Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Excellence Without Money, or, My Money is Your Money: Part II


So I wrote this post about my university's budget crunch a couple of weeks ago, and I haven't been the only person writing about such budgetary woes. Tenured Radical wrote a post about this, too, from a much more generous and less angry perspective than me, and then Historiann wrote about both of our posts together. And then Historiann continues to think about budgets - and even gets the ball rolling with a slogan (via Roxie) and a seal (see above) - and then Dean Dad posted today, also linking my and TR's initial posts in his analysis of faculty perspectives on budget cuts.

Whew! That's a lot of linkage! However, I think that should have us all caught up.

But I do feel like it's worth posting about these issues again, in a more substantive way than I did in my initial post. See, I knew that I should write a Big, Important Post about this stuff!

There is a reason why both Historiann and Dean Dad talked about my post alongside Tenured Radical's, and it's not because we were directly talking to one another. It's because, to some extent, our posts represent divergent ends of the spectrum of what it means to be "faculty." Now, on the one hand, I have a certain kind of privilege just by virtue of the fact that I'm on the tenure-track and (crossing fingers) soon to be tenured. I do not in any way mean to dismiss that privilege in what I'm about to write here. I make a decent living, and I'm doing it in a profession and field where many people with educations and accomplishments that look just like mine don't get to do that. So I'm not in any way suggesting that I'm exploited labor or something in a general sense. I'm not.

That caveat in place, however, there are very real structural inequities within academia across even the tenured and tenure-track professoriate, and these inequities come to the fore in times of economic downturn. The divisions aren't so simple as "tenured or tenure-track" vs. "adjunct or contract." We're used to talking about inequities in the profession in those black-and-white terms, and I'd argue that this is far too simplistic. There is a big difference between teaching at a regional state university and teaching at an elite slac. There is a big difference between being long-tenured and not-yet-tenured, and there is a big difference between one's circumstances depending on discipline/field. Those differences are real, and they involve the material conditions of one's life and labor.

And thus, it's easy to conceive of oneself as a privileged faculty member when one is a "privileged" faculty member.

Yes, compared with our administrative assistants, or the janitorial staff, I hold a position of privilege. Compared with adjuncts and full-timers not on the tenure track, I hold a position of privilege. But if we compare me to my peers across institutions or even across disciplines within my own institution, I would not characterize my position as one of privilege. I am in a field that bears the brunt of some of the most labor-intensive portions of the general education curriculum; I am in field that has historically been one of the lowest paid; I am in a field where job mobility is about zero once one hits the associate level, and where it's not much better even at the assistant level for all but lateral moves; I am at the lowest funded university in my state, a state with notorious budget problems, and that disparity will likely not be rectified in my lifetime; at the same time, my university's enrollment is rapidly growing and there is an expectation that it will continue to grow by leaps and bounds even without adequate state support for that growth.... I could go on, but I think the gist of what I'm saying here is clear. My job, although I really do enjoy it most days and while I am pleased to be working in the field in which I trained, is not a plum gig.

Now, for me, I believe in the work that I do here. I like teaching the students at this place, in large part because they are not a "privileged" student population (although, I suppose, if we were to extend the argument about tenured/t-t faculty at this institution to the students we could say that they are "privileged" just because they are going to college). I do think that the work that I do at this institution really matters. In other words, I don't list off all of the ways in which I'm not privileged out of disgruntlement with my job or dissatisfaction with my lot in life. Rather, I list these things off because I do think that the conditions of my labor, and probably of my own class background as well, affect my response to "everybody has to do their part" rhetoric. I think that such rhetoric makes a good deal of sense if one sees one's position as privileged and if one ultimately doesn't have very much to lose by taking one for the team. In contrast, if one feels as if one doesn't have anything left over at the end of the day to give to the team, that kind of rhetoric inspires (at least for me) a certain amount of anger. At a certain point, one wonders why faculty who are already "doing their part" are supposed to fix problems that are far beyond the scope of what they can fix.

So, in short, institutional differences cannot be discounted when it comes to any sort of analysis of "faculty perspective" about budget cuts. But that's not the only factor in play.

We've also got to think about career trajectory and where one falls based on one's point on the academic path.

I think that one of the major differences between my perspective on these issues and, say, my department mentor's perspective (he's been employed here since before I was born - literally) is that he is at a point where sacrifices like contributing to department accounts to keep them solvent really aren't major sacrifices. He is not paying off student loan debt (I went to graduate school fully funded, but living on 9K a year in Boston in the late 90's really wasn't possible, and my family couldn't give me an allowance, as some of my friends' parents did for them, so yes, I've got some loan debt), credit card debt (see previous), attempting to save for a house (again, no family help available). We can also include things like relocation costs and furnishing a home with real furniture for the first time, etc. And the thing is, I'm actually in a good position compared to others in my age/pay range who have young children, who have ailing parents for whom they have to care, who bought homes at the height of the housing bubble, or even who live very far from family and so have to spend exorbitant amounts on travel to visit them. I'm in really good shape compared with those people. But so this list of things is pretty typical for recently minted faculty.

