This essay on common final examinations as a means of teacher evaluation sounds good...up to a point. The point being when the subject under examination is not in mathematics or many of the science fields. In practice, most humanities courses have considerably more leeway in terms of content than a course in developmental algebra; to use an example from a recent discussion in my own department, a student who has taken intro to lit analysis with me should be able to tell the difference between a Shakespearean and a Petrarchan sonnet, but not every instructor builds basic poetic genres into the course. For that matter, not every instructor requires exams for this course (some prefer to use papers). And because this is the only course which could plausibly use a common exam to evaluate instructional quality--except for composition courses and the capstone seminar, we rarely run multiple sections of anything--we would have to standardize readings and technical content first. Or, I suppose, do essay exams (no objective section or short answers) asking students to close-read texts that they had never seen before. That's perfectly doable--I often ask students to demonstrate that they can transfer skills by giving them something new to work on--but again, if you haven't standardized the technical content, some students will still be more or less disadvantaged. The real pushback in the humanities would likely come from faculty who don't feel like having the contents of their courses dictated from on high (and certainly everything I've heard from instructors in such situations suggests that it's not much fun, to say the least!), not necessarily from faculty objecting to "evaluation."
Many years ago, I was teaching The Tempest to some freshmen. A few of them complained that they couldn't "relate" to the play. At which point, I wanted to jump on the nearest desk and yell that THERE WAS NO POSSIBLE REASON ON THIS GREEN EARTH THAT THEY SHOULD "RELATE" TO THE TEMPEST. It's The Tempest, for crying out loud, not a docudrama about being a college student in upstate NY. Which brings me around to the novelist DavidGilmour, who doesn't teach women writers because "I’m very keen on people’s lives who resemble mine because I understand those lives and I can feel passionately about them – and I teach best when I teach subjects that I’m passionate about." Indeed, when asked if he needs to "relate" to the works on his syllabus, he explains that "I believe that if you want to teach the way I want to teach, you have to be able to feel this stuff in your bones. Other teachers don’t, but I don’t think other teachers necessarily teach with the same degree of commitment and passion that I do – I don’t know." Putting aside the not so passive-aggressive critique of those "other teachers" out there, the ones who don't "feel this stuff," this account of what it means to invest in "people's lives who resemble mine" seems to skip a few steps.
So, as those of you who have been putting up with this here blog for nearly a decade know well, I write about Christians. Thanks to demographics, I also teach Christians. (Because it's pretty hard to be a Victorianist and get away from Christians. Even the agnostics and atheists are still thinking in Christian terms.) Even this semester, when I'm teaching a course about Judaism in the 19th-c. novel, I've still got a whole lot of Christians going on. Now, in case you hadn't noticed, I'm Jewish (the name does tend to be a giveaway, I find). And yet, I get all excited and intense about "my" Christian novelists (despite their frequent lack of, er, aesthetic flair), and I suspect that one of my colleagues may have regretted asking why I thought Bleak House was one of the great English novels of the nineteenth century (let's just say "expounded at some length and with much gesticulation"). But my life most emphatically does not "resemble" that of any Victorian novelist I can think of--in fact, my life doesn't resemble that of any nineteenth-century Jews, male or female.
"Relate" and "resemble" posit that the objects of relation or resemblance are static, objective categories. Take, for example, "I relate to George Eliot," or "my life resembles George Eliot's." What does that mean? That you have a longterm liaison with a man who cannot divorce his wife? That you are a successful intellectual with no "respectable" female friends, a moral arbiter considered immoral by much of the genteel world at large? That you write great novels? That you're actually kind of conservative? That you read everything in sight? All of the above? What? Or have you imagined a relation or resemblance into being, a spark of connection that has something, perhaps, to do with Eliot, but just as much with what you needed to find in Eliot? And if you grant that, then perhaps you can grant that there are other ways of thinking about one's "relation" to a work or author that do not rely on mental mirrors in order to work?
