Wednesday, March 28, 2007


More Full-Timers, or Smaller Classes?

Yesterday's IHE had a report on a session at the CCCC conference dealing with class sizes and grading loads for composition courses. The conference apparently has promulgated a guideline – based on what data, I don't know – stipulating that no faculty member should have more than 60 composition students in a given semester, and fewer than that if the students have remedial needs.

Well, that would be nice. It would also be nice to have a higher percentage of full-time faculty. But I'm afraid it's one or the other. We have to choose.*

The only way to reduce class sizes, given the very real fiscal constraints most community colleges face, is to hire more adjuncts. Divide the same number of students by more sections. This would represent a boon to the existing full-time faculty, whose workloads would decrease but whose compensation would continue to climb. It may or may not represent a boon to the students, since they would have (at least the potential for) more attention from their instructors in class (even if not necessarily at office hours, since some adjuncts use that time to drive to other gigs). But it would worsen the already-appalling exploitation of a generation of instructors.

Alternately, we could convert some of those adjunct positions to full-time positions, and make up the difference by increasing the workload for the full-timers. This is the strategy Proprietary U used when I was there. I once taught a section of Composition with 38 students, and frequently taught sections in the 30-35 range. (This, at a college where the teaching load for f-t faculty was 45 credits per year.) Did the students get the same level of personal attention they would have in a section of 15? Nope. I did what I could, given what I had to work with, but I'll admit assigning fewer papers there than I did at Flagship U, where the sections were capped at 22. PU made a judgment call that the trade-off was worth it.

I can envision arguments for either strategy. The advantage of the 'increase the adjuncts' strategy is that it would lead to relatively affordable smaller classes. The advantage of the 'work the full-timers to the bone' strategy is that more full-time positions would be available, staffing would be easier, and students could find professors more easily. In terms of student outcomes, I could imagine it going either way, though my hunch is that the educational advantages of smaller sections would trump the educational advantages of more office hours. But that's an empirical question, and presumably testable. I'd like to see a head-to-head comparison with actual data. Has anyone seen anything like that? (This would be a very interesting, provocative use of 'outcomes assessment,' actually.)

Administratively, the 'work the full-timers to the bone' strategy is much easier. It helps deans dodge angry questions from full-timers in other disciplines, wondering why their classes are so much bigger for the same salary. If a Psych professor has 5 classes at 35 students a pop, and her counterpart in English has 5 classes at 20 students a pop, I could imagine the Psych professor raising some difficult questions. The fact that most of us have chosen the other way – keep comp classes smaller by hiring more adjuncts -- suggests that we're actually trying to attend to students' needs, as best we understand them, given limited funding. And we answer those Psych profs as best we can.

(Aside: this is the real reason that “Writing Across the Curriculum” stays dead. If we were to reduce sections of everything to the size of composition classes, we'd go bankrupt post-haste.)

One of the great frustrations of administration is that people don't often connect the dots between arguments. The same people who argue passionately for reducing the adjunct percentage also argue passionately for smaller classes. Short of a massive infusion of cash from some unspecified benefactor, the contradiction is simply prohibitive.

Which would you choose?

* I can already anticipate the self-righteous flaming. “No, we don't. We just need more money! Maybe if we cut those bloated administrative salaries!” Spare me. If there's a viable political strategy to increase public aid to public colleges, then by all means, I'm for it. But cutting oversight won't do it. If anything, when increased funding does come through, it usually comes with strings. Admins attend to the strings so faculty don't have to. The fantasy of the unrestricted blank check is just that – a fantasy. Here on earth, there are costs of doing business. Besides, below the VP level, many of these salaries are a lot less bloated than you might think.

Rural schools really feel the crunch on this one. There typically aren't that many people in rural communities with 18 graduate hours....that don't already have full time jobs....that want to teach....that are GOOD at teaching. We have to hire more FT teachers because we can't depend on a bloated supply of potential adjuncts. The Deans whine about turning the adjuncts they do have into FT faculty, and then whine again because teaching loads are so heavy. Hello, McFly! Can't have it both ways! What color is the sky in the world you live in? ;-)
Re: "...bloated administrative salaries". The salaries of state employees are a matter of public record and are available on the web (at least for the state for which I work) via a couple of well-chosen words and Google. Good hunting.
Thanks DD.

I think our college comes down in the middle, trading time in a writing center (sort of centralized office hours) for classroom contact to fit our loading formula. Class sizes and total students are kept low for comp courses.

