Teaching as Loving: The Academy as Counterculture

Vice President

"We do not support any budget proposal for part-time equity. We consider this to be a competitive market situation."

"If part-time instructors don't like the pay, they can go someplace else. After all, we're not running a slave economy here."

These remarks were made recently at Consultation Council and Board of Governors meetings, respectively. What they illuminate is more than a cavalier attitude toward the exploitation of California's thirty-two thousand part-time community college instructors; they also reflect attitudes towards academia, which go a long way toward explaining many of the issues and movements that have plagued the California Community College System-from both without and within-over the past decade.

Both comments construe employment at our colleges in terms of a "free market economy," and suggest that instructors' primary motive for seeking employment is pecuniary gain in the form of salary compensation. They are wrong on both counts.

Let us look first at the second claim and the matter of motive. Everyone knows that if you want to get a teacher's goat, you simply point out that "Those who can do, and those who can't teach." Behind this jibe is a serious puzzle: For many outside our profession, who are fully integrated into the competitive market culture and who thus accept its values uncritically, the choice to become a teacher is truly baffling. Why would anyone with an education and a skill set that might earn them two to ten times as much in the marketplace, go into a profession with such narrow financial horizons?

Community college teachers need to reflect on the answer to this puzzle. For in that answer lies the definition of our status within the larger culture, the challenge that we currently face, and the value that is the underpinning of our enterprise.

The answer is both extraordinarily simple and extremely complex. The answer is simple because it can be stated in one word: love. And that word, of course, is what makes the answer so complex.

Let us first get over our embarassment at the mention of the word "love" in connection with something so serious as our choice of a career. The source of that embarassment is the portrayal of love in popular culture, an arena where, as social critic, bell hooks, points out, there is little space for the serious consideration of love. "In progressive political circles," hooks writes, "to speak of love is to guarantee that one will be dismissed or considered nave." Popularly, love is seen in terms of gooey sentimentality, or extremes of sexual passion, both of which are considered mindless and irrational. Alternatively, as in Tina Turner's song, "What's Love Got to Do with It?", love is portrayed as irrelevant, a "secondhand emotion."

In searching for a definition of love that could serve as the basis for a discussion of love's "transformative power" in overcoming oppression and exploitation, hooks settles on one offered by M. Scott Peck. In his self-help book, The Road Less Traveled, Peck defines love as "the will to extend one's self for the purpose of nurturing one's own or another's spiritual growth."

This definition resonates with the views of the philosopher Martin Heidegger. For Heidegger, authenticity, or what in this context we could call "self-love," is the actualization of one's "ownmost potentiality-for-Being-one's-Self." And authentic "Being-with-others" -that is, loving them-involves recognizing and facilitating the other's capacity for self-actualization. For Heidegger, Being is a verb, and authentic Being is the product of choice. It is not just a state that befalls us. So, too, hooks asserts that love is best understood, not as a noun, but as a verb, an activity, and she quotes Peck as saying, "Love is as love does. Love is an act of will-namely both an intention and an action. Will also implies choice. We do not have to love. We choose to love."

It is in this sense that love can be understood as the motive for entering the profession of teaching. In contrast to the prevailing misconception of teaching as "information delivery," teaching is in fact the nurturing of other human beings, the facilitation of others in their effort to become more fully themselves. Teaching is, in its essence, independent of discipline and specific informational content. Moreover, those who respond to teaching as a calling (as opposed to a job), have discovered that in nurturing others, one also nurtures one's self. This is the remarkable "feedback loop" of love. Self-obsession never produces the desired result; it is only in going outside of, or "extending," one's self in caring for others that one achieves an increase in one's own sense of completeness and wellbeing. We might reasonably modify Peck's definition to read that love is "the will to extend one's self for the purpose of nurturing one's own spiritual growth through nurturing that of others." One is reminded of the children's story, The Velveteen Rabbit, in which a toy rabbit becomes real as the result of being loved by its little boy owner. The story is intended to instruct its readers, of course, not in the making of real rabbits, but in how to become more real themselves.

Part-time instructors, who stay at it year after year, patching together a schedule among three or four colleges, flying the freeways, and applying for every full-time position that opens up, these instructors are not doing this because they are insufficiently talented to do anything else. They are doing it because they find fulfillment in teaching. Part-time instructors certainly don't love the exploitative pay and the insecurity; like their full-time colleagues, however, they do love to teach.

Just as it is mistaken to assume that community college teachers' primary motive for entering the profession is financial compensation, so, too, it is an error to claim that employment in California's community colleges is a "competitive market situation." The fact is that college instructors are carefully insulated from the competitive market economy, and for good reason. The "insulators" are the institutions of academic freedom and tenure; the reason for the insulation is that seeking and teaching the truth is incompatible with the fear for one's livelihood typical of employees-at-will.