For many academics,much of the "passion" is about the non-resemblance, the non-relation. Even those who may be like me are not, necessarily, like me. (I don't think I have much in common with Amy Levy, let alone Grace Aguilar.) Even recovery work still derives from an awareness of the strange: I can enter into figurative dialogue with that "lost" Jewish woman novelist, now found again, but I cannot flatten her circumstances and mine together into an indistinguishable pulp. Historical continuity does not necessarily encompass identity or more than token resemblance. I have nothing in common with Charles Dickens, and could really do without his antisemitism. But I could go on all day about Bleak House...and teach it all day, too. The space between myself and a work has just as much passion and promise, it seems to me, as does any comforting relation.
I grew up observing Dad the Emeritus Historian of Graeco-Roman Egypt, who published at R1 rates while working at CSU Los Angeles, a campus where faculty carry a twelve-hour teaching load. As a result, I always assumed that the answer to that question was, well, why not? (At the very least, I learned to look askance at assumptions that such things were impossible.) Since then, I've spent 99% of my career at a comprehensive, where I have a nine-hour load. And, as my CV suggests, I've not had much difficulty when it comes to publishing, either. Still, some faculty at R1s have expressed shock/disbelief/bemusement that I seem to be writing quite so much.
The question, then, is: under what conditions does a tenure-track academic at a teaching institution also have an active research program?
As Hollis Phelps points out in the linked article, a teaching institution potentially offers one undeniable benefit: "a great deal of flexibility and self-determination regarding where and what I publish." Publish something, and everyone says, "yay!" Nobody scrutinizes your work to see that you have cited the Approved Sources; nobody cares if you decide, like one of my former colleagues, to change your research specialization from Renaissance literature to the Ancient Near East. (Granted, that's a bit drastic.) If, like yours truly, you found yourself attracted to a subject whose attractions are, I have been given to understand, not always immediately understandable, then you're still fine. (On the one hand, people are reading and citing my work; on the other, I have not yet detected a critical mass of scholars who yearn to specialize in not-always-aesthetically-pleasing Victorian religious fiction, although there are certainly more of us than before.)
That being said, most faculty who maintain active research profiles at teaching institutions also enjoy certain conditions:
There are books nearby. DtEHoGRE's home institution and actual home are within easy reach (OK, barring Southern CA traffic jams) of UCLA, UC Irvine, USC, and the Huntington Library. This is a dicier proposition for yours truly--the closest research library is the U of Rochester, which is not that big, and it's approximately 100 miles to Cornell--which means that I have a habit of scheduling vacations in the immediate vicinity of places with books in them, buying the books myself, or pestering ILL. However, lots of my research involves books accessible via the Holy Trinity of GoogleBooks, Archive.org, and HathiTrust, which helps immensely, and our library has also stepped up its eBook access.
There is at least some institutional support. We do have small travel grants, which at least cover airfare, and the campus rewards research with merit bonuses; there are also some bigger grants available on the basis of where you are in your career. Moreover, everyone supports faculty who have a research agenda. By contrast, I have met faculty who teach at places where research receives no acknowledgment whatsoever, or is even positively discouraged. (Many years ago, someone who teaches at a well-known SLAC told me a story about being attacked at his tenure review because he published actively.)
Committee work is not a graveyard. That should be self-explanatory.
Faculty-student ratio. During the semester/quarter, a nine- or twelve-hour load will occupy most of your time: there are lectures to prep, papers to grade, works to reread, students to meet. (Oh, and there are also endless committees to sit on.) Some of this can be ameliorated by relatively small class sizes, however.
Ability to carve out time. Phelps identifies "time management" as key, and there's absolutely no way around this: at a certain point, you have to decide to prioritize some things and not others. This may mean that there's no television in your life (hi), or that you take vacations near libraries (see above), or that you get up early in the morning/stay up late at night, every morning/every night. (The flip side of this is, again, that there's much less pressure to perform, and different standards for what constitutes a research program.) However...
