29th 2013
A guiding set of principles for the professional use of social media

Posted under: American history, bad language, jobs, weirdness

cowgirl2After the flamewar over rage at the current academic job market, in which the rage was redirected onto Tenured Radical for daring to question the long-term effectiveness of complaining about the behavior of one search committee, TR wrote a post suggesting that it’s time to have a conversation about the professional use of social media:

My question is this: given that social media is ubiquitous among academics, and given that our colleagues and students are sometimes justifiably angry about important things, ought we not to have some more serious discussions about what kind of speech we do — and do not — find acceptable? Should we not begin to identify what kinds of virtual conversations lead to real change and community building; and which are destructive, vengeful or personal hubris masquerading as charismatic leadership?

There are clear signs that if we do not begin to have these conversations among ourselves, others will seize the initiative and faculty will find ourselves perpetually in the position of responding to university attorneys, trustees, politicians and administrators.

Great idea, right?  So far the flamewar at Tenured Radical has 190 comments (and counting!), whereas after three days the post suggesting that we all come together to figure out how to use social media productively for professional purposes has 34 comments.  That’s a little clue as to how easy and fun it is to tear someone down, make assumptions about their motives and professional experiences, and generally act like a jerk in social media, whereas it’s relatively difficult to build something together.

Please note:  this is not a blog post calling for civility, which I agree can be cover for preserving the power relations of the status quo.  This is a blog post proposing some guiding rules for the professional use of social media for those of us in academia (but they may apply in other professions, too).  As we’ve all been reminded endlessly over the past decade, The World Is Flat, and graduate students can email, Tweet, and comment on the blogs of full professors, and vice-versa.  This familiarity with one another over social media has been for the most part a good thing for everyone involved, but TR is right that we need to think about formulating some community standards before they’re formulated for us by our educators and/or employers.

This blog has always been about community-building, so friends, let’s rent a barn and put on a show!  At the risk of being torn to shreds myself, I’ll propose a set of guiding principles just to get the conversation going.  You tell me what you think I’ve missed and where I’m wrong, and together we’ll propose a set of guiding principles for the professional use of social media.  After a few days, I’ll publish our collectively revised or rewritten list of guiding principles.

cowgirlgunsign1Who cares if you tear me or my ideas to shreds–I’m just a pretend cowgirl!  What do I care?  It doesn’t upset me if you think I’m too much of a Miss Suzy Sunshine.  Others have said worse!  Blogs and social media should be used for community building, support, and honest conversations, not to rip apart complete strangers, but I understand that’s not how everyone uses social media.   (Apparently, some people use Twitter to talk behind other people’s backs without understanding that we can overhear them.  Duh!  They also do this, and say much worse, under their own names!  Kudos for their honesty, but maybe they should be thinking about who else is reading and coming to conclusions about their worthiness as prospective colleagues.)

Guiding principles for the professional use of social media:

  1. The Golden Rule:  don’t publish anything online that you wouldn’t say to someone’s face.
  2. Don’t make assumptions about the motives or personal experience that may inform the social media commentary of others.
  3. If you are the proprietor of a blog, Instagram, or Twitter account, think before you write and edit before you publish.  Think again:  is my post or comment useful, necessary, or productive?
  4. If you are a commenter on someone else’s social media account or platform:  Consider the intended audience for a blog, Instagram, or Twitter account, and be respectful of the proprietor’s online space and attention.
  5. If someone publishes a nasty or personal post or comment about you or something you’ve written, resist the urge to return the favor.  Read it two or three times to be sure you’re not overreacting or feeding a flamewar.  Consider ignoring it if it’s really inflammatory, but otherwise use your teaching skills to turn it around:  is there something in the comment of value you can address respectfully, thereby modeling the kind of conversation you’d like to be a part of?

Here are my rationales for these principles, in seriatum:

  1. No one likes a jerk, and when you’re a jerk online, you are performing jerkiness before a potential audience of hundreds or thousands.
  2. You can always ask a blogger or Tweeter why they wrote what they wrote, or ask for further clarification before unloading on them.
  3. Since when is thinking a bad thing?  Aren’t we inteleckshuals?
  4. See rule #1, and remember:  don’t be a jerk.
  5. Let your productive, positive social media presence speak for itself.  If you lie down with the dogs, you’ll get up with fleas.



59 Responses to “A guiding set of principles for the professional use of social media”

  1. Nicoleandmaggie on 29 Dec 2013 at 1:04 pm #

    If you are the proprietor of a blog, Instagram, or Twitter account, think before you write and edit before you publish. Think again: is my post or comment useful, necessary, or productive?

    I’ve never liked this rule as it silences people who do have something useful, necessary, or productive to say but second guess themselves. You know, like many of our silent female or minority students and colleagues, etc. (And some social media isn’t supposed to be useful necessary or productive because it is silly fun, but not in a way that is unprofessional. Like cat pictures.)

  2. truffula on 29 Dec 2013 at 3:33 pm #

    No one likes a jerk

    I’m not sure this is true, situationally. The jerks are always egged on by others. There must be a certain voyeurism at work.

    “Nobody wants to work with a jerk.” Whatever acclaim you derive from being a jerk will be fleeting while the reputation you develop will not.

  3. quixote on 29 Dec 2013 at 5:07 pm #

    This makes me sad. Isn’t this what used to be called “preserving the decencies of debate”? Why (why why why?) does the wheel have to be reinvented each time a new technology appears?

    This is why we need historians. Did the pamphleteers shoot their mouths off in like fashion by the standards of the time until they gradually toned it down? Do Babylonian clay tablets show evidence of the stylus punching right through the clay when the writer had had it? What happened when we went from crow quill pens to ones with nibs?

    No, really. I know I’m being a bit facetious, but seriously, is this something that gets relearned in each new medium? Or are people just goofier these days?

    (Good list, by the way!)

  4. Feminist Avatar on 29 Dec 2013 at 5:38 pm #

    Definitely don’t think this is a new problem. Otherwise all those Enlightenment debating societies wouldn’t have needed such long rule books telling people how to behave! Plus, a fair whack of early modern pamphlets aren’t much more than people whining at each other. Take this from Lord Roos pamphlet war with his father in law in the 1660s-

    “when you gave your Choller so violent a purge, to the fouling of so much innocent paper, and your own reputation (if you had any, which the wise very much doubt) you had better bin drunk & set in Stocks for it … every man sees through you … Let any man judge whether I am so likely to divulge secrets as you, who cannot forebear Printing and publishing; Your Labours are now cry’d in the streets of London, with Ballads on the Rump, and Hewson’s Lamentations”.

  5. Susan on 29 Dec 2013 at 8:09 pm #

    The only one of the rules I have any question about is #3. Not because thinking is bad, but the questions narrow the range of publication. After all, your “fluff” category is not “useful, necessary, or productive,” but it’s a lot of fun. Maybe the criterion is something more focused on, if you are engaging in critique, it’s worth thinking about the different kinds of power, and what kinds of power those you are attacking do and do not have. And in that context, reflection on what you say, addressed to whom, is important. It strikes me that in terms of academic hiring and structures, tenured/TT faculty become the target because they are visible, while the administrators and politicians who make decisions that constrain all of us are not associated with the damage they do. Anger, and rage, are often appropriate, but if they are addressed to the wrong people, it’s not helpful.

