Monday, June 23, 2008

Professors, Lecturers, Adjuncts, Oh My!

I'm writing this post because I keep mulling over these two recent ones by Dean Dad. Go read them both - as well as the comments - I'm not offering a full account of either here. I've left a comment to each, but the thing I keep thinking about is about DD's suggestion that parity of compensation becomes possible if we were to eliminate tenure and to bring t-t salaries down while raising adjunct salaries (the idea being that "a class of adjuncts [is] exploited at Wal-Mart levels to make possible endless internal interest-group politicking" in the current system, which is, it seems that Dean Dad is arguing, the fault of faculty on the tenure track or who have tenure and who have job stability and health insurance).

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.
Ultimately, though, even with those measures in place, the only way that we could eliminate adjuncts at my university would be to eliminate course offerings. There is no way to bring lecturer, tenured, and tenure-track salaries in my department down to the extent that we could offer every employee health care and still cover all of the courses that we are required to offer in order to meet with accreditation requirements for the institution and in order for students to be able to satisfy graduation requirements.

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.
So, if we assume that what people are being hired in at has not gone up in five years for the "permanent" lines we've got a pool of resources (if we totally reorganize the working conditions of our permanent employees) that is about 30 people, making somewhere between 40 and 90K per year plus health insurance. Even if we just wanted to give health insurance to every adjunct who teaches at least 3 or 4 courses, say, that would mean needing to do it for approximately 70 people (my department employs somewhere around 125-150 adjuncts a semester, I would estimate). Somebody tell me how the math would work out, because I feel like it's pretty much an impossibility, if we are going to keep any professors at a wage where they can pay back their student loans, etc.

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.


New Kid on the Hallway said...

I'm not entirely sure DD's posts were a call to faculty, because I agree with you that faculty aren't usually in positions to change these things, and I don't think he was saying that. I'm not sure he saw it as the fault of the t-t/tenured faculty themselves as much as the result of having them around, which isn't quite the same thing. (I'm not saying I agree with his analysis, just that I didn't read it as a critique of those t-t/tenured faculty themselves.)

My problem with his ideas is not about getting rid of tenure (which I've blathered about before) but lowering t-t salaries - because at least in my field, at a lot of institutions and ranks, they're already pretty damn low. And I do think "market-driven" hirings are problematic because it would disadvantage the liberal arts, and because the "market" tends to be about what will get people jobs, and I don't believe education should be about getting people jobs (or at least, not ONLY about that). That is, there's a fundamental difference between a university's economic interests, and individuals' educational interests, and there's a reason why faculty, who've studied these issues for years, should be the ones setting the curriculum, not uni CFOs or students. And what DD describes as "market" driven is essentially letting the students determine the curriculum.

(Don't get me wrong, I don't think there's a problem with someone getting a purely vocational education, if that's what they want. But if so, they should attend a purely vocational institution. If "society" [whatever that means] has deemed a BA of value, and of different value than an AA in air-conditioning repair, then it needs to look different from the AA in A/C repair, not be the same degree on a fancier campus. This sounds incredibly patronizing, but if "society" wants an educated workforce, presumably it needs to recognize that in fact, it does pay faculty to have expertise in things it doesn't, and that therefore it can't - via what DD calls the market - tell faculty what they should be teaching, what that education should look like. If that makes any sense - I'm kind of ranting here.) (I think one of the problems with discussion college educations is that almost everyone in the public who's interested has one, so they think they're an expert in how a uni should run! I mean, if you get your appendix out, you don't believe you know enough to tell a surgeon how to do it, but if you get a BA, you believe you know enough to say how a uni should be run.)

Me, I'd like to see the creation of salary-parity by *raising* adjunct salaries, and giving them benefits. Which would require an influx of cash, or turning away students. I realize neither of these is at all realistic, because universities have economic interests as well as educational ones. But part of me says, "well, maybe the courses *shouldn't* go on until state administrations are willing to give more money to universities to ensure benefits to all instructors" (who want them. Some adjuncts probably don't).

My other reaction is that the word "market" doesn't work in relation to the academic job situation, and this comes from reading (part of) Bousquet's book on how the university works. One of his central points is that the academic job "market" is not at all a market, because it's completely manipulated by university administrations, both for grad students and faculty. (There's clearly a "market" for the courses, as you point out, and it's administrative decisions on how to staff those courses that create this "market," not any absolute economic laws.) That's not the best summary of what he says because it's been a little while since I looked at the book, but I think anyone who wants to talk about the "market" in academic hiring needs to read Bousquet. (I should review the argument and come back...)

