Wednesday, November 29, 2006
Evergreens are those disciplines that have to get taught, no matter what. They also get called 'general education,' which always struck me as just a cut above 'miscellaneous' as a label. The usual suspects include English, math, history, science, and psychology, among others. What distinguishes these from most other departments is that the intro courses are required or highly popular among people who don't major in the disciplines themselves, so the teaching load is bottom-heavy. In a given semester, we might run 30 sections of General Psych or 50 of Composition 1, but only one each of Psych of Personality or Women in Literature. That's because Nursing and engineering and criminal justice majors take Composition and General Psych to fulfill 'gen ed' requirements, but only English majors go on to the literature classes.
In departments that are more self-contained, the teaching is distributed more evenly over the spectrum from intro to upper-level courses.
As a general rule, the 'gen ed' disciplines tend to accumulate higher proportions of adjuncts than the more self-contained disciplines. The adjuncts are usually clustered in the intro courses, since the full-time faculty (who usually have first dibs) generally prefer to stick to the upper levels, to the extent possible. (At a cc, it isn't really possible, so even full professors in psych and English teach plenty of intro sections.) Evergreen disciplines usually have pretty reliable labor surpluses, in terms of faculty, and they always have plenty of intro sections, so they carry staggering quantities of adjuncts.
The contrast to 'boutique' programs is striking. Any given program has a minimum of full-time staff it needs to run at all. If the program is small, that full-time staff will cover most of the sections. A new program carries with it the prospect of growth (which is usually why it got introduced in the first place), so administrators are more willing to put in additional resources, since there's a prospect of it paying back. If you grow the full-time cohort in, say, English, the payback is harder to measure.
Over time, the perverse outcome is that the central, core teaching areas are the likeliest to be outsourced to high-turnover, part-time instructors, while the smaller and more peripheral areas are likelier to get the full-time lines. I can't think of another industry in which this pattern would hold.
In most industries, off the top of my head, one of two patterns holds: either you have a full-time core and add temps for seasonal fluctuations (like retail at Christmas), or you have a full-time core and add 'consultants' (who are temps who get paid more than the full-time staff) for individual projects with sunset clauses. In the first case, low-paid temps help with peak demand. In the second, high-paid temps give you flexibility, albeit at a serious financial cost. In academia, we have highly-trained but low-paid temps who help with the core function. There's something deeply weird about that.
(The disparity is even more annoying when you contrast faculty and office staff. Office temps cost more than do full-timers, even while adjuncts cost less than full-timers. In my first year at my cc, I lost four professors and a secretary to retirement, and was only able to replace the secretary.)
My suspicion is that the uniquely awful situation of adjuncts in academia is a direct result of the unique institution of tenure. Tenure isn't the solution; it's part of the problem. The incredible lack of fiscal and personnel flexibility that tenure in the boutique programs imposes on the institution has to be made up somewhere. If a boutique program's enrollments slide, but its faculty still has tenure, there isn't much the college can do. But there will always be composition, and there will be retirements that can be adjuncted-out.
Worse, when a college struggles financially, one of the time-honored moves it will make to try to recover is to start some new programs that it thinks will sell. Any new program has to start with a full-time core. Any new program will lose money initially. That has to be made up somewhere, too.
I still haven't seen a systematic effort to address the causal connection between tenure and adjuncting. Richard Chait published a book a few years ago, The Questions of Tenure, in which he examined a few isolated, marginal colleges that had moved away from tenure systems to see what happened. The research design there was so basically flawed that the book really doesn't help. I don't much care what happens when Life Support College in East Briarpatch abolishes tenure for its fifteen faculty. That doesn't answer the question. (For the record, Chait found that abolishing tenure didn't matter much either way.) The real issue is systemic.
I'll take it farther. The dream of tenure motivates people to pile into overcrowded fields, thereby replenishing the reserve army of adjuncts made necessary by tenure's costs. (According to Freakonomics, drug dealing works by the same principle. Most dealers make below the minimum wage, all told, but they stick with it on the off-chance of becoming one of the conspicuous winners in a winner-take-all, tournament-style system. This strikes me as an undesirable parallel.)
