Sunday, February 10, 2008

On Funding Public Higher Education, Part V: Service; or, Seizing the Levers

Take a look around your campus: do you have a union? an AAUP chapter? a college or university senate? Now ask yourself: who's in charge of them? what is their agenda? do I like it or not? could I do better?

The reason I ask these questions is a comment thread I've been participating on at Marc Bousquet's How the University Works. In the course of dropping an f-bomb, constructively of course, I tried to make the point that hypocrisy cuts both ways and organizing is the answer.

But the point that I want to make here is that tenure-track faculty need to stop treating service as the third wheel of the research-teaching-service triad. Sure, three's a crowd, but the sooner we think of service as the terrain for institutional activism, the better off we'll be, personally and as a profession. So do me a favor: read Marc's book, consider his arguments, and reflect on what you can do, individually and with colleagues in your department, division, university, and system (if you're part of one) to solve some of the problems he identifies in the places you can make the biggest impact.

And the point I want to make to the nontenurable majority is similar: if your university is like mine, there's a real generation gap in campus leadership among the faculty. Rather than turn it into another excuse to slag baby boomers, why not join in and take over the institutions at your campus from which you can best make change? If the leadership on your campus is anything like mine, they're eager to mentor newbies and give them serious responsibilities. And if not, well, that's why they have elections.

Unlike the wealthiest private institutions, most public higher education institutions really are constrained--by legislators afraid to raise taxes or authorize tuition hikes, by a history of failure to prioritize endowment growth, and much more--to exploit their part-timers and overwork their full-timers. Taking on more work--in an area least likely to improve your salary or status in the short run--may sound rather counterintuitive, to say the least. But unless administrators, legislators, parents, and prospective students are made aware of the quality of the work the faculty is doing and how much better we could do with more funding, their only demand is going to be for colleges and universities to cut costs.

More on that demand later.


Marc Bousquet said...

Hey man. Thanks for trying to straighten out my correspondent! I debated whether even to leave the post to which you responded on the site--even thought about pulling the whole thread. If it gets any more squirrelly, I think that's the way to go. I tried being very patient on this thread over at CHE, and look where it's ended up.

We'll have to figure out when we can get you on video. Perhaps we'll cross paths this summer--though we'll have our hands full with an addition to the family that's due any minute!

Oh, and on the issues here--as usual, you rock. Solidarity, M

The Constructivist said...

Hey Marc, I emailed you on the blog issues. But, wow, a new baby? Great news! Congrats.