Agent Provocateur 

Good early morning,

It is a little after 3:00 a.m. and I have been awake for some time. Another headache it seems has me awake, but these headaches seem to be getting worse. My mind is also full of so many things, and I must admit that since my return from the week in the Dominican Republic, life seems to have overwhelmed me in more ways than imagined. While I have gotten some things done in the yard, little else has been accomplished and I seem to have little sense on managing, or more accurately how to manage even the basic things. Why do I get into these times. I think part of it has been something That has plagued me my entire life. In spite of the fact that I did take a week to go to the Dominican Republic, and even in spite of the fact I did relax at times, I worked their both on my own writing and on trying to get answers to a myriad of questions, thereby making sure I do not misrepresent anything that might be advertised on the travel website. The fact that I am writing now is related to work because I have learned that blogging clears my head and allows me to focus on the seemingly never ending stream of things to which we all must attend. Today I was in the grocery store. One of the morning regulars at the diner noted that life must be easy now because I had nothing to do. I smiled and answered cordially, “I wish that was the case.” Of course, I could wxplain the concept of teaching/publication/service, but it will not make a lot of sense for those not in the throes of academia. Now, lest you think I am throwing my own party begging for condolences, I can assure that is not the case. I think I knew there would been significant work literally year round, but the adage of knowing versus living it is an entirely different reality. What follows is neither a rant nor wishing for a different life, but please bear with me as I explain thing from the inside.

For many I think the teaching profession at any level is a sort of that inticing lifestyle of extended vacations and scheduled time off. In fact, as noted, most unfortunately, by both a system chancellor and a provost because we are only contracted 17 hours a week, there should be no problem to add a class or an extra prep, both of which are proposals in our current contract negotiations. There is a certain supposed seductiveness to being a teacher or professor because the job is easy, rewarding and respected. I guess one out of three is not bad. There is not really that much easy about being a writing professor. Furthermore, I do not think I have to research very hard to demonstrate pretty clearly that educators have been more frequently demonized as greedy, lazy, and merely in the profession for those supposed perks. The very move to programs like NCLB were implemented to assess what actually happens in our classrooms. This assessment occurs at all levels, and case in point is the yet one more level of approval needed for a program I have worked on for the past few years. The best part of this was that we were not even aware of this next level requirement and they want it completed by July 1st. So, here we go. The agent provocateur seems to be the belief that assessment will reveal and fix any issues at any level. What happened to good pedagogy and students who come to class willing to learn and put in the appropriate work? This morning, while speaking with a colleague, there was a conversation about how students can graduate from high school having missed too many classes or not doing their work. The consequence in my class is they come in under-prepared or not capable of managing the level of work expected. When students come to me and cannot really write a coherent paragraph, have little to no idea how to use sources correctly, and are overwhelmed by both the quantity and quality of work expected, it is a tough semester. However, I cannot blame it entirely on the student. There is a public school system and yes, I know there are tests. There are issues with parents and the parental role in making sure their son or daughter values and is invested in their own education. The amount of things I could write here are extreme.

Then there is what is happening at the university level. The following is the first offer tendered by the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education to us as faculty after we have worked for another year without a contract. The following is a quote from the press release of last Friday.

Negotiators for the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties are outraged after today’s bargaining session with the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, held at APSCUF’s Harrisburg office.

The State System’s comprehensive contract proposal includes:

· Increasing the minimum number of courses adjuncts must teach to be considered full-time employees — but without increasing pay, effectively cutting their salaries by 20 percent

· Permitting people without master’s or doctoral degrees to teach courses

· Increasing the number of different courses tenured faculty have to teach in a semester

· Giving administrators the unfettered ability to move faculty members among departments and teaching sites

· Attempting to shift nearly $9 million in healthcare costs to faculty, including adjunct faculty who will pay more with reduced salaries

· Eliminating funding used by faculty to keep up-to-date in their disciplines

If your jaw is dropping, so was mine after looking at this. First of all, the 30th of June we have worked in good faith without a contract for a year, and this is the first comprehensive proposal the state has offered. Let me offer some thought about the consequences of their proposal.

