Friday, August 20, 2010

 

Towards Answers

In this week's kerfuffle about the New Faculty Majority – from which other administrators seem to have learned that such things are best ignored, since engaging just brings flame wars – several commenters asked, with varying degrees of civility, what my answer was.

It's severalfold.

First, if you're adjuncting and you feel like you're being exploited, stop adjuncting. Just stop. Walk away. You are an adult, responsible for your own choices. If your college didn't specifically promise you a full-time job after x semesters of adjuncting, then it does not owe you one, no matter how badly you want it. Colleges don't exist to provide jobs for academics. It's not about you.

Second, I strongly encourage all second- or third-tier graduate programs in the evergreen disciplines to stop accepting new students. This is what keeps replenishing the reserve army of the underemployed. If we don't get a handle on this, we will never bring things into alignment. The basic arithmetic of this is so obvious that I'm amazed that the compass-direction-state U's of the world still get funding for graduate programs in history and English and sociology.

Third, don't blame the culture at large. The cost of higher education is much higher now than it has ever been. Given the cost trend, I don't see a fundamental attitude shift between, say, forty years ago and now. The culture valued education at x forty years ago, and still does now. The problem is that the cost has gone from .5x to 2x. The culture didn't turn its back on us; we just mistook respect for open-ended entitlement. Raging at the booboisie is easy, self-flattering, and doomed to fail. You don't gain the support of the public by calling it stupid or philistine.

Fourth, and this is why I wrote my posts the way I did, don't give people false hope. It's precisely that false hope that keeps luring bright young people into a dying career. I don't simply think the NFM proposal is naïve, though it is; I think it does active (if unintended) harm. It does harm by perpetuating the myth – I should say, the lie – that there's a full-time job owed to every adjunct, if they just stick around long enough. There is not, and there never will be. Let people come to grips with the economic – yes, economic – reality of the situation, instead of trying to dress up wishful thinking as high principle.

Fifth, let's retire the tired “it's all the fault of the administrators” line. The cost spiral and the adjunct trend have been gone on for decades, in every corner of higher education and every region of the country. Thousands of administrators have come and gone in that time, with no discernible effect on either trend. Good administrators help the institutions do what they do well, but at the end of the day, the drivers are mostly structural. And the changes will be structural. The only question is whether we will make the changes, or they will be made for us.

It's time to have some serious discussions about structure. I've mentioned before that this needs to include such costly anachronisms as the credit hour, tenure, and the agrarian calendar; I'm increasingly convinced that it also needs to include the notion of the “comprehensive” college. The era of “all things to all people” passed decades ago in most other industries. At a really fundamental level, it's time to rethink the “diffuse mission, few funding streams” model in favor of a “diffuse funding streams, focused mission” model. Instead of counting on an ever-stingier state to support ever more programs, let's diversify the funding streams and channel them into fewer, stronger programs. At the community college level, I see that boiling down to the liberal arts, criminal justice, and nursing, with some regional variation. Let the proprietaries handle the vocational stuff; it's what they do, and we can't keep adding boutique programs on ever-declining revenue. Let's get the benefits of specialization, and do a few things well rather than a lot of things just a little bit worse every year.

Of course, we don't have to have those difficult conversations. Instead, we could simply continue the unthinking slide of the last forty years until the for-profits and various online companies eat our lunch.
I would consider that non-decision utterly tragic, but it's the path of least short-term resistance. If I wanted to make my readers happy and enhance my career prospects, I could just write the umpteenth peroration on the joys of tenure and the wonderfulness of academia and our collective misunderstood tragic beauty, but I didn't start blogging to lie. I care too much about higher education to let it die of neglect without at least trying to save it. But it has to want to live. It has to stop pretending that it isn't badly sick. It has to stop pretending that eating its young is a viable long-term strategy.

I'll admit becoming increasingly impatient with positions that amount to trying to squeeze ever more people onto the Titanic. It's the wrong battle. And I'm too young for fatalism. This isn't about defending the current system; it's about bending it so it won't break. If higher education is going to survive in a form worth having, it's going to have to change in some pretty dramatic ways. We in higher ed can take leadership roles in driving those changes, or we can let the University of Phoenix do it for us.

Comments:
[most of this was also posted to the IHE blog]

I agree 100% on the value -vs- cost point you make. Although what I have documented [see comment on your NFM blog from a few days ago] argues that the value has declined somewhat, the decline is very modest compared to the cost increase.