...Cooperative family/spouse/SO. For this to work, everyone has to be on board, and many faculty will have necessary personal obligations on top of teaching that rightly override pursuing research. Babies, household maintenance, frail parents... (I'll add that being a singleton has its own set of problems in this situation, as I can't divide up the cooking, housework, maintenance, and geriatric cat care. This means that things just don't get done sometimes--well, aside from the geriatric cat care, as I'd be meowed at pretty harshly if I didn't keep the cats fed.) The cliche about "only so many hours" applies.
Choice of topic. Early on, my father advised me that at this type of institution, it was essential to find research topics that were actually doable under a lot of time constraints. Scholars who successfully meld working at a teaching institution with active publishing are frequently one-author specialists (e.g., a former colleague who wrote about William Beckford) or specialists in areas not occupied by a lot of other academics (hey there!); alternately, they become generalists or popularizers (e.g., the late Paul Zall). Moreover, there's much more room for textbook writing, as one of the commenters on Phelps' article points out, a field that has the distinction of, you know, occasionally turning a profit.
I've occasionally been asked if being at a non-R1 is professionally disadvantageous when it comes to scholarship. For the purposes of publishing, the answer seems to be "no" (just look at the affiliations listed in many book catalogs, even from prestigious publishers); for the purposes of grant acquisition, the anecdotal answer appears to be "sometimes"; for the purposes of networking, also "sometimes" (although I've only been snubbed to my face once on account of where I teach, thank goodness).
Between classes, I shelled out $5 to read the whole thing (abstract here), as they say.
The primary difficulty with this study is that it's not possible to extrapolate anything useful from it. To begin with, the title is "Are Tenure Track Professors Better Teachers?"; the study actually asks "Are Tenure Track Professors at Northwestern University Better Teachers at the Lower-Division Level?" (Answer: No.) I'm reminded of the joke about the book that starts out big in the main title, then turns into a hyper-specialized monograph after the colon--only here, there's no colon. As even the authors admit, "Northwestern University is one of the most selective and highly-ranked research universities in the world" (16), with predictable results both for the kind of students it serves (a mediocre student at NW may not be a mediocre student elsewhere) and the kind of non-TT faculty it hires. Northwestern is...Northwestern. One might expect similar outcomes from a study done at Harvard or Yale. Moreover, Northwestern's location not only makes it easy for the university to take its pick of Ph.D.s, ABDs, and MAs from other high-ranking research universities, like the University of Chicago, but also gives it access to a wide range of active professionals in other fields (business, the arts) who may adjunct as a sideline. It's not immediately clear to me that Rural Minor Branch Campus, lacking these amenities and with a very limited non-TT pool, will experience quite the same effects.
Of course, that being said, in one respect the results aren't surprising at all, for reasons that have nothing to do with the Platonic qualities of TT faculty as teachers. Teaching lower-division courses, especially large-scale lectures, is its own unique skill set. Pitching the subject properly (and making it attractive), organizing lectures for clarity, knowing what can't be included, speaking effectively to a more impersonal (because larger) audience, even changing how one uses gestures and body language...all of these things require practice. And if non-TT faculty are doing most of the lower-division teaching--and, at Northwestern, apparently often doing so for years--then it should shock no-one that they also wind up doing better at it than Professor X, who rotates into the lecture once every three or four semesters and otherwise hangs out with upper-division/graduate students. (Historical example: one of UCLA's acknowledged all-time great teachers was Albert Hoxie, a lecturer with an MA who specialized in the gigantic Western Civ survey. You can hear some of Hoxie's lectures here.) Cinderella's Fairy Godmother does not show up, chant "Bibbity-Bobbity-Boo," and magically equip either TT or non-TT faculty with lower-division instructional skills. At the same time, non-TT faculty at Northwestern are also not performing under the same conditions as non-TT faculty at, say, Underpaying Community College or Budget-Crunched Comprehensive, given far better pay and greater continuity of employment.
