Monday, November 30, 2009

Blog XXXIV (34): The Plight of the Adjunct

The "In the Service of Clio" blog returns today from an extended Thanksgiving Day holiday. This blog entry originally appeared as a guest editorial in today's (November 30, 2009) issue of The Providence Journal. Tim Norton, an adjunct professor of writing at the University of Rhode Island, is the author of "Adjuncts are the Real Indentured Servants on R.I. Plantation," which is a play on the legal of name of the smallest state in the union, "The State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantation." This essay raises some of the issues that I discussed on April 6, 2009 in Blog IV.

Although some of the issues Norton discusses focus on matters relevant only in the Ocean State, he touches on important employment concerns to scholars in all fields. Since these topics are highly relevant to the readers of this blog, I am reprinting it here in its entirety. "In the Service of Clio" will return to its previous series on alternative forms of employment for the history Ph.D. next week. Here is Norton's editorial:

Imagine going to work in the morning with no guarantee that you will have that job in four months. Imagine working for one third of the pay that your colleagues receive without benefits. Consider never getting a raise no matter how excellent your performance may be. Welcome to the world of the college adjunct instructor.

“Adjunct.” The word itself gives the ring of an extraneous and forgotten part, the appendix of some hulking machine. As an adjunct writing professor at the University of Rhode Island, I am one of 450 part-time faculty who do 40 percent of the teaching at that institution. Part timers brought in over $52 million of tuition income in 2007-08 and we were paid a scant $3.98 million from that overflowing pot.

Adjunct instructors are the chattel on the academic plantation, and we make tenure, great pay, sabbaticals and health care realities for the full timers, the faces on the university brand. Adjuncts are the silent, quivering caste, hiding in plain sight and praying that we will be thrown the same insufficient crusts in the next semester. In that ivy-covered ecosystem, adjuncts are the plankton, upon which everything else in the chain depends.

Union abuses define Rhode Island. Public-employee unions run the Rhode Island legislature and the majority of citizens pay for the comfort and reward of the few who are on the state gravy train. That said, adjunct college and university instructors are hired semester to semester, they have no health care or benefits, and good performance is unrelated to future employment. The Dickensian treatment of part timers at URI is criminal, and these abuses are what unions should seek to remedy.

Recently, Rhode Island College ratified an agreement with the state Board of Governors for Higher Education. It represents the first contract ever given to adjunct faculty members in Rhode Island and it gives a dash of hope to a long-aggrieved class. RIC adjuncts will now receive academic freedom, course-assignment rules, a grievance procedure, job security, leave of absence for jury duty and a retroactive pay raise of 3 percent. Some 60 percent of all teaching at RIC is done by adjuncts.

It was my bad fortune to work at the University of Rhode Island, with its medieval policies regarding part-time teachers. The administration has been stonewalling a part-time faculty union for years now but it cannot long ignore the evolution taking place right before it. Without equitable treatment backed by a union and the rule of law, fear inevitably fills the vacuum. Fear drives profits, but you will not find that fact noted in the annual report. Union abuses are regrettable and should be reined in, but the lack of a union for the right reasons is nothing but de-facto endentured servitude. All work has dignity, but living as most adjuncts do is a disgrace.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Administrative Note 4

The "In the Service of Clio" blog is taking a short vacation due to the Thanksgiving holidays. A new essay in the alternative employment opportunities is coming on December 3. Until then, please enjoy reading some of the earlier postings.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Blog XXXIII (33): The History Ph.D. at the Service Academies

In this entry, Dr. Robert Wettemann, Jr. discusses employment at the service academies. A military historian, Wettemann has been a Fellow at the West Point Summer Seminar in Military History. He also taught for two years at the U.S. Air Force Academy. He previously taught at McMurry University. Wettemann currently serves as an historian with the U.S. Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg, NC. He is the author of Privilege vs. Equality: Civil-Military Relations in the Jacksonian Era, 1815-1845 (2009). His current writing projects concentrate on the evolution of U.S. Army Special Forces education and training, and the field adaptation and modification of military technology to better meet military operational needs. He earned his Ph.D. and M.A. in history from Texas A&M University and a B.A. with Honors in history from Oklahoma State University. He has also written on various aspects of public history and vintage base ball. Here is his guest blog:

When it comes to military history, it does not get any better than going at one of the service academies. Although I later had the opportunity to do some research at
West Point, the closest thing I ever had to a real introduction to life at a service academy came in 1999, when I attended the Summer Seminar in Military History at the United States Military Academy. Based upon the caliber of military professionals that I came into contact with (no pun intended), I knew that it would be an interesting place to work if I ever had the opportunity.

