Department of Sociology and Anthropology
I have been drafting this response to the recent dependent verification process controversy “in my head” since first seeing Michael Johnston’s brilliant and alarming email while on an extended study group in South Africa almost a month ago. Since then, other colleagues have contributed to the debate on this website, important points have been made, and serious critical perspectives have been developed. I am proud to be part of a faculty that counts Michael Johnston, Barbara Regenspan, Nina Moore, and Deborah Knuth Klenck among its members. I am not proud, at this moment, to be associated with Colgate University, an institution that is behaving, as one poster put it, “like a company devoid of human accountability.”
As Barbara and others have mentioned, the timing of this demand for documents proving lineal and affinal legal connections comes at a curious time of the academic year. Obviously, the opportunity for directly questioning our administrators will have to wait until the first faculty meeting of 2014-15, and I encourage my colleagues, through the AAUP or some other mechanism, to plan carefully for this first available open forum. But Barbara and Debbie both also raise the questions of commitment and community, and the very real question of what has been lost over the years.
As mentioned above, I first heard about this issue while traveling with 19 students on a three week tour of two South African cities. Our course theme was, interestingly, Movements for Social Change, and our meetings were with academics and grassroots community activists, organizing across a range of issues from service delivery disputes to environmental justice. The experience was both exhilarating and exhausting; of unquestioned value to the students and to Colgate’s goal of internationalizing and globalizing the curriculum, but it also comes at a cost. For me, it was at the expense of time with my family (including two children who had been away from home for the previous nine months), time for recovery from a full and difficult academic year (teaching a total of almost 120 students across my five courses), and time to begin re-orienting myself again toward my scholarship, including a much delayed book project. Indeed, due to the extended study, I will be receiving 19 final papers by the end of this week, and will be grading into July. Furthermore, as I discovered to my shock when it was too late to back out, our administration expects that extended study programs are to be undertaken in addition to the regular five course teaching load, and compensated at the very reduced “overload” rate. It was only after considerable push back that the policy has been changed; future faculty will now have the option, with the consent of their departments, to count the considerable work, time, and administrative labor of an extended study course as part of their regular teaching load.
Several times, both in advance of the trip and while on it, I asked myself why I was doing this, at this stage of my career. I have been at Colgate almost 30 years, and am a full professor of anthropology. I have an ambitious research agenda, with field data that remains in high demand from an audience of practitioners and scholars. Furthermore, I have done my bit as far as travel with students goes; I am a veteran of three semester-long study groups and take 18-20 students to Washington DC for four days every spring as part of a national simulation. Why, I asked myself while negotiating close living quarters in a back-packer hostel in Durban with my 19 (admittedly wonderful and enthusiastic) students, was I putting myself through this, when I could be home with my own kids (and spouse)? The answer lies in those elusive sentiments so beautifully evoked by Barbara and Debbie; commitment and community.
Max Weber, a favorite theorist of mine, writes of commitment as arising from embodied participation within a bureaucratic structure. Although some contemporary scholars of “leadership” may believe that it can be produced or generated by specific policies or actions of those in power, Weber’s great insight is that commitment is an aspect of practice within a community of practitioners. Rather than worrying about who may be “cheating” or misrepresenting their family relationships, our institution would be better served by leaders who can recognize, celebrate, and leverage the kind of commitment produced by long-term experience within a defined social system. As Barbara notes, “surely they (our administrators) know that there is plenty of research on the subject of how eroded trust literally engenders fraud because it threatens the unwritten social contract.” I, among others, would be happy to provide citations to some of this research.
Among the voices responding on this forum and one of the most poignant is that of Jasmine Bailey, who reminds us that it is the most vulnerable members of the faculty, the young untenured, visiting, and adjunct professors, who are the most likely to have “undocumented” dependents. She challenges the more privileged among us to speak out against these policies and administrative practices which make Colgate more corporate, less human, and which “deeply threaten” our imagined social contract. Speaking for the other end of the academic life cycle, Debbie Knuth Klenck links the dependent verification scheme to recent attempts to “push” senior (and more expensive) faculty into retirement. Both are correct in noting that social location matters in how faculty are constrained in responding on this issue. As a parent of young adult children, subject to the same economic uncertainties and instabilities as our youngest colleagues and situated in the “protected” bubble of the Affordable Care Act requirements (i.e. under age 26), I cannot simply ignore the request to photocopy my children’s birth certificates. But I also cannot ignore how complying with this request impacts my commitment to a community and my willingness to continue sacrificing time from my family and scholarship. Our leaders risk alienating committed members of the faculty, at all levels, through these policies and the tone they set for our interactions with each other.