The average [professor] owes over one hundred thousand dollars in [grad] school loans, and makes about as much as a waiter.
March 26, 2012 3:58 PM   Subscribe

The Adjunct Project: Profs on Food Stamps(via)

Started by Josh Boldt, the adjunct project seeks to draw attention to the plight of adjunct professors, who teach over 70% of university courses but are generally paid around $2.5k per course (about $20k per year).
posted by Orange Pamplemousse (109 comments total) 44 users marked this as a favorite

 
Hello, future of mine. :-/
posted by Scientist at 4:25 PM on March 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Adjuncting was killing me. I make 2x as much now at a job that doesn't even require a Bachelor's degree. I will never go back to academia.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 4:28 PM on March 26, 2012 [8 favorites]


Unions -- they're not just for blue collars.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 4:30 PM on March 26, 2012 [27 favorites]


I was just reading this Chronicle article a few hours ago and somehow missed the link to the spreadsheet, which is especially ironic given the fact that after I read the article I went searching online (to no avail) for hard documentation on adjunct pay.

I love to teach, especially at the University level, but decided early on that being an adjunct (especially after factoring travel costs and preparation time) was going to amount to a meager hourly rate in return for enough headaches that my quality of life and ability to do my own work would be compromised. I'm interested in getting more involved in the movement/s that seek to address these issues though, because it's an exploitive system that short-changes everyone except those at the top of the heap (y'know, like a lot of systems here in the U.S.).
posted by stagewhisper at 4:31 PM on March 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


We need a project that finds non-academic jobs for adjuncts, or at least adjuncts in STEM fields. Too many students are simply institutionalized.
posted by jeffburdges at 4:31 PM on March 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


Why are there so many grad students/adjunct profs? Why do they agree to take on such monstrous debt? This is a smart group of people.

My own bias is that being a professor sounds like the most agreeable and understandable career path to an undergraduate student.
posted by 2bucksplus at 4:31 PM on March 26, 2012 [6 favorites]


Being a professor *is* a most agreeable and understandable career path for people who love the academic environment, love to teach, and like to be surrounded by culture/ideas/intellectuals/etc. Most full time or associate professors I know love their careers. The issue is that adjuncts rarely if ever become tenured professors (or on the tenure track at all). Adjuncting is kind of a black mark against ever gaining tenure- at least in the Fine Art departments. It's a McJob rather than a viable career.
posted by stagewhisper at 4:39 PM on March 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'll be honest, my experience as an adjunct was generally positive. I only had to do it for two years before I got a tenure-track job. So, of course, I was very lucky. My department treats adjuncts like real people, even trying to offer stable course loads year after year, to try to give the adjuncts some stability. Adjuncts are welcomed at department meetings and social events (with just one exception per year). And adjuncts are consulted about course work, syllabi, etc. They are even encouraged to develop new courses. So, all in all, not bad, really.

That said, after two years I had already decided that the pay and (lack of) benefits were simply too deficient. When I finally got my TT job-offer, I had already decided to give it just one more year. There is no way I'd willingly adjunct (as my primary means of income) for very many years.

2buckpslus, to answer your question, at least anecdotally, many adjuncts think of themselves as working toward a TT job. Adjuncting can be a source of valuable teaching experience. Being a professor, full-time and tenure-track, is a really great job. Some of us are willing to work really hard to get one. Furthermore, as part-time, temporary work, it's beats the hell out of almost anything a humanities/science M.A. can get.
posted by oddman at 4:42 PM on March 26, 2012


It's a real challenge these days, and I don't know the answer. Academic costs are up - tuition is going up every year across the country because overall costs to run schools go up, and enrollment is down. If all the Adjuncts get paid 3x what they are being paid now, and they are 70% of the teaching work force, the costs to run a school will go up by a lot, but the costs of tuition for students are already usuriously high.

Where does this extra money come from? Sure, you could slash senior administrative salaries, but that wouldn't give you the kinds of cost savings that tripling the salary of 70% of the teaching force would cost (which is what the MLA is suggesting.) I guess you could increase endowments, but it's harder post-recession to raise money from donations, and certainly not enough for the thousands of schools of higher education.

I agree that the pay rates for adjuncts are very low, problematically so, and it would be better for the adjuncts to make more money, but I just don't see where the money comes from. Students and their parents don't want to pay more. Raise taxes to give to schools to pay their part-time faculty more? That wouldn't help private schools much, and we already pay K-12 public school teachers very low salaries. There's no public will there.

Thoughts?
posted by MythMaker at 4:42 PM on March 26, 2012


Can anyone shed light on why costs to run a university have gone up such that tuition costs have skyrocketed while teacher pay has nosedived? What is the elephant in the room here that I'm not seeing? Where is the extra money going?
posted by Scientist at 4:46 PM on March 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


Where does this extra money come from? Sure, you could slash senior administrative salaries, but that wouldn't give you the kinds of cost savings that tripling the salary of 70% of the teaching force would cost (which is what the MLA is suggesting.)

Stop building new buildings, fancy dorms, and new underground parking garages. Stop spending a fortune on landscaping by replanting flower beds 3 times a year. Move to strictly need-based aid so that money is spend giving wealthy students merit scholarships. Cut or eliminate athletic programs, apart from facilities maintenance (if the students want to play sports let them organize intramural teams). Cut spending on concerts from nationally known bands.

In sum: refocus on education rather than providing four years of debt-financed utopia.
posted by jedicus at 4:46 PM on March 26, 2012 [34 favorites]


If your campus looks like a slum, no one will spend $25,000/year to go there.
posted by MythMaker at 4:51 PM on March 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


Can anyone shed light on why costs to run a university have gone up such that tuition costs have skyrocketed while teacher pay has nosedived? What is the elephant in the room here that I'm not seeing? Where is the extra money going?
posted by Scientist at 7:46 PM on March 26 [+] [!]

Administrative costs are a big factor, but the major thing is public disinvestment in higher education. Not only are state legislatures slashing budgets, but financial aid has shifted from a "grant" model to a "loan" model that has left a generation (or three) totally broke. Even this wouldn't be so crippling if real wages were going up (haven't since the 1970s), and if the economy hadn't crashed (but alas).
posted by gerryblog at 4:52 PM on March 26, 2012 [14 favorites]


Jedicus, my school doesn't have or do any of those things but it's still in a crunch. In our case the pressure is coming largely from the state government which doesn't want to pay to subsidize education just so that a bunch of poor people can have a chance at social mobility, and yeah my school is still a huge bargain and the quality of instruction is pretty darn good, but the basic patterns are still there. Teacher pay is down, tuition is up. No sports teams, no concerts, no parking garages (hell, one of our parking lots isn't even paved) or fancy dorms or new buildings. Yet they're raising student fees and furloughing tenured faculty, talking about cutting entire colleges out of the university, and reorganizing like crazy to save costs. My understanding is that this sort of thing is totally standard among institutions of higher learning nationwide, and I don't truly understand why. Is it down to reduced enrollment in the crappy economy, or what? Doesn't this problem significantly predate the '07 crash?
posted by Scientist at 4:52 PM on March 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


Ah, so the issue with state funding is one of the big problems. What about private institutions, though? Aren't they facing similar issues? Is it all down to administrative costs? And what are we talking about in terms of administrative costs, are we talking about higher salaries for administrative positions, or what?
posted by Scientist at 4:53 PM on March 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Move to strictly need-based aid so that money is spend giving wealthy students merit scholarships.

what's wrong with merit scholarships?
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 5:02 PM on March 26, 2012


Anyway, I don't mean to derail, I'm just trying to figure out what the underlying problem is that forces universities to offer such crap wages for adjuncts, and to rely so heavily on adjuncts to begin with. I get that there is a glut of newly-minted M.A.s and M.S.es and even PhDs, but surely schools still want to offer the best compensation packages they can so as to attract the highest-quality instructors they can get, right? Even in a labor glut, it's not like instructors are totally interchangeable – some are still going to be better than others, often a lot better, and quality of instruction is traditionally pretty much the core selling point of universities in attracting students. Am I wrong in assuming that universities would pay more if they were able to? If so, why am I wrong? And if not, what's broken that is preventing them from doing so? If tuition costs are up (and they are, indisputably) why isn't there more money to pay instructors?
posted by Scientist at 5:03 PM on March 26, 2012


Where does this extra money come from? Sure, you could slash senior administrative salaries, but that wouldn't give you the kinds of cost savings that tripling the salary of 70% of the teaching force would cost (which is what the MLA is suggesting.)

