Thursday, May 05, 2011


Ask the Administrator: A Market-Clearing Wage?

Every so often I get a question that’s almost a guest post. In this one, a new correspondent opens a can of worms...

We have quite a few adjuncts that teach for us at the limit imposed by our accrediting body. Because we can only offer them a limited course load they find work at multiple institutions, a fact with which we are all well acquainted. I recently lost one of my best adjuncts completely to a higher paying institution (4-year) when it dawned on me, why don't we establish a new strain of adjuncts. Much like 4-year institutions have Lecturer, Senior Lecturer, Asst Professors, Associate Professors, etc. each with varying institutional responsibilities and pay there anything stopping us from creating a "Adjunct Lecture Position?" A position that would allow an adjunct to teach 4 or 5 classes a semester, but be paid $20-24,000 rather than $38,000 (Approx starting salary at our institution for full-time faculty members)?

Obviously there would be decreased institutional responsibilities for these new faculty members, no obligation to support a student club, no committee work, 30-hour work week, 9 month contract, remove the no-competition clause from contracts, etc. This would create a new brand of adjuncts, and would solve at least a couple major issues...

1) consistency among the adjunct ranks - as adjuncts move through the rotating door I feel like I am forever explaining Student Learning Objectives, or dealing with an adjunct who did not follow institutional policy.

2) provide more consistent employment for the adjunct - freeway flying may result in 5 classes a semester, but at $1800 a pop, and factoring in the cost of fuel to travel, a career adjunct can't expect to make much more than $20,000 anyway. At least this model will help save the faculty member some travel costs and keep them close to home.

3) Evening and weekend Adjuncts - Finding evening and weekend adjuncts is admittedly easier than finding a physics adjunct for a 10:00am MWF course. But as many instructor of record changes as I go through as I am building a schedule, it is a wonder that anyone can keep them straight. This new position could allow me to better utilize these faculty across evening and weekends by making that part of the job description and an expectation of employment (since full-time faculty seem to think that evening and weekend classes are for adjuncts anyway).

4) Keeping good Adjuncts - If we look at how much adjuncts make per hour, it really isn't bad...that is if we just look at the amount of time they are paid and divide by the actual time in class. But when you factor in all the extra parts of being an instructor then that per-hour rate plummets. By providing a structured setting that has a consistent salary, I can retain, and even reward good instruction by providing stability and financial security (although minimal) and hopefully keep more of my good folks around. I hear from new adjunct on a routine basis, "Do I get insurance with this position?" Perhaps this would provide a way for that to happen.

Admittedly there are some huge issues to this, which is probably why I am not getting institutional endorsement on this idea, if this system were implemented then we would begin to hire what should be normal full-time faculty positions as "Adjunct Lecture Positions" with the opportunity to grow into a full salary. This would be very problematic. Also, if this model took off, then there would be less people around to do the day-to-day non-instructional work, but more people around. Office space is limited, and we really need everyone to pitch in at my campus if we are going to make it. Establishing a new class of instructors who have no significant impact on the administrative aspects of the campus, but are here all day anyway may cause some grumbling. Also, state and federal laws prohibit us from working ourselves to the bone for little or no money (at least in theory), and I would think that there may be some issues in those areas...

To be honest, some of my adjuncts are better professors than their full-time counter parts, and it hurts a little bit to see them go...

But I am really interested in your opinion, and the opinion of your wise and worldly readers.

This one depends almost entirely on what you compare it to. I remember reading a piece many years ago in which an economist proposed a “market-clearing wage” as a way to solve both the Ph.D. glut and the cost spiral of higher ed. In essence, bring full-time salaries down to the point where supply and demand meet. In the evergreen fields, that wage would probably be alarmingly low.

From the perspective of someone already in, or who expects to get in, that would be horrible. From the perspective of a freeway flyer, it probably sounds like an improvement.

I can attest that if this option were available, the institutional appeal of it -- and therefore, the incentive to prefer it to traditional full-time positions -- would be strong. That’s probably the single strongest argument against it. The moral hazard for bad institutional behavior would be so compelling as to be nearly a foregone conclusion.

