Friday, September 12, 2008


Thoughts on San Antonio

This story in IHE is somehow both shocking and unsurprising.

Apparently, San Antonio College has a policy stating that anybody who teaches 12 or more credits in a given semester is entitled to full-time status, including benefits (read: health insurance). This is a fairly common policy at cc's, and one with which I'm quite familiar. San Antonio's innovation has been to require adjuncts who hit 12 credits to sign a waiver waiving their right to full-time status and benefits as a condition of getting that last course.

So they have a policy, but they have a practice of requiring anyone to whom the policy would apply to waive it.

The story is worth reading in its entirety, if only to follow the tortured explanations offered by the college spokesperson. (My fave is the 85 days vs. 90 days. Very cute.) Her stated argument boils down to “it's either that or we don't run the class.” Her unstated argument is that they can't afford to pay what it would cost to make everyone they need full-time, so they're doing what they can to make ends meet.

This is the kind of stuff that gives administrators a bad name.

I can't imagine that this would hold up in court. If it did, I'd expect to see retailers and restaurants start requiring employees to waive their right to the minimum wage, contractors requiring employees to waive their right to OSHA standards, and the like. Down that road lies madness.

(I've always wanted to write “down that road lies madness.”)

Libertarians like to argue that freedom of contract is one of the most fundamental human rights. What they fail to recognize is that contracts have ripple effects far beyond their signatories. (In other words, there is a 'market' that is larger than individual actors, just as there is a 'society' beyond individual adults, and in both cases, the whole is importantly different than the sum of its parts. Some libertarians actually go so far as to resort to patent absurdity -- “there is no society” -- or veiled threat -- “there is no alternative” -- to avoid dealing with this.) When individuals were allowed to use poor judgment, they created a housing bubble – and crash -- that first priced more prudent sorts out of the market altogether, and is now dragging down the entire economy. Your poor judgment stole my home equity – the idea that I shouldn't have anything to say about that is absurd. Similarly, if individuals are allowed to use poor judgment to get around minimum compensation laws, they'll drag down the prevailing market for everyone else. The idea that everybody else should just sit there and take it is somewhere between 'naïve' and 'offensive.' This is a fundamental failure of libertarian thought, built into its structure.

That's why I don't have much patience for the “nobody held a gun to their heads” line of argument. It can be used to justify all manner of exploitation, and often is.

People entrusted with decision-making positions ought to hold themselves – okay, ourselves – to a higher standard than “nobody held a gun to their heads.”

As a profession, I think we owe it to prospective grad students to warn them away, and we owe it to some chronically-underemployed freeway fliers to be candid about their prospects. In both cases, the point isn't to make people feel lousy about themselves, but to help them avoid or escape a situation in which success is unlikely.

But at the end of the day, 'ought' won't always cut it. As long as this kind of exploitation is relatively easy to do, some places will do it. That's why we need rules of the game, and why waiving those rules – even by mutual 'consent' – can't be tolerated. Recognizing each other's basic humanity involves recognizing that, at some important level, we're all in this together. We all have moments of weakness, and those moments affect other people. That's why we have to recognize the fact of collective consequences for individual actions, and therefore the potential legitimacy of collective restraints on those actions. If we don't ban abuse of the weak, the weak will be abused, whether that weakness is physical, economic, or anything else. Saying “they asked for it” doesn't make it right.

I honestly hope for a housecleaning in San Antonio. Some things are just too basic to let slide.

"She then said that Ruben Flores, a college dean who handles adjunct matters (and to whom the waiver forms authorizing pay for fewer credits than adjuncts are working are addressed), would explain the rationale for the system. Flores did not respond to messages."

Translation: Since that statement proved to be false, the college's spokeswoman lied or was told to tell a lie by her bosses. I wonder which of those (a) or (b) choices is true?

By the way, there is a third option that the reporter could have explored with the college's PR flack. Perhaps the college's spokeswoman would voluntarily give up her health insurance and benefits package so the college wouldn't have to cancel that course?
I like the part where they apparently didn't run it by the district's lawyer.

There's a big market out there for someone who develops good training materials to train administrators and middle management not so much on the law, but on WHEN THEY NEED TO RUN THINGS BY THE LAWYERS FIRST. Not institutional policies, but training that leaves people able to evaluate the NOVEL situations.

