From the category archives:

The Academy

Rhetoric of Academics: Love the Work

by Dr Davis on February 10, 2014

In Love and Other Secondhand Emotions the author talks about class differences in discussing work.

For me, the question was never “Do I love this more than anything else?” It was “Am I good enough at this to have some breathing room?,” or “How bad would it be if I had to do this every day?,” or “How bearable is this?” Those were the kinds of questions my mother asked herself about her work, and those were the questions she encouraged her children to ask about their own prospects.

I hadn’t thought about it before, but I think it probably is about class differences.

Today that is a good thing for me.

Today my business students presented on entry level salaries in their positions (among other things). It was downright distressing how many of them will make more than I do right out of college.

If I went back to school, I could make more than I do.

But I also wouldn’t love what I do. I do love teaching. I work hard to be the best at it that I can be. It is more than bearable, though sometimes I feel like the “good enough to have some breathing room” is how well I am doing.

I love teaching. I am grateful that I get to teach my students. They are amazing.

I have two who got off track but have come in this week saying, “I messed up. Here’s what I am doing. Do you have any other suggestions?”

That is so cool.

{ 0 comments }

Rhetoric of Academics: Making a Living

by Dr Davis on February 3, 2014

I’m thinking a lot today about the rhetoric we use in relationship to our profession. This has been brought on by a series of readings, mostly unrelated to each other in terms of clear point-by-point connections, but related to each other at least through my interest in them and that they have comments about how we speak (mostly) about the profession.

Won’t Make You Rich

William Pannapacker @pannapacker
Saying academe “won’t make you rich” obscures the reality that most academic workers are adjuncts making $2,700 per course on average.

My response to this was, who makes $2,700 per course? I know there are some places that pay $4,000 a course, (I believe it was University of Anchorage.) but Cost of Living there more than makes up for that difference.)

But this was actually a later post. His earlier post said this:

William Pannapacker @pannapacker
Think we need to stop telling students that going into academe “won’t make you rich,” as if material considerations were purely mercenary.

What about the mercenary material considerations?
My eldest son chose not to go into teaching, even though he is good at it and enjoys it, because “it’s twice the work for half the money.”

I think he would have been okay with twice the work or half the money, but not both.

What did Pannapacker mean by mercenary material considerations? Maybe he meant that we shouldn’t say “you won’t get rich” because students aren’t really concerned about being rich. If that is what he meant, then I definitely agree.

If Pannaker meant we shouldn’t talk about work in terms of finances, which I do not think was his point, then he would be way off track.

But his first post in the list (the later Twitter post) actually clarifies what he meant. Don’t tell your students they won’t get rich. Tell your students they will barely survive financially.

Why don’t students believe that?
So why would our students, who read as well as we do–and sometimes read more, believe us when we say academics don’t get rich? They know it’s not necessarily true.

People tend to dwell on the extremes. So the professor who sold the freshman calculus book and owns a multi-million dollar home in Canada is news as well as the full-time adjunct with a PhD who gets food stamps.

Students aren’t idiots. They know these are the extremes. They don’t expect to be on food stamps and they don’t expect to own a multi-million dollar home in Canada (or anywhere else).

What they do expect is to be in the middle. It’s the norm.

What is the middle?
My response to Panneker’s post, which probably did not appear particularly relevant, said:
They read. “study shows that at UC-Boulder tatt prof ave salary $103,513.teach & office hours ave 4.93 hrs/wk” –It was Twitter. I only had 140 characters.

I read the above statement just yesterday in the comments on an article about adjuncts, I believe. Yes, WNPR News: Adjuncts in Academia.

A study under way shows that at UC-Boulder tatt professors have an average salary – excluding a myriad of benefits – of $103,513. They teach and hold office hours for an average of 4.93 hours a week (and that’s for the 30-week academic year). They publish an average of 0.63 papers and 0.06 books a year; the median number of citations of their works is 3.35 per professor/year. In a word: the faculty at Boulder are paid high salaries for teaching 148 hours a year and for publishing works that are not only extraordinarily little in number but are demonstrably of almost no interest to their fellow academic.

