Monday, October 24, 2011

 

The Faculty-Staff Divide

A thoughtful correspondent wrote last week to express concern about what she perceived as a growing rift between faculty and professional staff on her campus.

It’s one of those issues that waxes and wanes, but never really goes away.

Professional staff can be characterized as people with graduate degrees who do non-faculty work. They could be counselors, financial aid staff, librarians, registrars, disability-services providers, IT, instructional designers, or any number of other positions, depending on the campus. Some of them may have teaching backgrounds, and some may even teach on an adjunct basis while working as staff. Their positions are usually twelve month, five-day-a-week jobs. Some campuses have a tenure system for staff, and some have tenure for some staff (librarians) and not others.

Although friction between faculty and administration gets most of the press, friction between faculty and staff can be quite real, and sometimes toxic.

In my observation, some of it comes from what Cathy Davidson calls attention blindness. We don’t notice certain things, based on our priorities at the time. If I’m focusing on how best to teach my class in two hours, I’m not thinking much about how the financial aid department works, and vice versa. Over time, it’s easy to see folks in the other roles are basically ancillary.

Different calendars are a persistent source of friction, and not just for the obvious reasons. For example, one of the most frequent areas of calendar-driven faculty-staff conflict I’ve seen has been parking. If your workday starts at 8:30 every single day, it’s hard to muster much sympathy for the professor who complains that she can’t find a space just before her 11:00 class. Conversely, if you’re the professor trying to get to class, it’s hard not to wonder just who all these people are taking up spaces.

The yearly calendar makes the problem more complex. Parking is relatively easy in the summer, since most of the faculty aren’t there. When they come back in September, the parking follies begin. That’s nobody’s fault, obviously, but some people think in terms of people rather than systems, and train their anger accordingly.

Even such basics as “how was your summer?” can be grating if you spent most of your summer in cubicle hell. I recall a professor a few years ago complaining bitterly that the summer was a wash, because he only got to spend one month on Cape Cod. It took real restraint not to unleash a snark attack of historic proportions. Well-meaning “welcome back” messages can have the same effect on people who never left.

I’ve also seen a persistent confusion among some faculty between “shared governance” and “faculty governance.” They don’t see the distinction, though to the staff, the distinction is loud and clear. Pronouncements like “the faculty are the college” are a direct slap in the face to staff.

Then, of course, there’s status. Most staffers don’t go by titles, even if they have academic credentials at the same level as faculty. (There’s nothing weird about addressing someone as Professor Smith, but it would be weird to call her Librarian Smith.) The culture of faculty, in which they regard themselves largely as independent contractors on loan from their disciplines, implies a different locus of loyalty than the culture of staff, who regard themselves as employees of the college. When that divided loyalty comes with lifetime job security, a staffer who has neither may grumble.

None of this is to deny that resentments can run the other way, too. Many professors who are tired of the adjunct trend look at the growth in non-faculty positions and see an unchecked resource suck. Depending on turnover rates, racial and gender demographics can sometimes be markedly different among faculty as opposed to staff, leading to resentments that have little to do with the jobs themselves. And personalities are an ever-present wild card.

I don’t know if faculty-staff tensions are getting worse, the same as they ever were, or getting better. I’m not even sure how to measure that. I hope they improve, not least because those of us who care about public higher education need to put up a united front against an increasingly difficult political climate. At some point, we need to acknowledge that divisions of labor are simply necessary.

I’d guess that the faculty-staff divide varies greatly by context. Wise and worldly readers, have you seen circumstances that make it markedly better or worse? Is there another source of conflict I’ve missed? And is there a realistic way you can imagine to make it better?

Comments:
Posting anon, but as professional staff, one at my institution is offices with climate control and windows! I can't think of a faculty member who doesn't have a window (to the outside) in their office, but there are plenty of staff in windowless rooms on our campus. To compound things, we don't have AC in most of our buildings, but you can use a window unit.... if you have a window. It's not uncommon to have staff working in 90+/high humidity windowless rooms, and to walk by the (unoccupied, because faculty are on vacation -- and because they are, they think everyone is -- windowed offices with idle AC units.) can be a little maddening.
 
"The culture of faculty, in which they regard themselves largely as independent contractors on loan from their disciplines..."

Chortle. Too true, and trained into us at an early age.

This is an issue even at a CC, where very different disciplines share the same hallway rather than being separated by brick walls and either snow drifts or a steaming swamp.