Does anyone have actual numbers on administrative dollars spent versus adjunct dollars spent in a given year in the U.S.?
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 5:09 PM on March 26, 2012


The last university that I worked for in the US was South Alabama, which paid adjuncts $1200 per quarter course ($1500/course if they had a PhD, but none of ours did). This meant that if they taught 3-3-3-3, which was an unbearable amount of teaching as classes met 4 hours a week and the quarters were 10 weeks, they would earn $14,400 a year. And that was a TON of teaching. Absolutely backbreaking.

That was in 1997. I quit that job and emigrated to Canada where I worked as a sessional (what we call adjuncts in Canada- an "adjunct" here is more of a sort of honourary faculty member- like a professor who'd like to be affiliated with your department but isn't a member of that department) at various universities in and around Toronto for three years. I never taught more than three courses a term, always found a course or two in summer school, and was paid at least $4500 per course per semester. I actually earned more as a sessional in Canad than I had made as a tenure-track assistant professor in Alabama. My salary when I departed U of SA in 1997 was $34,700/yr. I was making around $45,000/yr as a sessional in Canada.

I'm now a tenured associate professor at the U of Calgary and I earn more than the chair of my graduate school department.

The US is just fucked when it comes to academic salaries. The tiny percentage of folks who get jobs at elite schools do great. The adjuncts starve- and so do most of those who are tenured.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 5:13 PM on March 26, 2012 [6 favorites]


There is always something to spend money on, Scientist. Sydney sacked 100 faculty because they wanted more buildings.

There isn't any need to exploit adjuncts to teach classes per se. Adjuncts don't mind being exploited for the continued fantasy that their working in academia though, that "fantasy pay" makes them powerless. Academic unions won't protect the adjuncts because the professors are the union's real customers. etc. Administrators therefore exploit them to blow the money on shit that benefits administrators more.
posted by jeffburdges at 5:14 PM on March 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Why are there so many grad students/adjunct profs? Why do they agree to take on such monstrous debt? This is a smart group of people.

Because each one is working towards being the brilliant, accomplished, tenure-achieving exception to the rule. Every job advice thread I read on Metafilter seems to agree that having some sort of exceptional edge is a minimum requirement for any employment nowadays (except perhaps for plumbing and other skilled trades -- not that we've ever heard this from any actual plumbers). It makes sense that people who are really, really good at academics would try this angle, even though for most it will be disastrous. What is their alternative in this economy?
posted by Wordwoman at 5:15 PM on March 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


Here is a popular book intro on the cost disease topic. Most of the cost is teaching and technology. Here is an internal report which reached much the same conclusion.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 5:15 PM on March 26, 2012


Here's a pretty good article on where the costs are coming from.
posted by MythMaker at 5:16 PM on March 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


An interesting response to an asinine editorial that links to a report that suggests it isn't administrative costs at all. Rather, it's more likely Baumol's cost disease -- which, as I understand it, basically concerns the idea that certain human-on-human fields don't increase their productivity, yet their salaries need to increase along with workers who productivity does increase (thanks to technological improvements etc.).
posted by Casuistry at 5:18 PM on March 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Casuistry, if you look at the article I linked, he pulls up numbers that shows that it isn't so. Costs for faculty have remained flat over time.
posted by MythMaker at 5:23 PM on March 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


I always thought it would be interesting if professors went the route of some authors, musicians, and game writers. Namely, throw out the middle man.

Why should each student pay $25k, $50k, $100k only to see a pittance go to the instructor?

Take a class size of 30 just to name a random number. Each student pays $50 for the class. The class last an hour or so. That is $1500 per class. 4 classes per day = $6000+ per day.

The college tuition would end up costing the student next to nothing. The professor could make a decent wage.

For more in depth classes, for higher levels, then the price would go up as would it with fewer classes. You would still have teachers making tons, students not having to take out loans they may not be capable of repaying, people getting a better education due to more content instructors.

This wouldn't work for all degrees but for a large majority of them you just don't need the large college.
posted by 2manyusernames at 5:28 PM on March 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


Here, I'll just quote it:
In reality, however, the numbers show that wage inflation is — literally — the least of the problems when it comes to university cost inflation. Check out this excellent report, for instance, entitled “Trends in College Spending, 1999-2009″. The first thing to note is on page 26: spending on faculty compensation is never more than 40% of total spending, and “has remained steady or decreased slightly over time”. Then have a look at the numbers.

Overall, if we exclude for-profit schools, which were a tiny part of the landscape in 1999, we have seen tuition fees rise by 32% between 1999 and 2009. Over the same period, instruction costs rose just 5.6% — the lowest rate of inflation of any of the components of education services. (“Student services costs” and “operations and maintenance costs” saw the greatest inflation, at 15.2% and 18.1% respectively, but even that is only half the rate that tuition increased.)

The real reason why tuition has been rising so much has nothing to do with Baumol, and everything to do with the government. Page 31 of the report is quite clear: “except for private research institutions,” it says, “tuitions were increasing almost exclusively to replace losses from state revenues or other private revenue sources.”

In other words, tuition costs are going up just because state subsidies are going down. Every time there’s a state fiscal crisis, subsidies get cut; once cut, they never get reinstated. And so the proportion of the cost of college which is borne by the student has been rising steadily for decades.

There are other culprits, too, behind the rise in tuition costs. Surowiecki touches on one when he talks about “the arms-race problem”, where “colleges compete to lure students by investing in expensive things, like high-profile faculty members, fancy facilities, and a low student-to-teacher ratio”. Another is simply the ever-increasing amounts of money being spent on administration rather than instruction. And a third is the fact that administrators at many high-profile universities have no incentive to decrease costs, and in fact have an incentive to increase costs, since total spending outlay tends to show up as an input in university-ranking algorithms.

But of all the reasons why tuition’s going up, teacher productivity is — literally — at the bottom of the list. Whether or not teachers today are or are not more productive than they were in 1980 (and I suspect that actually they are more productive), that’s not the reason student debt in America is approaching one trillion dollars.*
posted by MythMaker at 5:29 PM on March 26, 2012 [15 favorites]


This wouldn't work for all degrees but for a large majority of them you just don't need the large college.

Of course, without the large college, you wouldn't have the students, and then there goes that business model...

The US is just fucked when it comes to academic salaries. The tiny percentage of folks who get jobs at elite schools do great. The adjuncts starve- and so do most of those who are tenured.