Sorry, that's long! (But you're patient with me! ;-D)

Inside the Philosophy Factory said...

I don't know how the reallocation would work, but I can tell you that in my state we have a pretty strong union -- that covers adjuncts.

As a result, we have the following:
1) a requirement that 70% of all courses be taught by full-time tenure track people.
2) Anybody who teaches at least 4 credits is paid on the same pay scale as the full-time tenure track people. So, when I was an adjnct teaching 3 sections (9 credits) per semester, I was making 30% of the annual salary for the full-time people. At a 80% load, I was eligible for health insurance and at a 100% load, they would pay for all of it.

The result is that it cost the same to have me teach the course as it did for someone else to do so.

You ask what the faculty can do to make things more equitable -- estabilishing a union and/or insisting that their union cover EVERY teaching position is a start. That is what happened here, and it is the only reason I find my high union dues acceptable.

Doctor Pion said...

You nailed it. (I also had a similar point along the lines of "DD keeps pretending that the current system was unilaterally created by the faculty".) Today he was all agressive-defensive just because it was pointed out Friday that most of his premises were bogus.

Like you said, it isn't the faculty who decide to hire adjuncts. At our college, I have no voice in the matter except to praise the admins for making sure it does not get worse even as I pay for it by having my real wages fall. [It is very clear from the budget that we have traded new t-t lines for a pay increase this year.]

Ditto for your points about exactly who would make all of the curricular decisions if there isn't a permanent faculty to do it. DD would have to really earn his salary if he had to coordinate the content in all large-enrollment courses with multiple instructors!

Anonymous said...

isn't this all about paying as little as possible for goods and services? because what I hear in DD's post is the argument that colleges and universities aren't paying faculty as little as they could, given that there are so many qualified candidates. And if they did, that would be a good thing. Hence, the notion that faculty salaries are somehow bloated.

They can only be bloated, though, in relationship to how much money said college or university is making, whether the profit is in proportion to the expense of employing folks.

if the primary purpose of the institution is not to make money? What becomes of this conversation then?

Dr. Crazy said...

NK: I think you're right that DD's posts really weren't a call to faculty. However, he does seem to trace inequalities in labor practices at universities to how faculty positions are funded, and his solution that he proposed (as a brainstorming thing) was that faculty who are paid reasonably should take one for the team in order to fix a broken system. My thought is that maybe administrative decisions like hiring or enrollment goals should perhaps actually have faculty input - that maybe these issues which have been conventionally outside faculty purview should be shared governance issues? Or not. I don't know. I like what Bousquet has to say about the market and higher ed, too.

IPF: A strong union can really make a difference. My particular situation is one in which (barring changing laws at the state level) this is just not a possibility.

Dr. P: I wonder if some of the way this whole thing escalated over at DD's has to do with the fact that he doesn't really respond to comments most of the time (a), the ideologies of some who comment and who can have a tendency to derail conversations (b), and DD's seeming dislike for faculty factions at his own institution(c). I think it's easy for such discussions to rage out of control with those three factors in place. I really did feel badly that I thought he felt attacked by my first comment, but I think that I was a strident as I was because I felt like his brainstorming was attacking faculty, so I responded in kind. Hmmm. But the thing is, I think that the way that initial comment thread went had a lot to do with things beside that post but that did have to do with the way that the blog as a whole works as a space for conversation. I'm thinking that maybe I should comment a bit less over there for a bit.

Anastasia: Yes, your final question really is the question, isn't it? Or, conversely, what if the institution needs to make some money, but the way to do that isn't through pitting faculty against one another, as they are only one part of the money-making apparatus of the institution, and ultimately not the biggest part?

A final thought that I've had since posting is that the argument about diverting funds from permanent faculty lines to non-permanent workers is not unlike arguments that people make against passing school levies when bond issues have just been passed. People don't understand that money for buildings and infrastructure can't be used for hiring new teachers or teacher's aides, etc. The same confusion seems to be at work in this discussion, I think.

Doctor Pion said...

NKotH: I'm pretty sure he is writing his blog for faculty. Little of it has to do with the job of being Dean.

Dr. C: I think he projects some of the problems he has (and possibly exacerbates) with his own faculty onto those in his pseudo blog college. Given the high odds that he is dealing with budget problems that he would rather solve by running to a new job (from what I gather, he has never stayed in the same admin job for more than a few years), he could be a bit touchy right now. Even Deans are people.