    To put it another way, it’s fine to vent, but if you criticize, be strategic.

    I’d also add to #2 that it’s generally good to avoid speculation on motives or experience, period. If you focus on things people have done and said, that’s fine. But there are so many things that may have shaped what people have done, that guessing their motives will almost always be both wrong and counter-productive.

  6. koshembos on 29 Dec 2013 at 8:16 pm #

    To be constructive: Accepts 1, accept 2 with the proviso that we do make implicit assumptions that may include motives and personal issues. As for 3: always edit, edit and think whether you add value. True for everyone. I killed more comments than I wrote.

    4: Be respectful, which doesn’t translate to pulling punches. Hit as hard as you can though never personally. Accept 5.

    There are different social forums: debate, discussion, sharing, etc. Someone probably has a good taxonomy for that. There are probably slightly different rules for different forums.

  7. Historiann on 30 Dec 2013 at 6:43 am #

    I take Nicoleandmaggie’s point about too much caution being internalized by the already overly-cautious, but how is an ethic of writing carefully and editing one’s writing about “silencing” anyone? That seems to me overwrought. Any suggestions about how to edit principle #3? (Surely, N&M, you’re not suggesting that all bloggers and Tweeters just fire at will, and that professional ethics apply only to commenters?)

    On Susan’s point about “fluff” being neither useful, necessary, nor productive: I take issue with that! Principle #3 was not meant to quash all playfulness, and sometimes a stupid video is just what we all need. But I will rewrite to remove the businesslike aspect to which you object.

    truffula makes a good point about the performative nature of blog and Twitter commentary; jerks may be liked fleetingly while they’re performing, but I think she’s right that “no one wants to work with a jerk.”

    I’ll take a stab at rewriting #3: “If you are the proprietor of a blog, Instagram, or Twitter account, think about your audience, write clearly, and edit before you publish. Ask yourself: Does this post advance a conversation or does it unfairly personalize a larger problem?”

    What do you think of that? (Sorry if this comments thread feels like a committee meeting!)

  8. Tenured Radical on 30 Dec 2013 at 7:36 am #

    Good start Historiann: we’ll work on this some more when we tie on the old feedbag in DC.

    Having done my time in couples therapy, I was trying to figure out why the rhetorical quality of these attacks is so aggravating, and it has something to do with #2. The comments aimed at me that have the “You are this and that and probably this other thing — all of which I hate and now know *you* are probably responsible for doing to other people” throw the conversation into a whole other register (I am supposed to defend myself against things I have never done? To you or anyone else?)

    So the old therapy saw of “Make I statements, not you statements” seems useful to me. The you statements not only fail to engage with the real person, but they generalize personal experience without owning up to doing so. It would be interesting to see how many comments we would get from people willing to recount their *good* experiences on the job market. Mine, for example, have been generally quite good, even though I have only been offered two out of perhaps 50 or 60 jobs I have ever applied for at all levels, instructor through full professor. I can count on the fingers of one hand the search chairs who failed to respond to applications at all or committees who treated me peculiarly or unprofessionally. I don’t think I’m unique either.

  9. Historiann on 30 Dec 2013 at 8:21 am #

    “Make I statements, not you statements” is a good idea, but I would also maybe add that both I and you are n=1 each & so are merely anecdotes rather than conclusive proof of anything. (On the internets, “I have never seen or experienced what you report, so therefore it doesn’t really exist” is another unfortunate debate tactic.)

  10. nicoleandmaggie on 30 Dec 2013 at 8:34 am #

    “how is an ethic of writing carefully and editing one’s writing about “silencing” anyone? That seems to me overwrought.” and “Surely, N&M, you’re not suggesting that all bloggers and Tweeters just fire at will, and that professional ethics apply only to commenters?”

    seem to be violating your rules… just sayin’. “overwrought”? quotations around “silencing”… “Surely you’re not suggesting”… them’s all passive-aggressive fighting words suggesting that you don’t actually want feedback. In a classroom they would silence students.

    If those two sentences in your #3 weren’t meant to go together, then they should have been made in separate points. What happened was it is a PITA to copy/paste on the ipad and since the two sentences were put together, I assumed you were conflating bloggers/tweeters/etc. and commenters and didn’t bother to go back to delete the first sentence. There’s nothing wrong with thinking (again) before you tweet, but perhaps that should not be conflated with “is my post or comment useful, necessary, or productive?” Note also that you conflate posts and comments in this snippet yourself, so your attack about what I’m surely not suggesting doesn’t make sense. That, I suppose, shows the difficulty of “thinking again” in practice. :)

    Yes, the modification is better, but it doesn’t mention commenters.

  11. Tenured Radical on 30 Dec 2013 at 8:38 am #

    Yep. I keep wondering also whether there isn’t something age related. The folks on the market now are the Millennials who never failed, never got below a B+, got prizes for everything they did. And one response to the terrible job market has been to add *more* prizes: you don’t see a job candidate who hasn’t won named fellowships in grad school, teaching prizes, and post-docs (intended to keep people going in a bad job market, but now just another prize.) There must be something genuinely confusing to many people who have, in fact, done everything right, and failed to win the big prize — or even, in a way, been given a yellow ticket to go to Hollywood at all. You can say a lot of things about Rebecca Schuman, I suppose, but unaccomplished she is not.

    Anger is one way to project shame outward: another valuable lesson from years of psychotherapy.

  12. Historiann on 30 Dec 2013 at 8:57 am #

    seem to be violating your rules… just sayin’. “overwrought”? quotations around “silencing”… “Surely you’re not suggesting”… them’s all passive-aggressive fighting words suggesting that you don’t actually want feedback. In a classroom they would silence students.

    Have I been disrespectful of your ideas? Or have I taken them seriously and tried to work with them? I wanted you to clarify what you think the responsibility is for people with blogs and Twitter accounts in all of this, and I’m still not sure what you’re recommending.

    I put “silencing” in quotation marks because it’s your word and I was quoting you. I disagree that principle #3 could be “silencing,” when it was addressed to people who already have blogs or Twitter accounts.

  13. Historiann on 30 Dec 2013 at 9:03 am #

    N&M: the reason #3 doesn’t mention commenters on blogs (but mentions the fact that bloggers comment on other comments in their blog posts, as you both & I do regularly) is that there is a principle #4 specifically for commenters.

    Sorry for any confusion, but #3 is strictly for bloggers/proprietors of fB, Twitter, Instagram accounts, etc. #4 is for people who comment on others’ accounts/blogs.

    So, to clarify, here are the rewritten #3 and #4 unrevised together:

    3. If you are the proprietor of a blog, Instagram, or Twitter account, think about your audience, write clearly, and edit before you publish. Ask yourself: Does this post advance a conversation or does it unfairly personalize a larger problem?”
    4. If you are a commenter on someone else’s social media account or platform: Consider the intended audience for a blog, Instagram, or Twitter account, and be respectful of the proprietor’s online space and attention.

    n.b. I would agree with N&M’s point about “silencing” if I had applied that language to the advice for commenters. However, I didn’t either in the original language or in the revision I proposed. #3 clearly applies only to bloggers/account holders themselves.

