Wednesday, October 04, 2006

 

Rio Salado

I first heard about Rio Salado at a conference about seven years ago. Now the Chronicle has an article profiling it, and it's profoundly disturbing.

Rio Salado college is a single campus of the ten-campus (!) Maricopa County College system, in and around Phoenix, Arizona. According to the Chronicle, and this gibes with my memory, the college has an almost-entirely-adjunct faculty. (Approximately 99 percent of the courses are taught by adjuncts.) What few full-time faculty it does have barely teach or do research; they function mostly as course managers, ensuring standardization and quality control for all those adjuncts.

It's fully accredited.

Rio Salado is attracting quite a bit of positive notice from foundations looking at some of the usual issues: access for non-traditional students, cost/tuition control, and technological innovation.

I like low cost, technological innovation, and access for non-traditional students. But there's something about this that really rubs me the wrong way, especially when it appears the same week as the New York Times' story that Wal-Mart is moving consciously to a more heavily part-time workforce. (One Rio adjunct quoted in the article compares the college approvingly to Starbucks, where she works as a barista thirty hours a week.)

Regular readers know that I have my issues with tenured faculty, but this is not what I have in mind at all. (I prefer full-time positions on renewable, multi-year contracts, for those keeping score at home.)

If we get to a point where most people who teach at colleges have to work as baristas thirty hours a week to feed themselves, our entire higher ed system will collapse.

The dream of tenure makes possible the constant replenishment of the reserve army of adjuncts. If not for the (often false) promise of secure full-time work, I doubt that very many people would endure the rigors and deprivations of graduate training in the traditional academic disciplines. (Disciplines with high demand outside of higher ed, like pharmacology, would probably be fine.) Right now the reserve army of adjuncts is big enough that a college like Rio Salado can feed on it and be fine. But the Rio model can work only as long as plenty of bright twentysomethings believe they have enough of a shot at full-time work to go into graduate programs. When the pipeline starts to dry up, the Rio model will quickly become unsustainable. And the reality of graduate training is that it doesn't – and shouldn't -- fit 'just-in-time' production.

In olden times, faculty at many colleges weren't expected to try to live on their salaries. They had taken vows of poverty (literally!), or were the slumming rich, or were sustained by their families with considerable embarrassment. The emergence of a professional faculty on any significant scale was a twentieth century phenomenon. While it's not without its costs – again, I may have mentioned some of those once or twice – the emergence of a professional faculty allows for people other than the slumming rich to teach. This is no small thing.

The underlying assumption of the Rio model seems to be that education is training, and nothing more. It can be reduced to standardized modules that anybody can deliver at any time. If education really is just training, then who needs full-time faculty?

IHE published a truly stupid report yesterday saying that employers find graduates of two-year colleges less capable than grads of four-year colleges. (One possible explanation: maybe some learning occurs in those third and fourth years?) Still, the nugget of value in the report was that employers are finding that the technical skills with which grads are armed are generally pretty good; the 'general education' skills are where they fall down. In other words, they're pretty well trained, but they aren't educated. To me, that's the logical consequence of treating higher education as nothing more than job training.

Back at Proprietary U, students frequently asked me why they had to take Gen Ed classes (such as mine). I responded that your technical skill gets you your first job, but your communication skills get you promotions. If we academics don't want the rest of academia to follow the Wal-Mart/Rio Salado model, we need to start making a serious case about the economic value of actual education, taught by actual educators. This isn't just self-interest; the Rio model still needs administrators, so I'd be fine. It's a recognition of what can happen if we start to mistake the periphery of what we do for the core.

Comments:
Dean Dad wrote:

In olden times, faculty at many colleges weren't expected to try to live on their salaries. They had taken vows of poverty (literally!), or were the slumming rich, or were sustained by their families with considerable embarrassment. The emergence of a professional faculty on any significant scale was a twentieth century phenomenon. While it's not without its costs – again, I may have mentioned some of those once or twice – the emergence of a professional faculty allows for people other than the slumming rich to teach. This is no small thing.

Nice to see this stated so baldly. The assumption that adjuncts will have some form of income other than salary is still an unspoken given. As a mature PhD student who is about to abandon Higher Education for good, I have to say that a constant feature of my brief academic life has been the misrepresentation of the realities of employment in the sector, particularly in humanities subjects. A truly insulting level of job insecurity is the norm. I would now not advise anyone without independent means or a high-earning partner to enter the profession. It appears that we are rapidly heading back to the 'olden times', when apart from the fortunate and untypical few only the sons and daughters of the aristocracy and the upper bourgeoisie could contemplate a career in academia.
 
