Truth and Tolerance in the Groves of Academe

Marilyn J. Young

Almost from the moment I became Vice President-elect, I began thinking about this speech: what ‘pearls of wisdom' would I leave with my colleagues at the conclusion of my service to the Association? The answer did not come easily, and pretty soon I was willing to settle, not for pearls, but for grains of sand.

What did I want to say? I reviewed the speeches of past presidents. In recent years, MaryEvelyn Collins talked about the markers in our lives; Trudy Hanson admonished us not to forget the K-12 teachers who labor in the vineyards, preparing the students who fill our college and university classrooms. Last year, Kate Hawkins cautioned us against the lure of corporate money as the solution to higher education's fiscal woes. Each was an inspiring speech and a fine example of the craft that so often sets us apart. What contribution could I make?

I thought I might discuss civility and incivility in the academy, focusing on the ways we encourage elitism by discouraging or disparaging not only ideas we deem "incorrect" but whole research traditions. After all, it was on the campuses that so-called "political correctness" flourished. But any follower of CRTNET has seen numerous examples of this phenomenon, and then been heartened by the discussions about civility that followed. And it seems to me that the trend is against sharp dichotomies in research methodologies—though these wars will undoubtedly wax and wane as our discipline continues to find its own voice.

Encouraged by the growing emphasis on oral as well as written communication skills, I thought about revisiting communication's role in the Liberal Arts, building on the SSCA mission statement: to promote the study, criticism, research, teaching, and application of the artistic, humanistic, and scientific principles of communication. The inclusive precision of that phrase captures what we are about. It envisions a diversity of approaches to increasing our understanding of the human communication phenomenon, and it articulates the strength of our discipline, bringing together the three approaches to examining the human condition: scientific, humanistic, and artistic. No other discipline can make this claim; and in that respect, if no other, communication is at the core of the academic enterprise. After all, when Aristotle stated that "rhetoric is the counterpart of dialectic," philosophy was not just the "Queen of the Sciences" – it WAS the sciences.

And so, it occurred to me to reprise Tom Frentz's address—the one about the beast we fear to name, e.g., the sense among some of our colleagues that the discipline of communication has no core, no unique content, and therefore is not part of the intellectual mission of the university. This fear makes us vulnerable, sometimes marginalized, too often on the chopping block as institutions contract in times of financial exigency. Or, perhaps worse, relegated to a service department that teaches public speaking. This has created in some a sense of inferiority and a defensive posture that risks nourishing a self-fulfilling prophecy. This issue periodically surfaces in odd ways, such as a CRTNET discussion of the spelling of communication: is there an "S"? How can a discipline that does not even know how its name is spelled—much less agree on what it studies or how—truly be a discipline at all? Perhaps this is what is behind the periodic purges that departments experience. Is this part of a search for academic legitimacy—for acknowledgement by the traditional disciplines of the Arts and Sciences?  But, I realized, I would be "preaching to the choir," and so abandoned that idea as well.

So I thought back over my career, which will be coming to a close in 363 days, and tried to focus on the issues that have been most important to me. Teaching, certainly; scholarship, absolutely. And then I saw the thread that not only wove its way through my own life as a professor, but, I think, brings together some of these other concerns and perhaps provides a practical way to address them. Service. Service to the university, service to the profession. Service as engagement, as involvement. It is part of the triumvirate of the faculty member's responsibilities: teaching, research, and service. But the order of that trinity all too often becomes the reality. Service—which is engagement in shared governance--becomes the afterthought, or as one Professor stated recently, it is something that you do after you have been promoted to Full. Or perhaps it is something that one does with the time one has left over. One department at my university assigns every faculty member a 50% teaching load and a 50% research load, and service comes out of your own time. Perhaps that is as it should be, but in this time of trying to do more with less, one's own time shrinks into insignificance. The American Association of University Professors reported in 1994 that faculty worked 48-52 hours per week; in more recent years, the university faculty in the State University system of Florida reported that they worked 55-60 hours per week. According to the 1999 National Study of Postsecondary Faculty, published by the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics, full-time faculty members work about fifty-five hours a week, and part-time faculty work nearly forty. That figure includes paid and unpaid hours completed on and off campus. The report also notes that faculty at research institutions spent more than half their time teaching. Unfortunately, as one associate dean noted, when faculty report such long hours, those become the minimum rather than the norm.

In these circumstances, what becomes of the concept of service, especially as it is manifested in shared governance? At a meeting I attended recently, one senior faculty member described what we do as "the best job in the world." I could not agree more. But one reason why it is the best job is the role faculty have played in the development of the university and its curriculum and in the creation of professional associations. The "Community of Scholars" --both medieval and modern--depends on the engagement of faculty outside the classroom and the laboratory. What will the Post-Modern Community of Scholars look like? Will it be a community at all?
Already we can see erosion of the concept of shared governance. Last year, Kate Hawkins addressed the perils of the corporatization of higher education; another consequence of that trend is the perception that faculty governance—along with faculty rights—are irrelevant and dispensable. Joan Wallach, chair of the AAUP's Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure, delivered the first annual Neil Rappoport lecture on Academic Freedom and Shared Governance in 2001. In that speech, she noted that,
The founders of the AAUP argued that membership in disciplinary communities (which maintain standards) protects the individual scholar from interference by "political or ecclesiastical authority, or from the administrative officials of the institution in which he is employed." They contrasted trained and qualified scholars with "incompetent outside authorities" and insisted that the powers of governing boards and administrators be limited to their own areas of expertise—finance, management, and general administration. The second point remains critical today: it is this very expertise that protects and legitimates critical scholarship and that enables faculty to distinguish between good and bad scholarship, to decide when the boundaries of reasonable thought and good professional practice have been breached. The faculty's role in governance, in other words, is the foundation for academic freedom.
Writing in the January 4, 1998, issue of the New York Times, James Shapiro, a college professor, put it this way:
The danger today is that the administrations that now set policy at most universities are increasingly tempted to act as if they are running a business—letting profit motives drive educational policy. In such a climate, revenue-generating programs and inexpensive part-time professors are winning out over a committed faculty, good libraries, and small classes. American universities have achieved their international prominence precisely because they have, until now, recognized the value of free inquiry, open expression, and discovery that is driven not by financial gain but by broader social ends. The crisis on today's campus is not, as the news media would have it, about the culture wars but about the almost impossible choices that will have to be made if universities are to lead, not merely imitate, a rapidly changing society.
These ideas are not new. We have been concerned about the trends reflected in these statements for some time now. But I submit to you that if we are to protect both our discipline and our profession, to ensure that those who follow us into the "groves of academe" will also have "the best job in the world," we must become and we must remain engaged in the governance of our institutions and our profession. If we succumb, if we just teach our classes and retreat into our studies, oblivious to what is happening around us, we may not recognize the academy we leave to those who are studying with us today. Shared governance only works if we make it work.

