Thursday, January 26, 2012


Friday Follow-ups

A few follow-ups to issues that came up this week:

In response to the “rejection” post earlier this week, one commenter suggested that ageism is rampant in faculty hiring.  S/he offered no particular evidence for the claim, but stated it as a sort of “everybody knows.”

Like many “everybody knows” claims, I haven’t seen it.  Over the past several years, my college has hired faculty in their twenties and faculty in their sixties, with many in between.  The processes for screening applicants are rigorous enough that it’s hard to imagine that kind of bias making itself felt very often.  At my previous college, the same was true.

That’s not to say that my own experience is universal, obviously, but it does make me wonder about the pre-emptive certainty of the claim, and the purpose served by asserting it.  Presumably, if the practice were ubiquitous, I would have seen it by now.  Instead, the charge gets thrown around, but without proof.  It’s hard to prove a negative, of course, but the charge feels a little like working the referee.  

If anything, I’d think the valid concern would go the other way.  With colleges adopting “tiered” benefits packages based on date of hire, newer employees will never get the level of benefits of their elders.  That sure smells like age discrimination to me...


In reference to yesterday’s post about cost (among other things), a commenter asked how I could assert ever-rising costs for colleges in the face of flat salaries for faculty.

That’s an easy one.  Costs include much more than salaries.

The elephant in the room for any discussion of labor costs is health insurance.  When the cost of employer-provided insurance goes up, then labor costs go up, even if salaries remain flat.  The employee might not feel it, but the employer absolutely does.  From the employer’s perspective, an increase in the cost of benefits is no different than a raise.  

This is why I pull out what little hair I still have whenever I read the New Faculty Majority’s advocacy of the “Vancouver model” for paying adjuncts.  Vancouver is in Canada.  In Canada, health insurance is not attached to employment.  If you don’t account for that, then you miss the point.  Establish single-payer health insurance in America, and we can get a handle on the adjunct compensation issues.  Until then, we use adjunct compensation to get a handle on health insurance.  


The IHE survey of provosts made for fascinating reading.  The two findings that jumped out at me were the Lake Wobegon effect and the provosts’ views of unions.

The Lake Wobegon effect -- “where every child is above average” -- applied both to academic standards and the effects of funding cuts.  Substantial numbers of provosts reported that grade inflation and declining academic performance are major issues, but only at other places.  And funding cuts will reduce quality on their campuses, even though they haven’t yet.

Many commenters took those responses as evidence of denial.  That may be, but there’s also a sense in which they have to give those answers.  A chief academic officer with a conscience would resign if s/he thought that academic standards had declined on her watch.  But if you don’t deploy the threat of decline in the future, it becomes hard to argue against further cuts.  So you adopt a seemingly contradictory view.

The responses on unions were portrayed as negative, though I read that as a function of the question asked.  If you assume that unions exist primarily to benefit their members, then the answers given necessarily follow.  That doesn’t necessarily imply that unions are objectionable; it just means that their first priority is their membership.  (The same argument holds about the claim that corporations exist primarily to make money.  Of course they do.  The relevant question is whether they accomplish a broader social good anyway.)  I don’t see the contradiction between saying that unions exist primarily to serve their members, and that they’re generally positive anyway.  Are they helpful, or self-interested?  Yes.  Just like corporations.  

per your ageism comment, i applied for a particular position with my local state U. i went through 2 interviews with separate people, then a third interview where i sat in front of a board and they fired questions at me (out of around 50 questions, i missed one half of 2 2-part questions. that is it. i made a 98%). i then interviewed with the CIO of the U. i was told my offer letter was to be expected within 2 weeks. 1 week into that 2 weeks, i got a call and was told that the position was being folded out due to reorganization. i later was told by a good friend (who worked in the same dep't to which i was applying) that i was too young, and my age set a lot of people off for such a high position. i was 24.

there's your example.
In reference to yesterday’s post about cost (among other things), a commenter asked how I could assert ever-rising costs for colleges in the face of flat salaries for faculty.

Every time contract negotiations start here, the government makes a big deal, in public, about how the major cost of education is salaries, and greedy teachers are the reason education costs so much. They did that while our salaries were frozen for a decade. (I'm in Canada, so health insurance isn't a factor.)

So for my particular circumstances I sympathize with the original commentator. I teach more students for less money than I did a decade ago, and yet I am being publicly blamed for the cost of education going up.

Something doesn't add up — and I know my numbers are right…
A few years ago, our health insurance premiums and plans radically changed mid-year (all of a sudden, we were paying deductibles and routine lab exams became part of the deductible), and we were not allowed to change plans for six months, until open enrollment. At least in my state, faculty and other state employees shouldered the burden of the health insurance premium increase, not the state.

During this same time, my salary held constant for three years, despite my receiving a change in rank promotion which should have helped offset the increase in health insurance costs as well as the other regular cost increases in things like daycare, property taxes, etc.

