Re: Anthropology, academia, and teaching

wilkr (wilkr@INDIANA.EDU)
Fri, 4 Mar 1994 10:07:19 -0400

Leon Lane's cry from the heart points directly to the main culprits in
the University's failure (this is not just a problem in anthropology
departments - hard science programs are much worse in most large state
universities) to train teachers and to educate students.

1. Declining financial support. Here at Indiana, only 26% of our total
budget is now provided by the state. The rest comes from tuition (rising
at an average of 7% per year) and grants (hence the pressure to publish
and do applied research). This is hardly a "state" university any more.
It is a "federal" university if anything. Low levels of support, not
enough faculty to teach all the courses, constantly increasing demands
on faculty time. Highly paid professional administrators busy dreaming
up bureaucratic solutions that take more time. The professoriat is
becoming a peasantry - intensifying their production through cutting
consumption (of leisure time, time for thought, time for students [which
many of us see as a reward, not a cost]), self-exploitation through
over-work, and shifting the exploitation to other classes (hired hands).

Is it any wonder that class distinctions within academia have become
more rigid during the time of crunch?

2. The second failure here is one of political consciousness on the part
of the people being exploited by this system; students, faculty and
parents. The conservatives have tapped this dissatisfaction, by trying
to tell parents and students that the problem is the left-wing political
orientation of faculty and their 'laziness.' In the meantime the faculty
have kept their heads firmly in the sand up to their necks; and have
concentrated on fighting each other for larger pieces of a smaller pie,
instead of thinking about ways of increasing the size of the pie. Here
in our department, we have 6 less faculty this year than we had 4 years
ago, to teach 30% more undergrads and the same number of grads. But we
have been unable to even begin talking about ways to gain our numbers
back. And our graduate students, also quite capable of raising some hell
to get more faculty, also seem too busy teaching and trying to get the
courses they need and some faculty guidance on their proposals. I have
seen students submit proposals to outside funding agencies for their
dissertation work that have never been seriously critiqued by their
faculty adviser.

At least we do practice, here at Indiana, some serious training of our
graduate student teachers. We have a course every year that teaches
teaching, evaluates lecture styles, and uses a workshop approach that
draws on student and faculty experience. Teaching is a skill that can be
taught; we think our graduates come out of our program with more than
research expertise. As a product of the "sink-or-swim" method of
training teachers, I wish I had had something like this in graduate school.

Rick Wilk