  14. Aaron Bady on 30 Dec 2013 at 9:37 am #

    I wonder if Claire Potter has any other observations to make about the Millenials on the market; I’d make some observations about baby boomers with tenure, but that would violate the “Make I statements, not you statements” rule.

  15. Historiann on 30 Dec 2013 at 10:23 am #

    I get the point you’re making, Aaron, but I’d be interested in your view on the generational angle here: Is it as important or more important than the tenured/untenured divide you mention? I’ve made the point on this blog in the past that my generation of grad students were “raised by wolves,” whereas it seems to me that grad programs today–at least in history–do a lot more for their students in terms of professional development and advice. As Z and others noted in the “Peace on Earth” thread, the side-effect of all of this professionalization in the face of a no-jobs job “market” might lead to despair if one doesn’t land a job.

    I’m a Gen Xer, so I don’t have a dog in this fight. (I am, however, tenured.)

  16. Contingent Cassandra on 30 Dec 2013 at 10:50 am #

    I think the #3 vs. #4 distinction works pretty well for traditional blogs (i.e. those where most content is written by the author(s) of the blog, perhaps jumping off from other content, but adding something substantial and distinctive to it in the process of posting), but might be trickier for twitter and facebook (I don’t have enough Instagram experience to have an opinion about it), and maybe even for blogs that publish much briefer commentary on linked articles. Tweeting or facebook-posting a link with a brief comment is, in some ways, like making a comment on a blog post, but in some ways not, since the primary goal is to communicate with one’s twitter or facebook followers/friends, not the author of the post. One is, essentially, bringing the material up for discussion in a different community, with different rules (and also placing it in a context where it may travel very quickly, even more quickly than blog posts, which can, of course, take similar journeys, do). I can’t quite get my head around the difference, but I think there may be an important distinction (and perhaps even a social-media generational and/or platform divide). It also strikes me that some of the recent flame wars seem to have arisen in part from the intersection of older, slower-moving online platforms (the blog post, the article with comment stream) and twitter, which might suggest that a clash of assumptions/conventions between the two.

  17. Aaron Bady on 30 Dec 2013 at 12:33 pm #

    I think that pathologizing a generation is a very misguided way to proceed. Which is not to say that generations don’t coincide with other trends–since when you went to grad school also nicely predicts what the job market was like when you finished, how much debt you have, etc–but to act like there’s any value in using extremely dubious (and, frankly, obnoxious) generalizations about “Millenials” as an explanation for why people are upset, since you asked me, seems indicative of someone who is more interested in dismissing than understanding. Caricatures like “the Millennials who never failed” is not only shoddy pop-social science, but it’s a very poor way to understand the mindset of a generation of academics for whom failure is an ever-present reality, even the most likely outcome. We are not “confused” because we think we deserve jobs; if any generalization has merit, it’s this one: we are crystal clear on the fact that “deserve” does not have very much to do with it.

  18. Historiann on 30 Dec 2013 at 1:09 pm #

    Thanks, Aaron. You make good points.

    What’s interesting to me (as a Gen X outsider) are the similarities between the Boomers and the Millenials, not the differences. If you look at the cultural conversation on both generations, both were presumed to be “spoiled” by luxury and never introduced to the harsher facts of life (that is, for the Millenials, until 2008.) The Boomers were thought to have been brought up too permissively by Dr. Spock and his many readers & followers, and then the Millenial generation (raised for the most part by Boomer parents) has been accused of being similarly cosseted and protected by “helicopter” parents.

    You’re right that generations are too broad & driven more by stereotypes than analytical precision. That said, I think both the Boomers and the Millenials are better people on the whole than Gen Xers. I’m struck by the civic-mindedness of my elders, which seems to contrast with the selfish self-interest of my peers. At the same time, I see all of this volunteerism and public service (mostly via military service) among the Millenials that seems to have skipped my generation. Maybe it has to do with the fact that we never had our foreign war (Operation Desert Storm not really functioning as a war in the way that Vietnam did for the Baby Boomers or in the way that Afghanistan & Iraq have affected the Millenials.)

    In any case: can you help me with figuring out a way to acknowledge the differences between Twitter and blogs that Contingent Cassandra notes? I think you’re right on, CC, about these differences. I read other people’s Twitter feeds but don’t tweet myself, so I’m sure my guiding principles are more useful from the blogging than the tweeting perspective. Although Twitter does not permit the same kind of nuance or length of expression, I think one can write editorial comment in a more or less professional manner in 140 characters or fewer.

  19. Brad DeLong on 30 Dec 2013 at 5:14 pm #

    May I ask if the person who wrote this:

    >Yep. I keep wondering also whether there isn’t something age related. The folks on the market now are the Millennials who never failed, never got below a B+, got prizes for everything they did. And one response to the terrible job market has been to add *more* prizes: you don’t see a job candidate who hasn’t won named fellowships in grad school, teaching prizes, and post-docs (intended to keep people going in a bad job market, but now just another prize.) There must be something genuinely confusing to many people who have, in fact, done everything right, and failed to win the big prize — or even, in a way, been given a yellow ticket to go to Hollywood at all. You can say a lot of things about Rebecca Schuman, I suppose, but unaccomplished she is not. Anger is one way to project shame outward: another valuable lesson from years of psychotherapy.

    was really Claire Potter, tenured professor at the New School?

    And let me say that of all the unprofessional rhetorical moves I have seen in 34 years in academia, the “you are angry at me because you are ashamed of yourself” has also struck me as the most unprofessional move of all…

    Sincerely yours,

    Brad DeLong

  20. William B. on 30 Dec 2013 at 6:28 pm #

    I cannot believe that I’m furiously conducting research while awaiting the arrival of a child, draining my bank account to attend conferences, and staring unemployment in the face, and these lifeboating tenured professors who hilariously call themselves radicals have the gall to accuse my entire generation of being pampered. More ironic yet is that they spend their time writing blog entries that I could have confused for the musings of Emily Post. Finally, they have the gall to pull rhetorical tricks like the following:

    “Please note: this is not a blog post calling for civility, which I agree can be cover for preserving the power relations of the status quo. This is a blog post proposing some guiding rules for the professional use of social media.”

    You know what? At least a millennial without tenure is sharp enough to see when a tenured radical is lying.

  21. EngLitProf on 30 Dec 2013 at 8:03 pm #

    William B., you imply that the kinds of professional “civility” Historiann endorses really *are* just “a cover for preserving the power relations of the status quo,” but you do not explain what you mean. I can’t blame you for being startled by TR’s comment about “the Millenials who never failed,” but how is TR’s observation related to Historiann’s “set of principles”? Who exactly is “lying” here?

  22. Matt_L on 30 Dec 2013 at 10:03 pm #

    I like your principles Historiann. They sound an awful lot like the advice people used to circulate about email, back in the days of pine on the mainframe and AOL Dial up.

    I wonder if Comrade Physio Prof would be willing to translate them into authentic twenty first century Elizabethan jabberwoky?

  23. Mary Catherine on 30 Dec 2013 at 11:53 pm #

    Civility I do support. But there seems to be a bit of cognitive dissonance here…

    What I don’t understand is how anyone — tenured or non-TT, well-placed or contingently situated — can think that 60 to 75 percent of all humanities courses now taught by those outside the tenure track represents a fair and accurate outcome of the principle of “meritocracy.”

