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Home » Clarion » 2013 » May 2013 » Letters to the Editor

Letters to the Editor


Automation and the Academy

As The New York Times reported on April 4 (, providers of massive open online courses (MOOCs) like edX and Coursera are making plans to grade student essays entirely by computer. It’s the next generation of “pedagogical tools” designed to enhance the efficiency of academic evaluation.

If we can enlist legions of computers to grade essays, then I support the rights of students to submit robot-generated compositions as soon as the technology is available. After all, it’s clear that the corporations involved in the privatization and mechanization of education have minimal interest in fostering critical thought or creativity. So why not square that circle and fully dehumanize the entire assessment process with robo-pedagogues grading automated essay writers?

Maybe after the machines have taken over, actual educators and students will have more time to rediscover what it means to really learn something, and to revive the lost art of, say, reading books and talking about them.

Michelle Chen
Graduate Center

Junior faculty at John Jay

I write in reference to an article in the February 2013 Clarion about John Jay professors seeking a change in teaching load. I am sympathetic to many of the points made in the article, but I do have to correct the mistaken impression created by the comments attributed to two of our faculty members that there is an “exodus” of faculty from John Jay and that faculty treat the college like a “postdoc.” It is simply not true.

As we reported in our recently completed Middle States Self-Study, we have a 94% faculty retention rate. In the past five years, only 25 faculty members left the college voluntarily, and many of these departures were prompted by family considerations or the desire to leave academe entirely. This year three faculty members, out of a total of 401, are leaving voluntarily to take jobs elsewhere. I would not like the remaining 398 to believe that their colleagues are leaving in great numbers, and I am writing in part to reassure them that this is not the case.

Jane Bowers
John Jay College

Clarion Editor Peter Hogness responds: Thanks to Provost Bowers for writing. Untenured faculty we’ve spoken to at John Jay say that while departures over workload may not have yet have shown up in large numbers in John Jay’s college-wide statistics, they see a trend in that direction that may soon be felt with greater force. Whether recent or imminent departures amount to an exodus may depend in part on where one sits: one junior faculty member said that three people in her department have accepted positions elsewhere for next academic year. Some junior faculty in other departments say they plan to go on the market once they are closer to tenure, due to teaching-load concerns.

One junior faculty member noted that since untenured faculty would not advertise such plans to senior administrators, immediate colleagues are probably better informed about where things are headed. “The exodus is something that may not have happened yet, but the process has begun,” agreed PSC Chapter Chair Nivedita Majumdar, associate professor of English. While some departures may, as Provost Jane Bowers notes, be for more personal reasons, it seems clear that John Jay’s teaching load is a negative factor for many junior faculty as they plan the next move in their careers.

At the same time, most faculty we spoke to agreed that John Jay’s administration is taking the problem seriously, which they were glad to see. While a solution has not yet been offered, they expressed hope that any trend toward increased departures could be nipped in the bud if corrective action is taken.

History Department Chair Allison Kavey noted that potential faculty departures are just one part of the problem. “What about the people who stay but are exhausted and therefore sacrifice themselves or their students to keep going, and the low morale reported by the COACHE survey – which identified teaching load as a major problem?” What’s needed, she and other faculty agreed, is a broad-based solution that will improve working conditions across the college as a whole.

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