I'll also agree to stop blaming the administration if you'll stop blaming the tenured faculty that are hired, assigned specific duties, and compensated by the administration. Assigning the blame to "structural" issues is simply begging the question here, because administrators play a far more significant role in the structure than do faculty. You cannot simply assert that tenure plays a more significant role in the cost spiral than the sorts of changes described by History Professor when commenting on the IHE blog posting, you need to prove it.

And you need to prove, with quasi-real numbers, that shifting to a full time faculty on rolling contracts will solve the problem at either a CC or at Wants to Be Great Research University at Obscure City.

I welcome a dialog about "structure" that explains the cost increase objectively. My own view is that it results from an arms race at the top and the attempt by other schools to compete while others simply simulate excellence by charging an excellent price. In that sense, the remarks you and MJO make about adjuncts should really be applied to the community at large when it gets sold the idea that State University at Obscure City can become Great Research University at a modest, or no, expense. I don't think faculty have ever been responsible for this, but since this has happened in the past and continues to happen today, there are many opportunities to look at specific ones and see where the idea originated.

You are probably sensitive to some of the complaints you draw here because the decisions are made above your pay grade. The pressures are often political, which puts a President and hir minions in a tight space between logic and employment. I acknowledge that, but the pay grade where those decisions are made is also "administration", and is closer to your pay grade than mine.
 
For those of us who are in our late teens now and don't remember a time when university tuition was cheap/free, can someone explain and/or link WHAT has driven the cost of education so high?

I'm not seeing 'all things to all people'. I'm seeing classrooms with a 250-person capacity stuffed with 300 students, rooms without wireless and 2 electrical outlets for 300 laptops, a gym with a 30-minute wait to use an elliptical/treadmill, and a 5-hour line to talk to someone in the financial aid office (no joke. They were closing the line at noon last week because that was the only way they could see everyone in the line before 5pm).

From the student end of things, I'm not seeing a 'comprehensive university' that provides all things to all people, but my tuition is still about 10x what it was in the early 80s.

So, what is driving costs so high? At my CC, I was paying far less and getting far more.
 
What if the public wants nonprofits to do career training? Almost every discussion of CCs I hear in the news includes this component. I don't have any problem with the specialization argument in large metro areas, you could still get a wide variety of programs covered. But in areas where the CC may be the ONLY institution of higher learning for so many miles that only three people in the whole town have been outside that radius in their entire lifetime, is it realistic to expect the for-profits to fill the void?

Anon- where do you get the idea you're getting less? At least as recently as the a decade ago, they had 300 students in 250 person rooms (granted, this was for O-chem, and so many students dropped that by the end of the semester the class fit ok). And for the timeframe you reference- students in the early 80s didn't have wireless or laptops. They may not even have had a gym used for anything but basketball. They certainly didn't have as many students requiring financial aid, or nearly as much complexity of paperwork to manage it.
In fact, it sounds to me like you've inadvertently described good reasons the cost of high ed has increased. Reasons that have nill to do with EITHER excessively diffuse mission OR excessive compensation rate increases (nearly always in the form of exorbitantly priced healthcare the average employee never even notices).
 
I hope I don't get attacked, but I completely agree with you.

If you ask someone outside of academia if it is unfair that an adjunct is making 15K/year in his mid-30s (the example given by a disgruntled poster on Historiann's blog)... the immediate response is, Why is he doing that? Why doesn't he get a real job or a second job? Because that's what you would do if it were a private sector job. You would quit or do something else in addition. You would find a job that valued your skills.

In my field adjuncts are more like the "ideal" adjunct. They're people hired to teach one class in their expertise on top of their full-time job. Or they're people we have to pay very well because otherwise they don't take the job. This isn't because of altruism-- they would be happy to pay 3K/class if they could (that's what Harvard pays...).

Recently my program director had to offer 10K for an intro class-- the adjunct had suggested 15K, but they bargained down. Adjuncts have that power when there are not enough of them. (Sadly for me, that means my class sizes are getting larger...)

Excess supply and false hopes are really big problems. My heuristic has been, if your end goal is employment, never to go to a PhD program that doesn't give you full funding and a stipend. That generally correlates with your job prospects afterward.