My comment about Writing Across the Curriculum is that it is dead because that Psych teacher won't put the effort into grading papers like a composition teacher will (because of loading factors), so it is relatively ineffective as a tool for teaching writing, real-world context or not.
Spare you? Spare us. There is a difference between necessary oversight v. bloated payrolls and overlap for bureaucratic paperweights. No more than 60 students for adjuncts? Administrators and chairs are not looking the other way, they're simply enjoying the view in rectum-land. If an adjunct teaches eight courses with (at least) 25 students a pop, we're going toe-to-toe with 200 students. Of course, TAs are out of the question; as is a pension, health care, and any scrap of self-respect. Ready to tell me to move on and stop whining about your complicity in screwing adjuncts and students? Tell you what, spare us.
I thought composition was a high school subject? Isn't that why the new essay portion was added to the SATs? So aren't any composition classes, by definition, remedial?

Evidently I'm from a different part of the galaxy. Never had a composition class in college, though I did write a ton of papers. That was last century.
"Besides, below the VP level, many of these salaries are a lot less bloated than you might think."

For once, I think I may actually agree with you on this. I was on a search committee for a muckety-muck (below VP level) administrator. The top salary offer was about $7,000 per year less than my starting salary.
I went to Snooty Liberal Arts College, and all freshmen were required to take an English composition course, in which the students wrote a bunch of papers. This course was designed to teach freshmen how to write papers for college-level courses. The college assumed that most of the students probably didn’t know how to write a paper since they hadn’t really written any papers in high school. A valid assumption in many cases, including my own.

The nearest equivalent to remedial composition of which I am aware is remedial mathematics. Here at Proprietary Art School, most incoming students have highly-deficient math skills—they either slept through their high school math classes or were passed along from grade to grade even if they hadn’t learned the material. Remedial math here at PAS is essentially high school math—stuff the students should have learned in high school but didn’t.

"Administratively, the 'work the full-timers to the bone' strategy is much easier. It helps deans dodge angry questions from full-timers in other disciplines, wondering why their classes are so much bigger for the same salary. If a Psych professor has 5 classes at 35 students a pop, and her counterpart in English has 5 classes at 20 students a pop, I could imagine the Psych professor raising some difficult questions."

But for how long can you expect to hire professors in Psych or in English on such terms? It's already the case that the mid-major universities are having trouble filling entry level slots in economics (and possibly other disciplines) because there isn't the industrial reserve army of people willing to generate the credit-hours of a freeway flyer, the senior theses of a senior professor at a private liberal arts college, and the research of a potential medalists. Their expectations are failing the market tests. It might be easier to hold-up the existing tenured faculty (tenure can be abused from both sides) but that simply generates talk of retirements.
re: salaries. I like PZ Meyer's post on March 23 about how he wants to meet the maan who is "worth more than 30 of me." My university spends millions of dollars on the sports teams, paying for equipment, clothing, meals when they have to work through them, etc.
There's another pipe dream: priorities on education, not on sports.
There is a military term that might be relevant here—tooth to tail. It is the ratio of the numbers of actual combat soldiers to the numbers of support, transport, logistical, and supply personnel that back them up. The equivalent in academe is the ratio of the number of actual teachers putting chalk on the blackboard to the numbers of administrative, clerical, and support personnel. Both types are necessary, but it seems that the “tooth to tail” ratio in academe is steadily decreasing.

Here at Proprietary Art School, it seems that whenever someone new is hired, the new hire is most often in the support staff—somebody new in the registrar’s office, a new counselor, more people to support the assessment effort, new recruiting staff, more IT people, new financial aid officers, perhaps a new dean, a new department head, plus a whole bunch of assistant and associate whatevers. Even though the student enrollment is increasing, it seems that a lot of these new people are needed to show that the school is in compliance with this or that federal regulation. It’s hard to remember the last time that a new full-time faculty member was hired.

Hire adjuncts. Do your part to help deplete the pool, so salaries have to start increasing.

Separately, if possible, establish a full-time non-tenure track with appropriate representation and benefits. They'll still be cheaper than your tenured profs, and you'll get higher quality folks to work for you.
Here's the thing. I'm an adjunct, a "professional adjunct," as it were. I teach roughly eight courses at three different schools per semester. I'm good at it. I've got it down to a science, and I don't cut too many corners -- except I rarely assign anything longer than 3 pages. I also usually teach thre sections duirng the summer. When all is said and done, I make well over $35K ... actually, I make over $40K.

The logistics of my life would be much easier if I could lower the number of institutions to one. I'd be happy to continue teaching the same number of classes. (truth is, I'm so used to it, that a 3/3 or even 4/4 load is like vacation) So why can't I? Because faculty unions of the tenured class at each of the schools have made a deal that says if a person teaches over x credits in a calendar year, or over y semesters, they must then be offered a full time position.

