Must-Read: Clay Shirky: “Professors” Do Far Less Teaching than the Public Imagines

Must-Read: Clay Shirky Corey Robin: “Professors” Do Far Less Teaching than the Public Imagines: “Up through the 1960s, state schools committed most faculty to teaching most of the time…

…[The] shift in our self-conception coincided with the spectacular but unsustainable support we got from the states after Sputnik. For fifteen glorious years, academies were funded as if we ran missile systems instead of monasteries. We used the money to reduce our teaching loads (in the old Carnegie model, a 4-4 load was considered full time) and allowed course release for anyone who brought in additional research dollars. When our Cold War funding began to ebb in the mid-1970s, rather than go back to the classroom, our selective institutions began calling up an army of TAs and adjuncts to shoulder the teaching load, a transition so enormous that contingent faculty is now the majority, and we tenured faculty the minority. As long as college was still cheap, and a degree consistently raised income, the public was largely indifferent to the increased reliance on contingent faculty…. That period is ending….

Scrutiny of… hiring practices… is slowly going public… as people who look back on their college days come to realize that many of their favorite professors weren’t actually professors. This confusion is often quite deliberate…. One of my former students… Jorge…. NYU was… bragging on him to the outside world… [and] had upgraded his title to Professor. Now imagine that Jorge had showed up, brandishing that magazine, to a Faculty Senate meeting. He would have been thrown out. Tenured faculty won’t let adjuncts play in any reindeer games, but our institutions won’t tell the public which teachers are and aren’t ‘real’ faculty either…. If you want to see this playing out with real stakes, tune into North Carolina…. The fight to treat teaching as a valued activity… will require a revolution… because it will require senior faculty to spend more time in the classroom, or… elevate contingent faculty… to the status of valued colleagues. Neither is compatible with current norms…

June 15, 2015

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