3.776 supporting the humanists, cont. (237)

Willard McCarty (MCCARTY@vm.epas.utoronto.ca)
Wed, 22 Nov 89 20:31:41 EST

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 3, No. 776. Wednesday, 22 Nov 1989.

(1) Date: Wed, 22 Nov 89 08:22:12 EST (11 lines)
From: Norman <ZACOUR@vm.epas.utoronto.ca>
Subject: Re: Wearing another hat.

(2) Date: 22 November 1989 17:39:54 CST (120 lines)
From: "Michael Sperberg-McQueen 312 996-2477 -2981" <U35395@UICVM>
Subject: supporting humanities computing

(3) Date: Tue, 21 Nov 89 18:13:27 PST (81 lines)
From: "John N. Davis" <YYJDAVIS@UVVM>
Subject: tenure

(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Wed, 22 Nov 89 08:22:12 EST
From: Norman <ZACOUR@vm.epas.utoronto.ca>
Subject: Re: Wearing another hat.

[The following comment came to me apparently as a private message. --WM]

While the responses to the problems you have raised have been on the
whole sympathetic, I'm still young enough, apparently, to be
surprised. Change of any kind must be depressingly slow when even
some fellow humanists (few indeed, one hopes) can miss the point so
(2) --------------------------------------------------------------129---
Date: 22 November 1989 17:39:54 CST
From: "Michael Sperberg-McQueen 312 996-2477 -2981" <U35395@UICVM>
Subject: supporting humanities computing

A late foray into the topic of humanities computing support. I believe
Willard has expressed most eloquently the views I support myself: that
normal scholarly activities should be a normal part of positions for
humanities computing support. And that humanists hired to help other
humanists use computers should be allowed and encouraged -- and possibly
expected -- to continue their own research and to teach some courses in
their field. There are parallels in the professional research staff
positions of the natural sciences, in the recognition at some
institutions of librarians as faculty members with responsibilities for
research and publication, and farther afield in pure research

But a couple of recent remarks deserve comment. Sheldon Richmond asks
(roughly) who would be preferable -- an embittered humanist who thinks a
support position a poor substitute for the tenure-track position
originally aimed for, or a professional computer support person.

>From my experience, the answer is very clear: a humanist with some
knowledge of computers will know more to the point and work better with
humanists than a technician with some interest in working with
non-technical people. That's obviously just a rule of thumb, but in
general the success of one-on-one consulting depends crucially upon
rapport, which is easier to establish if the user and the consultant
share a disciplinary background. Also, consultants who are themselves
humanists are much more apt to regard the the technical problems
peculiar to humanists as interesting and worth solving. Consultants who
are themselves humanists are in fact much more likely to have
encountered and solved the problems already. When the support position
is integrated into a campus-wide, pan-disciplinary mechanism for
computing support (as it should be, I think), it will be far easier for
the humanist consultant to fill some technical gaps than it could ever
be for a pure computer professional to understand what the aorist is,
much less how to recognize and tag it.

As to the embitterment postulated by Sheldon Richmond, it usually makes
no difference. The only question is how well the support person can
swallow it. Obviously no one should hire anyone for public service jobs
who carries around a machine gun so as to be prepared for irritating
encounters. But such irritability is as likely in a "professional
computer support" person (if such people really exist, which I have yet
to believe) as in a teacher manque/. The phenomenon of burnout is at
least as dangerous to support personnel as is tenure-envy. (I believe
with Willard, however, that research-time envy and teaching-envy are far
more common than tenure-envy.)

Why is burnout such a problem? This relates to a second question. How,
David Bantz asks, is the position of humanists who find themselves
serving as computer consultants different from that of bankers and
industrial chemists? (And implicitly, why should we have any sympathy
for them?) The answer is very simple: industrial chemists are not
typically addressed as 'Boy!' by their former graduate school chums.
The professional staffs of our universities, by contrast, not
infrequently are treated by faculty members as step'n'fetch-it servants,
from the computer centers at one end of campus to the libraries at the
other. Any professional staff member at any university can tell you
about that (assuming you can catch them at a time when candor outweighs
a highly developed sense of tact and professional self-preservation).
The faculty member who appreciates the professional training on the
other side of the counter, who treats the staff member as a colleague of
some sort, is mercifully not unknown, but in my experience on both sides
of the counter at several institutions they are in the distinct

So what is to be done? There are some very tricky problems in adding
research to the job description, let alone adding teaching. The
departments involved wish, no doubt properly, to select their own
teaching staff; if teaching is part of a computer-center job
description, the opportunities for tug-of-war between the computer
center and the academic departments are multiplied manifold.
Nevertheless, that direction is the one to explore. Models should be
sought in the non-teaching faculty status of (some) librarians, in the
professional research staffs, and in the success of informal
arrangements by which computer centers recognize that they will have
better consultants if they allow them some time and support for work in
their original academic field.

None of this will eliminate either the caste system or the assumption
(by some) that having a teaching job is a sign of grace (of having "won
the race ... due to merit and excellent scholarship" in Richmond's
phrase, which I take to be a humorous parody of self-important members
of the professoriate) but any of it would make our universities more
habitable places for those who love both scholarship and (because of
their promise for scholarship) machines.