Btw, re: "Down that road lies madness."

If you were a lawyer you'd say, "That's a slippery slope that will lead to the end of western civilization!" ;)
I think this is a misguided attempt to serve the needs of your students while completely screwing your staff. The irony is that if community colleges were to allow classes to not fill, they might be able to make the argument that they need those full time positions. But by creating a cheap alternative to full time staff, they are shooting themselves in the foot.

You can't argue for more money when you are meeting your mission with the resources on-hand. If that means that students get screwed out of their classes, oh well. Sometimes "small government" is small. If tax payers don't like that, they're welcome to be more generous.
DD - I agree with you that this budgetary work-around is unsound, however some of your anti-Libertarian rant missing the mark.

No one "stole" your home equity, in fact if you think the speculators caused you to lose equity you also need to give them the credit for giving you the home equity in the first place, right? So either way you are wrong on that point.

A Libertarian would also argue that without the governmental backing of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae we probably wouldn't have had the real estate run up in the first place. Lenders were loaning money to people that had no business getting a loan. If they had to bear the full responsibility of making these bad loans, they wouldn't have done it in the first place.
Anonymous, you're pretty stupid.

The stolen home equity is from a surfeit of housing supply that never should have been constructed. That's how the [ banks, Republicans, Congressional Republicans, GW in particular, the Fed, OFHEO, OTS, SEC, Wall Street, mortgage brokers, and all those people with fraudulent mortgages ] screwed us all.


Wow... calling someone stupid because they failed to recognize that it was all some sort of vast conspiracy?

Actually, your listing of all the players in the housing market (leaving out, conspicuously, consumers who were more than willing to bite of more than they could chew to get a far larger house than they needed/could afford) are not innocent here (having offered too good to be true mortgages--note anon's comment re:Fannie and Freddie) but there was no obvious "speculation" here.


Home equity ("false" capital gains achieved simply because of a perceived increase in value relative to purchase price) had risen because of a perception by buyers that a home was worth more. Thus, they were willing to pay more.

How does that come about? Last time I checked, the rise in prices is due to those pesky supply and demand curves. Demand went up (in part driven by low mortgage rates, and thus a perception that one could "afford" something beyond one's means.) Supply didn't go up as much as supply, thus the prices rise to level the market.

Once the ARMs started to adjust, and the "too good to be true" rates started manifesting their dark side, those who shouldn't have afforded the houses in the first place started selling/abandoning/fleeing them.

Market shift. Excess Supply. Price Drops.

I am not sure where the "speculation" part comes in to play here. There was, as best as I can tell in reporting, no direct "speculation" in the housing market. No company, or entity, was out there buying up homes wholesale assuming that the value would continue to rise. (Sure, there were silly buyers who, in their short-sightedness assumed that good markets last forever. They plague all markets, do they not?)

So, be disappointed that you can't sell your house today for what you could last year. That happens. Be glad that all downturns are followed by upturns.

Most importantly, understand that not everything that happens is due to evil Republicans and vast right wing conspiracies (although quite often, as anon and libertarians point out, problems are made worse by the meddling from the left!)
Oh my.

The empathetic embarrassment meter is reaching "Dude, Please Stop!" territory.

We are about to bring back duelling in this country I fear . . . this resurgence of 18th century scallawaggery is quite troubling (yet strangely amusing)!

I agree with the point you are making but I fear, there will always be a way around such a policy. Where I teach, if a class is taught at the college but through a different office or is of a different nature (an Adult Education class, a mini session or a class allowing high schoolers to get college credit), it does not count toward the maximum number of credits an adjunct is allowed to have.

As to another point, I have actually seen a similar type of policy outside the academic world. Many states have laws that dictate an employee must take a meal break if s/he works over a certain number of hours in a given day. I have worked for companies where they "allow" employees to sign a waiver choosing to forgo such a break. I have wondered about the legality of that but it is my understanding in a number of states, it is legal.
I can't imagine that this would hold up in court. If it did, I'd expect to see retailers and restaurants start requiring employees to waive their right to the minimum wage, contractors requiring employees to waive their right to OSHA standards, and the like. Down that road lies madness.

ianal but as far as I know there's no requirement to give anyone benefits if they teach 12 credit hours. So the two situations don't parallel each other.

If there were such a a law all you'd have to do is hire 3 adjuncts per 24 credit hours rather than just 2.