But I realize there's a darker reason for this. Were I and my cohort able to consolodate and teach at just one institution, we would inevitably gain bargaining power. And this would eventually bring about a strike for benefits and other ehancements of working conditions. So, it's a divide and defeat strategy.
Okay, perhaps it is time we remember that adjuncts are supposed to be "supplemental"--to the school *and* to the person that is serving as an adjunct. The intent was for a university or college to supplement their faculty with someone who was interested in supplementing their income. The notion seemed clear--"we won't hire you full time, but that's okay, this shouldn't be your full time job."

Over time, people have found that, if they cannot earn an appointment as a full-time faculty member, they can hold several adjunct roles at several schools. They create for themselves full time work, cobbling together several part time jobs. That's fine, if that is how they choose to live their life.

Unfortunately, after a while, people like Second Line tire of the nomadic life, and yearn for that which they were unable to have in the first place: the tenure track position. Their decision to take on several adjunct roles in lieu of full time employment elsewhere has now somehow become a problem for the University. Somewhere in this process, it is the school's fault for allowing these people to step in as adjuncts and make bad life decisions.

Adjunct positions are what they are. Rarely, at least in my experience, have schools held out false hope that "if you stay just one more year" you can expect a full-time position.

Perhaps it is time we address the bigger (and oft danced around question) which is:

WHY are these long term adjuncts not getting hired full time?

I obviously cannot speak for all disciplines, but I can honestly say that if one has done the required work to earn a tenure track position (published regularly in A journals, and can demonstrate an ability in the classroom) then they will most likely get hired.

This shouldn't come as a surprise that research is an expectation from someone who has earned a PhD. After all, it is a "research degree." When you review someone's record, and you see they are "stale" having not contributed significantly to the literature, or to current thought, is it any wonder they aren't getting hired?

So we come back to the most basic of questions, and honestly, I suspect the answers and "the fault...lies not in the stars but in" themselves. How many times does one need to be told no, before they have to do serious soul searching and stop asking "are so many other people so blind" and start asking "If they are right, what can I do to fix this" (or alternatively "Perhaps it is time I give up this dream, and move on with my life.")
I might also remind people of the etymology of the term "adjunct":
"noun 1 a thing added to something else as a supplementary rather than an essential part"

Such positions were never intended to be permanent. It happens that they become as good as permanent, but the efforts to restrict teaching amount before going forward to tenure that Second Line refers to are not designed to keep folks like him/herself out, but to ensure that they are not being exploited. By going around to multiple universities cobbling together multiple jobs you circumvent the safeguards in the system that are intended to keep you from being exploited.

I have never met a chair or head who would rather have adjuncts than tenure track faculty slots. They may exist, but I have never met them and I have a fair amount of experience. *ahem* What we, tenured chairs and heads would like are more tenure-track slots. But if that teaching is regularly filled with adjuncts the argument is made for the bean-counters that they don't need to pay for the more expensive tt faculty. And so the cycle continues...

Finally, those who are best at such jobs are, by definition not doing what tenure-track faculty are called to do: teach AND research AND university service. So spending years doing adjunct work is going to be self-destructive if your goal is a tenure-track job.
To The Professor, re: "_Why_ are these long-term adjuncts not getting hired full time?"

Your answer claims that it is the fault of the individual adjuncts, for being unworthy (and not publishing enough as a tt-professor should), rather than the system that is fucked up. Profs at my school will, when pressed, admit that there are about three new PhDs in English produced every year per 1 tt job in English. If we go on the market, we are playing an impossible numbers game where we compete not only against the current crop of PhDs, but the "backlog" of recent PhDs who are working at postdocs or ... guess what ... adjuncting! ... until they find a decent job or "become stale" as having worked as "just" an adjunct for too long. No one has ever been able (willing?) to specify exactly how long one must "serve one's time" on the adjunct track before one becomes "just" an adjunct.

You can complain that we're not sufficiently coldminded and level-headed enough to do an appropriate cost-benefit analysis and get out of the game (on the adjunct track or when choosing a graduate discipline at the start of grad school), but spare us the bullshit that we are somehow at fault for a system that is way bigger and more significant than any of our individual shortcomings.

Further, departments, having a buyer's market, are trending towards only hiring people who are already finished with grad school at the time of applying. How do you expect us to eat while applying? Where will we get the time to write and produce all this research if we have to adjunct 8 classes to pay rent?
The Professor raises some good points, but the nature of adjuncts (and the options for adjuncts) vary a lot across departments and disciplines. I'm sure that options are very different for non-tenure-track PhDs in logistics and business administration than they are for folks in English.

I'm in the sciences and I ended up adjuncting because a nasty two body problem in which the standard 3-6 years of postdoc work couldn't compete with a marriage and a spouse with far better benefits and salary than any postdoc on the planet. While this cut my postdoc time prematurely short, on the plus side, we aren't dependent on my adjunct money (which is a huge difference between me and the freeway flyers).

