Wednesday, April 25, 2012


Mandatory Monogamy for Adjuncts?

This story in IHE generated quite the firestorm yesterday, and for good reason.  Apparently, the Education School at the University of Southern California has decided to ban certain adjuncts from teaching at any other college or university as a condition of employment.

The explanation offered by the university -- that it wants someone working full-time in the field -- makes it sound a little less bad, though presumably if that was what they meant, it would have been easy enough to say so.  (I’m no fan of discrimination against the unemployed, either, but at least that would have been easier to defend in this context.)

The closest thing I’ve seen to something like this that made any sense to me was bans on conflicts of interest or double-booking.  For example, if a professor has a 2:00 class on Tuesdays at my college, he can’t also accept a 2:00 class on Tuesdays someplace else.  If he’s someplace else on Wednesdays, it’s really none of my business.  They can moonlight, but moonlighting can’t be an excuse for missing work.  That, I can defend.

But this goes far beyond that.  In exchange for part-time money and no benefits, the adjunct is being banned from teaching anyplace else.

In this case, I have to agree with the New Faculty Majority.  This is just slimy.

I can’t even imagine trying to enforce it.  Honestly, I don’t know which of the full-time faculty are teaching adjunct courses elsewhere, though I’m pretty sure it’s non-zero.  On their own time, faculty can do what adults can do.  If they choose to teach courses elsewhere, I don’t see how that’s different than some of them who do remodeling or landscaping work in the summer.  

As bad as this ad is on its face, any attempt at enforcement would be worse.  If this kind of thing became common practice, would the university be required to act on every report?  If it enforced selectively, I could just see the discrimination lawsuits bubbling up.  And if they acted only on tips, then I could imagine all manner of shady ethical areas in which somebody agreed not to rat somebody else out, if it were made worth their while.  Spin it out over more time and more people, and it just gets worse.

If this became common practice, it would further reinforce the idea -- toxic, to my mind -- that the academic life is so special that the normal rules of civilized society don’t apply to it.  If I hire someone part-time, she’s only accountable for that time; what else she does is her business.  

The university would likely respond that this is an overreaction, and that they merely meant that they wanted someone who’s in the field full-time now.  Even there, though, the whiff of discrimination against the unemployed doesn’t sit right.  

From a public policy perspective, the only way that we’ll make a meaningful dent in the unemployment numbers is...wait for it..for the unemployed to get jobs.  (Technically, we could just call them “discouraged” and write them off, but that feels like cheating.)  That’ll only happen if employers don’t regard getting hit by the Great Recession -- or, in the case of higher education, a fundamentally unsustainable economic model -- as a mortal sin.  

No, thanks.  Even if USC didn’t really think through how this would sound -- my guess -- it’s offensive enough that folks need to make some noise.  This is not how it’s done.

Yes, it's definitely offensive for an employer offering a part time job with no benefits to stipulate that applicants should not try to make a living elsewhere. If they meant that they are searching for someone who is a full-time professional in secondary education, they could've said that.
Indeed. The fact that they didn't think twice before posting that speaks volumes.
It's not clear if they thought once.

Probably didn't start thinking until the press called.
Sounds like they want an experienced person who can take on responsibilities and generate new ideas for their college. And they do not want any other college to have any of those ideas...intellectual property? Like some universities hold the rights to intellectual property generated at their uni?

If this is the case, perhaps the college should pay handsomely for that proprietary knowledge. Otherwise, what are they trying to do?
Wow. From the other side of the pond (where the adjunct thing plays out slightly differently, but not a great deal better), a couple of points.

Most importantly, the statement by USC would be illegal under European employment laws, and surely is under US ones too? If you only pay someone for part-time work, you do not get to stipulate what they do in the rest of their time. It's very simple.

On the other hand, if you ARE a full-time employee, you do not get to take other employment, or certainly not during the 'normal working hours' of your university (say 9-6) at the very least. And no, not during the summer either - for heavens' sake, we're still paid during summers, and we have work to do; either research or teaching prep, or something similar. Anyone with time run a landscaping business during the summer isn't doing their job properly in the first place, and should be subject to disciplinary action. I have to say, I know of no-one who does such a thing, and in fact in my university faculty not taking their statutory 4 weeks' annual leave is the norm - I've never taken more than 3 weeks. Sorry for the ranting, but that kind of behaviour just plays into the hands of those who want to paint academia as lazy, and is pretty soul-destroying for those of us working 6-7 days a week.
Anonymous 11:34--at least at my CC, once June 1 rolls around, we can do as we please. When I was planning maternity leave, I was reminded that we are paid during the summer because that is how the system continues to pay our benefits, such as health insurance and if we received our salary only from September-May, it would be difficult to find a way for those items to be covered. It isn't really considered a time that we are actively doing work for the school. Granted, a lot of us still do, but it's not a mandate. I'm thankful for that, as I have a dean who can't seem to wrap her head around the fact that she can't force us to show up for a 45 minute meeting on some random Thursday in July.

Those people who have landscaping businesses may be trying to make up the difference in what they are paid as a professor and what they need to make ends meet.