First, if some are teaching 5 classes and some are teaching 4 classes, students will get two levels of instruction because there are only so many hours in the day. Particularly as a writing instructor, the additional section would mean less work assigned because there is not enough time to grade. That does not count what it will do to the morale of the adjunct professor or what it would do to whom would be willing to work under those conditions.

Second, permitting people without graduate degrees to teach courses. While this is not really fleshed out here, what does it mean that graduate degrees are no longer required to teach at the collegiate level? Why would someone need to come to college to begin with? What will it do to the value or the ethos of the degree from a PASSHE school? And this is the State System, who are supposedly in the business of educating the citizens of the commonwealth. Pardon me, but WTFT?

Third, moving to four preps from three preps significantly increases the work load each semester and again, particularly in the writing field, the consequence for the quality of courses will definitely suffer. What about what is best for students? Where do they fit in this discussion?

Fourth, this is another word for retention, which means that tenure and the degree or expertise that someone has is of no consequence. This again places both faculty and students in untenable positions. I am sorry, but I am not qualified to teach an upper level (and probably not a lower level) collegiate course in Biology or Chemistry. There is a reason I got hired with a particular degree and was put in a specific department. Are we merely a high school and doing substitute teaching? Seeing what some of our administrators have done already, this is a recipe for disaster and unfair to the students who are still paying more and more tuition for a very watered-down education. What does it say when the university itself undermines the education a student can receive.

Fifth, the issue of health care and pensions is going to get hit and I do understand that. We got hit last time. The long and short of that is that it affects both our security and the long-term. So has the three steps I have lost in seven years. The issue of pension will affect others more than me, but it affects how we can attract new faculty.

Sixth, funding for professional development has been on the decline for some time. This too affects both the professor and the student because it is harder to keep up in the field and state abreast of changes. This affects pedagogy and information in the classroom.

Ultimately, all of these asinine proposals affect students and the quality of education they can receive. It is both aggravating and heartbreaking that a state system would have the audacity to forward such a proposal to the faculty union in what is supposed to be good-faith bargaining. We should be outraged that we (and students, by extension) are treated with such disdain. We have two conference calls scheduled today to manage this absurdity. It will be an interesting day. . . . 

Time passes and it had already been a month. In terms of the earlier part of this post. Little had changed on the job front. We have now worked more than a year without a contract; the SSHE, as they now prefer to be called, had made significant money because they have gone over a year again without a contract and not have to pay any steps. Twice in the time I have been here at BU, I have lost steps because of no contract. This affects my retirement and my pension. The state has made tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of dollars off the faculty. And yet they want more from us. One particular administrator got a $42,000 raise last year. That is more in one year than I have made in seven. And I do not begrudge his salary; however,  do not begrudge mine. To be be part of the committee working against a very faculty you claim to support for me is outrageous. It saddens me. 

In spite of no contract, I am back in the classroom and I am finished one third of the summer session. Certainly I understand I make extra money for working the summer but I need that money. Reasons for that are more complex than I can go into at this point but suffice it to say I continue to work. I did not always appreciate the value my father put on labor unions but now I do. There’s also much more I could write but I need to get this posted because it is been too long. So, as always,

Thank you for reading. 

Dr. Martin

Published by thewritingprofessor55

As I move toward the end of a teaching career in the academy, I find myself questioning the value and worth of so many things in our changing world. My blog is the place I am able to ponder, question, and share my thoughts about a variety of topics. It is the place I make sense of our sometimes senseless world. I believe in a caring and compassionate creator, but struggle to know how to be faithful to the same. I hope you find what is shared here something that might resonate with you and give you hope.

2 thoughts on “Agent Provocateur 

  1. Dr.Martin,

    Coming back from any vacation seems to make people feel like they aren’t doing enough. Going on vacation and relaxing your mind and soul are always needed. I hope your time in the Dominican Republic was fantastic.

    For me, jumping from high school to college has been rough. I feel like the majority of your students, the work load is heavy and not what was expected. However, I did work hard in high school and although my work load wasn’t as intense I was also working 28 hours a week at Walmart and head of MiniTHON.

    I believe you should have a degree to be teaching, that sounds absurd to me. Pay and benefits of teachers has been in talk for many years. I think teachers should be getting paid for because they are literally teaching the education to every American. You would think people would prioritize that more.

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