Wednesday, July 21, 2010
The Tenure/Adjunct Dialectic
Anyway, the officially sanctioned view from on high misses the point.
Cary Nelson weighs in for the AAUP, contrasting “tenure and academic freedom together” with adjuncts, as if those are the only two options, and as if they were somehow opposed. The various other contributors note more rationally that other options exist -- Mark Taylor at least mentions renewable contracts, which don’t even exist in Nelson’s piece -- but none of them sees the causal link between tenure and adjuncts. Which isn’t all that surprising, given that none of them have ever actually tried to manage the system.
The cost of tenure goes far beyond the salary of the tenured. It includes the opportunity cost of more productive uses that had to be skipped to pay for a decision made decades earlier in a different context. (We actually have people for whom staff jobs were created when their tenured speciality went away. That’s a direct cost of tenure.) It also includes the cost of the various bribes that have to be paid to the tenured to get them to step up to acknowledge institutional needs: course releases (a direct cause of adjunct hiring), preferential scheduling (whether it makes sense for students or not), and even cash stipends (which have to be paid for somehow).
Whenever we allocate course reassignments for full-time faculty, we hire adjuncts to make up for it. Sabbaticals? Adjuncts. Grant work? Adjuncts. Someone has to teach the classes the tenured faculty won’t. (As one embittered adjunct put it in a department meeting, “I teach so you don’t have to!” Exactly.) Aristocrats need serfs, and the tenured need the adjuncts.
It starts earlier than that. The ‘bait’ of tenure is part of what lures so many young idealists into graduate school, replenishing the reserve army of the adjuncts. That oversupply allows the adjunct trend to continue. The crushed dreams of a generation of underemployed academics are a cost of tenure.
And that’s not even counting the absurd, over-the-top, you-wouldn’t-believe-it-if-you-hadn’t-seen-it procedures necessary to get rid of someone with tenure. Since the courts have interpreted tenure as ownership of the job, you need to meet what amounts to a standard of criminal prosecution in order to ‘expropriate’ someone. But the job doesn’t belong to the employee. That’s a fundamental, and egregious, category mistake. The job belongs to he who pays for it, not he who is paid. Most people understand that intuitively. Combine an ownership interest with the lack of a mandatory retirement age, and you get some pretty entitled, embittered, ineffective people lumbering around, their life support paid by the surplus value created by the adjuncts who teach they courses the cranky veterans would rather not. And do you know what those seventy-somethings are waiting for? Retirement incentives! Another cost of tenure.
Then there’s the cost in the world of public opinion. Given the increasing costs of higher education, the argument from impunity is getting progressively harder to make with a straight face. “Trust us, we’re experts” is not a winning argument, especially when it’s somehow combined with the claim that administrators -- that is, the people charged with actually managing the taxpayers’ money -- are evil and incompetent. (That’s why you need the protections of tenure, the argument goes.) Explain to the rational taxpayer why he should continue to pay progressively more for someone unaccountable (faculty) managed by someone incompetent (administrators). That is the AAUP’s actual position, and it’s insane on its face.
A more rational system would abolish the tenure/adjunct dialectic as a dysfunctional model, and would move to renewable contracts with academic freedom stipulated in the contract language. Contracts could shift over time to reflect the changing needs of institutions -- no more making up jobs -- and nobody would be forced into the artificial “up or out” moment that does so much to squelch real academic freedom. (Ask the typical assistant professor aiming for tenure how much freedom she has to explore where her interests take her.) Faculty incentives could be aligned with institutional incentives -- in any other industry, that’s so obvious as to be almost tautological -- so we don’t hire people to teach and fire them for not publishing. Jobs could change as institutional needs change. Nobody would have to try to guess how productive someone else would be in thirty years, which is the system we have now.
