Wednesday, October 15, 2008


Maybe I'm Jaded, But...

This story didn't surprise me.

Having been on this side of the desk for a while now, I can attest that I've heard deans, HR directors, department chairs, and even vice presidents say candidly that adjuncts are underpaid. We pretty much all agree on that. (I've never heard a counterargument beyond “nobody put a gun to their heads.”) It may be surprising to hear it from a podium, but it's nothing that hasn't been floating around for some time.

Some of the comments to the IHE story are dispiriting, in that they seem to suggest that any administrator who wants to can just wave a magic wand and create tenure-track positions out of the clear blue sky. They also fall into the trap of assuming that bad results can only be explained by bad intentions.

Quick quiz: which of the following bothers the public more?

1.Tenured professors being replaced by adjuncts
2.Tuition increasing faster than inflation

If you guessed 1, you probably work in higher ed. The correct answer is 2. And keeping a relative lid on 2 is one of the driving forces behind 1.

In my state, as in most at this point, we're actually taking budget cuts right now. The taxpayers are crying out for more and deeper cuts. We're running a deficit supporting the faculty and staff we have now. In this context, the resources for conscience-driven hiring are supposed to come from where, exactly?

(Perversely enough, the percentage of courses taught by full-timers in the short term will probably increase, even without new hiring, since we're balancing this year's budget by cutting released time. When that happens, the existing full-time faculty teach more courses, and the adjuncts fewer. Our adjunct percentage will drop accordingly. I doubt this is what Cary Nelson had in mind, but there it is.)

Over the years I've blogged, I've seen repeatedly that the attitudes prevalent in higher ed have yet to catch up to the facts on the ground. Conscience-driven appeals may have at least held the potential of working, back when resources were relatively flush. But at this point, especially at the cc level, we make the decisions we have to make. They can be carried out well or badly, and I absolutely agree that the common practice of making implied promises to adjuncts to lead them on is objectionable. (It goes the other way, too – I'm concerned that integrating adjuncts too completely into the life of the college will open up the college to a backbreaking lawsuit. If adjuncts become truly indistinguishable from full-timers, then the pay differential is unsustainable. To protect the institution, it's crucial to have some sort of clear boundary, even if we'd rather not. The ability to believe both “what must be” and “what I'd prefer,” even when the two conflict, is a basic job requirement for administration. I like to think of it as a tragic sensibility.) But assuming infinite freedom of action among administrators is simply false, and it leads to blind alleys and useless infighting.

I'd prefer to see the loop-the-loop arguments wind down, in favor of action that might actually help. For example, and I know that most of us aren't ready to hear this yet, I think it's time we drop the “one size fits all” idea of the job of a professor. Is the daily work of a community college professor really the same as the daily work of an R1 professor? If it isn't – and it isn't – then why do we insist on using all the same terms and categories to judge both?

And rather than continuing to pretend that community colleges are sitting on Ivy-sized endowments, let's take the battle for resources where it really belongs: the public. Until the public buys into the idea of steady, reliable, sustained, serious funding for public higher ed, we're chasing our tails. I think that the first move there is to reframe it as a truly public good, rather than as a private good to be supported by user fees. After decades of horrific politics, the concept of a public good seems almost quaint, but in its absence we just don't make sense. Either we're serious about an educated workforce and citizenry, or we are not.

Until that happens, administrators everywhere will make choices we'd rather not make, knowing full well their human costs. Bash us when we mess up, but let's stop pretending that it's all just a matter of bringing enlightenment to a few suits. We know. We know.

"If adjuncts become truly indistinguishable from full-timers, then the pay differential is unsustainable ..."

But at the level of qualification, many adjuncts *are* already indistinguishable from their tenrued counterparts. Some time ago I raised a question with DD, which was about being hired (as an adjunct, at adjunct pay) to teach upper-level classes, not intro or frehsman comp. I was flamed for my suggestion that this was problematic. But here we are.

If I'm hired to teach lit. surveys and other 200 and 300-level classes, i.e., the ones the tenured folks are supposed to teach, as an adjucnt, then where is the line differentiating an adjunct from a tenured? Salary is the only difference.

And I'm not complaining. Without wanting to be flamed, I hate teahcing freshman comp. -- I do it for the money. I'm thrilled to teach upper level classes because it's a break from comp -- and it's easier. But when they hire me to teach a 300-level class, they are certainly blurring the line that the tenureds hold to so dearly.

