Monday, January 13, 2014
Ask the Administrator: Which is the Lesser Evil?
I’m given a dollar amount budget to hire adjunct faculty for my department. I translate this into the number of sections I can have adjuncts teach. Ordinarily I’ve hired them to teach two courses each semester because this brings them some benefits that don’t come with one course. A relatively recent rule change allows us to hire adjuncts to teach three courses a semester, and increasingly, people are asking to teach three. I find myself struggling to decide between providing more people with two courses each and fewer people with three courses each. There are all sorts of pros and cons I can weigh, but in the end I can't see which alternative is the lesser of two evils (the evils of exploiting these people in the first place, of course).
Have a question? Ask the Administrator at deandad (at) gmail (dot) com.
So balance it.
For example, assume there's an obligation of offering one office hour per week per section (it wouldn't surprise me if some per-section adjunct requirement or other scaled like that, if not literally one office hour per class, which I'm choosing for easy-math and easy-visualization reasons). Now, if someone's teaching three sections, that gives students in all of their sections three different times a week that might work rather than only two. If those times are all out of different class periods it makes it much more likely that a given student will have at least one of them free.
Also, is the person teaching 3 sections likely to be able to get by only working at your school rather than picking up sections at other schools as well? You're likely to get more focus from them if they're only trying to hold down one job, and if 2 versus 3 makes that difference it's something to consider. It may make the adjunct feel more a "real" part of the school, which is both cynically useful to you and ethically problematic in ways that have been covered here may times before, but divided attention versus sole attention is a real thing to consider.
My solution is to make sure that you don't have a number that is divisible by both 2 and 3!
And you won't, because in my experience the number of sections where we need adjuncts varies between fall and spring semesters as well as from year to year. I'm not in that job (thank goodness) but the parts of it that I have to be involved in make it clear that we cut it a lot closer in the fall than in the spring.
So I would argue for an arrangement where they all get at least 2 in the spring and more of them get 3 in the fall.
I have been an adjunct for about 20 semesters. Adjuncting was my part-time job for many semesters. I only wanted one class when I got a full time job not in teaching.
My vote is give one class to an adjunct with <3 semesters of experience as an adjunct if salaries are lower than surrounding schools. Then they can get another one or two classes at another school. Leave an hour between classes at the same cc, so the adjunct can immediately critique his/her lesson plan and make adjustments for the next class.
Give experienced adjuncts (>3 semesters) two classes. Two classes gives the adjunct excellent experience to make tweaks to lessons, and how the tweaks work.
Only give three classes to anyone if there are very few good adjuncts available. By giving less experienced adjuncts one class, and more experienced adjuncts two classes, you can help the newer ones gain experience and you will have a larger pool of experienced adjuncts after a while.
After everyone's minimum load was fulfilled, additional sections are offered to those who are a) qualified and b) interested, in order of seniority, up to the contractually-specified threshold for maximum part-time employment. After that, if there are still classes to be covered, new people can be hired from outside the unit.
This prevents the University from stringing along a large pool of people on one or two classes at a time. It allows people for whom this is their main job a way to make enough money that they can afford to teach at just one school. It gives flexibility to those adjuncts who really only want one or two classes. And it save Dept Heads the hassle of having to run around finding and then supervise & evaluate a whole bunch of un-tested new people all the time. The dept. heads who were on the University's negotiating team were very happy about this last point.
Most importantly, because the practice is right there in the contract in black & white, everyone knows what to expect and there's a lot less tension and fewer problems to deal with surrounding course assignments.
And the final, obvious point: part-time contingent faculty members (I was one for 5 years) are in many cases extremely dedicated faculty members, but, ate least in the case of adjuncts who are trying to make a living by adjuncting, faculty work conditions really do dictate student learning conditions. Trying to figure out how best to schedule adjuncts has a certain rearranging-the-deck-chairs-on-the-Titanic quality to it.
The other thing to think about is the wages/course load tradeoff. Most adjuncts would prefer to teach as few classes as possible at as few schools as possible for the maximum amount of money possible. Different schools fit into different places in that equation, with community colleges often being able to offer more classes (because of overall demand, and because of the course load of their full-time faculty, which often affects the maximum adjunct course load) but lower wages, and private universities often being able to offer higher wages but fewer classes. The overall good of the local higher ed community will be maximized if each school offers its adjuncts as many classes as possible at the highest wages possible. Schools at either end of the spectrum (high class load/low wages; lower class load/higher wages) need to maximize the benefit they can offer, both in order to attract the best adjuncts to themselves, and to contribute as much as they can to the overall health of the market/community. Those who can offer a larger number of classes should (and should do their best to maximize wages as well); those who can offer higher wages should (while also trying to maximize number of classes).
Seriously, I dunno, you're talking about how to exploit people less awfully. I don't know how to compartmentalize that well. I'd be stuck on "these are human beings and we need to make health care and basic human decency happen for them". But I understand that's socialmalism.