Bring the system back to earth, and we might start to see some rationality in it. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the appeal of grad school fade a bit, which would clearly be to the good. The unproductive could be put out to pasture, thereby freeing up resources for the productive. Colleges could staff for actual need, rather than to compensate for decisions made decades earlier in very different contexts. And nobody would be expected to be able to see decades into the future. It’s easier to get out of a bad marriage than to get out of a bad tenure decision, yet the supporters of tenure seldom crusade against divorce. If people can’t get marriage decisions right, why do we expect them to get tenure decisions right?
No. This isn’t about “lifetime earnings,” since people will accrue those either way. It’s about recognizing that the tenure system feeds the adjunct system, and that the only way to get rid of the latter is to get rid of the former.
Note to the Times: next time, just ask. Seriously.
At a CC things may be different but a PUI that uses research as a teaching tool it would be crazy.
First, you say you have to give tenured faculty course releases to do service. I get a course release for chairing a department, and it's not really worth it; are you saying that you have to give course releases for less work than that, like serving on committees? Or are you saying that without tenure, you could make faculty teach full loads and chair departments, or load whatever you want onto their plates? In that case, thank goodness for tenure.
Second, you mention creating positions for faculty in specialties that are gone. I thought eliminating a program trumped tenure. My institution fired tenured faculty decades ago, some of them by eliminating departments and some by declaring financial exigency. These weren't great decisions, but they were supported in court.
The single beef I have with this piece (despite being philosophically aligned with DD in many, many ways) is that it assumes that you're dealing with tenure in a place where you have a multitude of senior tenured faculty (probably in a unionized setting) who are seriously self-interested and claiming every perogative the system allows, to the point of meeting the institution's needs...when they were tenured 20-30 years ago. Higher ed is changing so rapidly that if you do have to manage in such an environment, and the tenured senior faculty are adamant about returning the circumstances to 1980 vintage, you WILL have to bring a ton of people from the outside simply to meet the needs.
Not every place is like that, particularly those institutions that aren't unionized. The positive about being in a institution that has no faculty union is the greater freedom that a manager has to make requests and schedules that meet the needs of the institution at that particular point in time. And in those environments adjuncts typically are NOT brought in to meet the needs that the tenured faculty won't (can't?) meet - they're brought in as a mere supplement. In that environment it IS purely an economic consideration.
(The drawback to working outside of a union situation is that administration, freed from union rules, has the freedom to make incredibly stupid demands of faculty and do incredibly stupid things with the money they save. Not that I'm speaking from experience. Oh no.)
I think my biggest point - and the biggest problem I have with anyone who discusses this issue, on either side - is that EVERY situation is different. You cannot extrapolate from your personal situation to another situation in a different location. Teaching and managing at a CC in Connecticut is massively different than a CC in Alabama, is massively different than a CC in California. And those are just CC's, and we haven't started to cover the regional state schools or the church-related SLACs yet, let alone the research-ones.
Or because it was written by someone who is at one of the places guilty for the destruction of teacher preparation in the US (by turning "normal" schools into universities where the professors have never taught in a K-12 classroom), probably angling to get a top admin job with a "Higher Ed Admin" graduate degree. Keep an eye on that name DD.
There really is nothing quite like an article by someone whose experience is in researching about (rather than being in) higher education, and doing so from the comfort of an institution built on centuries of tenure!
You missed the madness where Trower argues that Gen X faculty value collaboration over competition, as if there would be less competition if tenure was abolished? Hogwash.
Ditto for your argument that an Asst. Prof lacks academic freedom in the current system. That damns your own proposal, since you would create a place with perpetual Asst. Profs. Prove that tenured profs have less freedom than untenured ones and you would have a case.
You also forget that the faculty are the only part of the institution with any stability. The President and other admins come and go on a regular basis, often lasting just long enough to replace all of the faculty in a college (under your system) before moving on to "fix" another school.
Finally, I'll second the objection to your blaming the faculty for a failure of administration. Every contract I know of says you can get rid of tenured faculty when a unit no longer exists. I think they kept this person in a staff position because they didn't want to let hir go. The same thing would happen in your system.