I received a phone call from the United States Air Force Academy (USAFA) in October 2006, asking if I was interested in serving as a visiting professor. Although I was not that far along in my academic career (I was up for tenure in Spring 2007), I jumped at the opportunity, and with the support from my university administration, managed to secure what would become a two-year leave of absence and ultimately would lead to my departure from civilian academia altogether. Beginning in the summer of 2007, I had the pleasure of spending two years at USAFA as a visiting professor in the History Department (known at the Academy as DFH).

Arriving at USAFA, I quickly discovered that the internal dynamics of the department were different from anything I had encountered elsewhere, in terms of both organization and climate. At Air Force, the permanent professor, a PhD-holding colonel, functions as the head of the department. The department’s senior staff was comprised of a handful of senior lieutenant colonels, who possess Ph.D.s, and the permanent civilian faculty (about 25% of the faculty at USAFA is civilian) who are master educators and scholars in their own right. The remaining members of the department, lieutenant colonels, majors and captains, all have M.A. or M.S. degrees and varying levels of teaching experience. Some have never taught before, others had been at the Academy for a number of years. As a visiting professor, I stood outside this “chain of command,” but found myself considered as a valued member of the department, always free to provide my input on issues of teaching, research, curricular development, and assessment.

As a visiting professor, I had a dual function at USAFA. On the one hand, I was there to teach and conduct my own research and writing, and bring a civilian perspective into the classroom by providing coursework and insight in my area of specialty. On the other hand, I was also there to extend my teaching and research expertise to cadets and other members of the department. With regards to teaching, I had the opportunity to teach four different courses during my tenure at USAFA. My first semester, I taught three sections of History 202: Introduction to Military History, that is part of the Core Curriculum that all cadets would take while at the Academy. The other courses were upper division courses either required for history majors, as was the case with History 330: Historiography and Methods, or were electives, like History 483: Great Americans, or a special topics course of my own design, History 495: The Era of the American Revolution. There are some similarities about all classes, most notably the small class size. Air Force (along with the other service
academies) try to limit class size as much as possible, so that there are never more than twenty cadets in a room at one time. This allowed for a greater degree of dialogue between student and professor than you might find in a typical university. It also allows you to do some creative things in the classroom, like simulations and small group activities. In “Great Americans” I shaped the course around a series of “diametric duos,” individuals who opposed each other at critical phases in American History, with Sam Adams and Thomas Hutchinson, Thomas W.E.B. DuBois and Booker T. Washington, and Harry Truman and Douglas MacArthur serving as examples. In the classroom, these debates played out as “historical deathmatches” with cadets taking on the roles of these individuals and playing out these debates, with the remainder of the class posing questions and serving as a jury. In teaching the Historiography and Methods course, I introduced USAFA to team-teaching methodology used at my home institution, in which two published scholars worked with students to produce well-researched scholarly papers based upon primary sources. This was an alternate approach from previous efforts that concentrated more on historiography, but based upon the success of the course, it has since been used by instructors who continue to teach the course at USAFA.

When it comes down to teaching cadets, one can say, with tongue firmly in cheek, that they are just like other college students, except that in the near future they will be able to call in an air strike or artillery support. While part of the military education process centers around teaching future combat leaders, you should not think of teaching at a service academy as simply educating better killers. There are special needs and considerations that you need to recognize in a military environment. Unlike traditional college students, who may have jobs and will shape their coursework around their own schedule, cadets share a tightly regimented schedule that offers little in the way of flexibility, either in what they do in a given day or in what courses they take in a given semester. They will, for the most part, particularly in upper division classes, come prepared and ready to engage at levels I was not accustomed to at a traditional institution. In teaching them, I viewed my greatest challenge as forcing them to embrace notions of ambiguity, and force them to recognize that answers in the world were often comprised of varying shades of gray, something they did not always get at an answer that often emphasized formulaic thinking and finding the “approved solution.”

In addition to contributing to the education of future officers of character for the U.S. Air Force, I also had the opportunity to help advance the quality of teaching and research carried out by members of the department. At the beginning of each academic year, I both participated in and assisted with new instructor training within the department, observing mock lessons prepared by instructors with limited teaching experience, offering suggestions and recommendations as to what they could do to develop and improve their own educational style. Members of the department were also strongly encouraged to visit other instructors in the classroom and evaluate their teaching in preparation for identifying outstanding educators within the department. In addition to teaching evaluation and critique, I also had the opportunity to assist in the education of young officers who were interested in making history a more significant part of their military career. This mentoring not only included discussion of future research and dissertation topics on either a formal or informal basis, but the reading and critiquing of papers and book chapters. This exchange went both ways, as I also had members of the department read and comment on my own work, as I not only completed a manuscript but started on another, while I was at Air Force. This is something that any faculty member should take advantage of at an institution like a military academy. Rarely will you have an entire department full of subject matter experts willing and able to critique your own work.