The other day in an FPP on law school, someone posted a link to a chart of how legal salaries are bifurcated. Ah, here it is. I strongly suspect that starting academic salaries have a similarly (but much more compressed) bi- or maybe tri-modal distribution. There's a big lump down at the $15k to $30k for the full time adjuncts, another lump at maybe $40 to $50k for the people in not so well funded lower schools, and then a smaller lump in the $60k range for people at top tier places, but very little between those. (These numbers are just guesses, but probably fairly close for starting salaries in the humanities in the US.)

In other words, the "average" doesn't tell you much, but knowing what cohort a person is in tells you everything.
posted by Forktine at 5:38 PM on March 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


And then the professors who don't want to deal with collecting the money and making sure the students only go to classes they've paid for and cutting off enrollment at 30 and then letting another student in when one of the 30 never shows up, can all band together and hire an admin to do that. Once there's bunch of them together, they could start arranging to allow a student to take classes from more than one of them - a 'timetable' of sorts. And if you've got a bunch of students all in the same place, it might make sense to get them to all join together and rent a building to live in. The professors might get sick of holding this 30 person class in their kitchen, so some of that 'tuition' money they are earning could go to 'facilities' to hold the class in - ideally located in or near the building the students are living in. Eventually you'd want to hire 'cleaners' and other staff so the professor didn't have to clean the windows. The students might like to get an idea of which classes to take to make a reasonable course of study - they could have 'prerequisite' courses, and if you took a whole string in one area, you could get a certification or award of some sort.

PS 4 classes per day, would be, to quote ethnomethodologist, an unbearable amount of teaching for most professors. It might be doable if they could add some 'teaching assistants' to their group (perhaps students who had formerly taken their classes and eventually wanted to be professors themselves), but they still have to do grading, curriculum development, individual office hours, and in general would like to have time for their own research.
posted by jacalata at 5:40 PM on March 26, 2012 [12 favorites]


my school doesn't have or do any of those things but it's still in a crunch

My suggestions were mainly aimed at private schools, since that's what I have experience with. I should have been more clear that they weren't universally applicable by any means.

If your campus looks like a slum, no one will spend $25,000/year to go there.

Presumably after several years of building improvements the schools no longer look like slums, if they ever did. I'm not saying schools need to cut amenities to nothing, just that all of these extras cost a lot of money, both visibly and invisibly (in the form of non-academic middle management).

what's wrong with merit scholarships?

There's nothing inherently wrong with them, but there's a correlation between family wealth and academic success, so merit scholarships are tilted towards students who can bear the cost of attendance better than students from less wealthy families. If the pool of money available for scholarships is fixed, why not tilt things in favor of students who need the financial help rather than those who don't?

I realize that schools want to attract high quality applicants, so this strategy may not work at all schools. But among schools that would not lack for high quality applicants regardless of what they charged, this seems the sensible approach. It's basically the one taken by Harvard, for example ("families with incomes currently below $60,000 [$65k in 2012] are not expected to contribute to college costs").

Of course, my suggestions above are just short-term solutions. Medium-term schools need to scale back graduate programs to sustainable levels. For example, if only 5 English graduate students from a certain school can find employment that they are happy with each year (be it in teaching or something else), then that school should only produce 5 English graduate students per year. It's frankly irresponsible for a school to churn out more graduate students than it can place. Arguably the same should be true of all programs, graduate and undergraduate.

Long-term, of course, the government should fund academic programs more fully so that the above are less of an issue.
posted by jedicus at 5:50 PM on March 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


I always thought it would be interesting if professors went the route of some authors, musicians, and game writers. Namely, throw out the middle man.

Yeah, you don't need libraries, buildings and grounds, the IT department, campus police, or any of that stuff! No possible problems there!
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 5:51 PM on March 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


Whew, the things they don't teach you in school. Here's what I've learned so far from this thread and the discussion it's spawned:

Baumol's cost disease shouldn't increase tuition costs at a rate faster than cost-of-living-increase multiplied by the percentage of university costs spent on teacher salaries. In reality though, tuition rates have been increasing much faster than this. MythMaker's article points this out right at the beginning, and talks about why this is.

It turns out that there's not only once reason for it, but there are a few major ones. The biggest is the drop in state financing of higher education (scroll to the bottom for chart) and the associated ratchet mechanism involved (which I'll coin "Fiorini's Rack", if nobody else has coined a term yet): cutting spending to higher education is much easier, politically, than increasing spending on higher education. When the economy is bad, education budgets are cut. When the economy is good, education budgets remain the same. Something in the political landscape changed a few decades back such that actually investing more state funding in education is never a politically viable option, whereas reducing state funding for education often is.

This seems to be the primary factor, though the article brings up two other ones which also have been mentioned in this thread: increased administrative spending and increased spending on student services. W.r.t the first, it seems that universities, like everything else in this market-worshiping country, are being run more and more like a business -- which means ever-more-disproportionate salaries for top executives, a drain on institutional resources which I suspect does not yield positive RoI on the whole. I have had a hard time finding data on this and if anyone can find some good charts or graphs to back up (or refute) the assertion that university spending on administrative costs has been rising as a percentage of overall university spending, I would love to see them.

Regarding increased spending on student services, it appears that universities have moved away from overall quality of instruction (a metric that I suspect is easily gamed in national surveys by pumping up metrics like number of "rockstar" professors and student:teacher ratios, things that actually push median salaries for instructors down by either allocating more resources to a few elite professors or by hiring large numbers of poorly-paid adjuncts to drive down classroom sizes at the cost of actual instructional quality) and toward other methods like better student services and student life perks such as better cafeterias, bigger dorms, new buildings, sports teams, and entertainment. All of which are nice to have, but not at the cost of solid instructors. Universities can do this, it seems, because average quality of instruction is hard to measure whereas number of Nobel-prize-winning professors, class sizes, team rankings, dorm room sizes, parking spaces, and other such metrics are very easy to measure and hence are what ranking organizations use to determine what schools are best when they publish their annual guides. Ironically, it seems that overall university spending is one of those metrics. And, of course, if all you need to improve your rankings are baseline-competent instructors i.e. anybody with a relevant graduate degree who wants to each, such people are not exactly thin on the ground these days. Again, this is tough stuff to find good quantitative data on but I would love to see it.

So what we need, it seems, is a combination of things: we need an effective lobbying organization to impress upon state governments the importance of investing in higher education even (especially!) during hard economic times. We need a reworking of university ranking systems to put quality of instruction front and center and do reduce the ability of universities to game the system by pumping up metrics of dubious relevance to actual educational quality. We need to move away from a business-centric model of university administration; for-profit universities should frankly be banned in my opinion, though such an extreme tactic needn't be implemented -- all that needs to be done is for universities to refocus resources on attracting quality faculty rather than administrative staff and to empower their faculty to have a voice in the running of the university. And we need a strong union that represents all instuctors, adjuncts most definitely included, to make sure that we are taking care of our educators and keeping people who are good at and love their jobs in the system, teaching, and improving the outlook of the next generation of students.

Of course, none of this works in favor of entrenched power interests, so it's all pretty bloody unlikely. Good luck with that whole Land of Opportunity thing, America.
posted by Scientist at 5:54 PM on March 26, 2012 [9 favorites]


What about private institutions, though? Aren't they facing similar issues?