It has interested me to observe that it takes between 5 and 10 years for these barriers to dissolve and our shared mission take a primary role in a way rarely seen at a university. It helps me teach physics when students actually learn basic calculus and trig (not to mention write a lab report paragraph), and it helps my colleagues teach math when they know what we actually use. (Example: Yes we do use imaginary numbers. In fact, I'm going to use them today in "freshman" physics.)

On your main point, the staff-faculty divide can only exist in a culture of isolation and anger. Ditto for those who would draw a line between staff with professional degrees and those with "only" a BA or HS degree who get paid far FAR too little for their critical contributions to the college. I have observed that chocolate helps more than you might imagine.
 
As a note: I am FT staff at one public u and PT faculty at SLAC.

At a new tech training last week, the trainer from the company was clarifing who was in the room, role-wise. And he said, "So, no faculty? You're staff, the people that do all the work." Of course, us all being staff, laughed. We don't get summer off or spring break. You have your students for one semester we have them for years. And since we have defined office hours, they can always find us.

A solution I would love to see implemented would be some sort of governance/council that was populated by faculty and staff. Too often it is only faculty or maybe there is a staff one but it's seperate. College wide awards should be just that, college wide. At my SLAC, there are awards but only faculty can win them.

And faculty, please don't tell me about your Bahamas trip during spring break and how warm it was. We were digging out from a snowstorm, thanks.
 
Well, there is one leveling influence you don't mention. Faculty often treat staff badly, but I comfort myself when that happens by remembering that I earn more than a tenured professor of mathematics or English. The adjuct-ification of higher ed is hurting faculty pay, but if the institution doesn't pay staff the market rate for the job they don't have staff in the job.
 
CCPhysicist, thank you for noting that. As a staff member with "only" a B.A., I've certainly learned that the academic snobbery issue is not a trivial one. In any other industry, I'd be considered a "professional" doing what it is I do all day (manage budgets, fix sensitive HR matters, administer contracts, pay the bills). But not here.

Chocolate is nice, no question. And honestly, some days I think I'd go to the ends of the earth for the two or three faculty-level people who have (unbidden!) told me they appreciate my work and know I'm underpaid. The people, in short, who seem to think I am a professional and let me know.
 
The issue on my campus now is when final grades are due: the faculty want more time to grade and the registrar's office and people who deal with students on probation want the grades earlier. Without getting into the gory details, this one has the potential to get nasty.
 
The recent budgetary contractions have created a situation where layoffs are framed by administration as a zero sum game in an effort to redirect blame. The staff union made concessions early on that resulted in position rebids and layoffs. But then the college hired a bunch of adjuncts and it made it seem that staff were being sacrificed for faculty. Staff also took a benefits hit that faculty ducked. Much resentment all the way around right now. With the number of adjuncts on campus, a benefit cut to faculty wouldn't have had nearly the same impact and some faculty lines are gone forever. But staff only see a flood of newbie adjuncts in an environment with fewer staff to do the same amount of work. Messy.
 
and then you have those of us who fall somewhere in the middle - faculty librarians - we get to fit into neither category really...
 
When I was an administrative assistant in an academic department a few years back, the worst part of the job wasn't hearing about faculty summer vacations or the windowless office that I shared with a student - though these things did matter. It was the parties.

Our department's faculty members would, every few months, have a party at someone's house. They'd come in Monday morning, all abuzz with stories from their party. They would often stand outside my door to have these conversations. And it just apparently never occured to any of them to invite me.

I felt like a piece of furniture. These were nice people. We got along well. I'm sure they didn't think they were excluding anybody. But that's the point. They just didn't think of me at all. There were only two admins in the entire department, it wouldn't have caused an undue strain on the guest list for the faculty members to invite us. But that would have been like, I don't know, inviting the copy machine.

Now that I work in an administrative department, there is less of this (all my co-workers are staff) and I'm glad for it - and yet, I kind of miss working with faculty anyway. I like them.

And all of this said, too, I don't want to sound like sour grapes. My husband was on the tenure track for a while (and there's a topic, being married to faculty when you're not-very-high-up-the-chain-staff;it's rare, if you're wondering)and it's no paradise. In fact, it burnt him out. He wasn't taking any long vacations. He was panicking about tenure review. All the time. The process is vicious and yes, once you get by it you get long vacations and a nice office. But nothing in the staff world compares to the hell that is faculty life before tenure. It can be infuriating to be a staff person in the faculty world, but they do absolutely earn respect in a way I do not.

And I feel for the adjuncts who are clearly smarter and better educated than me, yet are barely-employed.

