Scholarship and Independence
The argument is often made that scholarship should not only be free of political influence, but also be free of economic constraints. Corporate power should not influence teaching or research, nor should economic need weigh scholars down while they contemplate the larger, abstract issues. Thus, one could argue, the UnFaculty has it backwards. Instead of aggressively touting our connection to economic reality, we should seek to distance our work from direct dependence on money. The ivory tower, so the argument goes, serves a purpose. While the argument has both social and scholarly merit and there will always be a place for institutions and even tenure, there are several things to consider.
Scholarly independence from economic reality has always been an illusion, but it is even more so today. The current system is relegating more and more humanities scholars to a life permanently below the poverty line. With low pay, no job security and no benefits, scholars who passionately want to teach are forced to teach what and how they do not want to – the economic dependence of their work made manifest in their need to say "yes" to any offer to teach, regardless of the conditions. Here, at least they set their own conditions and keep the money themselves.
Students are also often mercilessly sorted by class and background. But here, things are not as grave as they may seem. In Germany, for example, where the school and university systems are much more "socialized" than in the United States, social origin is a stronger predictor of academic success. Thus, there is some evidence that liberalization - in the classic sense - is not always a detriment to considerations of social justice in education.
As an UnFaculty scholar you work in an environment very different from that of the traditional college or university. You will be liberated from almost all obligations which do not relate directly to interaction with students:
- No committee work, unless you voluntarily form committees with peers for whatever purpose you see fit. Indeed, there are no administrative hassles not directly related to your teaching.
- No standardization of teaching, neither in content nor in form. It is your show. The professors are masters of their learning situations - be they classes, circles, seminars, webinars, tutoring, etc.. They have complete control over the teaching materials, content, themes, emphasis and methods.
- They can consult with colleagues as fellow human beings, but outside any form of academic or administrative hierarchy. You can band together to team teach or offer combinations of interlocking or complimentary offerings. But nobody is going to make you do so.
- No teaching expectations. Faculty offer the courses/events they want to teach. There are no undesired courses that get brushed off onto junior faculty, no program requirements that have to be maintained. Each instructor decides which courses to offer and when, where and how to offer them, and how much they will cost.
- No research expectations. If an instructor feels that ongoing research makes him or her a better teacher in some way, then he or she can and should conduct it.
- Select your own students. You have a voice in who can be in your class. You can define class sizes, prerequisites and any other parameters you wish.
- Set your own pay. You set your own pay at what you think you are worth and what the market will allow.
With this freedom, however, come challenges that are often cushioned by the administration or by the presence of a more solid university institution:
- There is no tenure, ever. There are no guaranteed courses and no regular pay. This is not much different than the current institutional reality for many teaching scholars today, however.
- You do not have to assign grades, but some form of evaluation of every student will probably be something you should offer. You got an advanced degree so that you could be in a rigorous scholarly environment. Don't just offer slide shows. Boldly require work and evaluate it.
- Each faculty member competes not only with the traditional system, but with fellow faculty directly in terms of credentials, quality and price. There is no division of turf, no "chairs" for particular fields. We might have several people teaching Latin American History or German literature within the same geographic area, for example. They might be offering very similar courses if they have the same teaching interests.
- There is no funding for research. Instructors must invest in it themselves and see if it is worth it.
- Instructors may eventually be able to teach class online through an UnFaculty online platform. If they do not, however, they are responsible for any infrastructure – a seminar room, web platform, etc.
- Instructors are responsible for the logistics of their classes. The UnFaculty system may eventually offer some support for marketing, enrolments and payment. Everything else will remain faculty work – but some of it they can pass on to students. Books, for example, will not be supplied or sold by a college bookstore. Faculty give a reading list and arrange with their students how those texts will be obtained. The problem is usually solved if the readings are available for purchase or for free online.
- You will have to teach well, or at least to the value you charge. Your students are paying you directly. At traditional institutions the students might complain to you or the administration about the class or their grade. Usually, they can be given a better grade or credit for the class and they will shut up. Here, those things don't count. If they complain, it is about what you sold them. Also, in a traditional setting, students often mistakenly use the customer service analogy. They think they are paying you for a grade, when in fact they, together with endowments and/or subsidies, are paying the school and the school hires you. At OAP, they really do pay you.
- You are responsible for the legal and tax ramifications of your sale of services.
Students who enter an independent learning environment offered by an UnFaculty scholar face different choices and challenges than at a traditional college or university.
Freedoms and Benefits
- Complete freedom of which courses to take. Students only take the classes they want to take. There are no core requirements to "get out of the way." This aspect is no different than enrolling in a university without pursuing a degree program, however.
- You can freely negotiate with the scholar about content and any other aspect of a course or program. That isn't just about content. You can work with a scholar to arrange a completely new educational setting or format.
- Lower tuition costs, since there is no administration to feed.
- Potentially detailed feedback in the course, if the instructor offers it.
- An environment of students who want to be there.
There are, of course, great challenges, which show that the radical "liberalization" implied by the UnFaculty movement can and should never run full course:
- No credential awarded. While students will get feedback, they will not get a grade, a GPA or a degree. They are buying the education, knowledge and experience only, not a degree.
- Students often confront professors at traditional universities with the customer service model of education. They think they are paying for grades or for degrees. Here, the market model applies in a direct and severe way. You are in fact paying the instructor for his or her instruction and insight. But you pay directly for the education and feedback, not for easily quantifiable or measurable signs such as grades and degrees. Students do not pay for a strong evaluation, only for the opportunity to learn from and/or work with the UnFaculty offering teaching in that faculty member's area of expertise. This means that you can not leverage the administration for a better grade or credit, but it also means there is no need to. Here's the rub: In a traditional setting, if you don't like the course, you can say, "at least I got credit for it." Here, the course itself is everything.