The Mirror Is a Harsh Mistress

Want to do something to show that faculty can come together? Contact colleagues at the City University of New York and ask them to vote “no confidence” in the Pathways curriculum initiative, the abrogation of shared governance foisted upon the system by a central administration with no interest in working with–and no respect for–the faculty. If we can show that an absolute majority of CUNY faculty members agree that Pathways is poorly conceived and abysmally implemented, perhaps we can start up our own path to faculty solidarity and positive impact.

Most all I hear, these days, from faculty members, are complaints about others, outsiders… administrators, union leaders, politicians, even others on the faculty… anyone but ourselves. But, though we generally refuse to look in that mirror, we are as much to blame as anyone for any current mess in higher education. Commenting on my post Growing Timid: The Faculty in the 21st Century, “professor_at_large” wrote:

the senior faculty who could use their academic freedom to advocate for the preservation of the AAUP principles are instead by and large both self-absorbed and self-preserving. The collective nature of our enterprise, having been undermined by administration and the senior professoriate alike, is slowly unraveling into “single course” pieces of knowledge “delivery”

There’s one hell of a lot in those few lines, and I agree with it all.

Not only have we allowed our “enterprise” to be unraveled into single strands, but we ourselves are becoming single threads easily woven into someone else’s tapestry–or spindled and sold individually. We, the faculty, are on the verge of becoming unworthy of the descriptive group noun “faculty.” Instead, and the institutionalization of a business model for education has certainly helped this along, we are too often only in it for ourselves.

Look at our self-governance on way too many campuses: department meeting devolve into shouting matches, college councils and faculty senates are dysfunctional, are as hampered by cliques and parties as the US Congress. No one is willing to put aside anything for the greater good–to compromise and work for a common end. We aren’t a common faculty any longer, but behave like a group of random hires with no singular vision or goal–aside from personal advancement.

This is the reason that we’ve allowed our profession to be undermined over the past generation by the growth of contingent hiring, the creation of what has become a permanent “underclass” of college and university teachers. We can blame all sorts of other factors but we must recognize that this could never have happened without faculty compliance. We haven’t cared enough about either our campuses or our colleagues to stop the growth of a situation abusive of both teachers and their students.

“professor_at_large” adds a twist:

they [senior faculty] perceived its development [the rise in reliance on adjuncts] as, among other things, a way for themselves to “double dip” in the system after retirement by serving as adjuncts themselves — as if oblivious to the destruction of tenure lines which result from such practices.

Not only that but, as one senior administrator at a City University of New York campus once told me, many faculty, as they reach retirement age, see their jobs as their retirement. They keep their positions but do less and less, shifting responsibilities to younger faculty members–already overburdened with “service” work by the increased reliance on contingent hires for teaching.

We’re quite willing to face the hard truths about others, but we (especially the tenured and tenure-track faculty) have been singularly unwilling to turn the mirror to ourselves.

We need to stop blaming others and work together on our own attitudes and goals.

Vote “no confidence” in Pathways, the attempt to change CUNY curriculum without significant participation by CUNY faculty.

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