The commenter’s point was that professors get paid too much to do too little.

This is what students think is the middle.

At My University
Even at my school, where ft tt professors make considerably less than their public school counterparts, there are professors making six figure incomes. Students may think, okay, I won’t make that starting out, but they do think that eventually they will get there. And they might–if they are teaching business or law.

What students at our college don’t realize is that those six figure incomes are the extremes here.

The university employs very few adjuncts (both percentage and in raw numbers) and most of those are truly part-time. They teach a class or two and they are rarely hired two semesters in a row. They cannot make a living on it, a fact true of most adjuncts anywhere, but there is not systemic abuse. This semester my department, the largest on campus, has 1 adjunct teaching 2 classes. I am fairly sure if a department were hiring multiple adjuncts for multiple classes it would be news on campus.

Students here know you can’t make a living as an adjunct. They haven’t even seen people try it, though they may have seen past graduate students cobbling a living together doing a combination of full- and part-time jobs. But they also know that there are plenty of people doing those full-time positions and living on that salary. They assume the part-time work is for love of the discipline—which it often is.

What happens when you tell students academia is a poor choice for a career?
Students don’t believe it. I think the number one reason they don’t believe it is because it is our career. We are the professors doing what they want to do and we are saying don’t do it. Normally that would make us an expert. In this case, though, I think it works against us.

They see the professors telling them they won’t survive surviving. They don’t see the loans, the unfixed floors, the vacations that are working trips funded by grants. They don’t even see our salaries, since we are private.

They may look at professors at public universities and think that is the norm and they look at the range of salaries and expect to be in the middle—not realizing that the range of salaries is dependent on both time in the field AND the field.

In the humanities, our students will start at the bottom—if they can find full-time work.

But students don’t believe that. No one believes that. Everyone always believes they are the exceptions.

Dr. Lee Skallerup @readywriting and I have had this conversation before. I have a ft-tt position. I was an adjunct for years. She has a ft, non-tt position. She was an adjunct for years. Our students see us having made it and they think that they will make it, too.

That’s why they don’t believe us.

{ 1 comment }

2 Institutional Options for Teaching Differently

by Dr Davis on October 10, 2013

First idea:
Summer boot camp for students who are at risk.

My thoughts:
This would require institutional investment, so it is a bit beyond my teaching scope, but I would enjoy being a faculty mentor for first-generation students. (We do have these and have them identified at my college. I will look into this and see if there is a mentoring program for these folk.)

I am not sure how much I would like doing this for developmental writers, though, which is the original idea from the book I was reading. Six weeks to do what we now have two semesters to teach? That would be difficult.

I do have some ideas, gleaned from other professors, which I have taken advantage of in my general classes which were actually originally aimed at at-risk students. It would be good to be able to use these for the students they were originally designed for.

Second idea:
Remote adjunct.

This is also an institutional investment.

It is also an idea that my university is considering (not necessarily strongly).

As a former adjunct myself, I like the idea in some ways and dislike it intensely in others. It would definitely be better than flying the highway. However, it would not be as good as a hybrid or face-to-face course. Neither would it be as good an idea as paying a living wage to those instructors who are teaching for the university.

{ 0 comments }

Fast and Furious: De-humanizing…

by Dr Davis on December 4, 2012

I’ve been reading Dr. Lee Skallerup Bessette for several years now. She’s become famous enough to warrant an Inside Higher Ed blog and it’s there that she wrote about the dehumanization of adjuncts and zombies. (Okay, it was about the dehumanization of adjuncts and how zombies helped re-humanize her life. Maybe.)

I’ve written and presented about how the real power of “the digital” comes from being able to re-assert our humanity through this kind of intimate and informal contact with one another; simply sitting together (even virtually) and not doing much is a way to find our dignity, our humanity, in a system that works hard to dehumanize and decontexualize ourselves at every opportunity.

They also talked about people searching for dignity through their peers, and how this validation has turned us all into workaholics.

And there we have it… The real issue that I relate to these days. The workaholic, who is too afraid to not do too much because I realize my job is not very much more secure than it was on the non-tenure track, even though I’ve gotten publications and presentations.

