July 2, 2012 by SocProf
Over at the Chronicle of Higher Education, Rob Jenkins wrote a column that is thoroughly annoying in its overgeneralization and stereotyping. There is so much that is so wrong in there that I need to go over it point by point.
The main thesis of the column is this:
“My experience as a faculty member at two-year colleges, while generally quite positive, has not been all sweetness and light. One negative is what I’ve come to think of as “Claggart Syndrome.”
In Herman Melville’s novella, Billy Budd, the master-at-arms aboard the HMS Bellipotent — on which seaman Billy Budd has been impressed — is named John Claggart. Although Billy is beloved by the captain and crew for his good looks, his physical prowess, and his naturally sunny disposition, for some reason he arouses Claggart’s fierce hatred. Most readers quickly deduce that Claggart, himself a mean and miserable little man, is simply jealous of Billy’s appearance and abilities, not to mention the esteem in which the other crew members hold him (and in which they fail to hold Claggart).
“Claggart Syndrome,” then, is characterized by petty jealousy and irrational hatred. If you’ve taught at a community college for more than a few years, you’ve probably encountered that sort of thing — especially if you’ve accomplished anything of note beyond the narrow confines of your campus.”
I very much doubt that petty jealousy and irrational hatred (pretty strong words) are limited to community colleges or even academia or even professional settings. To start something with such a sweeping statement, you know things are going to go downhill fast.
First of all, Jenkins very obviously looks down upon the job of a community college faculty (I know, I know, he is one, but so what?):
“The core job responsibilities of a community-college faculty member are to teach your classes, advise your students, and serve on committees, and those are all worthwhile activities. Doing them conscientiously, over time, can bring well-deserved recognition, perhaps in the form of campus-based awards that will be perfectly acceptable to your peers.
But for faculty members who want to accomplish more than that in their professional lives, who want (and have the ability) to write highly regarded books or conduct meaningful research — well, quite frankly, a community college might not be the best place.”
Those who can’t research / write / publish, teach at community colleges. Because, according to this description, the job is not very rewarding so one has to find their own intrinsic rewards with low prestige beyond local awards. Meaningful stuff gets done someplace else. This is, of course, the commonsense view of higher education hierarchy in the United States, with elite institutions at the top, R1-type place, and then down the ladder where community colleges reside. In Jenkins’s world, there is no room for people who might actually choose teaching as a vocation or who have greater interest in teaching than researching. No, only the losers teach, because they have no other choice.
So, anyone working at a community college has to be harboring frustrations and grudge and grievances, turned outward against those colleagues that do accomplish meaningful things; that is the Claggart syndrome, the losers resenting the more competent.
And then comes this brilliant, completely unsupported insight:
“The roots of Claggart Syndrome lie in the fact that community-college faculty members, almost by definition, are generally not great scholars, writers, or scientists, even though they might have dreamed at some point of making such noteworthy contributions.
And that’s fine, because you don’t have to be a great scholar, writer, or scientist to be successful at a community college. You just have to be a great teacher. The vast majority of my colleagues are completely at peace with the direction their lives have taken, happy and fulfilled in their teaching, their service, and their interactions with students.”
My first response to this was initially “speak for yourself, Jenkins.”
Again, let me reiterate that at no point in the column / post does Jenkins provide any evidence for the statement above. None. Nothing. Zilch. Que dalle (as we would say in French).
What a completely uninformed view of community college faculty.
To be a great teacher does involve scholarship and pretty solid one. You cannot be a great teacher if you don’t keep on top of things in your discipline. That means you cannot afford the specialization that faculty pursue at more prestigious places. Since we teach a lot of survey courses, we have to know a lot about a lot. And because we teach a lot, and at undergraduate levels, we get confronted and questioned a lot as well. That means, we have to have the full mastery and scholarship and think quick on our feet.
We do publish. We do write books and articles. We do contribute to conferences and professional associations. We are an integral part of the intellectual communities of our disciplines because we are a major point of entry in these disciplines. A lot of undergraduate students will have their first contact with a discipline in a community college class.
And teaching IS scholarship. There is extensive scholarship ON teaching that we have to master as well. I remember my French university professors what passed for teaching then, and I could never get away with that. So, what are we to do… we study teaching just like we study our own disciplines. We research about it, we publish about it, we write about it, we apply the research and scholarship as one would do to any intellectual / academic project.
One cannot be a great teacher if one is not a great scholar. The institutional and organizational constraints and structures of rewards simply do not permit that to reach the same level of visibility that is available to others at non-cc institutions.
We are scholars.
We may not produce the same quantity of publications that people at other institutions do, for institutional reasons, but it is more to our credit, isn’t it. As for good writing, well, I don’t think academic publishing is a bastion of that, especially for peer-reviewed articles.
One wonders, with such shoddily constructed posts, whether The Chronicle is just engaging in linkbait just as they did in their previous controversy on Black Studies.