Sunday, May 18, 2014
The Adjunct Adjustment Act
I’m not sure what the AAA would look like, but there’s enough truth to the concept that I don’t want to dismiss it out of hand. Thank you, Jennifer Dalby, for connecting those dots. Now we just have to figure out what the constellation looks like.
One thing that I think you dismiss too easily is the arms race at top research universities and its impact on budgets. Unfortunately, I can't seem to locate the one minor datum I might have from the ancient past on faculty salaries or I would generate at least an anecdote on what top people made "back in the day", although I do know that their teaching load was higher than is common today.
That might not help fund a better mix at community colleges, but more full-time adjunct positions at universities would be a start.
PS - We have a number of full-time tenured faculty who teach in the afternoon and night. Some even prefer that time slot, just as some find better students by teaching at 8:00 AM or earlier. (And either slot can improve the overlap of two working parents with young children.)
Still, the most obvious solution for those people—smart, highly educated, knowledgeable about their situations—is to go find something else to do. That so many of them don't may be a signal of their own quality.
There seem to be many, many people who want to work as adjuncts. I've been digging for an adjunct gig teaching English or grant writing in New York City for the past two semesters; in my real job, I'm a grant writer, but that primarily entails sitting in front of a computer, alone, day after day. I like teaching and think it's important; therefore I'd like to keep doing it. But finding a gig has been much harder than I thought it would be. A lot of people evidently want these jobs and are qualified for them.
Incidentally, we've been hired to do at least one TAACCT. And yes, the acronym is horrible, but not particularly more horrible than many other acronyms we've heard over the years.
Well, great, we've just improved things for all those adjuncts, right, either by giving them higher-status and higher-paid jobs, or at least by giving them more sections and proportionately more pay. Problem solved, right?
Well, half the adjuncts are now doing....something. Running tutoring centers, giving curriculum reform workshops, overseeing mentoring programs, developing digital resources, whatever. Great and important things, and the students are benefiting, but where are their improved salaries coming from? Their instructional salaries have mostly been transferred to other adjuncts. All these new pipeline program coordinators and digital information literacy specialists and cultural center directors and whatnot need salaries. Where are those salaries coming from? What's that? We'll pay them crap wages? Oh, then they're in the same boat they were in as adjuncts. Except that the total amount of crap wages paid had to go up. So the price tag of education _still_ went up.
However, the managerial classes seem to have better luck at getting the political system to fund positions for the managerial class than positions for educators in the trenches. So maybe the political system could be persuaded to fund these positions, if they were labeled Director of Pipeline Programs and Associate Dean for Digital Resources and Deputy Associate Dean of the Cultural Center. In other words, get support for them through the same channels that have been willing (and even eager, through mandates) to support the growth of administrative bloat throughout the system.
If you won't go there, free tuition for adjuncts to take practical courses, and minimal/zero paperwork and hoops to take that benefit (I've seen schools demand evidence that the use of the tuition benefit is going to improve performance in immediate instructional duties) is probably the only way to help them transition. And then you have to also go to the PhD programs and implement an academic birth control program that comes perilously close to the Chinese One Child Policy.
What differentiates them from the people DOL likes to help is that they have advanced degrees. I had a heck of a time selling a grant that went to people with Bachelor's degrees even though it raised their earning potential by about $20 per hour and their chance of employment after the fact was almost 100% guaranteed. I don’t like your chances with folks with doctorates.
This is not a group that needs a DOL program. What they need is a wealthy spouse or sponsor to financially support them (I'm not kidding - half the faculty of my old school had this). Barring that, they need faculty advisors who understand the exigencies of the current job market enough to encourage their students to 1)get internships as an undergrad that prepare them for paid employment after school in a field that they could pursue for at least 10 years, 2)wait a couple years before going to grad school and establish a professional skill – in the sciences this might mean working in a lab as a research associate for a couple of years – critically, establishing your skills so that if you need to go back to industry you have some experience and contacts and 3)allow grad students to have employment outside of school, other than teaching, that could translate into non-academic work. Basically, every student should have a robust back-up plan and should make some real money before going to grad school.
I feel badly for adjuncts because I know that feeling of failure that comes from walking away from academia. But there are lots of other things out there for smart people to do and we should have the self-esteem to say “I’m better than this” even if we are good at teaching, even if we love research, because the reality is that our economic health is important to us, our family, and our community. It is hard to walk away from something that you love but there’s a big world out there and we all deserve to have a part of it that doesn’t involve the 21st century equivalent of starving in a garret for our art.