TL;DR It is time for academics, particularly those in a community college environment, to define a brand new model for teaching and learning that has the same status as private practice for medicine, law, art, healthcare, consulting, and numerous other occupations. The community college environment has become so disorganized and complicated due to mission creep and administrative overreach that its mission is no longer clearly defined. We, those who do the work, must change this. It will not be easy.
This post and series is mostly directed to community college faculty, but please feel free to read on if you are in a different population because I think the thesis applies to other populations. Here we go.
Doctors do it. Coaches do it. Attorneys do it. Accountants do it. Horticulturists do it. Artists do it. Musicians do it. Why not college faculty? To which “it” am I referring? Teaching.
Over the past decade I have noticed too many of my community college faculty colleagues, and not just in my discipline, reduced to unvalued automatons rendered instantly replaceable and unnecessary for the jobs we were ostensibly duly hired to do based on their professional qualifications and experience. I propose a brief quiz.
- Are you told how you must grade in your classes?
- Are you told that you must use a particular textbook because another college uses it?
- Are you told that you must “cover” certain content because another college does?
- Are you told how you must present course content?
- Are you told you CAN’T include certain content because some another college doesn’t?
- Are you told your learning outcomes MUST match that of another college or even those of another instructor teaching the same course?
- Are you told your professional society’s official recommendations (in my case the American Association of Physics Teachers) should be ignored?
- Are you prohibited from offering certain courses because your state’s university system doesn’t formally “approve” the course despite there being an audience for it?
- Are you an adjunct who must work at multiple campuses?
- Do faculty in other disciplines get to vote on your choice of textbooks and other curricular materials?
- Is your community college, a teaching environment, hiring more PhDs to fill teaching positions that don’t require research experience, thus taking jobs away from fully qualified faculty without a PhD?
- Do your administrators quote accreditation criteria, state laws, or other widespread policies when you push back or question their decisions instead of realistically justifying those decisions?
- Do your administrators mock you?
- Are your class sizes too large for authentic solutions to problems like cheating culture, assessment, or other aspects of classroom culture?
- Are you subjected to biased, and possibly illegal, “evaluations” despite having been duly hired for your present position? Are you “evaluated” by people with no experience in what you do? Are you subjected to “evaluations” by unqualified evaluators (e.g. students or administrators)?
- Are you subjected to corporate management models that hold you accountable for unattainable goals (e.g. “there’s always room for improvement” and similar nonsense)?
- Does your institution keep hiring more and more administrators who don’t go through the same hiring process that faculty must endure?
- Has your college catered to high school students to the point where a double digit percentage of your student body consists of high school students rather than real college students? If we wanted to teach in the public schools we would be there rather than here.
- Have you spent money out of your own pocket for classroom supplies, lab equipment, professional journals, or professional society memberships and can’t get reimbursed?
- Do your administrators arrogantly assume, as in the business world, that you are available to them by text or phone or email 24/7 even when you are off contract?
If you answered yes to any of these question, then I suggest you may be working at a teaching mill. You are being professionally disrespected, rendered useless for the very job description that was used to evaluate your eligibility for your current position, denied your rightful academic autonomy, and have no genuine purpose at your institution other than to generate revenue by standing in front of classes presenting someone else’s content. I should know. I’ve been subjected to almost all of these things at one time or another (and subjected to some even now). One coworker even asked me, “So if the State doesn’t give you your learning outcomes, who decides what your students learn?” That is probably the most disrespectful and unprofessional question I have ever been asked (and I have a list of them all). My reply was, “I do. That’s precisely what I was hired to do.” The look of shock in response was funny, but sad.
A system that is working as designed to give the appearance of being a “broken system” cannot be fixed. The solution, then, is to create a new system. All of the professions listed at the beginning of this post have one thing in common. They all provide their services in private practice. Doctors need not be attached to a hospital or other medical facility. Accountants need not work for a corporation. Horticulturists need not work for a country club. Artists frequently have private studios, and of course musicians can thrive giving private lessons (I did that in college). Let’s also not forget the coaches who train Olympic athletes. At the top of my list of professions that use the private practice model are attorneys. They don’t have to be associated with a law school just to practice law. They get to choose their clients. They decide their own fees. They basically get to decide who gets their services. That can be both good and bad, but it is nevertheless the reality. And while I am personally most interested in college teaching, I want to suggest that teaching at any level is at least important to society as practicing medicine or law. I want to further suggest a new model in which an individual need not be affiliated with any institution, public or private, to provide their professional services.
You may very well, and correctly, counter with the fact that teaching indeed is not perceived as being at the same level as medicine or law, and I suggest that now is a good time to start a process of changing that perception. I also suggest using every tactic available whether it is psychologically appealing or not. It begins with us, in our classrooms (seated or virtual). In the past when students have asked me to do unethical things (like change a grade), I immediately respond by asking if they would ask a doctor to falsify their medical record. That usually shuts down the conversation, but of course a few students want to argue that I am not comparable to a doctor. I point out my six years of college education and my graduate degree and nearly three decades of experience. That usually shuts them down once and for all when they see I do indeed see what I and my colleagues do as comparable to practicing medicine. We have to assert ourselves in such a way as to force students, administrators, politicians, and yes, even many practitioners of the very disciplines we teach (think people who use the “Those who can…” nonsense). We have to project just enough arrogance that we are important enough to be taken seriously. I must be honest and admit that I don’t see enough of this among community college faculty. If we don’t take ourselves seriously, then we can’t expect anyone else to take us seriously. If we don’t assert our professional status and rights, they will all eventually be taken from us by administrators. It’s already happened to too many of us and the pace isn’t slowing any time soon.
As a first step in this historical and monumental change, we must all remember the following:
- Community colleges do not exist as subservient branch campuses of four year colleges and universities.
- Community colleges are separate, independent, duly authorized entities.
- Community colleges have the right to create their own courses independent of other four year colleges and universities.
- Community colleges do not exist as feeder schools to four year colleges and universities.
- Community colleges are not obligated to be scale models of four year colleges and universities when it comes to course offerings. We are allowed to do the things we can do better than other institutions.
- The vast majority of community college faculty chose the community college environment because of the toxic environments often present at four year colleges and universities. Many of us are not “acceptable” to those same institutions, but our disciplines are the same regardless of where they are taught.
- Community college faculty have the same advanced degrees as our four year and university counterparts. While we may choose to not engage in research or publishing, we often can rightfully claim the high ground when it comes to teaching and inclusivity, especially when it comes to class size. We generally don’t treat students as livestock.
- Community college faculty know their clientele at a deeper level than most four year colleges and universities can possibly do (of course this depends on an institution’s size).
- Four year colleges and universities would have us believe they are the paragon of exemplary teaching and learning and we know that is not true.
- We are community college faculty, and I for one am tired of seeing people like me having to ask more and more arbitrary, unqualified people for permission to do my job, and I’m going to do something about it.
If you disagree with any of these, I suggest you should rethink the raison d’être of the community college and your presence in that environment.
So what would be the next step? There are a number of issues to think about. Think things like credentialing and accreditation may top the list of many pragmatists, but these are red herrings. Equity and access must also be addressed, and these are more realistic issues. I think these are rather simple to deal with, but I will make them the subject of future posts. This will be a long drawn out process of literally inventing something new that doesn’t currently exist. The time is right.
Feedback is welcome.