    Because, I mean: what?!

    At a certain point, you’re just undermining the notion that “merit” attaches to what you do, as an individual scholar or as an academic discipline or as a “profession,” if you agree that 50 percent or more of those amongst your ranks do not merit even a living wage. And never mind what socio-babbly generation they belong to (the Millenials or the Gen-Xers, or what have you): when you undermine and belittle those who are supposed to belong to your own little (disciplinary/”professional”) corner of the world, you undermine and belittle your own discipline, your own “profession.” Because I mean, really, what kind of loser field do you think that you belong to, if you honestly believe that more than half of your members do not even deserve to earn a minimum wage!?

    (Yeah, we’re running these serious and rigorous graduate programmes in the humanities here, where candidates must first do a year or two of advanced coursework; and then spend another year or so studying for and passing their comps [comprehensive exams]; and then devote another year or so to deep archival research [I'm thinking history here, but substitute for your own discipline as you see fit]; and then another year or so writing an extended argument based on original research. But yeah, sure, you’ve really caught us now! you’ve found us out: at the end of the day, at the completion of all of these jumpings through hoops, only a vanishingly small proportion of those who have actually jumped through our hoops are really even worthy of an actual job, with a living-to-more-than-living wage. We’re *that* serious about what we do! we believe the majority of those who do what we do should feel lucky be earn a McWage at the end of the day, and that on a good day, admittedly!)

    What a massive indictment of graduate education in the humanities, if true. We require 5 to 7 years of serious commitment to complete our course of requirements; but our requirements are basically so silly and so insubstantial that most of those who fulfill them, we freely and readily admit, don’t really even deserve full-time jobs, and should probably be happy flipping burgers instead (not that there’s anything wrong with food service, btw, but, you know, 5 to 7 years…).

    And this contributes to the prestige, and to the socio-politico-economic power of the humanities just how, exactly?

    And those who jumped through those hoops for 5 to 7 years in order to reach a dead end and to bang their heads against a wall: they are supposed to smile and make nice, and they are not to be permitted to even feel angry!?

    “Anger is one way to project shame outward”? And ridicule and belittlement of justifiable anger is one way to establish one’s credentials as a good girl, and/or as a Company Man.

  24. Susan on 31 Dec 2013 at 4:46 am #

    @Mary Catherine, I don’t think Historiann, TR or anyone else with any sense thinks the reliance on contingent faculty is a good thing. And indeed, any one who has been on either side of the job market knows that there is more merit than jobs. What TR was pointing to is the cognitive dissonance between the current culture of grad school, with so many prizes and awards, and the actual economics of higher ed and state of hiring. That’s not to suggest that those who win prizes and awards are not good, it’s just to say that when you win a teaching prize, or a dissertation fellowship, it’s harder to believe you won’t win the prize of a job.

    The problem with generational labels is that they oversimplify, but as a historian, I’m intrigued by the way the culture of grad school has changed over time. It is much more profesionalising now than it was in the late 70s when I went through: I don’t recall any help in thinking through my professional role. One challenge – related to Historiann’s attempt to think about principles – is how we talk about patterns without personalizing them. I do this as a historian all the time, but the people I write about have been dead 400 years. We are both individuals and participants in a larger culture,

    So my question might be this: how do generations, both chronological and educational (because not everyone goes straight through so there is crossover) shape how we respond to the pressures and conditions of higher ed today? Is that helpful in understanding the tensions and working as colleagues?

  25. Historiann on 31 Dec 2013 at 8:37 am #

    And, to add to Susan’s thoughtful comment: how can we communicate about this productively across these generational and training divides?

    I don’t understand why merit or meritocracy was introduced into this conversation at all. In a search of this post, Aaron Bady is the one who introduced the term. I think my support of adjunct and casual faculty is very clear, as is my disgust at working in a profession that has become so thoroughly casualized.

    Maybe I should have waited until March or May to initiate this conversation.

  26. History Maven on 31 Dec 2013 at 9:27 am #

    I’ve grown increasingly fearful of joining any online discussion, but help me, please, understand your proposal by likely being persnickety (which I will forward as the 2014 Word of the Year):

    It seems your list is based on one principle: the Golden Rule mentioned in the first item? The rest are guidelines or rules of conduct in which you cover the positive and negative versions of the Rule: treat others as you would wish to be treated and do not treat others in ways that you would not like to be treated.

    Within this principle I see reciprocity and thus self-correction. And that’s what I read in the other guidelines (e.g., don’t react too quickly).

    What I see in some posts in this comment thread, I think, is another question raised in following the Golden Rule: What is the relationship between respect, politeness, and civility? By “respect” I mean having due regard for another person’s or group’s or culture’s feelings, wishes, rights, traditions, perspectives. Respect requires and is achieved through inquiry and knowledge. Positing generalizations, offering first-person accounts, challenging another’s positions: these are all ways in which we learn.

    Yet these sorts of strategies appear to leave us more open to personal attacks in social media. We seem all too quick to adopt an emotionally defensive posture–I’ve done it, and I still wince when I think about those moments. (Darn! Flashback wince just now.)

    What I take to be civility requires more than politeness. One may disagree with respect, and doing so is one way to seek that common ground, that community building. What this requires, however, is that one stays in the discussion–that is, you don’t attack and leave. This last point seems to me especially important, because to flame and disengage, or accuse and disengage, complain and disengage etc., is to surrender your voice to others as you attempt to squelch another’s voice. Civility is about negotiating interpersonal power. Perhaps a guideline about not you and not me but we and us in the pursuit of ideas and the expansion of community?

    Happy New Year, Historiann and all! Four years after leaving a tenured position due to the incivility of colleagues and instability in the administration, after losing much of my retirement to keep afloat, after being subjected to the job market indignities my much younger colleagues are experiencing, I have landed a job on a campus but not in the classroom. I will be in a position once again to help younger scholars prepare–and fight–for their careers. This blog and its commentators have greatly helped me understand the seismic shifts in American academe, and for that I am grateful.

  27. Humanities PhDs, Civility, and Twitter Wars | Fractal Realism on 31 Dec 2013 at 11:48 am #

    […] M. Little (aka Historiann) seconds Potter's call for civility, which Schuman and others interpret as a veiled attempt at […]

  28. Big Boss Lady on 31 Dec 2013 at 1:42 pm #

    So, what are the consequences if you violate the rules? Tenured Radical already violated rule #2 and doesn’t seem to understand that. It’s clear to me, although I AM a graduate student, but a Gen Xer, not a Millenial.

  29. Janice on 31 Dec 2013 at 2:02 pm #

    Big Boss Lady, there’s only one rule in the list – the “Golden Rule” – and it’s hardly a rule with “bite”. H’ann has only proposed principles to guide one’s online posting and presence-building. Not following them would not have mandated consequences (“No [fill-in-the-blank] for you!”), but could rationally be expected to inspire negative reactions from individuals or groups who were upset.

    Congrats, History Maven, on your new job and its prospects. I am sorry that you were treated so very badly in the past and I hope that everything goes wonderfully in your new endeavour.

  30. Historiann on 31 Dec 2013 at 3:01 pm #

    I don’t see that TR violated any of my proposed principles. The comment that has offended people made comments about an entire generation. It wasn’t personal, and the one person in that generation it mentions is singled out as very accomplished.

