They call me Professor

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To be called Professor, or not to be called Professor, that is the question.

Yesterday, IHE’s Colleen Flaherty reported on Karen Gregory, an adjunct in the CUNY system teaching a labor studies course, who includes language in her syllabus concerning the treatment and status of adjuncts, as well as the request that she not be called “Professor.”

Gregory is not alone, and has, in fact, adapted a template developed by the CUNY Adjunct Project, “an organization of teaching assistants and other, non-tenure-track faculty members that advocates for better working conditions for the system’s 10,500 adjuncts.”

It’s 10:30 Eastern Time as I type this, and there’s already 16…oops…18, nope…31 comments. If there’s fewer than 50 by the end of the day, color me shocked. I’m going to put the over-under at 65. It may even generate more than the essay on guns on campus, which would be only a mild upset.

As my opening sentence indicates, I am conflicted on this issue.

On the one hand, I am squeamish about bringing students into these issues in such overt ways. Is it their fight, after all? Isn’t leading with a declaration that adjuncts are treated as 2nd or 3rd class academic citizens potentially co-opting the students into the fight against their wills? Will a student, in an effort to curry favor with her instructor, join the cause? I can’t ignore the power imbalance between me and them.

On the other hand, while it may not be their fight, the use of contingent labor in the classroom most definitely has an effect on students, and providing information like this may empower them to have more control over their own educations.

On the other other hand, Karen Gregory is teaching a course in labor studies, so to include this issue as part of the syllabus is more than pedagogically defensible.

Can I have four hands?

I don’t envision a time where I put the sort of language you see in the CUNY template on my syllabus, but one of my core teaching philosophies is transparency, so I do always inform my students of my position/title, and what that means. I tell them that I am a visiting instructor, which means I am on a year-to-year position outside of what’s known as the “tenure track.”

(Many of them have very little accurate knowledge even about tenure, or what professors do outside the time they spend in class.)

I tell them that my duties are to teach courses, and that while I have an active writing and editing practice, unlike tenure line faculty, this work has no impact on my position. I am hired to teach and nothing else.

At some point in the semester, in discussion where it’s relevant, I often inform them of the general range of my salary. (This information is publicly available anyway.) This is usually in the context of them thinking that a career as a college teacher might be a desirable path.

I like to think that this subject comes up because I appear to be someone who enjoys his work. It’s easy to appear to be someone who enjoys his work because I really enjoy my work.

They often express shock at the figure. They would’ve guessed at least twice the amount. I tell them that many of their professors (at least in the humanities) don’t make twice the amount until they’re deep into their careers.

That’s when they mentally cross “professoring” off their job lists.

I respect Karen Gregory’s right to create a classroom space consistent with her pedagogical goals. I don’t think the decision to include the language in her syllabus is taken lightly. I think those who believe she should “get another profession” because she dares to raise these issues are either not serious people, or just not thinking seriously about these issues. If not her and people like her, then who?

I tell my students the first day of class, that while it’s fine if they call me “Professor,” it is technically not accurate.

They use it anyway. I don’t care. If I ever achieve the title, I’ll wear it with honor, but I probably still won’t care.

Call me Professor, call me Ishmael, in the classroom, where I experience the pleasure of my job, it doesn’t really matter.

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