Best practices? Best for Whom? The U of Arkansas Edition

Or, “Who Does This Help, v. 4”

And, fittingly during (just barely!) Campus Equity Week 2017–

Apparently, the braintrust that runs the University of Arkansas system has decided that the system’s post-tenure evaluation guidelines (and the consequences thereof) are out of line with somebody’s (never says whose) “best practices.”

Without getting too deeply into the policy specifics, which are only interesting if you’re a policy wonk–or a UA tenured/tenure-track faculty member–let’s just say there are two issues here that strike me as problematic.

First, although best practices is a term that gives me hives, I have some extra questions about the basis for applying it in this instance. Best practices are supposed to emerge from systematic, rigorous (often defined simply as quantitative) analysis. Where’s the research here? What’s one shred of evidence indicating that making it easier to dismiss tenured faculty improves anything except the power-mongering fantasies of managers who want power because it’s power and they like feeling powerful? Or the ability of managers who don’t much know or care about educational quality to “maximize flexibility” (or similar claptrap). Also, let’s be honest: the Waltons could float plenty of full-time faculty jobs with job security and academic freedom, so this isn’t about money.**

Claiming this policy is a best practice is infuriatingly dishonest.

Second (you saw it coming): if you’re tenured/tenure-track in the UA system and are angry/frightened about this policy change (if it goes into effect as proposed, which isn’t yet clear), please understand this simple thing: your contingent/NTT colleagues feel like this every freakin’ day. You’re worried that you might lose your job based on shaky evaluations? Or that your academic freedom to decide the relevance of your teaching materials is getting choked/curtailed?

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t be nervous about those things. My points are:

1.Our (tenured/tenure-track colleagues as a class) willingness to let any faculty work get devalued the way NTT faculty work has been is enabling these attacks. We’re the ones who conceded to (if not convinced) management that some of what we do, and some of the people who do it, just aren’t very valuable, and we’re on the hook for fixing that. Not to say that adjunct faculty can’t succeed in organizing for yourselves (this is not a “Tenured people must save you!” moment), but an argument about undoing something stupid that we did.

2. There are lots of us out here across the country who are willing to help you fight this insanity off. I count myself among them, but only to the extent that you’re willing to commit to fighting for your contingent faculty in return. In other words, if job security and academic freedom are worth fighting for, they’re worth fighting for on behalf of ALL YOUR COLLEAGUES, not just you.

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6 Responses to Best practices? Best for Whom? The U of Arkansas Edition

  1. Anna Harrison says:

    Bravo. And thank you for a sense of relief. It is good to read sober considerations of the current state of faculty in the US.

    • sethkahn says:

      I appreciate the kind words. “Relief” is an interesting way to describe that. My sense of relief at moments like this is discovering that other people are seeing what we see. The trick is to translate that sense of relief into a sense of collective movement towards doing better.

  2. Jane Harty says:

    Thanks for your quick take on what our “NTT colleagues feel like.. every freakin’ day.” Here is a long take worth your time
    on the history of how the AAUP “sanctified the academic profession as two distinct tiers”–its “original sin” as this author has it–back in 1915. The writer, Don Eron, has strong recommendations for ending the fatal two tiers, and this discussion was on the agenda for Committee A of the AAUP this past week. Here is the article for you and your readers if you missed it: https://www.aaup.org/sites/default/files/Eron2.pdf

  3. VanessaVaile says:

    Reblogged this on As the Adjunctiverse Turns and commented:
    by tenured ally, Seth Kahn. Attending MLA 2018? Catch Session 482, “What Tenured Profs Can Do about Adjunctification.”

  4. cnewf says:

    completely right about the need to reverse the total TT failure to defend the whole academic workforce.

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