    Now, her comments about the Millenial generation may have pissed you off, but it doesn’t seem to be an offender of any of my principles. Speculating on the experiences of an entire generation does not run afoul of #2, which says “Don’t make assumptions about the motives or personal experience that may inform the social media commentary of others.” It wasn’t addressed to any particular comment or commenter. I thought her comment was about the job-seeking generation’s reaction to some of their experiences, not about any comment or commenter in the thread.

    People appear to have a hard time reading this post clearly. Maybe the fault is mine, in using bold font to highlight some parts and not others, but I thought I clearly stated in this post that “Please note: this is not a blog post calling for civility, which I agree can be cover for preserving the power relations of the status quo.” Nevertheless, the conversation here appears to be pretty above board, although a number of you seem pretty honked off.

    I’m sorry if anything I wrote here honked anyone off. Happy new year & I hope 2014 bring good fortune and happiness to all.

  31. Big Boss Lady on 31 Dec 2013 at 3:36 pm #

    We can read. Yes, it wasn’t directed to anyone personally, except for Rebecca Shuman, but it very clearly violates your #2 in that it makes assumptions [Millennials/grad students are spoiled snowflakes that haven't experienced failure] about the motives [anger generated from shame] or personal experience [that's the spoiled, no failure thing] that may inform the social medial commentary of others [the Millennials/grad students]. It’s an incredibly condescending way to generalize about a bunch of folks who are younger and have less power than TR. I also note that I am the third person on this thread alone who has pointed out that it was an obnoxious comment.

  32. Historiann on 31 Dec 2013 at 4:19 pm #

    Well, I also can read, and I disagree. Yours is a very defensive reading of TR’s comment, which uses no language like “special snowflakes,” and in mentioning Schuman at the end as a very accomplished person appears more sympathetic to Millenials than anything else.

    I just don’t understand the willful effort to see Tenured Radical as the bad guy.

  33. Mary Catherine on 31 Dec 2013 at 4:28 pm #

    The comment was perhaps about a generation’s reaction — but with Rebecca Schuman cited as some sort of exemplar of shame projected outward into anger (horrible pyschologizing there, and to me, it reads as a passive-aggressive expression of some real anger toward Schuman on the part of TR).

    Anyway, it’s New Year’s Eve, which seems as good a time as any to drop it. Happy 2014!

  34. Bardiac on 31 Dec 2013 at 7:02 pm #

    As someone closer to the Boomer than the Millenial generation, I wonder about the ways that class works into the assertions about Millenials as having had things relatively easy isn’t mostly about Millenials from a certain social class? (And also about assertions about Boomers, too.)

    I look at my Millenial colleagues, and I see people who haven’t had it particularly easy, but who’ve come of age during several wars, with little funding and serious loans, and with lots of funding cuts in the schools they’ve attended as both undergrads and grads. The ones who’ve gotten TT jobs, and the ones who are adjuncting, all of them have been pretty successful academically, but few of my colleagues come from privileged backgrounds, and few seem to have the easy time asserted.

  35. Big Boss Lady on 31 Dec 2013 at 8:33 pm #

    Agreed, Bardiac. I think race is a factor as well. I don’t think that black Millennials are really kicking up their heels and dusting off all their trophies.

  36. Tenured Radical on 31 Dec 2013 at 9:03 pm #

    Dear Brad, yes, that is me. So what? And no, Ther was no “you” or “me” in what I said. And Aaron, if you don’t care for generational typing, you have much bigger battles to fight: much of contemporary social science seems obsessed with it. Thanks to Susan and Historiann for restating what I said the way it was meant to be understood. It stuns me that actually praising Rebecca Schuman’s intellectual accomplishments was twisted into a criticism.

    My next blog post will be on: football? Food?? The Arctic ice pack?

    Happy New Year, guys.

  37. Brian on 01 Jan 2014 at 6:43 am #

    It is somewhat ironic and depressing that a post aimed at having better social media discussions deteriorated into the type of conversation it was critiquing. I believe a primary reason for this is the common pattern of people assuming the worst possible interpretation of a comment and the immediate defensive response. My first reaction to TR’s comment was also negative, but after reading Historian and Susan’s responses I thought that was most likely what TR was trying to convey. However I also think it would help if TR could have responded with more understanding of why people reacted as they did. Blog comments–similar to email–is often written quickly and we all make mistakes and say things that can understandably be interpreted in ways we did not intend. Not to be too pollyanish but it doesn’t hurt to say “sorry, I didn’t mean it that way but I understand how what I wrote could have been read that way”. I have been a long time follower, but primarily lurker, at TR’s blog and I have thought it was one of the best political blogs around. But recently the dynamic of attack and defend has made it very difficult to follow. I am not opposed to strong disagreements about political issues but often times the discussions degenerate into falsely polarized positions.

  38. Historiann on 01 Jan 2014 at 7:48 am #

    Thanks, Brian, Bardiac, Mary Catherine, Big Boss Lady, and TR. May we all get at least one of the jobs, fellowships, prizes that we’ve applied for.

    Happy 2014, and may it be better than last year.

  39. Susan on 01 Jan 2014 at 7:53 am #

    Indeed! Happy New Year!

  40. quixote on 01 Jan 2014 at 10:08 am #

    The rage of the academic dispossessed fairly leaps off the page, and I can’t say they’re wrong. I’m more toward the boomer end myself, but what with one thing and another, I faced the same job market they see not too long ago. (Minus the loan burden since I got my degrees back in the day.) I remember being a grumpy old fart all the way back to childhood. I expect to be cross at crap. But I was surprised at how furious I grew at the conditions of my life, the lower-than-McD’s pay on a per hour basis, the eighteen hour days, and that for years on end, the obliviousness of “civilians” who seemed to think that academe is some kind of cushy well-paid ivory tower, the lack of respect or even collegiality from most of the tenure-track caste, etc., etc., etc.

    Everybody here knows what I’m talking about. The core problem with that appalling situation is not that it’s appalling, but that it breaks the implied social contract we think we signed up for. Nobody in academe is stupid enough to go into it for the money. But in return for long hours at low pay, we thought we’d get the rewards of the life of the mind. Time and enough security to think large thoughts, to see students’ faces light up with understanding, to do things besides worry about the next job.

    (I know. It would be horribly gauche to admit to that kind of wide-eyed innocence, but let’s face it, what else does keep people trying to do their best in schools?)

    None of which is Tenured Radical’s fault. She just stirred the hornets’ nest. I think it makes a lot of sense to remember that you can’t get as far as graduate school without excellent impulse control. And that the condtions below tenure level are such that without that control, “going academic” would be the usual phrase instead of “going postal.”

    Fully acknowledging the conditions, though, that doesn’t mean it helps matters to broadcast even justified rage. It’s still essential to target the rage at the actual sources of the problem (such as, say, the lack of regulations requiring at least 90% fulltime faculty at all schools). Which means that the call for preserving the decencies of debate, to use the cute archaic term, is still vital.

    (Hmph. Another one of my book length comments. Sorry. It’s a holiday and I’m having fun!)