The thing with private schools is that you can't just look at what they charge for tuition. Even if the sticker price is going up and up and up, that doesn't necessarily mean that what average students pay is going up that fast too.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:54 PM on March 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


People stay in it in part because they're told that this is what they have to do to get the job they want, the tenure-track job. It's minor-league baseball. You put up with awful conditions and mediocre pay for a little while because you have a shot at the show. The problem becomes that you have to spend so much time teaching that you don't have the time to do the research you need to do to write the articles you need to write so you can make it to the big league. And then, when you get frustrated with it, you talk to a mentor from back when you were a grad student who says, "You haven't given it long enough—go one more year." So you go for another year of seasoning, and maybe even get a publication out. Trouble is, so did everyone else who is in the same position as you, and a couple of people even got TWO publications out there. And then there's this guy who had enough money that he didn't have to teach so much, and actually revised his dissertation and got a book contract. So those two spots on the team, the only two tenure-track posts in your field of expertise in the entire country, gets filled by those guys, or the ABD person who went to an Ivy, or the other person who actually doesn't have quite as many publications as you do, but whose supervisor is tip-top. So you, and the thousands of others like you, are forced to decide whether or not to bide your time for one more season. You heard somebody say the market's about to improve, that a bunch of TT people are due for retirement. Plus, if you're adjuncting, at least you have some income, even if it is unreliable and barely a livable wage. It's better than nothing. And really, your Ph.D. didn't really prepare you to do anything else, so why not give it one more year. I mean, you've wanted to be a professor for years. You love being around the university. You love learning. You love research and writing, and for all you complain about your students' improper comma use, you even love teaching. Of course, there's this new crop of fresh-faced talent, eager, energetic, and not quite so bitter, who are vying for your roster spot, too.

TL;DR: synecdoche is tired of this but doesn't know where else to go.
posted by synecdoche at 5:57 PM on March 26, 2012 [18 favorites]


My own bias is that being a professor sounds like the most agreeable and understandable career path to an undergraduate student.

That's true. Also, professors are the professionals that undergrads interact with the most. You can't want to do a job if you don't know it exists. This is why lots of little kids want to be doctors or firefighters.
posted by madcaptenor at 6:05 PM on March 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


I always thought it would be interesting if professors went the route of some authors, musicians, and game writers. Namely, throw out the middle man.

And that could work in the case of a few extraordinary teachers capable of attracting students who would follow them to the end of the earth, but more generally, this answer avoids the very heart of the issue. Students, by in large, aren't going to college for a few specific classes or even for classes in general. Heck, many professors aren't even there to teach classes, seeing as how they are often hired and promoted based on anything but their teaching ability. Many professors do care about teaching and some are even extraordinary at it, but espescially in the modern large research university, classes are just not what it's about for pretty much everyone involved.

Rather, students are there to receive an all-powerful stamp of approval from the powers that be. Said document indicating that a graduating student was capable of showing up periodically, complying with some arcane system of policies and requirements, generally following instructions, and did it all without turning into a seriously violant maniac along the way.

The most important benefit colleges convey today is granting their students an endorsement at the end of their program. Take that away and have all the professors go freelance and you'd destroy the entire system. Maybe that's the point and the focus would go all back to education, but I just can't see it happening.
posted by zachlipton at 6:06 PM on March 26, 2012 [21 favorites]


I would like to favorite zachlipton's comment very hard, because he basically summarized what's
screwed up about the education system much better than I would. (I believe I have told him as much in person.)
posted by madcaptenor at 6:09 PM on March 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ah, yes, another thread where people are writhing in the throes of social engineer's disease.
posted by Nomyte at 6:11 PM on March 26, 2012


A Love Letter to Radical Graduate Students, Present, Former, Future: Part One:
What makes this a love letter is the idea I want at once to express and in expressing, to make irresistible to you—the idea that knowledge work in the academy is most powerful because it is a domain of love, by which I mean a place in which intimacy, desire, attachment, and investment all hold considerable sway in keeping the machine running smoothly. Or otherwise. So this is meant at once to serve as an expression of love and to carry a distinctly Marxist feminist lesson about it—particularly, that the idea of love has never been far from relations of domination and exploitation.
posted by dustyasymptotes at 6:25 PM on March 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


Nomyte: Ah, yes, another thread where people are writhing in the throes of social engineer's disease.

Care to elaborate, Nomyte? What I see is mostly a lot of academics and people who care about academia talking and educating each other about the problems facing higher education in the U.S. and brainstorming possible solutions. This discussion is not entirely academic (sorry) as it is actually a topic directly relevant to the lives of many of the people here discussing it. Spreading information and awareness about these problems, both within academia and society at large, is in fact part of the solution. You have to inform people before you can activate them, activate them before you can mobilize them, mobilize them before you can organize them, and organize them before you can hope to successfully challenge the status quo.

You can read in this thread the stories (some of them first-hand) of people who have been told that the move to adjunct teaching was an expected and worthwhile part of pursuing an academic career, just as many students have been told that taking out huge amounts of debt is an expected and worthwhile part of obtaining a degree. You can read about their disillusionment, and even some about what one might choose to do instead, if one wishes to avoid this path and its many pitfalls. You can read about what might be done to reform the system, and a little bit of some ideas about what individuals might do to take steps toward making that reform more possible.

None of this seems futile to me, or worthy of casual dismissal as "social engineer's disease".
posted by Scientist at 6:27 PM on March 26, 2012


Fuck yeah dustyasymptotes, I wish I could favorite that over and over again. The one thing that keeps me in this game, despite the bullshit that I see on all sides even at this early stage, is the idea that if I can just stay focused, keep my ideals in my heart, and not be afraid to make waves, I might actually have the power to make a difference here.
posted by Scientist at 6:30 PM on March 26, 2012


And then the professors who don't want to deal with collecting the money and making sure the students only go to classes they've paid for and cutting off enrollment at 30 and then letting another student in when one of the 30 never shows up, can all band together and purchase a website hire an admin part time to do that less than 0.1 hrs per student . Once there's bunch of them together, they could start arranging to allow a student to take classes from more than one of them - a 'timetable' of sorts(Why would we ever not allow them to give us more money? That timetable is there in most colleges to let the prof. decide their schedule. We have the virtue of being able to do this dynamically why would we not do that?). And if you've got a bunch of students all in the same place ((We don't) ) . Because The professors are holding this 30 person class on skype or GotoMeeting. The students might like to get an idea of which classes to take to make a reasonable course of study - they could have 'prerequisite' courses, and if you took a whole string in one area, you could get a certification or award of some sort(You'll be surprised how meager and paltry such a thing needs to be see: Code Academy).

I agree with zach to some degree but I look at Khan Academy and Interview Street and I think that for professions that are knowledge driven most of the best companies are asking for practical knowledge in areas that the academy has yet to discover. Someone is going to want to learn the material to get or keep their 100k+ job. Code Academy ain't going broke, folks. I agree its currently a supplement to a regular education. However, there is one thing I know for sure about MBA's and business majors. If they see a working model they will iterate and attempt to expand the market. The technology is only improving. Someone is going to take a model like this and build a best of breed product (open-source?) product that undercuts the University of Phoenix. It will incorporate gamificaiton, automated grading for all quantitative and programming classes and attempt to be the ultimate low hassle part time job and at the end of the day provide a decent education. I'm excited.
posted by Rubbstone at 6:33 PM on March 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Seeking a career as a tentured professor is a lot like trying to be an actor or a singer. I respect people who pack up everything and head to Hollywood to make it in the movies. But Hollywood is not a meritocracy, and only a small percetage will make it. And everyone knows the score going in. If you borrowed $90,000 to get your Ph.D. in anthropology and you can't get a tenure track job, well, I respect you, but you gambled and lost. Sorry.
posted by Crotalus at 6:39 PM on March 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


Care to elaborate, Nomyte?

