To explain the mystic ways of academics: There are four general levels of being a professor. The least desirable is adjunct (indentured servant) in which you have no benefits, no job security and get paid a pittance ($2,000-4,000 per class). The normal starting point is assistant professor. That is full time and hence has benefits and such. The next step up is associate which is reached by achieving a certain number of years of experience plus establish credentials by publishing and such. There is also usually a raise for getting promoted. Full professor is considered the top and it reached by experience and establishing oneself as a national recognized expert-usually by various publications and completing a book. There is also a pay raise. Tenure is distinct from promotion, but people usually go for tenure when they go up for associate. It takes about 6 years to get tenure. It is achieved by showing that you have what it takes to be a good colleague and a professional. The main thing about tenure is that it is job security-you cannot be fired except for due cause (and it must be something rather bad). It was originally intended to protect academic freedom so people would not be fired for holding unpopular beliefs. Of course, since it takes about 6 years to get it, most serious rebels would not make it that far.
Universities & Colleges
The spring semester is just about to start and soon students will be asking the classic questions.
Q: “Do I have to buy the book?”
A: “Yeah, but if ethics is not a big thing, you can just steal it.”
Q: “Will that be on the test?”
A: “Yes. Every word I say will be on the test.”
Q: “Even what you said about having a husky named ‘Isis’?”
A: “There will be an essay question on that. The stuff I mention about running will be multiple choice.”
Q: “Do you fail a lot of people?”
A: “No. People fail themselves. I merely record that failure.”
Q: “Um, you’re kind of spooky.”
A: “Yeah, I get that a lot.”
Q: “Will that be on the test?”
A: “Yes. Yes it will.”
This semester I was pleased to have only two cases of plagiarism. In one case a student turned in a copy of the sample paper I wrote as an aid to the class. I do include the warning “copying this sample paper would be plagiarism”, but perhaps I need to use a bigger font size next time.
This one tops the previous winner: some years ago a student turned in a paper and was upset when the grade was a zero. When she called, it went something like this:
Student: “I don’t understand why I failed. Wasn’t the paper a good paper?”
Me: “The paper is excellent. Brilliant, even.”
Student: “Then why do I have a zero?!”
Me: ‘Well, you didn’t write it.”
Student: “What…how did you know?”
Me: “Because I wrote it.”
Student: “Oh, sh*t!”
Interestingly enough, I have fewer cases with each passing year. I think this is due to the fact that I am blunt and honest about plagiarism and I regularly give my plagiarism speech. It involves pointing out that the web is a two-edged sword: It makes plagiarism easier (just Google the subject and then copy & paste into the paper). But, it makes plagiarism wicked easy to catch (just type in a line or two and Google serves up the source). I think the most effective part is where I mention that a big F will be dropped upon the plagiarized work (now that is an F-bomb that does some damage). I also try to stress that a paper will get some points even if it is horrific. And, of course, some points are better than no points.
Oddly enough, I have often had students plagiarize who would have easily passed the class even if they had done a horrific job on the paper they decided to plagiarize (by horrific, I mean as low as 30 points out of 100). I don’t quite get that-it just seems too irrational.
Fortunately, most of my students are honest and work hard in the class. That helps make teaching very worthwhile.
Oh, in case you might be wondering, I get the most cases of plagiarism in my ethics courses. The most ironic case was a student who copied a paper on the ethics of plagiarism from a web site.
I was 18 and had just gone to college. I grew up in a tiny Maine town (Old Town). It is a nice place, but was very safe and quite uniform in character. Suffice it to say that I was rather naive, optimistic and very unworldly. Naturally, I believed I was mature and ready to be king of the world.
I enjoyed my first semester of college and when Thanksgiving break arrived I took a Greyhound bus back to Maine. On the way I stopped at a NYC bus station and was there around 3 am. I had never been in such a situation before and saw people picking food out of the garbage cans and other people sleeping under cardboard. I had heard of homeless people before, but I had not experienced it myself. While people obviously just pass on by these sights everyday without a thought, that degree of suffering and poverty in a nation of vast wealth and resources shocked and sickened me. The irony of people eating garbage as the rest of the country prepared to gorge itself on turkey, pies and cranberry sauce was not lost on me. I decided that I would be a success so that I would never meet that fate. I also vowed that I would take a path that would enable me to help other people avoid that fate.
While many other factors were involved, this moment set me on the path to being an educator. I confess that I have made no great changes in social justice nor have I been able to make the world fair and equitable. But I have helped people stick with their education and succeed in life. I have also done what I can to instill in them a sense of justice and responsibility towards themselves and others. I do believe a better world is possible-but it is all up to us. We make the world we live in, enjoy and endure.
I was recently asked about the work environment, salary and job prospects in the philosophy profession and thought I’d post my answers:
In general, the work environment in philosophy tends to be good. Schools can vary greatly, but working in academics is generally a very positive experience (professor is the # 2 rated job in America).
Typically, a professor has an office that might be shared or private and teaches in various classrooms. Schools vary greatly in assigned responsibilities. A community college might require 4-6 classes a semester, but have no other expectations. A major research university might require 1-2 classes a semester, but expect committee work, professional service, research and such. For the most part, the work load is not unreasonable relative to the salary. Starting salary in a tenure line ranges from $30,000-60,000 depending on many factors. Interestingly, prestigious schools do not always pay more than community colleges. For example, a friend of mine is a professor at Cal State and makes $63,000 a year with a PhD. One person who has an MA makes about $65,000 at a nearby community college and has the same number of years, etc. Unions tend to be a major factor as well. Public schools in strong union states tend to pay well.
The job outlook is quite variable. When I was looking for a job in 1993 the market was horrible. The standard job listing in philosophy is published by the American Philosophical Association and is called Jobs for Philosophers. When I was looking, my classmates and I called it the Job for Philosophers because it was so thin due to the small number of jobs available. Now that many of the old white guys are retiring or dying and the economy is generally good, there are many more openings. So, the JFP is has been fairly fat in the past few years. But, things could change quickly. University budgets could drop, there could be a bumper crop of PhD s to saturate the job market and so on.
Overall, being a philosophy professor is a good job that pays reasonably well. The opportunities have been quite good in recent years-relative to when I graduated.
As most people have no doubt heard, Florida A&M University is in some serious straits. The latest is covered here.
The gist of the problem is that FAMU has some serious financial management issues. At this point, FAMU is being subject to an audit and the state has given FSU financial control over the joint FSU-FAMU college of Engineering.
Some people have asked me if I think that there is racism involved. Although racism is still a serious problem, I do not think it is really a serious factor here (although the nature of the coverage of FAMU in the press does raise some questions…). The fact of the matter is not about black or white or any other color but green. The sad truth is that FAMU has been badly managed and the state is doing what needs to be done-stepping in and requiring FAMU to get things in order. Although I have my worries, I am confident that FAMU will get through this and emerge even stronger.
That said, I think that this same level of attention should be given to all universities and other public institutions. It would be interesting to see the results if, for example, the federal government were subject to such intense scrutiny and held to the same requirments as FAMU. I do not see that happening anytime soon. Politicians are often keen to check on other peoples’ houses (so to speak) but are loath to allow anyone to peak inside their house. And probably for some very good reasons (at the federal level: billions lost and misspent, pork, corruption, and many crimes).