Monday, March 19, 2012

More Excellence Without Money

(hat tip to the many excellent [without money!] posts at Historiann and Roxie's World)

Today, only a few short hours before I found out that I screwed up a vital piece of travel arrangements for my first! real! vacation! in years, and that it would not be happening after all, word came down from on high: due to continuing budget cuts, next year my campus will have no money for faculty research/conference travel.** None. Zero. Zilch.

I should explain something here: My university has traditionally been a teaching-focused school. But for the last decade and a half or more, we've been pushing towards the "teacher/scholar" model, and supporting that with money for a couple conferences a year (presenters only) and occasionally "topping off" research grants that fall short of our full salary. The idea -- a sound one, IMO -- is that scholarly engagement and good teaching go hand in hand. My own experience of the model is this: being engaged in my own scholarship, and in the broader scholarly community, does more than keep me up to date. It reminds me of why I got excited about my area of study in the first place, and I take that excitement back to the classroom with me: "Look at how truly cool this is, you guys!"

Also, I'm really proud of my own work. I like getting in and digging and writing and all that, even when it's hard, because dammit, I made something, something new that wasn't there before.

Over the years, I've gotten used to footing the bill for my own research travel, and scrabbling together whatever outside money I could. I even got used to paying for any conferences above the one (or sometimes one plus a bit) that were funded. It was doable, though I could always wish for more.

But now? I'm frustrated. The language of the announcement -- that we would be "allowed" to take "self-financed travel" -- was even more galling, as it sends the message that the university is being super-nice by letting us do the job we were hired to do, so long as we pay for it out of our own pockets. It is the very definition of adding insult to injury, and it's another blow to morale.

At this point, I would be fully justified, I think, in going up for promotion with a craptastic post-tenure publication record, and saying, "Look, this isn't my fault. You want a teacher/scholar, you need to support that model." But the fact is that I want to do the research. Being a contributing member of that larger community is important to me personally.

So, I know that some of you readers must be in a similar situation. Maybe my "new normal" is something you've been living with for a while. What do you do? How do you make it work? How do you take care of your own needs as a researcher when the deck is stacked against you?

Please help -- any words of advice, or stories from people who have managed this, are so very welcome. Because the fact is that I have grown to hate the sound of my own complaining. I've been actively embracing the many good things about my job and working on not letting the bad get under my skin. But today... it just got too hard to do that. And I need help before a doom-spiral begins and demolishes all that good work I've been doing on being a more positive person.

**Among other things: Here I should note that others in my department have it worse: advising -- a difficult and time-consuming job in a large department like ours -- is no longer going to be supported with any course releases. And that's truly heinous.


Squadratomagico said...

Oh, Notorious, I'm so sorry to hear that your anticipated vacation is cancelled. I know you were looking forward to it.

As for the lovely generosity of your campus in permitting you to self-fund your research and confence travel: how incredibly frustrating! Hopefully it won't be a long- term change.

Historiann said...

How nice that your uni isn't going to encumber your salary, leaving you "free" to spend your own money traveling to conferences and to archives. Like we say over at my blog: AWESOME!!!

I don't think you *can* make this work, Notorious--but I'm not even worried about you so much as your untenured colleagues. Imagine what they're thinking and feeling this morning, after having relocated from afar to your uni! Here's where your department T&P committee needs to get together and write a memo to the Dean informing hir that under the current circumstances, you can't as a department possibly apply the same T& P or annual review standards to yourselves. You're only being compensated to teach, so I would respond by evaluating *only* teaching, or by dramatically reducing your work distribution ratio (from 50-35-15 teaching/research/service to 80-10-10, for example.)

The university shouldn't get something for nothing, but that's what they're trying to do. They're counting on your professionalism and your own love of your work to get you to do it for free, without release time or research money.

Oh, and the student advising? That's over too. Why should students be the last ones to pay the price for the systematic defunding of education? After all, there are a hell of a lot more students than there are university faculty in your state. Playing along means cooperating in a corrupt scheme by which politicians defraud the taxpayers into thinking they *can* get something (or the same level of service) for nothing.

Janice said...

Historiann make some great points, as usual. I would definitely push, at the departmental and faculty level, for the university to take over advising if they're not going to support advising. Ditto for the expectation that you evaluate people on research activities that the university no longer supports!

I find it hard to believe there's really no money for conferences, in that I suspect that some administrators are still going to come up with dollars for their divas (or dons). Somewhere, someone will be cutting backroom deals so THEY still get their perks and the ones they care about do as well. That's what's really invidious about such cutbacks - they're almost always leaving some cherished group unaffected.