A brave new world indeed.
And now the voice of the career changing, grad school finishing, just about to intern, pre-service field: I want to teach freshman comp. I also want my financial situation to be survivable. If the forecast and current conditions do nothing but remain static, it looks like I will end up as an adjunct professor/parking attendant after all.

DD, your final point about reframing the view of a public good is the only real hope. How much would the budget at a CC be helped if it received a single stealth bomber's price tag in funding?
I can't help but notice some symmetry between calls for improving higher education and our lovely Presidential contest. On the one hand we have candidates promising all kinds of stuff that the nation simply doesn't have the resources to afford. Everyone knows things need to be fixed though. On the other hand, DDs honesty in telling us we can't have it all, that the system currently can't fix the system, would all but ensure he'd never make it out of the primaries.

I sincerely believe, however, that the adjunct "issue" is far bigger than the insulting pay underlying it.

One, there is brain drain. I think I've mentioned it here before, but it's worth repeating in this context: I lost my faculty job at the end of a one-year contract because the position was eliminated amid budget cuts. I had offers to teach as an adjunct at three community colleges (including the one at which I had been an AP). I'm currently unemployed, however. Because, after doing the math, I decided I couldn't afford to adjunct at a greater than full-time load for less than half of my former salary and without health care. In fact, my state's paltry unemployment insurance pays more than a 2 class adjunct load at my former CC. So, for whatever my brain is worth, it has been drained from academia for the foreseeable future.

The second, larger issue is that the real circumstances most adjunct faculty find themselves in often guarantees that they can not provided themselves as resources for students beyond their role as an instructor. It hurts students - especially those from families less knowledgeable about higher ed, like many in CCs.

I couldn't find the particular study about the effects of adjunct/full-time ratios that I was looking for. I did find these, though:


To wrap it up... I recently had a conversation with a friend who is susceptible to rhetoric about "liberal, elitist, worthless academia", etc. He remembers that as a university student, many of his teachers seemed inexperienced. They were never available outside of class. They didn't seem "involved". Some didn't even know how to find things on the other side of campus. His conclusion? That they were lazy, spoiled, head-in-the-clouds, bad teachers wasting his tax subsidies. My explanation? Most of his "Professors" were probably (TAs or) adjuncts who made less than $20K/year, taught at 3 or 4 universities, and didn't have time to stay after class or even visit the other side of campus because they had to drive to the other side of suburbia to teach an afternoon class, before traffic hits. So, after jading droves of students by refusing to equip (adjunct) faculty with the resources to provide better support for them, how are we supposed to get them to vote to give academia more money?
Adjuncts make the market wage. There are more applicants than jobs, and the very low wages adjuncts get are a way of signaling to prospective PhDs that they should choose another career.
I can't speak about other regions of the country, but where I live, I can make a solid middle-class income as an adjunct. ($50k, give or take) But to do it, I teach as if I am on a 9 to 5 schedule, although the schedule is actually all over the place. No, there's no time for research, or anything other than grading, but I do manage to get 8 weeks off in the Summer.

It's bad if I compare this to tenure-track faculty; but it's quite good when I compare it to my friends who work in cubicles.

But it is also true, as someone said above, that I have no time for students outside of class, and I rarely learn all of their names -- there are just too many of them.

I do the best I can, and that's all anyone can ask, right?
I am intrigued by this "toss away" comment by DD:

"For example, and I know that most of us aren't ready to hear this yet, I think it's time we drop the “one size fits all” idea of the job of a professor. Is the daily work of a community college professor really the same as the daily work of an R1 professor? If it isn't – and it isn't – then why do we insist on using all the same terms and categories to judge both?"

Am I to infer from this that we can now stop referring to the instructors at community colleges as "Professor" (especially those that haven't earned a terminal degree?) and rather as "Instructor?" (Assistant Instructor, Associate Instructor, and Instructor, perhaps?)

I am assuming that is the sort of thing DD was referring to. It doesn't make sense to refer to those "simply" teaching with the same language as those who often aren't teaching but rather going about the regular work of generating "new knowledge." Right?

Just what else COULD that line mean?
In our state (WA) there has been a concerted effort to improve the lot of adjunct (we call them Associate) faculty. An adjunct instructor teaching one class beyond a 'full' load will now earn the same salary (high $40s) as a new tenure-track instructor, and is entitled to the same health benefits. We also designate Senior Associate faculty who receive a higher salary (about $3K more) and first consideration for classes, in exchange for holding office hours. To be sure, hiring an Associate is still cheaper than hiring a new full-timer ($10K-$15K difference), but the difference is no longer huge. We also receive 'conversion' funds each year that allow us to convert courses taught by Associates into new full-time positions.