A friend of mine applied for a position teaching history at NYU. NYU has a program, apparently, in which full-time faculty are hired on non-renewable three-year contracts to teach the gen ed evergreens. He complained that it was exploitative. I thought it was innovative, and actually admirable. The real alternative wouldn't be dream positions; it would be ever more adjuncts. I'm not wild about the 'non-renewable' part, but I would guess it's a way to get around the AAUP guidelines about the tenure clock. My preferred model would be full-time multi-year renewable contracts, with renewal premised on both performance and enrollments. Am I right to prefer it? I haven't yet seen a rigorous analysis that would convince me either way. It's a guess, and it could well be wrong.
But I'm tired of apologizing for a failing status quo. The existing system is broken; any serious conversation about it has to start from that premise. There's an inexorable pull to starve the evergreens to feed the seasonals. Do that long enough, and you're in for a nasty winter.
Still, I don't believe that getting rid of tenure would be administratively or fiscally efficient either. If tenure did not exist, I never would have entered this profession because tenure is one of the things that compensates for the relatively low salary in my discipline in academe. Does that low salary have to do with the over-production of Ph.D.s in my field? In part, but it also has to do with the fact that there isn't a direct correlation between my field and a job in "industry." Eliminating tenure isn't going to change that fact, and so basically those in my discipline would be in a situation where they would be signing on for a career in which they would never make a great deal of money and they'd have limited job security. Finally, I'm not convinced that getting rid of tenure would ultimately mean the end of relying on contingent, adjunct labor.
I apologize if these thoughts are scattered - it's early!
I work in a state where tenure is uncommon among community college faculty. Of the states 22 two-year colleges, less than a handful award tenure. However, the dynamic you describe still exists. Enrollment is seldom tied to renewal.
My wife is a professor in a program with dwindling enrollment, and she has been told that she can expect to teach more core courses in the future to replace the more advanced courses in her area of expertise.
Of course, this makes things that much worse for the adjuncts currently teaching the core courses. They are the ones who will be laid off.
Even without tenure, full-time faculty are given preferential treatment as they should be. In my experience, instructors in low enrollment programs or even in programs that close are seldom laid off. More commonly, they are shifted to other roles, sometimes teaching core courses in corollary fields while they pursue additional education. Most institutions only require 18 hours in a field so its not that difficult to find another related discipline.
The point is that tenure doesn't seem to be the issue. Whether instructors are tenured or not, there seems to be a reluctance to lay them off based on the productivity of their programs. Perhaps this is as it should be--after all, schools aren't businesses.
Dr. Crazy's comment that "if tenure did not exist, I never would have entered this profession" is a nice rebuttal to Shimmy's word-tantrum. I agree with Crazy, and suspect that her position is widely held. The idea that pecuniary incentives don't matter, that we're all only motivated by twoo wuv, is simply silly, and can be dismissed from a serious inquiry.
Crazy's suggestion of re-imagining gen ed has real intellectual merit, but doesn't address the budget issue. Whether the full-timer teaches English 487 or English 101, I still need to cover his salary.
In other words, I don't disagree, but it solves a different problem.
Tech Dean raises some suggestive points. I'd like to see someone do some comparative work across states, comparing those with tenure systems at cc's to those without; at least then we'd be dealing with a meaningful sample size. I fully agree that full-timers should get first dibs when sections are cut -- that's what happened when I worked at Proprietary U, which had full-time faculty without a tenure system.
I disagree, though, that the ability to shutter a program is enough. It's rare that a program gets small enough to be worth killing. More commonly, it shrinks below sustainability but stays above zero. If a department with 12 full-time faculty has only enough work for 8, it's not worth shutting down, but those extra 4 are dead weight on the budget. That dead weight is compensated for elsewhere in the institution, by adjuncting-out positions that become open in the evergreen disciplines. At Proprietary U, it was possible to shrink a program without killing it, since there was no tenure system. That freed up resources for programs that carried the potential for growth. In a tenure system, it's all-or-nothing.
That's my point. It's about the money. I'm not attacking anybody, as my mention of "the uniquely awful situation of adjuncts" should have made clear. Follow the money. Money spent unproductively in one area must be made up in another.
