On Being NTT Faculty at Temple University
—Noah Shusterman, Assistant Professor, Intellectual Heritage
Assistant Professor, Intellectual Heritage
There's an old joke that says, "there's a support group for people who don't like their jobs. It's called everybody; they meet at the bar." But with all of the various debates about the contract negotiations, about the status of NTT faculty here at Temple, I wanted to start by saying something that you don't hear NTTs say nearly often enough:
I like my job.
Oddly enough, at times I feel like I'm not supposed to say that out loud. But I like being at Temple, and teaching the students here. The interactions with the rest of the faculty have meant a great deal to me. And it means quite a bit to be able to teach here in Philadelphia, a city where we've put down our roots.
Do I have my complaints? Of course. And if you catch me on the wrong day, I tend to go on a bit about them. But most people have their collection of grievances. For now, I enjoy the classroom interactions, I like being able to touch so many students' lives. And while the teaching load cuts down my productivity in publishing, it doesn't eliminate it. No one will mistake me for Steven King, but I am able to set aside writing time every week.
While I've not taken any polls, my sense is that most NTTs value their jobs here. Hence the eagerness to keep those jobs, and the willingness to put in the time and effort to improve the situation. Its limitations are obvious, but in today's climate, this job is better than many, many others – and that includes a lot of tenure-track jobs.
I'd like to be able to keep my job, and this is where things get complicated.
Notification of rehiring is always notoriously late, at least in my department – sometimes in April, sometimes in June. It makes planning a future a bit nerve-wracking. But the uncertain status of NTTs does not only affect NTTs. Others I've talked to have confirmed something I'd already suspected – that the current situation is making Temple a more contentious and fragmented place than it would otherwise be. And I don't think that it has to be that way, even with the presence of a large portion of NTT faculty. But the answer doesn't simply lie in making things “better” for NTTs. It involves making NTTs a full part of the Temple community. And in this process, there are steps that everyone can take.
It's tempting, of course, to lay out the whole blame for everything bad that's ever happened on the administration - especially tempting in today's context of eternal negotiations and posturing. But that's neither accurate nor fair. Similarly, it would be easy to say that the administration doesn't support NTT's research; the job description doesn't include it and the Merit guidelines don't recognize it (at least in CLA). But things are not that simple. While some people would say that the sheer amount of work precludes an active research agenda, the teaching load is comparable to what many tenured professors have at non-research universities. And although they don't publicize it much, the administration does give us money – real live, cash-money, bigger piles of money than the ones in the Geico commercials – for summer research.
Yes, higher salaries and a lighter teaching load would be nice. But even with the conditions as they are, Temple could get a lot more out of NTT faculty than they currently do. Many lecturers are eager to serve on committees for which they are fully qualified, yet ineligible. Many are capable of teaching classes in specialties unrepresented among the presidential faculty, but are limited to teaching in the core curriculum. To not recognize the “merit” of a publication, simply because of the job status of the author, does far more harm than good. But above all, the administration needs to rethink this idea of flexibility. The true cost of flexibility is the morale of the university. Nor is it good business sense; a well-run company knows that it is easier to retain talented, dedicated employees than it is to hire or recruit them.
As for what the presidential faculty could do, the first thing is simply to recognize NTTs as colleagues. NTTs are not here to teach any more than the presidential faculty are; they are not here to do research any less. We're all here to be part of the profession. Yes, there are plenty of NTTs who do not have active research agendas. But that is true of the tenured faculty as well. So when there are opportunities to highlight faculty research, leave behind the titles and focus on the work. When there are forums on pedagogy, don't assume that these are for NTTs. And everyone needs to recognize academia for what it is – an all-too-often arbitrary profession, where titles and status cannot be counted on to accurately reflect the activity of a scholar.
And finally, my advice to other NTTs is simple: Be part of Temple. Be part of your field. If there are scholars in your field, or in related fields, contact them, get to know them. Volunteer for committees (even committees that are currently limited to presidential faculty). Take part in the many study groups and forums that Temple has. Right now, the job is simple: teach. Sometimes that winds up feeling like, "teach and shut up," or "teach and then go home," and too many people listen to that voice. That, in my opinion, is the worst thing that lecturers could do.
There is a guiding principle to all of this: let the institutional divisions be what they are, but don't let them rule every aspect of every interaction. If something is about institutional distinctions, so be it. But if it is an intellectual matter, leave the institutional distinctions behind. Fill committees with people who want to serve on those committees. Recognize good teaching and good research wherever it is, regardless of titles. Base merit pay on merit, not on the decisions of the search committees of years gone by.
I didn't decide to become an academic because I thought it would be easy. But publish or perish isn't the rule of the industry anymore, and the number of people doing both grows every year. Temple can't change that, but it's up to everyone here to investigate what advantages there are to be found in an evolving profession.