So yes, I agree with the original commenter as well.
For what it's worth, I've had to deal with health insurance for companies in the private sector, and it's not unusual for costs to rise so much in one year that a company will shift to a plan that's both more expensive and covers less than the previous one, because the only other choices are to stick to the original plan and have costs go even higher, or pick a plan with costs that match the original costs and deal with radically less coverage. So they split the difference and employees get a plan that costs more, but not as much as it could, and covers less, but not as much less as it could.

That's not always what happens, but I've seen it more than once. The insanity of the system is enough to make a man go stabby. It's even more screwed up than you think it is.
Brother of Dean Dad--

If you are replying to the Anonymous comment above about the health insurance premiums changing midstream, that is fine. However, I would also guess that in the private sector, many people have either received a (1) cost of living increase in the past few years, (2) some type of holiday bonus (not saying in the thousands, but even some sort of token) or (3) at the very least, some type of increase in salary when they receive a promotion. My promotion was awarded in April 2008 and went into effect that September. I'm still waiting for the $1000 that goes along with that promotion. I can't imagine that is how things are routinely handled in the private sector.

I'm still going to agree with the original commenter. It's not fair to blame faculty salaries as the reason the costs of higher ed are so high. I'm not seeing it at my CC.
My private employer has done exactly the dance Bro of DD describes, and we do it more or less every year. Not only have we not had offsetting raises, we've had to cut staff, redistributing the work load among the remaining employees. No Holiday bonuses either.

So, we are working much more now, and enjoying it much less. All this talk about the recession ending 2 years ago is bunk. Still, no one here has quit. Everyone is grateful to have even a crappy job.

Meanwhile, our local public school system continues to hand out raises, which will be factored into generous pensions. I know lots of folks who wish they'd gone into teaching. The amount we are spending on education is not sustainable.
"I know lots of folks who wish they'd gone into teaching" - this rant is for those folks:

First of all, those folks could get a teaching degree.

Secondly, I'd like to see how those folks manage even a week in our high school. Maybe they could sub a few days to see if they're really up for it.

Thirdly, I don't know where people get the idea that teachers make so much money. My husband has been teaching full time for 11 years and makes $31,000. I'm only in my 4th year, so I've yet to break the $30,000 mark.

Lastly, whatever jobs those folks have right now (unless they're politicians) are probably not the punching bags for everything that is wrong in society. The continuing demoralizing attitude towards teachers is terrible. It makes me feel like ranting anonymously like I have here, because I feel like teachers should fight back against how we're portrayed.
Let's make clear that by "get a handle on" you mean "deny." You are balancing the books by denying health insurance to adjuncts, as a matter of policy.
Ah, I can always count on a conservative to blame working people for the failures of management.
I don't deny that teaching is a hard job, and I doubt I would be any good at it. Still, in my school district in CT the average teacher makes $65k +, has health insurance with very low co-pays, and can retire with a substantial pension well before Social Security kicks in. Couple that with lifetime job security upon reaching tenure, and that looks like a pretty sweet deal to those of us who are struggling in private industry.

Our CT politicians have opted for a zero-growth approach to the state economy (manage the decline, ramp up taxes and regulation, encourage business outmigration). In this environment, teachers begin look like a protected class, and taxpayers footing the bill wonder about shared sacrifice.
First, the differences in education spending from one school district to another are simply mind boggling.

Second, the US spends 5.7% of it's GDP on education. This is significantly more than some countries that whomp us on standardized tests, like Japan (3.6%), and significantly less than other countries that whomp us on standardized tests, like Denmark (8.5%). I see no evidence it is an intrinsically unsustainable number though (unlike our health care).

Fascinatingly, the highest correlate with higher % of GDP spent on education? % of working mothers.
That could mean several things... but I am inclined to not Freak Out about how much we spend on education if the way to get that number down is to take women out of the workforce.
I'd like to echo the point that teaching salaries vary dramatically from state to state. Here in North Carolina, teachers have had a 5-year freezes on salaries and bonuses. That means that a person in her 5th year of teaching is still making the entry-level salary of $30,000.

On a broader note, I know very, very few people, whether in academia, the public sector or the private sector, who have received bonuses or raises (even basic cost of living adjustments) in the past few years. It's grim all over, and rising health insurance costs, are a big part of it.
re: ageism: I was repeatedly told by the VP of my last school that I was too young to really get a permanent position, but I was good enough to renew year after year. Then someone older came along and I was out the door and they were hired. Yet, my performance, my skills, my willingness to learn anything and my service never came into question. I was just too young. At 26. Now I'm 30 and was hired to revamp a program, but am told by senior faculty who vote down every proposal I was hired to make that I'm too young, I don't understand higher ed abd maybe when I hit my 40s I'll see what they see. It's never about my actual work and all about my age. Oh yeah, and I'm repeatedly called Kiddo. because that's ok, right? Because I'm so young? Not so much.