I treat adjuncting as making the best of a bad situation, a way to get some contacts and the iota of respectability that comes telling the neighbors "I teach at the university". The real focus is to publish my way out. As far as I can tell, impressing "the research community" is still a better bet than "teaching my way into" my host institution. That's putting all of your eggs into one (very local) basket.

I do think that staleness is an issue, just as it is for postdocs. You need to be able to show that you can take up projects outside of your original dissertation and without the guidance of an advisor. There is no formula for stalness in years, it has to do with what you do not do.

Actually, my biggest complaint is that "researchers" at my host institution are either deadwood or narrowly focused on topics far from my specialty. But, they tolerate my presence.

---- R1 Wanna-be
Interestingly, almost nobody even attempted to answer the actual question at the end of the post.

Although I think The Professor overshoots a bit, his basic point is correct. Adjunct positions were never meant to be stepping stones. They were never meant to be the component parts of a living. They were meant to be extras.

Second Line and Sisyphus, I think, jump from "my situation is lousy" (which I don't disagree with) to "someone must be making it lousy," which doesn't follow. The reason that "no one has ever been able to specify exactly how long one must serve one's time on the adjunct track" is that the adjunct track wasn't built for that. I think a lot of the ad hominem spleen-venting that happens whenever this topic comes up is the result of attempting to pin bad outcomes on a bad guy, a villain. It's a misreading of the situation.

Where I disagree with The Professor, at least in part, is in the assumption that outcomes reflect merit. I see a great deal of randomness in outcomes, especially in fields in which you have 3:1 or 4:1 ratios of doctorates to jobs. (And the point about not hiring ABD's is a very good one. It effectively creates an unemployable year, which is a system flaw.) In fields with something closer to a balance between supply and demand, the assumption of merit is probably closer to true. But yes, ultimately, we are responsible for our own career decisions.
I appreciate DD actually agreeing with part of what I wrote.

Let ms say first that, while sisyphus seems to think I wrote "...that it is the fault of the individual adjuncts, for being unworthy" might I point out that I said:
Perhaps it is time we address the bigger (and oft danced around question) which is: WHY are these long term adjuncts not getting hired full time?

My point wasn't that it is the fault of the adjuncts, but that we never seem to even question if it MIGHT be.

And sisyphus didn't disappoint. Rather than accept a small amount of responsibility, there was the predictable lashing out against what was perceived as my statement, and against "the system."

yup. DD is right. People have this innate sense that someone (other than oneself) must be blamed.

I must say, DD, I am curious about your comment when you write "I see a great deal of randomness in outcomes, especially in fields in which you have 3:1 or 4:1 ratios of doctorates to jobs. "

Are you saying that, when departments and schools have large pools from which to choose, they somehow find it harder to select the best candidate?
I'll answer...

Smaller sections and more adjuncts. The reason being that the students all get a better education.

The fact of the matter is that there is no proof that tenured professors increase student learning. Smaller classes have been shown to increase learning, as the amount of individual attention given to the student and their writing increases no matter who is teaching.

This also lets the adjunct with many sections per semester have to grade fewer papers and decrease the often large profits made by universities at their expense.
The Professor:

The point is that when you have 3-4x the number of warm bodies as tt jobs, there comes a point where you can narrow a list of candidates down to people who are *all* highly qualified. From there on in, it basically becomes a crap shoot. Unless you, of course, believe that 66-75% of the graduating PhDs don't merit tt positions. Of course, a certain percentage don't, but I doubt that it's that high.

PS - DD, while I wouldn't necessarily complain about administrator salaries, that is far from the only problem.

1 - at UW Madison, there was quite a scandal (you may have heard of it) because the Chancellor (Wiley) let one of his bffs sit his butt at home while earning 250K / year for 7 months after some ginned up (probably, though who knows) fake sexual harassment charges surfaced. If he could sit at home for that long without the university suffering, clearly his job wasn't necessary.

2 - at UW Madison in particular, the increase in administrators has outstripped both student and faculty growth over the last 40 years.

3 - at UW Madison in particular, at least the people in the financial aid office and some of the deans in Letters & Science are complete morons -- I've had very bad experiences with both, in one case bad enough that I seriously considered getting a lawyer involved. The two sets of circumstances are rescinding a year's worth of financial aid without notifying me in any way, until of course the check didn't show up, and the Dean of Students' office taking 3 weeks to reply to a time sensitive email. In any case, it would be a different case if people were generally impressed with the administration but I don't know anyone who is.

