Thursday, August 12, 2010

Full-Timers with Overloads

This piece in IHE, and its comments, hit home with me. It’s a variation on a dilemma I face every single semester.

Broadly, it’s about the zero-sum truth that if professor X gets assigned a particular class, then it cannot also be assigned to professor Y. When there’s a limited number of sections of a given course or in a given discipline, and they both want the same one, someone has to lose. Determining who has to lose is the enviable job of administration.

Apparently, the solution at Madison Area Technical College has been to allow full-time faculty to load up on overloads first, until they hit a certain ceiling, and then to allow the adjuncts whatever is left. It’s an imperfect solution at best -- not my personal perference, certainly -- but the comments to the piece largely miss the point.

The issue is not that someone has to lose. That will happen in any system. If you increase your percentage of full-time faculty, you will jettison adjuncts to make room for them. If you increase your number of adjuncts, you probably do it by giving them fewer classes each, or as a way to decrease your full-time faculty. If you go with full-on ‘parity,’ you either hike tuition to the moon -- thereby hurting your students -- or you reduce the pay of full-time faculty to some median level, which is sure to be popular. (In the cc world, “administrative bloat” is largely chimerical, and sports just aren’t a big ticket item. We have fewer deans and fewer teams on my campus now than we did just two years ago. Financially, those wells are dry.)

Although overloads are actually quite common, I rarely see them discussed when people talk about adjunct ratios. Full-timers teaching overloads fall between categories. When determining something as basic as “the percentage of classes taught by adjuncts,” how should the overload sections be counted? I have departments in which the overload sections are as plentiful as adjunct sections; depending on how you choose to count them, you could wind up with very different pictures of what’s going on. If the argument is based on perceived quality or health insurance, I’d argue that the full-timers are full-timers. If the argument is based on salary, it’s more context-dependent.

I’ll admit some cognitive dissonance in talking to full-time faculty who manage to complain about their teaching load and then volunteer for overloads simultaneously. From a labor solidarity perspective, I could imagine a good argument for a full-timers’ union to cast a skeptical eye on overloads, since significant and sustained overloads cast some doubt on claims from workload. Folks who teach overloads also tend to be less available for committee meetings, since they’re more likely to be in class at any given time. Others have to do more unpaid labor so they have time to do more paid labor. It doesn’t smell right, and it somewhat discredits the idea that full-timers should be paid more because of their college service. If they aren’t available to do that college service, what, exactly, are we paying for?

I don’t know if there’s an elegant solution to this, but it’s nice to see the issue acknowledged.

Wise and worldly readers, when you ask about a college’s adjunct percentage, how would you could sections taught by full-timers as overloads?