Very nicely put, and I agree with your sentiments.

You have elsewhere eloquently articulated some of the nonmonetary costs of the tenure system. Traditional management methods have proven helpless in a variety of troubling situations. Do you think that the emergence of adjunct exploitation is simply a rational management response, the only available avenue for restoring control over faculty that have been abusing their privileges? By radically reducing the body count of the tenured?

If that is true, the response needs to be more wide-ranging than pointing out the education shortcomings of reliance on adjuncts. Is there a path from today's unlimited tenure to your idea of multi-year contracts? I'm not seeing how that happens.
 
Nice post and analysis. With the rise of online learning and its growing desirabilty amongst students is the outsourcing of higher education to foreign instructors not far off? I have read, but can't cite the source, that a university president in Florida likes online courses because she can get Chinese faculty to teach them much cheaper than American faculty.

I agree with a previous poster that perhaps faculty are partly responsible for this. The slouchers with tenure who are unwilling to adapt to new situations makes hiring adjuncts that much more desirable.
 
I've held a sneaking suspicion for some time now that brick-and-mortar universities are going to go all-research, all the time, and their educational functions will be farmed out to online divisions. There will be no full-time faculty, and the only physical buildings dedicated to education will be labs for lab sciences which really must have a hands-on component. Faculty who now do research will no longer be expected to teach, but will have to fund their own positions through grants. Faculty who want to teach will do son on a course-by-course basis, on contract, entirely online.

It's going to be a brave new world, all right.
 
I saw the Chronicle article yesterday and I will admit it disturbed me, as well.

I'm fortunate to be full-time and tenured now, but once upon a time I worked as a part-time road scholar. I even worked for a short time at a college that is very similar to Rio Salado in the way it hires and operates: Coastline College in southern California.

Being part-time everywhere can be very difficult, and very stressful, but one *can* make a living that way. I have one coworker who was earning more than $100K annually teaching part-time at three different colleges, which even here in southern California is a decent amount of money.

There are other jobs that are harder to do, more stressful, and don't pay as well. For example, teaching at a public secondary school.

If anything, the article on Rio Salado made me count my blessings.
 
I'd be willing to bet that the ratio of female to male teachers is significantly higher among part-time teachers than it is among the tenured.

Anonymous' comment about a part-time freeway flier making $100.000/year just doesn't compute. $60/hour is a good guess at the average pay for community college adjuncts in Southern California--and that translates to roughly $3000 for a semester-long three unit class. So someone would have to teach at least 30 classes a year to make $100K.

Impossible.

Philip
 
I adjunct at a small university with grand aspirations of getting bigger and better. There are roughly 80 full-time faculty and around 400 adjuncts! With a doubling of the student body, the full-time faculty may go up to around 120 (if we're lucky). The public relations dept has long since been expanded and is very slick. The reality from the trenches is a bit different. Adjuncts teach most of the gen ed courses (part of their "award-winning" core curriculum). Grand Aspirations U is in the same city as a big university which is an endless source of adjuncts. There are also lots of high tech employers, so most adjuncts, male and female, have a high-tech spouse that subsidizes the whole arrangement. The presence of so many adjuncts depresses the salaries of the full-time faculty as well. The admin likes adjuncts since they are cheap, flexible, and disposable. Full-timers don't want to teach the gen ed courses anyway. Students and parents don't seem to notice the difference. But adjuncts regularly "steal back" their time by reducing planning and prep time, recycling material, etc. My teaching skills go down the longer I teach. The most painful irony is that Grand Aspirations U offers an "ethics in business" award every year; in the overcrowded group offices, the adjuncts talk bitterly if the University itself could win its own award if it acknowledge how it treats its adjuncts.

The supply of Ph.Ds must be cut off at the source!!
 
This has always bothered me. Teeny Hyper-Elite Liberal Arts College, where I just graduated, had a startling number of "visiting" and "temporary" faculty. I never heard the term adjunct used until I started reading this blog (by the way, hi! I'm delurking after a few.... months? Ish.) My thesis advisor was a temporary professor (he finished his dissertation three months before I started my thesis), and although he'd been teaching in the department for the entirety of my time at THELAC, when a potential tenure-track position opened up (an elderly but amusing professor semi-retired, moving gracefully to 'emeritus who still teaches a suspicious number of courses and happens to be seen on campus all the time') and he applied, they decided to simply retain him as a temporary professor and add another temporary professor to the department.

