Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Advice to New Professors Not A Joke.





By Professor Doom

     The College Misery is a defunct website by and for faculty, with less emphasis on formal discussion and more on simply laughing at how pathetic higher education today is.

     One of the last  posts from one of the contributors to Misery lists advice to new professors in higher education, and, while funny, most of the humor is coming from the truth and validity of the advice. I’d like to go over this because not everyone knows exactly what a mess this kind of job is nowadays.

If you're not an adjunct, you must daily kiss the university president's shoe.  It's required of all full time faculty.  Just be glad it stops at the shoe.  If you express even a bit of annoyance or frustration with how things are done, or even a criticism for improvement, you'll be asked "do you like your job?"…  Say, "Yes, sir or ma'am."  Look at the carpet.  Slink, slink away.


     The President, or Poo Bah (since there are so many bizarre titles nowadays), is mostly paid based on his or her ego, and considering the 7 figure pay they tend to command, it’s a large, large, ego, indeed.

     These guys rule over the campus, and are serviced by a noble administrative caste that also does as they will. Faculty don’t even rate as vassals, merely serfs. Teaching? Research? Integrity? These things are worthless in administrative eyes, what is desired is subservience.

      What is particularly noxious about this is how hostile administration is to any advice from faculty. Examples of this abound, but my personal favorite was when a friend tried to save the institution about 20% on computer costs (a huge sum of money here) by changing suppliers and getting more appropriate systems (we were getting computers with pricey sound cards…but we could never have the sound on because of the faculty were kept in a cubicle warehouse). 

     The response for trying to help? A dressing down which included, in writing, a threat of termination for insubordination. Granted, the administrators involved were probably getting huge kickbacks from the computer supplier…but they could have been more polite about things.

      So, indeed, this advice is valid: do not make eye contact, and avoid these fickle, treacherous, beasts as much as possible.

If you are an adjunct, you must kiss everyone's shoe.  You won't get an office.  Work out of your car.  You might be criticized for not spending enough time with students.  Figure it out.  No one cares.  You're cheap, and your money is on the dresser.


     The most common type of professor on campus today is an adjunct, a sub-minimum wage worker that is treated most disrespectfully, in exchange for helping to free up enough money for the Poo Bah’s salary and perks. While I referred to faculty above as serfs, most folks don’t know that serfs were basically privileged slaves (i.e., they had some rights, but it was easy enough to execute them wholesale if the noble so desired); adjuncts are slaves without the rights of serfs.

The students are our bosses and our customers, somehow both at the same time, and you will be told as much.


     Administration forces this attitude on faculty because most campuses are all about sucking in the student loan money, so everything else falls aside to that. Most amusingly, this attitude is starting to reap some hysterical dividends for administration, in the form of the recent ridiculous student “safe space” revolts on our campus, with students raging at administration.

Fear.  Let that be your keyword.  Not knowledge, not wisdom, but fear.  Be afraid.


     I’ve written before of the culture of fear in higher education, which is rapidly degenerating into a culture of terror. There are so many minefields in higher education now…annoy the wrong administrator, and you’re fired. Say the wrong word in class, even if it’s true, and you’re fired. Post a photo of your kid doing a yoga pose, and you’ll be suspended and forced to undergo psychological evaluation. Mention an essay about the wrong sort of political thought…and you’re labelled as a troublemaker.

      And this culture of fear is what we have in a time of plenty, when money is pouring onto campus from the broken student loan scam and runaway tuition. Can anyone even imagine the bloodbath once the free money stops flooding our schools? Or what would happen if students decide that indebting themselves for life for worthless coursework is a bad idea, and decide not to come to campus no matter how much loan money is offered?

     Some advice to new faculty is missing here, so allow me to toss in something important:

Don’t catch cheaters, and don’t accuse anyone of cheating.


     This rather follows from the previous advice. We have an out of control administration that I can’t help but suspect cheated into their positions in many cases. This isn’t strictly administration, I suspect, though admin with bogus  credentials are caught often enough. There’s a huge industry of “write your essay” and “take your college course for you” type businesses now…we all know who the customers of these businesses are, and a reasonable person can make an easy conjecture as to why administration does nothing about it.

      Yes, it’s ok to try to make it tough to cheat, but it’s a losing proposition. You can purchase the answers to entire college degree curriculum courses online now, and campuses have an “underground” system where the test you passed out five minutes ago are already available, with solutions, to anyone who knows where to look.

      Administration punished faculty who catch cheaters…I’ve seen many faculty victimized for having integrity, and not once in over 25 years have I seen faculty rewarded for having integrity. So, most faculty have given up, not just by only offering multiple choice exams (the easiest to cheat on), and by helping students avoid plagiarism by telling them exactly how it’ll be checked for (“Please submit your essays to turnitin.com first to make sure it passes, before turning ‘your work’ in to the professor”) but also by simply not caring anymore.

      One more piece of advice:

Don’t use e-mail to communicate with faculty or admin.


     E-mail leaves a paper trail, at the risk of warping that cliché, and it’s so trivial to say something that indicates wrongthink on the part of the faculty. If you only talk to these people, then you can always double back and say you were misheard, or misspoke…there’s no saving yourself from screwing up on an e-mail.

     One commenter would agree with my advice, I’m sure:

In my first crazy semester as a full-time I have an office profession, I managed to step on a land mine. Let's say the waters were a churning. Literally, I got a call from department head 10 minutes after my truly innocent email.

--“truly innocent”? Good luck with that when you’re hauled before the kangaroo campus court system.


     The comments section gives more useful advice:

Stay on the good side of the Office of Student Retention and Appeasement. Practice saying "when the student fails, it means the teacher has failed," "there are no wrong answers, just different ways of knowing,"


     Many campuses have some version of the Office of Student Retention, staffed with administrators who are paid to squeeze faculty until the students are happy. The quotes given above are good quotes, and I’ve have them spewed at me by education experts and deanlings. Because it’s not possible to have rational conversations with such people, there really is no response but agree, lower your eyes, and slink away…

Bring lots of cookies to the final!!!!


     I have to disagree a little with this advice. Yes, some departments are notorious for giving “pizza party finals” but it’s very clear that actually giving finals is now a rarity. Campus is nearly deserted during finals week, even though, in theory, there should be around 50-60% of the usual number of people on campus (I’ll spare the gentle reader the calculation). 

Student: “The only classes I have with finals are math classes.”
Me: “It’s because we’re the only department that still cares.”


     So, the above advice is good advice, representing what higher education is today, for many faculty. We’ve deeply indebted the next generation, in exchange for the precious education that comes from the privilege of putting them in this system…a system that treats the educated like dogs. Does this really sound like a system worth going into debt for?

www.professorconfess.blogspot.com


(Edit: College Misery is no longer defunct: http://collegemisery.blogspot.ca/)