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Publishing While Others Perish

Georgetown professor Jacques Berlinerblau recently published an essay in the Chronicle of Higher Education, lamenting and attempting to explain why few undergrads aspire to be professors. Excerpt:

Somewhere along the way, we spiritually and emotionally disengaged from teaching and mentoring students. The decision—which certainly hasn’t ingratiated us to the job-seeking generation—has resulted in one whopper of a contradiction. While teaching undergraduates is, normally, a large part of a professor’s job, success in our field is correlated with a professor’s ability to avoid teaching undergraduates.

In a subsequent letter to the editor of the magazine, Kathryn D. Blanchard, an associate professor at a small college, gave Berlinerblau hell. Here’s a big chunk of her letter, but you really should read the whole thing:

Then Berlinerblau offers this groundbreaking idea: “I submit a re-visioning of an American college professor’s job description: The successful candidate will be skilled in, and passionately devoted to, teaching and mentoring 18- to 22-year-olds, as well as those in other age groups. Additionally, she or he will show promise as an original and creative researcher.”

This would be quite a revelation if it didn’t describe most of “us” already.According to the AAUP, more than half of college instructors are now part-time and three-quarters are non-tenure-track, a turn toward cheap labor diagnosed as “largely a matter of priorities rather than economic necessity.” But it is not teachers’ priorities that have changed. According to one study, the first love of many college teachers is still—wait for it—teaching. “We” got into academe not because we wanted to be lauded by a few intellectual snobs with obscure tastes (and certainly not because we wanted to spend our lives in governance meetings) but because we loved our undergraduate professors and wanted to be just like them for a new generation of students.

What has changed are not “our” priorities but those of the nation. Americans don’t care to help educate other people’s children anymore, conceiving education as a private good rather than a societal benefit. Institutions that don’t have a Georgetown-sized endowment, in turn, must change their priorities for “customers” who value good teaching far less than affordable, marketable credentials.

As with global recessions, the people who have made the problem in higher education are not the ones who suffer from its effects. Faculty members at well-funded schools will continue a pattern of heavy research and light teaching (to the tune of about $178,000 per year for Georgetown professors), while lower ranks at less prestigious colleges will be phased out and replaced course-by-course with starving adjuncts.

Berlinerblau’s thoughts might indeed be inspiring if, for the long-term benefit of higher education, the one-percenters in academe were to suddenly and magnanimously give up their privilege and start teaching respectable course loads for no extra pay. Until then, “they” will keep publishing and the rest of “us” will keep teaching till we perish, since our salaries won’t allow us to retire before then.

Hoo boy. This is getting really interesting.

[H/T: Leroy Huizenga]

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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