I am bothered when I see academics complain about "administrative bloat," though, as the root of all evil. Because I guess I am "administrative bloat." But is eliminating positions like mine a smart proposition? Because I've never met a faculty member who has much interest in tracking expenditures for an entire department, or putting on events that attract thousands of visitors to campus, or picking up the phone when someone's timesheet isn't loading properly.
 
As a staff member, I agree with everything that miscellany has posted. Most of our faculty are quite nice to me, but they make it very clear that they don't consider me a peer. Which is fine, I suppose--unlike many faculty, my job is just a job, not my life.

The hardest part for me is that many of our faculty do not respect my professional expertise. I would never presume to tell them how to teach their classes or to lecture them about their area of specialty. Yet many (not all) of our faculty have no qualms about telling me how to do my job. They don't respect the fact that we have specific policies and procedures in place as a result of years of experience and best practices in the field.
 
Ah, the never-ending divide. I'd love to say that I have a solution for you, but I jumped ship in part because I couldn't take the way I was treated by faculty (one of many reasons for leaving).

Sadly, I see some of the same in K-12 environments. Here I'm half and half, but my biggest half is faculty. I have a classroom. I teach. My non-faculty half is working with faculty, who see me and treat me like an equal. Here, having my Ph.D. actually means something. In my former job, because I didn't really "use" it, it didn't really count.

I make a real effort to treat the staff here as equal, and try to remember that their schedules are often busier than mine. When I ask about vacations, I'm careful to recognize that their vacations are different. And I always, always ask about their work. "How are things in the x department? What's your latest project?" It frustrated me to no end that faculty would go on about their own stuff and never ask about mine.

It would really help if faculty realized that they really are in their endeavors with the staff. Just like the faculty, the staff often want to see an institution succeed. It could be a great partnership if they'd only realize it.
 
I also think that faculty and staff don't quite grok each other's work schedules. It's not that they deliberately underestimate the amount of time the other works, it's that the schedules are so different. For example, I don't check my work email over the weekend. They don't pay me enough, and lives don't depend on it. But, judging from the emails I get from them over the weekend, plenty of faculty do.

On the other hand, when I was pregnant, I asked a number of faculty members for daycare recommendations. Several of them highly recommended a daycare that only operated between 9am and 1pm. They all knew that I work full time, but somehow, they didn't quite *get* that means that I am in the office from 8:00 until 5:00.
 
Let's not forget the faculty/adjunct divide either. When senior, tenured faculty are getting (relatively) enormous salaries for teaching one, two, or three classes with a few grad students, and when adjuncts make pennies (with no benefits) for teaching 3 gen ed classes, tensions increasingly develop. Adjuncts now have PhDs, but they aren't getting the jobs they expected. Add to the mix some people on "emergency" one-year contracts (for their 6th year), and the department chair has to take an active role in making everyone feel like we are a team. If the chair never visits the adjunct offices or makes any efforts to bring the team together, the divide grows. As do real and perceived resentments.
 
CCPhysicist's comment about breaking bread seems particularly apt.
 
Coming the other way here…

I'm in daily contact with students, and I'm responsible for getting them through the course (or documenting why they didn't make it). I do all my own photocopying etc, because secretarial staff only work for admin. I spend more money than I need to, because I have to use an approved list of suppliers that charge more than MSRP (let alone street price) — how the staff in purchasing selected them or decided which equipment I need to teach my courses, I am not informed. I've worked all weekend to get a budget proposal in, only to have it sit on someone's desk for two weeks while they took a holiday, and then be told that it was too late because there wasn't enough time to process it…

Faculty support students. It seems too many support staff support the bureaucracy.
 
Actually, faculty and staff support students - and that's the point of all of us hanging around the campus. If we all don't work together to support our students than it doesn't matter how perfectly individuals do their jobs. Students experience the whole of what we do, not the parts.

About that budget proposal, if you knew the people involved on a personal basis, you would have known about that vacation or would know what office you needed to go down to and bat your eyes and offer small bribes of chocolate or flowers to move things along. Or you'd know who could act as a sub and do the paperwork in a pinch. Or you'd know who could drop the hammer on someone MIA and get things moving along. Any way you slice it, knowing what is going on with staff and having them know you as a person (rather than a piece of paper) will yield far better results than the ones you're getting.
 
On the perception that faculty are on vacation when students aren't on campus, studies show that Australian faculty aren't even taking the leave that they're entitled to (which is four weeks a year, exactly the same as other professional staff, as it happens.) I think I missed the point at which the month in the Bahamas was on offer, sadly. And yes, the same studies show that we are all also working evenings and weekends, and we don't expect any of this lost personal time ever to come back to us.