In contrast, my mentor is at the top of the pay scale because he's been here since Nixon was president. Chipping in a hundred or 500 or whatever just isn't that big of a deal. Forgoing a raise or taking a pay cut when you are totally financially solvent and comfortable and set in your life isn't that big of a deal. Paying for the copyright permissions for your book out of your own pocket (snarl) isn't that big of a deal. But the point is, what would seem like a small sacrifice to a person in one place in terms of their life and position in the profession is a really big freaking deal to people who aren't there yet. Just because we're all faculty together doesn't mean we all have the same resources on which to draw, or that we all have the same voice in discussions about how money is allocated or how money should be raised.

There are also psychic differences in how one perceives faculty calls to arms.

And this gets to the "excellence without money" thing. For people who are at about my point in this career trajectory - recently tenured, about to be tenured, on the tenure-track, or job-seeking - we've witnessed first hand the ramped up expectations without support for years. We've been expected to prove that we are stellar teachers with evidence of teaching excellence and statements of teaching philosophy coming out of graduate school, where we've received little to no training about how to be good teachers. We've been expected to present at conferences with little to no funding for travel and registration (see credit card debt that lingers above). We've been expected to publish just to get a job, and we've been expected to publish more if we're lucky enough to get a job than we were advised to do when we were hired because the requirements have steadily increased. In short, we've come of age in a profession that has demanded "excellence without money" from us for quite some time. So now, as this budget crisis hits, I suspect that people of this generation of scholars and teachers respond to demands for "more with less" quite differently from those who came before us. I'd imagine that belt-tightening can almost make one feel virtuous if one has not been experiencing the belt tightening notch by notch for about the past 10 years without let-up. The thing is, "more with less" seems like the rule rather than the exception to me, and I wonder at what point we'll hit the breaking point where "more" just isn't possible. I can tell you that right now I don't see how "more" is possible for me. And I feel disenfranchised, and I feel completely hostile to the idea of doing any more than I already do. This makes me a bad department citizen and a bad member of the university community, obviously. And yet, I wonder, how can I expected to be "good" - let alone excellent - under these conditions?

Solutions? Answers?
Nah, I haven't got any of those. I feel like to some extent I'm going to need to play the hand that's dealt me. So the things that I've been thinking about involve how I intend to play. Let's put it this way: I think that there will be a lot of bluffing involved :) What matters to me most centrally is that I continue to push my students and to offer them the best education that I know how to offer them. Doing that involves continuing to invest a lot in my teaching, but it also, for me, involves investing a good amount in research, because I don't really know how to be an effective teacher if I'm not engaged in research myself. And so. How does one accomplish those things with a 4/4 load, with maxed out classes, a horrifyingly huge service burden, etc.? And little or no support for any of the above or for research? Well, I think that it's going to require some invention on my part. The bluffing will come in when it comes to those "on top of everything else" demands that don't contribute to my students or to my research. Because you know what? If something has to give, it's not going to be the things that for me really are the only point of this job. And so I'll appear to be a team-player, but to some extent, I'm going to have to stop actually being one. And in addition to that, I will do everything in my power to advocate for my students and for the quality of the education that I can bring them. And, as soon as that tenure decision is in, I think I'll be a whole lot less diplomatic in how I do so. One benefit of the whole "excellence without money" thing is that one doesn't have a whole hell of a lot to lose.


Susan said...

I really like the way you have picked this apart. I think it's a classic case of when equal sacrifice is not in fact equal. . . for all sorts of reasons that you spell out.

Belle said...

Hear, hear! I came to a point a while back that all the service obligations I'd taken on were seriously hurting me. I then looked around, and lo & behold, some of the senior colleagues weren't doing anything close to the kinds of service that were/are expected of more junior faculty.

I adjusted my service, voiced my priorities and am now less obligated around campus. If anyone kicks, I simply look at others doing less and suggest that the load be spread a bit more evenly. After the first time? Hasn't happened again. The pleas for money haven't stopped, but now they don't bother me nearly as much.

Sisyphus said...

They made you pay your own copyright permissions for the book? Damn! Were they extra expensive because you have to deal with the loonybin estate?

You know, that's (yet another) aspect of publishing and research they don't tell you anything about in grad school --- the whole money thing related to permissions and images and taking a hit in the pocketbook to get all sorts of things covered for a volume or putting on a conference or even bringing speakers to your campus.

Dr. Crazy said...

Sis, Indeed they did. Those weren't "highly ranked" enough in terms of importance. I suspect some of that has to do with the timing - last year when I would have applied for those funds I didn't yet know what the permissions would cost, and then in order to get the book out I had to pay for them myself up front before this year's application was due. I wonder how "highly ranked" my need would have been if I hadn't already fronted the money. The fact that they gave me NOTHING, though, does rankle, and it does give me a good sense of how my work is valued (or not) here, in spite of the lip service that is given to work like mine being valued. And yes, they were extra expensive because of Loonybin Estate (though, to be fair, LE was very flexible about when I coughed up the dough).