Also, Washington has always distinguished between CC Instructors and 4-yr University faculty ranks (Lecturer, Assistant Prof, Assoc Prof, Full Prof, etc.). This rankles some CC faculty, but we all know that the duties and expectations diverge widely between these types of institutions.
This really hit home for me because my campus has events for new faculty but as a non-tenured person, I was never invited to any of them. There is no one to talk to about applying for promotion and no cohort that I can hang out with - I have to create those relationships myself. Add to the mix that I'm the only woman in my department with kids (who must be picked up by 5 - no happy hour for me!) and it's hard to feel like one of the group.

I wish there was a better way to integrate people like me with the other new faculty - because even if you work out the pay and benefits (which in my case has been done) you still end up with people who are socially isolated because they are different or second class. And frankly, that sucks.
Let's say a college degree is worth "X." So, to make college more affordable, el ladron sticks a gun in the face of working people and confiscates some of their labor to give away to people to go to college; applicants get amount "Y."

So now tuition will cost "X+Y," which includes the true value of the eduation and the subsidy.

The organization can now raise costs (by paying inflated faculty salaries [among other things like rock climbing towers and footaball programs]) to an above-market clearing price. This attracts more professors into the market . . .

Full-time R1 faculty salaries are "overvalued" (hmmm- sound familiar?).

The question is- how do you want to restore the cost of the college education back down to it's value? How do we let the air out of this "bubble" without popping it?

Pumping it up with more money (which caused the problem in the first place) is *not* the best answer.

Perhpas adjuncts are not really "under" paid at all.
al said:
Also, Washington has always distinguished between CC Instructors and 4-yr University faculty ranks (Lecturer, Assistant Prof, Assoc Prof, Full Prof, etc.). This rankles some CC faculty, but we all know that the duties and expectations diverge widely between these types of institutions.

Maybe so, but don't the duties and expectations of many in the 4-yr university world also diverge widely? What are we going to do with faculty at smaller 4-yr schools, where teaching plays a much larger role than at R1 institutions? What about faculty at community colleges who nevertheless are engaged in research and scholarship?

I freely admit that the jobs of those of us who work at CCs are different from the jobs of those at R1 institutions, but I reject the idea that our jobs are different in kind from all other faculty in higher ed.
I wonder if we'll ever come to a point when research universities and elite SMLHCs start to formally parce faculty salaries according to teaching, service, and research. Oh my, wouldn't that be fun.
I quit adjuncting when I was asked to develop a new foundation course for a new major for no money!!

For years, I did committee work and curriculum work for free and taught upper level courses and even senior seminars, but as soon as I said I would have to be paid to develop a new course from scratch, poof! I became invisible.

Although I miss teaching sometimes, leaving has been great. I quickly equalled my adjunct pay as a freelance editor and have much more time for my family.
Professors are over compensated. I know this to be true because there is such a surplus of qualified people waiting to do the job. I do not think all this compensation is monetary.

I think adjuncts are under compensated because

1. People want to be professors and are treating it as a sort of lottery. i.e. the low adjunct pay + the high prof compensation*perceived chance of being a prof = fair)
2. People who are adjuncts haven't accepted that sunk costs are sunk and that a PhD is philosophy does not, and likely will not, allow you to earn more money than a BA would. So they're hanging on and hoping.

But I don't care. (well i care but not that I can do much about it)

My employer is likely to go out of business. My largest investment is my house and that's worth less than I paid for it a year ago. The cost of everything is going up so my budget is *tight*

I really don't have any extra money to spend on community college. They serve a purpose but I'm flat tapped out and don't have any more money to give you at the moment.

But what you do is valuable. I really hope you find a way to do what you do with less money. Because i can't give you any more.
You know what the problem is - of course, you do - getting teeny bopper bubble heads as deans of huge community colleges. Pulease, change your diaper now!
Yet Another Confused Professor, you bring up the point that,
"The question is- how do you want to restore the cost of the college education back down to it's value? How do we let the air out of this "bubble" without popping it?"
You say adding more money will not help the problem, but how about adding money in the right places? Money provided to universities have been supporting tenured professor's continuously bloated salaries, among other things.