I’m not dissing the problems of being an adjunct. I’ve been there.

{ 0 comments }

What I Want to Tell my University as we Re-trench

by Dr Davis on November 18, 2012

People come to the Apple Store for the experience — and they’re willing to pay a premium for that. Ron Johnson in Harvard Business Review

Social Media success stories

{ 0 comments }

A World in Flux: How Can a University Re-create Itself for Success?

by Dr Davis on November 14, 2012

Change is one of the least thought about topics in university because the university is, as it exists now, reactionary. It studies change after the world has exploded its shape into something the old patterns can no longer recognize.

from Selloutyoursoul.com.

This is something I want to think about.

It is very relevant to the current state of my university.

Change in the university. Is it always reactionary? No. Is it often reactionary? Possibly.

Is change usually a moving away from or a moving toward sort of thing? I think that depends on the people or the institution.

{ 0 comments }

What Can You Do with a Graduate Degree?

by Dr Davis on November 13, 2012

Let’s take Klondike’s “Five Second Challenge to Glory.” Do something hard for five seconds. Brainstorm (that’s something we do well, right?) answers to the question: What can you do with a graduate degree in English? Go!

research– anything that needs it, even be a dramaturgue
write– analyze, evaluate, discuss: anything that needs to be long and involved, but could write shorter on demand
edit– excellent at finding the organizational or grammatical flaws in work already written
think– but not outside the box, perhaps at the edges of the box: a good thinker in an area where most of the work has been done and people are trying to finish it up
– also can come up with new reasons (interpretations) for things: This is someone who will not let the first word be the last. This can be useful to help others get out of their boxes.

I came to this challenge from a post on Why Grad School is a Trap, though it has been relabeled, and the statement that most intrigued me (as someone who escaped the trap and “made good” twice over):

But higher education is too formalized to be called pure learning. It is too geared towards the production of new knowledge, new scholars, new theoretical interventions to be a place where thinkers come to dialogue and to sit and converse in the garden.

Just thinking on the internet.

{ 0 comments }

What Does a Week in the Life of an Academic Look Like?

by Dr Davis on October 25, 2012

I don’t think this is a typical week. I am not sure there is a typical week. But here is what my week has looked like.

Monday:
Grading papers for return on Tuesday.
Meeting with HR about benefits issues/questions.
Meeting with librarian for resources for R&R.

Tuesday:
Student appt at 8 am.
Teaching classes from 9:30-11, 1:30-4:20.
Professional development luncheon, learning a new application for the iPad.
Student appt at 4:30.

Wednesday:
Student appts from 8-11.
Two lunch meetings. Attend one till 11:30 and then attend the second one, which will last till 1.
Grading for Thursday.
Student appts from 2-5.

Thursday:
Preparation for Thursday classes 8-9:15.
Teach from 9:30-11, 1:30-4:20.
Professional development luncheon from 11:30-1.

Friday:
Which is our fall break day, so there are no classes. Staff are all on campus, however.
Meeting over IRB I am submitting at 10.
Begin grading the in-class essays from Thursday (40).

Every day isn’t crazy, but every day is usually full.

This semester my workload has been lighter because I taught only one new preparation.

Next semester I will technically have no new preparations, but I will have four different preparations and two of the classes are using totally different books and one of the classes is using a new edition of the book and the class needs an overhaul from how I did it last year. The fourth class I have been asked to change significantly in order to accommodate the undergraduate research projects. (I am not sure I will actually be able to do that, but we shall see.)

Really, right now, I am supposed to be writing on my dissertation -> book. So, I am going to stop this post now.

{ 0 comments }

Women in Academia

by Dr Davis on October 23, 2012

Just this last year I realized that I chose to become an English professor (which I love) because of a gender bias in the environment in which I was educated. I’m a thinking woman. My grandmother was a victim of gender bias in higher education, so I have almost always been aware of it. But apparently, I did not recognize the gender bias I had imbibed through the educational system.

