Monday, November 23, 2009
A Response to Michael Berube
Berube's post is a couple of weeks old, since I stopped reading his stuff a few years ago. I mentally consigned him to the same category as Stanley Fish, David Horowitz, and Marc Bousquet -- basically, predictable caricatures of their former selves who jumped the shark some time ago. When Berube did the Punch-and-Judy act with Horowitz, I stopped paying attention. I dimly remember him 'retiring' from blogging, which seemed about right. Apparently, though, he's back, and his ego has only inflated.
Berube, who is tenured, attempts to eviscerate my proposal for a contract-based system as a successor to tenure. I say 'attempts' because he never actually engages with it, or with the reasons behind it. His method seems to be to drip contempt from on high and hope that enough sophistry and attitude will make up for the lack of an actual argument. This, from someone whose job it is to teach textual interpretation.
He accused me of five "wrongisms." (He's an English professor? Really?) As near as I can tell, they're as follows:
1. He argues that "[T]he reason the AAUP is advising faculty to revise their handbooks anyway is that in the wake of a series of extraordinarily perverse court decisions, this is the best we can do. We have to look to written safeguards in internal institutional procedures because the legal climate is so very hostile. We are not looking for better legal ground. We are looking for matters of professional principle." Astute readers will know, of course, that the hostile legal environment was precisely my point. That's why I noted that "I'd guess that the AAUP would respond that this new initiative is a 'second-best' position, but the fact that it needs one proves the point." Berube neglects to address that. And if you think law is a shaky foundation for protection, I invite you to consider "matters of professional principle." Good luck with that. To make sense of Berube's view, you'd have to accept that laws are easily changed and faculty handbooks aren't. Alrighty then.
2. He notes that contracts are not always upheld. As opposed to what? "Matters of professional principle"? I'd take the protections of law over the protections of 'matters of professional principle' any day of the week, thank you very much.
3. He heaps scorn on my point that tenure has become the province of the elite, but doesn't actually refute it. That's because it's true. He notes that the proportion of faculty with tenure has dropped from a high of about 70 percent to a current level of about 25 percent, without drawing the obvious conclusion. How much more does the system have to fail before he'll admit it? Apparently I'm jumping the gun by noticing the decline after a mere forty years. Wouldn't want to rush into anything. Since Berube's powers of textual analysis apparently don't extend to data, I'll close-caption this one for him. THE SYSTEM IS DYING. You're welcome.
4. This one is so staggering that I won't even attempt to paraphrase. Berube writes: "Dean Dad assumes throughout the post that the AAUP position is that only the tenured faculty have academic freedom. This is badly mistaken. We argue that every single person teaching and researching in a university should have academic freedom.." Did you catch that? He moves from "have" to "should have" as if they were the same. The difference between them -- the difference between "is" and "ought," for those philosophically inclined -- is so foundational to Western thought that to conflate the two is typically considered either psychosis or sophistry. My discussion was based on the observation that whenever someone proposes an alternative to tenure, the first line of attack is always academic freedom. From that, I assumed that the AAUP connected the two. If it doesn't, then why is that always the first line of attack? If tenure isn't necessary for academic freedom, then why is tenure necessary at all? If academic freedom is crucial, yet not connected to tenure, then what, exactly, protects it? I propose law -- contract law, specifically -- and economics, described below. Berube proposes what, exactly?
5. The 'defuse the cheap shots' line. This is where Berube goes for the gusto. It's worth quoting. "I keep trying to imagine Roger Kimball saying, “I used to get all squicky about queer theory, but now that universities have scrapped tenure, bring on the fabulous challenges to heteronormativity.” Or Daniel Pipes saying, “I used to target anyone who didn’t toe the Likud line, but now that universities have scrapped tenure, let a hundred critiques of Israel bloom.” Or my old friend David Horowitz saying, “I used to have a list of dangerous professors, but now that universities have scrapped tenure, Bill Ayers is just all right with me, whoa yeah.” That's cute. But if you think that the real threat to academic freedom is David Horowitz, then you need to get out more.
