Education's young martyrs

Our universities are yielding more and more to the dangerous practice of part-time employment of young faculty equipped to assume full responsibilities. Denial of their proper place on the academic echelon is not necessarily due to a fall in registration but to the mounting fear of fiscal bankruptcy in higher education. Filling classrooms with adjuncts results in large savings in salaries and fringe benefits. The students may actually be getting very good teachers; what they lose, however, is the collegiality involved in long-range contact with young faculty beond the time limit of an individual course. The transient teacher scholar will be packing his bags and moving on to the next assignment and morsel.

For a time young and dedicated academics may put up with his scandalous situation. But, considering the fact that many Ph.D.s have departed from graduate school carrying not only a diploma but a hefty tuition loan, their economic martyrdom becomes hard to sustain.

These days a college teacher with a decade of poverty behind him or her starts life at about $15,000 a year it fortunate enough to get a full-time appointment, and even then lives with the threat of being dumped in three years to make room for someone who can be started in his turn from the threshold salary. Whereas an MBA (master of business administration) with two years of training will start in the business world at around $25,000.

But many young academics are so dedicated to their goals in teaching and research that the minimal character of their beginning salary would in itself be temporarily tolerable if they could feel that their efforts would be rewarded in a graduated scale of advancement.

While the younger generation is suffering from insecurity and poverty, what is happening to the older scholar teachers? Their increments and their prestige depend more and more on their power to solicit and procure financial grants from the public and private sectors. The professor is becoming a professional beggar; his rating hangs in the balance. One is reminded of what a long-forgotten French critic, Emile Fraguet, said at the turn of the century in an essay called "The Cult of Incompetence": to know how is more appreciated than to know.m

Who is the villain in this drama? The fact is that the economic structure of higher education, whether public or private, has ceased to be viable. The rapidly mounting tuition rates do not come near balancing the university budgets even with the sacrifice of an entire generation of beautifully trained and remarkably dedicated teacher scholars and in spite of the efforts of senior scholars to pay their way as untrained fund raisers.

The situation is particularly grave in the fields of literature and related humanities studies which, to quote the late Charles Frankel, "bring us joy in achievement, joy in expressiveness, joy in the well-made sentence and the finely reasoned result." When you observe our society's stolid five o'clock faces waiting for their public transportation, you realize how urgently that joy is needed, and how needed are the young scholars waiting their turn in the wings of the education scene to communicate that joy.

The current jeopardy to effective education does not relate only to the welfare of the academic community but to the development of creative minds at every age. We are facing a crisis in education that demands drastic rethinking about its philosophy as well as its economics. The education needs of our society can no longer be projected according to population trends. The concept of continuous entry and reentry of our population into the university domain will sharply modify those estimates.

We happen to have, as never before, a pool of highly trained personnel to implement an enlarged definition of university sorely needed today. We must act before that intellectual manpower is dissipated into more pragmatic sectors. We should consider as part of our "defense" spending the fiscal reinforcement of our universities. The direction should not be one of retrenchment but of expansion and extension of the educational opportunities.

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