1. What to do about the ritual of recommendation letters? The USA has a very particular (or peculiar, take your pick) letter-writing culture: it is unacceptable to say anything negative about the candidate or the candidate's project, unless there is something so sublimely awful that even the least delicate of souls would quail at the prospect of sharing a department with said individual. Even then, the negative observations are likely to be couched in dainty euphemisms, lest the candidate be sneaky and do an end-run around the confidentiality waiver. By contrast, letters from across the pond tend to be, shall we say, bracing in their judgments. ("Fascinating project! Utterly without merit from start to finish, but still, nice try.") Even helpful letters have to be carefully parsed: is this the standard-issue canonization letter, or genuine praise? In my experience of reading these things, I can think of very few instances in which a candidate's viability was materially affected by his/her letters of rec in either direction.
There's something to be said for the committee phoning instead of the recommender writing, despite the obvious logistical problems--you need to get two (or, depending on your HR rules, three) people in the same place for about thirty minutes in order to run through a thorough script. However, the advantages are all on the side of the committee & the recommender, not the candidate: there's no way for graduate directors to vet the recs beforehand, no way to do the aforementioned sneaky end-run around the confidentiality waiver (which you shouldn't do! but people do it anyway!), and no way to recover if the professor waxes nostalgic about that time you led a discussion section while spinning a hula hoop and wearing purple-and-orange striped socks.
I think one can overstate the extent to which "famous name" recommendations are helpful--some famous names write consistently terrible/superficial recs. That being said, a candidate further along in his/her career should start acquiring letters from people not on their doctoral committee. (And update the letters: it does raise red flags if the letters are from, say, five or even ten years ago.)
I'm all in favor, however, of capping the number of rec letters at three.
2. Strange as it may seem, you should, in fact, come to class during the first week. Odd, I know. I have missed the first day of class twice in my career, both times because the relevant airport was under several feet of snow and I was trapped somewhere else (moral of the story: I return from winter break much earlier). But I'm reminded of the professor from my undergraduate days who had this unfortunate reputation for coming to class and announcing, "You know, I just don't feel like teaching today." Students: THANKS FOR BEING SO "PROFESSIONAL," AND WE'LL BE TAKING A VACATION NOW.
3. No, no, not the sex thing again. The LP has by now earned a reputation for being a cranky young fogey when it comes to the "why can't we have fun sexy-times with people half our ages" crew. Intellectual excitement does not necessarily equate to the excitement of other regions of the body, despite all the poetic sighs about academic "erotics." In any event, I'm baffled by the persistent belief that saying "no, no sexy-times with the students" means "you believe that all students are LITTLE INNOCENT BABIES, and must be protected from MEAN EVIL PROFESSORS, and isn't that infantilizing?!" Indicating the existence of a power imbalance does not mean that the person with the shorter stick is a child, let alone that the indicator is a rampaging Podsnapper. It means that the person with a shorter stick is likely to bear an unequal burden when the end is nigh and sexy-times have turned into recrimination-times. Some people have more institutional oomph than others, and that matters. Yes, this does mean that there are times when even those in the grips of Pure Twoo Luv may have to restrain themselves temporarily, because rules necessary to protect the general may conflict with the desires of the particular. But, as Louise Antony bluntly reminds us, most serial-student-sexers will never be officially reprimanded. Moreover, fun sexy-times do not occur in a vacuum; other students notice and wonder, sometimes correctly, about the concrete effects on their own prospects. If there's truly a grand passion, it can wait until the student has actually graduated, changed majors, or otherwise passed out from under the relevant faculty member's purview. It's called maturity and delayed gratification, both of which, I have been given to understand, are old-fashioned conservative values.