When I was a sophomore, I was taking classes at a university where–due to the vagaries of the bureaucracy–I was unable to take the classes I had intended to take. So I ended up in several junior and senior level biology classes. They were hard. But I adored them! (One had 70 students in it. Of those 70, 9 passed. I made a C–even though I had never taken a chemistry class in my life and both college biology and chemistry were prerequisites for the course.) I fell in love with biology.

However, I wanted to be a professor. My choices, as I saw them, were to be a biology researcher OR a professor of English. I chose English. I don’t usually regret that choice. It was certainly easier to reenter the field of English than biology would have been. But I do think about how limited I was based on what I saw and understood to be happening around me. I didn’t even realize I should be able to choose to be a biology professor.

Mostly there are women in every field now, even if they aren’t there in equal numbers. But what about what needs to be done to get T&P? I had not thought about that much. (A little, but not a lot.) Then I saw this post in the Chronicle of Higher Ed. It talks about the gender gap with women in publishing in academia. It brought up several points I wanted to discuss.

Scholarly publishing, more than anything else, is the measuring stick of professors’ research productivity. In the humanities, it’s usually the monograph. But in the hard sciences and in many social sciences, it’s journal articles.

Yes, it is true that R1s especially expect a monograph in the humanities. However, SLACs and CCs expect publications these days too. It does not, however, have to be a monograph.

The proliferation of journals, many not available in JSTOR (which the study used), proves that publishing is becoming more of a do and/or die situation.

Also, JSTOR data did not include (among others) English, which is my field. That means the data is not generalizable to the entirety of academia but only to those fields covered by JSTOR. That is an important thing to note because it relates back to biology (as a hard science) and the number of women academics and authors.

The data show that over the entire 345 years, 22 percent of all authors were female. … About 19 percent of first authors in the study were female. Women were more likely to appear as third, fourth, or fifth authors.

Where an author’s name comes is significant in some fields and not in others. Usually, however, if there are more than two authors, the work becomes known by the first author’s name.

I did not know about that in school. I wonder if folks assume we have figured it out now or if they are telling students.


From 1990 to 2010, the percentage of female authors went up to 27 percent. In 2010 alone, the last year for which full figures are available, the proportion had inched up to 30 percent.

So parity is getting closer. But we’re not there yet.

We want to watch this carefully–and not just because of women in academia. The number of women in college is now greater than the number of men. If there are more women in the population, that is great. If there are not, however, we may be inching toward an opposite disparity. Wouldn’t it be good to look out for this and stop it before it becomes as significant as the problem women have faced?

The same year that the share of female authors in the study reached 30 percent, women made up 42 percent of all full-time professors in academe and about 34 percent of all those at the most senior levels of associate and full professor, according to the American Association of University Professors.

What does that mean for women in the field? It means we still don’t have parity in the profession, but I am not too surprised about that. The senior levels often include those (still) who were professors when I went to college. Those are mostly men.

I would be interested in seeing the numbers broken down for how many women are in ft positions at the assistant professor level. Is there equality there? If so, then I think we have to say it is good. We can’t retroactively make women accepted in academia–either as students (like my grandmother) or as professors. What we can do is make sure there is parity going forward.

Now, I don’t think that we should hire an unqualified woman over a qualified male (or vice versa) under any circumstances. I do think, however, that the disparity in authorship indicates that perhaps the potential for equality of outcome is not yet there, even if we now have equality of opportunity.

{ 0 comments }

CC v SLAC: One Year Each

by Dr Davis on October 11, 2012

Overview of two ft positions, one non-tt, one tt:
I guess, having looked at the work I did as an adjunct (2009-2010) and as a full-timer, I am actually doing more in my new tenure-track position (2011-2012, 2012-2013) than I did in my full-time community college position (2010-2011).

I was concerned, having been at Houston Baptist the year before–when the provost laid off long-term faculty in job lots, that my CC job would not continue long-term. However, they did hire to replace me, so I guess it would have. Also, while one CC system in Texas was closed by the legislature, Houston Community College is vibrant and growing, serving a huge population, and appears to be in no danger.

I did not receive a raise at the SLAC this year, which I would have at the CC.

I do have my own office, which I would not at the CC–even though I often had the eight-person office to myself, but this year the CC moved everyone to a new building and into cubbies in a single office for all the English professors.