4 - Other demonstrated incompetence includes, oh, wasting $20M on software that never worked (some moron bought software before it was finished based on a mockup), etc. In the real world, people would be summarily fired for doing this. And it's only $20M, but that isn't so little money it can be laughed off.

Having slept on it, I realized that a stronger argument about randomness would be that some years the market is hot, and some years it's cold. That variable has nothing to do with the caliber of the candidate pool.

For example, my college hired three people in my discipline in the late 1960's, then didn't hire another until 2006. If you came out of grad school in the 70's, 80's, or 90's, well, sorry.

Last anon -- I'd never argue that administrators are all practically perfect in every way, or even that we're all competent. I'm just saying that a brusque hand-wave and a quick invocation of the "bloated admin salaries" mantra is a substitute for thinking, rather than a real answer.
I have no idea what field the Prof is in, but in English the expected number of individuals who earn the Ph.D. and that will get to tenure track is 1 in 4. This has little to do with quality of caliber of the applicant. For the sake of argument, let's say that of those 4 people, 1 of them is sub-par. That still leaves 3 who are deserving of tenure track jobs, but still only 1 will get that position. Why? Many factors, but merit really isn't the dividing factor -- unless the ellusive category of "fit" is going to be figured as a form of merit. (I hope The Prof. isn't so clubby as to ascent to this view)

You can get all righteous about your advanced abilities to look things up in the dictionary -- nice to see that Ph.D. of yours is paying off -- but what you fail to recognize is that the production of Ph.D.'s and the under production of tenure track positions is a systemic issue, not an issue of merit. But you may not care about this. However, I bet you do care about this: with each new Ph.D. who is hired as an adjunct, the Ph.D. degree, the highest degree awarded by the American Higher Education system, loses a bit more of its value. (actually, most of that value is already lost ... it really isn't worth the paper on which it's printed in my opinion)

Now, as for those so termed protections put in place by my "betters" to protect me from being exploited? Gosh, I sure do wish y'all would maybe try to protect me a little less. See, as a result of your kindly protections, I'm having a difficult time sitting down these days ... what with all the travel and that thing sticking up my ...
Wow, Second Line. I see I hit a sore spot. Now, my question for YOU is this: Did you know ahead of time that the ratio of TT positions to PhD production was 1 to 4? If so, why did you continue down this path? It would seem to me that the handwriting should have been on the wall (as Daniel would so quickly point out!)

I have to admit, when I was out looking for "things to do" as a profession, I chose an area that was not "over populated." In part it was an acknowledgment that other areas (that I might have enjoyed as much, if not more) were just too competitive. It seemed to me more prudent.

You make a very interesting comment "That still leaves 3 who are deserving of tenure track jobs, but still only 1 will get that position." It seems you feel there is a certain level of entitlement here-- something akin to "I earned the degree, now respect my authority" (to borrow from Cartman.)

Do you honestly believe that? See it would seem to me that what hiring one out of 3 says to me is that of the 4 available, one was entitled to the job because it was offered to that person. The others were not entitled to it. They don't "deserve" it any more than I should "deserve" to be President of the US since I am a natural born US Citizen over the age of 35. Hey--I meet the qualifications as publicly advertised.

Now, as to one other comment SL wrote: "Now, as for those so termed protections put in place ... to protect me from being exploited?"

You seem to think that those who put these protections some how failed, because you have chosen to work around the system and make adjuncting a full time job. It's kind of like saying "Now as for those who put the fence up along the bridge to keep me from jumping off... I sure wish you would protect me a little less. I cut myself on the chain link as I was climbing to jump off the bridge."

SL--after reading your rants against the system time and time again, and hearing how you have chosen to make adjuncting your way of life, I have to ask. WHY? Why fight to get in to a system you don't like. Why keep killing yourself teaching and driving, and teaching such heavy loads? Why do all that? (Oh, and if you answer by saying "because I love it" then please consider the tenor of your voice when you complain bitterly about doing something you "love.")

The problem with playing a martyr is that, all in all, they never come out well.
You seem to place a lot of faith or trust in those who make hiring decisions. Okay, but that means you are trusting in the rationality of utterly subjective decisions.

As for entitlement, I'm not sure what to say here. What is the difference between entitlement and qualification? As DD and others have said, at a certain point hiring decisions amount simply to distinguishing between equally (genuienly equally) qualified candidates. What separates one from another might turn out to be either absurd, arbitrary, or both.

And no, I didn;t know about those statistcs when in grad. school. Adbn most graduate students in the humanities, not to mention full professors, don't know them either. Had I known, yup', I would have gotten out.

