Spanierism means bloated administrative growth at the expense of teaching. Spanierism means scholars jumping too soon in a career to administration when they have insufficient judgment. Spanierism means treating non-tenure-track (NTT) faculty like chattel who can be fired without cause to free up money for tenured faculty or some non-educational project that will enhance the rep of the administrator. And so on. You get the picture. Spanierism is unchecked, concentrated corporate power at the top.
Last week the University of Oregon used Spanierism in the School of Journalism and Communication to fire five NTT faculty to make budget cuts, including one who’d been teaching grammar for seven years. As usual, a short look at the school’s faculty page reveals how faculty appointments allow Spanierism to operate. SOJC lists 64 full-time faculty, but sorting by titles tells us how many are tenured. Nineteen are full-time NTT instructors. Eighteen are assistant professors. That means 37 not tenured faculty, half on track, half easily canned to save money. And 26 part-time faculty, also NTT and easily fired. That leaves, at the top of the heap, 27 privileged, tenured faculty out of 90 total faculty. Thirty percent of SOJC faculty are tenured, which is typical nationally where 60-70 percent of university faculty, according to the AAUP, are NTT.
But the real danger, especially in the department training students to use and protect the First Amendment, is that any of those 70 percent can also be fired for publishing something the university administration does not like, and that on a campus where The Daily Emerald, the student paper, fought a battle to be an independent voice that could print what it wanted without fear of censorship by central administration.
Happens all the time. Here’s just one recent example reported on May 4 by Inside Higher Education. A community college prof was fired and his courses shut down because the student paper he supervised printed something the campus administration didn’t like. They fired him without cause; no reason given.
MOOC for writers
SOJC layoffs are part of 75 total this year and 75 last year at the University of Oregon to make budget cuts. So it happens, so what. Any business, including the University of Oregon, Inc, or Oregon State, Inc, has to layoff employees once in a while to cut costs; education is more than teaching, after all. Hell, just put all the courses online or use mass lecture sections with automated grading to cut overhead created by salaries. Students can just sit at home rather than crowd into mass lecture halls, which will save building costs. That’s reality in modern education. At Oregon State’s Bend campus, they brag of a low residency in creative writing program, a sort of MOOC for writers.
Speaking of which, MFA in creative writing programs are a cash cow, especially at third tier universities like Oregon State and the University of Oregon. The Oregon State MFA was and remains a joke; the 2002 justification for the program—when the taxpayers already paid for one just 50 miles down the road at UO—was fictional employer demand for creative writers, LOL absurd prima facie but for the need at OSU for cheap labor to teach comp classes to the undergrad masses. See Barry Roberts Greer “Grow your own cheap labor” in Notes from the Academic Underground:
MFA programs in creative writing spread like crab grass after the Second World War, each a poor hybrid of the first one grown by the University of Iowa. The original idea was to build a hothouse where literature bloomed as writers wrote and critiqued each other’s work. The problem, though, is that the hothouses now harvest a crop of weeds employable nowhere but in academia training other writers to train other writers to train other writers–if they get planted in one of the few real jobs in creative writing programs. . . .
Besides, nobody needs an MFA to be a poet or short story, novel, or essay writer. Those who want academic training would be better off in J-school than in any English department other than to study rhetoric. Because the MFA is an academic degree meant to train a select few to run MFA programs to train other people to run MFA programs ad nauseam. It’s a crap shoot for students to find those track jobs when most end up teaching NTT comp with so many sections per semester or term, they have little time to write. Top programs like Iowa and Stanford generate the lucky few selected for tenure track MFA teaching jobs, especially if she or he has a book published with a prize or two tucked into the CV, and doesn’t mind writing academic prose and sucking up to lit profs for years to get tenure and is willing to support the caste system where the comp dogs labor in the trenches with next to no hope of climbing out. How many other than Malamud did it, and he left Corvallis.
the academic caste system
A quick look at the current Oregon State School of Writing, Literature, and Film, supports the point. Twenty faculty are listed as lit faculty. Nine are listed as creative writing/poetry faculty. Those 29 are listed by “field of focus,” whatever that is; another 36 are not listed at all as if teaching writing is not a field of focus. Whatever that is.
Spanier’s master plan failed, by the way, at Oregon State. He purged English of writers to shrink the instructor ranks to around four other than those hired off the street a term at time to meet demand when not enough grad students, such as MFA students, were around to teach. The number of instructors working now at OSU in writing is higher than it was before Graham Spanier, boy provost and crminal-in-training, arrived to screw things up.
Oregon State School of Writing, etc. has 16 tenured professors with job security guaranteed by the 36 expendables in the underclass; any faculty person, lit or MFA, on track is fighting to perpetuate that caste
system, faculty such as assistant professors Justin St. Germain (Stanford) and Elena Passarello (Iowa) who teach essay writing to train comp dogs such as Clare Braun (2014 Oregon State MFA), Emily Elbom (Oregon State MFA 2011), Isabelle Brock (Oregon State MFA), Benjamin Davis (Oregon State MFA), Alyssa Halton (Oregon State MFA), Stephanie Roush (Oregon State MFA). Oh, then there’s J.T. Bushnell with his UO MFA who’s been teaching comp and survey intro lit at OSU since 2007, ten years, and he used to be a publishing machine but for the last three years. Nothing new listed, and his only hope for promotion is to senior instructor. Nope. No track job for J.T. and no job security, especially if he publishes something the bosses don’t like. Looks like burnout, and yet he likes to use the first person plural pronoun about SOWLF as if he’s actually part of the department.
It’s necessary for the privileged tenured faculty to keep the second-class comp dogs in their place, because comp dogs are the majority of faculty in the department, and if the dogs could vote, they’d control committees, such as the salary and tenure committees and improve their situation at the expense of people like Passarello and St. Germain, a power structure that has led to union organization on campuses around the country. But we digress.
The asinine counterargument for unions to balance power is that a darwinian meritocracy exists where genetically superior writers rise to the top of the heap because they’re more talented or married to the dean. Sort of like Faulkner, Malamud, Bellow, Didion, Toni Morrison, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Caitlin Flanagan, etc, rose to the top of the writer pile because none of them had an MFA. Nope. Some on that list did end up with faculty jobs because lit departments like to affiliate themselves with celebrity writers, although the inverse is not always true, which is why Malamud left Oregon. Spanierism works.
Don’t worry. Another path exists. We’ll give directions to it the next time.