What made it awful, of course, was that being a teeny college, the decision was pretty much entirely up to the department chair (though I'm sure a dean of some sort had to approve it), and they'd been, if not exactly friends, certainly close and civil coworkers. Being the college we are, the hiring process was open to students, and we were invited to sit in on applicants' guest-lectures and provide (detailed) feedback about whether we were interested in the subjects in which they specialized, whether we liked them/would take classes from them, and whether they would fit into our institutional culture. Granted, it wasn't the most straightforward case (my advisor, whom I adore, was so nervous at his 'guest lecture' I was embarrassed just sitting there. At least one of the other candidates was very self-posessed and gave an excellent lecture. I don't think he's the one we hired, though.), but it seemed a betrayal when he was passed over in a department that, as of ProfessorEmeriitus' retirement, consisted of two tenure track professors (one on maternity sabbatical - a complex arrangement in and of itself, as she still taught classes, just not as many since she had to keep flying to China to finalize the adoption) and my advisor. (And had one of the biggest cohorts of thesis students they'd had in years - there were nearly 20 of us).

The departmental politics made for a strange environment for the students (it reminded me of a sitcom in which the parents are getting divorced but don't want to say anything around the kids), but what made it so bad was that, at an institution like THELAC, where we're tiresomely big on 'learning for the sake of learning' and we produce obscene percentages of Rhodes Scholars, McArthur Grant recipeients, and the like... even there, it was extremely difficult to get a job doing what you loved and still be able to live on it. Our professors are rumored to be some of the best taken-care of (parental leave, campus environment, little to no pressure to publish-or-perish, etc.) and worst paid professors anywhere. Looking at things like this, it seems like the options are 'be well taken care of and broke, or be poorly taken care of and still broke.'

I've had people tell me I was made for the academy since I was tiny, and goodness knows a professorship at a place I even moderately liked would probably engender a highly embarrassing happy dance of some sort, but... I'm fond of eating. And being able to afford rent. And feeling, if not respected at least valued as necessary by the place I work for. By those criteria, I'm better off being a plumber.
 
This post and all of the comments make me angry and depressed all at once! I'm adjuncting now, but I think this may be my last year at it. At one Uni I'm being pushed out before I get too much seniority and they HAVE to employ me, and the other Uni is just too much hassle these days. I'm considering other career options, plumbing sounds like a good one!

Seriously, though, I have had people say things to me that indicate it is fine for me to 'just adjunct' because my partner has a corporate job and makes a lot of money. Well, he makes what I'd make as a junior full-time, tenure track prof, so that's not a huge amount and my measly $24,000 a year adjuncting doesn't pay many bills...don't I deserve to make my own $60K a year, with all my education and experience? Yeah, I do, and if I were single or married to another impoverished academic no one would make comments about it being 'okay' for me to 'just adjunct'. And now that I have a kid people talk about how lucky I am to only work part time so that I can look after my son. Well, yes, but the chances of me getting a full time gig are so small that I don't feel lucky at all. Not to mention that if my partner and I both want decent paying jobs in our fields we pretty much have to live where we do, which narrows my field of potential employment even further.

It is more complicated than people make it out to be, but I think I'm tired of trying to explain that to people. Where do I sign up for plumbing school?
 
Anonymous' comment about a part-time freeway flier making $100.000/year just doesn't compute. $60/hour is a good guess at the average pay for community college adjuncts in Southern California--and that translates to roughly $3000 for a semester-long three unit class. So someone would have to teach at least 30 classes a year to make $100K.

Impossible.


Not necessarily. There was a story (sorry, no source) a couple years ago about someone making a 6-figure salary purely from online adjuncting. And yes, she was teaching 30 classes a year. And yes, it was more than a "full-time" job (but then aren't most full-time tt positions much more than 40 hours/week as well?). Her various employers would presumably have been shocked to find out just how much moonlighting she was doing.
 
The Rio model won't break anything. If the link between adjuncting and tenure-track positions is broken, then people simply will not accept adjunct wages. If the link isn't broken, people will accept adjunct wages. In the meantime, Rio is taking advantage of a temporary market distortion to make some money.
 
The Rio model works for them because of their close proximity to Arizona State. Many of the adjuncts (although certainly not all) that they hire are individuals with M.A.'s pursuing PhD's at ASU. Without that close proximity to an PhD granting insitution the MCC's probably would not be able to rely so strongly on adjuncts. As it is there's a large revolving labor pool right next door.
 
The proprietary U that I work for (for just two more days!!!), the same as or similar to the one you left, also employs almost exclusively adjuncts. I think we have fewer than 10 full-time faculty, but nearly 400 adjuncts. This is not a good system and does not benefit the students (but it keeps cost down, which is the most important factor, of course).
 