The real threat to academic freedom isn't some wingnut in a think tank. It's economics. As I mentioned in the next day's post, it's easier to get out of a bad marriage than to get out of a bad tenure decision. If you want to make full-time status more available, the first thing to do is to lower the cost of a bad decision. Since tenure is forever but a contract is finite, a contract system reduces the downside risk of a bad hiring decision. Lower the cost of hiring, and there will be more. The reason that only a quarter of the professors across the country are tenured isn't that David Horowitz threw a hissy fit in the 90's. He's not that important. The trend started decades before Horowitz ever 'named' anybody. Of course, if you've made your professional name by duking it out with Horowitz, then there's a very good reason to overstate his importance. Oh, no, The Big Bad Horowitz is coming! Somebody save us!
Puh-leeze. Even Berube seems to sense the implausibility of this position. In the one glancing recognition of economics in the entire piece, he concedes that "Well, sure, tenure is always going to be a target of public ire and resentment, particularly when unemployment is rising, entire company towns are shutting down, and the banksters of Goldman Sachs, together with 25 percent of college professors, are making out like bandits." Okay, that's a start, let's go with that. (For the record, "public ire and resentment" captures pretty well the "cheap shots" to which I referred. I guess it only counts when he says it.) Let's add several decades worth -- again, predating anything Horowitz said about faculty -- of tuition increases beyond inflation, of increasing student loan burdens, and of idiotic political choices. Add 'hiring freezes,' cuts by attrition, and the pincer movement of more graduate programs (to generate TA's) and fewer job openings for faculty. Now we're starting to grasp reality. Even in the deep blue states of the Northeast, where gays marry legally and nobody gives a rat's ass what David Horowitz thinks, higher ed is taking it on the chin. It's not about culture wars. Those are just political cover, when they're even that much. It's about economics.
I'll grant that legal protections are imperfect. But compared to "matters of professional principle" and personal hauteur, they look pretty good. If Berube has an actual idea, I'm happy to hear it. But snark attacks do not ideas make, and to imagine that the status quo ante can be reanimated simply through appeals to principle is ludicrous. The only academic freedom the current system guarantees is freedom from full-time employment. If you're already tenured, I guess that doesn't seem too bad. For everyone else, not so much.
Berube concludes with his interpretation of the Garcetti decision. "So remember, folks: if you’re going to speak out about something at your college or university in the course of your professional duties, first make sure that you have no idea what you’re talking about." By that standard, he should be just fine.
I, too, am outside academia, by choice, in part because my only option is a t-t position doing things I don't really want to do or part-time, no benefits, badly compensated, temporary work. And we think migrant workers who pick our vegetables are treated badly. Try adjuncting for a while.
The answer to that isn't to shore up the tenure system. As you so rightly pointed out, the cost to employers of hiring a t-t person is so high that it's easier to keep those positions to a minimum and just keep hiring the migrant workers.
In other words, if currently 25% of faculty have tenure, I don't see why switching to contracts would result in more than 30% of faculty having such full-time permanent contracts. The rest would still be adjuncts, etc. You can argue that's an improvement, but it's hard to see it as a world-changing one.
THE SYSTEM IS DYING.
Err... yes, the system is dying in large part because it's been under methodical attack from administrators like DD for decades now. Bérubé has been fighting to save it for much of that time. I know whose side I'm on.
But if you think that the real threat to academic freedom is David Horowitz, then you need to get out more.
You're right: Horowitz is just the buzzard circling the weakened prey. But it's because of the buzzards that we need the protections tenure affords, however precariously.
DD has yet to address Topometropolis's point, which came up in the previous post as well: If the root cause of the employment crisis in academia is economic, how will it help to replace expensive tenured positions with expensive 5-year contracted positions? What's the incentive for universities to hire slave-wage adjuncts into these longer-term contracts you're proposing?
