Sunday, November 11, 2012
A Day in the Professional Society of Academics
This is a sketch of an alternative means of providing higher education, offered in the style now common to faculty activism. It paints the picture of “a day in the life” of an academic who no longer earns a living under the existing triad model of institutional service providers (universities and colleges), substantial public funding and union labour representation.
This professional academic is not an adjunct nor tenured nor tracked. As a licensed member in good standing she provides her expert, hard-earned services under the protection and direction of a profession formed as a legislated social contract and charged with the stewardship of higher education – as an attorney or physician is related to their valued services and society.
The higher education system she labours in and collectively participates in the stewardship of is the consequence of a paradigm shift and so triad assumptions do not apply…
Monday morning, the professional model has long ago supplanted the current institutional model and now routinely fulfills the societal need for higher education and research. Dr Smith is the sole proprietor of a professional academic practice in Philosophy and has a number of years experience.
The alarm sounds. She makes a pot of coffee and does some practice management before the children wake. Checking accounts she confirms some key figures for a group considering investment in her practice: 1) Annual Tuition Revenue of $187,500 (250 course purchases at $750/course) and 2) Annual Expenses of $70,200 ($24,000 in Proxy (TA) Services of 20 hours/week at $40/hour for 30 weeks; $24,000 in Office/Lecture Facilities and Services; $4800 in Advertising; $2400 in Postage and Office Supplies; $2400 in Internet and Website Hosting; $600 in Business Insurance; and $12,000 in Professional Membership, Student Evaluation, Subscription and Conference Fees). She notes that the revenue from Sale of Other Goods and Services needs positive adjustment.
With accounts done she turns to the Professional Society of Academics Calendar webpage to check her Queries for Service and finds another 16 student have contacted her for service – 14 undergraduate and 2 graduate. She consults the Society’s Application Analytics and finds 10 of them meet her recently adjusted Preferred Initial Criteria, looks more closely at their applications and sends the lot to her Proxy to schedule and conduct Pre-service Interviews. She considers these 10 to be promising candidates for an online course she plans to introduce in the summer.
Her children stir and their morning prep begins. By 8:00 a.m. they are off to school and her to work. She reminds them Monday is a late day for her, but tomorrow they go to the zoo in the morning to watch the animals wake up just like them.
She arrives on campus, the former triad-based institution known as UCLA, to find a note from the owner informing her that as per her lease agreement the state was issuing notice of entry to conduct repairs. She reviews prepared lecture notes for her afternoon Introduction to Philosophy class and makes calls to two colleagues with whom she is presenting a paper next month.
A regular weekly meeting with her Proxy is conducted. In this case discussion centers around several key concepts that the Proxy’s Office Hours Report indicates are a problem for students in the Rationalist course, a review of notable applications from the Pre-service Interviews he conducted the previous week and concludes with her directions for upcoming interviews and office hours.
Coffee break and across campus she meets some colleagues at her favourite cafe, one of several owned and operated by the California Graduate Philosophy Consortium, a business venture she helped start as a graduate student during the early post-triad years. In conversation, one of her colleagues raises the issue of an announced increase in the state’s campus lease rates for office and lecture facilities, while she notes the difficulty in getting repairs done in a timely fashion. They discuss a partnership and the availability of some attractive facilities, competitively priced, just two blocks off campus. The owner is a former student of her Classics colleague and he is certain favourable lease terms can be arranged. They agree to meet next week and talk specifics.
On the way back to the office she stops to collect mail from the office assistant and asks to jump the queue to have formalization of the joint conference paper finished by end of day. She is told that it will be started once some work is finished for the office bully, Dr Jones. On the way out she asks if the assistant would be interested in coming to work with her in a new partnership. She notes that the Fine Arts colleague will require certification in some specialized software, but that the partnership would gladly pay for it to secure her capable services.