I don't know if we want to pick on the directional schools (some directional schools are quite good in some programs), but surely something can be done with accreditation agencies if we truly want to limit the number of new PhDs instead of letting the market sort it out or flooding undergraduate programs with information (because I still meet new humanities phds who had no idea the job market was difficult).
 
... not that I should be spending my time arguing this...
must stop procrastinating
(van by the river, van by the river)
 
my work experience is mostly on the departmental side of things (granted this was a large state U), and from what i saw, the bloat is insane.

in the end, i still attribute it to the 80/20 rule: 80% of the work gets done by 20% of the people.

have an admin (or a grad student if you want free labor) go in and sit for a week with a different college/dep't secretary, "business analyst", random IT staff, or manager, and see how much work they actually get done. i know of guys who make $85-100k who often times don't do an actual minute of work in a given week. but the U is too scared to let them go.

most of the admins that i know worked their butts off. it was the guys directly below the admins who were lazy and redundant, but it was the admins who were too scared to do anything about it.
 
CCPhysicist raises a good point about how you don't provide evidence for the cost savings of eliminating tenure. Are you advocating:
1) eliminating full-time instructional positions so you don't have to pay benefits?
2) forcing middle-aged instructors out so you can get cheaper young Ph.Ds?
3) Decide Gen Ed isn't important anymore and get rid of departments that aren't in whatever "focused mission" is in flavor this year? (or rather, "in flavor 3 years ago," given hiring cycles)?
4) Putting in rules preventing long-term instructors from seeking the same protections against firing that unionized staff have?
5) something I'm missing?
I've heard you talk about how wonderful it would be to have the "flexibility" of non-tenured instructors, which suggests #1 and #3. Personally I'm ambivalent about tenure, but if you want to make a convincing argument you need evidence for your assertions.
 
I still don't see any answers here; just a bunch of rather cranky "donts" that seem to fatalistically resign us all to a downward death spiral. How inspiring!

And DD, if you really believe the American public isn't on some deep level hostile to the very notion of intellectual activity and "book learning," you need to spend more time outside of the Northeast...
 
You write:

"Third, don't blame the culture at large. The cost of higher education is much higher now than it has ever been. Given the cost trend, I don't see a fundamental attitude shift between, say, forty years ago and now. The culture valued education at x forty years ago, and still does now. The problem is that the cost has gone from .5x to 2x. The culture didn't turn its back on us; we just mistook respect for open-ended entitlement. Raging at the booboisie is easy, self-flattering, and doomed to fail. You don't gain the support of the public by calling it stupid or philistine."

I think this is aimed at me? First, I'll just repeat my comment back to you that I left a few days ago over at my place:

"Regardless of our differences, I think you do believe that wide-sweeping change (such as eliminating tenure) is the right thing to do. But the “why” is important. Because if what motivates us remains getting the most customers through the higher education checkout line, eliminating tenure will only result in every teacher losing academic freedom, every teacher becoming an adjunct. (I do not think that this is what you think – it’s just the danger in thinking about structure without thinking about how and why structures are used.) I think that you assume that education is a fundamental value – that we all (“society” in general) want to see students better educated and that we all value higher education. That this is a common good that is recognized as such by the vast majority of people. I don’t think that’s true.

I think that the vast majority of people see higher education as a necessary evil, a hoop through which to jump. That’s not the same thing as valuing it, though. If we don’t change the minds of that majority – a majority that includes politicians, taxpayers, various talking heads – then I don’t think structural change is going to get us to greater equality or is going to solve the casualization problem."

To be clear, in that comment I am NOT accusing the vast majority of being stupid or philistine. I'm only saying that for the vast majority of people (and I was one of those people when I entered college at 18, and most of my family and friends still are those people) education is a means to an end and not an end in itself. As such, it is worth the lowest possible investment - whether we're talking about time spent on doing one's coursework, money spent on tuition, or tax dollars contributing to it. In that regard, I think that we do need to deal with the cultural attitudes to education as *fundamental* to any structural change that we envision. Looking at effects in a vacuum where we don't consider causes seems... well, it just doesn't seem like it's a very effective approach to me. At the very least, it's not an approach that works in my experience as a teacher.
 

It's time to have some serious discussions about structure. I've mentioned before that this needs to include such costly anachronisms as the credit hour, tenure, and the agrarian calendar; I'm increasingly convinced that it also needs to include the notion of the “comprehensive” college.