Just a minor correction, but I think a useful one: A quick search of the MLA bibliography demonstrates that Berube's "professional name" has been made by his scholarship on American literature, cultural studies, disability studies, and pedagogy. In fact, his significant contributions to these fields of inquiry are what made him a target for Horowitz in the first place. While his "duking it out with Horowitz" may have made his reputation on the internet, I'd argue that his status within his field has little to do with that kerfuffle.
Obviously, his post hit a nerve with you (as yours did with him). Obviously, he disagreed with your interpretation of the AAUP statement (whether effectively or not I'm not judging here), but, well, as a member of the National Council of the AAUP, it's entirely possible that he's in a position of some authority to talk about the AAUP statement and its underlying intent. I won't deny that his post was rhetorically charged and even, perhaps, contemptuous. I'm not sure what his "inflated ego" has to do with that, though, nor do I think that it necessarily indicates that he's out of touch or that he's basking in privilege.
DD is focused on the humanities, with its high numbers of Ph.D. adjuncts, but that problem doesn't exist in other fields like business, computer science, engineering, information technology, health sciences, law, and medicine. Regional campuses in my state university system have never been able to hire an adjunct with a Ph.D. in my field. They mainly hire professionals who have salaries substantially greater than ours, but it's hard finding ones who have enough graduate credit hours to satisfy accreditation.
I don't intend to or want to ignore the adjunct problem in the humanities, but if you're going to apply a university wide solution like eliminating tenure, you have to look at how it affects the whole university before you can determine if it actually solves your problem and whether the additional problems your solution creates are worth it.
The real issue is that academics can't kick the dust of a place of their heels and go elsewhere to work. It puts them at a terrible disadvantage in negotiating with their employer. As long as people keep going to grad school vastly in excess of the number of jobs available at the end of the pipeline, this will continue. The real remedy is for folks to make sure they have marketble skills so that the alternative to starvation is something other than endless adjuncting or postdocing. Knowing that you could tell your department chair to shove off for a job you would really enjoy is enormously freeing - it helps mentally deal with the slings and arrows of academic life because you know you're there by choice, not because you don't have any other choice.
@Dr Crazy: One can have multiple `professional names'. Berube's `academic freedom' chops in the wider academic blogosphere has certainly been made with the Horowitz shows.
@Anonymous: Adjunctification is much more advanced in the humanities than in the physical sciences or CS, but they're almost certainly just behind on the curve. My anecdotal experience is that TT hiring per unit student has been slowing down in both, and they're only just now starting to hire adjuncts to patch the holes in significant numbers. Presumably someone here can point to a data source to confirm/refute that assertion.
I don’t think DD gets enough credit for his opinions against the adjunctification of higher ed. Based on my reading of his writing he feels it’s exploitative and unsustainable. He also sees other problems with tenure. His solution is to give less on the upper end so that there will be a higher average compensation. People who would lose tenure obviously dislike this and seem to in some cases be writing off his ideas as ‘anti-faculty.’
One previous commenter blamed deans like DD for the situation. I don’t really think he has much of a choice in the matter. He can refuse to participate in a flawed system but the system will find another dean. That’s sort of a weak excuse, but I don’t see why the dean should be held any more culpable than a department chair, or a TT faculty member, or the public, for the adjunct situation. All three benefit from the situation and are equally capable of resigning in protest. The dean makes their budget, the Department chair covers all the classes and the TT faculty gets to keep living the (relatively) high life. As a tax payer I get the bargain of a highly qualified person teaching a class of students for $12.50/hr and the a shot at the good life. 5 year contracts would actually cost me money.
My anecdotal experience is the opposite of yours, but it is important to note that I did not include the physical sciences in my list as their job markets are very different from those in engineering, business, or the professions. I think the markets are too different to converge strongly.
Unlike the humanities, both physical science and engineering schools have to import the majority of both graduate students and new faculty. The majority of engineering assistant professors are foreign born, and over half of US PhDs in engineering fields and CS and IT are granted to people who are not US citizens.
