volume 39, number 1
Temple UniversityFaculty Herald

Editorials

From the Editor

—David Waldstreicher , Faculty Herald Editor


This fall presents two challenges to faculty self-governance as it has usually been practiced. The first emerges from the ongoing contract negotiations between the university and TAUP. The second concerns oversight and initiative in the curriculum, in the wake of the new General Education program.

 

Temple wants to eliminate across-the-board pay raises of the kind faculty received in the last contract. Instead, all raises would be determined through the existing merit pay process. Temple also proposed to take department chairs out of the bargaining unit. This proposal was withdrawn as this issue of the Faculty Herald went to press, but its recurrence in each of the last two contract negotiations suggests a desire for more oversight over chairs and departments.

The combined effect of these proposals might not at first be apparent. And they are not all bad. Hardly anyone thinks merit raises are a bad thing. Appointed chairs might on average act more predictably and professionally as administrators.

 

But since chairs and deans oversee recommendations for merit pay already, their powers would increase greatly if all salary increases derived from that source.  Consider the potential effects of a more intensive merit application process, with say two to four times as much money at stake. After my first year at Temple in 2004, when I began to ask colleagues about how merit worked, I was regaled with stories of how favoritism and discrimination had marked the distribution of merit in the past, with chairs playing patronage and cliques rewarding their own. I’ve not heard of any very recent abuses, but the potential is built into the system. If chairs were less answerable to colleagues, the risks of such abuse could increase dramatically, potentially poisoning collegial relationships and intensifying the anger and disillusionment some of my colleagues still feel from years past.

 

Some might call these concerns paranoid, but this is the paranoia that we call checks and balances and celebrate in our constitutional system. The university may wish to increase merit pay or the independence of chairs, and our representatives in TAUP may wish or need to bargain on these points, but the faculty needs to think carefully about the combined effects. Department chairs can be despots under any system, but they need to be independent enough to serve as effective advocates for their departments and their faculty.  There are enough rewards handed out every day by chairs and deans to make it dangerous to add all raises into the mix.

 

The other potential threat to faculty governance lies in the remarkable, exciting growth of the Gen Ed program, described in this issue by its director, Terry Halbert. The creative course planning and resource distribution through Gen Ed is a real testament to the abilities of the staff of the program, the new administration, and the faculty itself. The program seems to have released the pent-up creative energies of many new and veteran faculty who, like myself, found the existing course proposal processes in our colleges to be intimidating (indeed, I was repeatedly advised against even trying to create a new course, rather than just adapting to what was already on books, after I arrived in 2004). It seems our desires were more interdisciplinary, and had more of what Terry calls “the Gen Ed spirit,” than existing structures allowed or rewarded.

 

At the same time, it is not hard to read between the lines of Terry’s brief for Gen Ed a rather dim view of traditional disciplines and their survey courses as bearers of useful knowledge. I’m hardly the one to make the case for traditional survey courses – not with my Ph.D. in American Studies! – but still, I’m not so sure. Much of the difference between the vaunted creative pedagogies that engage students in active learning, and the disparaged lecture model, is simply a combination of enlightened redesign and an injection of funding, which Gen Ed now has and the old core courses did not.

 

Courses and requirements come and go. The real problem is larger than the loss of the old surveys and the introduction of new courses. It is rather the large scale shift of initiative and oversight in course creation and curriculum development away from departments and toward the administration, the Gen Ed Executive Committee, and individual faculty who are savvy enough to get on board as soon as possible.

 

The net effects may be positive: a hundred flowers seem to have bloomed in the form of attractive courses will full seats. Many of these courses will turn students on to fields of inquiry, leading them to majors they may not have otherwise considered. Yet as is so often the case with revolutions, there is a loss, and it has to do with power. The College of Liberal Arts currently provides more than 60% of the seats in Gen Ed—presumably because the departments in CLA and their “content” are still the mainstays of liberal education—but CLA has only two members on the Gen Ed Executive Committee. In effect, the CLA departments, in particular, are losing their ability as departments to shape undergraduate education in areas for which they take responsibility.

 

There is clearly a potential for this institution to use Gen Ed, intentionally or otherwise, to accelerate other trends that eviscerate faculty governance through departments. I’ve seen it happen. My first job was in the Social Sciences Division at Bennington College, an entity that was actually eliminated soon after my arrival in the name of interdisciplinarity and progressive education. That change went hand in hand with the elimination of tenure, the promotion of non-scholars to positions of oversight, and the nonrenewal of those who dissented. From what I can tell, Bennington still has its signature virtues and problems, and it is still struggling over money and enrollments. A revolution was declared; the faculty has had to live it. Most of the Ph.D.s in the humanities and social sciences preferred more control over our futures and the conditions of our work. We left the College, despite the openness to interdisciplinarity we too believed in, and which had helped get many of us hired at Bennington in the first place.

 

When I asked Terry Halbert how these changes might affect the tenured and tenure track faculty, given the potential for Gen Ed courses to be farmed out to adjuncts and lecturers (such as those hired this year in CLA for $40,000 to teach a 4-4 load), she responded, “that’s happening anyway.” I thank Terry for giving me such an honest answer. It suggests to me, though, that the debate over Gen Ed is not, and should not, be over. I hope the Faculty Herald can play a constructive role in that debate, and I invite contributions on the subject. Gen Ed and the current contract negotiations need to be watched carefully by those who believe that there is a useful role to be played by a faculty that governs itself through departments.

 

 

 

Letters to the Editor

Saul Axelrod , College of Education

"During the 2007-2008 academic year, there was considerable faculty criticism of President Ann Weaver Hart and Temple’s Board of Trustees for failing to act on an offer of $1.5 million from the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT) to create an endowed chair of Islamic Studies..."

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