Historiann said...

Janice--I can't believe you're more cynical than I am! But I'm afraid you're right: maybe your administration is sitting back to see who takes it and who fights back. But sticking together, rather than going all Diva, is the way to go in my view.

(Think of those not yet tenured.)

Janice said...

Historiann, not only have I been doing this job for 20 years, but my father was head of his university department for more than a quarter of a century. There's almost nothing about administrative evils I haven't seen or heard.

That said, I'm also really sorry for your lost vacation, Notorious Ph.D. That's really hard to take in any case: worse when you've got that news at the same time as you're tackling the university's cutting back on the backs of its employees!

Notorious Ph.D. said...

Thanks, all. I actually woke up feeling better. I know that I'm just going to do the next thing that seems right to me. And if any administrator or committee dares to penalize a tenure applicant for not having enough publications, they will hear from me.

Oddly enough, this has re-energized my research plans: nothing makes you realize the value of something than when it's endangered.

Dr. Crazy said...

Question: It sounds from your post like travel used to come out of the operating budget of your institution as a whole. Is there anything stopping your department chair from allocating part of the department budget for travel? I ask, because that's how it works in my institution - departments are responsible for funding travel - or not. There is not (nor has there ever been since I was hired) university-wide support for travel. The result is that some departments have chosen, in this age of budget cuts, not to fund travel or to fund it at very low levels. However, in the humanities, we have remained committed at the department level to funding travel. How this has worked out in my department is that when budget cuts have come, we have taken away from things like the budget for copies (we now have copy cards rather than unlimited copies for all, which has resulted in lower costs for toner, paper, servicing the copiers, etc.), refreshments for some events, etc., and this has allowed us to continue to fund travel. Saving money in those ways has allowed us to keep the things that are essential to well-rounded faculty performance. Yes, it's not always been easy to make those adjustments, but it's been worth it. So my question is, is there any wiggle room at the department level to continue to offer some support for travel - ideally prioritizing the needs of pre-tenure faculty?

As for no release time for advising, again, in my department this has never existed. Every single faculty member is responsible for advising, and advisers are allocated based on keeping the numbers relatively equal amongst all tenure-line faculty. (So if you're a "good" adviser the trick is to refuse to advise a student unless they formally switch to you, and so in my case, I now never get assigned advisees randomly - I only work with students whom I know and who have already done decent work for me, which makes a huge difference to my advising workload.)

At any rate, I'm not sure whether your department structure can allow for either of those two possibilities, but I thought I'd throw the ideas out there in case there was wiggle-room at the department-level to preserve some of the good stuff.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

I hear where you're coming from, Dr. Crazy, and these are fine ideas. The problem is that we've been at zero photocopies, one ream of printer paper, and potluck refreshments (excluding the annual student awards ceremony, which is for students and their parents) for about two years now. There might be some low-impact thing left yet to cut, but I don't think so. We've really cut all the way into the bone at this point.

That is just to clarify where things are at. But the fact is that I woke up this morning ready to fight to write. I won't get time for a few days (four back-to-back twelve-hour office days this week to get them ready to go into spring break), but very, very soon.

undine said...

I'm sorry about your vacation and also about the research funding. Our junior faculty are protected for this, but senior faculty get so much less that I teach summer school to support my research. Expectations for promotion are the same despite the lack of funding--more excellence without money.

Dr. Crazy said...

Notorious, I was worried that this was the case. But I felt I should offer up what's doing at my uni in case it wasn't. (Sadly, this is one of the reasons why our - outgoing - president is actually awesome. As a former economics prof, he was always focused on the dollars, and he has been AMAZING at advocating at the state level for funds. Sure, the humanities have basically been gutted, in terms of curriculum, and we're in the shittiest building on campus and all, but we have money to go to a conference, and when cuts happen we worry about stuff like how much toner costs. At any rate, that sucks that you're in the position you're in, but AWESOME that this has energized you personally.

Anonymous said...

Move to Australia. Seriously. We get a conference budget, although I have never tapped in. Salaries are higher, students are bright, the economy is in good shape, the faculty is unionised, healthcare is free. Disadvantage? Not in the Northern Hemisphere, we also have university politics, and there are some rednecks. Tenure is called 'permanent' and is only 80% ironclad. I left a tenure track job in the western US at the height of Bush silliness, not regretted it at all.