So why should you…

So why should you (member of the general public) care what a tenure-track professor is being paid? It's relatively easy to make the case for improving the situation of adjuncts -- their lives are often dire, and arguing for a base wage of at least $30,000, for multi-year (rather than single-semester) contracts, and for a path to promotion (rather than decades of stagnation) is obviously worthwhile, both for them and for the students they teach. There are a host of articles written about the cost to students when adjuncts become freeway-flyers, racing from one school to another, cobbling together enough classes to barely pay their rent, often relying on government food assistance. Adjuncts don't have their own offices for meetings (or work), they can't be on campus and available for meetings nearly as much as tenure-track faculty, they don't have time to advance their own research (and thus are less able to help / advise students with theirs), etc. and so on. It's a huge problem, but at least it's an obvious one. People understand it. It's less obvious why the public should care about tenure-track professors. I was trying to explain the strike to a friend of mine, and she was confused -- she said, "Aren't professors basically management? Why are they striking?" If you look at the life of a tenure-track professor, it probably looks pretty decent. They're not likely starving, or living in their cars. But they may be tremendously unhappy. When tenure-track faculty morale suffers, you get some professors who start essentially opting out -- they feel they're not being paid to do their best work, so they just stop doing it; they do the minimum instead, just enough to not get fired. Two hours / week of office hours and then heading home, instead of hanging out all day on campus with the door open, available for casual conversation and dispensing of advice. No more attending colloquia, going to conferences, trying to stay current and relevant in their fields; they just teach the same class they've been teaching the same way for twenty years, and wait for retirement. They give up on learning new instructional technology, or hunting up ways to make the classroom more accessible and functional. This is all terrible for the students. You also get professors who start looking elsewhere, and this is a serious problem we're starting to see at UIC. Right now, for most faculty, the only way to get a real raise is to get a job offer elsewhere -- in which case, the university may try to entice you to stay. This is destructive in multiple ways. Firstly, job searches are incredibly time-consuming -- you're asking colleagues to write you recommendations, you're researching positions, you're preparing job talks and doing interviews and you're out of town looking at other cities and thinking about whether their schools will be good for your kids. All of that time and energy is time and energy not spent on your current job, your current classes, research, and students. So even if you're only doing this in order to coerce the university into giving you a raise that will be commensurate with your established market worth, it's a terrible waste of university resources (your time) to make you jump through those hoops. It would be far more efficient (and far less exhausting) for the university to just give you reasonable raises, matching what's happening elsewhere in the country at other schools, to begin with. Worse, once you start looking elsewhere -- well, you're looking. And you may well decide that you're unhappy enough at UIC that it's worth trying a job somewhere else. This is happening right now. We are losing people, people who are jumping what they see as a sinking ship, people heading to greener pastures. Every time that happens, it's a huge loss for the university -- all the time that went into hiring that person (and faculty job-searches are incredible time sinks for departments), all the time spent training them, all the social and interpersonal investment in integrating that person into a once happy, healthy department -- it's all gone. Poured out like water on a stone. And now I circle back to my original question -- why should you care? Why care whether UIC's best and brightest professors are leaving, whether the quality of its departments is in serious peril? Why care whether it's on the verge of dropping in the general academic standings? If you're a parent of a current college student, hopefully you know the answer. It matters. It matters how good the school is, how good the faculty are. It matters what UIC's reputation is, because that reputation is what's going to get your kid into med school, into law school, into a great business job. When that reputation starts to suffer, it is the students, most of all, who suffer. Look, my dad was a doctor. He could afford to send me to a fancy prep school for high school, to the University of Chicago for college. He paid my way, and as a fairly direct result of that excellent education, here I am, a professor at a university, a member of the privileged upper-middle-class. That's how the system generally works -- the rich (or even relatively rich) can afford to get their kids the best educations, and therefore, their kids are the ones who get to on to have upper-middle-class careers. Both of my sisters are doctors. That's not an accident. This is why my tenured professor partner's salary isn't just an issue for our personal pocketbook -- it's a social justice issue. And one doesn't have to possess a social work online degree to understand what is being imparted here. This is why UIC exists -- this is why we have state schools, with heavily subsidized tuition, to begin with. So that the bright, hard-working kids who didn't grow up with doctors for fathers, can still afford a world-class education. (If we cared about this more, that education would be completely free, as it is in many other first-world countries.) If we want to break down these class barriers, if we want social mobility in our society, universities like UIC should be at the vanguard of that battle. Because the honest truth is, if UIC doesn't pay its best faculty well, they will leave. They have families to raise, college to pay for themselves, and those professors aren't charity workers. They didn't sign up to volunteer their time. They'll work, and work hard, for a fair wage. And if UIC isn't willing to pay that, the best professors will go elsewhere. Kevin and I have had that discussion, over and over, in the past few years. Should we stay, as our colleagues flee the sinking ship? With each one who leaves, our morale suffers, the departments suffer. And most of all, it's the students who will suffer. We don't want that to happen. That's why I'm heading out to the picket line now. If you're a citizen of Illinois, this is your battle too. This is *your* university. Spread the word, call your representatives, put pressure on the university administration in Springfield. The only time the university administration has made any accommodations recently, it's as a result of strikes and public pressure. I hate that it's come to this, but this is where we are. It's time to push back.

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