Which is a shame, since it would both improve the lives of many adjuncts, and come closer to real equality than the current system.

Though regular readers know I’m no fan of tenure, I do support full-time employment. Part of the reason for that is precisely the “extras” that need to get done, but that will only get done reliably by people who are paid to do more than just teach. Advising students, working on curricula, assessing outcomes, doing articulation agreements...these things take time, and they matter.

It may be the case that over time, the division of labor will become more stark as the economic argument for craft production becomes impossible to sustain. Whether we can make the cultural adjustment to what Richard Florida calls the Great Reset, or whether the adjustment will be done to us, still isn’t clear. But I’d want to make the move more thoughtfully than this.

Wise and worldly readers, what do you think? Would it make sense to move to a market-clearing approach, or should we defend the current structure at the cost of leaving adjuncts in the cold?

Have a question? Ask the Administrator at deandad (at) gmail (dot) com.

Your writer has it backwards:

The tenure-line jobs should have the lower salary and the non-tenure-line jobs should have the higher salary.

This will put the incentive on the administration to hire more tenure-line faculty.

What the tenure-line faculty lack in immediate compensation they make up in job security. The higher-paid adjuncts would accept the risk of layoffs and capricious firings.

And then expect everyone to pitch in with advising and committees and whatnot.
For me, it was this comment that made me want to Never Work For This Person Ever: "If we look at how much adjuncts make per hour, it really isn't bad..."

Teaching jobs shouldn't be thought of as "by the hour". Period. Unless you want them to treat your students like their responsibility only for the hour. Unless you want them to leave the moment they get a better paying offer. Unless you want them to leave halfway through the semester because they get an offer that gives them even a hint of job security.

And good god, we shouldn't be trying to create *more* adjunct positions, we should be trying to create a system with *fewer*. How about a non-tenure system where the instructors are treated like permanent employees rather than contract labor? Where they'd actually have to lay a person off at the end of the semester instead of just *not re-hire* them? If you made that your stance, you'd probably keep a lot more of your adjuncts than you would by devaluing the profession as a whole.
"should we defend the current structure at the cost of leaving adjuncts in the cold?"

Let me get this straight. According to this proposal, adjuncts get one thing they don't have now, which is the ability to be exploited by just one institution rather than by multiple institutions. Sounds like a great alternative to tenure to me. Not.

Seems to me that this is just making explicit the fact that adjuncts are left in the cold and further reinforcing the structural inequities in the academic workplace.
Wow. We have people *fighting* for jobs that are so low paid? That's just sad.
"Teaching jobs shouldn't be thought of as "by the hour". Period. Unless you want them to treat your students like their responsibility only for the hour."

But in what ways are they my responsibility beyond that hour in class? Are you referring to grading? If grading is the issue, that too can be parsed into an hourly quotient. Look, on any given day, I may teach three classes at two different schools. On one day, I do four classes at two places, and on evil Thursdays, I teach four at three different places. (it's a schedule quirk) When I am in class, I am 100% present for the students, but as soon as I walk out the door, unless someone needs to talk to me about something important, (i.e. class related) I've shifted gears and am focused on the next class -- and whether I need to stop for gas to get there.

I make a point of learning everyone's name, and over time I do begin to get a sense of them as people. Over time, I learn some of their stories, (I have a lot of "non-traditional" students) and during breaks we may hang outside and have a cigarette and chit-chat. So it's not all soulless and anonymous.

When it comes to grading, I admit, I try to expend as little time as I can and still perform the task responsibly. But I still assign the requisite number of written pages per the course guidelines. Sure, I fall behind, but who doesn't? I've never met a TT in early Nov. who isn't awash in unfinished grading. In the end, it all gets done.

Now what else am I supposed to be doing here?
As an economist the market clearing approach has some attractive qualities. Embedded in this issue is the idea of a separate track of full time faculty.

We certainly weren't the first but our university added a Professional Track as an alternative to a Tenured Track several years ago. In fact I (as an adjunct) chaired the task force that made the successful proposal. Two levels - so there is some promotion opportunities. Terminal degrees preferred but not required. There are service obligations, but no scholarship expectations. Multi-year, full time contracts with benefits.