I agree wholeheartedly. We need to set aside the bromides about the "deadwood" faculty and "bloated" administration and focus on how the structure of our colleges is supporting or impeding learning.

When I look at it from that systemic perspective, I just don't get DD's lack of enthusiasm for tenure. If we eliminate tenure and maintain the same number of FT faculty, there are no cost savings, and we will be less likely to attract and retain highly qualified and experienced instructors. How does this support learning?

Tenure, the credit hour, and the agrarian calendar are not the primary problems with the existing community college structure. The most important factor that is endangering the quality of instruction is the excessive reliance on adjuncts. What we are doing is tantamount to using substandard building materials to build a skyscraper. DD can bemoan the economic cost of FT faculty until the cows come home, but that doesn't change the fact that we are systematically undermining the quality of instruction by relying on the false economy of hiring more and more adjuncts.

I recognize that the obvious rejoinder is "we can't afford it!", but here's the question we need to answer: does it serve our students and our communities well if we provide low-quality albeit inexpensive education in our community colleges?
 
In California, because of Prop 13, there has been increased volatility in funding and disinvestment by the public in all state supported agencies (even the ones they seem to like - prisons, for example). To say that investment is equal now to what it was before we started electing actors as governor is simply not true.

In CA higher ed, one thing that is really driving costs at state colleges (traditionally Master's granting institutions) is a misguided attempt on the part of those colleges to bring in revenue through research. This is more of a problem in the sciences but it spills over into other areas as well. We have a couple of campuses that have converted to mini R1s but most of the rest don't have the infrastructure to support real research.

I think we need to deemphasize research in the tenure process and instead focus on teaching and innovation at the campus. Imagine if service and research were equally weighted for tenure - that would be game changing and financially it would make more sense for the college. Research costs in terms of infrastructure, start-up funds for faculty and takes away from revenue producing/preserving activities like teaching and service. I include service as a revenue preserver because faculty do work that at other institutions would be done be paid staff.

At Master's granding schools, we can control part of the cost spiral but only by stopping the arms race for research funds and by refocusing on our core mission - education. This is at odds with the general academic culture - but the current system serves neither students nor faculty well.
 
Once again, a lovely rant is interrupted by DD's bias against tenure.

Tenure isn't costly. Tenure saves an astonishing amount of money! Tenure gets you people who are willing to put in amazing amounts of work for free, because of professional obligation, which you could never reasonably get from them as hired professionals. In addition, it allows you to hire at $20k/person/year less than the market rate for professionals.

Higher Ed's adjunct problems have nothing to do with the agrarian schedule; schools on the quarter system do just as much damage. And for-profits aren't eating anyone's lunch -- to adjuncts, they're just nastier versions of what's going on elsewhere.

DD, you're a great guy, and you write a good blog. But these discussions on tenure seem like they're some kind of resurrected antediluvian b-school rant from before you learned how to make the system function. As you've no doubt noticed, your school functions massively better than the for-profits. The students are educated just as well, but at much, much less cost to them. The faculty is far better treated. And the standards are higher. Many of those differences -- positive differences -- have to do with tenure.

THAT SAID, what DD says to individual adjuncts is absolutely true. If you don't like being an adjunct, don't. Go teach High School or retrain. You're a smart person, and two years from now, you'll still be a smart person. You got screwed and lied to. Accept this and make the best of the 40-80 years of your life which remains.
 
That said, where is all that money going? I know about half of it is less state support, but what about the other half?
 
I finally figured out what was bothering me about this rant: it's self refuting.

"The culture valued education at x forty years ago, and still does now. The problem is that the cost has gone from .5x to 2x."

"We in higher ed can take leadership roles in driving those changes, or we can let the University of Phoenix do it for us."

It's not that "the culture" values education more or less -- it's that the value is being transferred to the individual student. What "the culture" values less is the idea of meritocracy, that your success should be correlated with your capacity, not your parents' income.

Otherwise UPhoenix, with its vastly higher tuition, would be nonexistent.

Oh! And I really recommend that the CCs get serious about gaming the Federal financial aid system. Pell Grants shouldn't be flowing into for-profits; they should be flying toward CCs, perhaps with some kind of cash-back incentive system.
 
I hate it when my friends blame the administration for everything. My mom sometimes does the same thing and it drives me nuts. I was good friends with the administrators of a program called upward bound and I know how busy they are and how many things they have to do. the worse thing to do is to blame them.
 
