
The activist professors encouraged colleagues to take time from class to criticize the state legislature for not giving UMass more money. Page and Clawson rejoice that around 40 percent of faculty spent a half-hour of class time doing so. The “activist” duo appears unaware of how their colleagues’ behavior violated the AAUP’s 1915 Declaration of Principles on Academic Freedom and Academic Tenure.

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