Friday, December 01, 2006


A Response to the AFT

According to IHE, the American Federation of Teachers is putting together a major state-by-state initiative to lobby state legislatures to achieve the following:

- A full-time/adjunct ratio of 3:1 in public colleges.
- Hiring preferences for adjuncts in applying for full-time positions
- Pay and benefit parity for adjuncts, relative to full-timers, presumably on a pro-rata basis

To which I say, respectively:

- Great, show me the money.
- No *#%)@#%ing way.
- Great, show me the money.

In this political climate, it's fantasy to suggest that state legislatures are going to commit to showering public higher ed with substantially increased appropriations for operating costs on a permanent basis. Not. Going. To. Happen. In the absence of dramatically (and sustainably) increased appropriations, a 3:1 quota would be nothing more than a budget-busting unfunded mandate. (The alternative, of course, would be backbreaking tuition increases, but we catch so much political heat for the current level of tuition increases that, again, we're talking fantasyland.)

Assume that a legislature passed a 3:1 quota and/or a parity mandate, and didn't pass a correspondingly sufficient appropriation increase to pay for it. Likely consequences:

- Elimination of programs altogether
- Accelerated rates of tuition increase
- New definitions of positions that violate current common sense
- Workarounds beyond belief
- Outright non-compliance until a court overturns the mandate(s), which it would

Variation: the state passes a sufficient appropriation for the first year or two, then starts chipping away at it until the next recession, when it takes a cleaver to it, expecting the colleges to somehow make up the difference out of, I don't know, toner and paper clips.

Given that state budgets include services that don't have other revenue sources and aren't culturally considered 'private goods' – K-12 education, the corrections system, infrastructure, etc. -- higher ed will always be easier to cut than other things. Every time a recession hits, higher ed gives more than its pound of flesh. I see no reason to think this will change.

The suggestion for hiring preferences for existing adjuncts strikes me as the likeliest to actually pass, but also the most objectionable. Here in the real world, the existing adjunct pool has been chosen primarily for geographic propinquity, time-slot availability, and the personal taste of department chairs. These are not the criteria to use when looking for people to fill tenure-eligible roles. (This is not to deny that many adjuncts are excellent teachers. It's just to say that, in the real world, adjunct staffing typically is as much or more a function of availability as it is of excellence.)

In a very white, very affluent area like mine, the existing adjunct pool is mostly white people who bought homes here many years ago when it was still affordable, or spouses of wealthy people. Giving these folks preference in hiring is affirmative action for older, wealthier white people. I'll pass, thanks. (To forestall the inevitable flaming, I know this is atypical. My point is that geography is a powerful determinant of who fills adjunct positions, and we'd be ratifying existing provincialism.)

Establishing preference for adjuncts also creates a de facto extension of grad school, during which new Ph.D.'s, awash in student loan debt, will be consigned to adjunct ranks regardless of talent, until they've built up enough chits to break through. By that point, their research will have aged significantly, and more like tuna salad than a fine wine. Grad school is long enough now. (Yes, I know that the sciences have a system of 'post-docs' that constitute another hoop, but those pay considerably better than adjunct gigs, and usually come with at least basic benefits. They also involve further work on the research, which adjuncting does not.)

Most disturbingly, the entire concept of preference for adjuncts gets the priorities wrong. Full-time faculty positions, whether in a tenure system or a renewable-contract system, aren't entitlements or rewards. They're jobs, like other jobs. They should go to whomever seems best able to do the work. Yes, that will involve some subjective judgments, and yes, some of those judgments will be wrong. But to give up the national market for faculty in favor of “I got here first” is to enshrine an incestuous spoils-based system and to ensure provincialism for decades to come. Terrible, terrible idea.

I fully agree with the AFT that the way adjuncts, as a group, are treated is exploitative and disgusting. (Regular readers know my stand on that.) But the AFT's proposals, however well-intentioned, are disasters waiting to happen. If you really want to solve the problem, you have to attack it at its root: graduate admissions. Until the labor surplus goes away, exploitation will continue.

I live in a state where the contract for CCs gives us numbers 1 and 3... even better.

I think the full-time ratio is better than AFT wants (70 % full-time unlimited... If I recall correctly).

Adjuncts get pay on parity with full-time unlimited instructors. Their benefits are also related to teaching load.

There is no preference (yet) for hiring. They are working on that, or a version of that -- and I think it is a terrible idea.

The problem with the proposals, for adjuncts, come down to administrators working the system in order to avoid paying benefits and/or in order to avoid having to give preference. What they'll do is go to the Wal-mart model and keep their adjuncts teaching assignments limited so that they aren't required to hire them full-time.
I'm an adjunct, and I don't want preferential treatment for full time jobs! The rest of your career you'd get "oh, she was just hired because she was an adjunct" commments and no one would take you seriously. Hire me for a permanent job because I'm right for it, not because I've been teaching as an adjunct.

This doesn't work in practice anyway. One of my Unis has 'conversions' to full time for adjunct who have a certain level of seniority. The Uni Admin played along with this for awhile but now they just push adjuncts out when they get too close to the level of experience that would put them up for conversion. This serves no one, good teachers get shoved out and lose income and students lose experienced instructors.

"Show me the money" about sums it up for post-secondary education!
I'm with philosophy factory on this one -- we have 1 and 3, so it is indeed possible. It's a matter of priorities.

Otherwise, you're right about the hiring and the grad school intakes, though when I was in grad school and the proposal was not to accept anyone who wasn't funded, it seemed to be blocking people who might have been willing to take financial risks about their own futures.
Anything that makes the general public (especially parents of college-aged kids) more aware of the adjunct issue is welcome.

I adjunct at a private mid-size school that just got a glowing front page article in the local paper. The reporter was snowed by their PR department. She accepted without question how wonderful it was that they are doubling their enrollment and expanding the faculty from 220 to 505 people. The reporter didn't know to ask how many were adjuncts, how many full-time. The answer? 80 out of 220, and 95 out of 505!!! These kids pay over $18000 a year, their teachers are either very old full-timers or adjuncts!

Now, adjuncts can be great teachers but especially over time as resentment builds and the low pay rankles, you start doing just the minimum.
If you really want to solve the problem, you have to attack it at its root: LAck of funding in Higher Ed.
"If you really want to solve the problem, you have to attack it at its root: LAck of funding in Higher Ed."

Have to disagree--the root problem is the inappropriate distribution of existing funding. Do you know how many tens of billions of dollars were accumulated by the endowments of just a few elite schools last year? An accumulation that is entirely tax free, paid for by the rest of us, by the way. Why should this financial resource be concentrated in the hands of a select few?

My first choice would be to make the investment income of all endowments larger than, say, $1 billion fully taxable. I see no valid policy for the tax preference these ultra-rich schools get—they don't need it. But if that's not politically possible, how about a share the wealth, income redistribution program? For example, Harvard's endowment could contribute 40% of its net investment income to a pool for other Massachusetts post secondary schools to share, while keeping 60% for itself.

It may be time to level the playing field.
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No Fing way... Thanks so I'm good enough to teach here, but....

Hey why pay full price when you'er getting the milk for free.

Ok I agree the Old CC should hire the best candidate, but sometimes you can't make that call after serving up cheap coffee and platform questions for an hour, however, with the adjunct you've got a much better idea of what you're getting.

Maybe I should take the hint...
As an ex adjunct, I'd agree with you, Dean Dad.
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