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(Rate Your Students)
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and Soltan isn't. For the life of me, I can't figure out her
politics, but she's pretty fabulous, so who gives a damn?"
(Tenured Radical)

Monday, May 24, 2004


How can the website Tightly Wound [] describe "the tenureds" as smugly complacent bastards [See recent UD post, The Smug Tenureds (14/5)], and the University of Kansas have attained this result when it polled them? [From 21/5]:

The results [of the poll] -- which, among other things, show strong dissatisfaction with salary rates -- likely will be used as evidence to lobby the Legislature for pay raises.

"We've moved beyond anecdotal evidence," said Lloyd Sponholtz, chairman of KU's University Council.

The survey was the product of the Council of Faculty Senate Presidents, which is made of faculty leaders from the six state universities. It was completed online by 1,422 faculty members across the state, or about 35 percent.

Sixty-four percent of respondents said they "moderately disagreed" or "strongly disagreed" that their salaries were reasonable. At KU, the number was 66 percent.
But Sponholtz also noted that only 29 percent of faculty statewide -- and 31 percent at KU -- said they agreed with the statement, "Overall, I am satisfied with my job."

...[A] third of respondents statewide were "actively seeking" another job. ...[O]nly 16 percent of statewide faculty -- and 14 percent at KU -- strongly or moderately agreed that faculty morale is high.

Janice DeBauge, chairwoman of the Kansas Board of Regents, said she thought the survey would help show legislators the connection between low salaries and low morale.
"This survey gives us very good information to support us on that," she said.
Kim Wilcox, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at KU, said he didn't think there were any particularly alarming results in the survey.

"Our numbers look like everybody else's," he said. "This isn't just a problem at KU. I would suggest it's a statewide issue or a national issue in higher education."

Which are we? Self-satisfied sons of bitches or demoralized mendicants? Insupportable emissaries from the world of winner-take-all, or les miserables?

Your blogeuse is not sure how to go about attempting to answer this. She and her husband, both tenured professors, are happy in their work, but they are only two. I suppose if you polled our respective universities, you'd get levels of discontent similar to those of Kansas.

So maybe UD, an outlier in the business of faculty happiness, is not the one to solve this puzzle. But for what it's worth, her own observations of American university professors in all sorts of institutions confirm the Kansas study's finding of discontent.

An interviewer [Minnesota Review, 2001] once said to Stanley Fish, "In my academic job, the material conditions are the best I've experienced [in any job], but the ethos isn't..." Here and there on UD I've already suggested some elements of an answer to this mystery of good working conditions and deep professorial discontent. I've noted, for instance, the professoriate's widely shared equation of intelligence and anguish - only stupid (often religious) people who don't understand anything are happy. I've also talked about the toxic effects upon many of these people of years of psychotherapy and general hyper-self-consciousness.

But a more important source of discontent is a loss of faith in one's life work. "The sad news," Andrew Delbanco wrote about English professors a few years back in The New York Review of Books (available at the website) "is that teachers of literature have lost faith in their subject and in themselves. ... English today exhibits the contradictory attributes of a religion in its late phase — a certain desperation to attract converts, combined with an evident lack of convinced belief in its own scriptures and traditions."

I know a woman, now in her nineties, who devoted an illustrious university career to the gardens of ancient Pompeii. Long retired from decades as a demanding, inspiring teacher, she is still publishing books on her subject. She only recently stopped spending her summers in Italy. She lives in the same pleasant small house with a large garden of her own design and labor that she's lived in most of her adult life. She was never unhappy with her salary because she lived moderately, and she was never unhappy with life because she loved her field of study and had the freedom and resources to pursue it with the whole-hearted intelligence that continues to generate the admiration of colleagues and students. She never lost faith in her subject because the value of understanding details of human history was never in doubt for her, just as the value of understanding humanity as it obliquely reveals itself in great literature should never be in doubt for English professors.

Many professors have lost the focus upon what matters that this woman embodies.

In short - and I know it's not much - but I'd begin answering the problem of demoralized faculty by saying that if you piss your soul away on prestige items, and at the same time become hostage to hollow ideas, you'll certainly see your mood-o-meter plummet.