I'm sorry, I really should elaborate. Metafilter sees these threads all the time and they quickly fill up withEtc., etc. To someone who's sort of, kind of working in academia, they're as cringe-inducing as the comments on a New York Times article.
posted by Nomyte at 6:42 PM on March 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


This pain of academic servitude is not universal. Yeah, this site links a big spreadsheet full of depressing numbers, but I wouldn't be going out on a limb to suggest that the topic might attract more dissatisfied reports than satisfied reports. I know that people seek and do earn fulfilling careers in academia.

I was an adjunct professor for two years at a large state school, and was paid a good salary with benefits. The student loans that I had taken while a graduate student were paid without hassle, as my doctorate was mostly funded by a graduate assistantship. While an adjunct, I performed research, published, carried a light teaching load, and was enthusiastically included among my department's faculty. When the time came for that department to select a candidate to fill a tenure-track assistant professorship, they knew me well and selected me to join them without hesitation. All of my peers have a similar story.

Some might respond to this by saying "lah-dee-fucking-dah," but I think it's important to remember out that satisfied people aren't motivated to speak out like dissatisfied people are, doubly so on a site with an axe to grind. But this right here is mefi: "comment like no one's listening."
posted by rlk at 6:43 PM on March 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


Can anyone shed light on why costs to run a university have gone up such that tuition costs have skyrocketed while teacher pay has nosedived?

Because universities are now expensive youth resorts that compete for customers by providing expensive amenities. We've added a new student union, a new gym, and a new dining facility all in the space of five years. That's expensive.
posted by Crotalus at 6:45 PM on March 26, 2012


MythMaker: In the pdf they link, instruction costs are the largest increase in cost for 4/6 institution categories. The 'research' cost group also includes a substantial amount of salary.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 6:55 PM on March 26, 2012


Nomyte: I've seen some comments like you describe in this thread, but they don't seem to be dominating the discourse. Much of the commentary here seems thoughtful and informed and made by people who have a direct stake in the game. I'm learning a lot here.
posted by Scientist at 6:55 PM on March 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


rlk: I think we may be looking at a bimodal distribution here, where a lot of people never "make it", some do, and not too many many people end up in between. From the stories I'm reading I suspect that a lot of it has to do with the institution that one ends up adjuncting for -- whether it values adjuncts and treats them as peers among the faculty, or whether it simply views them as cheap, expendable labor to help keep down class sizes and reduce teaching loads on tenured professors.

What is the feeling about this among people who are part of this system? Is this a fair assessment? How, then, would someone hypothetically go about vetting an institution to see whether adjuncting there would be a worthwhile stepping stone on one's career path or just a depressing slog through the bitter swamps of perpetual penury?
posted by Scientist at 7:00 PM on March 26, 2012


Anyway, I don't mean to derail, I'm just trying to figure out what the underlying problem is that forces universities to offer such crap wages for adjuncts, and to rely so heavily on adjuncts to begin with. I get that there is a glut of newly-minted M.A.s and M.S.es and even PhDs, but surely schools still want to offer the best compensation packages they can so as to attract the highest-quality instructors they can get, right? Even in a labor glut, it's not like instructors are totally interchangeable – some are still going to be better than others, often a lot better, and quality of instruction is traditionally pretty much the core selling point of universities in attracting students. Am I wrong in assuming that universities would pay more if they were able to? If so, why am I wrong? And if not, what's broken that is preventing them from doing so? If tuition costs are up (and they are, indisputably) why isn't there more money to pay instructors?

Yes, you're wrong. Universities already are run like businesses and adjuncts are the cheapest employment you can get next to graduate students. You don't need to pay for benefits or professional development. You don't need to pay a livable wage. The students don't care about quality instruction. They just want to get in and out and get an easy A. It's easier for the administration to just get bodies in there that are desperate for work rather than tenured professors who can't be fired and might actually flunk students who don't try.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:06 PM on March 26, 2012 [6 favorites]


Yes, I went to one of the for-profit 'universities' in the spreadsheet, and I get paid far, far more to be a first-grade teacher than the people who 'taught' me to be a teacher. Truthfully, I learned pretty much nothing about how to teach from that school, and paid thousands of dollars just for the paper that allowed me to apply for a job that I wasn't prepared for at all.

I love my job, though, and it turns out it's the perfect job for me, so I'm not sure what to think about it all. Yay, capitalism?
posted by Huck500 at 7:21 PM on March 26, 2012


Where does this extra money come from? Sure, you could slash senior administrative salaries, but that wouldn't give you the kinds of cost savings that tripling the salary of 70% of the teaching force would cost (which is what the MLA is suggesting.)

Stop building new buildings, fancy dorms, and new underground parking garages. Stop spending a fortune on landscaping by replanting flower beds 3 times a year. Move to strictly need-based aid so that money is spend giving wealthy students merit scholarships. Cut or eliminate athletic programs, apart from facilities maintenance (if the students want to play sports let them organize intramural teams). Cut spending on concerts from nationally known bands.


Well, they always tell us here that the reason why they always, always, always have money for MOAR BUILDINGS is because that's a separate fund from everything else and that fund can only be used for MOAR BUILDINGS. No, they can't move that money to stuff like salaries.

And what everyone else said about budget cuts.

But also, the fat money is going to the administrators, the chancellors, the bigwigs. Because "we just have to have the cream of the crop! We have to be able to afford the best people! If we can't give high salaries, then we can't get the best people to lead us into the 21st century and moar budget cuts!" This is the part where I start hitting my head against the wall. You know what? You're a public university in a publicly failing state. MAYBE YOU JUST CAN'T AFFORD THE BEST POSSIBLE PEOPLE FOR THE JOB THEN, EH? Maybe you need to stick with the best you can afford, just like the rest of us? And I'm sorry, but what well paid fat cat Great Leader has been working miracles with that egregious salary these days? Especially since I live here and everyone's heard just how super awesome great our very well paid chancellor is doing.

I'd rather some of those huge leadership salaries go towards paying the people who do the actual work these days. Because honest to god, I don't know what all the Great Leaders are doing other than going to meetings and signing papers for more budget cuts and smiling and shaking hands for the cameras. Or uh, getting in trouble with the media. But is that ever going to happen? HELL NO.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:36 PM on March 26, 2012 [5 favorites]


The average [professor] owes over one hundred thousand dollars in [grad] school loans, and makes about as much as a waiter.

I might be the only person who needed to google the title of this FPP to figure out where it is from (evidently an episode of Scrubs), but in case it needs to be said, the average professor does not owe $100k. (I don't know what waiters earn, so I'm not sure who is coming out ahead on that front.)
posted by Forktine at 7:50 PM on March 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Because "we just have to have the cream of the crop! We have to be able to afford the best people! If we can't give high salaries, then we can't get the best people to lead us into the 21st century and moar budget cuts!"

Now this sounds familiar... ah, yes: CU-Boulder's Ric Porreca given $100K pay increase despite call for his firing in 2006.