There is also an inconsistency here. If want to get value for the tax-payers' money, then recognize that adjuncts and postdocs are cheap. I'm not sure that your suggestions will end up being cheaper overall.
The economic argument is particularly strange given that most faculty do not teach at places with high salaries. Indeed, faculty at our CC get paid more than faculty at some 4+MA universities. There are advantages to bringing in tuition and not needing a major research infrastructure and release time. Tenure and really high salaries are not synonyms.
Now our CC faculty are paid squat, but we would not be able to hire any of them (and certainly none of the good ones) if a nearby university cut its professor's pay down to our level and hired full-time un-tenured instructors instead of adjuncts. After all, they get lots more tuition and about twice as much from the State as we do for the same class.
So my question is, how do we change? Anybody standing up against tenure at this point would be shot down like Snoopy v. the Red Baron. I suspect that for all your railing against tenure anonymously on this blog, you don't go near it in your day job. Not if you want to keep it.
Let's say you hire somebody on a long-term contract with expectations spelled out. Somewhere in the middle of that contract, the person gets research funding (assume that this is a school where research with students is viewed as an important activity) or agrees to take on an additional service/administrative task above and beyond the usual load, or whatever. Assume also that the long-term contract allows for these sorts of adjustments of workload, and perhaps these activities are even viewed favorably when the contract comes up for renewal (just as research activity and service are viewed favorably during tenure and promotion reviews).
In order for the person to do these activities that are viewed favorably and allowed for in the contract, he or she will often need a course release. When that happens, somebody will have to be brought in to teach the course. And that somebody will probably be teaching only a partial load, i.e. will be in a part-time capacity.
There are 2 ways that might be proposed to avoid that, and both have problems:
1) You make the contacts short enough that these sorts of activities can be taken on during contract re-negotiations, rather than revising contracts in the middle.
However, even if you really can synchronize activities that way, a person who goes from teaching N courses to N-1 courses during a contract renewal only necessitates the hiring of somebody who can teach 1 course, not the hiring of another full-timer (call it tenure-track, call it whatever) with a full load.
2) You have a large enough department that at any given time there are likely to be several people doing research or service or some other valued activity that brings a course release. In that case, all these course releases might add up to 1 or 2 full-time positions, and you hire those people on long-term contracts to leave flexibility if the level of activity changes over time.
Option 2 is a pretty good one, but it only works for large departments, and even then there will be times when you need another course or two taught, so you'll still need adjuncts.
But, finally, let's be honest: Academia isn't full of adjuncts because tenure-track faculty are getting release time for research or service. Academia is full of adjuncts because adjuncts are cheaper. My department uses a lot of adjuncts, and they aren't there because we're all getting big research grants and serving as Associate Chairs and Academic Senators and whatever. They're here because they are cheaper. Release time for tenure-track faculty bumps their numbers up slightly, but only slightly.
It’s about recognizing that the tenure system feeds the adjunct system, and that the only way to get rid of the latter is to get rid of the former.
I recognize that DD has no love for the tenure system, but his argument here is logically incoherent. There is no necessary connection at all between the tenure system and the overreliance on adjuncts, and the existence of tenure does not necessarily perpetuate the exploitative adjunct system. For instance, if a tenured faculty member goes on sabbatical and is replaced by a crew of adjuncts rather than one full-time replacement, that's an administrative decision, not an inevitable result of the tenure system. Similarly, if a number of tenured faculty in a division receive release time and their classes are covered by adjuncts rather than full-time faculty, that is an administrative decision that has nothing to do with the tenured or nontenured status of the faculty getting the release time.
And contrariwise: getting rid of tenure will not solve the problem of faculty getting replaced by adjuncts when they go on sabbatical or get release time. As long as there is a pay differential between full-time and adjunct faculty, administrators will have a powerful incentive to adjunctify the teaching workforce. This has nothing to do with the existence of the tenure system, and this incentive will continue to influence administrative decisions whether or not there are tenured faculty at a college.
