On April 25th and 26th, employees and students at New Jersey’s public colleges held rallies protesting the lack of progress between state negotiators and unions representing faculty and staff at the various institutions. Most of the campus unions have been without a contract since July 1, 2011.
Why I put this post together
This post provides a round-up of news about last week’s protests, with commentary for context based on my 24 years of experience as either an adjunct or full-time faculty member. Academia is actually my second career. Prior to joining the TCNJ faculty, I was a lay counselor and writer for a comprehensive cancer center, and then a public relations writer for AT&T. I have also been a freelance magazine reporter and blogger. Although I am an AFT member and a TCNJ employee, these comments are my own. # Link in context
I wanted to put this post together because I can remember how little I understood about what college faculty do before I became one. I completely understand why many people think we only work a few hours a week, for example, which couldn’t be farther from the truth. The hours in the classroom don’t count the time spent preparing for class, grading, advising students, writing recommendations, serving on committees, chairing departments or programs, advising student organizations, or networking on behalf our our students with employers and graduate schools. This is not a complaint – it’s an explanation. # Link in context
I’ll also acknowledge that the respective state institutions vary widely in our mission and focus, and I can only speak about the institution where I work. I’ve never worked at a community college, where I hear of colleagues teaching 5 courses a semester. (I did that one semester, and considering that all of my classes are writing-intensive, I don’t recommend it.) # Link in context
I’m a taxpayer too, and I’ve been a tuition-paying parent
I know the sticker shock associated with college costs. I’m still paying off my part of the loans that put my kids through school. I also paid my own way through graduate school. I know what it’s like to do that under the kind of duress that many workers experience – an unemployed spouse, health crises, single parenthood. I also know what it’s like to have to take on extra jobs to make ends meet.
I also understand why there’s skepticism about the value of a college education, especially with the state of the national economy and tales of college graduates scrambling for minimum-wage jobs. My colleagues and I spend a lot of our time outside the classroom boning up on the changes in our respective fields and reviewing our curriculum, advising practices and career development resources so that our students and alumni have the best chance possible in an increasingly competitive market. Sabbaticals and career development funds help us do that.
How do sabbaticals and career development funds for faculty benefit students?
Here’s an important quote from the first story in the list below that deserves comment: “[Gov. Chris] Christie has called for four-year salary freezes and an end to perks such as guaranteed sabbaticals, a staple of academic life, at the state’s nine nonresearch universities, which do not include Rutgers or the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, according to faculty union officials who have been involved in contract talks. You might wonder why “nonresearch” faculty would need sabbaticals. # Link in context
It’s important to understand that although colleges such as mine are not designated as research institutions, we are required to do research in order to stay current in our fields so that we can be effective mentors and teachers to students. It’s called the “teacher-scholar” model – the idea is that our scholarship feeds our teaching, and our undergraduates get to be involved in research. Here is a 2007 report from the American Association of Colleges and Universities that does a good job of explaining the value of the teacher-scholar model. (http://aacu.org/liberaleducation/le-fa07/le_fa07_perspectives2.cfm) One difference between the description of the teacher-scholar model in the report and its implementation at our institution is that our undergrads work closely with faculty across the campus – not just in the sciences.
Doing scholarship requires not only that we publish, but that we join the learned societies in our field (often at our own expense), present at conferences (again, often at our own expense or with limited support from our departments, because there just isn’t enough money to go around.)
We take on the responsibility of securing grant funding for much of that research, as well as for needed improvements to labs, equipment and curricula. Going after grants is a lot of work for both faculty and staff, and there is no guarantee of success, but it’s worthwhile. However, many funders look for signs of institutional commitment in considering funding proposals. Here is a sampling of funded proposals that TCNJ has garnered in recent years. http://grants.intrasun.tcnj.edu/RecentlyFundedProposals.htm# Link in context
New Jersey state college faculties protest pay, benefit proposals t.co/T9aGJjeR
Last week, our students presented their original research in our annual Celebration of Student Achievement. The research presentations ran the gamut, from a new software tool that will help journalists do a better job of extracting important information about the environment, to analyses of Medicare funding, to inventive applications of physical computing technologies and more. This is a TCNJ highlight reel from the 2009 Celebration that shows the kinds of things that can happen when faculty and students get to work closely together, appropriately supported by staff and with the right technology infrastructure.
There are others who can give you chapter and verse on the concessions that we’ve made over the years and the efforts that have gone into addressing shortfalls in funding for public higher education. We can also have a good discussion on the relative cost-benefit models for delivering higher-education through online or blended learning courses. College costs and accessibility are huge issues that need to be addressed in a mutually respectful and informed partnership. To participate in that partnership, taxpayers, bond investors and tuition payers have a right to know where their hard-earned college dollars are going. I hope this post helps provide a bit more of that needed transparency to help that process along. And with that, I must get back to grading. Thanks for your time. # Link in context