Monday, February 18, 2008
Ask the Administrator: Upper Level Pay for Upper Level Course?
A befuddled correspondent writes:
I'm an adjunct with a Ph.D. and plenty of upper level experience via a former full-time, but non-tenure track position I held at an elite SLAC. Most of my day-to-day teaching at any of the four institutions at which I work in any given semester is at the introductory level. Sometimes it's Intro to Lit (yes, I'm English) and other times it's first year writing. However, at one of my institutions, I was recently invited, or asked to teach an upper level course. My first reaction was Yippie!! Woot, Woot! I've made my peace teaching first year writing, but 5 or 6 sections of it per term is a grind no matter how you slice it, and so a break from that grind is quite welcome. But, then I realized something -- something likely obvious, but lost in my initial euphoria: I will be paid at the same adjunct rate for this senior level course, which means the institution is getting a very cut-rate bargain.
I should add something here. Amongst the adjunct staff at this particular institution, I am in fact the only Ph.D. -- the others only have M.A. degrees -- and this is what qualified me for the open slot. There are full time, tenured professors here, but for whatever reasons, none of them is qualified for this particular field. I am.
Now I'd love to ask for more money, but I already know what the answer will be. And truth be told, I'd dearly love a respite from first year writing, and the course would be a blast to teach. I've not really gotten to sink my teeth into a meaty subject since my days as a full-timer. (I mean no offense to fyw instructors or the courses -- I teach them, I make my living teaching them -- but fyw is not an upper-level course no matter how happily one regards it) But at the same time, I'm aware of the cut-rate deal the institution is getting by using me to teach this class, and it bothers me in a way that is hard for me to articulate. Should I be bothered, or should I simply regard this is a bit of karmic reward for all these semesters in the trenches of fyw? Are others bothered? Or is this much ado about nada?
Maybe I've been on this side of the desk for too long, but this doesn't strike me as unusual. At my cc, adjuncts are paid by the credit hour, so any three-credit course is paid the same as any other three-credit course. Even for full-time faculty, teaching loads are denominated in credit hours, so a three-hour 'upper level' course counts the same as a three-hour intro course.
That may seem cold or reductionist, but it makes cross-departmental or cross-disciplinary equity possible. Is Drawing II easier or harder to teach than Educational Psychology? I don't even know how to measure that. But I can count hours. Lest that seem entirely soulless and bureaucratic, I'll add that the faculty union fully buys into the credit hour system for workloads. For them, as for me, ensuring some sort of basic equity across disciplines is the overriding consideration.
It's also much easier for planning and budgeting purposes to simply have a flat rate. If every course has to undergo some sort of 'comparable worth' analysis, the headaches would be staggering, and the payoff hard to specify. (In order to pay some courses more, and still balance the books, we'd just have to pay other courses less. The odds of the faculty union going for that are approximately zero.) It may seem counterintuitive to pay the highfalutin' specialized courses for majors at the same rate as the plain vanilla intro classes, but, in my experience, it's actually standard practice.
(Thought experiment: how would a market fundamentalist answer this? On the one hand, specialized courses have fewer potential instructors, which would imply higher pay. On the other, as your note shows clearly, many people would vastly prefer to teach the more specialized stuff, which would imply lower pay. In non-extreme cases, those probably roughly cancel each other out, so a flat rate is probably a reasonable way to keep the transaction costs down without doing fundamental violence to the substance of the thing.)
What I like about the question is that it highlights one of the great perversities of American higher education: we throw the least experienced or supported teachers at the students who are least able to teach themselves. As they move up in the hierarchies, professors with the option generally flee the intro classes, farming them out to adjuncts. (Community colleges are less prone to this than midtier comprehensives, since in most states our curriculum tops out at the sophomore level. Full professors in the English department teach Comp 1.) The idea seems to be that 'just anybody' can teach an intro course, so the way to prove your rank is to teach higher level stuff. Pedagogical nirvana is understood to be teaching graduate students the research you're working on at the moment. What this says about the attitude towards tuition-paying students, I'll leave as an exercise for the reader.
Wise and worldly readers – have you seen a different system? Would something else make more sense?
Have a question? Ask the Administrator at deandad (at) gmail (dot) com.
(I mostly tease. I love what I do. These same students are intelligent, witty, insightful, warm, caring, have life experiences that bring cold hard theory to life in my classroom, and desperately want to improve themselves. The point is, every course has its challenges, and how can we start ranking those challenges as harder or easier for pay scales or any other reason?)
It does mean more prep time, but the number of these classes available is extremely limited, so the full-time faculty (who get first grab at classes) are giving up something they enjoy to let one of us teach it. (And the quality of student work is typically much higher, and it is a real break from the 101 classes.)
I don't really mind the "bargain" they get because I know we're taxpayer-funded and, as a taxpayer and an adjunct, I appreciate the delicate position of the CC between trying to pay folks enough and trying to stay in taxpayer good graces. I might mind more if it were a private college.