When I took my teaching job, I took a 20% salary cut to do so. I have small children and one of the perks I saw was that I'd be home for extended periods of times, so I traded in a higher-paying job for the ability to be with my kids without having to worry. If my school wants me to be available year round, I would hope they would pay me for that time.
USC is getting the 15 minutes of shame it deserves, here. This is a horrible and abusive practice, although I'm willing to grant that it could be born of arrogance and ignorance, rather than malice.

But it seems to me that USC will quickly learn the folly of their ways when they can't find people to take the job.

(European Anonymous - I'm not sure this is illegal in the US, but then, I also don't know CA state law. We're not a terribly labor-rights-friendly country these days, though.)
I think we are all in agreement that this was a very bad idea on their part. I can understand though, in some fields, requiring adjuncts to have a FT job in the field. Nursing, for example, at my previous employer. In order to be an adjunct, you had to be working FT as RN (with your master's, of course). That makes sense.
Offensive, indeed. I suspect that you might have had an issue where an adjunct had the temerity to back out of a course offer on their campus because they could get a better set of courses elsewhere.

In any case, the idea that adjunct jobs are only available to people currently employed full-time in the field is stupid unless it's required for accreditation (which is also stupid)

We have a lot of qualified and experienced individuals who don't have full-time employment but now they're not supposed to work as adjuncts? A school district releases a bunch of junior teachers? All of a sudden someone who's been adjuncting can't anymore? What about retirees? Someone who's left the field due to medical issues but can still teach occasionally?

Such an attitude is detrimental to the students and to the would-be faculty - we can't afford to dismiss prospects for such specious reasons!
Wow. I'm surprised I'm the most cynical of the lot here.
Of course the uni can do this legally- we have no protections for most employees. This is the EXACT thing expected of graduate students- at least at my uni, they were paid as 20 hours/week on paper, but who on earth would ever graduate doing only that? And they most certainly did stipulate in writing we would not work elsewhere without permission of the dean (which I am not aware of ever being granted).
Moreover, if a grad student was working for a faculty member on their granted funded research, who wouldn't get kicked on the curb pronto if they tried to get away with 'just doing what they were paid for'?

And of course they can find people to take the deal, and live off foodstamps or half starve themselves to do it. There are just that many desperate PhDs out there. Offensive or not, they'll get away with it.

And... I strongly suspect.... of course they knew what they were doing. It's legal, it's common practice. The fact it's completely unethical is peanuts compared to the other two precedents.

In most unis, contingent faculty are more akin to migrant laborors working in agriculture than they are to tenured faculty belonging to a union. The gulf is enormous. Probably, the system would be much healthier with some happy medium for all, but good luck getting that implemented. The current faculty are fearful of loosing what they have, fearful of loosing the *fact* that they have more than others, and the current administrators can see that if they can just wait for everyone to die off a golden age of *all* contingent faculty is right around the corner...
Actually, I suspect that the requirement is *not* legal, even the requirement that someone be employed full-time professionally in the field to get a p-t teaching job is likely to be illegal. The general rule for requirements like this is that they be clearly related to the job responsibilities. It's not clear (to me) that either of these is.

On the other hand, my institution has what it calls a "conflict of commitment" policy that applies only to full-time employees. Before we can accept paid employment outside, we need the approval of our immediate supervisor. Generally, for faculty, part-time teaching gigs do not get approved, because those other institutions are our competitors. (OTOH, non-faculty personnel can generally accept pt- teaching at other institutions.)
I have to agree with Becca. You can run, but ultimately you can't hide, from market discipline. This is symptomatic of massive labor oversupply.
This is the EXACT thing expected of graduate students- at least at my uni, they were paid as 20 hours/week on paper, but who on earth would ever graduate doing only that? - Becca

A lot of people, actually. The vast majority of people I went to graduate school with lived like that. And to be honest, most of us were thrilled out of our minds to be lucky enough to be in school, have tuition covered, and be able to survive by teaching a couple of classes. If you count the financial incentives of having tuition paid for, it's an excellent deal. Perhaps someone with familial obligations or a mortgage who is going to graduate school later in life might not be able to live off of that, but just because you might not have been able to do it doesn't mean that other people can't.

That said, I agree with both you and Dean Dad that this is a terrible idea for adjuncts. But for a grad student, it's a pretty damned good deal.
Mikey G.- some subsets of grad students are probably more workaholic oriented than other. My advisor made me sign a statement to the effect that I understood I would need to be working 50-60 hours/week if I expected to graduate in a reasonable timeframe (precisely because he didn't like the wording of the 20 hour/week 'half time appointment'). This was in biomedical research, being funded off NIH grant money. I'm sure it's different when your research is cheaper and the grant stakes are not so high. This was at an medical school, so there were no TAships to fall back on.

And yeah, even if it was 20 hours/week, the fact that opportunity costs are not obvious tend to make grad school seem like a much sweeter deal than it actually is. It's only a "pretty damned good deal" if you can't do math (or plug numbers into retirement calculators). Having a salary one can live off of *for a short period in your youth IF you are very privileged* is a pretty low bar. By that standard, both adjuncting and walmart could be considered "pretty damn good deals".
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