What PunditusMaximus said re: tenure.

I for one would have to have around 20K more per year without it. Maybe more than that, since research-only think tanks pay more than that. Of course, those salaries would drop a bit with all the people fleeing academia for jobs where they do the same research but don't have to teach.
 
PunditusMaximus @ 11:41 AM:

Less state support is a tiny fraction of change. In the R1 instance I documented (click here and look about halfway down), only $1400 of the $7000 tuition increase can be attributed to a cut in state support. Where did it go? I wish I had the budget from back then, but I'd bet faculty salaries went up, teaching loads went down, fringe benefits went up a LOT, and other staffing, particularly in support of research, skyrocketed.

Staffing in support of research increases "overhead", which universities seem to view as a profit line.

reassignedtime @ 7:44 AM:

That really got me to thinking, but Dr. Crazy always does that. I agree that the claim of education as a common good is an unsupported assertion. There is a sense in which the public now views college as the new HS, necessary for a good job. I knew someone who had noticed decades ago that most students gain little between entry and exit if they go to a school that is competitive enough to require decent scores. Lots of kids just drink their way to a B average, at great expense. He proposed giving them a degree in exchange for cash, then let them take classes on an as needed basis. That way they could take a job, find out what they needed to know (if anything), and fill in any gaps. You would take in as much money as before, but would need far fewer faculty of any kind.

Isn't that what many students appear to want, a college credential with as little work as possible? They do not value what they are doing in class, just what they are getting when it is all over.
 
Becca:
I wasn't saying that I was 'paying more for less' in comparison to a time when I wasn't even alive (the 1980s). I was comparing the costs/services of my current university to my previous CC.

But I would agree with a slightly-altered version of the point that you thought I was making. I wouldn't say that students today 'pay more for less' in all regards, but I would say that the increased tuition/fees that students pay today are grossly disproportionate to any increases in 'services' or improvements in instruction that they receive.

When I've tried to get answers to the question 'why has tuition skyrocketed?' one of the frequently cited drivers of this phenomenon is 'students demand increased services'.

But so far, nobody has really backed that up with more than anecdotal evidence (but I'd love to see detailed data if anyone has it). I'll concede that this may be a major factor at certain liberal arts schools that provide climbing walls and hot tubs, but as far as I can tell, the services provided by my current state uni have not significantly increased or improved in recent years.

the in-state cost of attending my university (tuition and fees, not living expenses or books) in 1980 was 6% of what it is now.
Tuition/fees in 2000 were about 55% what they are now.

I'm just trying to figure out how much of that is truly going to serving student needs. I've looked into this at my own university and haven't gotten good answers. I was hoping someone might know of a study that really breaks down where the money goes at an average state university.

I originally thought that some of the student centers/programs (e.g. the Gender Equity Center, Study Abroad programs) might be expensive recent developments, but at my uni, they have all been around for at least 3-4 decades and don't seem to have significantly increased services in at least the last 15 years (Disabled Student Services haven't improved services, but they do seem to be providing them to a lot more people)
I can't figure out what the average student is getting today that they weren't getting 10, 20, 30 years ago (I can figure out a handful of things, but nothing that justifies the skyrocketing costs).

In addition, we're being charged for many of these services, on top of our ordinary tuition/fees. For example, transcripts that used to be $2 now cost $15 apiece (more if you need it quickly) and gym fees have doubled in the last few years.

The things that students REALLY need most (available seats in required classes and services from the financial aid office) have gotten less accessible, not more. Perhaps money is being frittered away on unnecessary parts of 'the college experience' but I think most students would rather have the basics taken care of.

I believe my point wasn't that education SHOULDN'T be more expensive now, just that the 'services' we're supposed to be receiving for all that money don't seem to exist.
Our buildings AREN'T equipped for modern technology The gym HASN'T been upgraded in decades (and it's been around for students since well before the 1980s). Classes and financial aid services AREN'T more accessible.
That's why I asked the question.
 
(cont'd)
I bring this up now for two reasons. The first is b/c I truly want info (if anyone knows where to get it) on where all the money is going.

But the second reason is because I largely agree with Dean Dad about the realities of public education. The only involvement that John Q Public is likely to have with a university is as a student or a family member of a student.