And YES about this not being something they tell you about in grad school! I've been thinking about a second book project (because I want a sabbatical and ours are competitive, because I'm a masochist) and I am very clear now about framing a project that won't be as dependent upon copyright permissions and their attendant fees (and I'm also hopeful that the first book will do well enough that I could maybe negotiate to have the press of the second book cover them, though that may be a fantasy). Or if I will be in need of permissions money, I'll be sure to get that process started for getting the money long before I've got a deadline for the manuscript and have signed a contract.

The thing is, the standard contract for a first book puts the costs of permissions on the author, and if you're developing your book from a dissertation, and you're in a field where things are in copyright, the likelihood is that this will be your situation. Now, I think the expectation for most people at research unis and at uni presses is that the school at which one is employed will pick up that tab. I think the reality, though, is that in these current times that this will not necessarily be the case, even if one does get a t-t gig.

Sisyphus said...

Wow. I have an art historian friend who had to strip all of her images out of the diss in order to file, and she's mentioned weird things like "subventions" and how impossible it is for art historians to get picked up by strapped university presses without paying a huge chunk themselves, and it all sounds crazy and scary.

And I think some of the "state of the profession" stuff that Greenblatt other people were writing a couple years ago about scholarly publishing pointed out how this was another way publishing difficulties get magnified at the lower down, more financially strapped institutions.

Historiann said...

Outstanding! What a treatise!

I especially liked your point about the ratcheting up of expectations that have characterized academia over the past 15-20 years or so. At some point, there really will be nothing left to give.

Furthermore, I think your priorities (teaching and research) are the right ones. In my department, teaching is 50% and research is 35% of our annual salary exercise, so what's the incentive to knock ourselves out on service when it only counts for 15% of our evals?

I think I'm going to have to write another post in response to this post which was a response in part to a post I wrote in response to your post...


Shane in SLC said...

I vote this "Best Academic Politics Blog Post of 2008." Seriously. It nails the things that bugged me about TR's post, and the more general rhetoric of "everyone do their part." And while the material conditions at my university are not (yet) as dire as those at Crazy's institution, I too recently had to pay my own permissions fees for my book. The world that TR described, where tenured profs abuse their "research accounts" (their what?!?) by buying leisure reading, sounded like science fiction, frankly.

Anyway, Crazy, thanks for testifyin'.

Dr. Virago said...

Hear, hear!

When top tier universities have a hiring freeze it means their English department has to make do with 3 Early Modernists [or insert any other field here] instead of the 4 they had before Fancy McFancypants retired. When places like Rust Belt U has a hiring freeze, it means we have 0 people in some major fields and those of us in adjacent fields just fake it.

And that would be bad enough, but then there's the service commitment, now shared by fewer people. And there's paying for one's own conference and research expenses, even though the work we do at them is part of what we're evaluated on each year (and for which we get no raise if we do well at it). And a few days ago I heard about someone's department at a fancy place tightening the belt by cutting the lox from their usual bagel-and-lox department meeting food, and I thought, "Wait, you get *food* at your department meetings?"

And speaking of paying for permissions...I had to pay for the rights to my own article because the journal owned the copyright! Oy.

Dr. Virago said...

Er, make that "When places like Rust Belt U *have* hiring freezes.." I has good subject-verb agreement, I does.

Tenured Radical said...

Dear Dr. Crazy,

Fantastic set of posts. Thanks -- you went exactly where I was going to go next. And Flavia and I were raising some of these themes just this evening (if there are typos, it's the red wine.)



undine said...

Great posts, Dr. Crazy. There's t-t privilege, and then there's "research account" and lox at faculty meetings kinds of privilege, and you've nailed the difference.

Doctor Pion said...

I've finally finished up the blog I started back when DD brought this discussion to my attention. The CC viewpoint is similar to yours. We do more than the faculty at an R1, for a lot less. Some of them repay that largess with large grants and an army of students, but plenty of them do not ... and the ones that don't have multi-million dollar grant programs do not make up for it with a 4/4 load.

They provide mediocrity with money, while we provide excellence without money. Some deal. As I blogged, I'd be a lot happier if our CC President spoke that Truth to Power about what we provide to our community with a fraction of the funds an R1 gets.

Professor Zero said...

Very good post, and true.

Clio Bluestocking said...

Thank you! Excellent post, particularly about the inequity of privlege.

I'm at a community college. Everyday, I tell myself, "I am lucky, I have a job." I mean it, too. I teach 5/5 and have massive service obligations, but I don't have research requirements.

Still, we have a hiring freeze and are looking at pay cuts (funny that my rent and student loans and so forth aren't going down at the same time). At the same time, given that we are a community college, we are looking at a possible enrollment increase, meaning larger classes (as if 35 students per class, 5 classes per semester weren't enough) without extra money. All of our funding disappeared, yet we are expected to demonstrate "service" by attending conferences and meetings at distant campuses that require and hour's worth of gas burned in traffic. No reimbursement.

As you say, I'm privleged. I'm not one of those autoworkers who was layed off on Christmas eve. I'm not adjunct. I have a job. Yet I also wonder for how long? How long will our profession be able to sustain itself?