Keep in mind, too, the staff have been on pay freeze and had benefits removed for the last four years because there just wasn't enough money.
posted by underflow at 7:54 PM on March 26, 2012


Every day I become a little more convinced that dropping out of college is inevitable for me, something I must do, what some people would call "The Right Thing"®, as in "do the Right Thing". My parents sure as hell aren't going to approve, and I don't know how I'm going to make a living, but everything I read about college makes me want to just get out and never look back. Racket is too charitable of a term to describe the scam college administrators perpetuate.
posted by MattMangels at 8:55 PM on March 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Makes me glad I couldn't get into a top program, and gave up.
posted by thelonius at 8:58 PM on March 26, 2012


Can anyone shed light on why costs to run a university have gone up such that tuition costs have skyrocketed while teacher pay has nosedived?

The graph in this link may shed some light on why universities need to charge so much more for tuition.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 9:14 PM on March 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'd just like to go ahead and link this graph again, but with a slightly different context. When I brought it up before in refuting the theory that cost disease was the reason that schools were feeling such a crunch, there was a line of data which was irrelevant: housing prices. If you take another look, you can see the housing bubble rising and then bursting in the mid-2000's! Now, look at the Tuition line again. Now go change your underwear.

This is gonna be a fun ride.
posted by Scientist at 9:21 PM on March 26, 2012


Homeboy Trouble, your graph is pretty fucked-up too! Yay America!
posted by Scientist at 9:22 PM on March 26, 2012


@ethnomethodologist ... and hopefully not muddying the waters ...

There's a recent survey released last week, of faculty pay indexed to cost of living around the world.

Summary here at Inside Higher Education, with handy chart at the end of the article. (Canada is first, US is 5th, behind Italy, South Africa and India.)

(Canada's seeing a bit of growth from US students these days because tuition is so much cheaper — under $5k/term for most grad programs at my school, including health insurance, and at the moment, no differential fee for US/international students — but I think it's still a hidden secret. From what I can tell, US students think we're too cheap and therefore not worth it because the comparison to a $50k+ tuition is that staggering a difference.)
posted by wenat at 9:41 PM on March 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


Why are there so many grad students/adjunct profs?
One of the most natural ways for human beings to learn how to live their lives is as apprentices to older role models who pass on their professional skills. But a combination of cultural, political and economic changes over the past few centuries has made it so that most young people now spend most of their time under the instruction of people for whom being an instructor *is* their only profession. If anything we should be surprised that most kids manage to *avoid* aspiring to become teachers and professors themselves, not that so many of them don't.
posted by roystgnr at 9:53 PM on March 26, 2012


(Interestingly, I had been warned repeatedly that faculty pay in India was barely enough to eat on. Possibly time to rethink that shattered dream?)
posted by kaibutsu at 10:53 PM on March 26, 2012


It's that part where they index to cost of living in that country. Lots cheaper to eat in India than North America.
posted by wenat at 10:57 PM on March 26, 2012


I can't even bring myself to read this. I have such post traumatic stress from adjuncting. I'm going to have to go and bury my head under a blanket until I can get back to thinking about kittens.
posted by lollusc at 12:38 AM on March 27, 2012


There are many useful things one learns in university, MattMangels, especially if studying a STEM fields. I always suggest that Americans consider studying abroad, even places that'd require learning another language, certainly the experience adds value.
posted by jeffburdges at 3:05 AM on March 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


"young people now spend most of their time under the instruction of people for whom being an instructor *is* their only profession. "

At the college level this is not entirely accurate. It's only at community colleges that professors are tasked with focusing on teaching (which is to say that tenure is based on teaching with no expectation of publishing), but at other kinds of colleges, from private liberal arts colleges to large public research universities, professors are expected to focus extensively on publishing. Which is to say they see themselves as chemists, philosophers and novelists who happen to be professors.
posted by oddman at 4:51 AM on March 27, 2012


(Interestingly, I had been warned repeatedly that faculty pay in India was barely enough to eat on. Possibly time to rethink that shattered dream?)

I have not been an academic in India, but I have known quite a few Indian academics. My understanding was that their raw salaries were low (but rising) in US terms, but that at the same time their jobs came with perks (like housing) and social status that are unknown to US academics. And for those in the right fields and with the right connections, lucrative consulting contracts were available.
posted by Forktine at 5:06 AM on March 27, 2012


My understanding is that this sort of thing is totally standard among institutions of higher learning nationwide, and I don't truly understand why. Is it down to reduced enrollment in the crappy economy, or what? Doesn't this problem significantly predate the '07 crash?

What's happened is that between about 1950 and 1980, the Pentagon spent billions every year on R&D at major universities. This let those universities essentially fund their entire STEM programs with federal defense dollars, leaving things like tuition, state funding, and donations to go to other areas, i.e., the humanities and campus expansion.

Around 1985, that funding, for one reason or another, started dropping off, and by 1990--the end of the Cold War--it was mostly gone. Other federal funding has failed to replace it. The NIH has doubled in size--you can thank Bush II for that, actually--in the past decade, but it's still a tiny fraction of what the Pentagon spent, and things like the NAS and other sources of federal R&D don't amount to much.

Corporate R&D spending has failed to take the place of this lost federal money. Corporations are less interested in funding basic science research. They want products, not concepts. Further, they do a lot of research either in-house or in non-university labs.

This is a problem, because universities had grown used to having this money to the point that they'd basically budgeted around it. So when it went away, and corporate spending failed to make up the slack, universities were forced to make a choice between scaling down or finding another source of revenue. And you know when tuition really started to skyrocket? The mid-1980s, right around the time the Pentagon started cutting back on its R&D spending. And wouldn't you know it? The availability of student loans was dramatically increased in 1981 and then again in 1987. So schools were never really forced to make hard choices: they could just have other people borrow the money for them.

True, not every school got these R&D millions directly. But the ones that didn't still tended to spend as if they were, if only to try to keep up with the Joneses, i.e., the schools that were. So maybe they didn't radically build out their STEM departments, but they still invested in their physical plant and expanded their tenured faculty while requiring them to do less and less. And when student loans became more widely available, there was nothing to stop them from getting on that gravy train.

Here's the book where this is all laid out.
posted by valkyryn at 5:42 AM on March 27, 2012 [5 favorites]


You'd think that tenure track at community colleges would be somewhat easier to get but no. The decent JC where I want to end up some day is routinely turning away PhDs for adjunct work. The JC is one of the few places that offers benefits to adjuncts, so.

At the JC where I adjunct, at least two of the tenured professors, meanwhile, are horribly, horribly, batty. One once said to me, "Shake my hand!" I did. "There!" he announced. "You are one handshake away from Dr. Luther King. I was his German translator." The fuck, thought I. Researched the guy; turns out he'd once translated maybe two German letters for King, but the dude is presenting himself like every German schoolchild reads his translation of "Letter from a Birmingham Jail."

Moreover, he puts up Craiglist ads for unpaid summer interns to do God knows what related to his subject field. In the ad copy, he promises them letters of recommendation that will launch their Amazing Careers as English Professors. Running across those annual recruitment ads on CL makes me laugh with bitter vigor.
posted by angrycat at 6:20 AM on March 27, 2012


You say that it's the institution? Unionize. Then turn the screws.

having some sort of exceptional edge is a minimum requirement

They are so used to having it their way. But go ahead, comply, citizen.
posted by Twang at 6:35 AM on March 27, 2012


You know, the solution to a lot of this sort of crap often seems to involve labor organization. So, OK, I'll bite. Are there any good resources that show how one might go about starting a union, building it, and entering into negotiations with employers? Or, in the cases where unions exist but are weak and/or only represent a subset/fraction of their "natural" constituency, how does one go about expanding and strengthening them so that they can do their jobs properly?