Oh yeah and my colleague is also young, and her position won't get renewed, after she did everything they asked. It's easier for them to higher another new person (and cheaper) than to just let us actually GROW in a position.
can retire with a substantial pension well before Social Security kicks in

I put 13% of my before-tax salary into my 'generous pension'. I don't know anyone in the private sector paying 13% into their pension plan, for all they complain about my 'taxpayer funded*' plan.

*It's not taxpayer funded at all. In fact, back when the government controlled it they bought government bonds that paid less than the rate of inflation, and borrowed huge sums from the plan to cover operating expenses. When we got control we had to 'forgive' this borrowing — it was that or have the government declare the entire pension fund government assets. Apparently neocons only consider contracts with companies valid and unbreakable — their own employees can go copulate themselves.

Yes I'm bitter. About 30% of my pension fund vanished, and that was before the stock market meltdown.
Ageism in America:
Here in Colorado, a number of teachers have been laid off. I know several experienced teachers who have had their salaries cut so that they now make less than $30,000. My mother - who lives and worked in New York State - had a "large" pension of about $17,000 after some 20+ years of working in two school districts. I am a public employee and we haven't had a raise in four years. I'm with the other commenters - if you wish you had gone into teaching, go get a degree and try to go into teaching. Just shut up and stop trying to tear down what remains of our public education system.

[Sorry for the rant - I am just so sick and tired of listening to unsubstantiated teacher-bashing - and I am not a teacher!].
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I'm glad Edmund (@9:11AM) mentioned the state, since CT is near the top of any income list. That average teacher makes a bit less than the average (meaning typical = median) family in Connecticut, and well below the median for some counties in that state. Teachers in my state also fall a bit below the median, which is why a HS math teacher's starting pay (even with decades of experience as, say, an engineer) is around 30 k$.

As for what a different CC Prof wrote on IHE about pay and cost, even the cost of health insurance varies with region and the size of the "group" that makes the deal. Maybe DD (and other leaders) need to do what our college does, which is distribute info on total compensation so their faculty know what is going on with their budgets. Sadly, they don't have (or won't share) that data over the last 30 years for comparison to our total budget per student.

My problem with what CC Prof wrote is that the context was far from clear. Was the statement about CCs or large universities or private colleges?

Costs at my CC have gone up, of course, but so has the number of students. Tuition has gone up because state funds have fallen drastically, not because of any "cost disease". I know I am more "productive" than 10 years ago. But one cost area has grown drastically, as we recently added a half dozen or so non-teaching professionals to the cost side of the ledger without adding anything on the income side.

In that last area, we are emulating the large universities where it is clear the cost of education has far outstripped inflation in the period I looked at (from 1970 to before the '08 depression) for one school. Only a small fraction of their tuition increase was due to cuts in state funding. Some of that is definitely faculty salaries, as they competed for top research faculty, but administrative support for research and new buildings also played a role.
I've been reading this blog for years, and I still have no idea why tuition went up so much. I know it's different for different institutions, but I don't feel like I know what happened in any given institution.
With regard to teacher pensions, here's the problem; 13% of salary for 40 years will only buy a pension of about 45% of final pay. If the final pension is more than 50% of pay, the rest of it is coming from taxpayers.

(Using 2.5% annual pay increase, 4%interest, and an online immediate annuity quote site.)

Your comments, as always, are most provocative. You must be enjoying yourself. As a board member of New Faculty Majority though, I have to take exception to your comment about New Faculty Majority’s advocacy of the “Vancouver model” for paying adjuncts, and I worry about you hair, and that you “pull out what little” you have left when you read NFM on such subjects. Please. Whatever your notions about Canada being where it is, and not being in the United States, the published NFM position is that we advocate equity in compensation, job security, academic freedom, faculty governance, professional advancement, benefits, and access to unemployment insurance. The Vancouver Model is but one model that is of interest, and it is a good one, in the opinions of many, and there are others that we discuss. We do not believe that there is one model. Recently, for instance, there has been interest in the model of Fashion Institute of Technology (SUNY), which is in the United States, actually. There were other models discussed at our recent conference in D.C., in conjunction with the American Association of Colleges and Universities. We would have loved to have you there, and to hear your views, if not to know your name. We discuss many models, in fact, and we give a respectful hearing to all of them, but our overall view is that there are many roads to improvement in the currently dreadful working conditions for adjuncts and contingents, who are the majority teaching faculty in the United States. You are always welcome. I am invited below to "choose an identity." I am Dr. Alan Trevithick, Board member, NFM, and adjunct in anthropology and sociology at Fordham University, Westchester Community College (SUNY), and LaGuardia Community College (CUNY). I invite you and all who are interested to discuss models with me at my personal email Please look after your hair.
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