Tech Dean's comment that colleges aren't businesses is half-right. Most aren't for-profit, but we still have budgets to balance and payrolls to meet. Failing to address the basic, objective fiscal realities underlying personnel decisions will lead to unproductive ad hominem fiddling while Rome burns. I'm not at all convinced that my proposal is the only solution -- I thought I was fairly clear about that -- but at least it acknowledges the basic, inexorable fact that money spent wastefully in one area must be made up in another. A proposal that doesn't acknowledge that is not a serious proposal.
I realize that most faculty are (rightly) very attached to their disciplines, but some are happy and excited to branch out.
I also realize that full time faculty still cost more than part time, but at least this way you buy some time and keep the full timers fully employed for their money. This would require a sense of the "uni"versity among the faculty, and real cooperation among department chairs, of course.
Just a crazy idea.
I read dr. crazy's comment before I posted my rebuttal to your blog entry today. I considered elaborating on dr. crazy's important point about material rewards. I decided against it, because I wanted to stay on topic: that is, I wanted to respond to your caricature of the reasons faculty members (ft and pt) enter the profession.
I also decided against discussing dr. crazy's post because I assumed I could talk about what you were leaving out -- the actual love of the life of the mind -- without being caricatured as someone for whom "pecuniary incentives don't matter."
Tenure is of course an allure when one thinks about the profession; but all our material rewards are an allure. We all live in the same real-world that you do, DD. And this means that we would be fools if we were "only motivated by twoo wuv," as you put it, caricaturing my position.
But in 18 my years as a faculty member and administrator, I've met very few folks who entered the profession solely because of tenure. This would not be a tenable, realistic approach to working in higher education, considering that tenure is a far-off proposition once a person finishes his/her graduate degree (usually 6 years or 3 years down the road), and given the high-anxiety many folks feel in the profession to publish and to teach at a high enough level to achieve tenure. Also, with post-tenure review procedures in place at many schools around the country, I'm not convinced it's realistic to consider "tenure" as some sort of static reward that is worth the labors and anxieties of graduate school, the job market, and the probationary period of the tenure-track.
To return to my points from my first comment: a) tenure is not perfect; b) if you want to find common ground for faculty and administrators on improving the system, you won't get anywhere by caricaturing faculty as either materialists chasing the "dream of tenure" or idealists chasing "twoo luv."
This view from the "other side" kind of makes me feel that unions are almost as baroque as tenure.
To respond to Dean Dad's response to me. DD writes,
"Crazy's suggestion of re-imagining gen ed has real intellectual merit, but doesn't address the budget issue. Whether the full-timer teaches English 487 or English 101, I still need to cover his salary.
In other words, I don't disagree, but it solves a different problem."
See, I think it can _to some extent_ address the budget issue. Let's say that one of the skills we say that a student must have as a college graduate is the ability to write a cogent research paper using 8-10 scholarly sources and that ranges in length from 8-12 pages. Any course that assigned such a paper could count for that requirement, right? What that means, then, is that there would be no "self-contained" majors - all disciplines would be expected to participate in the project of teaching core skills. How does that relate to the budget issue? Well, one way in which this could work is that it could serve to bring the enrollment up in some courses with traditionally low enrollments, which would mean that you could have (in theory at least) fewer faculty teaching the same number of students. One wouldn't need to hire adjuncts to cover "service" classes while f-t faculty teach under-enrolled specialty courses; instead, all courses could potentially count as service courses, as long as one could make a case for how they cover one or more of the core skills. (The problem as I see it is administering this - but at least as far as my non-budget-oriented mind can take me, I do think it would allow for departments to reduce the extent to which they rely on contingent faculty to cover undesirable classes, which ultimately would save the university money, right?)
Anyway, that's why I think that what I suggested offers a potential solution to the problem you note. I'm in an evergreen discipline - and what that means is that I'm constantly pissed off at people in non-evergreen disciplines who often have higher salaries, lower course loads, and less of a responsibility for the "general education" of students. I'd like to spread that burden around a bit - without giving up tenure to do so.
