The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

SMU professor Susanne Scholz in the West Bank in 2018.
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Southern Methodist disunity

These United States
 Southern Methodist disunity
Southern Methodist disunity

Southern Methodist disunity

Dean Jasper Neel does a thankless job at this university, trying to keep things together at Dedman, the school which houses the majors that over 50 percent of the student body pursues. He also has to keep a positive difference in income from regular tenured faculty that doesn’t exceed $600 (by his own estimate.) He has a 13-year-old daughter who, because he was speaking to a group of concerned English students Monday night for two and a half hours in the basement of Dallas Hall, did not have her father there to help her with her homework.

We were there because a plan had recently come to our attention that would put a cap on how long Rhetoric lecturers could serve in that capacity with benefits and salary intact. After seven years, they would be told to either go somewhere else, or become an adjunct with less pay. If that was the alpha and the omega of it all, then it seems pretty clear where we should stand as students.

However this is not the whole story. One, SMU has to obey a rule passed down from an independent body that says all lecturers must receive de facto tenure after six years of service. I think we can all see how someone who often doesn’t have a terminal degree or the research experience cannot receive such a plum appointment just by squatting on some territory for long enough. We’re not playing king of the hill here.

The issue is further complicated by SMU’s status as a research university, where tenured faculty must demonstrate not only education excellence, but also assume a place on the frontier of knowledge. SMU has to balance these two priorities and a checkbook that isn’t as large as it appears at first. Lecturers are paid with “soft money” that is left over from other hard commitments and this cash rolls over after each semester to hopefully ensure each of them a raise each year. In Dean Neel’s own words, if they don’t deserve a raise, they don’t deserve to stay on.

Sure, it sounds cold and that’s not the only unfortunate sounding disclosure on the Dean’s part. When I asked if he was personally responsible for this plan, he claimed to be unable to answer that question, and instead reiterated that the plan was not new in the least and that every lecturer understood their contracts before signing them.

There are at least two problems with this. One, if that was the case, then why is it that the faculty feels the need to respond with a forum of their own? Are the faculty we trust to educate us really so foolish that they would be unaware of this allegedly old plan? Furthermore, if this plan isn’t new, then why is it just being disclosed to us now?

We can’t know that and I bet Dean Neel himself is in the dark with us on most of these issues. Our foremost concern over all was the preservation of our educational quality, which cannot be met by trusting Rhetoric – a class that all of us, regardless of major, must take or test out of – to what essentially amounts to a group of academic trainees that turn over just as they hit their stride. When we asked why our need as students for great teachers should be sacrificed to the demands of research, we were told that if we wanted a school where the faculty were teachers first and foremost, we shouldn’t have come to SMU.

The way I understand it now, we’ve got a system where students are left at sea with instructors that have no job security to introduce them to the university. This plan, new or not, would only reinforce the status quo. Whereas the number of students, tuition hikes and insecure lecturers has increased dramatically over time, the number of tenured faculty has not, contrary to the plan to eventually grant all faculty that honor. To be tenured means to have a job that cannot be compromised unless you are proven incompetent, derelict or guilty of a felony – nothing more. What does it say about these United States when this kind of standard is seen as a privilege, not a right of all workers?

But here’s what gets me the most. Dean Neel and something like 15 students, all of us with more pressing concerns in our lives, had to have this meeting and thrash it out without all the facts at hand. We left confused, worried and disheartened. We’re supposed to believe that an ideal of professionalism will keep a professor dedicated, even when they don’t know where rent is coming from that month. We’re supposed to believe that the SMU name and it’s intellectual life will always set us a cut above the community colleges where education is the only aim.

I don’t believe for a moment that Dean Neel, this kind gentleman come to allay our fears who has more than paid his dues at universities across the nation, is responsible for this sad state of affairs. We’re meant to be appraising ourselves alongside the like of Duke, Rice and Tulane – places that, like SMU, have gone down the road of trading education for job-specific training and nice looking buildings.

I wonder instead about our board of trustees. Since Cox keeps the co-founder of Peoplesoft on its board, are we supposed to believe that didn’t influence the decision to pay Peoplesoft for the right to beta-test its faulty software with vital student information nearly four years ago? Now that (as of July of last year) Jeffrey Skilling, former President and CEO of Enron, sits on the SMU board, how can we believe they will make a “professional” commitment to our “intellectual life?”

If the Betas have it their way, their brothers Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling would be pardoned just because they’re Betas. I suppose that “men of principle” engage in both aggravated assault and grand corporate larceny. That kind of clannish thinking ignores the need for this university’s community to rise above the corrupt legacy that gave us the Death Penalty in sports, and may sound a death knell for our education.

If you want to know where your money’s going, drop me a line at 214-768-5314 or [email protected]. If any trustees resent the inquiry, I remind them that The Daily Campus is an independent news source that isn’t beholden to their deep pockets and they can kindly get stuffed.

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