The faculty I encountered were easily some of the best scholars and educators I have ever had the opportunity to work with. Recognizing that in some academic departments, a faculty may be balkanized based upon their historical disciplines and political views (and may, in some cases, not even speak with each other), I was constantly amazed by both the high degree of collegiality and the overall social cohesion within the department. I am not sure whether or not that was a product of the environment or the fact that 75% of the department was military and possessed a set of shared experiences, but I have rarely seen this degree of collegiality in and out of an entire department. It certainly made my two years at Air Force memorable.

Many people have asked me about what I liked most about my time as a professor at the U.S. Air Force Academy. It is difficult to isolate my single favorite experience. Just being in a department like DFH ranks among the best time of my career (thus far). My time in a military environment prompted me to make a complete change in my career path and seek out a way to make a greater contribution to the nation’s uniformed services. From an educational standpoint, I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to spend time with cadets. I periodically had cadets over to my home, and spent time on weekends assisting with the USAFA History Club. I also had the opportunity to take cadets on a tour of Boston, MA in conjunction with my course on the American Revolution. I know they enjoyed recreating the revolution at the Old State House, Boston Massacre site, Old South Meeting House, Boston Tea Party site, Bunker Hill, and U.S.S. Constitution, as well as spending a day retracing the British retreat from Concord to Lexington. While those were great times, as were Friday nights at the Falcon Club and joining my DFH colleagues at Society for Military History meetings, my favorite time at USAFA was my ten days I assisted in Basic Cadet Training for the incoming cadets. As part of the training cadre for “Operation Warrior,” I assisted in familiarizing incoming cadets with the rudiments of airbase defense and attack, and played a supervisory role for an operational force detachment in the field. Each day, I drew a weapon and blank ammunition, then headed off into the woods, ambushing squads of anxious “basics,” then assisting them as they made their own assault on positions occupied by their fellow incoming cadets. It was hot, heavy work, as I carried weapons, ammunition and personal gear all over the Cadet training facilities in Jack’s Valley, but it is an experience I will never forget, especially when I am laboring over a book review or compiling another index in a windowless office.

My path to a service academy teaching experience was certainly not a traditional one, and it prompted me to make employment decisions that I never would have considered prior to my time there. However, I regard my time at Air Force as one of the greatest developmental opportunities in my professional career, and given the opportunity, would do it again. Giving up the comfort of tenure at a civilian institution was certainly a gamble, but based on the growth experience that I had at USAFA, I would do it again in an instant.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Blog XXXII (32): The History Ph.D. at the Public Policy School: Swimming in a Sea of Numbers

The next essay in this blog comes from Jeffrey A. Engel. In this blog posting, he writes about working at a public policy school. Engel is an assistant professor of history and public policy at Texas A&M University's Bush School of Government and Public Service. He also directs the Scowcroft Institute of International Affairs. A graduate of Cornell University, he received his Ph.D. in American History from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is author of Cold War at 30,000 Feet: the Anglo-American Fight for Aviation Supremacy (2007), which was awarded the 2008 Paul Birdsall Prize from the American Historical Association. He also edited The China Diary of George H.W. Bush: The Making of a Global President (2008), the private diary of former President George H.W. Bush while de-facto United States Ambassador to Beijing in the 1970s. He is a member of the editorial board of Diplomatic History and of the Executive Council of the Transatlantic Studies Association. Here is his guest blog:

I teach history in a public policy school. It is not for everyone, demanding both a thick skin and a willingness to forgo students who reflexively believe the study of history matters. But I would be hard-pressed to want to teach anywhere else.

I came to this strange new world of the professional school largely by accident. As with everyone else in this field, I needed a job. We all blanket the country with application letters when in search of our first gig. Among my blizzard of letters and vitas was one addressed to the Bush School of Government at Texas A&M University. I told them I longed to teach at such a prestigious school with such a distinct mission of service. I lied (or at least, cribbed liberally from their website), having in fact never actually heard of the Bush School before cutting and pasting its address into my boiler-plate letter. (When seeking an historian, most policy schools advertise in venues historians already know well, including H-Net, the Chronicle of Higher Education, the American Historical Association’s publications, and so on.)

