From the Professional Issues column in the December 1999 Perspectives
Pleasures and Problems of the Profession: A Call for Papers
Charles Anthony Zappia, December 1999
Our profession remains one of the most rewarding. The excitement of discovery when poring through the records of the past, the satisfaction of helping students find meaning in the study of a broad range of human experiences, the challenge of engaging one's peers in critical discussion: all of these are compensations I would not trade for Bill Gates's bank account. Nevertheless, historians, along with most scholars and teachers, are facing an array of challenges as we come to the end of a century that has witnessed explosive growth in higher education. Attacks on tenure are increasing to the extent that they imperil the traditional protections of academic freedom. The rapid commercialization of higher education is producing more profit-making opportunities for business while challenging the intellectual property rights of scholars and teachers. The overreliance on part-time and adjunct faculty has divided the profession, is failing to offer a future to many younger colleagues who have so much to offer, and tends to demean the significance of the kind of scholarly work that can only be done by those whose job status is secure. As public funds are diverted from higher education to build ever more prisons, politicians and even some higher education administrators ask why today's faculty aren't more productive; that is, why can we not better educate more students with fewer resources? Most distressing to me is the imposition of a business model of operation in academic institutions. More colleges and universities seem to be restructuring their institutional operations to focus upon producing easily measurable "outcomes" that are thought to be responses to "consumer demand," while evaluating academic programs almost exclusively in budgetary terms. This development is vocationalizing the curriculum, especially diminishing the perceived relevance of disciplines like history. Following the business model, there appears to be not only an institutional restructuring, but also a redistribution of authority within the academy: the most important decisions about how to satisfy "demand," assess "outcomes," and improve the "bottom line" are made increasingly by academic administrators and not college faculty.
It is my hope that this column will attract articles addressing the issues raised above, as well as others of significance. Articles written by historians working in a variety of academic and nonacademic settings, and expressing a diversity of opinion will be solicited. I welcome both research-based pieces that offer evidence demonstrating the conditions of our craft, and essays reflecting upon the implications of changing professional conditions. Prospective contributors may contact me directly by writing to Charles A. Zappia, History Dept., San Diego Mesa College, 7250 Mesa College Dr., San Diego, CA 92111-4998, by calling (858) 627-2845, or by e-mailing czappia@ sdccd.net.
—Charles Anthony Zappia is the new contributing editor for the "Professional Issues" column in Perspectives. Zappia, who holds a PhD from the University of California at Berkeley, is professor of history and chair of the Department of Social Sciences at San Diego Mesa College, a 25,000-student comprehensive community college in north-central San Diego. His research focuses on the interaction of race, ethnicity, gender, and work that has molded the political responses of union activists in the United States.
Zappia has published articles on Italian immigrant labor organization in the United States and on immigrant radicalism in New York City's garment trades. In addition, he is interested in the conditions of labor among historians, particularly in the community colleges, and has published several articles on this topic. He is currently working on a political and social history of the Italian language locals in the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union.
Zappia is an elected member of the Professional Division of the American Historical Association, and also serves on the AHA's Ad Hoc Committee on Adjunct and Part-Time Teaching. He is the 1999 chair of the Committee on Teaching of the Organization of American Historians, and is a former member of the OAH's Task Force on Community Colleges.
As vice president and chief negotiator for his college's faculty union between 1992 and 1996, Zappia represented individuals in tenure and promotional denial appeal hearings, and rewrote all of the evaluation, tenure, promotion, and faculty rights and responsibilities provisions in the collective bargaining agreement.