This is the reading list for the graduate seminar I'm teaching this seminar on "Judaism & 19th-C. British Fiction." The course is intended to give a cross-section of nineteenth-century writings about and by Jews, covering a range of attitudes from philosemitic to antisemitic (and Jews' responses to these positions), and addressing how Jews figure in a range of intersecting stories about identity (secular and religious), conversion, assimilation, and nationhood. Students were asked to come into class having read The Merchant of Venice, as the Shylock/Jessica relationship often lurks behind nineteenth-century representations of Jewish domesticity (and conversion). The course does not otherwise presuppose that students will know anything about Judaism (guess what the first session will be about?), although I don't think there's anything on the syllabus likely to provoke as many "huh? what?" responses as Jacob Gordin's The Jewish King Lear, which I taught last year. It will be interesting to see how the more didactic novels go over with the graduate students.
Harrington unit (1 session):
Maria Edgeworth, Harrington (and correspondence with Rachel Mordecai Lazarus)
Excerpt from Todd M. Endelman, The Jews of Britain: 1656-2000
Excerpt from Michael Ragussis, Figures of Conversion: The "Jewish Question" and English National Identity
Neville Hoad, “Maria
Edgeworth’s Harrington: The Price of
Ivanhoe unit (2 sessions):
Walter Scott, Ivanhoe
Excerpt from Frank Felsenstein, Anti-Semitic Stereotypes: A Paradigm of Otherness in English Popular Culture, 1650-1830
Excerpt from Ragussis, Figures
W. M. Thackeray, Rebecca and Rowena
Oliver Twist unit (2 sessions)
Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist
Excerpt from Endelman, Jews of Britain
Meyer, “Antisemitism and Social Critique in Dickens’ ‘Oliver Twist’”
Conversion narrative unit (1 session)
Aguilar, The Perez Family
Osborne W. Henery Treighway, Leila Ada
Excerpt from Michael Galchinsky, The Origin of the Modern Jewish Woman Writer
Excerpt from Nadia
Valman, The Jewess in Nineteenth-Century
British Literary Culture
Excerpt from Ragussis, Figures
Daniel Deronda unit (4 sessions)
George Eliot, Daniel Deronda
David Kaufmann, George Eliot and Judaism: An Attempt to Appreciate "Daniel Deronda"
E. A. Germains, Left to Starve, and No
One Wants the Blame
Amy Levy, Reuben Sachs
Excerpt from Bryan Cheyette, Constructions of 'the Jew' in English Literature and Society
Excerpt from Susan Meyer, Imperialism at Home: Race and Victorian Women's Fiction
Excerpt from Nancy Henry, George Eliot and the British Empire
Via discussion on Twitter, I was led to an article by Salman Khan, the founder of Khan Academy, which included this little gem:
Today students in most classrooms sit, listen and take notes while a professor lectures. Despite there being anywhere from 20 to 300 human beings in the room, there is little to no human interaction. Exams often offer the first opportunity for the professor to get real information on how well the students digested the knowledge. If the test identifies gaps in students' understanding of a basic concept, the class still moves on to a more advanced concept.
Virtual tools are providing an opportunity to rethink this methodology. If a lecture is available online, class time can be freed for discussion, peer tutoring or professor-led exploration. If a lecture is removed from class time and we have on-demand adaptive exercises and diagnostics, there is no need to continue the factory model inherited from 19th-century Prussia—where students are pushed together at a set tempo. Instead students can progress at their own pace and continue to prove their knowledge long after the formal course is over.
You are hereby invited to insert a loooooong, drawn-out sigh at this point in the post.
Did you hear the sigh? Good.
I am not going to say that there are no faculty anywhere, in any discipline, who stand in front of the class and lecture in a monotone while the students play games on their cellphones obediently record their words of wisdom. In fact, I can well imagine that there are some disciplines in which this scenario occurs on a regular basis. But. When I was an undergraduate at UC Irvine from far too long ago 1988-92, I spent most of my time in lecture courses (40-75 or so students) with the older, more "traditional" professors, and none of them taught this way. I repeat: none of them taught this way. There was always interaction, in the form of questions, discussion, etc. (sometimes aided by TAs). Moreover, there were papers (because, well, English department). There were quizzes. We were neither sitting there passively nor playing games on our cellphones (OK, we weren't doing that because that was the pre-cellphone era, but you know what I mean). And there was this fascinating concept known as "office hours," of which I availed myself on a reasonably regular basis. Moreover, when I took courses outside the English department, thanks to that phenomenon known as "GE requirements," those faculty also expected us to utilize our vocal cords in a useful manner.