This was the best cut and paste I ever did. In the past five years I’ve come to appreciate in depth the real advantages and merits of teaching students outside of a traditional history department. Our program exclusively delivers a master’s degree in international affairs. All of our students desire a career outside the academy. More accurately, they have enrolled in a terminal master’s program because they desire a career, end stop. Most want to work in the national security field, broadly defined. They seek employment with the federal government, or with the ever expanding legions of private contractors whose existence belies the idea that the era of big government could ever actually end. Some work for non-governmental organizations and non-profits. All desire to serve the public good in some way.

Few, if any, have their heads in the ethereal clouds of academic minutia in the way I fondly recall of myself and my graduate-school colleagues. They want to know with every class why the material they are studying matters; how it will help them in their careers; how it will help them better the public’s interest. Such practicality is innately foreign to me, and I admit, at times grating. Fascination with Bismarck’s strategy seems to me reason enough to study and dissect his every move. But I’ve learned to appreciate their desires, and thus their point of view. I’ve grown, granted at times kicking and screaming along the way, to appreciate that every lesson can have a point, even if our understanding of that point frequently differs. For many of my students the study of realpolitik, or economics, or strategy, is an end to itself: we study such things to become more proficient at them. For me their study trains the mind to better appreciate the world’s complexity. We agree that study itself is useful; and we proceed, largely amicably and with no small amount of bemused befuddlement at the other, on our mutual journey of understanding.

And I love it. I genuinely enjoy teaching students who want to learn, and professional students most certainly fit that bill. They are largely paying for their education, and they expect their investment to pay off, not only in terms of their enhanced marketability post-graduation, but also in terms of their improved skills. I don’t teach them how to destroy Al-Qaeda or to protect fissile material, to their frequent frustration. Would that I knew such practical things. But I like to think I teach them to think better, to solve problems more efficiently and creatively, and thus to be better prepared to find solutions for whatever the world throws at them. As the child of two teachers, having been educated myself at a series of land-grant
institutions, I take seriously the perhaps old-fashioned (perhaps even progressive) notion that the people of those states invested heavily in me and my education, so that I might serve the public good. I relish the notion that I repay their investment—granted, the investment of peoples from a different state, but such is the reality of the national job-search—daily when I educate the current generation of students and the next generation of policymakers. This is a thrill indeed. It is also a thrill with little pain. For one thing, our program teaches only graduate students, and only master’s students at that. Other policy schools teach undergrads and PhD’s. So far, we do not, and one might well argue that master’s students lie in that particular sweet spot, from a pedagogical perspective, between ignorance and utter passion. They are, by and large, more knowledgeable and interested in their subject matter than undergraduates fulfilling a humanities requirement; yet they do not rain draft chapters upon me as a doctoral candidate might. I have not altered my syllabi or reading assignments much (perhaps 25%) from what I would teach in a “traditional” history department. Yet I have altered every lesson and classroom game-plan, every one, to better suit my student’s needs.

Why then the requirement of a thick-skin, as mentioned above? Two reasons, the first already mentioned. I appreciate the practical approach of my policy-students through force of will and a conscious recognition of their devotion to public service. It does not come naturally to someone as academically-inclined as I, believing again reflexively, that history might indeed be studied merely because it is fascinating. This point has been made.

Of equal importance is the notion that I exist as not only the school’s sole historian, but also its sole humanist. The economists and political scientists surrounding me find the study of history quaint and amusing. To their eyes, historians are largely good only for stories, only infrequently with a point. I don’t do numbers. They spend liberally on new data-crunching programs and research assistants eager to enter numbers for purposes not altogether clear. I use Microsoft Word, and not well at that. One must be thick-skinned to withstand the friendly (and frequently, not so friendly) barbs of social scientists who care passionately about statistics and methodology, and who argue with great vehemence that quantitative analysis—which they describe as the only really “rigorous” analysis, explicitly devaluing all else—is the only type worth doing.

But I have the last laugh, because they also use their impressive statistical skills and quantitative conviction budget-season comes round. Professors in professional schools are routinely paid more than equally-trained colleagues located in traditional academic departments. So too are our research and travel budgets significantly higher than most historians are allowed. I’m willing to thicken my skin quite a bit indeed for these benefits. Plus, to be honest, we eat better on this side of campus, though my doctor and wife would each prefer I did not indulge in this particular perk. Most important of all beyond these material and culinary advantages, teaching in a policy school offers the opportunity to be around colleagues and students who desire to make a difference. That is worth more than I could possibly hope to quantify (lacking the methods to do so to their statistical satisfaction anyway).