From Dr. Lucinda Cole, Visiting Associate Professor/Research Associate Professor/Director of Specialized Faculty – English.
Given current bargaining efforts on professional development funds, the Communications Chair has asked me to share my experience advocating for NTT professional development funds at the University of Illinois.
What prompts this letter is what I now understand as the vigor with which NTTs are excluded from research and scholarship opportunities in this university. As many of you in the Humanities know, IPRH (Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities) uses university and donated funds to promote “interdisciplinary study in the humanities, arts, and social sciences.” Yet—with one exception– its fellowships are open only to graduate students and tenure-track or tenured faculty. The exception is a single fellowship in the Digital Humanities.
Taking seriously the stated goals of IPRH, I tried to apply for a fellowship, or, more precisely, to inquire about the possibility of application. Antoinette Burton, Director of IPRH, responded that I was eligible only for the digital humanities competition. Given that my last book won a highly-competitive national award, that I have another book under contract with a respected academic press, and that I’m regularly invited to be a plenary speaker at national and international conferences, I really could not imagine by what logic I could be excluded from the simple process of application.
Since then, I have asked several tenured faculty about opening up fellowship eligibility, and have been met with a contradictory series of explanations as to why this solution is impossible. The first objection is always this: “Research isn’t in the job description of NTTs.” That position makes no sense to me. “Research” is in my job description: two out of my three designated titles (Visiting Associate Professor and Research Associate professor) require a research profile. When I point this out, other excuses follow, some more honest than others: “The budget is driven by the college”; “I don’t understand how the budget works”; “The college doesn’t want to invest in NTTs”; “IPRH doesn’t have enough money”; “There would be too much competition, were NTTs allowed to apply.” I offered to work with IPRH-associated faculty to develop fellowships designated for specialized faculty. No interest.
This unpleasant experience with IPRH and IPRH-associated faculty made me recognize, yet again, how important it is to seek collective remedies for what many of us experience daily: a demoralizing and deprofessionalizing workplace governed by outmoded assumptions about the scholarly lives of specialized faculty.
It’s heartbreaking to see how people of good conscience—both administrators and TT faculty—are resource guarding, policing the borders of rank in ways that make no sense, except as protectionist policy. I hate to admit that, as a former administrator and tenured faculty member, I probably did the same thing. I wish I hadn’t. There are better ways. Columbia University and University of Pennsylvania, I discovered, offer a number of fellowships designed for specialized faculty. Other universities have effectively internalized what it means to have people in Teaching and Research Professional ranks.
In any case, I have learned a lesson: the notion that specialized faculty and tenure-track faculty are two different species may help justify the status quo, but it actively undermines effective teaching, collegial relations, and the stated purposes of the IPRH. I have not been successful in passing this knowledge on to administrators here, but remain hopeful we can work together in imagining myriad creative solutions to our—NTTs—being cast out of the university’s scholarly life.
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