While the US has been able to attract new PhD holders to stay with it's strong economy, there's an increasing trend of PhDs returning to China and India. I suspect that new PhD holders will return to their home countries in higher numbers instead of working as adjuncts. I'm not sure that a university could satisfy the conditions of a work visa with adjunct work in any case.
While the physical sciences share the issue above with engineering, they do not share the the number of job opportunities outside of academia that are common to the fields I listed. It's the combination of the two, which gives new PhDs the opportunities to return home (and pre-PhD students the opportunity to stay in the home countries) or to find a better paying job, that make adjunctification of those fields much more difficult.
Googling something like "foreign born engineering doctorate" will find you all the numbers above and more.
At our CC, the Dean develops a budget plan based on projected enrollment trends, yada yada, but the budget comes down from the top.
At the universities where I have seen the process in action, vacant lines revert back up to the Provost who may or may not give them back to the college and department that freed them up.
You can see the latter process in action if you Google news articles about layoffs of tenured faculty. The instances I have read about in IHE and the Chronicle all involve culling some department or program (that is, part of a department) for reasons that are claimed to be financial in origin. Tenure is governed by contracts, not God.
The problem isn't tenure. The problem is the buffet-model of higher education that administration has been applying for the last decade or more. If they can buy their courses a la carte and a program is nothing but a bunch of courses that you can run off of an acceptable template, then pretty much the only full-time people you'll need after you design the programs are the administrators to oversee matters. This appeals at universities without tenure, too, you know!
PS - All of this is small potatoes compared to the AD and President who extended Charlie Weis' contract to coach football at ND from 6 years (12 M$) to 10 years (costing 18M$ just to fire him) partway through his FIRST season.
You couldn't have baited him any better if you had tried, intertwining two unrelated issues (contracts to protect adjunct's rights and abolishing tenure) in a way that led him to deny the value of contracts just to spite your claims about tenure.
Tenure in the US is granted by contract, not by Kings, but faculty who think it comes from On High might not put enough care into writing clear contracts.
I know that the policies that make up my contract now that I am "tenured" are far different from those that applied when was still tenure track, and that (apart from the term of the contract) those differed little from what an adjunct gets. The latter is totally "at will" employment and no reason has to be given to terminate that employee because they are unemployed at the end of every semester, good or bad.
They deserve protection against retaliation (trust me, I've seen some pretty vindictive people in academia), but how do you get it if there is not even the tiniest expectation that they will be teaching next semester? If they were on rolling contracts, that would change.
However, what DD does not explain is how any college could employ more people on multi-year contracts than we do now without raising tuition. Would all faculty and administrators be paid less? Would all college employees lose health insurance and retirement benefits?
I understand perfectly well the rationale that rolling 5-year contracts would allow a college to adjust to shifting enrollments as the "echo" ages out of college, probably a bigger deal for small colleges than for ours, but I don't see the economics of it at any point in time.
But the fact that it's a 5 versus 40 year commitment has very little effect on yearly cash flow, unless one does something nefarious like not renewing contracts of older, better paid, faculty. Sure a dean would be more willing to commit to a 5 year contract rather than a 40 year one (though I don't know of a university which projects budgets even 5 years down the line), but they still have to find the money to pay for a new position in year one either way. The point, as Janice says, is that non-tenure-line instructors are really cheap (maybe 1/4 to 1/3 of a tenured/contracted full-time instructor).
Also, many of the Evergreen disciplines (e.g. English, Math), for which you will always need faculty, make heavy use of adjuncts. This strongly suggests that the length of the tenure commitment is not the cause of this problem...
N.B. I made these number up, but I think they're in the right ballpark for, e.g., a Cal State.
I'm not sure it would work, though. College teaching seems to have the same desirability to some people as being a professional musician or actor, and there are an awful lot of people who are willing to do that for basically no money. (And it's not like we tenure musicians.) I am not convinced there's a floor here, especially since teaching a single night course as an adjunct is a high-status way for an employed professional to pick up a little fun money.