A-ha, readers cry! That was an R1 with a well-off student body! Well, then, wander on over to my regional comprehensive. If you walked into one of my classes, you would find that a lot of my lectures involve me asking lots and lots of questions of the students--and most pedagogical theory types would consider me a pretty traditionalist sort of prof. (And when I'm teaching poetry, I'm usually extemporizing from marginal notes in order to get around the "droning in front of the classroom" issue; I use written notes for longer works or for presentations with lots of factual material.) The students do regular group work, they do oral presentations (group and individual), they write essays, they take quizzes, and, more recently, they also post to a wiki. We are already doing discussion in the classroom. I don't know if the problem here is a bias towards science instruction; it's certainly not news to commentators on humanities instruction that our classrooms come "flipped," as it were. Now, certainly there are real issues with students operating at different levels of achievement or preparation, but even those aren't insurmountable in a face-to-face situation (tutoring, tailoring grading to individual progress, office hours, etc.).
May I engage in what I'm sure qualifies as sexual banter with a graceful intellectual tinge?
I'm a [insert ideological position/minority/disadvantaged group here]. May I proposition, flirt with, or otherwise engage in sexual banter with a graceful intellectual tinge with my students?
Students are adults! Given the realities of my academic life, they're my primary dating pool! Why can't I do 1-3 above?
Unless you're a Vulcan in the throes of pon farr, and will die unless you have sex immediately, you can wait until the student is either a) not your student or b) not in any way under your control. That is, assuming that your institution does not prohibit faculty/student relationships altogether.
I only flirt/proposition/banter as part of an "experimental learning endeavour." It's a matter of "academic freedom"!
I don't quite see "the right to sexual self-gratification, direct or indirect" anywhere in the AAUP's statement on academic freedom. And shocking as it may seem, most students find other methods of educational development and intellectual stimulation more helpful.
Why don't students have a "sense of humor" about sex?
Students do have a sense of humor about sex. They're not required to think your attempts to gratify yourself at their expense are particularly funny.
If this goes on, we'll never be able to mention sex in class again!
I'm guessing that there are historians of sexuality on your campus. Perhaps you might inquire how they manage to teach their classes without being fired?
One of the more logical things to do while giving one final exam is to grade another final exam. Efficiency, use of time, and all that. This proceeding does, however, have certain dangers. The instructor must refrain from shaking her fist at the heavens, grimacing, laughing, and/or any other overt expressions of disapproval. It is also advisable to be what you could call professional. During one final exam of my innocent undergraduate years, I found myself watching the instructor while I briefly rested my overworked right hand. A student had finished up early, so he took the exam, flipped it open, and started marking it. After the first couple of pages, he stopped marking it, flipped all the way to the end to see if the student had finished, and then wrote a grade inside the bluebook cover. (Bear in mind that I was still just resting my hand; he wasn't exactly devoting hours to the exercise, or even minutes.) At that moment, it occurred to me that I could spend the rest of the exam expounding on Star Trek: The Next Generation instead of poetry, and still get a good grade. I didn't, but it was tempting.
I'm teaching Rupert Brooke's "The Soldier" today (a reliable sign that semester's end is nigh), and am once again reminded of how an English exchange student I had about three years ago reacted to the poem.
We were talking about "The Soldier"'s Wordsworthian evocation of nature's beauties and spiritual effects--not least of how the poem defines England strictly in terms of the pastoral. By this point, the student was rolling her eyes a bit, but when we got to the apparently perpetual "suns of home," not to mention all those flowers and non-freezing rivers, she could no longer restrain herself. Was England really this spring-like all the time?