volume 41, number 1
Temple UniversityFaculty Herald

From Senate President Paul LaFollette
Paul LaFollette, Faculty Senate President, Associate Professor of Computer and Information Sciences, College of Science and Technology

Paul LaFollette,
Faculty Senate President

The very first section of the Faculty Handbook here at Temple affirms Temple's commitment to academic freedom in the following language.

 

I. ACADEMIC FREEDOM

   All members of the faculty, whether tenured or not,  are entitled to academic freedom as set forth in the 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure, formulated by the  Association of American Colleges and the American Association of University Professors...


The entire document can be retrieved from
http://policies.temple.edu/

 

It is clear from the inclusion and placement of this statement in the Handbook that, in the late 1960s when it was first created, both the faculty who helped author the Handbook and the Board of Trustees that accepted it regarded academic freedom as a valued principle.  This was important, for at that time, when the ghost of Joe McCarthy was still pursuing liberals and Hoover's FBI was anxious to discredit anybody involved with the antiwar and civil rights movements, academics were frequent targets, and academic freedom itself was under attack.

 

Forty years later there are new challenges to the idea of academic freedom.  Some of these remain political.  However, the more worrisome to me are the subtle, and perhaps unintended, consequences of the changes that have occurred in the direction taken by many universities over the past decade or so.  These are not unique to Temple, but I will discuss them in terms of my observations at Temple.  These are my observations.  They may be incorrect.  My interpretations may be incorrect.  My proposed solutions may be very ill-considered.   Nonetheless, I offer them in the hope that they will stimulate an overdue discussion amongst the faculty and with our colleagues in the administration.

 

A dozen or so years ago, a decision was made that we should channel our energy and resources into elevating our reputation as a major research university.  This sounds like a worthy goal.

 

From the beginning, however, a major part of its implementation was a decision to do whatever is necessary to increase our position in such rankings as those of US News, ARWU, NRC, and others.  We also have become increasingly obsessive about modeling our decisions on the actions of "peer aspirant" schools.  This is not unique to Temple.  It appears to be the current process used by many American universities, perhaps because it frees us from the responsibility of making our own (possibly flawed) decisions.  This process, however, has some unfortunate consequences.  First, it tends to lead to increasing homogenization of American colleges and universities.  This deprives us of a useful diversity, and leaves unfilled the various niches that diverse schools once filled.  There is an apocryphal story that has George Gershwin approaching Maurice Ravel and asking to take composition lessons from him.  Ravel supposedly replied "Why should you be a second-rate Ravel when you can be a first-rate Gershwin?"  One might similarly ask "Why should we aspire to be a second-rate Penn when we can be a first-rate Temple?"

 

There is a second set of consequences that I find even more disturbing.  The choices that we have made in pursuit of this goal have had significant consequences for academic freedom.  In spite of the words of the Faculty Handbook, we are moving toward a system which hires, tenures, and promotes faculty nearly entirely on the basis of their research/scholarly/creative reputations.  Now, it is not a bad thing to hire truly exceptional scholars.  I am deeply proud to be in a department, a college, and a university with some of my truly exceptional colleagues.  But the policy of hiring, tenuring, and promoting ONLY such tenure track faculty carries with it a formidable problem.  Scholars/researchers/creatives of this quality need to spend most of their time working on their scholarship in order to maintain their reputations and (in particular disciplines) their funding.  This often, and appropriately, results in markedly reduced teaching loads, sometimes 1-1 or 1-0.  It leaves little or no time for many to serve on committees, and thus to participate in the kind of lively and engaged shared governance which is one of the major underpinnings of academic freedom.

 

Worse, it allows little or no time to support our undergraduate programs.   Temple has addressed this problem, in many cases, by shifting the bulk of the work of managing undergraduate programs and teaching undergraduates to non-tenure track (NTT) faculty.  Let me quickly say that our NTTs generally do a superb job of teaching.  They do a fine job of helping to maintain our undergraduate programs.  But they do this without the protection of tenure.  In some colleges few are even protected by multi-year contracts.  Yet our teaching faculty are often the very faculty whose academic freedom is most threatened through being untenured.  It is far too easy for an uncaring chair or dean to intimidate and manipulate an untenured person.  Furthermore in the current political climate where the word "socialist" is routinely used to mean "progressive," and where people like David Horowitz are busy identifying "the most dangerous academics in America," all of our faculty need the protection of tenure.

 

It is not only our NTTs whose academic freedoms have eroded. Over many years, in the laboratory sciences the culture of "unfunded = mediocre researcher" has become institutionalized.  Unfortunately the reality is that to obtain funding, one must choose to work on fund-able projects.  There is nothing wrong with funded research if a researcher chooses to undertake it, but it is manipulative to require it.  Still, this primacy of funded scholarship is so deeply entrenched in the sciences that many scientists don't seem to mind the coerciveness, or regard it as a necessary component of practicing science.  In any event, it is unlikely at this point to change.  However, it appears that Temple is increasingly strongly encouraging, and possibly moving toward requiring, funded research/creative activities in other disciplines where this tradition has not previously developed.  It frightens me to consider the possibility that the creativity of our artists or the choice of scholarly pursuits of other faculty may become more deeply directed by the politics or aesthetics of funding bodies. 

 

So, what can we do about all of this?  To begin with, we can talk to one another about it.  We can, and should, look at where Temple has come in the past dozen years and ask ourselves what we like about the newer Temple and what we don't.  I invite you to begin this conversation.  You can use the letters to the editor column of the Herald.  Or you can offer your comments from the floor at any Faculty Senate meeting.

 

What would I do?  Let me quickly say that I would NOT try to get rid of our NTTs.  But I would try to find ways to tenure as many as possible.  Our current operational model is to hire into our tenure track positions only those faculty who we can pretend are the mythical triple-threats -- simultaneously the world-class researcher, outstanding teacher, and energy-filled provider of service to the department, college, university, and world.  In the real world, I fear that this is an unreasonable expectation.  Some mere mortals can be first rate scholars while doing a small amount good solid teaching, mostly graduate.  Others can become outstanding undergraduate teachers and do decent but not voluminous research.  Hiring some of each category would provide us with the mix that I believe Temple needs to pursue a vigorous research/scholarship/creative agenda, provide our undergraduates with the kind of stable, well managed programs they deserve, and protect the academic freedoms of many more of our faculty than are protected today.  Would this damage the reputation of our various departments?  Possibly.  Could we protect the reputations of our departments by hiring tenurable faculty with varied expertise and primarily teaching responsibilities into a college of general studies which could then lend them (and some of their generated credit hours) to various degree programs?  I don't know.  I don't even know if that would be a useful or good idea.  But let's talk about these issues.   Tell me where I make sense.  Tell me where I don't.  I have broad shoulders and tenure.