Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Faculty Advocates: Speaking Up for Teaching and Learning

Like most Ph.D. students (especially in the humanities), most of my thoughts during the last two years of graduate school centered on one question: Will I have a job after graduation? For obvious reasons, I didn't spend much time considering the larger political realities of the academy. I basically assumed that being a college professor meant focusing on some combination of teaching, service, and research/writing. 

In many ways, I was right: Most of my job IS about teaching, and most of what I do DOES relate to student learning. But I have realized there is an important role faculty must also play: advocate. Had I become a college professor forty years ago, I doubt I would have realized this so soon. Forty years ago, most deans were former faculty, most courses were taught by full-time professors, and most curriculum decisions rested in the hands of teachers. What a difference forty years makes! 

In today's world of higher education, contingent faculty teach most classes, deans frequently have little experience in the classroom, and curriculum decisions rarely rest solely with faculty. I don't say that to belittle administrators; in fact, I've had a really positive experience with most administrators at my campus. But there is no substitute for the knowledge gained from real-world classroom experience. As this blog demonstrates, teaching is an art that changes constantly and requires a very specific set of skills and experiences. If decisions affecting our courses are taking place every day (and believe me, they are), it's incumbent upon faculty to organize, advocate, and fight back against changes that have a negative impact on student learning and academic freedom. I would put the "adjunctification" of college teaching in this category, along with the push for corporate-oriented management of college campuses. 

I'm curious: What role do you think faculty should play in advocating for shared governance, academic freedom, and power over curriculum decisions? My sense is that we're often so busy teaching that we allow major decisions to be made by full-time administrators, whose lack of teaching obligations provides ample time for attending meetings. I'm about to start reading The Fall of the Faculty, which I think will give me more insight into the role we can play in advocating for our students . . . and ourselves. 

2 comments:

  1. Great post on a pressing issue that absolutely affects our teaching. But what does this all look like? What does it mean to "advocate"? How do we "organize, advocate, and fight back against changes that have a negative impact on student learning and academic freedom"? I figure you'd be hard-pressed to find many faculty who embrace the "adjunctification" of higher ed. And yet here we are. What can we do? Are there effective models out there for concerned faculty to emulate?

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  2. Thanks for opening this conversation Blake. I share the questions of the above commenter. Please keep us updated as you continue thinking through these questions (and reading through Ginsberg)!

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