Most people don't have a great idea of what a tenured professor does besides teach. Most people see 'educating the young' as a university's most important purpose.

And the average member of the public is far more concerned with tuition costs than instructor pay.

This isn't unique to higher education. Most Americans will buy clothing made in sweatshops because the price is right. If Americans as a whole cared about labor practices, fair pay, and equity, Wal-Mart wouldn't be the roaring success that it is.

So long as adjunct pay can't be improved without costing students (&nobody has really given a good solution to where the money could come from other than tuition increases), I don't see the public supporting it unless there's a good argument that higher adjunct pay leads to better student outcomes.

I haven't heard anyone convincingly argue that point. Some people assume that adjunct instruction is 'lower quality' but I've had adjunct instructors who teach better than most tenured faculty.

As a recent CC transfer, I would jump for joy if I could get a 4-year degree of the same quality and at the same cost provided by my former CC. If equalizing pay for adjuncts at my former CC resulted in, say, a 25% tuition increase, I would be happy to pay that too.

But that's b/c I felt like my CC was already a great deal. At my uni, I feel like I'm being gouged.

To take o-chem as an example, I took O-chem a year ago at a CC -- this was a 5-unit class where both lecture and lab were taught by a full-time, tenured professor. The class began with 40 students, 20 in each lab section. It ended with about 30 students, 15 in each lab. The cost of two semesters of o-chem at my current university (paying in-state tuition as a full time student taking 15 units/semester) would be more than 20x the cost that I paid at the CC. And what would I get for that?
A giant auditorium stuffed with hundreds of students and crowded labs taught by grad-student TAs. And that's if I could even get into the class off of the mile-long waiting list.

I wouldn't support any tuition increase at my university until I saw, in great detail, where the money was going and what would be sacrificed without it.
 
All adjuncts are exploited.

It's not a matter of me feeling like I'm being exploited. I am. Like everyone else who adjuncts.

I do have a certain amount of choice in the matter. And yet, if I wish to continue in this profession, this is actually my best option at the moment.

If I feel taken advantage of (and I do) it's because the institutions that employ me are, in fact, taking advantage of the fact that I am professionally vulnerable right now. I see this for what it is and accept it as a short term arrangement that will enable me to continue in this profession. It's the part where I'm expected to accept this treatment (even in the short term) as part of my continuation in the profession that is fundamentally screwed up.

No one owes me a job. You'll have to pardon me if I'm not terribly thrilled when the deans who hire me to adjunct marvel out loud about what a great deal they're getting.
 
Anasasia -- not to point out the obvious, but you are, in fact, certain that you are owed a job at the end of the adjunct rainbow. You view adjuncting as a season, when most adjuncts are no longer ever hired for good jobs at the end.
 
There's something to this "degree only as credential" concept that should be explored, IMHO. It's not completely true; there are of course technical degrees. But all of our anecdotal experience in any non-major class is that 80% of the students are there to fill in the requirement with minimal effort and are fully persuaded that the class itself is completely without intrinsic value. The only real value is getting a passing grade to get a degree with a GPA attached to it.
 
Anonymous: one huge cost change has been health insurance. The amount I need to include in grant apps to support grad students here at Wants-BGR Univ at Obscure City has been increasing at 10-15% per year for at least the past 8 years. I wish I could invest in that in my 403(b); instead it is a cost item in my budget.

Here's one argument for how rolling contracts could provide benefits compared to tenure. Certainly I'm not the only person who knows of cases of no-longer-research-active faculty who also display less-than-stellar teaching performances? Undergrads complain, and what is a course scheduler to do? Rewarding poor teaching performance with less classroom time isn't a good model. Rolling contracts (initiate a new 5-year contract each fall and tear up the old one) would provide some ongoing metrics yet would also retain more security compared to the private sector.
 
HS lab partner: that's irrelevant in a CC or SLAC context, which is where the vast majority of teaching happens. Even in the 2nd and 3rd tier state schools, teaching loads crush the unproductive.

The assumption seems to be that tenure is such an obvious evil that the systems proposed to replace it will be essentially costless. That reminds me of the Iraq War discussion, where it was never asked if -- even if it was a positive to engage in the Iraq War -- it was worth a trillion dollars.
 
dd says: At the community college level, I see that boiling down to the liberal arts, criminal justice, and nursing, with some regional variation. Let the proprietaries handle the vocational stuff; it's what they do, and we can't keep adding boutique programs on ever-declining revenue.