This is silly. If you're not a superstar than the going rate for teaching a college class is about equal the being a bank teller. Sucks but there you are. A humanities PhD just doesn't help you do much that is in high demand.
Joe, I don't think you read the article.

"... those waivers involve the adjuncts accepting pay for fewer credits than they are actually teaching."

That sounds like it constitutes forcing an employee to allow the college to falsify their time card. IANAL either, but I recall some WallMart manager getting into trouble for something like that involving overtime pay.

And did you read the part where they said they have a rule that specifies a higher pay rate and benefits for someone teaching 12 hours or more? That was why I speculated on a possible question for the PR flack. The benefits obtained by said flack are guaranteed by the same kind of rule as the one that applies to adjuncts.

PS - AFAIK, there are no vacant subdivisions built by speculators in my town (although there are some developments in foreclosure that might have vacant structures on them), but there sure are in Arizona just as there was an entire industry of "flip your home" folks speculating in real estate as if it was a no-lose proposition.
Take away:

1) people getting loans who shouldn't have; as a result of political pressure to liberalize lending to marginal borrowers in the interest of "fairness;"


2) speculators who bought "flipping" property and took out 150%-250% loans based on the assumption that prices would continue to rise above values without risk (many of whom took out "interest only mortgages" so they weren't even covering the base; value of the property)


3) people who did some combination of 1) or 2) simply so they could live "beyond their means"

and what we have left is no "crisis" at all. Zip, Zero, Zilch.

And now *I* (who bought a home I could pay for, with the intent of actually living in it) are now being asked to cover the losses of my evil, greedy and/or stupid neighbors?

All you really need to know is that Barney Frank likes the bailout deal . . .
Isn't Joe right that the other solution for San Antonio is to hire 3 adjuncts to cover each 24 credits rather than 2? And how does that make adjuncts better off? It just requires everyone in the adjunct business to log freeway hours instead of consolidating their teaching on one campus.

I can see that, if there were an adjunct shortage, then not allowing waiver of the insurance-at-12-credits rule would force the college to buy insurance for some adjuncts now uninsured. But I am under the impression there is an adjunct surplus.
There is no adjunct surplus, not at the prices my cc pays.

I teach at an urban college system that relies for its labor upon three tiers of instructors: the "comers," the grad students from local universities, who are good to teach a class or two above their TA load; "moonlighters," mostly high school English teachers at or near retirement who are looking to get out of the house in the evening, and who teach their classes with the ease of an old southpaw who can still paint the corners; and, finally, the crux of the matter, those desperate types who eke out whatever long-term, month-to-month existence they can by grabbing however many classes they can all around our urban area. I don't give them a nickname to avoid the slightest hint of ridicule.

Spread out over 3-4 universities and at least as many cc's, these men and women teacher sometimes 11-14 classes per semester, and would teach more if offered. Some subsist on their spouse's health plans, or simply take their chances. But if you want to know the basis of the San Antonio situation, look no more than this bunch.

From my (now over, thankfully) experience as a department chair, I know that--especially in the fall, when grad students show up nearly choking on their fellowship money--a gulf exists between the classes we need to staff and the adjuncts we have on hand. This is when the third group comes to hand, in conversations that always go as follows:

Adjunct: "I hear you have seven classes still to staff."

Me: "Yeah."

Adjunct: "So . . . I could teach one."

Me: "I can't give it to you. You're already teaching three."

Adjunct: "So?"

Me: "I'm not allowed. We'd have to give you health insurance, which I'm not allowed to do?"

Adjunct: "What's the big deal? I'm on my wife's (or husband's) plan anyway. (Or: I don't need it, I'll take my chances, I have COBRA, etc., etc.) Don't worry, I'll sign a waiver."

In ten years of chairing, I had probably fifty such conversations, often with the same teacher ten semesters in a row. I'm guessing some chair, in desperation, sold it to his dean, who sold it upstairs to a president, who--having six thousand things on his desk--gave some half-hearted approval.

And yes: it's patently illegal, which is why we never did it. We (supposedly) did away with the "second start" exception, the 85-day crapola. But I see why it might happen.
What texasyank describes sounds like an adjunct surplus to me. The adjuncts he has would "teach more if offered." He has teachers offering to teach more, and take a pay cut (i.e., waive their insurance).
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