DD, and the other folks here who have hiring authority: Have you ever been forced to cancel a section of a class because you could not find an adjunct willing to teach it at the offered price?
I have also seen courses go untaught at the R1 because there are no specialists in town able to teach it, and no adjuncts willing to relocate. But that's more unusual here--the town is awash in underemployed PhDs and permanent ABDs.
Here's where I'm going with this. If schools are not willing to offer higher adjunct pay to get a class taught, that must mean that they are willing to forfeit the tuition students would have paid to take the class, which is certainly more than they would have had to pay the adjunct even at a "premium" rate. Why would they do a move that costs them money?
The only guess I can make is that the college wants to hold the line on what they pay everyone else. In other words, the college has established an average market value for teaching a course, and it's at the present adjunct level. I would say, in general, that colleges are in fact doing this.
This further suggests that tenure-track and tenured faculty are not primarily employed as teachers, because they are paid substantially above market rate for that task. What is it, in fact, that the AAUP's members are being paid to do, and how does that differ from what the AAUP says they are doing? (As a scientist, I know perfectly well what scientific tt faculty are paid to do: get grants. However, that is usually not clear to people who aren't in the business.)
DD can attack tenure all he wants. What he can't do -- at least not according to "logic" and "reason" as they are currently understood -- is argue that the AAUP's Garcetti report supports his position. For more on why, check out Scott Lemieux -- http://lefarkins.blogspot.com/2009/11/tenure-and-equity.html. And may Dean Dad and all his family have a very pleasant Thanksgiving.
If the students in the class are fulltime already, then you don't make any tuition money by offering it. Usually students pay a flat fee that lets them take 12 - 18 credit hours. If this class takes Susie from 12 to 15 hours, she doesn't pay any extra tuition for it.
Ah, but what if it takes Susie from 9 to 12 hours? If you cancel it and Susie really wants to be full time, then maybe she'll sign up for Professor Deadwood's seminar, subsidizing his salary.
The optimal situation for the college is for every student to take the bare minimum load to pay the full time flat rate and to be enrolled in classes taught by people that you have to pay anyway.
@Anonymous 4:04 AM. True, and a good explanation if it applies broadly. Increasing class size for existing sections would have the same effect, too.
There has been a (lackluster) campaign to shame the CC into increasing the adjunct pay rates, but as far as I can tell, it has had no real effect. I don't expect any changes, either--yard signs will not fix structural problems.
Feds are cheaper than contractors, but there are more contractors than Feds around. Why? Because the budget for Fed salaries is determined annually, so any hires must be paid for over the long term out of a constantly shifting bottomline. There is no tenure--personnel can be "RIFed" (reduction in force) at any time. But then the dept loses headcount, so it is only used for budgetary reasons. Still, I don't think removing tenure will increase hires--since budgets are annual, it is risky to commit to people for more than one year unless you have to.
The analogy is breaking down now--in the past, people were willing to work for less salary due to the job security and benefits (as in academia). But there has been a shift for younger people preferring to be contractors, since the salary gap is getting larger and larger.
FWIW, I also think that in fields where people have other options, tenure is the carrot that gets people to work for cheap. I would NEVER adjunct--my time is worth way more than what the pay is right now. Maybe when I retire... Furthermore, for lab research, the big cost is in the startup package, which can be $1 million or more. That strongly discourages new hiring and job turnover.
I mostly take offense with tenured economists who promote free trade and offshoring and outsourcing. What the hell are they saying that needs tenure?
A contract point of view seems reasonable. Perhaps also a limited amount of limited time tenure granted to anyone teaching based on some peer acknowledged account of how their research/message is flaunting authority and needs protection.
One more thing regarding academic freedom. It used to be the University was the only place research could be done. Now we see left and right wing thimk tanks all over the place. It's not hard for academics to find a new place to root where their message will be protected.
In the meantime, I *do* wonder how I will pay for my kids' education.
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