Missoula College Adjuncts file

Cassie Hemphill, president of the Missoula College Faculty Association, talks recently about the college being out of compliance with the University of Montana's policy on non-tenurable instructors. Adjuncts and lecturers make up 52 percent of the instructional faculty at Missoula College, while UM's policy says the number shouldn't exceed 25 percent.

Kudos to the Montana Kaimin for identifying this breach: Missoula College has way too many adjunct faculty members to permanent faculty per policy at the University of Montana.

Cassie Hemphill, president of the Missoula College Faculty Association, told the Missoulian the ratio has been slipping further and further from 25/75 percent split called for in policy, and faculty have had enough.

Hemphill, an adjunct herself, said the situation affects students, faculty and the college as a whole:

"I wouldn't be here if I didn't want to be here. But there comes a point where you can only be taken advantage of for so long before it starts affecting morale."

The Office of the Provost has a goal for Missoula College to get back to the ratio identified in policy, no more than 25 percent of instructional faculty being "non-tenurable."

It probably will take a while. (FYI: Last I saw, the Kaimin story was in print only, so I don't have a link for you.)

Hemphill talked a little bit about the tough situation adjunct faculty find themselves in, essentially in limbo every semester. Writer Herb Childress is publishing a whole book about the life of the adjunct, and his column was published last week in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Some few will get in. Some larger number will not. But the peculiar cruelty of higher education is its third option — the vast purgatory of contingent life, in which we are neither welcomed nor rejected, but merely held adjacent to the mansion, to do the work that our betters would prefer not to do.

The prospect of intellectual freedom, job security, and a life devoted to literature, combined with the urge to recoup a doctoral degree’s investment of time, gives young scholars a strong incentive to continue pursuing tenure-track jobs while selling their plasma on Tuesdays and Thursdays. 

— Kevin Birmingham

Again, the rationalists might say that we should walk away, that we should refuse to support an industry that behaves as it does. But intellectual work is not solely rational. It is a form of desire. It is our identity. It is a community that we love, that does not love us back. 

Hemphill too talked about joy of teaching and of witnessing students have an "aha!" moment, and she also talked about reaching the limit of tolerance for the treatment of contract faculty. The union proposed a strategy for ramping up the number of tenured faculty, so we'll have to talk to the new Missoula College dean once that person is on board to find out if the plan looks like it will work.

On another note, I wanted to share with you the most productive wander I had today at the Skaggs building.

On the way to an interview, I said a quick hello to Mark Pershouse, a faculty member who took the opportunity to share a brochure with me on the "Health Careers Opportunity Program," which he's talked about. It helps students from economically or disadvantaged backgrounds get into and be successful in health programs.

That's fantastic, and it also fits into the project reporter Cameron Evans and I are working on about economic mobility in education. Stay tuned.

Then, photographer Kurt Wilson and I met faculty member Kim Madson and recovering addict Levi Bessette for an interview about a class she is leading on the opioid epidemic. If all goes well, you'll read about it this weekend, and not only the course, but how it fits into a newer model for higher education.

We learned Madson actually had to move the class to a bigger space because she had too many students, 90 instead of 70. It's for pharmacy students, but students from all kinds of majors are taking it.

On the way out, Madson asked if I planned to call faculty member Rich Bridges, a neuroscientist who gave the first two lectures in the course. He talked to the class about addiction and the changes that take place in the brain, and then Bessette offered his experience, which was the on-the-ground reflection of the scientific explanation Bridges shared. Apparently, the students were captivated.

Anyway, I said yes, I would call Bridges, and then, we ran into him in the hall. And he filled us in on how this class illustrates the moving and shaking going on at UM.

So those were the fruitful laps in the Skaggs Building. Look for the story this weekend. I'll share it in the newsletter next week too, again, if all goes as planned this week.

Enrollment in neuroscience is going up, up, up, but if you missed it, reporter David Erickson had this story about housing prices in Missoula. This is ironic, but a Realtor was thanking lucky stars that enrollment wasn't going through the roof at UM overall.

In fact, local real estate agent Paul Burrow said that if it weren’t for the University of Montana’s steep enrollment decline this decade, housing prices in Missoula would be even more astronomical.

If we hadn’t seen that (enrollment decline) we would probably be in big trouble,” he said, speaking at the Missoula Organization of Realtors’ annual housing report on Thursday.

Hmm. If it's a silver lining, it looks like a thin one.

What else? If you're moseying around campus yourself, head to the Mansfield Library to see a rattle made out of a bull scrotum.
It's part of an exhibit about Plenty Coups and the story he told Frank Linderman. Here's my story about it, with a thanks to Hannah Soukup, curator of Archives and Special Collections at the Mansfield Library, for always keeping us in the loop about the treasures on display.

I really appreciated a comment from Salish Kootenai College faculty member Aaron Brien, who offered several talks at the library about what Linderman got right and what he got wrong in the Plenty Coups story.

Anytime a foreign entity tells a story from the outside looking in, it will never quite go the distance. Yet (Brien) believes people are ready for unvarnished reality.

"I am finding people are coming to the place where they want the truth," said Brien, himself a member of the Apsáalooke Nation. "They want authenticity, even if it makes them perplexed."

Several other items in brief:

The Bozeman Chronicle had this story about a bill protecting free speech on campus. The Chronicle also had this story about the blessing of Montana State University's new American Indian Hall.

You might recall from this enrollment update that Native American numbers are down significantly at UM, and on the upswing at MSU. UM built the Payne Family Native American Center years ago.

On the research front, here's some ways that climate change is going to mess with Montanans, especially children. 

Nick Silverman, a hydroclimatologist at the University of Montana and the co-author of the 2017 Montana Climate Assessment, said all four of the last four years have been the hottest on record.

Additionally, Provost Jon Harbor penned this column about online education and UM's quest to expand it. 

As a child, I learned how to do complex calculations on a slide rule, and I remember heated discussions about the educational impacts of allowing students to use the new “electronic calculators.”

Also, College of Business Dean Chris Shook is on his way out to a bigger school, and after just three years at UM, ICYMI.

And straight from UM:

That's all for now. Thank you for reading, especially indulging my trip through Skaggs today.

— Keila Szpaller

Stay current on the University of Montana and other higher education news in Montana with the Missoulian's weekly email, Under the M. This newsletter will land in your email box on Tuesdays. Got a news tip? Want to hear more about something at UM? Missoula College? The Commissioner's Office? Shoot a note to keila.szpaller@missoulian.com. Thank you for reading, and please sign up here if you'd like to subscribe. 

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