  41. Tenured Radical on 01 Jan 2014 at 1:36 pm #

    Agreed quixote — I would also say, Brian, that Rebecca Schuman and I declared detente days ago, and other people have refused to back off cyber bullying me. When I ignore it, it seems to escalate; when I post about *anything* the tweets go roaring out about how ridiculous and horrible I am. In short, I think we have passed the point some time ago where I have anything to apologize for (in fact, my reaching out to Schuman has been characterized by others as cynical, “smarmy,” and “concern trolling.”) I can’t turn on my phone without seeing another snarky, obnoxious tweet about myself.

    It is kind of fascinating how two relatively mild posts triggered such nastiness. I never defended the MLA interviewing process, nor did I defend the current state of adjunctification although these things are now being repeated on Twitter as if they are so. Everything I, and Historiann have said, is being reinterpreted as more evidence of what awful, awful people we are. Every iteration is worse than the last: today someone posted a lengthy screed on her blog about how my attitudes toward untenured contingent faculty are “just like” the ways that “white people” (other than the writer of course) are unable to recognize racism. This is now in circulation about me too.(Who knew the legendary Barbara Smith was on Twitter? She tweeted about how effed up this was, but others — mostly white people themselves — retweeted it.)

    But it is also appalling.

  42. Z on 01 Jan 2014 at 10:32 pm #

    Here’s a good post on that Kelsky text.

  43. Historiann on 02 Jan 2014 at 7:11 am #

    Thanks, Z–I wouldn’t have seen that otherwise. It’s good to see that Clarissa hasn’t changed! But, I agree with her that Kelsky’s post was strange, as well as weirdly hostile to Tenuerd Radical.

    Kelsky writes as though tenured faculty exist on a separate planet from the faculty majority of casualized labor, instead of sharing the same hallways, bathrooms, photocopiers, etc. She also assumes that those of us with tenure don’t include adjunct or special faculty in the lives of our departments already by including them in our department research seminars as both presenters and participants; that we don’t go out for coffee, lunch, or dinner with them; that we don’t ever see them teach or write peer reviews of their classroom work; that we don’t help them in their job searches by reading their CVs and cover letters; that we never write letters of recommendation for them, etc. Whereas I do all of these things with and for my adjunct colleagues as well as my regular colleagues alike.

  44. John Warner on 02 Jan 2014 at 9:18 am #

    While there’s plenty of tenured faculty that concern themselves with adjunct and contingent labor conditions, surely we can accept that one person’s practices, in this case Historiann’s, aren’t necessarily indicative of universal practices.

    While outright hostility towards adjuncts is hopefully rare (though I’ve heard tales), they may not be different planets, but they are different zip codes.

    Adjunct faculty, if they have offices at all, may be four to a room where tenured faculty would have the same space on their own.

    Adjunct faculty routinely don’t get their course assignments until days before the semester starts, where tenured faculty often know a semester or more ahead of time.

    Adjunct faculty often have little or no presence on things like department websites or even hard copy staffing lists, effectively signaling their marginalization.

    And most of all, at research universities where TT faculty teach 2/2 loads, they are a human shield “protecting” that research time for the TT faculty, often for very very low wages and no benefits. At public universities where state subsidies have been shrinking and tuition increasing, this means that dollars paid by students in the form of tuition for their classes are now being transferred to TT faculty for their research with adjuncts bridging the gap as cheaper labor.

    I’m not one personally for rage, but I sure do understand where it’s coming from. Being nice to the contingent is a pretty cold comfort when the TT faculty (under some conditions) are now literally dipping into their pockets to protect their own positions.

  45. Brad on 02 Jan 2014 at 6:01 pm #

    I have to say that as a regular reader and first-time commenter, that I find it wholly absurd that Tenured Radical is claiming she has been cyber bullied.

    She picked a fight. She made her point. It was exceptionally weak. Then she demanded that it be read not only in good faith, but as if it had said something other than what it said. Then she said we had to read everyone else in bad faith. Then she said she was being attacked personally for saying things people obviously disagreed with.

    Look – if you’re going to be a public intellectual and put yourself out there a “tenured radical” for heaven’s sake, you should at least be able to take 1/100th of the heat you routinely dish out.

    I used to read her blog. It was kind of useful for job market stuff. But lately she’s all about the ‘kick down’ attacks, and when she’s called on it she weakly demands that everyone else observe these silly Calvinball rules about ‘civility!’.

    It’s pathetic.

  46. Ellie on 02 Jan 2014 at 6:08 pm #

    “At public universities where state subsidies have been shrinking and tuition increasing, this means that dollars paid by students in the form of tuition for their classes are now being transferred to TT faculty for their research with adjuncts bridging the gap as cheaper labor.”

    John Warner points to many important aspects of NTT employment that urgently need attention, but this point is simply not true, at least at public institutions. Research funds are being slashed right and left, and course loads are going up, along with class sizes, while tuition dollars are diverted anyplace *except* the budgets of undergraduate colleges of arts and sciences (ask A&S deans about what’s happening to their share of the tuition dollars generated by their faculty, TT and not).

    And even if this were how the economics worked, curtailing or eliminating the research responsibilities of TT faculty seems unlikely to fix the academic job market situation that is generating so much anger. A more likely scenario would be that it would either turn all teaching over to the existing TT faculty and fire the adjuncts, or it would turn all teaching over to adjuncts and close all TT positions for anyone. My money would be on option B, or, at best, option A followed incrementally by option B, depending on the backbone and ethics of the administrators and the interventionism of state legislators.

  47. John Warner on 02 Jan 2014 at 6:39 pm #

    Ellie is right that the way I phrased things is inaccurate. The transfer isn’t literal as in moving money across budgets, but my experience at three different R1 universities is that when budgets are hit, at the department level the LAST move is to increase the teaching load of the TT faculty and instead squeeze the contingent. If the conditions for TT faculty get 15% worse, it’s 40% worse for the contingent. The sacrifice has never been shared.

    The first move has been to deny the full-time instructors benefits. The next is to hire fewer full-time instructors and use adjuncts. In my last year at my previous university, the department tried to change the degree requirements to eliminate the course that most of the contingent staffed and would’ve resulted in the non-renewal of a huge portion of the contingent. Some sections got larger and were staffed by TT faculty, but were also assisted by multiple graduate students, effectively lowering the student to instructor ratio to below what most contingent faculty were responsible for. If the TT faculty had instead agreed to a 2/3 load, the course could be retained and fewer contingent would lose their jobs.

    At every turn, the priority was to protect the 2/2 load, ostensibly to do research, which some faculty did brilliantly, while others did almost nothing.

    At every R1 university where I’ve worked, somewhere between 50 and 75% of courses were taught by contingent faculty. We can blame every layer above us for budgets and forced austerity, but if these ratios are in place in a department, I maintain that those contingent faculty are a human shield protecting the privileges of the tenured.

  48. Ellie on 03 Jan 2014 at 2:01 am #

    JW, eliminating the contingent-staffed course sounds like a really crappy institutional response to a budget crunch. Since my department doesn’t have any classic-type adjuncts, only full-time lecturers (with benefits!), I haven’t seen this response up close. Yuck.

    This begins to stray off topic, but your larger point about research as a form of privilege among faculty recasts the question of the place of research within the research university in a potentially useful way.

  49. John Warner on 03 Jan 2014 at 6:12 am #

    Ellie, I think these conditions are most likely to be prevalent at the types of R1′s where I’ve worked up until my most recent posting, where research is protected an prioritized.

