Mark Bauerlein of Emory University posted a blog entry at Minding the Campus entitled Change Can Happen One Professor At A Time. The article talks about the changing role of college professors on university campuses. It’s a brilliant piece that shines a light on what should be considered a growing problem on college campuses, namely the steering of professors away from interaction with undergraduates and actually broadening a student’s view of a topic to, instead, a focus on research and scholarly publishing (among other distractions). Bauerlein suggests that college professors are now using their time more to impress editorial offices and fellow professors than studying with undergraduates. From the article:
But graduate training shifted the focus. Instead of studying with an eye toward undergraduates in class, you came to recognize another audience: professors at conferences, on hiring committees, and in editorial offices. They, not freshmen, would decide your future, offer you a job, publish your work, and grant you tenure. Turning a wayward 19-year-old into a determined thinker might make you feel worthy, but it wouldn’t show up on a resume or establish professional contacts. You needed to network and circulate, apply for grants and submit papers to journals, attend symposia. Every minute in office hours with students, you quickly realized, took away from securing a letter of recommendation from a name scholar or writing the final page of a conference talk.
How true? Not being a full-time professor, I can’t give you any personal experiences, but I can tell you how those full-time professors that I stay in touch with view this issue. It is a rare professor these days which focuses on the development of the undergraduate over the editorial and reputation-based demands of the academy.
As an adjunct professor, I don’t have to deal with any of this stuff. I don’t have to publish articles nor do I have to edit textbooks or anything like that. There is no requirement (or great desire) on my part to attend academic conferences nor is there a pressure from the hierarchy of my department to get out into the academic domain and promote the university and the power of its various research arms. And this is an area that I would question Bauerlein on…from the article:
That’s how the research/teaching domains appear to professors, and we can’t reasonably insist that they renounce it. It’s a perverse setup, yes, pushing professors ever farther away from the students who need them the most, but a paycheck is at stake. Young professors can’t worry about scrambling students when job security calls for something else, even though they see the undergraduate effect. For new students, the crucial first year gets turned over to graduate students rushed to finish their dissertations and adjunct instructors who collect three or four courses per term at micro-pay and have no standing to demand the best from the kids.
I appreciate the sentiment, though I would argue that as an adjunct professor I have the standing to demand the best from my students. I may not have the standing to demand the best from all of those students who are enrolled in my department at the university, but inside of the classroom adjunct professors certainly have that standing. This is a standing that comes from mastering a topic and being able to teach it to those young minds sitting before you.
Bauerlein also talks about how professors aren’t spending as much time working on spelling and grammar. Ask the students in my classes – they are grilled on spelling and grammar in their writing! In fact, earlier this semester I told my government class: “While this is not an English class, I would expect you all to be writing at a college level. Most of your papers wouldn’t cut it at the high school level.” But instead of just being an ass and criticizing, I spent hours at my home office reviewing my students’ papers and offering them written suggestions on how to be better writers. I even e-mailed them a PDF I call “The Cheat Sheet,” which details certain basics that college students MUST understand if they want to be successful writers.
And I’m not afraid to fail a student because they do not know how to write at a college level. At the same time, I feel it is my obligation as the guy in the front of the room to provide the very best resources at my disposal to help my students become better learners (whether those resources are housed in my head or in other departments of the university). What good is going to college if students graduate unprepared to take positions in the business world? For whatever time I stand in front of the classroom, I feel it is my duty to help prepare those young minds sitting in front of me for the world outside of academia.
If you’ve read all of Bauerlein’s article by now, then I suggest that he is correct – change can take place one professor at a time. As simply an adjunct professor with a focus on increasing student learning in all areas including the topic of my course, I hope that I am part of that positive change.