If dd wants to have that debate, it will not be with his faculty--tenured or peon. It will be with the chancellor or system president, the dreamers and visionaries who, at least in my state, believe in full speed ahead and damn the torpedoes. They use growth as an argument for increased funding when they talk to legislators, and how is that working out?

Growth is the only plan they have. They see it as an exciting challenge, not a possible existential crisis.

And, if I remember correctly, dd, when I argued a year or so ago that cc's needed to retrench, you lost your cool completely in your response.
 
Force 'em out I say. I say force 'em out! Let the young folks get a chance. Those 50 somethings making the big bucks need to build that rocking chair and sit out on the porch. That'll fix the system. It's working for the big oils, don't ya know! Get rid of tenure and get rid of the old farts and be done with it. Not needed I say. I say they're not needed at all.
 
The institutions that employ me don't owe me a job just because I've adjuncted for them. And when I say adjuncting is a temporary arrangement, it's because I can only afford to spend two years on the job market before I have no financial choice but to do something else. Don't even try to tell me I'm

I mean, seriously...if i were planning to adjunct permanently or long term hoping it will "turn into" something more, people would belittle me. If I say it's temporary, I get a snarky reply about how entitled I am? Classy.

In the meantime, I. am. being. exploited. I have been hired by people who know:

...that I care about students
...that I want to do this kind of work in the long term
...that I need some kind of income
...and that because of the combination of these things, they can get away with hiring me for sub-standard wages.

The fact that I'm willing to do this (for now) is a little bit beside the point. These people are imposing on my good nature and my desire to continue in the field in which I worked many long years earning a PhD in order to save money and maintain the flexibility of their schedules.

A system that exploits the desires and professional vulnerability of an entire segment of the population in our professional sphere is pretty reprehensible.

I'm in it for two years and then I'll seek employment doing something else. I won't regret not getting a tt job. If it doesn't happen, it doesn't happen. But whether it does or doesn't, I will never feel easy about the time I spent working for people who needed my labor so badly and yet valued me so very little.
 
@Anastasia, I misread your comment.

But yes, I agree: I feel the same sense of bitter hatred for the people who pretended that they weren't damning me to penury while taking the best I had to offer. I understand the economics behind it. But it is profoundly foul, a fact DD glosses over every time we have this discussion. The classes should remain untaught, rather than be taught through exploitation. But you will never hear an administrator taking responsibility for that truth. Instead, we have a broadside from DD stating his opposition to any attempt to organize.

There is just too much money to be made by paying less than a living wage to people with Master's Degrees and Doctorates. Better by far to be on the other end of that desk.
 
Many thanks DD. As someone who left a tenured position to return to the commercial sector, and has now come back as an adjunct, I probably have a different reality than most. But your comments make total sense according to the economic reality as I see it. Particularly like your mission focus for CCs.
 
I am coming to the end of a two-year appointment as a full-time lecturer. No promise was made of my continuing employment; when full-time tenure-track positions were posted early last year, I had to apply for them just as any other candidate would. I wasn't even called in for an interview.

I am not surprised. The college wants someone younger and more tractable than I am. I was, however, offered adjunct work. I will probably do it only because I need the income as I work toward the new career I plan for myself. At my age, and given other factors I've neither the time nor space to describe here, I see no realistic prospect of FT TT employment. And, having seen what I've seen, I don't want an academic career anymore.

I would advise any young person contemplating grad school and an academic career in the same way as I advised one of the last students I helped. As I told her, don't do it unless--

1. You get into a top-tier program.
2. Your tuition is paid for and you are paid to be there.
3. You absolutely know you can collect every possible honor during your time in grad school.
4. You can endure, in spite of your accomplishments, long periods of un- or under-employment.
5. You have neither the wish for, nor a plan to, get married before you're 40.
6. You have neither the wish for, nor the intention, of buying a house before you're 50.
7. You are willing and able to relocate to absolutely anywhere for a job.
8. If and when you do get your full-time position, you are willing to give a student with the same dreams and aspiration as yours advice that is nothing like the advice I've just given you.
 
I am coming to the end of a two-year appointment as a full-time lecturer. No promise was made of my continuing employment; when full-time tenure-track positions were posted early last year, I had to apply for them just as any other candidate would. I wasn't even called in for an interview.