    I do think that’s a conversation worth having at the individual university and department level, though. At what point does a TT faculty’s research (particularly research in the humanities, which is less likely to be supported by outside grants) no longer outweigh the exploitation of the contingent? I think it depends. I have to take the analysis of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity with several grains of salt given that their endgame is to try to reduce public access to federal grants and loan, but they have a report that suggest that a relatively high percentage of schools are, in some sense, funding research hours with tuition. They overstate the case, but a couple of years ago I did some back of envelope figuring for my department and it was clear that for every section taught by contingent faculty, there was a surplus while almost half of TT sections operated at a loss. It was a crude calculation, but it illustrated how the savings of using contingent faculty enabled the TT to retain their 2/2 or 1/2 loads.

  50. Historiann on 03 Jan 2014 at 6:56 am #

    Why shouldn’t tuition dollars help pay for faculty research, when that’s part of what makes their educations possible? We aren’t secondary schools, and regular faculty are contractually required to produce research. I would prefer that my state fund my university adequately with taxpayer money, but the taxpayers in my state (as in most U.S. states) are unwilling to pay for the universities that bear the state’s name. So who will pay to maintain our universities if not our current students?

    In my experience, faculty who are actively engaged in their research bring their findings and new readings into their teaching, and it energizes them and their students. Don’t buy into the false choice between research and teaching. Removing the little time and less money regular faculty get for their research agendas is not the way to solve either the “high cost” of higher ed or the adjunct crisis.

  51. John Warner on 03 Jan 2014 at 8:36 am #

    I think this is the discussion. The manner in which student tuition dollars are used to “maintain” the universities is part of what should be discussed and debated. If it’s decided that the research is important enough to be subsidized by tuition dollars, so be it, but this should come with the acknowledgement that in doing so, there’s often an increased reliance contingent faculty that in many cases are exploited to support the research of the TT.

    It should also be transparent to students, who, I think, would be surprised.

    An alternative is for the university to lessen the contractual burdens of research on TT faculty and concentrate on their teaching mission. Yes, this will likely result in fewer adjuncts, but it does address the ethical and moral question of whether or not it’s just to have these jobs as human shields protecting TT faculty research when the money paying for that research could be going to pay for instruction.

    Of course faculty who are engaged in research bring extra value to their teaching, but contingent faculty do this as well for no compensation other than the intrinsic rewards of being better at your job. I have to think that research would continue for many for those intrinsic rewards, just as it does for so many now.

    Yes, this increases the burden on TT faculty, but I’ll go back to my earlier observation that it’s likely the burden has already gotten much worse for the contingent.

    There is no false choice because we’re talking about a continuum. It’s where you move the needle in terms of priorities on the balance between teaching and research. No one is claiming that it “solves” the problems of higher ed (talk about a false choice!), but it begins to address some of the systemic inequities.

    Different departments will choose differently, but I believe they should include the human cost to those outside the TT when they make these choices. How much is denying benefits to an adjunct worth to protect research hours, a move that happened at two of the R1 universities at which I’ve worked.

    If a department is “making money” on sections taught by contingent faculty, and running a deficit on sections taught by TT faculty, the person paying, indirectly, for that research is the contingent faculty.

    While the labor conditions of the public university aren’t the fault of TT faculty, the only people with the power to advocate for the contingent and improve their conditions even marginally are the TT faculty. If we’re going to agree that it’s a crisis, then this should be the first consideration of departments as they discuss staffing and structure.

  52. Contingent Cassandra on 03 Jan 2014 at 9:14 am #

    Continuing the slightly off-topic thread (which I’m assuming is okay, since I see you engaging it, Historiann), I teach at an institution similar to the ones John Warner mentions (R2 that would like to become — and now has an explicit goal to become — an R1), and have similar concerns. It’s not quite cause-and-effect, but it’s clear that, as my department has moved from a 3/3 to a 2/2 as the standard load for TT faculty over the last 10-15 years (with a few grandfathered/mothered into the older, more teaching-intensive model, the ranks of contingent faculty (some part time; a good many of us full-time, and paid a living wage, but still at least 1/3 less than TT faculty, with double the teaching load) have grown. Basically, some TT faculty no longer teach intro/core courses on a regular basis (unless their upper-level courses don’t fill), and most teach them considerably less frequently than they did before. But, because full-time contingents don’t have service as part of their load, TT faculty are still making the decisions about those classes, based on much less experience, and/or experience of teaching those courses in a very different context (as I’m reminded at this time of year, handling a 4/4 load of writing-intensive classes is, among other things, a immense planning puzzle in which one tries to set up deadlines that both work for each individual course and increase the chances that the instructor will be able to provide feedback in something resembling a timely fashion). That’s a governance problem, in addition to those John has named above.

    There are also other problems. First and most obvious (at least to me), tenure track faculty who truly fulfill their service obligations (which of course isn’t all of them) don’t necessarily have more time for research, because they’re very busy with service — because it has to be spread over fewer (proportionally, since our school is growing) TT faculty, because there is an increasing amount of it (mostly due to externally-mandated assessment/accreditation/other “accountability” requirements), and because managing contingent faculty is, itself, time-consuming (and remains so; unlike TT faculty members, we don’t require less assessment as time goes on, and we reach higher rank — or at least not as much less so – and we’re not allowed to do things like observe each others’ teaching for annual reviews, contract renewals, promotions, etc. Also, there’s much more turnover in the contingent ranks, though admittedly the hiring process is somewhat less complicated and time-consuming.)

    There’s also a good deal of talk among TT faculty about how the department has become less collegial over the last few decades. Part of that has to do with housing prices, and an increasing proportion of faculty who choose housing locations based on two careers (whether a full-fledged two-body problem, with residences in two cities, or just a balancing of commutes in a large metropolitan area, with the person who commutes to work 5 days a week reasonably enough having a greater argument for a shorter commute), but part of it also, I suspect, has to do with greater expectations that TT faculty members produce individual work, even as they shoulder the service burden mentioned above (and teach relatively few of the classes with multiple sections, which of course require coordination).

    Overall, I think there’s an argument to be made that the department might be healthier with the old 3/3 TT load, and more modest (or at least slower) research expectations, and a larger proportion of TT faculty. The other alternative, of course (an attractive one from my point of view) would be to create some 3/3 teaching+service (perhaps + some modest research expectations) jobs, preferably TT, but even contingent jobs of this description would be an improvement on the current state of affairs (for some of us in the contingent faculty, who would like to have a greater voice in departmental affairs, and for our research-oriented TT colleagues as well).

  53. John Warner on 03 Jan 2014 at 9:48 am #

    CC, Having moved to a non-R1 that works very much like your last paragraph, I can attest to the healthier atmosphere. Knowing that TT have comparable teaching loads (unless they’re in major administrative positions), and seeing them also teaching introductory courses creates a much more collegial atmosphere and has resulted in positive departmental governance moves to improve contingent conditions.

    In short, the TT faculty get it because they’re living a similar version of life at the college as the NTT. They teach the same classes and the same students.

    We also have a position titled “senior instructor” that comes with 5 year contracts and service and advising duties in addition to teaching. It’s almost as tough to get these lines approved as TT position, unfortunately.

