Job Hunts In Two-Faculty Households

The following guest post was contributed to ACRLog by a colleague who prefers to remain anonymous. The ACRLog team thanks this individual for submitting the post:

One of the first things I read after I woke up this morning was an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education entitled “Two Careers, One Job Offer” by a pseudonymous Ph.D. who last month decided with her husband to turn down his job offer at an institution that happens to have a program in his field but not hers. Not that extraordinary, I supposed, until I read further to discover that her husband’s search committee went to such lengths as arranging meetings between her and “more department heads than I would have guessed could exist at the university.” Even though they didn’t have a position in her field, they tried to find her a fit. Still, no solution presented itself. “In the end, the university could offer me little more than an office and an affiliation. It also offered a year’s salary and assurances that it would work hard to keep helping me.” After some soul-searching by the author and great effort by the search committee, the couple decided, as her husband told her, that “this isn’t good enough for you.”

I had not even experienced caffeine at this point in the morning. But I was alert enough to know something was amiss. You see, my spouse and I are both librarians with academic backgrounds. Indeed, we have always known that in order for us both to have viable careers in our chosen profession, we must consider only those institutions with multiple libraries or with other nearby academic institutions. When we have had the opportunity for one of
us to apply to work in the other’s library, we’ve decided (wisely, we think) not to insert our own relationship into the workplace.

We have found it odd over the years when we’ve heard of institutions helping to find jobs for spouses of non-librarian faculty, while we’ve experienced only well wishes when a spouse is dealing with layoffs, temporary jobs, low pay, no benefits, and/or abusive supervisors. We haven’t even been able to get interviews for clerical jobs within those institutions. The funny thing is that we’ve expected nothing more. As I read through the article this morning, I was shocked at the sense of entitlement that the author (a new Ph.D.) seemed to feel. What puzzles me most is the idea that an office, an affiliation, and a year’s salary are not good enough to satisfy this entitlement which is expected when one’s spouse is offered a faculty position.

In every academic librarian position we’ve held, we have been full members of the faculty. Of course, there are always hints from other faculty and administrators that librarians aren’t “real faculty.” But it has never hit home like it did this morning. If this is the way it really operates for “real faculty,” we librarians must have a lot of catching up to do. When we get offers for library faculty positions, should we be negotiating, not only for moving expenses or conference travel funds, but also for customized faculty positions for our partners? Somehow I think we’d be laughed off the campus.

After reading this, I never needed the caffeine today.

Is the Intinerant Academic Librarian In Our Future

On Monday, December 12 several higher education news sources and metropolitan papers (here and here) reported on the AAUP’s 2006 Contingent Faculty Index. According the the AAUP site, “the Index provides data to document the increasing predominance of non-tenure-track faculty in America’s colleges and universities. This report draws on figures submitted by institutions to the US Department of Education’s IPEDS database for fall 2005”. I don’t think anyone who works at a higher education institution is surprised by the report’s finding that the number of part-time instructors is on the increase while the number of full-time tenured faculty is on the decrease. That is a continuation of an on going trend. But what did seem to open eyes a little wider this time is the revelation that 62% of all faculty teaching at IHEs are OFF the tenure track. That seems like an astoundingly high number of non-tenure track faculty, and the data showed that this isn’t limited to community colleges. A number of prestigious institutions showed surprisingly high numbers of non-tenure track positions. Contingent faculty, by the way, is a combination of non-tenure track full-time faculty (at many institutions faculty in certain curriculum, such as design or the arts, can opt for a non-tenure track status) and part-time faculty.

