Session 418 ~ Vulnerability and Survivalism of the Humanities in Corporatized Academia

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Review by Abigail G. Scheg (@ag_scheg) 

Presiding
Steven Hymowech, Fulton-Montgomery Community College, New York
Panelists
Jesse Stommel (@Jessifer) , University of Wisconsin, Madison
Lee Skallerup Bessette (@readywriting), Morehead State University
George Louis Scheper, Community College of Baltimore County, MD
Paul Lauter, Trinity College, CT (Unable to attend)
Respondent
Stacey Lee Donohue (@BendProf), Central Oregon Community College

This panel explored different perspectives and offered suggestions on improving the corporatization of higher education. Steven introduced this panel by discussing the positive and negative aspects of this discussion; particular, he mentioned that it is tremendously valuable for presenters and attendees to take place in this conversation, but on the other hand, it is frustrating that such a conversation is necessary. Each panelist came to the discussion with different facets of issues to discuss, as well as unique takes on the future of academia. The panelists spoke individually, then Stacey provided her overall feedback on the issues presented. The panel concluded with questions, answers, and invited discussion from the audience.

Jesse Stommel (@Jessifer): Right Leaders of Wrong: A Revolution in Higher Education

Jesse read his position paper away from the microphone, arguing that it was necessary to share his own voice with such an intimate and personal topic. He shared his background in what he thought was his dream job, which was actually a contingent faculty position. In this position, he found that administrators and scholars were scared for their positions and guarded them fiercely. Adjunct faculty were rampantly mistreated. “Too much of the system is designed to defend the status quo,” he argued, “this is not healthy for any of us whether on the TT or not.”

Jesse then described a Twitter chat for Hybrid Pedagogy in which he stated, “Higher ed needs more bravery,” calling attention to the need for both full time and adjunct faculty to come together and to speak up. “Educators need advocates and need to be advocates,” he argues, stating that all voices, from students, K-12, staff, contingent faculty, adjunct faculty, administrators, tenure-track are necessary. Tenure track individuals need to also take a stand to advocate for their adjuncts and they need to spend time listening, not just talking to really stand up for them. Listening and speaking up was the strategy for change that he described. This story, he argues, needs to be told by all voices, not just the voices of the panel or those that have published on the topic; “These words require many more voices than just my own to make them go,” Jesse read. “Advocacy should not look impenetrable,” rather, we must work together to be professionally vulnerable.

Lee Skallerup Bessette (@readywriting): Banding Together in the Face of the Coming Apocalypse

Lee posted the draft of her discussion on her Inside Higher Ed blog where she argues that we are currently in the educational apocalypse, not that we are still waiting for it to come. Lee’s discussion centered around difficulties in forming communities, especially online communities, as well as the challenges of academia not recognizing online presence as a legitimate form of professional development. Lee tells the story of her interest in online communities as a graduate student, but she was also told point blank in her grad program that creating an online presence was not a worthwhile endeavor.

Her story continues, detailing information about moving to a rural community in Kentucky, married to another academic. She argues, “we did everything right,” including conferences and publishing, but nothing was going as she had planned, or been advised. Lee felt frustrated by this position and in 2010, she returned to her online interests and found a community in those that were also writing online. Her blog is now on Inside Higher Ed and has discussed such topics in the past as what MLA should do to be more friendly to contingent faculty.

Lee then discussed what concrete things can be done to help adjuncts. She explained that local grassroots efforts take place around the country, but it is necessary to connect these efforts. Online efforts such as “The Adjunct Project” have helped to solidify the necessity for such online communities. Though adjuncts and contingent faculty have far from equal positions in the university, Lee demonstrates hope and encouragement in people that she has connected with thus far, “We have yet to change the system, but I know that we have changed individual lives.”

George Louis Scheper: Who Owns the Humanities?

George’s presentation discusses the challenges of the humanities as funding is continually taken away from humanities programs for STEM areas. The struggle for humanities funding is not limited to education, but also includes art-based organizations within our communities. George argues that college administrators ask humanities departments to reinvent themselves and find new markets. He also cites that for-profits such as the University of Phoenix do not have humanities programs because they typically don’t want them. This, he argues, demonstrates the growing belief that a college education has to be thought of in market terms, which is traditionally the focus of humanities education.

“Capitalism,” George argues, “has been successful in taking over the institutions.” He explains that Congress has determined that the humanities are necessary to culture, but are not economically demanding. The job crisis, he states, is not just an overproduction of graduate students in not too many jobs. Rather, “University management has fabricated the job crisis because it has made jobs smaller—less hours, less benefits.”

In terms of suggestions, George argues that what matters is organization, “but not in a self-protected way.” The incentive that management has needs to be taken away and adjuncts’ rates need to be pro-rated as full-time positions so pay would be equal. If this is the case, George explains, there would then be no incentive for administrators to use adjuncts because they would not, then, be cheaper labor.

Paul Lauter: Vulnerability and Academia: A Critical Analysis

Paul was not attending, but Steven read his draft paper in absentia. Steven’s paper was a historical analysis of the changes in academia leading to the current position of vulnerability. He argues that faculty were an inviting target because they’re generally badly organized and “were skeptical of or hostile to collaboration.” The traditional perspective of the faculty was that of “talented people creating unique masterpieces,” or, “individual genius.” Since organizing faculty proved difficult, “the increasing use of adjuncts pitted groups of faculty against one another. Full timers did not support part timers,” and this challenging relationship, “developed three tiers of jobs.”

Paul’s paper concludes with the perspective that “Vulnerability is a social phenomenon. It must be made through action of change, solidarity, not comfortable processes.”

Stacey Lee Donohue (@BendProf), Central Oregon Community College

Stacy brought up other key threats, including: assessment, student debt (students fearing that humanities is a discourse of failure), increase in mid-level administrators, shared governance is difficult to maintain if administrators had it at all to begin with.
The solutions that Stacy summarized from the panel included: the necessity for open communication, the need for more individuals in all positions to speak up, organization, continued work to find more voices, increased involvement, and shared governance.

Bio: Dr. Abigail Scheg is an Assistant Professor of English at Elizabeth City State University in North Carolina and researches in the area of online pedagogy, first-year composition, social media, and popular culture.

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