    If a department is majority contingent (in terms of student contact hours), and the contingent are the exclusive instructors of gen ed and intro courses, I think there’s a fair argument that the TT are the clear beneficiaries of the exploitation.

  54. Contingent Cassandra on 03 Jan 2014 at 9:50 am #

    Other somewhat random pieces of the puzzle in my neck of the woods:

    –Although TT teaching loads have officially gone down, there’s significant pressure to bring class sizes up (and to eliminate writing-intensive components of those classes if that’s what it takes). Basically, higher administration very much wants to see gen ed lit classes taught in lecture format, and are pretty much forcing that change through budgetary constraints within which the department has to work. My TT colleagues have (consciously, voluntarily) borne the brunt of this change (though any contingent faculty member who wants to teach a lit course now and then pretty much has to deal with it, too). And since it’s very hard to get conscientious literature professors out of the habit of assigning at least some work that requires time-intensive grading, the effect is very similar to teaching a second section of the class in its former, smaller size.

    –Administration would love to see composition taught in very large sections, too, but that is, of course, harder to implement (at least until somebody comes up with effective essay-grading software, but that seems unlikely, at least for essays that actually stretch students’ abilities). At the moment, it looks like the pressure is toward adopting formats that would allow them to leverage a few somewhat-better-paid Ph.D. (or, in our field, MFA — terminal degreed) instructors of record (for accreditation/ranking purposes) over many more students through the use of much less well-paid adjuncts or TAs (where the latter will come from is, of course, an operative question, and, I hope, as the economy gets better, a pressure point). At the moment, pressure in this direction is coming mostly from encouragement to experiment with “innovative” forms — distance learning, multiple teachers in a big interactive classroom, etc. — but I suspect it will become more coercive. In the last few years, I’ve gone from worrying that the course I teach (an junior-level required writing-in-the-disciplines course) might be eliminated because it’s too expensive to teach (still a possibility, but I think we — by which I mean primarily the TT director of the program, for whose efforts I am extremely grateful — have made a good case for our usefulness, and there’s a lot of emphasis on transferrable skills, of which we can claim to teach several — writing/communication, reading, critical thinking, research, etc.), to worrying that I may need to adapt to a teaching environment more like the one in which a friend who teaches the micro/macro economics sequence at another school, and spends most of her time lecturing and supervising TAs, works.

    –We’ve got a couple acolytes of the “tuition shouldn’t subsidize research” school of thought (which, yes, seems to be coming in large part from the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, who also seem to have no idea how much time either class prep or student feedback, let alone service, take, so their ideas do, indeed, deserve skepticism), at least one in a potentially powerful advisory position. Like John, I have some sympathy for this view. I’d like to see many more of the tuition dollars generated by intro/gen ed classes plowed back into making those classes better (by paying the faculty who teach the majority of the sections better, giving them more reasonable loads, opportunities for service/input into the curriculum, opportunities for at least a modest amount of supported research, etc.), and, as I’ve mentioned above, I think the best way to do that, at least at our school, would be to have more TT (or at least full-time) faculty on a 3/3 teaching+service+modest research load. However, everyone I’ve met who espouses this school of thought is actually looking for ways to teach intro/gen ed classes more cheaply (and seems to think that they are easy to teach, when in fact any of us who have done it know that teaching them well, especially in an institution where students enter at various points in their educational journeys with varying abilities and preparation, is among the most difficult teaching assignments). So I don’t think there’s in fact much common ground there.

    –One possible way to highlight the falsity of the teaching/research dichotomy is by encouraging undergraduate research. This seems to be a growing movement (old news, of course, to those of us who were lucky enough to attend undergrad institutions with a strong tradition of senior theses). It’s easier to implement in some fields than others, and I worry that, once in the hands of the initiative-builders, it will become watered down (in part because it’s very expensive to offer to any substantial portion of the undergraduate body, which is why it has up to now been the almost exclusive province of very well-endowed private universities and SLACs, and honors programs in public institutions), but it may be one way to talk about the synergy between professors’ research and students’ learning that resonates beyond the academy (and the Council for Undergraduate Research actually has a lobbying arm).

    Okay; enough. Happy new year! (a bit late).

  55. Contingent Cassandra on 03 Jan 2014 at 10:14 am #

    [or, rather, a bit more, since John and I seem to be intertwining comments]:

    If a department is majority contingent (in terms of student contact hours), and the contingent are the exclusive instructors of gen ed and intro courses, I think there’s a fair argument that the TT are the clear beneficiaries of the exploitation.

    It certainly feels that way from my perspective (full-time, non-TT, with 3-year contract, associate rank, but less than entry-level-TT Assistant salary). Among other things, I’m keenly aware that my TT colleagues are being paid to build up academic capital (i.e. publications) that would help them get another job should they choose (and should the market allow — a big “should” these days), while I, who by the definition of my job need to be prepared to seek another one on a few years’ notice — am not. As I get older, I’m also very aware that I have less opportunity to build up retirement savings (either through the school’s contributions, which are pegged to my salary, or my own efforts), even though I’m the one who is subject to involuntary retirement. Back in the late ’80s/early ’90s, when I was in grad school, people who envisioned a mixed TT/non-TT system generally suggested that schools would pay more to non-TT faculty, who would be taking their chances at getting another job when/if necessary, and less to non-TT faculty (who would accept lower salaries in return for greater security). That system strikes me as fair, but it’s not the one we’ve got. Also, the people whose efforts are most directed at the particular institution, and the ever-changing needs of its student body, are the ones who are least tied to or rewarded by the institution. It’s a very strange system. The perverse incentives aren’t as obvious as they would be if the academic job market were better, and standout tenured professors nurtured by R2s were snapped up by R1s, but they’re still there.

    On the other hand, I’ve attended enough department meetings (voluntarily; yes, I’m a bit nuts, but I like to know what’s going on, and I am allowed to speak, and even vote on some things), and read enough blogs written by tenured professors (especially associate professors) to know that things don’t look all that rosy from their perspective. There are all the pressures I’ve mentioned above, plus, in some places, the threat of wholesale restructuring (of departments/programs, which can lead to the elimination of tenured positions, or of responsibilities, curricula, course structures, etc., which can make a job very different from the one somebody signed up for). And, increasingly, administrations are trampling all over faculty governance, especially when it comes to curriculum, simply setting up new programs and/or initiatives (distance learning! and institute for x!) if a traditional department raises objections to some hare-brained scheme.

    All the same, I’d take a TT job, especially in the sort of department you describe, if one were offered.

  56. Z on 05 Jan 2014 at 11:33 pm #

    Great points in both posts, Cassandra.

    Also, at an R1 you are paid to do what you need to do to get ready for the market, and elsewhere, even if you are not contingent, you often paid to do what you need to do to stay in that place and perhaps not in the best circumstances available in that place. So there is a whole set of class divides, not just one (adjunct vs FTE, or contingent versus TT/T).

    Ultimately I don’t think this is about communication but about politics, strategies, hegemony, ideology.

    Also, the TT-T faculty really do have harder lives, esp. dealing with admin., than many of those who have not been in those roles realize. Meanwhile the adjuncts and the unemployed are mad because the situation really is more dire than some senior faculty will allow, and talking to a brick wall, or a condescending brick wall, is infuriating.

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