The core problem here is not tenure; it is the fact that colleges are relying on more and more adjunct faculty. Getting rid of tenure will do nothing to solve this problem.
That said, I fully understand how tenure has no institutional value.
I’ll bet that at the same time the cost of other college professors will go up to compensate for the fact there is less job security and that eventually the job of college professor is less highly regarded.
But I think Dean Dad is naive when he envisions how much tenure is actually hurting him. His vision of the private sector doesn’t sound like any large company I’ve ever worked for.
I've been union president or grievance chair at my SoCal community college for twenty-odd (some of 'em very odd) years.
I've never--ever--seen admin come after a really bad tenured teacher, and we have our normal share of them.
Why? The only reason I can think of is that administrators don't want to do the work. Of course, it IS work to fire someone, but it SHOULD be. However, tenure is NOT a guaranted-for-life-no-matter-what job. All tenure does (at least, out here in CA) is to give teachers due-process rights. Someone who performs abysmally in the classroom, someone who never shows up on time, someone who is abusive to students can--and should--be fired.
All of this requires careful documentation; it won't happen overnight; and there's certainly going to be lawyers involved (on both sides), but who's going to argue against carefully preparing a case to fire someone, presenting that case in a formal setting, and relying on a neutral third-party to reach a decision based on the evidence?
In my book, incompetent or abusive teachers are the result of lazy administrators. The union is obliged to defend these folks, and we do it zealously, but even Charles Manson is entitled to the best legal defense possible. And the best legal defense possible is NOT some kind of magic wand that will protect a really bad teacher.
Anyway, DD massively underplays the downsides of ending tenure:
1) There is no such thing as academic freedom without tenure. There just isn't. There barely is academic freedom with tenure -- look at Ward Churchill.
2) Ending tenure would bankrupt higher ed. Tenure-track positions would need to jump in salary by a minimum of $10k per position, and the adjunct circus would basically end.
3) DD is right that the current qualities of the adjunct circus are dependent on tenure having existed at one point. But right now, the Q(supply)/Q(demand) imbalance is so brutal that the current system would be replaced by something else even more exploitative.
There's nothing wrong with Higher Ed that a doubling of the budget wouldn't cure, and there's also nothing wrong that can be cured by much else. Ending tenure would certainly up the strain, but I'm not sure that what came about after would be any good. Easier to make fish soup out of an aquarium, and all that.
You are confusing academic freedom with freedom to plagiarize.
Imagine the system that DD advocates: Rolling tenure with three- to five-year renewable contracts.
What would happen if someone's contract were not renewed? Lawsuits, legal fees, hearings, courts. In other words, nothing different than what happens if an institution tries to get rid of a tenured faculty member, except there'd be lots more of it.
I also want to comment about reassigned time--which is actually the cheapest way possible for an institution to get work done. In the English department in my cc, the chairperson gets 80% reassigned time. S/he relieves the Dean of all the grunt work-- scheduling, running department meetings, program review--and also takes on a big share of evaluating nearly a hundred adjunct teachers and assigning and reviewing all the rest of the evaluations. And lots more, too.
Hiring adjuncts to cover this 80% reassigned time costs $28K/year. (Four classes per semester times two semesters a year times the median salary--$3500 per 3-unit class--for an adjunct in our district).
Now imagine what it would cost to hire a full-time administrative assistant to the Dean to do all this work? Salary and district contributions to retirement our medical benefits plan would cost anywhere from 50% to 100% more.
Reassigned time is CHEAP, so I'll resist biting on the "[Adjuncts] teach so you don't have to," or the "Aristocrats need serfs" remarks.
Not sure how representative your position is, in administrative contexts, but it's refreshingly honest and, I would argue, much more insightful than most things I've heard about the tenure system.
Inspired by this post, I've written two posts, which were originally meant to be part of a comment to this post. The first one is on part-time and contract teaching. The second, scheduled for publishing tomorrow and less directly related to this post of yours, is on the meaning of "research" in the tenure system.