But if the problem of mistaken perceptions and incivility is getting worse, as comments here really do suggest, what's the best way to bring about change? I'd be interested to know if any institution has tried something like a pairing or shadowing arrangement so that faculty and professional staff can get a better sense of what we each do all day. We're all going flat out, we're all under-resourced, and we're all interested in work-life balance, we all want to throw our copy machines out of the window and have a better selection of lunch options (including those of us who finally get around to lunch at 4pm) so how can we build a more appreciative and respectful culture?
 
Thanks to those comments that mentioned adjunct faculty members. The biggest failure of this blog is Dean Dad's almost willful desire to sweep the adjunctification of community college education under a Persian carpet of his alleged liberal sympathies.

It's typical of Dean Dad that he neatly forgets to leave adjuncts out of the "staff-faculty divide" except at two points -- staff members who teach part-time or full-time faculty who blame hiring of more staff for the adjuncts -- and totally ignoring them as human beings and fellow workers.

Dean Dad, you are not the liberal open-minded thinker you pretend to be. After months of reading your blog, I think you are corrupt, self-deluded and self-righteous where adjuncts are concerned.

You need to be Occupied.
 
miscellany @7:47 and @9:31 made me realize how unusual my own experience has been. Either that or the effectiveness of those organizations -- from a research lab as a grad student to my current home in a CC decades later -- was due to treating everyone fairly. Staff and adjuncts (and grad students in the large research lab) join faculty at all big parties. That is the only world I have known.

But that isn't true even on other parts of this same CC campus, and for some reason the faculty in those areas don't seem as happy as we are. So maybe we aren't as altruistic as we might appear at first.


PS -
It would be nice to know if the comment about a grant proposal came from a CC or a badly managed university, and how many CC's have someone cross-trained to cover a critical job like that when the one person who handles all grants is gone for a two-week vacation. Ditto for administrative bloat. The 42 staff members for every 100 students at an R1 are mostly working on things that have nothing to do with undergrad education. The staff at a CC are almost always working on something that benefits students.
 
As a tenured faculty at a CC, this divide is kind of interesting... We have classes that run from 7:45 AM to 9:50 PM most of the week and on Saturdays. When staff folks schedule meetings, they are often either during teaching time or early in the morning, which isn't exactly a good time if you locked your classroom up around 10 PM... or plan to do so at 10 PM that evening.

Also, staff tend not to recognize the amount of evening and weekend time we spend grading, prepping, doing Course Management software work etc.. the same is the case with summers.

Calling in sick is pretty simple if you're staff, as is planning a vacation that isn't over a school break -- that isn't nearly as simple when you're faculty. Sure, most vacations can happen in off times, but since the rest of the world is on a 12 month calendar events happen then as well -- and having to use our scant personal days as opposed to the two or three weeks of vacation time that most staff here get, is kind of difficult... staff folks don't need the college president to aprove being off campus for more than 3 days...
 
I'm not as militant as Anon above, but I do agree that DD is very complacent about the brutality of the adjunct process.

On the other hand, adjuncts simply should try to find other jobs. I don't how better to say it. You aren't required to say yes to insulting, awful offers.
 
We have classes that run from 7:45 AM to 9:50 PM most of the week and on Saturdays. When staff folks schedule meetings, they are often either during teaching time or early in the morning, which isn't exactly a good time if you locked your classroom up around 10 PM.
Honest question--with a schedule like that, when would be a good time to have meetings?

Calling in sick is pretty simple if you're staff, as is planning a vacation that isn't over a school break -- that isn't nearly as simple when you're faculty.
It may differ from institution to institution, but at my workplace, it's pretty uncommon for staff to take a vacation that's not over a school break. Most of the staff offices serve students, so we need to be here when the students are here.
 
Anon 6:28--If you're so concerned about DD's disregard for adjuncts (and I really don't see it), you should start your own blog.

And I've gotta point out that during the summer, teachers are unpaid. That's different from "on vacation."

--Philip
 
I'm with 6:28. We are the 75%!
 
"The biggest failure of this blog is Dean Dad's almost willful desire to sweep the adjunctification of community college education under a Persian carpet of his alleged liberal sympathies."

"I'm not as militant as Anon above, but I do agree that DD is very complacent about the brutality of the adjunct process."


