Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Structure and ideology: Implications for free speech 

Something we have (had?) always prided ourselves on at St. Cloud State has been that our students should be instructed by full-time faculty, all with terminal degrees, all committed to a teacher-scholar model of the professoriate. (The code words are 'Boyer model'; the derision with which those more inclined to traditional research speak these words rivals that I have when I say the words 'New York Yankees'.) Over time, like most every other university, we have a number of non-tenure track faculty here; our latest faculty factbook says 380 of 934 are non-tenure track, including 260 adjunct faculty.

So it is with great interest that I read two posts by Stephen Karlson regarding an alternative explanation for the persistence of indoctrination on American college campuses. In short, it's an incentive problem with more insecure faculty teaching the large freshmen classes.
[A]s long as the senior professors are relatively free to pursue their research, while the armies of adjuncts on term contracts can be mau-maued into going along with the Diversity Boondoggle's gutting of learning in the name of access, and the beneficiaries of access figure out on their own that college is not for them and never darken a professor's door, the senior professors will have scant incentive to defend either free thought or the core of liberal education.

The astonisher is that as many students get through, successfully, as they do, take five to seven years though it may. In the military, the recruit first faces a career non-commissioned officer. In railroading, the student engineman quickly gets to know the crusty road foreman. In the university, eighteen year olds get psychological "treatment" from twenty year old housefellows and introductory calculus from twenty-five year old graduate assistants who have yet to prove a theorem of their own. Experience, literally, is the greatest teacher, and for many students, the teacher with the steepest grading curve, at least until dormies get put on Double Secret Probation for harboring unsustainable thoughts.
I've of course had cause to talk about Residential Life's behavior here with a course called "Respect and Responsibility" required before you take a class, taught (?) by people in the Aggrievement Centers. Then off they go to freshman comp, taught in a department more than a quarter of which are adjuncts. Those who want to be teachers may find half the teacher development faculty are adjuncts. Those instructors, Stephen argues, have no incentive to be advocates for free speech or intellectual diversity. They need next semester's contract. (And meanwhile their students are checking them out on Rate My Professor in search of the grading scale and stars for entertainment value provided.)

Stephen interacts with an essay by Donald Downs, in which he argues "Senior faculty indifference to campus citizenship leaves a vacuum into which questionable and damaging agendas by those who do care can flow." Downs seems a little more hopeful that the right incentive structure can provide for change to create a movement for intellectual freedom that spans any ideological divide. Perhaps, but our Department of the 3.7 GPA has plenty of tenured advocates for the Diversity Boondoggle. They protect their booty through a faculty union that has run roughshod over governance. Perhaps structural changes can solve it but the structures are now so deeply embedded that contemplating their destruction seems like nuclear winter. Most despair, crawl back to their offices and vacate the battleground to the groups that stifle intellectual freedom. If on top of that, as Downs indicates, there may also be ideological bias in campus hirings, all the worse.