Members of the ACRLog blog team exchanged some messages about what the numbers mean for academic librarians. Consider that we often hear that approximately 50% of academic librarians are on the tenure-track or have tenure. Barbara Fister cited the following as the best published statistic available: a supplementary survey to the ACRL statistics for 1999, reported that 43.6% of institutions reporting (BA – PhD granting institutions) said librarians were covered by the same tenure policies as other faculty. So assuming the number of tenure-track librarians are between 43% and 50%, you could come to the conclusion that you actually have a better chance to be on the tenure track if you are an academic librarian, and not a faculty member, these days. Lisa Hinchliffe raised a good question. She asked if the AAUP numbers include academic librarians in the faculty data. I contacted Dr. John Curtis, the lead author of the Index report, to ask him if academic librarians with faculty status are included in the report data. The answer is no, they are not. He provided me with the following rationale for the exclusion of academic librarians:

Previously, in IPEDS, institutions could classify Librarians and Counselors as either Faculty or Other professionals (support/service), however, institutions must now classify Librarians and Counselors in IPEDS as ‘other professionals’ (support/service) only. According to that rule, librarians would not be included in the data we reported. There is always the possibility that the individual(s) submitting the data did not read the instructions closely and included librarians in the faculty section, but this is the way the data were to be reported.

So however you feel about academic librarians being excluded or how you interpret their exclusion, the bottom line is that the numbers in the report don’t reflect tenure-track library faculty. If it did, the numbers might actually look better at some institutions. Consider Pennsylvania State University, for example, that has a large number of tenured and tenure-track librarians. Penn State’s total percent of contingent faculty was 47.8%. Had they included their full-time tenured librarians in the calculation that number would certainly be lower.

Marc Meola brought his usual “from a different angle” perspective to the numbers by questioning the validity of “part-time faculty”. He pointed out that since many part-time faculty fall into the category of “itinerant faculty” or adjuncts who carry the equivalent of a full-time teaching position by taking on courses at multiple institutions, the numbers of part-time faculty are misleading. While I guess you could make that case philosophically, from the perspective of how part-time faculty is defined by IPEDs for data collection, there’s no getting around the fact that any instructor who isn’t teaching full time at a single institution is part-time by definition. But there’s no denying that one of the primary reasons for the increase in contingent faculty is the over supply of qualified PhDs who are unable to land a full-time position, and who end up eking out a living teaching at several different institutions. This enables IHEs to replace full-time faculty slots with part-time slots. Of course, not every part-time instructor falls into the category of itinerant faculty. We all know our institutions bring in many full-time professionals who only want to teach a course or two to supplement their income or simply for the joy of teaching. I’m sure this is the case with many full-time librarians who are adjunct instructors teaching a course or two at their local LIS program.

Marc and I debated whether our institutions could just as easily create a new class of itinerant academic librarians. Why couldn’t they, I posed, just force library administrators to fill open full-time faculty slots with two or three part-time librarians. Then we’d have librarians that work 20 hours or less each week for reference duty, to lead some instruction sessions, to develop the collection, or whatever could accomodate a part-time existence. The future academic library might consist of a core of full-time administrators and department heads leading a much larger number of itinerant librarians who carry multiple part-time positions at several area institutions. If they can do it to faculty, then why not us? Marc made a good point about why it’s not likely – at least not yet. It’s the numbers. While there are certainly always librarians looking for academic positions, it’s not comparable to the vast numbers of unemployed PhDs who are clinging to the hope that even a part-time position could lead to a full-time tenure track position. Any IHE that thought its library could viably run on a crew of part-timers would likely find itself unable to fill all the positions it would need to keep the library running. But will that keep academic librarians as a protected class for the extended future? Will our institutions look for ways to further erode the numbers of librarians in tenure-track positions as the AAUP reports has happened with faculty? But for now, if you work at an IHE and you are looking for a tenure-track position, you may just actually be better off as a librarian than a faculty member. Let’s see how long that lasts.

Putting The Blame For Plagiarism On Faculty

The Chronicle Wired Blog points to an article in which the author takes faculty to task for plagiarism. She claims that “indulgent lecturers” fan the flames of plagiarism by spoonfeeding students too many handouts and powerpoint slides that condition them to just take whatever information they have available and integrate that into their writing with little critical thought or analysis – not to mention actual notetaking, reading of texts or the use of research techniques that go beyond mere cutting and pasting of internet content (including library database articles).

