Monday, March 23, 2015

Academic Cultures 3: Developmental Cultures

1. In the last couple posts, I've been looking at Engaging the Six Cultures of the Academy, but cooking the categories a little differently.

a. the research emphasis - sees faculty research at the center of a university, emphasizes academic freedom

b. the formational emphasis - sees college in terms of forming students in some way, whether through the liberal arts, Christian worldview, or some other set of core values (e.g., Lennox's "sanctifying context")

c. the vocational emphasis - sees college primarily in terms of equipping students to get a job

d. the pedagogical emphasis - focuses on extensively delineated outcomes, expectations, and assessments as the key focus of the academy

Chapter 3 is about what Bergquist and Pawlack call a "development" culture. Looking into this chapter, I can see that what I have called a "pedagogical" emphasis really relates more to what they are talking about in this chapter. (In their view, the developmental culture grew out of the managerial culture as they talk about it.)

2. So to create another category that relates more directly to the other dimension of chapter 2, how about the teaching emphasis

This emphasis refers to the institution that focuses extensively on teaching, where faculty are not so much expected to write or do research as to teach. So it is not uncommon at institutions like this one for the basic loading for a professor to be outrageously high from the perspective of a faculty member at a research institution. Beyond this basic teaching, such professors may also do a lot of overload teaching beyond the minimum expectation. This extra teaching may compensate to some degree for the lower salary such faculty usually have in comparison to faculty at research institutions.

Certainly when I first came to IWU, it was solidly a teaching institution. For undergraduate professors, the basic loading is 24 credit hours a year. For master's level courses it is 21 credit hours a year, and it is 18 credit hours a year on the doctorate level. Overloads were rampant when I came.

I would strongly defend the legitimacy of this approach, as I would the legitimacy of most of the others as well.  The key to me is that we not pick just one and say all the others are wrong. There are those who like to teach, and there are those who like to teach a lot. And there are those who do it well.

Frankly, I do not think even a majority of professors these days will ever produce much of any lasting significance in the area of research. We like to think that we are all researchers, but most professors will be most useful if they know and communicate the truly best research of the time rather than trying to be part of the front edge of research in our areas.

If we think of the university as a business, with students as the primary customer, then those who choose to teach more than research should be highly valued. Faculty with a focus on research should probably be a minority in most colleges today, because only a small number will contribute enough to the reputation of the college to offset the more obvious value of good teaching.

3. So if what I have called a "pedagogical emphasis" is part of the developmental culture of chapter 3, I want to call another emphasis implied by this chapter a paternalistic emphasis.

The chapter is about a culture that emphasizes student, faculty, and employee development in general. This is a good thing, despite the fact that I am seeing the dangers. So it is good to be clear about what the outcomes of a class are, to make expectations clear, and then to assess and confirm that in fact you have met those outcomes.

What worries me is what I see as a tendency to go to the opposite extreme in what I called a pedagogical culture. Too much is detailed and not enough room is given to professors whose classes are more spontaneous. Not only that, but there can be an implicit distrust of professors to do what they say they are doing, not to mention an obsession with administrivia.

4. So also, the idea of supporting faculty in their development is a good thing. It is a service to the employees of the university. If we want professors to be better teachers, then it makes sense to offer seminars to help them. We give them allowances to go to conferences and reward them when they produce scholarship. That all sounds like good practice.

My worry is again what might happen in the extreme. Millennials already grew up with helicopter parents who hovered over them. Dare we say that this fosters a sense of entitlement, expecting service. Employment can be like a wake up call in this regard.

I remember hearing a story of a millennial who took a job as a staff pastor and was a little disappointed that the senior pastor, a boomer, didn't spend more time mentoring him. The advice given was that now that he had a job, mentoring was now his job to do more than to receive.

So what happens when millennials start becoming professors, as they are? Is it possible that they will expect the university to revolve around them? Is it possible that they will have a tendency to see the university as existing for them rather than them for the university. Perhaps now they will subconsciously assess their bosses by how well they serve them.

You can see that this attitude in combination with the collegial culture is deadly. Being a professor comes to be about the university doing all it can do to support their research. Indeed, isn't the university privileged to have them there thinking deep thoughts? Shouldn't I be rewarded for every little thing I do?

Suffice it to say, I'm not too sympathetic to that sort of culture. Even fifteen years ago, we created courses and no one paid us anything. We made new course preps, bought the books, and considered it part of the job. Didn't they hire us because we already knew a little something? Some of us didn't need to be rewarded to write, and we certainly didn't turn in little piddly things that hardly pass for scholarship.

Those of us who teach these days are all fortunate to have a job. There are plenty of others who would love to take our place. All of us could be easily replaced. The administration is not our servant. It is our employer, our boss. We work for the institution, and our primary work is to teach students.

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