Ordinarily I wouldn’t put something like this on the blog, but a computer defect at the OregonLive website makes it repeatedly ask me to accept a user agreement, which I repeatedly did, to no effect. So my comment will appear here.
The first question I put to you, which you may answer any way you please, is: do you accept the legitimacy of democratic government, and the authority of such a government to tax the public and spend that revenue for the public good? No? Then you need to stop complaining, stop voting Republican, buy some guns, and start a violent revolution. I’ll wait.
You do? Good. Let me explain something to you. You voted for your representatives in your legislature, and on your behalf, they created state universities. I think the idea was that Harvard was too expensive, or wouldn’t have your children anyway, and you thought this would work better. As someone who sees the thing up close, I think by now the more plausible hypothesis is that you simply want diplomas to fall on your children like rain, for free, and though a Xerox machine and a piece of paper that reads “I Haz Kolleej” would be much cheaper, creating the appearance of education in your children is more complicated: it requires the appearance of a university. I don’t really care what your reason was. The point is you did this. I did not kidnap you and force you to create a university. You say your neighbors kidnapped you, that they don’t speak for you? Work it out among yourselves. This is not my problem.
You have undergone the pretense of hiring me to give your children an education, but I take you at your word, regardless of what I think you really want, and I give them an education. I do not complain about how much I am paid; I am grateful for the work. And work it is. Now when you are engaged in an internal discussion amongst yourselves about how public revenue will be spent, some of you tell others of you that less should be spent on the place where I work that you created, and on me. Some of you say that I am robbing you blind. Fine. Close the school and buy the Xerox machine. No problem. But be aware that you are also being lied to.
Those who want to shift the state’s funds from education to other worthy things will tell you “did you know that he is only in the classroom eight hours a week?” That’s true. I’ll wait for you to absorb the shock of this outrageous admission. I’ll bet it’s even worse than you thought! The problem is that you have no idea what that means.
Universities are not run the way that businesses are, for better or worse. All the managerial work below a certain level is done, not by full time professional managers, but by the teaching faculty themselves. While you were surfing the internet yesterday (my calendar says that was Saturday) looking for things to get your ire up, I was writing personnel reports. Since I need about twenty-five hours a week to research and prepare my lectures, that means that what I would usually do in four days, I will have to do in three. One of those three days is today, Sunday, the “day of rest.” I don’t know what you’re doing, but when I’m done with this rant, I will be returning to reading books about a figure I don’t much care for, and the writings of that figure himself. Here’s another thing that will surprise you: I argued for the creation of the class because many of the evangelical Christians among the students wanted it and felt underserved in the past. I know you think that all I do is lay about at home and occasionally clock in to force decent people to listen to secular humanist propaganda, but I actually don’t. Once I read a description by David Horowitz of some leftist propagandizing that took place in one of the classrooms of one of the faculty in my department. It was clearly pure fiction, because we didn’t have a faculty member who met the description at all. This led to an interesting conversation with David Horowitz in which I explained that as a voting Republican (I was once, until, as Reagan put it, the party left me) I thought defamatory fiction an imprudent method of persuasion. All this led to was him putting me on his email list. The unsourced and unverifiable (no names were given: of the student, the professor, or the class) slander against my department remained on his website.
I am in my office two hours a week. Outrageous! But I give all my students my email address, and I leave the email software on, with its cheerful chime, twenty-four hours a day. If a student asks me a question, I answer it, immediately, or get up from elsewhere in the house and answer it moments later. If I don’t, I was probably in the shower, or picking up groceries. I do not just keep office hours two hours a week in my office. My life is my office hours and I am always here, waiting to talk to your children.
By all means, quadruple the time I spend in the classroom. I love being in the classroom. But we will have to hire someone else, then, to do those personnel reports (yay! I get my Saturday back!). And I will no longer be writing ten page e-mails to students struggling with difficult material at 3 a.m. I also will not be arguing for new classes I’ve not taught before on figures popular with students that I don’t know well. No. I will be teaching the same class, over and over again, from a prefab textbook. I will stop assigning take-home essay exams and carefully grading them (I gave up on term papers years ago, lacking the resources to pursue the rampant use of commercially purchased student writing). I will administer multiple choice exams instead. The residual differences between our university and a bad high school will vanish, and then you will be happy, because I know how much you love high school teachers.
I know what you’re thinking. Summers, right? Actually, I’m not paid enough to make it feasible to take the summer off, so I teach an additional terms’ worth of classes then too. Not one person in my department doesn’t do the same. Pensions? I renounced mine. I will have to depend on my savings, and Social Security, unless of course you abolish it first. I won’t complain; I don’t intend to retire.
Those who can’t do, teach, yes? Actually, I had a successful career in title insurance. I started as a delivery boy and worked my way up through three promotions to title examining; later I got a law degree and was admitted to the Bar. I actually did title examining one summer even after I got my PhD. because the preceding and following one year contracts paid so poorly. (I had to conceal the fact that I was actually a sunlighting college professor but after they found out, they still wanted to keep me on, despite their discomfort, because I was so good.) In my life I have bussed tables, waited on tables, short-order cooked, dishwashed, babysat, done commercial real estate research, messenger delivery, customer service, title searching, title examining, written judicial opinions, written books and taught college. While I taught college, I also was a house-husband with two children. I decided that I wanted to try my hand at being a college professor in 1987. I received tenure twenty years later. I am now fifty. I am rather tired.
Yes, I know. You are taxed too much. I agree. And I would far prefer to be working at a private university. And (based on your comment) I hear you when you say that you feel you are not sufficiently respected by those more fortunate than yourself. I understand, and all my life I have fought against and called people out on that creeping contempt that one finds in schools for those outside them. Everyone has their own way of making themselves feel special in a universe (and society) that doesn’t really give a damn if they live or die, and too many of my colleagues use their pride in their intelligence and knowledge to do that for themselves. I’m sure you have your own ways of propping yourself up and feeling special. But I will tell you something: this is not the contempt of a privileged aristocrat for peasants. We are really a lot more like your local dentist than feudal lords, and like everyone in all walks of life, people like to bitch about their customers. I’ll bet you’ve done it yourself. And it’s not as if we don’t have in our society people who are very like feudal lords, and in many ways they do have more control over your life than you do. Some of them are paid with your taxes. I’m sorry about that, but I didn’t do that to you. I will say this: I respect you. I know your taxes pay my grocery bills. You don’t know it, but I’m actually working very hard to make the time your children spend with me mean something. I am trying to help them think more clearly about themselves, their lives, their world. I am trying to help them write clearly, persuasively, beautifully. And I am trying to tell them about some of the glories of our civilization so that the memory of it will not die. You remember in Pee-Wee Herman’s Big Adventure when Simone said, of France, that her boyfriend thought that everything over there was set up to make guys like him look dumb? I am not doing that. I want to make the treasures of your culture’s past accessible, and I want to help your children fall in love with them and thereby enrich their lives. I don’t know what other professors do, I can only speak for myself. I think that I am actually giving far more than you asked for, expected, or realize. I am not a cog in a diploma mill or an ornament on a football program. I am not a pig feeding at a trough. There are, however, people who stand to gain a lot if they can prevent you from knowing that, if they can get you good and angry at a phantom. If you let them, I can always do something else, I don’t care. But please: find out what I do, and what I do for your children, first. You might want me to continue doing it. Also, I hope you don’t mind, but I corrected your writing above slightly to make it sound better; it’s something of a compulsion of mine to take the world as I find it and try to leave it a little better than it was.