First, let's think about who makes hiring decisions at universities, and how that money is allocated to departments. Ultimately, this is an administrative decision. Departments don't just get a pool of money that they then decide to use as they wish. So it's not like, "Hey, English department, here's 50K that you can have, so you can either hire one lecturer with health benefits who teaches 8 classes a year or you can hire adjuncts to cover adjuncts to cover 16 or 17 classes, none of whom would get benefits." No, lecturers, like tenure-track people, are "lines" that the administration gives or takes a way based on budgetary constraints. Adjuncts make it possible to increase enrollment or at least to keep it at current levels when the budget tanks, thus making the school appear still to be growing even as resources aren't there for new growth.
So, to recap: t-t positions and lecturer positions are "lines" that are allocated by the provost and the dean. You can be promised x lines, but in times of budget shortfall, the lines you think that you have can be axed (for lecturers, as my post last week discussed), and lines you were promised for t-t hiring can be "frozen" or eliminated altogether. None of this has a thing in the world to do with the pool of money available for hiring adjuncts.
Yes, adjuncting jobs are also in jeopardy in times of budget crisis. An attempt is made to streamline based on things like
- offering fewer course releases to permanent faculty, so they pick up classes that adjuncts had historically taught.
- being more stringent about enrollment minimums so that courses that don't make the minimum are canceled.
- increasing enrollment maximums per course, so instead of teaching 25 students you're teaching 28 or 30 per course.
This is not me being an apologist for adjunctification of my field or or the profession generally. Relying so exhaustively on adjunct labor is not a good thing - not because adjuncts are necessarily bad teachers or anything like that but because it's exploitative and just plain wrong. This post is an attempt on my part to think about the (vague) numbers.
- When I was hired in on the tenure-track 5 years ago, I was offered a salary in the high 40s. This was an amazing offer - I have known people in the past 5 years who've received job offers - tenure track ones - in the low 30s in places not much different cost-of-living-wise than mine. In my job, I have a 4/4 load, an expectation of some publication and conference attendance, and a fairly heavy service expectation that includes committee work, advising, service in the community, stuff with students, etc.
- At the same time, a lecturer would have been hired in at a salary in the high 30s (with health insurance). Lecturers have no research requirement for reappointment, and only minimal service is required of them. They also teach a 4/4.
- Adjuncts at my institution make around 2K per course (atrocious, I know). Obviously no service is required of them, nor is publication required of them. Let's say that an adjunct taught 5 courses per semester and 2 in the summer, then that adjunct would be taking home approximately 24K a year, without benefits.
- Add to this the pool of tenured faculty, none of whom make more than about 90K/year I'd say, and most of whom hover in the associate professor zone of the 60s.
But the issue is, the courses must be offered. We will not be getting any new hiring lines in the foreseeable future. Lecturer positions were cut. People who are leaving their job here whether by getting another job or through retirement are not being replaced. Administrative staff positions for small programs were cut. This is how it is.
But in order to support the student body at its current numbers and to fulfill the state's 20whateveritis mission of actually growing the student body (they wanted us to double our enrollment - the president has basically told them that they're on crack given the fact that they've taken away a huge chunk of our budget and we don't have the buildings for all of those students, let alone the instructors), the courses must go on, in some fashion.
So then the question is, should we shrink our enrollments rather than grow it? And if that's the case, what does that mean to open access higher education? And if we are employing grad students from nearby institutions as adjuncts - who have insurance through their schools at which they are students - and we are helping them get needed experience, writing them letters of recommendation, mentoring them, how does that complicate or fail to complicate the compensation structures that we're discussing here?
Obviously, Something Must Be Done. One thing that would surely help would be national health care, but even that wont solve the problem completely. The issue is that we want more - if not all - people to attend at least some college. At the same time, we don't want to hire full-time people to teach those students because it's not "cost-effective." The only answer to that is adjuncts, people. Until we're willing to say that we can't increase enrollments and graduation rates, we can't decrease the number of adjuncts. Or, if we can, you tell me how. 'Cause the reality is that faculty don't make these decisions, at least not at my institution.
The question that keeps rattling around in my head, with that being the case, is what exactly are faculty supposed to do about it - when we don't allocate resources, when we can't use money that we're given for whatever we want? Hell, my department had to play this crazy game this spring with our 2% raise pool in order to convince the administration that just splitting the meager sum across the board wouldn't undermine their insistence that raises should be on "merit." (I believe our argument was something like "all of our faculty are equally meritorious" or something lame like that. The result is that we all got a raise of about a grand. This raise will ultimately allow for us to at least somewhat absorb the increase that's coming for parking as well as a new tax that will be levied against us in the coming academic year.) These decisions, at least as I've seen them be made, aren't faculty decisions. They aren't made to make it possible for faculty to have meaningless turf wars and to huff and puff and posture. Administrators make them, they make tenured faculty in the middle (chairs, directors of writing programs) implement them, and then we all go about our business in a system that is deeply unequal and that compromises those core disciplines that are central to a liberal arts education. As far as I know, tenured and tenure-track faculty don't like the idea of adjunct labor at all. Speaking for myself, I can tell you that it doesn't mean I don't teach service courses, it doesn't free up my time so I an pursue some outside-of-power life of the mind. I think that's often what's implied about faculty on the tenure-track or with tenure - that they benefit from others' misfortune. I just don't think that's true everywhere or that it's really that simple. But at an institution without a union, and without having any administrative power, and, in my case, not even having tenure yet, what exactly is a person to do? And how do we serve thousands of students while reforming the system and revolutionizing higher education?
That's what I want to know.
And is serving students just giving them skills that are quantifiable on a job market? Is there value in giving students a liberal arts education in addition to vocational training? I think there is, but maybe I'm lacking in imagination or something because I value the liberal arts - even for all of my business majors who are taking my summer courses right now. I do believe that traditional disciplines like English and Philosophy and History play an important role in shaping a person's worldview, and I think it's totally bogus to imply that because those disciplines don't have easily translatable market value in the "real world" (note - I say "easily translatable," and not no market value) that they should be left to die. This isn't me saying we can't change how we might think about those disciplines and what they do and how we teach them and the role that they play in the overall curriculum. To my mind, those things are all things we can and probably should do. But just saying, "let the market decide and pay English teachers less," well, yeah, that makes me angry. Not because I'm so special and I can't believe others don't know it, but because I really do think that it's valuable to be able to read a text and to analyze it and to write about it - in any number of "real world" contexts. Just because it's not flashy doesn't mean it's without value.
And then there's the question of grad programs and number of grad students admitted, etc., and I'm not even going to go there in this post. Somebody else can take up that mantle, or maybe I'll get to it another time.
But really, what I want are nuts and bolts answers. How does this sort of brainstorming affect curriculum? How do we achieve such wide-sweeping changes if we want to keep enrollment at consistent if not increased levels? If these are administrative decisions, should it be faculty effectively paying for those decisions by taking pay cuts? Are there ways to think about these problems that fall somewhere in between "Trust the market! Let the market decide!" and "Nothing in these hallowed halls shall ever change!"? Is tenure really the problem, or is something else at the center of these ongoing debates? What is the role of the university in the 21st century? If it's just job training, then do we siphon off the conventional liberal arts disciplines someplace else and just call a spade a spade and be done with it? Why do people go to college if it's not just about job opportunities? How do we serve those interests?
Feel free to answer, comment, offer more questions of your own. Or just continue going about your business until next I provide you with a picture of my Dynamic Duo of Kitty-Cats.