As for why I keep doing this, it's not because I love it or feel committed. (although I do like it and I'm good at it) No, I stay because I am utterly unqualified to do anything else. The irony is this is the most amount of money I can make. Any other field, I would have to start at the entry level making half of what I earn now. But, even the entry level isn;t open to me. Why? Because I'm over qualified, of course. And how do I know this? Because I've been told time and time again: 'we'd love to hire you SL, but you're over qualified and we feel you'd be bored doing the tasks, and would likely be looking for another job after a brief period of time and we need someone who will stay for at least a year'.

You're in a very different field, Prof, one which has clear professional possibilities beyond the academy. Within academe, yours is a growth field. I'm not trying to be a prick here. You might want to consider that there are an entirely different set of rules, criteria, and implications for other, less vocationally and professionally oriented fields.
SL, thanks for continuing the dialog with me.

I have to agree--mine is a very different field. In fact, that is why most of my comments were couched with "in my experience." I appreciate that your field is quite different and that the constraints on the hiring in your chosen field are perhaps greater than in mine.

I would ask, though, that you imagine how you just felt, with my asserting that this was all "your" fault, and imagine how the administration at various schools (to include DD) must feel when constantly hearing from you that you "deserve" a TT position, and that they are somehow stacking the deck against you. That their decisions are part of "a darker reason..." That they shouldn't be trusted to make hiring decisions, and generally berating them for not caring for you.

Believe it or not, administrators are real people too. Even DD. And they are making the best decisions they can, to meet the mission of their school within the constraints in which they operate.

Perhaps, if you tempered your emotion with empathy, you might realize that they are (most likely) not out to get you, to keep you down, or deprive you of what "you deserve."

And yes, the "entitlement" comment comes from your writing "...still leaves 3 who are deserving of tenure track jobs..." Last time I checked, when one argued that they "deserve" something they are implying that when they don't get it they have been deprived of something that should by all rights be their's. They believe they are "entitled" to it.

So the difference between "entitlement" and "qualification" is that being qualified for something doesn't make you entitled to it--especially when you are competing against other qualified people. It simply means you are able to do the task if asked.

I am curious--does anyone else have any recommendations for overcoming the "you are overqualified" hurdle, short of pointing out that if I was ABLE to get those "better" jobs don't you think I would have already HAD them?
Regarding the "overqualified" hurdle:

If somebody knows the way to defuse this, I'd appreciate it.

I ran into this when I interviewed at small-ish research lab / software startup. After ninety minutes of good interviewing and freewheeling technical chat I got "Your CV sure makes it look like you want to be a professor, but we want employees who will stay with us for a few years... if State U offered you a job would you leave us to take it?"

All I could say was that State U wasn't advertising. I don't think that helped my case.

--- R1 Wannabe
The Professor writes:
'You make a very interesting comment "That still leaves 3 who are deserving of tenure track jobs, but still only 1 will get that position." It seems you feel there is a certain level of entitlement here...'


It was The Professor who articulated very clearly that entitlement, when The Professor wrote "I can honestly say that if one has done the required work to earn a tenure track position (published regularly in A journals, and can demonstrate an ability in the classroom) then they will most likely get hired."

Sorry, but you can't switch your argument in mid stream. That response to your claim was precise and on point. It might not have crossed your mind that you were hired over 3 other people with the same publication record simply because you are a handsome white male that made a nice social fit into your particular department.

It is not even clear if you have the statistics to indicate that the ratio of suitably-qualified candidates to t-t jobs is 1:1 in your own field. I can tell you that in physics, the situation went from more jobs than fully qualified candidates to less than 1 in 100 in the span of just a few years in the 1960s. That market drove a precipitous drop in US-born PhD students after 1970.
On the entitlement question: I never said I felt entitled to a tt position ... or at least, I don't think I did. I do, however, feel I am qualified -- and on a side note, for 4 years I held a non-tt position in which I did all the work, including teacing senior sem, writing letters of recommendation, advising etc., of a tt faculty member. So, uhh, yeah, I can do the job.

But I want to leave this issue of entitlement behind (but ccphysicist nailed you on that one Prof) and point to something else. There are jobs out there, they're just not tt jobs, and that is a result not of God's dictate, or changes in weather patterns, but an administrative decision.

Consider that I and my cohort can scramble around town to teach far more than a normal tt load. That leads me to believe there are jobs. In fact, one could argue that there is no over production of Ph.D.'s. Instead, there is an under production of tt jobs. And I return to my earlier suggestion that this under production is neither an act of God nor a shift in the weather. It's a decision made by someone or something. Markets aren't free or self-directing, they're created and designed.
i would leave the entitlement thing behind, if people would actually use words with the precision for which they are intended. Read mine carefully. I at least articulated that they "will most likely get hired." Note I didn't say if they do those things they "deserve" to get hired, or they are "entitled" to being hired.