Writing's an interesting issue because it's a very evergreen field at most schools, BUT, presumably, everyone teaching at the college level writes or has written extensively. But does that mean they can teach writing? Maybe, but with a fair bit of additional training. Composition isn't lit, and I see English lit PhDs struggle with teaching writing all the time (especially when I look in the mirror). I imagine it would be harder for folks in other fields.
And it's hard to imagine people picking up math stuffs to teach; I'm sure the physics folks are good enough at the math, but do they want to spend time in their classes teaching calculus so students can do physics equations, or do they want to require students to already have pre-reqs? I'd guess the latter.
Tenure = job security. Sounds a lot like the dinosaur of having a “union job” at the local factory. Both were relicts of an age when the individual put faith into the institution to take care of him into old age. As I watch Ford, GM, Delphi, etc. implode and renege on this social agreement, I wonder if a similar reckoning will occur in academia.
Tenure = free time (to research, serve on committees, etc.). Dean Dad rightly described the tendency for tenured faculty to migrate to lower enrollment, upper-level courses, leaving the high-need, large-enrollment courses to the part-timers or adjuncts. He speculates that such movement is inherent in the system. It is. I don’t know, though, if tenure is the agent of this dynamic. If a prof is given tenure, one of the assumptions is that he is granted academic freedom to explore ideas with less pressure to conform. That is, he is free to be radical (to a point, it would follow) adventurous in exploring ideas, breaking ground, etc. Publishing (for most institutions) is an expected result of tenure.
So, the dynamics at play are:
• tenured faculty teach fewer students
• tenured faculty have more time for research
• tenured faculty are expected to spend time on institution business (committees, etc.)
• If tenured faculty capitalize (read: economic sense) on these advantages, then they will continue to ensure their position in the institution
So, if an institution wishes to retain the best and brightest that it is able to, then tenure is a nice carrot to dangle in front of profs.
But I agree with Dean Dad that this carrot may not be good for the institution as a whole. A segment of the profs will definitely like it. But the largest pool of workers (adjuncts and part-timers) are either led by the mistaken notion that they will achieve the promised status (few actually do) or resent the caste system altogether (lots do).
One final note is the quality of instruction. A recent story in EdOnline reported a study that indicated that the quality of cc-instruction was diminished by an over-reliance on adjuncts. The jist was, adjuncts teach the bulk of the students (especially the lower level freshman/sophomore type and non-trads), those who would greatly benefit from contact and exposure to profs, were not getting that exposure because adjuncts and part-timers didn’t spend the same amount of out-of-class time with them. Especially telling in non-trads (night and weekend or online users) were likely to have limited or reduced prof exposure.
My final point. Institutions are part of the problem. If they continue to offer the sanctity of tenure and allow the Chosen to withdraw (into research, small classes, etc.), then the quality of the bulk courses (and those students—those who probably need the exposure the most) will continue to suffer (caveat—not all part-time or adjunct instruction is of lesser quality—but, on average without the fiduciary carrot to put out extra effort quality will suffer). It seems that the mission of the institution should be clarified. For CCs, student-to-prof interaction should be highlighted. For land-grant, I would argue the same. Eliminate tenure and the dynamics of withdrawal and work to increase access and exposure.
For R1’s, the school brand might trump, even for the student, the benefits of higher student-prof interaction. That is, for R1’s (not to mention the Elite or Ivies), brand maintenance might be a better force on keeping quality instruction than other factors. Or, more directly, quality instruction is measured differently. I go to a CC in order to acquire skills. I go to land-grant to acquire skills-knowledge. I go to R1 to gain access (skills, knowledge, etc. are benefits).
Below is the first paragraph of the Inside HigherEd article:
A new report on community college student engagement suggests that the academic experience of full-time students is substantially more interactive than that of their part-time peers and also documents a disparity between the proportion of students who value academic advising and those who obtain it.
You're running a Community College. Your core competency, the thing you do, is impart trasferable core skills, followed either by professional skills building on the core skills or a transfer to a 4-year institution.
So what happens? Your system shuffles off your core competency onto your least-paid, least-supported faculty, who have the smallest amount of professional development opportunities and training.
