Thursday, January 11, 2007


Bullpens and Emergency Adjuncts

Most department chairs, if you press hard enough, will admit to having an Emergency Adjunct. The Emergency Adjunct is somebody who can be relied on to show up for whatever timeslot, even on short notice, and not cause trouble. The EA is typically a not-very-good teacher – if he were good, he'd be a regular – but he's just good enough to throw into that last unstaffed section without feeling irredeemably guilty about it.

At my previous school, where I had to do staffing, I had an EA I'll call Beige. Beige was uninspired, kind of shlumpy, somewhat disorganized, and only so-so with students. (His student evals ranged from below-average to you-don't-want-to-know). I saw his syllabus once, and was compelled to correct for grammar. But he had a few undeniable virtues: he would take any timeslot at all, he would show up for class faithfully, and he wouldn't do anything bad enough to warrant summary termination. He was just, well, Beige.

Since enrollments at Proprietary U were constantly changing, anomalies developed in the schedule almost every semester. One section would have to be doubled, another wouldn't fill, and we'd have to shuffle multiple schedules to make loads. Inevitably, there'd be an orphan section sitting out there, full of students and bereft of teacher. I'd do what I could do avoid it, but when all else failed and the first day of class loomed, I'd make the call to Beige.

I thought of Beige today as I was discussing a similar situation with one of my chairs. She mentioned that in the 70's and 80's they had very little need for Emergency Adjuncts, since the full-time faculty then were different. They were mostly men, mostly primary breadwinners, and mostly young. This meant that they were always eager to pick up extra sections for the extra pay. Now the men are older and better paid, the women faculty usually have husbands or partners who work, almost nobody is young, and nobody wants to pick up extra sections. Where before there was an informal bullpen, a sort of reserve army of the employed, now we need EA's.

I found her analysis trenchant and disturbing. Descriptively, I think it's on the money – I've heard plenty of the older guys say that they used to pick up extra classes when they were just starting out and their kids were younger, but they can't be bothered now. The women who were hired after them typically don't need the extra money, for various reasons, so they content themselves with regular courseloads. (There are exceptions, but fewer than I'd expect.) The youngest faculty are so badly underpaid relative to the local cost of living that the marginal increase for an extra course isn't worth the effort. So we've lost the informal bullpen.

Morally, though, it bothers me. Equality among the tenured is made possible by absolutely horrific exploitation of emergency adjuncts (and, indirectly, of the students who get the EA's sections). I could content myself with the libertarian line that EA's accept their lots voluntarily, which is true in the sense that nobody holds guns to their heads, but it seems to me that that line of reasoning can excuse a great many sins. Besides, if we assume that quality matters, and I assume it does, then a pure race to the bottom is bound to be self-defeating over time.

We don't have the slack in the budget to grant release time for makework projects and build a de facto bullpen that way, although I'd love to try it. (I actually proposed that once at Proprietary U, and was greeted with stunned silence.) As long as the high-salary, high-seniority types stick around, I don't have the openings to bring in hungry young faculty, and our entry-level salaries are so low (to subsidize the high-end ones) that we mostly get trailing spouses or folks who've lived here forever.

Some schools – NYU leaps to mind – have elaborated multiple tiers of faculty, effectively integrating the bullpen into the budget. This strikes me as vastly preferable to the EA 'system,' though the long-term threat to tenure would probably compel the faculty union to torpedo it.

Has your school found a more humane and/or effective way to fill last-minute vacancies?

This line didn't make sense to me:

The youngest faculty are so badly underpaid relative to the local cost of living that the marginal increase for an extra course isn't worth the effort. So we've lost the informal bullpen.

Speaking as one of the youngest faculty: Is it that we're so badly underpaid, or that the pay for the extra work is so wretched? If I pick up an extra three-hour course as a member of the "bullpen", I'm only getting in the $1000-$1500 range for the effort...(is that market rate where you're at as well?) For the amount of my life that I lose picking that course up, it simply isn't worth it AT ALL...

In principle, I would LOVE to play that kind of role in the "bullpen" at my school, and I really could use a reasonable level of compensation for it, but I don't see the reasonable level of compensation happening...
I should have used numbers. An assistant prof here typically makes 40-45k. An extra course pays $1650. A modest 50 year old three bedroom ranch house in this area is roughly 500k. In practice, this means that the extra money for the extra course doesn't make enough of a difference to be worthwhile.

