I could have entitled this post “Research at CUNY”, but I prefer to speak for my own field.
I am thankful to have a long-term academic job, with tenure. I am ecstatic that I live in New York City (if only I could arrange for a geologic event to make some real mountains here without hurting anyone. I would need a promotion of some kind). I appreciate that I have a reasonably big office (which I manage to clutter, despite its size). I am glad that I like many of the students I know (or have known).
What I’m not glad about is the research environment. Before any released time, the CUNY contract mandates 21 hours of teaching per year. This is quite reasonable for an institution where faculty research is a sideline, but is too heavy a burden for those, like me, for whom it is a passion. That descends to 18 hours, for those who publish (still 9 contact hours per week, per semester). Committee work helps further. Advising each Ph.D. student results in a minuscule further reduction of 0.6 hours per semester. External grants result in no teaching reduction at all.
Don’t pity me. I am productive, despite the yoke. If you look at the last post, I even display a certain amount of pride in my work. I don’t write a lot of papers, but I think that what I do write is significant. The problem is that, like the proverbial monkey climbing the rope slung over the pulley, I have to drive myself very fast to ascend.
To those who say “your job is to teach, not do research,” I beg to differ. I actually love to teach (I really enjoyed my great students in relativity and quantum mechanics last semester). Furthermore, I find that my teaching has had a positive impact on my research. But as a scholar, I have the responsibility to give the community something new to teach in fifty years. If there is no research, scholarship recedes into a medieval state, in which we are monks and nuns, copying the same illuminated texts over and over and over and over and over…
CUNY can’t make up its mind as to whether it should be a real university or a teaching-only institution. It seems that it wants to be both, which is not feasible.
I won’t point fingers at particular administrators (or faculty) at CUNY Central or Baruch College (not in this post, anyway). Is that because I am a nice guy and don’t want to name names? Or is it because I am a chicken and frightened of these folks? Nope – it’s because everything is negotiated in secret first, then rubber-stamped. By keeping the decision-making in the dark, we never know who to give credit to or who to blame.
Other people at public universities will probably agree with what I say. Undoubtably the problems begin with government more than university administrations. The evolution of federal and state tax structure has stretched the budgets of public universities incredibly thin. They respond by making life harder for faculty, like us, or charging so much tuition that they are rapidly becoming private schools. The latter phenomenon is helping to deprive those students without upper-class backgrounds of a university education.
Since I came to Baruch, nearly a quarter of a century ago, we have grown quite a bit (though nowhere near enough). Two of our faculty came as RIKEN Fellows, which is a big deal (we get first-rate faculty essentially for free, for the first five years). Look at our publication record, if you disagree. I’ve seen quality growth in other departments around CUNY. CCNY, the boot-camp of science, has always had a great department, but the New York City College of Technology, Lehman College, The College of Staten Island have all become very good places (Hunter, Queens and Brooklyn will complain. Yes, those are good too).
Our physics is mighty. It sure would be nice to see some appreciation around here.