I would agree that faculty do bear some of the burden for the increase in plagiarism, but I don’t think it has as much to do with their teaching methods as it does with the way in which research assignments are designed and conducted throughout a course. Handouts and slides have their places as teaching tools, although as academic librarians we often see some serious cases of “death by powerpoint” (I refer primarily to students printing out the massive slide sets that typically come with textbooks or course cartridges). As with all other teaching techniques it comes down to whether it’s being used appropriately or plain old abused.

If there is any one area in which faculty complacency is apt to lead students to plagiarize, most academic librarians, I think, would more likely to point to assignments that lack the appropriate guidelines (pointing students to acceptable resources), statements of expectations (or rubrics that make it clear that more than cut and paste research is needed to achieve a good grade) or a research plan for the course that creates review points, the submission of bibliographies and drafts, and other steps to keep students from simply cutting and pasting together the standard ten page paper the night before the assignment is due. Many of us offer faculty development workshops to help our instructors create more plagiarism-proof assignments, but far too few take us up on them. Perhaps the continuing flood of articles that indicate how pervasive plagiarism is becoming will cause more faculty to take action, but I fear that many more will just continue to assume the institution’s plagiarism detection software will take care of the problem.

Are Your Faculty “Library-Ready”?

Tomorrow’s Professor has posted a piece asking its faculty readers a very interesting question: Are You a 21st-Century, Library-Ready Instructor?.

Reading this piece took me back to my days in library school, during which I balanced my LIS studies (and work in the Indiana University Libraries) with my ongoing responsibilities as an instructor for the IU School of Education. I don’t know if I ever had a learning experience in any of my LIS classes as powerful as the one I had on the day that I watched my undergraduate teacher education students in the Education Library trying to conduct research for the paper I had assigned them. I had been giving that assignment for 4 years, and I thought I had honed it to crystal clarity. Watching my students struggle to define their research topics and to locate resources in the library, I realized that my “crystal clear” assignment was virtually opaque to the average undergraduate. Very humbling. I was not yet, evidence suggested, a “library-ready instructor” (I’m much better now, of course)!

Reading the discussion of faculty perceptions of information commons projects and other library renovations aimed at enhancing the library experience for contemporary undergraduates also reminded me strongly of debates we’ve had on our own campus, where, just as in this article, commitments to renovate and improve user space have dovetailed with a review of our serial allocations (the piece does not make the critical distinction between one-time money and serial commitments, but why nit-pick?). The authors suggestions about how to pitch the information commons as an opportunity for instructional innovation – one in which classroom faculty members and librarians can collaborate closely – were also very familiar, as they are very much like those we have used here at Kansas over the past 2 years to promote use of the Collaborative Learning Environment designed by a committee with representatives from the Libraries, IT, Instructional Development & Support, and the Center for Teaching Excellence (anyone who is interested in what that looks like, and who has access to ECAR publications, can find a short discussion of the CLE in the EDUCAUSE library).

“Is the library information commons a frill, or can it be an essential tool for teaching the 21st century learner?” The answer is, of course, that it can be an essential tool if classroom faculty and librarians work together to make sure that it is used that way, and this piece gives the reader a nice way of looking at things.

One Way to Set Higher Expectations

Student: I just handed in a 20 page paper. My professor took a big scissor out of her drawer and cut it up. I have to do it over.
Librarian: She really took out a scissor?
Student: For real. She was like Freddy Krueger. I’ll never use Wikipedia again. Did you know there’s misinformation in there and anyone can contribute to it?
Librarian: I’ve heard that.
Student: I need to find some primary sources and scholarly books and articles.

Later…

Student: You’ve helped me so much. I wish I came here 2 weeks ago, my life would be a lot different right now.