Monday, September 20, 2010

Self-Censorship as a Contingent Academic

I've written elsewhere how academic freedom in higher education is a bit of a misnomer. And I'm not saying that what I'm about to write about here should fall under the category of academic freedom. But it does fit into the category of faculty members needing to speak up and speak out about what does (or does not) go on academically on campus.

I picked up the student newspaper last week. On the front page, below the fold, was a story on how my school was now focusing on college readiness. In the article were some sobering statistics about the academic level of students we are admitting to the school. But I already knew that. The article, however, only quotes administrators, not faculty or instructors tasked with helping these students overcome their deficiencies in reading, writing, and math. The only mention of faculty is to throw our Education program under the bus, saying that "we" need to do a better job training teachers here.

This article made me mad for several reasons. At the beginning of the semester, a newly-hired administrator in a newly-created position came to talk to us (the instructors who teach remedial writing) about student retention and college readiness. He made a big deal about how his position was created to help us ensure student success. So would we please add some more administrative duties to the five classes we're already teaching. He was quoted extensively and given a lot of praise for his coordination of the testing innitiative on campus in the aforementioned article.

I know he makes more money than I do as an instructor. He has more job security than I do as an instructor. I know that I have more experience and education than he does. No one in that room was in a tenure-track appointment. Some, like me, were lucky enough to have a full-time instructor position. Others were adjuncts, with low pay, no benefits, and little job seecurity. I'm not attacking him personally; he taught remedial math and lucked into the position because of an angry letter he sent in regards to the last-minute implementation of testing requirements. But when an administrator comes into a room full of tenuously-employed instructors, politely requiring them to do more work, I get my back up.

And while I have my own issues with the faculty of education, I think it is unfair to disparrage the work that they do to train teachers according to madated State and Federal guidelines. The impetus of the article was that our State has signed on to the Common Core Standards innitiative, to better prepare students for college. But until there are clear State guidelines as to how these standards will be evaluated, teachers will be prepared in order to be able to meet the current standards set by No Child Left Behind and now Race to the Top. Teachers are being trained to teach to the test and administer those tests.

Now, what does this have to do with "Academic" Freedom? I wanted to write a letter to the paper, outlining exactly what I said above. But I didn't. As I have been told by many, I am lucky to have a job, at the same school as my husband, full-time, with benefits, in this area, in this economy. My chair went to bat for me and fought for me so I could be a full-time instructor and not simply an adjunct. But that could change; I'm the last one in and could very well be the first one out. This is a small school and a small community; I don't want to sabotage my husband's tenure case because I spoke up. And while I know my words will probably be appreciated by many in the faculty, I'm just just as sure that members of the administration will probably not look too kindly upon them.

So I'm left blogging, semi-anonymously, where my message will certainly reach a larger audience, but an audience nonetheless that is less relevant to the immediate issue at hand. I can blog all I want about the larger issues, but when do I need, when do we need, to start making concrete changes where we work and teach? This is why I should be "free" to speak up about the academic issues that impact me and, more importantly, my students and future students. I'm not doing anything wrong; I'm trying to do what's right. But that's not what is expected of me.

What do you think, readers? Send that letter or leave it here in the vaste spaces of the Internet?


  1. This is a tough one, eh? The activist in me says: send the letter! The strategist in me says to, first, sleep on it. Second, determine the outcomes you wish your letter to achieve, and then develop a more effective way to achieve them. Letters have very little bang for the buck and they are one-directional. A better way to approach the important issue you raise is to connect with full-time and tenured faculty who agree with you and then develop a joint strategy.

  2. Message still remains unsent. I'm starting to get mad at myself for talking a big talk but being too afraid to walk the walk.


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