Sunday, February 20, 2011

CFA and Graduate Education by Harriet Murav, Professor of Slavic Studies and Member of CFA Executive Committee, February 16, 2009

My roles as a faculty member and as a member of Campus Faculty Association, are inseparable. The decisions that determine my capacity to work with graduate students as a Professor of Slavic and Comparative Literature-- are being made beyond my control. It is only through unionization that shared governance can be recovered, and a voice in fundamental issues governing the academic workplace, including graduate education, can be had. There is no clearer evidence of this basic fact of our academic life than President Hogan's decision to pursue restructuring in the face of our own Academic Senate's rejection of his proposal. We now have two new Vice Presidents whose raises alone could fund six 50% TAships, which is two more TAships than one of my home departments currently holds.

Our lack of control over our own academic future as providers of graduate education clearly emerges in the new campus-wide assessment of doctoral programs that comes right on the heels of the block grant competition; why similar data and narratives (including student accomplishments and placements, for example) have to be submitted to a committee whose charge is obscure is not obscure to any thinking faculty member. Provost Wheeler's charge to the doctoral assessment committee includes language about determining "the strengths and weaknesses of each program" and a statement about a plan for the "dissemination of best practices for doctoral education and possibly further analysis of some programs" in academic year 2011-2012. Don't the awards made in the competitive block grant distribution of ay 2010-2011reveal what these best practices are? Well-meaning individuals will be unwittingly caught up in an allegedly consensual process that will lead to the termination of certain programs: "further analysis" leads only in one direction. Faculty serve in good faith on many committees, but without the right to collective bargaining, we will never have a voice in graduate education or any other dimension of the academic workplace.
While doctoral programs on this campus are undergoing an unnecessary review, the newly created Professional Science Master' is not. This new terminal master's degree was developed with a $450, 000 grant from the Sloan Foundation. Its staff includes a director on a 12-month salary, plus other, additional positions. Three programs are already available in the Professional Master's Program; according to the Graduate College website, more are on their way. The Professional Science Master's Program is the only graduate program, as far as I can tell, that has advertising on the Graduate College Website. Graduate College handles the marketing and recruiting of these students. Most other doctoral programs use their own faculty to design recruitment materials without help in human or financial resources from Graduate College. The PSM graduated 9 students in December 2010. They paid approximately $30,000 for their sixteen-month program; they were not required to write a master's thesis.

How does this new and expanding program fit our University's stated mission as a land-grant university to serve as a "preeminent public research institution?" Consider the word "public." Does the PSM serve the public? How many recent college graduates in the state of Illinois have $30,000? Consider the words "preeminent research institution." The graduates of the PSM did not write a thesis. What is their relation to research, except a business relation? Our preeminence as a public research institution could be undermined by such programs, which are growing in number, and gaining even more rapidly in symbolic weight as the new model for graduate education.
None of this would matter so much if the threat to traditional graduate programs, particularly, but not exclusively, those in the humanities and interpretative social sciences, were not so pressing. Pushing the horizon of new knowledge means pushing the horizon of knowledge that does not translate into dollars. The humanities and arts are at the core of the university's mission. With the help of TAs, thousands of IUS are generated, but the tuition dollars are not credited back to the units who generate them. Programs in the humanities, unjustly smeared as the welfare queens of the university, are underfunded and "analyzed" whereas new programs that have no relation to the public mission of this university are the new darlings of the campus. We as faculty have no access to the information that would tell us how much revenue the alleged revenue generating programs consume. That gift of knowledge comes only with unionization and collective bargaining rights.

We lack fundamental information about revenues and resources at this campus; we have no place at the table where decisions are made, in spite of the advisory committees on which we serve, and in spite of the Academic Senate’s best efforts. There is only one way to overcome these problems: work with CFA for collective bargaining rights for tenure and non-tenure stream faculty.