Saturday, June 25, 2005

research/teaching schools/jobs (ch 2)

Thinking about Chapter 2 and some of the posts here, one of the things that really struck me was how, even in trying to challenge or complicate the hierarchy that assumes R1 jobs are "better" than small-college-teaching jobs, Hall's prose tends to assume that these categories are somehow fairly clear.

So, in the interests of furthering his goal of encouraging more discussion of the wide variety of situations and jobs in this profession, a few thoughts about my own institution. I'd say we are something like a 3rd, or 4th or maybe 5th-tier research university. What does that mean, exactly? We are the major public university for our city and for our region of the state. In a very small number of academic disciplines or professional fields, our U is nationally known; in others, we have a solid regional or local reputation. The original mission of this U was to educate the working class of our city, and that mission has remained a large part of our educational practice. This is one of the things I really enjoy about working here.

In my department, many of the tenured faculty joined the department at a time when research expectations were very low. Teaching loads were 3-4 or 4-4, and after tenure was achieved, usually with a number of articles or occasionally a book, few faculty continued to produce much scholarship. There was a hiring freeze in the 1980s for 7 or 8 years which produced a generational divide within the department. Those hired afterwards were products of the job market crunch in English -- PhDs from Ivies or other top-list schools. Some of them wanted to continue their research but found that the lack of institutional support for research effectively slowed or stalled their careers. Gradually some of these faculty, as they published their dissertations and got tenure, were able to change the climate in the department to one that rewarded publication with a lower teaching load of 3-3. Many of them found that under that teaching load and the administrative duties demanded of tenured faculty they couldn't write a second book. They could publish a few articles here and there, present at conferences, and try to keep current in their field to support their graduate teaching. But sustained research output wasn't really possible.

Now, since the late 1990s, the administration has decided that we must try to compete more strongly with other universities in the state -- so they've set a goal of becoming a "nationally known" institution -- which they measure only in terms of outside grant funding. (The R1, R2 designations which have actually changed from the original Carnegie system) are all too often treated by top-level administrators simply as numeric benchmarks.) So lots of funding has been directed to the hard sciences, since they bring in more government and private sector contracts. At the same time, the administration has decided that it must improve the quality of the faculty. So they've raised the standards for tenure considerably, without providing institutional support that would encourage the increased level of productivity now demanded.

To be very specific: yes, I teach at a research university, in a department that offers MA and PhD degrees. I teach a 2-3 load if I can keep my publication level up-- it can be raised to 3-3 if an article doesn't come out on schedule. We have no research assistants, no graders, no teaching assistants. Sometimes there is a little money available to support travel to a conference -- sometimes not. The faculty grant program for the humanities college, which offered $500-$1000 grants to support travel to an archive, publication subventions (if you need to pay for illustrations, etc), or new computer equipment, has been discontinued. We have no cost of living increases -- any salary increase occurs only if you have published something during a year in which the state legislature has decided to give money to our university. The costs of not doing research are high -- the older generation of faculty increasingly feels that the rules have been switched on them late in their careers. They can no longer simply focus on their teaching and administrative duties. Yet the institution hasn't been actively supporting research in the humanities -- simply demanding that we show increased output.

The conditions of my job are nothing like those at R1 departments (I have friends at such places and am amazed by their easy access to travel funding, research support, and clerical assistance). Yet I think most of my colleagues would be happy to focus more time and energy on their research projects if they could. We are a research university in name and sometimes in practice. But the overall climate of intellectual inquiry and support for research is not yet part of our culture. And given the economic practices of our administration, it's not likely to happen for the humanities.

Reading Hall, I am reminded of how simplistic the division of jobs and schools into "research" and "teaching" can be. I don't think my job is more comfortable or more prestigious than teaching at a good small liberal arts college would be. I think it suits me better, based on my political and pedagogical beliefs, and my own intellectual interests. But teaching loads and publication expectations are just parts of a larger climate and culture that varies tremendously from place to place.