September 1, 2011. You are a brand new Black college professor headed across campus to teach your first class at ACUSA, Any College USA. Thoughts like these might be running through your head. . .
I have my doctorate. I am an expert in my field. I have written a dissertation. I am ready to begin my career in academia. However, like all professors, I have not taken one single credit in pedagogy, that is, the art and science of teaching.
Teaching is only one of my duties. I have to also research as well as serve on college committees. Though teaching is what the students and their parents are paying for, I will not get paid for long unless I do serious research and get my findings published. I have six years to produce what college administrators consider “serious research.” If I do not, no matter how good a teacher I may be, I will be let go. Hence, research, not teaching, weighs heavily as my first priority.
But what do I focus on in my research? Practical issues of use to the community or obscure, narrow topics using advanced mathematical models, that are likely to win favor with the powers-that-be? What about racial issues and questions of social justice? If I take a stance at variance with most of the members of the department, am I likely to be penalized? Will my chance at tenure be jeopardized?
Tenure is the decision made after six years as to whether or not I will have permanent employment at this institution. In my department there are very few Black or Latino professors who have tenure. There are many Black and Latino adjuncts, people who teach one or two courses on an irregular basis, but hardly any who are tenured, full time people. Will I be able to find a senior professor in the department to mentor me? Can I survive without one?
If my research is particularly relevant to social issues, and comes to conclusions that challenge the status quo, my chances of obtaining tenure will likely diminish. If I have strong student support that may help me. However, that usually requires that I be a stellar teacher, but to spend the time necessary to hone my teaching skills would detract from my research. And to top it all off, even if I do the kind of research that the college would smile upon, and even if I do have strong student support, I still might not get tenure!
Oh, Oh! Here I am. This is the building. I better hurry. Don’t want to be late for the first day of class. Where is the elevator? Where is the elevator! Better take the stairs. Slow down now. Don’t hit that door huffing and puffing. Okay. Here we go.
I can feel all their eyes on me. All they know is that I am their teacher. They need me. And I am happy to be here. I will succeed! I can thread the needle I can find a way. I just know that I will. Humpphh. “Hello, ladies and gentlemen. I hope you had a great summer. I know that I certainly did!” Ah, they liked that joke! “My name is Dr. . . . “
( by Dr. Arthur Lewin, author of Africa Is Not A Country: It’s A Continent, www.AfricaUnlimited.com )