The writer would not qualify for our second pay level (don't ask why someone qualified to teach at the level would not qualify for pay reflecting that skill, but the system was set up by the administration, not the faculty, to serve one of their goals).
I'll echo joyce up above: Even back when I was a grad student, I heard faculty say they thought that the intro classes deserved combat pay and that you should pay to teach grad classes.
My hunch would be that upper level courses would pay less than intro since they’re more ‘fun’ for the teacher. Same reason that the per word pay rate for science fiction is lower than for technical writing. People enjoy writing sci-fi so they’ll do it for a lot less.
This is sort of what’s been done already. Adjuncts will ‘pay’ a lot more than TT faculty. That’s why schools are using them. They’re cost effective. Plus, from what people have written here they do a pretty good job at it. Basically there are more people that like teaching than there are who really like accounting. So accountants make more. We see the same thing wrt to humanities and M/S/E and grad school.
Assuming there are fewer students in the upper division sections, (and assuming you do your own grading) you are getting paid more for upper division.
If using adjuncts to teach upper level classes is becoming standard practice, then I probably should not have taken up DD's time. I guess I didn't realize to what extent it has become a standard practice.
Internally there's been some grumbling about this within the department. It's just not a standard practice here. But from what you all are saying, this dept. is just behind the times.
As to adjuncts in upper-level classes becoming common, at my last school (Regional U), my terminal masters qualified me to teach higher level classes as an adjunct (when I could teach whatever they needed) than when I was in a FT non-TT position (and was limited to 100 and 200 level classes).
Perhaps if your chair has no flexibility on the per-class rate, you could instead ask for something else within his control: a grader on the next intro course? Funding to attend a conference? etc? Things that benefit you and improve your pedagogy make it even more of a win-win situation.
My own inclination, though, would be to swallow these thoughts until the *second* time you are asked to teach the class, at which point you might gently hint "you know, I'm really saving you a lot of money here..."
In my dept, by the way, our non-tt faculty only teach the intro course.
By that argument, there should be pay bonuses associated with teaching new courses.
I would disagree that upper-year courses are harder to teach. Sure, the material is more difficult, but the students are generally better (thanks to weeding-out during lower years) and the classes smaller. Trying to explain fundamental concepts is, I feel, more challenging than refining concepts the students already grasp.
I've never been able to figure out why Ph.D.s teaching a few graduate-level seminars make 'way more money and have far more prestige than teachers whose work is--in my book, at least--far more important. We've all suffered through a terrible graduate-level course without any permanent damage, but a really bad elementary school teacher can leave lifelong scars.
But I'm not making a claim, or implying one about the relative economic worth of intro versus upper-level. Remember, I make the lion's share of my living teaching fyw and intro. lit. And I don't think it right that the univ. pays the adjuncts x and the full-time faculty 4x. But given that they do, having me teach a class for x that usually costs the school 4x means that someone or something is getting a good deal. This is not to say that they're not already getting a bargain rate for the adjuncts who are paid x. It's just that now they're getting an even better bargain. And something about that just feels wrong -- or rather, more wrong than the usual level of wrong that defines "our" employment.
The supply issues are fairly complicated (more or fewer possible instructors?), but I think that, in general, the demand-side issues are simple. Enrollment is likely lower in the upper-division course, so it generates less tuition revenue. So, one could argue that paying a flat per-course stipend results in those teaching upper division courses a larger share of the revenue.
Now that has nothing to do with what's the right thing to do, so dont jump on me.
I know of nowhere that pays differentially for upper-level undergrad courses. I do know, however, of places that pay more for adjuncts in graduate classes. (We do, in our MBA program, for example.)
I consider a 200 level course to be lower level (because it is "lower division"), while a 300 level course is upper level because it is for majors. My course (calc-based physics) is a 200 level course and is treated the same as 100 level intro composition except that my class size is larger. My answer reflected the reality that all classes (100 or 200) at our CC are treated similarly.
It might not be common for adjuncts to teach a 200 course in your field at your university, but it might be common in another field at your school. For example, I know one university where 200 level physics classes are all taught by f-t faculty (except in the summer), while many 200 level calculus classes are taught by graduate students. This is purely a function of supply (number of f-t faculty) and demand (number of sections) in the two departments.
It may depend on what your upper-level courses are and who your adjuncts are. At my grad institution, ABD grad students taught a lot of courses - ironically, not usually the 100 level stuff, because those were huge lectures than entailed overseeing herds of TAs. But you couldn't teach a grad course as an ABD. People with the Ph.D. who were not tenure-track did teach the occasional grad class, but they'd always earned their degrees at other institutions (and usually taught in tight fields like African history or something).