Let's say that I decide that I want to devote a portion of my time to fighting this stuff, and that I think that the best way to do it is to form a union. Where do I start?
posted by Scientist at 7:42 AM on March 27, 2012


Where do I start?

Call a union. The UAW and SEIU both have locals which organize academic workers.
posted by valkyryn at 8:11 AM on March 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Example.
posted by valkyryn at 8:12 AM on March 27, 2012


News flash: there's an oversupply of PhDs out there.

This has nothing to do with what administrators are paid or university greed. It's just that it's a lot harder to find a talented administrator than it is to find an unemployed guy with a PhD in Near Eastern Studies. The market is flooded with PhDs, and obviously many of them are smart, driven people because that's who gets a PhD. The market is not flooded with CPAs or lawyers or even secretaries who are willing to work for 70% of what a private business would pay. Universities would pay more if it were hard to find teachers and researchers. They DO pay more in those situations.

People are set up to fail. Programs encourage students to stick around for a PhD. PhD candidates are a sign of your awesomeness. They get you fame and glory and make you feel important. You get some research and publishing help out of the deal. Your graduates go out and get jobs at other universities and improve your programs reputation. Who cares about all the failures, though? It doesn't help that faculty members themselves had to come up through the system and many view years of poverty and misery as a rite of passage.

This doesn't seem like a problem crying out for a union so much as a problem crying out for fewer people aiming for a life in academia.
posted by pjaust at 8:25 AM on March 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


News flash: there's an oversupply of PhDs out there.

No, there really isn't. Somehow this myth is completely unkillable, despite Marc Bousquet having published a book and a thousand columns about its falsity. There are more than enough courses to be taught to go around; we could give every unemployed, underemployed, and poverty-wage Ph.D. a full-time job with security and benefits and there would be no oversupply remaining. The true problem is that an ever-growing proportion of the teaching work — work that needs to be done! — is allocated to insecure, unfairly compensated, exploitative adjunct and graduate-student teachers (and that the "surplus," "unemployable" Ph.D. is actually the waste product of the exploitation of graduate student labor). There's only an oversupply relative to the number of good jobs, which form a steadily dwindling portion of academic employment; but this can't be fixed on the supply side.
posted by RogerB at 9:04 AM on March 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


Thanks for that, valkyryn. It seems odd that adjunct professors would be falling in with the SEIU, I'd think that they'd want to be part of a union that focused more specifically on their interests. I'm having a hard time finding anything that the SEIU (Coalition of Academic Labor or otherwise) has actually accomplished in the field of academic labor, but maybe that's just because it's still early days yet for organization of non-tenured faculty. All the stories I can find from them are basically just about adjunct faculty at various colleges deciding to organize and join the SEIU, rather than anything the SEIU has been able to accomplish at universities through collective bargaining.
posted by Scientist at 10:43 AM on March 27, 2012


I have worked in fundraising in higher ed.

Here's what I think folks have gotten right and wrong upthread:

1. Re: budget cuts: People who have nodded to the slashes in budgets for higher ed from state governments are absolutely correct. But universities are not just state and tutition funded institutions. Universities, public and private, also depend heavily on alumni giving, foundation and corporate grants, federal grants, federal programs, and benefactors in order to not just grow but meet their basic operating expenditures. Giving is down, way down. When the economy crashed, there was a bump in philanthropy, because folks felt they needed to 'step up to the plate,' or whatever. That enthusiasm has died down, the economy has not improved, and fundraising has turned into teeth pulling.

2. Re: Cutting back in accordance with budget cuts: cutting back on operating expenditures - the stuff that affects students - is a double edged sword. You cut back to save money, but don't attract as many students, or as many students who can pay full tuition, and you lose money. You depend on tuition more than ever, because there isn't any money from the state, individuals or charities. So what do you cut? All of those little student amenities? How much would that really save? And would it be worth it considering the plunge you might suffer in marketability? That's school dependent of course, but the point is that it's a complicated economic question.

3. Re: Administration: Oh please. This is the same goddamned argument people make about all non-profits. Administrative salaries are rarely egregious or out of line with the responsibility of the role, and are much, much lower than a position with similar responsibility might have in a for-profit corporation. This is just scapegoating when people do this. You have to have people to run the place, and those people need to be paid also. Most of them in fact make far less than a TT prof, with the exception of the very top executive level (provost, vp, cfo, pres). I have little sympathy for folks who get their PhDs and complain about how much the Provost makes (usually the Provost was once a professor him or herself anyway, and took the Provost job for the paycheck). You know what you're getting into. If you want to make more money, become an administrator. Sure, you don't get to do what you love. That's the tradeoff. If you're upset that the president is making 300k (or in some cases like the Ivies, 1m+), know that most of his or her day is not chilling in the office drinking scotch. It's fundraising. And it isn't fun. Running a huge institution and being responsible for it and its success or failure - especially fiscally - is a bigger responsibility and much less pleasant than teaching Introduction to Anthropology to hungover undergraduates, precious sentiments about the education of future generations and all that aside.

4. Re: Capacity building: This is one of the things at the crux of the issue. Capital expenses. All universities want to grow and want new and more buildings, upgraded lab equipment, etc. It's how they compete in the market. It's also fundable. Foundations, corporations, alumni - are often loathe, hell for many it's against their guidelines, to fund any kind of operating expenses or scholarships or general program funds. They want to fund new things, to give you money to grow, they want their name on a plaque or a brick or a building. So you ask them for that. No; you cannot simply reallocate these funds, because often you cannot get funds for any other purpose. It's messed up, but it is the way it is. Philanthropic entities don't always think about the big picture and an organizations greatest needs. They often just think about their own narrow goals and annual reports. You cannot get a foundation to give you grant money for professor salaries, but you can get money for a building. And it isn't like you were going to build the building anyway so you just move the money around. No, it doesn't work that way. So you get more buildings while tuition dollars go up. But the tuition dollars aren't going to the buildings. The tuition dollars are covering the loss in public money and general op gifts that no longer exist. There are universities that have Napoleon complexes to be sure, and would do well to reign that in (looking at you Columbia), but for most, it isn't a grow large at the cost of whatever it takes scenario. It's a chaotic puzzle of trying to fit donors with projects and it never works out the way you actually need it to.

5. A note on endowments: An endowment is not some large chunk of unrestricted money. It's lots of little funds, given by all sorts of people, each of which is designated for some purpose. So you can't just say, well, state funding got cut, let's keep tuition at the same level and we'll balance it with endowment funds. You might be able to do that with some endowment funds, if their donor didn't designate them, but usually a donor doesn't want you to expend any of the principle and the earnings each year are to go for scholarships for such and such type of student from such and such place, or for upkeep of such and such pavilion.

6. A note on athletics: too big to really touch, but this is a huge issue in university financing. For whatever reason, athletics are fundable - oh, they generate revenue, huge revenue - but people are also extremely willing to give money to them. Got a student who is doing a senior project building solar panels in Rwanda? No money anywhere. Volleyball team needs gas money to go to a tournament eight states a way? Line out the door to give money.

