In the last weeks, the big school across town achieved a high rank in two enviable, practical areas – the amount of actual education (required core courses) and as a place to recruit for the work place. These are, I suspect, not unrelated. And partially we help – a good chunk of those core courses are taught and taken with us; our tuition is cheaper, class sizes smaller, and teachers of those basics more mature and often more degreed. Everything isn’t bad across town – nor here.
Our services will be more in demand as the cost-cutting across town decimates the corps of undergraduate teachers – lecturers, part-timers, grad students. The rubber is about to hit the road – or the bubble burst, as bloggers suspect. I’ve got mixed feelings – my daughters’ spouses – and to some extent the girls themselves – have made choices that seemed to inevitably lead to academia. While they have enjoyed the ride, the skills aren’t necessarily transferable.
Last weekend, we stood around, as one of his colleagues was about to introduce my husband; his brief talk was from a European conference & was now to an audience of exchange grad students. Pretty typical moment – if at the Kolache Festival. One of his colleagues complained about our governor, politicians using budget shortfalls to do what “they’d always wanted to do.” As the professor pointed out, by the standards of the knife-wielders, the first to go were those doing what the politicians said they wanted – teaching lower level & larger classes. He said this with contempt – as if the politicians were so stupid, they didn’t realize the consequences.
Our governor may be stupid; so may be those who advise him. I doubt they are making those specific decisions – their argument is that the university budget can’t keep increasing in bad years. I suspect some of them & some of the lower level decision-makers aren’t wise nor as concerned with the average student as they might be. But, I asked, what else could they do? The prospect they saw was of black balling, of articles in The Chronicle of Higher Education decrying this hick school’s anti-intellectualism, and, finally, inevitably, decades spent in legal battles. Those hard-working plebian lecturers can’t sue.
Few tenure track faculty teach more than 4 classes a year; a large percentage teach one or two. Part of the cost cutting in his department may make it impossible for my husband to keep editing the journal that he has taken in hand, improving timeliness, enlarging readership. But if he can’t do that because he will no longer have an assistant, will no longer have a course reduction, well, that’s fair. He wouldn’t have taken on this job if he hadn’t been given those perqs – but they aren’t what he was hired to do. Introducing him, another colleague pointed out that this wasn’t my husband’s day job, although he’d published several books in that area. I’m proud of his level of productivity, but he is aware – as am I – he couldn’t have done that if he’d been spending the years running the business I did (which fed a dozen or more people) or teaching five sections a semester, as now I do. We are both happy with the choices we’ve made, but. . . He and his colleagues, once they have tenure, can indulge their intellectual interests. I wouldn’t argue that isn’t often a good thing. (Though that they believe Obama is an intellectual and Palin an idiot makes me wonder about the strength of their analytic skills, let alone their beliefs Marx has a greater grasp on economics than Hayek and Castro on sensitivity than Bush.) But that others should subsidize such study in hard times is probably too much to expect.
My husband’s response to his colleague was that he had often thought how cushy their jobs were, how lucky he was. You can take the boy off the farm, but he remembers the calluses. And he knows he’s lucky to get paid to talk about the Victorian sages and the Battle of White Mountain; he knows he’s lucky to have a professional job that may not pay as much as some other professional jobs – but those are jobs that require a good deal more time and effort. His has been a pretty good life. And it will probably not end all that badly – we aren’t far from retirement. But life is not going to be as cushy for the next generation. For that I feel some guilt, some sympathy. Life isn’t fair. But this just wasn’t going to go on forever. His colleagues may think it should, but I have my doubts. And I have no doubt it won’t. Education will, research will, life will. What is eternal about what we do will continue. But the form will be different. Maybe better. Maybe not. We’ll find out in the next few years.