The world isn’t flat and this isn’t your father’s academy

To the Editor:

You’ll probably remember this old saying: “When you point the finger at someone else, there are still four fingers pointing back at you.” Well, perhaps Mr. Urbahn should think a moment or two about the fingers aiming back at him. After all, isn’t his vision of the modern university as “a professed (his caveat, not mine) bastion of reason and sanity” about as naive as his beloved Flat-Earthers’ “absurd notions” of cosmology?

Let’s face the facts. It is no longer your father’s academy. Across the United States’ university system, high quality education with expert instructors and low student-teacher ratios is being overrun by a trend towards content delivery from a casualized, marginalized workforce of temporary lecturers with few resources, negligible job security, and little say in important decisions about curriculum. Let’s look at the numbers. The percentage of part-time faculty has ballooned from 22 percent in 1970 to 41 percent in 1995. Despite these statistics, universities continue to award more new Ph.D.s per year than they hire each year. And, it is hardly surprising that women and people of color are the ones bearing the real brunt of this shift in administrative prerogative, making up 58 percent of the blossoming ranks of temporary faculty while only 30 percent of the increasingly rare full-time, tenure-track positions.

As GESO members, we are hip to the game and realize where we fit into this shifting picture of the academy. Statistics compiled at several public and private universities suggest that between 50-70 percent of all interactive hours with students involve graduate employees and temporary faculty. Moreover, we also recognize the place of university employees, in general, in the new information age economy, especially when universities and their spin-off corporations are becoming the main centers of employment in many urban areas like New Haven. This is not just about stipends or dental insurance (even though these are important everyday concerns); it is about our profession and the future of post-secondary education in North America. It is not pessimism nor a lack of work ethic that drives us but rather our optimism about what the academy can be with a dedicated, respected group of teachers and researchers. Things are looking up, Mr. Urbahn. It turns out that the world is not so “flat” after all.

Theresa Runstedtler GRD ’07

Jan. 12, 2005