I am not surprised. The college wants someone younger and more tractable than I am. I was, however, offered adjunct work. I will probably do it only because I need the income as I work toward the new career I plan for myself. At my age, and given other factors I've neither the time nor space to describe here, I see no realistic prospect of FT TT employment. And, having seen what I've seen, I don't want an academic career anymore.

I would advise any young person contemplating grad school and an academic career in the same way as I advised one of the last students I helped. As I told her, don't do it unless--

1. You get into a top-tier program.
2. Your tuition is paid for and you are paid to be there.
3. You absolutely know you can collect every possible honor during your time in grad school.
4. You can endure, in spite of your accomplishments, long periods of un- or under-employment.
5. You have neither the wish for, nor a plan to, get married before you're 40.
6. You have neither the wish for, nor the intention, of buying a house before you're 50.
7. You are willing and able to relocate to absolutely anywhere for a job.
8. If and when you do get your full-time position, you are willing to give a student with the same dreams and aspiration as yours advice that is nothing like the advice I've just given you.
 
For the record, I'm actually a supporter of faculty unions. My position has long been that there should be a choice between tenure and unions, and I'm much happier to work with unions.

That applies to adjuncts as well.
 
For the record (and in contradiction of my blogname) I got out and am no longer an adjunct. Now I'm exploited as a 'research trainee' instead! (I jest somewhat, the pay is awful but it will probably lead to a non-academic public sector job or an NGO gig, either of which would be fine with me).
 
FWIW, the problem is not with the second and third tier programs, but the first. Across all disciplines the top quarter (first tier) produces over half of the PhDs, the top half over 80%. The solution, of course, is to close the University of California, something Eli notes is well underway.
 
I've done both adjuncting and the FT teaching. Honestly I didn't complain about adjuncting--at least at the CC I was at because the pay for much less work seemed fair. I was paid what I would have been paid to pick up an extra class FT, and I only had to teach. No committees, no pointless meetings, no drama. Just teach. I loved it and I still can't understand why adjuncts complain because they (where I live anyway) do NOT have to do all the stuff that a full timer has to do. So they aren't being exploited. You're working part time. Most part time jobs pay even less. If you're taking on extra work that's your problem, but don't blame the college. There's a distinct difference between teaching a class and working full time, the expectations a a million times higher for what needs to be accomplished.

saying that you're being exploited is like saying that people who volunteer to be on reality TV are slave labor. You signed up for it, you're probably doing much more than needed (yes, even to be a good teacher), and causing your own stress. In addition, if you know there are other options out there but you want to do this first? Your own fault.

Colleges are still businesses. No matter what we say about the value of a liberal education, at the end of the day the bottom line still matters. I'd love to see the complainers get a job outside the academic world and see how hard blue collar people work, for shitty pay and far worse conditions. You choose to do this because you want a job in academics? Great, but realize the bigger picture.
 
I adjuncted for several years and finally realized that it was a dead-end job. So I came up with a plan by which I would eventually leave the adjunct gig. Ironically, in the first year of that plan, I was fortunate to land a tenure track job.

With that in mind, I'd like to address Dean Dad's first point, "Just stop adjuncting."

It's not that simple.

Let's start by remembering that most adjuncts are barely getting by. In the 2+ years it would take to train for a new profession, how is one supposed to EAT in the meantime? How is one supposed to pay for the training for a new field? And if quitting and going into a new field would mean moving, how is one to afford it? What if one is bound to a place (due to family obligations) and can't blithely walk away from the little income one can bring in?

In my case, there was no way financially that I could have simply walked away from it all, no matter how little I made. After all, "little" beats "nothing." I couldn't just suddenly switch careers and still pay the rent the next month. So I decided on a five-year plan in which I was going to land a t-track job or get the hell out of academia for good. This plan included strengthening my CV (which was already pretty decent), continuing to apply for t-track jobs, and saving money (not exactly easy to do on an adjunct salary), while exploring other fields, figuring out what I wanted to do next, and starting to train for it.

"Just stop" implies that adjuncts have the financial freedom, job training, and social and business networks in place to suddenly change fields. Most adjuncts don't have this safety net. Perhaps you didn't mean it this way, DD, but it sounded a lot like telling adjuncts to eat cake.
 
I just wanted to say that I deeply respect your honesty and sincere desire to improve the system.
 
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