Equally to the point -- more to the point, perhaps, for David Bantz --
they would help attract to computing support positions the type of
people most apt to be helpful as consultants, and help them retain the
characteristics that suited them for the job in the first place. This
is where I think Sheldon Richmond has rather missed the point. Justice
and injustice and suffering are not the central point at issue (although
I hope they seem more important to other humanists than S.R. appears to
find them), but how to get good support for humanities consulting.
Treating the consultants well is a simple, time-honored expedient that
works quite well even if one recognizes no other reason to treat people
well. It works with janitors too.

There is nothing inherently wrong with David Bantz's suggestion that
computing-support personnel need support for professional development
and a chance to work on computing issues other than hot-line and walk-in
consulting. That's true. But if we argue (as I do, at least) that one
should hire a humanist rather than a technician to support humanities
computing because the humanist knows research and teaching problems
better, then we should also be careful to ensure that while performing
their jobs, our computing consultants can maintain the skills that made
them attractive to us in the first place, including research and
teaching. If our job descriptions focus exclusively on data-processing
issues, then our jobs will ultimately turn their humanist incumbents
into data-processing professionals and we might as well have hired a DP
person at once. I would never willingly hire someone for a humanities
computing support position who had not done research (and preferably
taught) in some field; nor would I expect them to stay fresh in the job
without some chance to do further research. By such an arrangement both
they and the institution would benefit.

-Michael Sperberg-McQueen
University of Illinois at Chicago
(3) --------------------------------------------------------------89----
Date: Tue, 21 Nov 89 18:13:27 PST
From: "John N. Davis" <YYJDAVIS@UVVM>
Subject: tenure

In some recent postings, the Myth of Tenure has been retold. In most,
if not all Canadian universities, the janitors do have, practically,
a sort of tenure which is every bit as secure as any professors has. It
just isn't called "tenure". What each has is the right not to be
dismissed except for cause.

Each gets this right after a period of probation. For janitors,
this probationary period typically lasts no more than 3 months.
For professors, the probationary period is often more like 6 years.
During all this time, the professor is liable to be dismissed, not
quite on a whim, but for something less than just cause. A lot can
happen in 6 years. Usually the Dean/Department Head who recommended
the hiring is not the one who makes a tenure recommendation.

For a janitor, the performance review at the end of 3 months is
usually a pretty simple bit of business. The professor, on the other
hand, must typically make a formal application for tenure, and support
the application with a good thick stack of documentation.

The myth says much about the role of one's peers. The thing to note
in most every Canadian university is that the faculty committee only
recommends. Management (a.k.a. the Board of Governors or Regents)
actually decides. Practically, this means that a faculty committee
can effectively deny tenure, but can only recommend that it be granted.
Janitors, I think it is safe to say, tend to have a much better sense
of what peer solidarity involves.

In the Canadian universities with which I am familiar, tenured professors
do have somewhat greater protection than do tenured janitors against
layoffs triggered by financial exigencies and the like. On the other
hand, professors are less secure against layoffs than, in my experience,
they think they are.

What if the Board of Governors, without cause, actually dismisses
a tenured professor or janitor? Janitors are usually members of a
national or international union. The union has an enforceable duty of
fair representation, and is generally willing and able to fund a
grievance. The remedy of reinstatement is not guaranteed, but is
usually not outside an arbitrator's jurisdiction.

What about the dismissed professor? If the faculty association is
a certified labour union, the situation is very similar. If the faculty
association is not a labour union, the situation may yet be similar.
There may be an arbitration agreement, and there may be a duty of fair
representation. There probably is not compulsory association membership
or dues check-off. It may be difficult for such an association to
provide a great deal of financial support. The professor may have to
dip into personal resources to support the complaint procedure.

If there is no arbitration agreement, the professor may have to go
to court. Unlike many consensual arbitrators, courts usually do not
have the jurisdiction to reinstate a professor dismissed without cause.
All the court can do is to award damages. (This depends on the
constitution of the university. Sometimes, if a university is
established by the act of a legislature, a university dismissing a
professor may be exercising a statutory power. This means that the
professor sues for administrative review rather than for common law
wrongful dismissal. In this case, the court may find that the
purported dismissal was a nullity, ergo reinstatement. It depends.)

The word "tenure" is a misnomer in Canada. It is a relic of other times
and other places when the substance of it was very different. All
Canadian professors are employees. They are not holders of the property
in an office, as some professors on other continents were (and for all
I know may still be.) In a conveyance of property, two usual clauses
are the habendum and tenendum ("to have and to hold"), with the tenendum
specifying the duration of the holding (e.g. absolutely, for life, for
a term of years). Professor Weir, in 1866, got exactly nowhere with
his assertion that he had been amoved from a freehold office at Queen's
University in Kingston, Ontario. Weir v. Matheson (1866), 3 E.& A. 123.

Professors get more respect and have more clout than janitors in the
great university scheme of things. It just isn't tenure that makes
the difference.

John N. Davis, Faculty of Law, University of Victoria