There are practical consequences of involvement. Looking back to my earlier comments about the role of communication in the academy, I would suggest to you that often the questions about our discipline arise out of ignorance of what it is that we do. By become engaged, involved in the governance of our institutions, we have the opportunity to educate our colleagues. This is a battle that has to be fought and won one institution at a time; sometimes it is easy, sometimes it seems nearly impossible, but visibility and understanding go a long way toward creating legitimacy.

And, of course, professional associations are the natural off-spring of shared governance and the Community of Scholars. These Associations add to our intellectual strength and promote scholarly growth; from a practical perspective, they can also provide governance experience, and they can serve as a resource for professional standards. While a university is many things and one of the most important of those is its faculty, a professional association such as SSCA is, literally, nothing without its membership. If we do not engage, if we are not involved, professional associations will simply cease to exist. Where then will be the Community of Scholars?

In his play, A Man for All Seasons, Robert Bolt included a wonderful scene between Sir Thomas Moore and his son-in-law, Roper, over the fate of Richard Rich, who was a spy for the King and ultimately Moore's betrayer. Roper wanted Moore to arrest Rich, for it was obvious he meant trouble. Moore refused, because to that point Rich had done nothing wrong. "It's the law," Moore says, "and if it were the devil himself, the law would protect him." Roper, feeling intense loyalty to his father-in-law, argued that he would cut down all the laws in England to get at the devil. Moore then observes, "and when the devil turns round on you, where will you hide, all the laws being flat?" So, paraphrasing Bolt's Moore, if we fail to engage, if we abdicate our responsibilities toward shared governance, where will we take shelter when the grove of academe lies flat?

Now, I am not naïve; I realize that the pressures are great, particularly on younger faculty, and that all of us need to husband our time carefully. Even the AAUP recognizes that heavy service responsibilities can negatively impact performance in teaching and research. And I know that academic service is often devalued by those who evaluate us; but that is exactly the point. If we take that same view, they win. I also know that it is possible to make a difference.

In 1996-1997, I had the privilege of chairing the Advisory Council of Faculty Senates, an association of SUS Senate Presidents and vice presidents. At that time, the State University System of Florida was governed by the legislature through a Board of Regents. The ACFS developed a proposal to create a faculty regent—a kind of parallel to the student regent. Because of the structure of the Board and the process for adding seats, that idea did not become policy, but the group persevered. In 2000, the Florida Legislature abolished the Board of Regents and created in its place individual Boards of Trustees at each of the universities. Those trustees are appointed by the governor; they consist of politicians, community representatives, and, in some cases, former university presidents. Faculty Senates at all 10 universities worked overtime to establish collegial relationships with their Boards of Trustees, with varying degrees of success. But, slowly, at least some of those Boards came to realize that faculty could be helpful and were not the roadblocks to change that they had envisioned. Meanwhile, Senator Bob Graham was distressed by the demise of the Board of Regents, and what that represented, and came out against the change, eventually creating what came to be known as the "Graham Amendment" [Florida has provision for citizen initiatives to amend the state constitution]. Graham chose a former Regent from Orlando as the person to spearhead the campaign to get the amendment on the ballot; it so happened that the chair of the ACFS that year was from the University of Central Florida in Orlando; they got together and the amendment that emerged included 2 key provisions: the president of the faculty senate at each university would hold a seat—with voice and vote—on the Board of Trustees for that university; and, the chair of the statewide ACFS would sit as a full member of the Board of Governors [an oversight board which the amendment created]. To further oversimplify a story that is far more complicated than I can recount here, the group collected the requisite number of signatures to put the amendment on the ballot and it passed in November 2002, becoming part of the Florida Constitution in January 2003. Today, the president of the Faculty Senate sits as a full member of each Board of Trustees and the chair of the Advisory Council of Faculty Senates sits on the Board of Governors. As a result of the tireless work of dedicated faculty, we have a voice at the table.

But of course, it doesn't end there. Thomas Jefferson told us that the price of liberty is eternal vigilance, and the same is true if we are to preserve the quality of academic life that drew us into the academy in the first place. Many of my current and former students are here today [at least they are at this convention, if not in this room]. I hope that when they join the Community of Scholars the groves of academe will be thick with the trees that have sheltered and nurtured us and that they, too, will enjoy the "best job in the world."
And I hope these grains of sand I have shared with you today will be the irritant that will move you to become engaged in the governance of your institution and your profession—and thereby "make it so."