Asking for snarky students

Full time, tenure track faculty are way too busy to teach college courses. They barely have time to formulate what to teach and no time to consider how to teach it. When students then complain about the teaching methods, that appears to the faculty as the very  least of their problems. Here's what preoccupies tenure track faculty members:

  1. writing proposals and applying for several different research grants in hopes of being awarded one
  2. meeting with the college administrator and legal counsel who oversee intellectual property issues impacted by faculty research
  3. designing the research methods, schedule, benchmarks and reporting protocols to comply with the requirements in the grant
  4. recruiting, and then working with, graduate assistants and/or junior faculty who assist in conducting the research and then documenting it
  5. resolving issues that arise with the research subjects, locations, scheduling, compensation, etc.
  6. collaborating with peers on questions that arise from the unexpected findings, in the dirty data or resulting from the research design itself
  7. accumulating citations of other research papers which informed this study
  8. writing a report of this research to submit to a well chosen peer reviewed journal
  9. making revisions in the report to meet the expectations of the peer reviewers
  10. handling invitations and travel arrangements to speak at conferences about this research once it's published
  11. reviewing other peers' submittals to journals and/or conferences
  12. serving on hiring committees for new departmental faculty, reading candidates' dissertations and publications, as well as interviewing them individually
  13. serving on departmental committees to assess peers' publications, research and personal worthiness for promotions and/or tenure
  14. reading extensively in their field to formulate further research directions
  15. responding to requests from peers in other institutions who are seeking advice on their research
  16. providing onsite consulting within corporations and/or governmental agencies wanting to apply the research to their endeavors
  17. serving on one or more campus committees to address any number of critical issues outside their department

With this staggering workload, it's no wonder faculty members routinely exclaim: "students are not customers". The faculty are constantly entangled in a web of customer relationships with the agencies providing grants, individuals assisting the research, worldwide peers reviewing their write-ups and departmental peers reviewing their career advancements. Students do not influence any of those relationships, assist any of the desired outcomes and further any of the research itself. Students' complaints appear inconsequential and oblivious to the high stakes game being played outside the classroom by the faculty. Students are not peers in the faculty member's world of intense peer to peer dynamics.

Meanwhile the students feel misunderstood, disrespected and used. They experience many of the faculty as insensitive, unresponsive and aloof. They question why the teaching cannot be more relevant, useful and engaging? They are suspicious of getting deceived, exploited and betrayed while going into staggering debt to get a diploma. The students are as justified in seeming snarky as the faculty are in disregarding the snark. There's no solution at the level of this presenting problem. The stalemate can only be broken outside this robust, self-maintaining system for academic research.

Note: This post addresses issue: 11. Preempting snark attacks
of the 15 Issues in the reform of higher ed.


  1. It is not just the tenured teachers. Part time and term instructors are also expected to do research, plus they are looking for jobs (which won't come if they don't do research).

    However, part of the problem is also the immediacy that many students expect when they interact with a faculty member. The fact is, many students believe that the faculty do nothing but sit in their offices all day. I can't tell you how many meetings I have set up with students, rearranging my schedule, only to have the students not show up or even contact me to let me know why they didn't show up. They have much more important things to do, and the instructor will be in their office "thinking" anyway.

  2. Yes to both your points Virginia! Where the non-tenure track faculty differ from tenure-track is in the shorter duration of their research designs, inability to attend conferences and more disconnects from the worldwide peers who could support the research questions, issues, setbacks, etc. I suspect much of the disconnect occurs from the non-tenure track getting framed as outsiders, second class citizens or migrant workers.

    Somewhere along the line, lots of students learn to give up on getting the attention they need, on showing respect to teachers and on maintaining their own reputations. Once they feel shot down, chances of getting back up are slim. They may acquire that baggage long before they show up in college, and merely act it out in each class they take.

    Thanks for your added thoughts!