Are we making teaching mills?Posted: September 30, 2016
Warning! Many people will not like this post. It strays from my usual fare so unless you are interested in faculty work environments, please don’t read any further and just move on.
I am sure you have heard of diploma mills. Basically, a diploma mill is an entity disguised as an institution of higher learning whose real purpose is to sell an academic credential in exchange for money with only a thin, if any at all, veil of legitimacy. The credential may or may not be recognized by credible agencies.
I am questioning whether or not we have now created a new thing that I will call a teaching mill. I define a teaching mill as an otherwise legitimate academic institution that claims to value teaching over everything else, but operates with such heavy intrusion into teaching in the the forms of micromanagement of faculty, businesslike mentality, and general administrative incompetence that effective teaching cannot be carried out.
Here is a (not necessarily comprehensive, not necessarily in any particular order) list of (not necessarily hypothetical) properties I would consider associated with operationally defining a teaching list.
- Administrators lay off non-faculty support employees, citing budget shortages, and then unilaterally reassign those duties to faculty under the guise of “pitching in to help.” Faculty are not qualified to perform those duties because they require close familiarity with state and federal laws and are outside the purview of the classroom and the academic nature of faculty hiring.
- Administrators unilaterally rewrite faculty job descriptions, with no input from faculty, when necessary to justify the addition of inappropriate non-faculty responsibilities to their positions.
- Administrators make funding availble to select faculty to promote pet projects and bad policy under the guise of professional development.
- Administrators cite “state laws” or “systemwide regulations” to justify otherwise arbitrary policies that impose on faculty’s true responsibilities when the same laws or policies cited are unknown to, or sometimes interpreted differently by, colleagues at other instituions within the same system. Of course, ignorance of the law doesn’t exempt anyone from upholding said law, but when that law is interpreted differently by the vast majority of other institutions, I tend to think exceptions are in the wrong.
- Administrators willfully violate internal policies that faculty are not permitted to violate. For example, suppose internal policy says that students must initiate all academic concerns and complaint with faculty. Further suppose that a student ignores this policy and goes to, say, a department chair or dean to complain about a faculty member for one reason or another. The written and duly approved and published policy says that the department chair or dean cannot do anything unless the student has first discussed the matter with the faculty member. However, the faculty member is unexpectedly called into conference with the chair or dean to discuss the matter, which has never even been previously brought to his/her attention before now. Administrators justify this by saying that they are ALWAYS obligated to hear student concerns and complaints, and threaten the faculty member with insubordination when the published policy is displayed.
- Faculty are evaluated by persons with no background in evaluating academic faculty and thus apply inappropriate metrics, usually from the business world.
- Faculty are required to microdocument (is that a word?) their professional development efforts despite a heavy teaching load, with no such requirement for administrators.
- Faculty are required to participate in professional development that is not discipline specific and is of otherwise dubious value (e.g. learning to use Microsoft Office, which is not appropriate professional development for college faculty) except for documentation required by accrediting agencies.
- Faculty are required to participate in professional development despite having no institutional funding for true, discipline-specific, off campus professional development.
- Faculty are threatened with insubordination when they question any aspect of poor administrative policy (including policy that is in questionable legal territory) or anything related to imposing upon faculty’s true institutional purpose, teaching.
- Faculty are punished for being the subject of unsubstantiated damaging rumors propagated by students while the students propagating the rumors are in no way held responsible.
- Faculty are quietly told to keep high school students in mind when selecting textbooks in order to keep costs to them as low as possible. In theory, this sounds fine, but being told to cater to an audience that should not be our audience but is now our audience merely in order to raise FTE count is inappropriate. Meanwhile publicly, administrators tell us that no special accommodations are made to our growing ranks of high school juniors and seniors.
- All, and I do indeed literally mean ALL, resistance to any new or established policy is ALWAYS ultimately tied to the threat of losing faculty jobs…NEVER administrative jobs…ALWAYS faculty jobs.
- In short, faculty are treated as just another expendable resource much as the way front line workers (e.g. bank tellers) are treated in a corporate environment.
I could, and probably will, add to this list over time. I have great concerns that here in North Carolina, this is the environment in which many, if not most, community college faculty must try to do what they are actually hired to do (deliver high quality classroom instruction). We are not here to advance an administrator’s political agenda. We are not here to do administrative work. We are not here to take up the slack created by administrators’ failures to secure adequate institutional funding (which, by the way, administrators proudly crow about being THEIR main responsibilty and yet they’re never actually held accountable for THEIR failure to follow through…always blaming state legislatures and politicians…). We are not here to be surrogate parents to unprepared students. We are not here to do the work of public high school teachers. We are not here to be cheerleaders for an institution (although that is usually a welcome consequence of having high quality students). We are not here to be office workers. We are not here, I assert, for anything other than what we are qualified to do, and that is not up for negotiation.
Faculty must start asserting more authority and power against incompetent administration in order to prevent our institutions from becoming teaching mills.