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 haven't seen a different system; then again, I'm not very worldly or wise. :) However, I'm with Dead Dad about the fact that students in intro classes don't know how to teach themselves. Most of my intro students don't know how to follow directions, don't know how to use computers (yes, in this day and age, and all that), don't know anything about the discipline, don't know how to study, don't know how to write, and have few critical thinking skills. If we ever implement a scaled system of pay for adjuncts in this country, I'm putting in for combat pay for intro classes. :)

(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?)
My institution has a matrix: three levels of adjunct (good, better, best) and three levels of per-credit pay (lower division, upper division, graduate). There's not a great deal of difference between the rates, though. They're all low.
Our institution is on a per-credit-hour basis with no relevance to the course level or experience/credentials of instructor. That's why it's adjunct pay and not tenure or year-to-year contracts. We only use adjuncts when we're not allowed to hire tenure-track - something most people don't realize is a choice of the institution ABOVE the department level. If we have a choice to hire adjuncts/year-to-year versus no one at all, guess what we choose?
We're sort-of a CC+, so we have only a handful of upper-levels, and getting one as an adjunct is meant as a reward for good work.

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.
Our CC has two levels of adjunct pay (not based on credentials but on experience and training). Pay for f-t faculty teaching extra classes is at a third pay level. There is no difference in pay based on the level of the course.

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.
I'm not at a cc and adjuncting pays a flat rate per semester based on instructor education level. doesn't matter what you're teaching.
The price for something is typically the replacement cost. So, if you want to know the fair market rate for a upper level course you ‘sell’ the right to teach it. Limit the auction to people you feel are ‘qualified’ and see who will pay you the most for the right to be prof.
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.
A slightly different angle on this:

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.
I'm the original correspondent, hence the anonymous tag. From reading these responses it appears that many of you have seen something I have not seen; namely, adjuncts being used to teach upper-division courses. Everywhere I have taught, the standard practice has been to use adjuncts at the intro levels. The 200 and 300 level courses were always taught by full-timers (most tenured or tenure track, but some non-tt full timers).

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.
At my CC, many intro/developmental classes meet for an additional (short) class period. That means that for not significantly more work, I get paid more to teach them than for upper-level courses, because they're 5 credits instead of 3.

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).
To the original correspondent--if adjuncts teaching upper-division classes is not standard at your school, then this is still an issue. Admittedly, if the class is smaller, and more fun, it is already a win-win situation.

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.
I'm curious as to why the OC thinks that an upper-level course, which is easier and less time-intensive to teach than FYC, deserves a higher salary.
I agree with Anon at 8:52. I'm completely puzzled as to why the original poster would feel used. My only guess is that since it's his/her first time teaching it, it will require course prep. But the same could be said for a new adjunct teaching a first-year course for the first time, so I don't see why level should have anything to do with pay.
Perhaps because the upper level course is harder to teach, as most upper level classes are. You may have fewer students, but you have more readings and more difficult assignments, both to prepare and to grade. Also, it's the first time he's taught this particular class, which means that he's almost certainly making under minimum wage for the course given the preparation time. Having fewer students doesn't reduce the prep time. In the sciences, it typically takes me at least 12 hours a week just for the labs associated with the course for a new upper level course.
we're at a fixed rate for everyone. I got 2 upper level courses this year and my pay doesn't go up as a FT member so why should it go up for an adjunct? (especially since in my dept adjuncts get more of the fun classes and I get the freshman) The only way anyone gets more pay is for graduate courses. I just don't get the reasoning here, why should there be more pay?
Also, it's the first time he's taught this particular class, which means that he's almost certainly making under minimum wage for the course given the preparation time.

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.
If we really wanted to put money for education where it would do the greatest good for the greatest number, how about paying elementary school teachers--especially those in grades K-3--the most? Of course, we would have to demand effective teaching and accountability, and we'd certainly argue over how to measure those things, but imagine what our public education system would be like if more kids, taught by highly trained professionals, got of to better starts in elementary school.

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.

OC here again. I never said I "should" be paid more; I simply said there was something about all of this that bothered me. And what bothers me, I think, is the precedent being set. Historically, anything above the 100 level was taught by the tenure-track and tenured faculty -- at full pay. Now, the university is getting at least one of its upper-level classes taught for 1/4th the usual going rate.

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.
Having not read through all 18 prior comments (yet), I may be repetitive here.

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.)
Back again, to comment on the question of "upper level".

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.
Everywhere I've taught, it's been common for adjuncts to teach upper-level courses, and yes, a course is a course is a course - any differences I've seen in pay have been tied to degree (i.e. PhD's make a little more than MAs/ABDs).

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.
I hate the idea that anyone can teach a first year course. (And I've heard that from one of our own VPs!) It used to be a point of pride in my department that only t-t people taught our first year classes. Sadly, that's gone by the wayside.

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.)
Philip, as a full-time instructor of undergrad classes, I make $10,000 less that your average elementary school teacher. This is according to the Department of Labor.
It may not be easier or harder, per se, to teach Drawing II than it is to teach Educational Psychology, but the degree or level of investment it takes to acquire the knowledge or skills to be able to teach them, might possibly be a factor. The investment in earning an MA and a PhD are just not comparable!

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.
Let me see if I have this clear: instructor gets offered a plum upper-division course and then complains that he isn't getting paid more for it than for the intro level things he usually teaches. Having taught both lower and upper division, I would say that perhaps he should get paid LESS for teaching the upper division, if we were so foolish as to make a differentiation between levels of pay for levels of courses. Upper divison classes have, in general, fewer students, so there is less paper grading. Upper divison classes should have students more prepared and more "into" the topic, thus making the class more pleasurable to teach. Lower division classes need the most expertise of all (contrary to the patterns at most 4-year schools), and should have the most qualified and most senior faculty teaching them. It is far more difficult to teach an underprepared student how to write acceptable prose than it is to lead an invigorating discussion into the motivations of Character X of a piece of fiction. (Yes, I know: students don't read their assignments, getting them to discuss is like pulling teach, etc., and et cetera.) I have been there. I have known them all, as Eliot might say, and teaching an upper division course does not indicate one's inherant superiority over the lessor beings teaching intro level courses. It merely means a different set of qualifications, not better: different. So, be grateful and teach your upper divison class with joy, but don't be so foolish as to think you should be paid more for doing so.
I think most of the commenters above are missing the original poster's point. It's not a question of which classes are more fun to teach, or more work to teach. That's not relevant. The point is, if you assume that upper-level courses (and by extension, graduate courses) require higher credentials in the teacher than lower-level courses do (because the assumption is that you need the credentials in order to teach the course effectively), then pay should be commensurate with the required credentials to teach the course, and show parity with the pay that normally goes to those who teach the course.

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?
I have to post a follow-up, after spending two hours talking to my tenured boyfriend last night. If I understand his argument right, the problem is that tenure-track faculty aren't paid 4 times as much as adjuncts because their teaching is considered to be worth more. It's usually everything else they do in addition to teaching (primarily research in a lot of places), along with their reputation in the field among their peers, that gets them that tenure-track job and that higher salary.

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...
I'm not sure I agree that tenured and tenure track faculty are paid more solely for their research -- or in the case of tenure track faculty, for the promise they display. If that's the case, then why advertise the august reputations of the faculty to prospective students? (yes, I realize such advertizing is BS, but still)

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.
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