(In practice, too, most of our assistant profs are the 'second salaries' in their households. That's how they can afford to live here in the first place. In that situation, too, the marginal pay increase isn't worth the marginal work increase.)

Apparently, back in the day, salaries came closer to the actual cost of living, and adjunct/overload rates hadn't fallen so far behind inflation yet, so the extra course could actually put you over the top. No more.
Dean Dad: "I should have used numbers. An assistant prof here typically makes 40-45k. An extra course pays $1650. A modest 50 year old three bedroom ranch house in this area is roughly 500k. In practice, this means that the extra money for the extra course doesn't make enough of a difference to be worthwhile."

Wow. $45K? In an expensive area? No wonder your labor pool looks like it does. That said, given the numbers you're posting, that extra section wouldn't be worth the trouble anywhere, as suggested by your first commenter.

Even if your assistant profs teach a heavy 5/5 load, their salaries prorate out to $4K per course. Asking them to teach a sixth section at less than half price isn't going to get many takers, especially since that sixth section will start seriously impacting quality-of-life issues. You're asking people to take on 20% more work for a 7-8% pay raise.

Of course, if your faculty teach less than a 5/5, they may have the time, but the relative compensation for that extra section gets worse. A 4/4 prorates out to $5K per course, so now it's 25% more work for that 7% pay bump. And, as you suggest, the people who can afford to work at the wages you pay must have motivators other than money, so that $1650 carrot is even less attractive than it might otherwise be.
My department makes use of an unusual bullpen of masters-level faculty. The tenure-track faculty teach the stable courses (mostly graduate courses) and there are a lot of masters-level faculty that teach the service courses. I've never seen anywhere else that does it, but it works pretty well.
I've adjuncted for five plus years and have done my share of bailing out the Dean at the last moment. But I've gained some clarity now. I've realized that the more I adjunct the less likely I will be to get a full-time position, in fact, I realized that a full-time 4/4 job at this school would be my nightmare not my dream. To talk numbers, I'd make about 42K as a full-timer, or 3K per course as an adjunct (no more than 2 courses at a time). Its just not worth the money. Our tax refund will be more than I make teaching one course. I've decided that I can probably figure out a way to make $3000 in 14 weeks! And that's double your poor adjuncts pay. 3000 per course is the lowest paying adjunct job in town. ($5500 is the high end for gigs at Big Time U, fancy pants liberal arts school come in at about 4000, even the cc pays more than 3000 per course)

I live in a highly desirable area with a reasonable but rising cost of living. The third tier school has a large bullpen of adjuncts, in fact the entire core curriculum in esssentially taught by adjuncts. A big Tier I university in town is an on-going adjunct factory. The third tier school has 505 faculty members, 417 are adjuncts! Of course that keeps down the full-timers pay too.

My eyes were opened this summer when a three day editing job (maybe 15 total hours) netted me $1250. There's money to made out there but adjuncting is not where you find it!!
Has your school found a more humane and/or effective way to fill last-minute vacancies?

Sadly, no. My school, Big Research University, begs graduate students in the area to teach classes, and basically takes advantage of their need to have teaching experience to pay them roughly 6 thousand dollars a year per class, usually with a maximum of two classes.
$1650 per course? I last adjuncted (is that a word?) in 1980, in Indianapolis, and I got $1500 per course. No wonder you can't findpeople.
I live ina place that sounds similar to umm 'skander's location. The low end here for adjuncting is around $2100, and the high end is around $5000. The only way I would even walk out of the house for a $1650 gig is if 1. it were located within a ten minute walk (i.e. no commute); 2. and if it met once a week rather than the usual two or three meetings. Otherwise, no way. Heck, I could wander around the house and find $1650 worth of stuff to unload on ebay, and that would be tax free. And far easioer than teaching a class.

Underlying DD's post, I think, is an important facet of the brave new world of adjunctification. We (adjuncts) are maneuvered by the system into a baldly economic situation. That is, given our gross underpayment, an adjunct has to consider a ratio between what they are being paid and what they are being asked to do. It's the only way to survive, really. The old addage, "one gets what one pays for," holds true here. I know that I give more when I am paid more, and when I am paid less, I give and do less. Simple.