How about providing adjunct professors with a livable amount of money and not treating them like they are expendable. I understand tenured professors (and associate and assistant) have worked hard for their careers and for the most part, enjoy their research and teaching obligations (among the other obligations they must perform)

But I guess I just get a little irritated when you say that "perhaps adjuncts are not really underpaid at all" Dont get me wrong, as I enter in the world of teaching, as an adjunct no less, I am really looking forward to teaching 5, 6 sections of freshman comp, whatever I need to do to make ends meet. I suppose I just wish my teaching services were worth more than $2000 dollars a class, when I know full time tenure track profs provide the same quality teaching for thousands of dollars more...
But perhaps I should take comfort in knowing its some bizarre right of passage in teaching because I wont always be a adjunct...right?
My niece in university sees her tuition going up faster than inflation. Her class sizes are increasing, too (1200 students in one of her sections!). My university-prof friends see their salaries going up less than inflation, while their workload (in terms of class sizes) increases.

Other than the President's salary (which is going up much faster than inflation), exactly where is the money going?
Anonymous 3:35...

I am sure you realize that "inflation" is just an average value. That average (really, the CPI) is based on average consumption rates of items "usually" bought by the "average" person. That value is often driven by the price fluctuations in gas and food more than any other expense.

Oh, and quite often pay raises (COLA) at institutions are specifically tied to the CPI, so the average person will earn enough additional to cover their average expenses on an average day.

So--given that it's all about averageness, it's no wonder that some things (tuition, and until recently, gasoline and housing) will go up faster than the rate of inflation, and other things will go up slower. And in certain instances (like gasoline lately, and previously, iPhones) we will see the prices declining rather than increasing.

As DD has pointed out, heating bills are expected to go up much faster than "average." The cost of operating the college's vehicle fleet is going up fast. Other utilities are going fast. AND capital improvements, expansion of programs and departments, offerings of additional "student life" activities all add to the cost, in addition to the inflationary pressure of items "usually" consumed.

In other words, Anonymous 3:35, it's a bit more complex that a simple comparison of two or three numbers.

But in an election season when everyone turns everything into two point sound-bites, it's no surprise.
So, Jessica why are you going to be an adjunct?
Apparently, silly season is upon us. Just a couple of quick responses:

YACP -- you're neglecting positive externalities. An educated workforce has benefits that go beyond the individuals with the education. That's part of why we have a category of "public goods" in the first place.

Joe -- the 'lottery' part is dead-on, and part of the reason that I fundamentally disagree with Cary Nelson when he claims that tenure is good for adjuncts. Tenure is the bait that keeps adjuncts adjuncting. It's a cruel trick. Tenure and adjunctification feed each other.

You and 10,000 of your friends need to get out of the adjunct business.

That way, I can continue to enjoy my bloated tenure track R1 salary!

Seriously- all sarcasm aside- introspection is needed. Why did you think your qualifications to teach (in your [or any] discipline) were valued by society?

People will not pay you for doing things *you* enjoy. They will pay you for doing things *they* enjoy and value.

When you add value to the lives of others, [important point coming up] according to THEIR (not YOUR) definition of "Value," they will trade their skills for yours.

Everything else is self-absorbed navel gazing.


Double dittos with re: externalities. We have been conversing here long enough for me to realize that *your* definition of "Public Goods" is like, way broader than mine.

For example, you might think an educated populace is a "Public Good" (insert your own personal definition of "Educated" here).

Personally, I disagree with founding father TJ on this one- frankly, I still think the U.S. consitution says what it says and means what it says.

Education is not a "Right;" no more than "Health Care" is a right nor "Driving an Escalade with chrome spinners" is a "right."

But of course fascists of all stripes can read all kinds of emanations into penumbras to support a belief that "living a PBA free existence" or "living a tobacco smoke free" or [insert personal crusade here] is a "Right" and/or a "Public Good."

To the barricades . . .
I don't think tenure is ever coming my way. I adjunct because I'm too "over qualified" to do anything else -- so sayeth the corporte HR people who interview me -- and so this is how I make my living. Period.
I have often argued that our CC's adjuncts are horribly underpaid, although I can see some rationale for a two-tier scale that pays experienced ones at least the pathetic amount I get paid for an extra class. Or at least what some nearby universities pay their adjuncts.

(And we can but dream of a single-payer system that will make it economically feasible for them to get health insurance.)

But I know the reason it cannot be done is because we get only a fraction of the state dollars per student that nearby universities get. A small fraction. I didn't document that part of the equation in the articles about university budgets and our CC's budget as well as inflation corrected spending this summer, but the $5000 per student one school gets from the state is small compared to what some university's get.