$100K/year as an adjunct is entirely possible. There are colleges in the southern California area (for example, El Camino) where adjuncts start at $68+ per hour. See:

http://www.elcamino.edu/administration/hr/docs/PTimeFacultySalaries2006.pdf

Not all classes are three units, either. Some are four or even five. So let's say some adjunct at El Camino is doing 8 hours per semester (two four-hour per week classes) @ $87.02 per hour, which is the top hourly rate at that college. For a seventeen week semester, that adjunct will gross $11,835.00. Now, if that same adjunct can cobble together a similar schedule at three different campuses, that's only 6 classes per week, and the semesterly gross goes up to $35,504. For two semesters, that works out to $71,008. Throw in summer school at two campuses, same arrangement, and we're up to $94,677.76 per year, and the adjunct still gets up to 12 weeks/year off.

If an adjunct works at some colleges for several years, they can earn much more than $90/hour. There are long-time adjuncts in the CSU system who make in excess of $100/hour, and I know of adjuncts at my college who make more than $100/hour. Some colleges also pay more for taking large sections; if a body earns $100/hour for a class of 35, they may be paid $150/hour for a class of 70, or even more. This is not common but I know of at least one college that does this.

Note that I didn't say that an adjunct fresh out of grad school was pulling down $100K+/year; I'm referring to adjuncts who have been at this for a few years.

There are some adjuncts I've seen who teach 8 or 9 classes per week at three or four different colleges. These people don't take gigs at some school that pays $50/lecture hour; they've figured out which of the two dozen colleges within driving distance pay the best, and they work at those places exclusively. They've worked out more or less predictable schedule arrangements with each college, and in some cases they could probably do $100K/year without summer school.
 
Isn't there something implicit in the question of whether an adjunct can or can't teach 30 course a year? What about the quality of the teaching?

What does "lean mean" teaching look like from a student's perspective?

I just read that article today and was disturbed by it as well, for all the other reasons mentioned here.
 
I am one of those who teach 20+ courses a year, and I'm beginning to lose my mind. And no, I'm not making anywhere near $100K. Of course, I'm in the Deep South, where adjuncts just don't make a whole lot. Average per-course compensation is $1500. Most adjuncts here teach high-school full time and teach CC courses at night. I don't teach high school, so my choices have led me to teach at four different colleges, eight classes a week. I don't know if there's any way out, even if I get a Ph.D.
 
Anonymous wrote:
"I agree with a previous poster that perhaps faculty are partly responsible for this. The slouchers with tenure who are unwilling to adapt to new situations makes hiring adjuncts that much more desirable."

The other folks that play a big part in this are those tenured faculty members who do not police the tenured slouchers. We all know who the bad teachers are, yet often don't have the courage to confront them with their poor performance, or, worse yet, cry foul in the name of "academic freedom" when administrators want to fire the slouchers.
 
"The other folks that play a big part in this are those tenured faculty members who do not police the tenured slouchers."

Are you just complaining or do you have a feasible solution to this problem?
 
The article is at http://chronicle.com/weekly/v53/i07/07a01001.htm

As a department Chair who has had up to 25% of our teaching load covered by adjuncts -- I'd rather have regular faculty. The adjuncts are good people and good teachers but running a department is more than just teaching.
 
Kimmitt, this is no "temporary market distortion". Rather, I believe it is the future of higher education---and to its demise.

There are relatively few full-time (much less, tenure track) jobs in the US compared with the number of new PhD's and Postdocs. I don't know actual statistics but my guess is that about 1 in 10 Ph.D.'s who want an academic career actually land one within 10 years.

US higher education enjoys a grossly biased "seller's market". From an institutional standpoint, using Adjuncts simply is a matter of outsourcing to cheap labor. Not only are Adjuncts severely under-employed and underpaid but they also have no paid health care, retirement, vacation, sick days, or employment assured beyond the current semester. So then, why do they tolerate it? They have no other options. And I don't see the situation improving.
 
Ha! $100k per year by adjuncting? Perhaps in LA but... I recently talked with a college in Oregon who paid $1800 to teach a 4 credit lab-loaded science course.
 
Very interesting article. I came across this when looking for Rio's Academic Freedom Philosophy Statement.

I am an adjunct at Rio. I love it! I have two Masters Degrees in Education and Professional Writing. They are wonderful to the adjunct faculty. It is a low stress atmosphere and the students make it worth every moment.

I do not plan to leave. I do plan to work at another community college. The university level is not my style. I have not been able to get a position at another college because of the more experienced instructors picking up extra classes.

This is also a dilemma. When you have an education system that suits the needs of the population it will sustain itself.
 
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