Past posts have illustrated DD's take on adjunctification, he's not a fan. To quote (empahsis mine):

Exhibit A: "Yes, public higher ed has some severe internal challenges. Some are self-inflicted, like tenure and the credit hour; others are externally imposed, like state cuts and the repeal of the mandatory retirement age. The internal culture only works when there’s growth; when there isn’t, we exploit the hell out of adjuncts to maintain the comfort of the superannuated."
Nov. 10, 2010.

Exhibit B: "Two-tier labor systems are relatively common when an industry is in decline. They're a way of splitting the difference between external necessity and internal politics. Basically, you buy off the opposition of the old so you can exploit the hell out of the young. (Put differently, you exploit the hell out of the young so you can afford to buy off the old.) In various forms – the adjunct trend, increased tenure requirements, ratcheted-up employee contributions to health insurance and retirement accounts – this has been the MO of higher ed in America for the last thirty years."
March 18, 2009

It's a nasty, exploitative system, and he's expressed his dislike of it many times.

He also argues that adjunctification arose for reasons of economic necessity, rather than greed or stupidity, and to fix the broken system will take addressing what creates those necessities. Take that how you will.
 
One of the lines drawn (and it is drawn in some of the comments above) is between faculty who work on evening and weekends and staff who apparently don't. I'm stunned by how often I hear faculty describe staff as working "only 9 - 5." I fear that some faculty misunderstand the nature of salaried professionals, who also work around the clock, answering emails on nights and weekends and managing campus events for student and alumni. Faculty are not the only ones who work irregular hours, and I admit that I often resent that they (not the ones I work with, but the ones I see posting on blogs and the Chronicle) seem to think they are exceptional in this regard.
 
"We exploit the hell out of adjuncts to maintain the comfort of the superannuated" is partly true. Who wants to argue that adjuncts are not exploited?

But it also assumes that the "superannuated" were somehow born with silver spoons in their mouths and that they have always been comfortable.

Almost all of the tenure-track full-time faculty at the cc where I work put in a few years, several years, many years of adjuncting. That's how we got our jobs: Experience and a demonstrated track record.

I spent fifteen years as a freeway flier. During that time, there wasn't a single full-time job opening at the cc where I was finally hired.

I'm not saying this is desirable, but I am saying it is what it is. It's the generation before people like me, folks who were hired 'way back in the 60s and early 70s, many of them hired over the telephone because cc's needed bodies NOW, who were the lucky ones.

People need to realize that the adjunctification of faculty isn't anything new. It began over 30 years ago. It IS getting worse, but many, even most, of us old-timers were victims, too. And many of us remain persistent critics of this trend.

--Philip
 
"He also argues that adjunctification arose for reasons of economic necessity, rather than greed or stupidity, and to fix the broken system will take addressing what creates those necessities."

That argument doesn't hold water, sadly. Adjunctification began, and continues, because adjuncts don't have unions and cannot shut down campuses when wages and working conditions become too awful. If a union was begun on his campus, I feel quite confident that DD would, regretfully, implement his superiors' union-breaking policies.

I'm not saying DD is a fan of adjunctification. I'm saying he's complacent. He doesn't view it as his problem, or relevant to him. It's just the way the world is, and he isn't obligated to do much of anything in response to it.
 
But adjuncts DO have unions in lots of places. Out here in CA, alomost all adjuncts have their own bargaining units, and others are members of wall-to-wall (both full-and part-timers)unions.

Results are mixed. It's easy to dismiss the lack of any real progress as "complacency," but DD is a realist: Budgets are finite (and decreasing), so it's a zero-sum game. If one group gets more, another gets less.

Sure, we could agree to pro rata salaries and benefits for part-timers, but that would mean that full-timers taking a huge salary cut--33%, 50%, who knows? I don't think anyone, even the most militant part-timer, would think that's a good idea.

It might sound complacent to some, but progress is going to be slow and incremental. At my campus, our union has part-timers on the executive board, the rep council, and the negotiating team.

Over the past 20 years, we've negotiated guaranteed interviews for full-time jobs, a seniority system that gives part-timers reemployment rights, and a salary schedule that pays part-timers anywhere from $5/hour to $10/hour MORE than full-timers who teach overload classes. During some recent hard times, part-timers got their classes BEFORE full timers got overload classes.

All this is still not good enough. We've tried to make our district the best district possible for part-time faculty, but they still don't earn what they deserve. And they won't as long as education is so miserably under-funded.

That's the reality. Nothing we can do at the local level will change things much. Real progress has to come from the state legislature and the federal government. Real change = real money.

--Philip
 
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