The SLAC said I would teach a grad course a year and have a 3/4 for the grad course; this has not worked out. Instead, I have only taught part of one grad class. There was no reduction for the course, but I only had to meet the class for five weeks, have the students observe me, and grade one long and two short papers.

The only committees I was on at the CC met once a semester, maximum, and almost all the work I did depended on myself alone, so that I did not have to attend meetings. (The only exception were QEP meetings.) Even our department, the largest in the CC, only met one time a semester. At the SLAC, on the other hand, they apparently believe in meetings for everything. This week alone I have missed four departmental, college, and university meetings; I will make another one scheduled for today.

Both the CC and the SLAC paid for one conference a year. I received more money from the CC, so I was able to plan to go to a bigger conference. However, the SLAC has monies available, if you meet the early and not well advertised application deadline, there is some supplemental conference money. If I had a national conference (which I did last year), I could also apply for presidential funds. This year, though, I am only a chair at a national conference, so I don’t expect to have that paid for and I am fairly sure that I will have spent my conference money before then, even though I am driving to both the other conferences and staying with my father for one of them.

My colleagues at the CC were friendly and helpful. Several of them were very encouraging. I adored the departmental secretary, who was stolen by force and sent to another department this year. The chair was amazing at keeping politics away from the rest of us; he retired last year, upon having a major medical issue, so he is gone, though.

My colleagues at the SLAC are friendly and helpful. Several of them are very encouraging. I know people in administration. I was assigned a mentor my first year who I knew as an undergraduate and we get along well. We have met socially outside of school functions.

Students at both schools were very motivated. There were different preparation levels, but the courses also required different loads.

Composition Courses at Both:
I taught developmental writing at the CC. I had four classes which met four hours a week each. The students wrote six papers, all in the 2-3 page range, and we did them as a process, so that I saw multiple drafts of each.

At Houston Community, I taught in the computer lab. I was scheduled for all my courses in the computer lab for my second year and the chair made my schedule so that I would have an extended lunch time to meet my father for lunch each day, if I wished.

I teach fyc at the SLAC. I teach the mid- to lower-range student here. All the higher level students have tested out or taken the course as dual credit. We have a requirement of four papers a semester, most in the 4-6 page range. We do them as a process and I see multiple drafts of each. However, my students actually compose six essays: one diagnostic essay, three 1200-word essays, and two 800-1000 word essays. In addition, they compose a group digital essay and an individual computer-animated essay.

Based on yesterday’s post, I obviously need to see about revising this schedule.

For the second semester fyc at the SLAC, the students write an annotated bibliography of sixteen works (full page of annotations for each) and a research paper, so the four pages end up being: 4-6, 4-6, 16, and 10-12.

None of my classes at the SLAC are in a computer lab, but most of my students have computers or iPads that they bring to class. Those who do not have computers are able to use the computers in the library, which can be checked out and used in the learning commons area.

You can see that the grading load at the SLAC, even though I teach fewer papers, is quite a bit higher.

Technology:
As I mentioned, the courses at my CC were in a computer lab. The courses at the SLAC require students to have their own mobile devices for papers.

My first semester fyc courses at the SLAC have two digital compositions. One is a group analysis of a commercial. The students write an evaluation of the commercial individually after the analysis is complete. The second is an individually created Xtranormal video, using Xtranormal’s software and pre-set stages, voices, and actors, proposing a solution to a problem. Then they write a justification essay over their proposed solution composition. It covers both their solution and their choices in Xtranormal.

Outside of Class Contact:
At the CC, I answered emails and had ten office hours a week. Students came in to my office rarely and generally only when I required them to.

At the SLAC, I am required to respond to emails within 24 hours. I have seven office hours a week. Students come in to my office occasionally and when they do, they tend to stay for about an hour. They also come in for required, regular conferences. (Two a semester.) I have the fyc students to my home, an expectation of the university. I also give them my cell phone number. Or I intend to. This year I gave them both mine and, accidentally, my husband’s. So far they have not abused that and they don’t call after 9 pm or before 9 am–the hours I established.

{ 0 comments }