Now that summer is nearly upon us, faculty members near and far pause to contemplate the profession they claim to hold so dear. Predictably (and luckily for CMM!) their contemplations are far from contemplative; they are indignant, noisy, and whiny.
Listen as Western Carolina University Professor of Psychology Bruce B. Henderson, writing in the June 19 on-line edition of the Chronicle of Higher Education, explains to you how he spends his time. Because, you know, you really need to understand how hard he works.
“For many of us,” Dr. Henderson opines, “the number of hours we spend teaching and performing service doesn’t account for a large proportion of our time.
“We have no concise term to describe what we spend much of our time doing. Our colleges are focused on scholarly products that can be peer-reviewed and published, but the reality is that many of us spend much of our time on being scholarly, not on producing scholarship. We are, and should be, consuming the scholarship of others.“
- “Consuming the scholarship of others,”e.g., a generally accepted, albeit behind the times, definition of what students pay for the privilege (as opposed to faculty collecting a paycheck) to do.
“Consuming scholarship includes preparatory time for teaching but is much broader. We need a name for this ubiquitous activity. I offer ‘consumatory scholarship.'”
- Suggestion: Call it “reading.”
“Effective teachers (and researchers) develop expertise by reading and studying deeply and broadly. Professors take this activity for granted. Our students, our supporters and detractors on boards and in legislatures, and the general public do not.”
- In Dr. Henderson’s limited world, nurses, EMT’s and a host of other credentialed workers do not have to “consume scholarship”—on their own dime and time—to keep their licenses current. It is surprising indeed that Dr. Henderson be so oblivious, given that the graduate degrees his “university” awards are all (save one, a D.P.T., of Doctor of Physical Therapy, the earning of which, by the way, does not require writing a dissertation) Master’s-level of one sort or another, in fields that routinely require practitioners to earn CEU’s (continuing education units) to retain their professional standing.
“They do not see us reading, talking with—and listening to—colleagues, or translating new information into class notes or research ideas. They do not see us struggling to find out what is important in the overwhelming amount of new information in every discipline.
Yet such consumatory scholarship is fundamental to up-to-date teaching, to the initial stages of research projects, and to institutional and community service based on expertise rather than just good intentions.”
- On this point I agree with Dr. Henderson: such abecedarian activity is the foundation on which teaching is built. As “consumatory scholarship” is minimal preparation for showing up in class, the unwashed “general public” quite appropriately takes it for granted.
Warming to his topic, Dr. Henderson continues:
“A descriptive label for scholarly consumption is a first step. Those of us outside the research universities next need to begin talking about consumatory scholarship within the university, evaluating it and, eventually, using it when conveying the university’s core values and activities to the rest of the world.”
- Does Dr. Henderson realize that by calling for “consumatory scholarship” to be evaluated, he is suggesting that faculty take reading comprehension tests?
“Administrators can talk about protecting faculty time and fiscal resources for consumatory scholarship. Budget requests for travel to professional meetings, study leaves, and library resources can point to the importance of consumatory scholarship. Requests for tenure-track positions rather than for more adjuncts can emphasize the need for consumatory scholarship in the development of faculty expertise, since contingent faculty are rarely given time to keep up with advances in their disciplines.”
- Correct again, Dr. Henderson. Adjuncts do not consume scholarship on their jobs. Unpaid for their time outside the classroom, adjuncts consume scholarship in order to keep their jobs.
“We can evaluate consumatory scholarship in a number of ways. For example, faculty members can provide narratives about how they have incorporated new ideas and information into their teaching, research, and service when we submit annual reviews and tenure-and-promotion applications. We can keep logs and blogs on the knowledge we are consuming.
- Book reports!
- A summer reading list! On second thought, nix the “summer” part–no pay, no read.
“As we inside the university get accustomed to using the concept of consumatory scholarship, we can begin to use it more externally. Recognition of its role should appear in annual reports…
- At Convocation each year, faculty in the Blue Bird Group (five books read per semester) get yellow ribbons; faculty in the Robin Group (seven books read per semester) get green ribbons, and faculty in the Eagle Group (ten books read per semester) receive purple ribbons. Thereafter, for every book read over ten per semester, faculty receive a gold star on their purple ribbon.
…, news releases, and speeches.”
- Stop the presses! Professor Jafar just finished reading Finnegan’s Wake!
Dr. Henderson’s warmth soon boils over as he imagines the possibilities of salary step increases tied to the number of books he reads and corridor conversations he has with fellow consumers: “Faculty members and administrators should make governing boards, legislatures, and potential financial contributors aware of the dependence of effective teaching, competent productive scholarship, and useful public service on consumatory scholarship.”
- By publishing the Honor Roll of faculty readers in the school newspaper!
Archetypal consumatory scholar that he is, Dr. Henderson offers a conclusion that is neither supported by facts nor suggestive of original thought, both indicators of true scholarship: “The main contribution of universities in general is the scholarly expertise of their faculties. Today we need to persuade our critics that the time we spend consuming the scholarship of others is worth the investment, and that the relative brevity of the time we spend in the classroom is justifiable. Then, perhaps, the self-reported 50-to-55-hour work week claimed in so many faculty surveys will become more believable.”
- Wrong. The “main contribution” of universities is manifold. Since Dr. Henderson appears not to know this, perhaps I can enlighten him.
Universities exist to preserve, create and transmit knowledge. Scholarship–written, documented, and verified analysis–is the vehicle by which these miracles take place. It is scholarly activity, performed by faculty, graduate students, and undergraduates, not the passive “consuming the scholarship of others” that distinguishes a true university from other kinds of institutions, no matter what they are called. The consumption of knowledge is not a substitute for its creation, or even its preservation. Those who do not engage in the latter two activities may be teachers–good teachers, even–but they cannot stake a claim for a “50-to-55-hour work week” based on time devoted to “consumatory scholarship.”