My experience is quite different from yours. And our perspectives differ greatly. There are things in this post with which I have some difficulty. Not that you're wrong but my approach would be quite different.
Still, I couldn't agree more about some of your fundamental points. I agree that the tenure system needs to be overhauled, the reasons you point out make sense to me, and contracts can clearly be part of the solution.
I insist so much on my agreement with you because, on these three points at least, I've rarely found someone willing to even discuss these points. No matter how cliché the phrase is, your post shows "outside the box thinking" in that many people seem to struggle trying to fit these lines inside a box and your comments provide a way to potentially solve the problem by going outside of this box.
But where we live, the flood of adjuncts has nothing to do with my job security. When the system triples enrollment and adds no more fulltime faculty, you end up with a department with the same four fulltime positions as in 1987 but a fifteen-fold increase of adjuncts, from 2 to about 30.
This adjunct situation has nothing to do with me being too lazy to teach more. I teach 15 credit hours a semester and have always taught 15 credit hours a semester.
And it has nothing to do with me being too delicate to teach college comp, because I do and when I have dreamed up something a little more fun than college comp and it runs, I then have done my damnedest (successfully) to see that adjuncts get to teach it too.
DD, I can understand your frustration. But when this topic comes up, you do lose your cool. The rhetorical trumpets are great but so noisy they tend to drown out the incisiveness and insight we look to you for daily.
(1) A more rational system would abolish the tenure/adjunct dialectic as a dysfunctional model, and would move to renewable contracts with academic freedom stipulated in the contract language.
OK, all of your classes are taught by these people. What would the salaries be? Take your current budget and split it up among all of the (new) full time positions. Feel free to specify what fraction of the instructional pool you (not your much maligned faculty) would still have to be adjuncts because you could not commit to those positions for (say) N=5 years. I want to hear real numbers for your institution, not vague statements.
Now do the same thing for some randomly chosen R1, say Illinois, where one of the authors is on the faculty. Be sure to tell us how long it would remain an R1 if all of the science faculty were on the same salary schedule. Or would you (not the faculty) choose to have two classes of faculty to maintain UIUC's research standing?
(2) Whenever we allocate course reassignments for full-time faculty, we hire adjuncts to make up for it. Sabbaticals? Adjuncts. Grant work? Adjuncts. Someone has to teach the classes the tenured faculty won’t.
Who assigns grant work to faculty rather than hire someone to do it? You do. Stop blaming the faculty for your own decision, one that is undoubtedly the low cost option. And who negotiated the sabbatical? You did. (As if everyone at our CC gets a sabbatical every 7 years. What a joke.) And if you think it is so easy for some poor soul you select to pick up administrative duties like department chair while still teaching 5 classes, why don't administrators teach 5 classes? It is simply BS to blame the faculty for doing the job you assigned to them. You would still have to do this in your new system, but the cost would go up because you won't be paying adjunct salaries to make it happen.
(3) And do you know what those seventy-somethings are waiting for? Retirement incentives! Sorry, I know there are people over 70 teaching 1-1 loads and doing zero research at universities (and have explained what I would do about it), but I just don't see that at our CC.
So I'm calling for facts: What fraction of the tenured faculty at your CC are over 70 years old and still teaching a 5-5 load? Ours retire before that, usually as soon as they are eligible for affordable individual medical insurance (i.e. Medicare) provided they have reached the maximum level in the retirement system. Some reach that level before the age of 60 and wish they could risk the insurance cost of leaving at that time.
(1) A more rational system would abolish the tenure/adjunct dialectic as a dysfunctional model, and would move to renewable contracts with academic freedom stipulated in the contract language. With the same budget, of course. Here is where you repeatedly dodge the hard questions.