The purpose of a Community College is not to do groundbreaking research. The purpose of a Community College is accessible education for those not served by other institutions. This is, fundamentally, a deeply honorable purpose, but your faculty do not seem to agree.
What would a sane person do in this situation?
1) Massively increase office support for adjuncts -- make sure they're full-time if possible and get some kinds of benefits to them. Give incentives for them to stay on campus and do some mentoring.
2) Gently (and not-so-gently) remind your faculty that the teaching of these core courses is the bread-and-butter of the college. It is why they were hired. It is why they continue to be paid. If they are looking to stretch professionally and hand some of that off to newcomers who haven't done it twenty times, that's something which can be discussed, but then you need a system which treats the newcomers as teaching professionals in their own right.
3) You have, have, have to incentivize what you want. If you want people to teach the core classes in the right way, define what that is and make sure that it's easy to do. Then, give incentives to do it well -- faculty teaching awards, lower class loads for those who've proven their mettle, public evaluations of professors, etc. Carrots and sticks are both fine.
4) You seem to have grossly dysfunctional faculty cultures in many of your departments. That needs to be addressed. Community colleges are not where people go who can't find jobs anywhere else; they're vital institutions with roles to fill. People will be there for all kinds of reasons, sure, but the folks running the show have to have at least some buy-in into the overall mission. Unfortunately, I have no idea how to address this.
I suppose the issue that I see is everyone is that other commenters are looking at this issue from the individual professor's prospective and not that of the university. Sure, tenure is great for a professor in terms of job security and academic freedom as well as benefits. But look at temure from the uni's perspective...
All I see is risk. Risk that the professor is not as capable or will grow to become a slouch and ineffective teacher or researcher. Risk that consumers (yes, students are consumers) will change their preferences and move away from a newly tenured prof's field (and leave the uni with expensive salary and benefits), risk that the professor loses incentive to work so hard.
Risk may sound like an abstract and silly concept, but it can have a massive finacial impact on a uni and its flexibility to do business (yes, to run a uni, it can't run losses forever).
So what do adjuncts offer? Namely less risk. Adjuncts can be hired and fired at will to meet demand for courses. They can be hired or fired if they are not suitable for the job. Given an oversaturated job market with people with skills that are perhaps not in high demand elsewhere, a uni can cheaply hedge and reduce risk by hiring adjuncts.
So really what we have is a significant oversupply of labor competeing for relatively few jobs.
I suppose that tenure is just one example of risk related problems that unis are not dealing well with right now.
Tenure also acts as a carrot for those persons who are genuinely smart (and/or brilliant) and driven and want an environment where they feel comfortable exploring ideas which may be unpopular or not pan out. Those are precisely the folks you want at a research university, so there you go.
Unfortunately, all of these arguments are attenuated or lost at the CC level. Faculty at that level are much more like professionals than traditional professors, and much less of their output is unmonitorable.
The Evergreens are also areas where there has been an overproduction (sometimes massive) of PhDs compared to the academic market. It takes guts and good financial planning to commit to a certain ratio of full time to adjunct, as has been done with significant success at our CC.
The issue of "service" (core) versus specialized is a problem at a Uni but should not be at a CC. My main teaching assignment is on the high end (physics for engineers), but I would not be here if I did not want to teach a core gen-ed class so much that I volunteer for it in the summer.
PS - The idea of quasi tenure, say a 3 or 5-year rolling renewable contract like some football coaches have, might be worth discussing, but it would have to protect against those who would trade quality (age and experience) for price and would use fluctuating demand to hide their motives.
Our CC has a policy to try to keep the full-time / adjunct ratio at a fairly high level, but it does require a President with good financial management skills and it helps to have a large (hence fairly stable) student body. At a uni, you do have the core / specialist divide, but not at a CC. People are here because they want to teach freshmen how to write or do algebra, and take pride in doing it just as well in their twentieth year in harness as in their first.
PS - The idea of quasi tenure, with a rolling 3 or 5-year renewable contract like coaches often have, is interesting but could still be abused to replace the expensive experienced person with the cheaper new one for short-term economic reasons.
Two things: 1. how is this worse than the present process of adjunctification? 2. how is this any different from virtually every person currently working in the corporate world?