Some departments have used this track with the hopes of converting a successful PhD into a tenure track job later. (Jury is still out on that approach.) By and large, though, the Professional Track is being filled with strong teachers, including those with outside-academia experience.

In terms of salary, the professional track is a notch lower than tenure track. An earlier commenter had a good point about swapping the relative salary levels, though in our situation there is less risk.
We have recognized that there is greater benefit to the instructor and the institution if an Adjunct Instructor can teach a full load in one place. I don't know why any accrediting body would find fault with that, but apparently the OP's does.

At our quarter-system college, tenure faculty teach 3 courses per quarter as a full load. An adjunct instructor who teaches 4 courses can earn the same compensation and benefits as a tenure-track instructor (about $38K). This seams reasonable, as the adjunct faculty do not have any administrative or advising responsibilities.

We also have a 'Senior Adjunct' status that pays about $1K more per quarter, includes more office hour responsibilities, and gives those faculty higher priority for course assignments. This seems similar to the proposed 'Adjunct Lecturer' position. These faculty are not getting rich, but many of them have held the position for more than 10 years and are raising families (albeit mostly with a 2nd wage earner) on their salaries.
Dude, switch me over to one of these positions and I'd totally stop thinking of my responsibility in hourly terms. In what states or localities are these plum positions?
Perhaps tenure at teaching intensive colleges should evolve into two tracks - the full time lecturer and the lecturer w/ admin responsibilities such as curriculum development, assessments,course coordination, some scholarship etc.

Currently I see too many tenured folks at these places, including my institution, who just teach courses (the same way for the last 40 years), do almost no committee work, and are at the top of the pay scale. And many mid career faculty also seem to follow along that path (Hey I'm tenured - I can relax now...). So why not just hire permanent full-time lecturers at less cost? And the folks who really want to perform service, curr. development and all the other non-teaching responsibilities in academia can be on a different level track - with more pay. More and more, it looks like the TT slots at community colleges are tending toward the teaching+ mid -level admin responsibilities, with so few new hires, and with others who have retired on the job.

Just a thought.
I'm on my upteenth one-year contract. I teach 5 classes a semester. I have a PhD and make about $40k per year, with health benefits and participation in a retirement plan. I have no expectation for advancement or even renewal from year to year. No hope for promotion or reduction of load. No hope to teach anything but general ed (which I enjoy, by the way, but change is nice, too).

My U is trying to develop these Teaching Tracks, where research and committee work is kept to a minimum. We will see.

I teach mostly general ed, with a heavy writing (and grading) component. I've been a freeway flier; this is much better.

But you can't expect someone to work full-time on the suggested $22k--I don't care where you live. You want professional work and a professional time commitment; you have to pay a professional, living wage--with health care and retirement options.

And that is why most U's won't do it: they don't want to have to pay the benefits. Ideally, the vast majority of faculty should be full time, with only a few adjuncts to handle the unexpected overloads and such. But as long as admin can get away with paying substandard wages for professional work, they will.
But in what ways are they my responsibility beyond that hour in class?

How about lesson plans? Class prep? Reviewing the material you're covering? Reading the text yourself so you know exactly what they're (supposed to be) reading? Reading the latest material in your area so you're up to date? Putting together handouts, PowerPoint, study guides, videos, reviewing video or music to use? etc, etc> I teach the same class every term and I still review everything and rework the lessons every term.
When I read posts like this one, I remember why I can't, with a straight face, advise a student to further his or her education. Not only are the opportunities lacking, but too many administrators have the mentality of Wal-Mart managers and the ethics of military recruiters. They'd fuck over someone just as readily as an IMF bankster.
My first reaction was what Anon hinted at 12:54pm. The biggest plus of a change like this is that admin might notice that some regular faculty work the same or less than the lecturer will.