During a working lunch she finds in the mail a letter from one of her former PhD students and learns he and his new wife have opened a practice together in Texas. The letterhead reads: “Philosophy and Physics: Where Common Sense Meets Reality.” She sends an email congratulating them and herself for “introducing them” through one of her courses during their undergraduate studies. She asks if the practice has any interdisciplinary course offerings yet and identifies an absence of good philosophy courses in his wife’s field of quantum physics. Returning to business she dictates notes for two articles on the Hard Problem of Consciousness and based on her earlier conversations makes adjustments to the joint paper.
The Proxy pops in on his way to student interviews and reports that the Society has replaced the assigned Evaluator for her Introduction class and the official mid-term grades will now be submitted Friday, with the examination materials returned by Monday or Tuesday. Together they marvel at how evaluation used to be a purely subjective affair undertaken by TAs - a shameful practice in conflicts of interest and questionable measures of student outcomes and service quality.
While walking to the lecture facilities, she notes to the Proxy that his service has been excellent and wonders if he would be interested in some Student Headhunting – same 10% bonus for each student he recruits and actively aids in a top-rank course completion. She mentions that there might also be a place for him on staff at a Humanities partnership she is considering forming in the fall. A few of the partners intend to concentrate more on the highly lucrative international market and his language skills would be a great asset. He reports that this is perfect timing since he has decided to make Proxy his career choice and is looking into certification. She agrees to be his Mentor in the process.
Her Introductory class begins. As with the other four courses she is putting on this term, it has 20 students and meets once a week for two hours. She has found that since triad institutional accreditation, the credit hour scheme and subjective evaluation of students were replaced by career Proxy (TA) and objective Society Evaluation services, these smaller class sizes at two hours per week is sufficient for effective education. She prefers the open lecture format, with essays and a mid and final exam as the form of evaluation, but other options are available. Four students have banded and elected for the group thesis and presentation option, with one electing for orals.
Two of the Introductory students have asked that they be considered for fast-tracking and allowed to submit work to Society Evaluators ahead of schedule for early course completion, while auditing her Epistemology course. She recognizes them as outstanding students with strong early performance and initial application packages. She directs them to her Proxy for informal evaluation on the Introductory material and informs them that if the results are positive they may submit Introductory work to the Evaluator for formal assessment and if successful convert from audit to for-credit in the Epistemology course. She assures them they may continue to attend the Introduction class at their discretion.
The sun is out and she takes a walk to do some philosophy. The work is interrupted too soon by her phone alarm and she is reminded of a commitment to Society business.
The Professional Society of Academics convenes an Appeals Hearing to address a student complaint that Society Member, Dr Nosense, altered an evaluation scheme without consultation and agreement from said student. The complainant maintains that this had a negative effect on her final grade. Both sides are heard, with judgment and order issued in session. The Member is found guilty and the following order issued: a detailed formal reprimand is to be attached to his public record and the final grade is to be calculated under original contract terms and resubmitted for official record.
She arrives home, kisses and hugs the family and heats up her supper. Her 10-year old gets help with his arithmetic homework, they play a board game and she tucks them in.
She checks her email to find two messages from Society Evaluators 174 and 326, containing the Final Analysis Reports for her Masters student thesis and the course she just completed in Philosophy of Higher Education. Based on the report she makes some quick notes to adjust aspects of informal evaluation in the course and sends an email to her graduate student confirming a pass. There is also a report from her bank indicating a student has not met the payment deadline and the latest research funds have been secured in escrow. She fires off a form-email reminder to the student that highlights the relevant terms of service and further consequences for failure to correct the situation. She wonders if even though payment schedules are convenient for many of her student, whether full payment up front is not the better way to go.
Before bed she settles in for some television with her husband and fellow professional academic (PhD in Economics). She reminds him that she and the children are going to the zoo in the morning and she has scheduled six student appointments in the afternoon so not to expect her home until around supper. She makes comment on how staggering her workload by altering heavy and light days is great, but that she is considering a 3 days on and 4 days off schedule for the spring.
She retires for the day. She has to get up at the crack of dawn. The animals won’t wait…
Both the institutional and professional models serve the requirements of the higher education social contract. However, the latter is superior on a number of important metrics not the least of which is the control academics exercise over the labour, material and personal circumstances of their lives.