Who are the professors of practice?
In the classrooms of Tulane, a silent, stoic workhorse educates the masses
February 20, 2009

You probably donít know what a professor of practice is. I didnít. Theyíre full-time, non-tenure-track faculty who earn less, teach more and canít vote in University Senate.

They were originally conceived as instructors with special, non-academic expertise or "practice." They were never tenure-tracked because their stay at an institution would rarely last more than a few semesters; they, after all, had careers outside academia.

They were a halfway point between adjuncts — professors hired on a class-by-class basis — and actual full-time faculty. It was good idea, in theory, because the position made it easier for a university to hire professionals, and it allowed these outsiders to foster a relationship with the school without having a tenure-track.

In practice, however, thatís not quite how it works. Professors of practice have become the workhorses of undergraduate education at Tulane. They teach disproportionately more students than their tenured counterparts, get no funds for special projects or research (except from the Center for Public Service) and their jobs are always at risk.

Most contracts for professors of practice last two to three years. Tulane intentionally staggers the contracts of the two or three professors of practice per department so they always have someone to fire. They have no voice in University Senate, and, even if they did, they wouldnít speak out for (once again) fear for their jobs.

A veil of fear cloaks some of these instructors, and it raises important questions about academic freedom.

Tenure is a funny thing. Academic freedom is essential for a true education; but every so often itís abused, and a degree of administrative freedom, like the ability to discipline lame-duck professors, needs to keep it in check.

But at the moment, the delicate balance between the two freedoms is defined by tenure. Policies regarding staff-faculty relations are made with the assumption that tenure is an adequate stopgap to administrative power grabbing.

Thatís the way itís supposed to be, and, though there are objectionable details, the relationship between the administration and tenured/tenure-track faculty is structurally sound. In addition, I have no problem with the way adjunct professors are handled; sure they have no voice and are only hired temporarily on a class-by-class basis, but thatís what adjuncts have always been for — thereís no facade. But something needs to change with the way we handle professors of practice.

The original purposes of professors of practice are not concordant with the administrationís use of them. The American Association of University Professors didnít censor Tulane solely because they fired tenured faculty in the wake of Katrina — it was also due to the treatment of professors of practice. But go on, Gibson, continue to characterize the AAUP as unreasonable half-wits, and refuse to even speak with them —the only casualties are justice and our education.

The administration is obsessed with image. I remember all the signs praising Tulane as one of "Newsweekís Top 25 Hottest Schools!" (Hottest on the rise for a second year, thanks Katrina), and the letter from President Cowen justifying the dramatic slip in U.S News and World Report national rankings. Big name faculty makes headlines too. Who cares if only a fraction of a percent of students actually get to see James Carville; heís still used more often to market Tulane than anything else except New Orleans.

The problem is, everyone here sees right through the lies.

James Carville is the only professor of practice that meets the original purpose of that position. If Tulane wonít treat the others like they treat him, then things need to change. Those young professors deserve better. If Tulane wonít consider them for tenure-track, at least treat them like the assets they are: Give them better contracts, pay them more, and let them vote.

The administration needs to focus more on keeping students and faculty, not themselves, happy.

Copyright 2009, Hullabaloo

From: Jeff Silberman,"Who are the professors of practice?" [Views] The Hullabaloo, New Orleans, February 20, 2009, http://media.www.thehullabaloo.com/..., accessed 02/28/09.  The Hullabaloo is a student-run publication of Tulane University.  Jeff Silberman can be reached at Jsilbs@gmail.com.  Reprinted in accordance with the "fair use" provision of Title 17 U.S.C. § 107 for a non-profit educational purpose.