But I also suspect there are disciplinary differences. I'm in history, and while there are intro courses in history, there's not the same distinction that you get in English departments between, say, teaching first-year writing and teaching literature. I'm sure at a lot of places adjuncts teach mostly something like Western Civ or US Survey, but at all five institutions I've worked at, no one's balked at having adjuncts teach upper-level history courses.
I don't know that this situation is really a bargain for the dept, though, because assuming that the non-adjunct people also teach first-year writing (they may not at this institution, though at many, they do), they're getting paid just as much to teach FYW as they are the upper-level stuff. It's not that FYW is cheaper and upper-level stuff is more expensive.
To your correspondent, I'd point out that usually the workload of teaching the upper-year courses is much easier. There's far less hand-holding and often even much lower enrollments (my first year classes vary between 70 and 120 students; my senior seminars were briefly out-of-control at 38 enrolled, now are more manageable at 20-22).
You may have a hard time convincing others to pay you a premium for what they see as a perk course. But if you can make yourself invaluable to them, there's a small chance that they might try to get you a t-t opening, someday. (That's always the carrot they dangle in front of you, of course.)
Such a differential could still be budgeted for, if you know that typically, tenured professors teach this level of course as the correspondent seems to be saying. But for the fact that there is no such animal available, the reason they are even asking this person, means that, they might ordinarily have had to pay a higher rate/credit hour for that course, if I am understanding the correspondent correctly and if the correspondent correctly understands the pay structure at their institution.
There is a somewhat similar dilemma in my own field, the legal field. In order to be a library director (either academic or private firm), potential candidates are expected to have not only their MLS, but their JD as well, both of which represent significant investments in time and money, and result in the acquisition of particular skillsets. A law librarian (let alone one qualified to serve as a director) in many cases has an additional credential and far more experience than most newly minted attorneys, yet never in their wildest dreams will they command anywhere near the salary that a first year associate will, given their similar investments of time and money to be trained. By the same token, the same research tasks, for example, whether peformed by an attorney or a law librarian will be billed to the client at different rates, even though, in some cases the librarian can do it more effectively.
This strikes me as inequitable and somewhat insane. That it is normal and acceptable in academia is even more disheartening. For these reasons, most law librarians make decisions as to whether it is worth it or not to get their JD, however it appears, unlike in academia, if they don't, they and can stll have reasonably, satisfying career options while also making a decent living.
I.e., if I, as an adjunct fiction writer who happens to hold a Ph.D. in lit., specializing in post-colonial and Asian-American lit., am asked to teach a 400-level post-co. literature course, because no one else in my department has the theoretical background (they all specialize in other areas, and their search for a tenure-track post-co person failed last year), then it seems fair that I be paid what the course is worth to the department. Normally, the course is worth what they pay a tenure-track person to teach it, right? So to be fair, they should pay me the same amount for that course.
That's all on a theoretical level, of course -- in practice, department politics probably mean that the adjunct should ask for other bennies instead of extra pay, esp. the first time this comes up. But if they're being used, over and over again, for their academic credentials and depth of critical/theoretical knowledge, without being compensated accordingly, at the rate that the department has established would be the standard rate previously, that seems deeply unfair.
Maybe an analogy would help make this clear. A hospital hires an intern to do basic first-year scutwork. This intern happens to have already gotten a medical degree in India several years ago, and has a great deal of clinical experience, but on coming to the U.S., had to start over again. So fine, they're being paid at the intern rate of pay. But the hospital, chronically short-staffed, and with two senior attendings on unexpected maternity leave, has the intern take on the duties of a senior attending physician, including many patient procedures that normally an intern would never be expected to know how to do, because they know this particular intern has the skills they need. Should that intern still be paid the same as all the other interns? Is that fair? If the hospital has them doing this for years upon years, is it still fair?
If I get this argument right, the Ph.D. may be a necessary minimum requirement for teaching some of the higher-level classes, but in these days of Ph.D. glut, when half the adjuncts in his department, at least, have Ph.D.'s, it isn't your ability to teach the upper-level class that correlates to your pay.
The only time when your qualifications for teaching the class may correlate to pay would be if you were in such a rare discipline that there weren't a hundred other adjuncts qualified to teach the job. The pay for just teaching an upper-level class correlates to what qualified people are willing to accept for teaching that class. These days, in most fields, that equates to not very much money.
I have to admit, this still feels wrong to me, on some level, but after two hours of argument, I think I've accepted that this is how the university actually works. Sigh.
He did say that a department that habitually leans on a lot of its adjuncts to teach upper-level classes probably has a problem that needs addressing; why aren't they hiring full-time faculty to cover those jobs? Because they can get away with exploiting their adjuncts some more, now that there are so many Ph.D's? That's not how the system is supposed to work...
Also, how would your interlocutor respond to the scenario of the newly minted tenure track Ph.D. with two publications who is paid 4x, versus the adjunct with four essays and an edited collection paid at x? This is not an unheard of situation -- believe me.