I don't think I was "nailed" since my comment while perhaps more optimistic than your field(s) would suggest, was not demonstrating that you had a "right" and "Entitlement" or "Deserved" to get a tenure track job.

I am not sure what is more frustrating. Is it when people use the language with a certain lack of precision, or when people read with that lack of precision and then choose to judge?

Am I alone in a desire to see people actually mean the words they use?
Dearest Professor,

Stop your squirming. You got owned. It is rather simple point. Whether SL moves on or not, the system remains deeply flawed and on a collision course for mediocrity. The tired argument that PT positions were established for otherwise employed professionals seeking pin money by teaching a couple of night classes is dead and gone. Look at the IHE article on adjunct hires. We are on the march and coming to raid the change jar in payroll. Lecturing SL is pointless (and rather boorish considering your air-conditioned and healthcare happy FT position). Perhaps you could lecture the janitors on life choices next. Colleges have adopted a business model that will lead to diminished returns in the classroom (i.e., See DD's "Biege" post) and beyond. Consider the sinecures and housing allowances for the top tier of administration vs. the treatment of those of us in the trenches of Comp I and remedial math. Individual adjuncts will come and go, but the problem remains. It is always the same: We point out there's a problem, and everyone with quick with a lecture and a copy of the classifieds. Golly, thanks. But the building's still on fire. What are you going to do about it?
For a little while there, the discussion started to get thoughtful. I'd like to try to bring it back to that.

Professor Meanypants -- you're invited to answer the original question. More full-timers, or smaller classes? Or do you have the magic solution to suddenly reverse the health insurance cost spiral? I don't, and neither does anybody else I know. If you do, please share it with us.

The 'overqualified' thing is worthy of a post unto itself. I'll have to put that on my 'to do' list.

I don't want to judge whether any given individual feels entitled, but TP is absolutely right that 'fully capable' and 'entitled' are two different things. It's unfortunate that so many people conflate the two, not least because it adds an implied insult to the economic injury of low adjunct wages. In a true meritocracy, incumbents would have to defend their positions against newcomers. Since tenure means you don't have to do that, tenured faculty are not meritocratic. Let's move on.

At my college, the cost of health insurance for the full-time employees (including faculty) has more than doubled since 2001. Our state appropriation is lower than it was in 2001, even without adjusting for inflation. You can demonize me all you want, but if you don't have a way to make up that revenue difference, the constraints will dictate the decisions.
I’ll play dean for day only if you correct my stack of 180 papers and water my dead plants. First, some numbers and perspective. According to the Boston Globe, the “majority” of Massachusetts's 24 university and community college presidents receive a “standard $18,000 annual housing allowance on top of their salaries, which average $171,000 (…) nationally, only 20 percent of public and private college presidents receive housing allowances and 28 percent live in university-provided residences.” When Bridgewater State College trustees rescinded the housing allowance for the president, they provided a “new president's house on campus, paid for by the college foundation.” Yet after yanking the allowance, they still handed him a pay raise worth slightly more than the $18,000 perquisite, boosting his salary to $206,700. Former UMass president William Bulger earns a pension (that’s right, pension!) of $209,000. These are just the presidents. Consider all the chancellors, provosts, deans, and the bloat of their individual staffs.

Adjuncts make $2,500 a class. No insurance. No pension. No security. Tell me again where the state’s priorities are? Not in my classroom. It is an open secret the top tier of university system is a hack dumping ground and the gates are thrown open to any student whose check clears. And no, I don’t see these people as villains. That would take too much imagination. Administrators are safe on that count. You have no money in your budget for faculty hires? I believe you. But that’s not the entire picture.

What do I want? I want health care. If I teach at eight classes a semester at four public colleges, I believe health insurance from the state is in order. Eighteen courses (two for summer) a year? 450+ students a year? I don’t think I’m being unreasonable. I don’t want an office. I don’t want tenure. I don’t want parking. I want health insurance.

If one college determines that I qualified to teach three courses a semester, then they should provide some semblance of security. Truth be told, I like being an adjunct. This gypsy lifestyle agrees with me. At most places where I teach, I wouldn’t know the dean if I tripped over him or her. I like that. I like that more than I can say.

