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IV. The Background Of The Teachers

In the School of General Studies the students are more unusual than their teachers. Since the latter are very much like other American college teachers, we will not have to deal with their background and non-college commitments in as much detail as we treated the corresponding topics for students. 25)  Still there are some important differences.

One of the more unusual ways in which the staff at General Studies differs from that in more conventional colleges springs directly from the youth of the school. Any college is likely to appoint to its faculty some of its own graduates. For example, of the 161 professors that constitute the Faculty of Columbia College, the catalogue for 1955-56 indicates that 34 or 21.1 per cent obtained their Bachelorís degrees from the College. This is occasionally called "inbreeding" and is viewed with mixed feelings. However, there can be no doubt that the hiring of former students as teachers makes for a continuity of tradition and helps the teacher to better understand his school and its students. In the School of General Studies, the catalogue for 1955-56 lists 80 persons of faculty status; of these only one can be said to be a graduate of the School (or rather its predecessor). The others have gone to other undergraduate colleges, and what is more, they have never before been exposed to an adult college. As the School grows older, this situation is likely to change, but at present the faculty can find new guide-posts in their past experience to deal with the specific problems of an adult college. Incidentally, the situation for the administration is the same: the two deans of the School of General Studies at the time of this study were both graduates of Columbia College.

Again the staff differs markedly from that in conventional colleges in the extent to which it consists of part time teachers. Of the over 500 teachers in the School of General Studies, the 16 per cent who are members of the Faculty of General Studies give full-time service to the School. An additional 7 per cent have full-time appointments in the School and 24 per cent teach part-time in the School of General Studies but have appointments in other parts of Columbia University, thus giving their full time to the University. Occasionally, a teacher with a full-time appointment in other parts teaches an extra course in the School of General Studies. Underpaid academics who have already prepared course notes for their classes in other colleges or schools can be easily persuaded to teach one of their courses in the School of General Studies:

I teach one of my Barnard courses in G. S., too. After a while you get used to repeating your jokes, particularly if it adds a hundred dollars to your paycheck.

This kind of duplication not only occurs between the various schools of Columbia University, but also some teachers from other colleges in the New York area teach one of their courses in the School of General Studies as well.

Since over three-quarters (77 per cent) of the teachers in the School of General Studies give only part-time service to the School and over half (53 per cent) give only part-time service to the University, it is plain that the strong commitments outside the college that we found so characteristic of the student body have their counterpart in the teaching staff. Let us illustrate some types of outside commitments and cite some expressions of how part-time teachers integrate their classroom hours with their other activities. The types are admittedly impressionistic, and we do not know how representative the sample comments are.

  1. The Downtown Practitioner. New York City is full of intellectual talents. Many academicians advise or run the top-management centers of Manhattan. Many of these professionals or intellectuals in the world of business and government enjoy giving a lecture a week. Some of them began their careers as college teachers but became attracted to industry or government, and their weekly course at Columbia represents a point of continuity with their past aspirations. Courses in accounting, advertising, article writing for magazines, banking, book publishing, business management, communication media, creative design, crime and delinquency, drafting, editing of films or magazines, engineering, feature and news writing, investment finance, marketing, market research, orchestral conducting, painting, personnel management, printing, public administration, public relations, radio and television, stage-craft, taxation, theatre, and many others might well be taught by Downtown Practitioners. One might guess that their inctruction represents a practical flavor in the ivory towers.
  2. The Graduate Student. Like any college, the School of General Studies has a fair share of teachers who are students on their Ph. D. dissertations. The plight of these student-teachers is worth to comment upon. One half-time instructor says:

    I donít know when I will ever finish the damned dissertation. To prepare for class and lecture six hours a week doesnít give you much time left. Maybe it will be better next year; they say the first year is worst. Ė The trouble is that I like teaching, and I like to do a good job. Believe it or not, it is much more fun to be in class than in the library. And one wants to make a good impression, you know. So, I am not as eager about the thesis work as I used to be.

    A recurrent problem for these teachers seems to be the fact that the immediate gratifications of teaching are obvious and have to be balanced against the longrange gratifications that follow the completion of the doctorate.
  3. The University Researcher. The many research institutes that have been incorporated with all major universities during recent decades, often employ full-time research personnel of high competence. Some of these researchers at Columbia teach a course in the School of General Studies:

    It seems a shame to be at a university and do no teaching. While God knows I love my job of uninterrupted research, it still feels good to go and teach every Tuesday night.

    The relative lack of tenure research positions in the United States makes it important for many research professionals to acquire some teaching experience. Such experience usually furthers their careers toward regular university appointments with tenure.
  4. The Professor Emeritus. Hard and firm rules for retirement of professors may be useful to the university organization. For one thing, these rules allow more regularity and predictability in the planning of budgets and promotions. However, for the individuals involved, retirement is often demoralizing:

    After having taught my whole life, it would feel a little ignominious to stop all of a sudden. I have really enjoyed my class in General Studies since I retired.

    The number of part-time teachers in General Studies who are emerti from the various divisions of the University is not large. However, many are illustrious; to mention only two, the School has had the advantage of the services of Robert S. Woodworth, grand old man of American psychology, now in his eighties, and Edmund deS. Brunner, eminent in the field of rural sociology.

In summation of this aspect of the schoolís staff, it may be observed that many problems of the School of General Studies seem to arise from the fact that so many part-time teachers give instruction to so many part-time students. In the entire field of higher education in the United States only medical schools have a proportion of part- time instructors of comparable magnitude, and medical schools do not have to cope with the additional problems of part-time students.

In the academic market place a college like the School of General Studies is a rarity. We have, however, no systematic information as to why a teacher would choose to teach in the School of General Studies. From about a dozen informal conversations with teachers about the reasons behind their coming to the School, the following comment stands out as typical of the full-time teachers:

I didnít take my job here because I was interested in teaching older students. I took it because it was New York City and Columbia University.

The attractions of the teaching positions in the School of General Studies apparently lie less in the School itself. It is instead the opportunities provided by the larger university and the great metropolis that attract.

Teachers who are Graduate Students or University Researchers tend to see their teaching as an investment in a future professional career. A Downtown Practitioner can occasionally see more immediate returns:

Columbia pays me 300 dollars for my course. But it might be worth 3,000 dollars of business to me to be able to tell my clients that I am a "lecturer at Columbia".

Such situations, however, do not seem common.

 

25) A general sociological analysis of the position of American college teachers is found in Logan Wilson, The Academic Man, Oxford University Press, New York, 1942. For a review of some general characteristics of American college teachers of social science, see Paul F. Lazarsfeld and Wagner P. Thielaus, Jr., The Academic Mind, The Free Press, Glenece, 1958, chapter 1. For an overview with many references to Columbia University, see Jacques Barzun, Teacher in America, Little Brown, Boston, 1945.


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