I love your long comments when you drop in on my blog and marvel at your ability to write long, well-constructed essays on the fly in your own blog, so don't stop commenting over there. You might, however, let it simmer for a bit. I saw the preview over on IHE Sunday evening, but made a deliberate decision to think about it and see what develops before adding my comments.

FYI - His blog appears immediately when posted to IHE, but is "scheduled" for the morning hours on the blogspot one we normally comment on. For example, Tuesday's blog about the new hire to Dean transition is already up on IHE.

And, by the way, it happens to talk about his job as Dean with only the odd reference to annoying faculty.

New Kid on the Hallway said...

Dr. Pion - I don't think writing for faculy is exactly the same as, in that post, saying that faculty are responsible for/in control of the hiring practices in question. In fact, he talks about being Dean a LOT. (It might often be deaning with respect to faculty, but it's a very deanly blog.) I do agree with Dr. C though that he's expecting tenured/t-t faculty to "take one for the team," though.

Dean Dad said...

It's strange reading about yourself in the third person.

No, the piece wasn't about blaming faculty. If you re-read your own paragraph that starts with "Obviously, Something Must Be Done," you'll realize that you've backed into the exact same points I made.

Given crunched budgets and constant or growing demand, how, exactly, do we satisfy both?

The answer the profession has settled upon, without meaningful debate, has been to divide faculty into two groups: full-time and adjunct. The low wages of the adjuncts make possible the much higher wages of the full-timers. In trying to do the math, you found the exact same thing.

That's why "who decides" is a much less important issue. The math makes much of the decision for you. Dr. Pion can trash me all s/he wants; it doesn't change the basic fact that we're spending more than we're taking in, and we're doing it with LESS administration than ever before. The rest is just demagogic rhetoric.

I'm completely with you on national health insurance, btw.

In response to the alleged "call to faculty," I'll just note that it isn't about what you should do or what I should do. It's a structural issue, not a personal one, and it needs to be addressed structurally. Personalizing a structural flaw just leads to unproductive personal attacks, as we've seen over the last several days.

In response to Anastasia, I'll note that public colleges are nonprofit, so the 'how much profit should they make' question is moot.

Dr. Crazy said...

I agree that it's a structural issue, but the question (for me) is whether faculty have a role in that structural issue. If they do, I'd like to know what that role is. If they don't, I wonder at the responsibility that faculty (on the t-t, tenured) are assigned for current inequities. That's all that I'm saying. If it's structural, shouldn't the *whole* structure be examined? I'd say yes, but perhaps I'm missing something.

I don't feel like Dr. Pion (who comments on your blog as CC Physicist) was trashing you. I think that Dr. Pion was actually trying to defend you to me, in a fashion. I understand why you didn't take it that way, but I felt like I should note my perception of that comment.

And it *does*, as far as I can tell, matter who decides. In my position, untenured and without power, I can decide whatever I think is right, but at the end of the day, that doesn't *count*. What counts is who has the power to decide, and yes, actual people have that power. I'd go further and say that when one writes a blog, it *is* about the person writing - there's no way of getting around that or outside of it. Yes, there are things that one can do to generalize and to take the focus off of one, but at the end of the day, a dean, or a blogger, is a figurehead of a sort. Whatever ideas the person puts forward are ultimately filtered through the persona that one's audience assigns to one. In that way, it *is* about the individual person, however much we may wish that weren't the case.

And in terms not of blogging but of actual action, I'd say that this is about the individual person as well. Every cause needs somebody who's willing to serve as a figure-head for it. Every cause needs an enemy. When you note that English professors should take a pay cut, I respond personally, because I'm an English professor. That's not about brainstorming or about structure: that's about how much money I make. Yes, I take it personally. When a person calls you out on your blog and says that your "proprietary college" experience is rearing its ugly head, you take it personally - because you used to work at one. It's a personal attack - it's not just hypothetical or tossing out some ideas. Neither one is "more" personal. Both are just personal. And people respond in kind. Note: I apologized to you (even though I neither called you out personally nor called your post Swiftian): you didn't apologize to me.

As for your comment to Anastasia: sure, public colleges are, for tax purposes, non-profit. But how much money they bring in does matter. I know this because I work at a state university. Hers was a fair question, even if "technically" state schools are non-profit. If a school's not bringing money in, they can't grow as the state wants them to. That's a fact. Maybe it's not profit in the technical sense, but it is making money.