Tuesday, October 10, 2006

There's No I in Team If You're Batting A Thousand

Subtitle: Faculty Meeting Today!
Sports Analogy/Metaphor/Cliche Count: 3!
Number of Sports References I Understood: 1!

In addition to the loathsome sports references, there were 2 additional issues, both of them perennial, at today's meeting:

At the past 2 meetings, I have made a point about Situation X, but the discussion went nowhere. At today's meeting, Professor Senior Colleague made the EXACT SAME POINT, and the Chair said "That is an EXCELLENT POINT. THANK YOU for bringing it up. What do YOU think we should do about it?" etc. I guess it's good that a real person finally made the point, instead of just me.

2. Over and over again, the senior faculty bring up the issue of the more junior faculty (including 'junior' full professors like me) being unwilling to make a commitment to spending several summer weeks in a teaching program that requires substantial travel. THEY have paid their dues, and they are perplexed that the rest of us aren't willing to take our "turn at bat" (that's the sports references I understood). I am tired of pointing out that I DO NOT HAVE A WIFE. With the other professional travel that I do in the summer, I would be away for 5-7 weeks each summer, and that is just not possible. Nor do I want to spend that much time away from my family. There are other options for instructors for this program, but these are short term options (postdocs, senior grad students, adjuncts). The senior guys keep making the point that these are inferior options because we need 'continuity'.

Well, maybe they should make the junior faculty promise not to have babies, and no one should be allowed to become ill or make any other commitments other than teaching this course every summer. The senior guys get all dramatic about how people like me are harming the undergrads by not doing our share of the summer teaching, as if our own children are abstract concepts they can't quite imagine. I have made the point that this is another example of Business As Usual in our department, but so far no one is actually listening.


Anonymous said...

I am curious about what you would do if you are the administrator of your department. Only ask those without kids to travel and teach in the summer?

I am in a different situation from yours. Since I am single and have no kids, they asked me, almost every semester, to teach a course with an inconvenient schedule to those with kids. To me the schedule may not be as inconvenient as to them, but it is still inconvenient. I chose to be single to have more time and concentration for my research, not to take extra work load. Therefore, after admitting the course for three semesters, I rejected it for this Fall and for next Spring.

Female Science Professor said...

I don't think (and didn't mean to imply that) single/childless faculty should be responsible for this summer teaching either. I think it's great if faculty come forward to teach these programs, but if not, I see no problem with having postdocs, senior grads, or adjuncts do the teaching. In the past, these non-faculty have done excellent jobs with this program, with evaluations as high or higher than faculty. My main point is that we shouldn't keep having the same old antagonistic discussions that set men against women, old against young, parents against single/childless.

Anonymous said...

Yep, same reason that I can't take advantage of a sabbatical leave. Note to paternalistic colleagues with stay-home wives: It isn't because I'm not committed to my career, it's because I don't have a wife who will drop everything and come with me for a year and look after me and my kids while I enrich myself.


John Vidale said...

The issue of not being taken as seriously is common to both genders. I certainly often had that feeling until I had a tenured position, although I don't claim to be able to compare degrees of undereappreciation.

The summer teaching expectation sounds more complex than your discussion. If your dept has to curtail or cease participation of faculty in summer teaching, that would degrade the program if the faculty have earned their priviledged tenure-track positions and are taking their jobs seriously.

If some faculty are spending 5-7 weeks less travel and teaching than prior faculty did, they should make it clear that they are stepping up to do more of other aspects of their jobs.

Just a claim that they have kids isn't a free ticket to shift the load to the rest of the faculty. Why would kidless faculty be enthused about hiring new faculty who will leave them with a greater share of this onerous chore?

Female Science Professor said...

Again: this isn't about kids vs. no kids. This is about an organizational structure that has not changed since the 19th century. Summer teaching is optional for everyone, but there is pressure to do it. The senior guys would rather exert this pressure than change how we do things.

John Vidale said...

I guess I need more background.

Were you unaware of the presence of a summer program in the dept and the tradition of teaching in it when you were hired? Or did you state when hired or prior to tenure your disinclination to teach in it?

Are you proposing that it now should be abolished, no longer needs faculty participation, or simply that you won't do it, and therefor someone else has to?

Your strategy of simply refusing may be best for you (and I suspect worst for those not yet with tenure and the students, as you seem like you'd be a fine teacher) in the short run. In the long run, you should scrap such an unfair structure, not simply pass the duties onto those insecure enough to have to do it when you're no longer vulnerable.

Another personal opinion, if the adjuncts are perceived as doing better classroom service, perhaps the wrong people were hired onto the tenured faculty. I see this argument everywhere, yet generally the faculty know the most, and can put on the best show.

Female Science Professor said...

I think that if no faculty are available to teach this summer travel program, for whatever reason (kids, pets, health, lack of interest), then it is fine to hire adjuncts, senior grad students, or postdocs. If staff can't be found to teach it, then the course should be redesigned to involve less time away from campus.

John Vidale said...

I'd guess a key question is whether the program is revenue neutral to the dept, or a major source of its funding. If the former, probably it's time to turn it off. The grad students should be underpaid to write their theses in the summer, not acting as underpaid teachers when they are not taking classes.

Female Science Professor said...

The course is revenue neutral for the department, but it's lucrative for a grad student/postdoc who teaches it, as well as for faculty with no summer salary from grants. The only grad students who have taught it in the past have been at the end of their grad careers (e.g., someone who has just defended and will start a postdoc in the fall). Many other departments have eliminated similar summer programs as antiquated and a burden for students who need to work in the summer, or now offer them as electives but not requirements. We haven't even had discussions about that option.

John Vidale said...

as usual, it's too complex for me to suggest a real solution with a sound bite. And if it pays well, say, more than a grad student at 100% (double the usual academic year 50% salary), that's better than I expected.

Anonymous said...

point #1
that happens to me ALL THE TIME--sometimes in the same meeting! I will say something and it won't be acknowledged and then someone else says EXACTLY the same thing and it's a GREAT IDEA. Grrrr.

point #2
summer teaching
I think this is a battle that is worth your time--are the summer programs required courses for some majors in your department? If so, I think you have to keep pushing for changes in the program to accomodate people with "other commitments" in the summer. I know several geologists who bring their kids in the field with them--is there a way to accomodate kids AND spouses for some or all of the summer programs that your department runs?

I think summer programs can be great experiences for students and faculty--but as you say, even some of the students can't afford the time if they need to work and earn $$ during the summer.

For this type of inertia, your best approach is to do some research and make a proposal for a summer program that would work for you. I know, I know...more work for you to do the research and planning, but it helps to have a concrete alternative.

The way I'd "spin" the issue of having graduate students, postdocs and adjuncts teaching the summer programs is this: it's a great teaching experience for your grad students and postdocs and helps them develop their careers (also an important job of a major research U department), the adjuncts are actually one way to provide continuity (since presumably they don't change as frequently as postdocs and grad students)

best of luck to you with this--hope it helps!

Ms.PhD said...

I think they should have the postdocs teach. Postdocs are awesome teachers. They need the experience. And they could volunteer, therefore self-selecting for ones who have portable families or no family.

I'm so tired of senior faculty acting like postdocs are the older siblings of undergraduates. We're a totally undervalued resource, and faculty would do well to take advantage of our skills in more areas than slave benchwork.