If you did this at your CC, so every class was taught by a full-time instructor on a 5-year rolling contract, what salary would you be offering them? You should be able to figure this out quite easily from your current instructional budget and the number of classes that need to be taught. Be sure to lower that base rate if you plan to offer merit increases to the "first class" group that you think are better than the rest. (And if you do, please notice that the dialectic is your creation, not that of the professor who leaves for a better job.)
Repeat this exercise for an R1 university, let's say Illinois because one of the authors is from there. Now tell us how long UIUC would remain an R1 if it didn't have two classes of faculty, those who run top notch research enterprises and are paid a lot and those who teach multiple classes and are paid less.
(2) Whenever we allocate course reassignments for full-time faculty, we hire adjuncts to make up for it. Sabbaticals? Adjuncts. Grant work? Adjuncts. Someone has to teach the classes the tenured faculty won’t. WON'T? What about the classes YOU "won't" teach because its not in YOUR contract?
Do you believe that some faculty should do additional work, usually administrative work that you assigned them, for free? If administrative work is so easy that a professor can be department chair without any release time, the Deans should all have plenty of free time to teach 4 or 5 classes also. The reality is that you do this because it is cheaper than hiring an administrator to be department chair or handle a grant. And if your faculty get a full year sabbatical every 7 years, I'm really at the wrong school.
I think it is ludicrous that you would propose treating a handful of your best faculty as serfs. You owe every one of the people on your faculty who are doing an administrative task while on release time an apology for implying they are all slackers who have to be "bribed" to do an extra job.
(3) And do you know what those seventy-somethings are waiting for? Retirement incentives! I know this has been a problem at research universities where those faculty have a 1-1 load and might do zero research, but it isn't a problem at our CC. Anyone over 70 who hasn't retired hasn't been here long enough to be able to afford to retire.
What fraction of your full-time tenured teaching faculty are over 70 and still teaching a 5-5 load like the ones who are 35 or 40? If you say that is an unreasonable question because all of the over-70 faculty have release time, I'll point out that it is YOUR fault they are still there because YOU enabled it.
At my CC, most faculty would retire as soon as they reach the maximum level in the retirement system but many can't afford to enter the private insurance market because they aren't old enough for Medicare. I know several professors in their late 50s who could and would retire tomorrow if it wasn't for the cost of health insurance.
Curiously, contrary to your experience, my Dean does not want to see those older faculty leave. Some are still the best we have.
I got an error message from Blogger and didn't see anything on the site, so I composed the message again.
Feel free to answer either version or delete one of them to clean up the comment stream even if it is interesting to see the differences in the two presentations.
I don't believe Illinois would last long as an elite research university if it didn't have a second class of faculty teaching its classes.
Could you begin a series on tenure in which you actually reply to the more serious and thoughtful objections to your various posts (such as that of CCPhysicist)? I agree with those who suggested that you tend to rely on broad generalizations, as well as some loaded and empty rhetoric (such as the aristocrats/serfs line, which does nothing to capture the very complex relations, both structural and personal, between tenured professors and adjuncts), and I, for one, would be interested to see how many of your proposals might work out when you have given them more specific content. I would also be interested to see how they mesh with the different situations that many of us experience. For example, I work (and administer) in a four-year institution (with some graduate programs) in a semi-rural Western area; we have adjuncts, but the vast majority have M.A. degrees, whereas the tenured and tenure-track faculty have Ph.D.s. Moreover, most of the folks with M.A. degrees are local, whereas the instructors with Ph.D.s were hired through national searches (and I know for a fact that there are almost no unemployed Ph.D.s in our area - if there were I would snap them up in a heartbeat). If we would pursue your program, we would probably lose our ability to attract Ph.D.s to our school (with our low salaries and semi-rural location, tenure is one of the things that make it worth someone's while to move across the country), and we would sink both our undergraduate and graduate programs.
Finally, a comment on the NYT Colloquy - largely a bunch of empty-headed nonsense. I can't believe they published such garbage. Since when did stereotypes about Gen-Xers become printworthy?