I wish that our CC's President could explain to the taxpayers that a university gets almost three times as much per student from the state as we do, yet still manages to put those students in large classrooms taught by adjuncts so that their faculty can produce the 1/3 to 1/2 of the university budget that comes in from outside sources. Give us that kind of budget for teaching and we could teach 90+ % of our classes with full-time faculty. Of course, that would be very risky politically, but that might have to be balanced against the risk of closing the school.

Have you looked at your college's competition with respect to state appropriations?
'Mericans and their market talk, in the midst of a trillion dollar bailout. Quaint.

And I'm really charmed by all that 'health care and education aren't rights cuz the Constitution tells me so'.

But, John Wayne, et al., I really think you missed the thrust of both DD's post, as well as the HR weasel's sage wisdom for sale, to which DD referred.

A mighty reckonin' just might be comin': keep shitting on your adjuncts, in that way that you do, and you will find yourself with a union (maybe they talk through their hats about their rights, while your civil religion says there's no such thing, but they'll negotiate the substance of such things nonetheless); make them faux fulltime faculty but pay them like cafeteria staff and your school, without cost to you, will get sued.

Though, the cowboy's point is taken: hey adjuncts! stop doing that work if you think it's not adequately compensated, or least quit whining about it. For what you're getting paid, maybe a less mentally taxing living, with the same or better economic compensation, is in order. If you've rendered yourself so socially retarded and without will to do anything else for a couple of grand a month than teach college by the class, you are seriously unprepared for the economic collapse that might come despite Bush's selling out of the last faction on his side in Reagan's big tent.

Anyway, if you insist on doing that work that you love so much, then maybe you need to assert yourselves. The HR dink has said plainly what threat you represent to the suits - if they won't treat you better of their own accord, then maybe you need a union to press the point.

And, why do you need to defend yourself in the face of the implied criticism of Confused and his ilk, to the effect that, if you were any good, you wouldn't be in the position your in? A lot of talent, scholarly talent and pedagogical talent, is spread across the system. So merit-based arguments are largely bullshit - Harvard Medical Superstar Who Cures Cancer is the exception who (sorta) proves the rule. Yes, it's time to ditch the present one-size-fits-all model, it's time to recognize that most of this work is comparable and worthy of similar compensation. Teacher of 8 classes per term = Puller of peer-reviewed papers out of his ass fortnightly = Dean Dweeb.

What's never acknowledged in such 'conversations' is that where the work-compensation balance becomes wholly other, and full of fabulous cash and prizes, is in admin. No wringing of hands here, 'bout how to pay for all those VPs, 'bout how the market (under)determines their value, 'bout sustaining all that valuable bureaucratic work as funding shrinks. Don't even presume to tell me that admin needs to pay what it does to attract (and retain) the best talent - 3 words, Lehman Fucking Brothers.

But don't get me wrong, I don't hate admin. I seriously admire anyone who can keep hours like suits in the 'real' world, go to all those meetings (and even stay awake as admin, and faculty, drone on to justify all or part of their existences) as well as be obsequious or vindictive on command. Totally worth the 25%-50% or so more than I make.

But as for the rest of you who want to talk about all this strictly according to the suits' agenda, spare me!
While I understand why an adjunct's salary is lower than a fulltime professor's, I think paying adjuncts a living wage would be nice. Given the hours I put into lesson plans, meeting with students, grading, etc, I make less than minimum wage I love teaching but I think after another year of this I'll have to quit and find a "real" job.
yacf -- the market for college doesn't "clear;" students have to be admitted, so some students who want to go to a given college don't. This allows state and subsidized colleges to price at lower than the actual value of the education.

Separately, you assume that the value of a college education is "Y" for everyone. This is, of course, not true -- it is Y for the marginal buyer. For all other buyers, the value of a college education is Y at the minimum.

Finally, the main cost of a college education is foregone wages. That's highly variable for different students, which makes the problem even more complicated.

The moral: You cannot use simple supply/demand models when the assumptions behind them (free entry/exit, homogeneous goods, costs fully reflected in the prices) are not valid.
Er, yacp, sorry.

Separately, you may be interested to learn that our Constitution has a Preamble.
Yeah, I particularly enjoy that part in the preamble about the elites being born booted and spurred, equipped to ride mankind to their destinies . . .
Post a Comment

<< Home

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