I say, hire adjuncts, give them health insurance, and cut the classroom size. There are simply too many tuition payers who have no business in a college classroom. Raise your standards, do away with your “retention at all costs" horse shit, and show “Beige” the door.
What PM said. Heh, maybe I should have more paragraphs or something so folks notice when I post. ;)
Yeah, what MP said!! And Prof, you sort of skipped over my main, and arguably more substantive point concerning the under production of tt positions (or, if you prefer, full or part time with benefits).
Ooh! I'm late to the party. But I just wanted to back up the assertation that for many schools, including the mid-sized private Catholic university where I teach, there has been a deliberate decision made over the last fifteen years to hire adjuncts rather than create more full time jobs. The university developed an "award-winning" core curriculum program, 60 required credit hours in "cultural foundations" classes with titles like American Experience, American dilemmas, contemporary world issues. It culminates in a capstone project, a lengthy paper. No department was created, instead it was a "university program" and handed off to a Dean to run. Some full-time t-t faculty teach occassional courses in the program to round out their teaching load (4-4 school) but the choice was made to run the program with adjuncts (big R1 right down the road). There are adjuncts who have taught in this program for 10+ years!!

The classes are writing intensive, the courses are the ones that most directly support the mission of the university (concern with social justice! ha!!), the adjuncts do a great job teaching (hence the awards), the school gets compliant, cheap labor to do it! The cost savings must be tremendous, no insurance, no office space, just a few email accounts and parking permits. The undergraduates seems clueless about the whole thing as are the parents who pay steep tuition. So in the short term it makes sense, but over the long-term?
Yes many schools have decided that hiring adjuncts is better because it's less costly with nearly the same benefits. Colleges give out information on what percentage of professors have phDs and what percentage of classes are taught by TAs but there is little or no published information on adjuncts. Frankly many colleges take advantage of that, using adjuncts as teachers.

On the topic of how for at least English phDs there is such a huge ratio of professors to jobs. There are plenty of jobs that would hire english phDs, but they may not be what they want. I do know that many private (high) schools, and probably some public schools hire phDs to teach. These private schools generally hire people with MA degrees and many would be happy to hire phDs. If you're already an adjunct professor it means less research and more teaching, and most schools give benefits like healthcare although there is a tradeoff between that and money. For other subjects it is probably the same, except for perhaps statistics, economics or other specialized fields that schools may offer only 1 or 2 classes in per a year.

As for professor Meanypants' comment on how their are so many students who aren't qualified to be in a college classroom. a) there will always be students who slip in through the cracks and get accepted because they seem to have gotten a good education. Even places like Harvard and Yale get them occasionally, but many can muddle through their college life.
b) some students have a hard time adjusting to college. One of my friends at GWU told me how in her freshmen year writing class there was one student who hadn't had to write a paper since sophomore year except for college essays. The education that everyone comes into college with differs. Hopefully somebody can help them adjust to life at college and what is expected. If they cannot adjust then yes they should be shown the door. But many students expect to be helped and hopefully some professor will take them aside and tell them exactly what is expected in college work. And some of these rise to the challenge
Also if all the adjuncts are angry at their situation then they can organize and strike. If it is done effectively it will draw attention to the problem and hopefully get universities to attempt to solve the problem. They do have economic power, especially if the strike is timed right. The universities will have to listen if even half of their adjuncts are threatening to walk out. It's hard to replace a large number of specialized workers so quickly so they will listen.
No, they won't listen. First, actually tracking down the adjuncts, who are a very dispersed bunch, is close to impossible. Second, are we talking public or private institutions? If the latter, the NLRB gives them an inordinate amount of lattitude in terms of recognizing a union -- public institutions are a different story. Third, convincing the adjuncts to essentially risk their employment to become involved in a unionizing effort that has little chance of succeeding is, well, daunting. Fourth, do you really think that an institution wouldn't let all of its adjuncts go in a heartbeat? Or alternatively, do you believe they wouldn't let the organizers go? It's remarkably easy to let adjuncts go. It goes like this:

Chair: I'm sorry, Bill, we're under enrolled for next semester. Caught us all by surprise. We won't be able to offfer you your usual section(s).

Bill: Oh. (pauses) What about the following semester?

Chair: Doesn;t look good, Bill, but I'll email you if something comes up.

Anonymous 10:29: My husband has been fulminating over the adjunct situation for years. He can't understand why students/parents keep coughing up major wads o'tuition to be taught by grad students and adjuncts.

I've often wondered why someone doesn't set up a certification process, sort of like the organic foods movement. Get a grassroots movement (perhaps affiliated with the AAUP) going, then offer "Certified Adjunct-Exploitation-Free" credentials to colleges who meet their standards.

If education consumers care, then the schools that get the certification can bump up their tuition a little to make up the increased cost....that's what the organic producers do.

If the consumers don't care, or are unwilling to pay (or fund through taxes)the cost differential, then that's a signal to the education establishment as a whole. As in: the minute someone figures out how to provide equivalent product to education consumers without the overhead, traditional colleges are SCREWED. Think Wal-Mart vs. the Mom-and-Pop screwed.

(Do you check to see whether your clothing was union made? Think about it.....)
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