In a recent column in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Michael Brub offers some tongue-in-cheek advice to colleges and universities on how they might more closely approximate the practices of big business. He writes,

.[T]enure prevents university presidents and trustees from engaging in what may be the hallmark of American business today: the use of efficiency experts and external consultants to fire middle-aged account executives, nurses, editors, and secretaries, after having made them run a humiliating gauntlet of pointless selfassessment trials..

Like business, academe is rife with anxiety, territorialism, and ill will. But what academe lacks is a mature culture of abjection and groveling. Fifty-something faculty members with 30 or more years of service to their colleges simply do not live in terror that they may be terminated without reason. That constitutes a major reason why most Americans do not understand the institution of tenure.

That most Americans "do not understand" tenure is Brub's understated way of saying that in fact they hate it. That faculty are privileged to live beyond the reach of the naked forces of the marketplace can be a source of considerable resentment. That resentment seems to fuel many of the movements with which we have recently had to contend:

the demand that colleges adopt modes of management in imitation of corporations;
the requirement that colleges become an extension of the marketplace, supplying trainingon-demand to local businesses;
constant cries for increased accountability, denying the legitimacy of the traditional accreditation system, and insisting on measurable goals;
the increasing use of parttime instructors;
the call for rollover contracts for full-time instructors;
the demeaning of teaching and the expertise of teachers, manifested in such forms as:
(a) an insistence on a pseudoegalitarianism ("We're a learning institution, in which teachers and students are all learners." "The teacher shouldn't be a sage on the stage, but a guide on the side."); and
(b) the uninhibited embracing of technology: the suggestion that instruction is simply information delivery and learning is the acquisition of competencies, a process which does not really require a live teacher, and which in fact is probably carried out more efficiently -and certainly more conveniently-through Web-based, multimedia instructional modules;
the application of evaluative processes borrowed from industry, such as Total Quality Management, where the word "quality" is newspeak for "quantity," and where the criteria are productivity, efficiency, and flexibility to meet changing marketplace demands;
the call for performancebased financial incentives for both institutions and faculty; and
the demand for an end to the institution of tenure.

As mentioned earlier, these movements have found voices from both without and within, coming not only from the public, but with equal and often greater vehemence from administrators, who themselves do not share the same protections as the faculty.

What emerges here is a picture of the academy as a counterculture, one whose value system stands in stark opposition to that of the "competitive marketplace." The ethic of the academy is what bell hooks calls a "love ethic," or an ethic of service. The revolutionary potential of this ethic can be measured by the vehemence with which the champions of the "marketplace" attempt to impose their own values upon it, and to snuff out the institutions, like academic freedom and tenure, that support it.

Will the California community colleges succumb and become extensions of the marketplace? If the state System and many of our local administrators have their way, yes. If faculty and students are clear about the nature and the worth of their enterprise, no.

Meanwhile we need to resist the economic exploitation of part-time instructors, recognizing that the justification for that exploitation (that it's a "competitive market situation") involves a denial of the protections that create the space required for intellectual honesty and freedom in teaching and research. Academic quality and integrity demand that these protections be extended to part-time instructors. Moreover, exploitation is simply wrong, morally, and if the culture of the marketplace condones it, then that culture needs to change. From this perspective it would seem that the end most to be desired is that the marketplace should become an extension of the academy. This is indeed an old but enduring revolutionary vision, that the world should be driven by love and not the desire for material gain. Its seed is with us, and we should nurture it.

1 hooks, bell. Outlaw Culture, "Love As the Practice of Freedom." (New York: Routledge, 1994) p. 247.
2 Cited in hooks, Ibid. Also cited in: hooks, bell. All About Love: New Visions. (New York: William Morrow and Co., Inc., 2000) p. 4.
3 Jones, W. T. A History of Western Philosophy, vol. V: The Twentieth Century to Wittgenstein and Sartre. (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1975) pp. 309-317.
4 hooks. Outlaw Culture, p. 247. All About Love, pp. 4-5.
5 Williams, Margery. The Velveteen Rabbit. (New York: Henry Holt, 1999 reprint edition.)
6 Brub, Michael. "A Shakespeare Department and Other Business Ideas for Colleges Everywhere." The Chronicle of Higher Education, January 28, 2000, p. A64.
7 hooks, in Outlaw Culture, p. 249, writes: "A love ethic emphasizes the importance of service to others..In part, we learn to love by giving service. This is again a dimension of what Peck means when he speaks of extending ourselves for another."