Some ft faculty have no involvement in campus governance and no semi-admin responsibilities, while a few others have perfected the "least publishable unit" approach to their additional duties. This really irritates the majority of the faculty who pull more than their fair share, so having a point of comparison might be a real plus.
@Woodrowfan: Right. Forgot about those largely because I take them for granted. I've been doing this now for 12 years and so for the most part, I did my prep a long time ago. In my lit. classes I largely stick to the same rotation of materials/texts, and long ago I created a complex system of notes and multi-colored bookmarks that allows me to minimize pre-class prep. Those morning train rides were helpful there. And I do make a point of working in one new text each year -- that's about the most I can handle teaching a 7/7 load. As for handouts, again already done. I have hundreds. But it's funny you mention music because two of my lit. classes have a very heavy music component. The rub there is that I'm a musician and so in some cases, I've been listening to the songs I use since I was 15 -- and youtube is a gift from on high. Finally, as for keeping up with current research, well, you got me there. That's hard to do. I try. If something is immediately relevant to something I'm teaching, I'll get my hands on it, but I'm unable to keep up with things in the way you're suggesting.
The problem is that the college is willing to accept poor instruction if that means that it doesn't have to pay health benefits.

No deck chair rearranging will change the fact that the college is willing to accept poor instruction. Once that's true, wages will decline until they hit the bottom of the level of quality the college will accept. This is true indefinitely.
I was going to write a long reply, but Lee Skallerup Bessette has already said much of what I wanted to say at .

The bottom line is that universities function best when the curriculum is initially designed, regularly tweaked, and redesigned when necessary by the people who actually teach the classes under the average conditions for those classes. Anonymous 7:10 actually sounds like (s)he is doing a pretty good job under the circumstances, but teaching more or less the same thing in the same way for 12 years is hardly the ideal.

I'm in the sort of "teaching track" job that Douglas describes, at a research university. The situation is, as Anonymous 5:15 points out, topsy-turvy; the people who are concentrating on an activity useful mostly to our university, teaching, and getting to know our students and their needs best, do no service,, are paid less, and are not eligible for tenure. Those who do less teaching make the decisions about the curriculum (and evaluate the teaching faculty, whether or not our fields of expertise match), are paid more, and, despite the fact that the university subsidizes their research in various ways, thus increasing the reputation not only of the university but also of the individual faculty member, who becomes more marketable to other universities, are eligible for tenure. The opposite situation would make far more sense (and, back when I was in graduate school, economists theorized that, in order to eliminate tenure, one would need to pay professors more).

At least the arrangement makes some sense at my university, the mission of which is avowedly research. I can't imagine how one could justify the same approach at a community college, where the core mission is teaching. I know it isn't easy, but if your goal is to recognize and make the best use of talented adjuncts, why not put your energy into moving them onto the tenure track, or at least into position with pay equal to, or slightly higher than, their tenure-track colleagues. You'd certainly have your choice of high-quality faculty willing to teach evenings, weekends, you name it.
Hang on. I didn't mean to leave the impression that I've taught the same materials the same way for the last 12 years. But I see that that's exactly the impression I created. Of course I tweak, I adjust, I emphasize different aspects of texts from semester to semester, class to class. It's not all rote. And the readings for my writing classes (I teach both upper level lit and writing) change as well.

This side-thread all began in response to someone who remarked: "Teaching jobs shouldn't be thought of as "by the hour". Period. Unless you want them to treat your students like their responsibility only for the hour." To that, I said that's exactly the length of my responsibility -- pay me more, and give me some job security, etc., I'll extend that length. Then that person came back and said what about preps, grading, keeping up with recent scholarship, etc. That's why I said what I said. At 14 classes a year, actually more like 17 if we include summer, what would you have me do?

This all came about in an odd way, a way that is likely not typical for most adjuncts. At once of my schools, I created three slightly quirky upper-level interdisciplinary courses. They're quirky but just familiar enough that more traditionally minded academics can recognize the period/area. The classes were very popular at the institution where I created them. And so, being a little opportunistic, I shopped slightly different versions of all three to some other schools, and lo and behold, they all took the bait. Cool. It sure beats teaching endless sections of first year writing.
Post a Comment

<< Home

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