And as any adjunct knows, there are myriad rhetorical tricks to conceal this and make it look as thouigh we're giveing "our all."
Oops, sorry for all the typos. But then, I'm not being paid to comment here. (kidding, kidding)
What? You haven't heard of the retired school teacher or school district employees? And not for adjuncts, but as faculty and heads of the CC!

* Double-dipping is even more lucrative and costs the college nothing extra.
* No relo expenses.
* They already know the students, having taught them (the 40% who graduate) how to read at the 4th or 8th grade-level.
* They've never taught at the tertiary level so don't come with baggage such as trying to speak at faculty meetings -- protesting the requirement new students take 19 credit hrs, ("if you don't keep Native students busy, they just get in trouble"). Or arguing for the consequent need for students to have access to mental health counselling.
* They don't even have to have teaching experience. A CC should take pride they can teach anything (whatever these students get is good enough, right?)
* As college directors and faculty, the early retired can brag about not doing research (especially that involved in identifying the latest in the so-called subject matter or to ask students and community what they need from a college).
* Directors are free to push against stupid faculty union contracts (which limit faculty to 12 hrs of teaching without extra compensation) after all, at the high school level teachers work 37.5 hrs a week.
* No need for IT planning or security. Otherwise the unprotected network, with the direct connection to Land GrantU, can't compromise most university employee and student identities for years.

Get with it, DD. Go north to the future for innovation!
As long as colleges depend on flawed, mediocre hiring practices, they will continue to field flawed, mediocre profs. Too many colleges blather on about being a "community of learners," then sandbag their students by dropping zombies in the classroom. No one thinks to drop the section to ensure a decent education for their students. They take the money then bemoan the "system" they fostered in the first place. Umm 'skandar is dead on. After five years, most adjuncts make a decision: either jump ship entirely, wait by the phone like a chump, or learn how to work the system. We're not mill workers stuck in a one job town; some of us are pretty clever. We know we can't teach 8+ courses a semester forever. We will teach fewer classes, and find better ways to pay the rent. This will be the legacy of "adjunctification": schools will focus on the bottom line, the quality of education will slip, the reputation of the school will slide, and growing chasm between student "haves" and student "have nots' will be complete, landing us back where we were before the GI Bill. Community Colleges especially need the best professors to help these students succeed. That is simply not happening.
As the first anonymous commenter on this thread, I just have to come back with: WOW, I THOUGHT IT WAS BAD HERE.

Yes, I'm only getting $1000-$1500 for the effort of the extra course, but in an area of the country where the 50-year-old-three-bedroom-ranch is less than ONE THIRD of Dean Dad's. My salary has only just cleared $40K, so honestly, I'm doing right well.

(Memo to young assistant profs: The rural South, particularly Mississippi, Alabama, and southern Georgia. Yes, your quality of student is typically weak, but their work ethic is generally solid - there are very few spoiled brats to deal with. The pay isn't completely horrible, and most importantly, the cost of living is WONDERFUL. I've got friends who paid $60K for that 50-year-old-three-bedroom-ranch, and their houses are bigger and in better shape than mine. I kid you not.)

Meanypants has it spot-on. The hiring practices we have in this line of work - and the amount of preparation the candidates have for what they're walking into on campuses that are teaching-centered - are absolutely wretched, and they breed professors who care not one whit for the students that they teach. There is nothing that kills your morale more than putting your heart and soul into teaching your freshmen, seeing them get excited for learning, and then seeing the adjuncts, embittered punks, and hangers-on they get for further classes sap every last ounce of desire and passion from their souls - and there's not a damn thing you can do about it.


Didn't mean to rant.
When you pay peanuts, you get monkeys. Simple as that.
Well, the head of one of our departments taught five courses last semster becaue she couldn't find an adjunct -- we normally teach 4-3. I don't know how she's been compensated, whether by course release this semester or truly measly extra pay. Our adjuncts are paid badly -- but then our wages are not so great, either -- similar wages for new assistant profs, but a 2 bedroom condo starts at close to $200k. Houses in any part of town where you might want to live (and my range of liveable is pretty broad -- working-class is fine, but I like to avoid crack houses, prostitutes, and shootings, thanks) start at around $250k for about 1000 sqf. With the pressure to publish on top of having to pay $1k a month in rent, the extra work really isn't much worth it.
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?