The point of all of this is, you cannot take money from buildings or from admin costs or whatever and pay adjuncts better. You really can't, because, as corps are beholden to their shareholders, schools are beholden to their donors and to governments and trustees. With less funding, schools turn to adjuncts because they are cheaper and they don't have to pay them benefits. And because they can, because it's partially simple economics: PhDs in, especially non STEM fields, don't have any other options so they have to take whatever they can get, and the market is saturated, so wages are driven down and schools take advantage of it. Everyone complains about tuition going up and up and up and college becoming inaccessible while at the same time complaining about profs not getting paid enough. That makes no sense. You can't have it both ways, not in the current economic climate with the abysmal state of the non-tuition/fee revenue streams for universities (governments and philanthropy).

It isn't admin, it isn't the buildings, it isn't the quality of the tote bag you get at orientation. Oh sure, some of that could be trimmed. But there is a systemic issue here, and it's a matter of public and private support. Universities are all financially screwed up and overcharge students and underpay profs because we as a country don't prioritize higher ed over, oh I don't know, "national security," and we as a philanthropic society, while we give a nod to altruism, really just want our name etched on a building, not printed on some list of donors who gave to the general operating expenses of the organization on an annual report no one will ever read, even if that would be the "right" thing to do.
posted by Lutoslawski at 11:30 AM on March 27, 2012 [6 favorites]


NYU and New School adjuncts are part of UAW. I'm not familiar enough with the academic job market to say whether they've done well or not, but their contracts are online. (I'm on a phone or I'd link, but it's easy to find with the google.)

I'm also in a white collar UAW union (legal services), and we've benefited a great deal from being unionized. Our salaries are significantly higher than at non-union places, and yay job protections!
posted by Mavri at 11:52 AM on March 27, 2012


Everyone complains about tuition going up and up and up and college becoming inaccessible while at the same time complaining about profs not getting paid enough. That makes no sense. You can't have it both ways

We do have it both ways in the current academic economy. The cost paid by a student for a college degree is rising, at the same time as faculty compensation and job security are being systematically demolished. And yes, a large part of this is due to state and federal funding plummeting — particularly the extraordinary de-funding of of public universities in states like California and New York — but this does not excuse such ill-informed apologetics for ballooning administrative salaries. In the last approx. 15 years, the average institution has roughly doubled the share of its budget spent on administrative and staff salaries, while faculty's share of the budget has held roughly constant or grown less than enrollment.

The same hyperinflation of top-level management salaries and the same depression of wages for rank-and-file workers that's happened in the private sector since the 1980s has also happened in the university, and no surprise, its apologists use the same right-wing bootstrap rhetoric too:

You know what you're getting into. If you want to make more money, become an administrator.

No reason to worry about factory workers' wages and working conditions, they chose to be poor when they decided not to be CEOs!
posted by RogerB at 12:17 PM on March 27, 2012


You know what you're getting into. If you want to make more money, become an administrator.

No reason to worry about factory workers' wages and working conditions, they chose to be poor when they decided not to be CEOs!


That's a little reductio, not at all analogous, and hardly my point. Earning a PhD is not generally the path of mere survival - it is a labor of passion and love. Like attempting to be an artist, you have to understand the trade-off going in. As a composer myself, I faced this reality at some point as well and it sucks. It doesn't mean the system isn't broken, it just means that's they way it is. And most high-level execs follow the same career path as professors, usually moving from a professorship to a provost or president position.
posted by Lutoslawski at 12:36 PM on March 27, 2012


You say that it's the institution? Unionize. Then turn the screws.

Harder than it looks, unfortunately.
posted by kickingthecrap at 12:45 PM on March 27, 2012


Lutoslawski, have you heard of any solutions or ideas for how to inrease donations or increase the percentage of donations that universities can use effectively? What ideas are fundraisers coming up with for fixing these systemic issues you have described?
posted by Scientist at 12:50 PM on March 27, 2012


Also, if a university is faced with a donor who wants to build the University a building that isn't needed, why can't the University say "we actually don't want any buildings right now, but how would you like our newly-renovated chemistry lab to be called the Mr. Bigshot chemical research center, or our new tenred faculty position to be the Ms. Bigshot Fellowship in History of Western Civilization? Really, we don't want a building at all, it would be more of a maintenance headache than anything, but we'd love it if you could help us with this other part of the University that desperately needs funding."

What happens then? Does the donor just walk, and say "if I can't get my name on the side of a brand new dormitory in letters four feet tall, I'm taking my money elsewhere?"
posted by Scientist at 12:58 PM on March 27, 2012


What happens then? Does the donor just walk, and say "if I can't get my name on the side of a brand new dormitory in letters four feet tall, I'm taking my money elsewhere?"

Have worked in development for a university.

Yes, that's pretty much exactly what happens.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 1:37 PM on March 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have to share the term "edifice complex" -- and hey, it's in the urban dictionary, too, and in an academic context.
posted by wenat at 1:42 PM on March 27, 2012


Very sad. Thomas Benton wrote some articles about this, which I send to any of my friends who are thinking about getting a master's degree in Comparative Literature.
posted by mekko at 1:48 PM on March 27, 2012


Any efforts to unionize at my school would mean no contracts for the next year. At least, that's the risk we'd be taking.
posted by angrycat at 1:53 PM on March 27, 2012


This might be sort of a derail, and maybe better suited for AskMe, but as someone who's about to start a funded doctoral program (not funded very much, mind you), is tenured professor my only option after finishing my thesis? I'll be working as a researcher in my GA position, and would like to continue as a research analyst afterwards, but I don't know if this is realistic. Would having written a thesis and designed and conducted social science research be a good item on a resume?

If tenured professor is the only route, and things are as bad as this thread has made them out to be, then maybe I've made a huge mistake.
posted by codacorolla at 2:57 PM on March 27, 2012


codacorolla: this question and questions like it have been asked on AskMe many times. I would link to them but I'm on my phone. They are not hard to find by searching for tags like academia, PhD, and so on.
posted by madcaptenor at 3:02 PM on March 27, 2012


Lutoslawski, have you heard of any solutions or ideas for how to inrease donations or increase the percentage of donations that universities can use effectively? What ideas are fundraisers coming up with for fixing these systemic issues you have described?

Well, the truth is that the philanthropy world is just not that progressive. And the new ideas are not that creative. Fundraising professional conferences are a lot of rehashing really old ideas from when philanthropy turned into a whole professional business, like 30 years ago or so.

Some universities are trying out the micro-fundraising thing, a la kickstarter. Jury is still out on that - but it might work at schools for the same reason it has worked for kickstarter - it's project or need specific, rather than, hey, we need money.

For-profit and University partnership programs are growing, with companies looking to patent and profit from things developed at universities - and there is grant money for this. University gets the grant, does the research, private company kicks in the rest of the funds and hopefully you come out the other end with a new type of solar cell or a cure for something.

Major gifts for abstract ideas is an era gone. People used to give large donations to big universities because they believed that poetry or philosophy was an important part of an education (philosophy major myself, so I liked this model). But these days, foundations want to know the impact. They want metrics and evaluations and quantitative data to report out on. We gave X dollars that provided X amount of X for X people in X areas, etc. And a lot of what universities do - a lot of education in general - just doesn't fit into that model.

It's interesting; funding for arts orgs is really tough - but easier than arts education at the collegiate level. It's like, art is important, but training artists isn't (I use arts as an example, but it holds for the humanities in general mostly).

But philanthropic giving, I think especially on an individual level, is really economy-dependent. When people scared for the future, they don't spend as much, let alone give it away, especially for things like education. When they do give it away during hard times, it's for basic needs (which of course is perfectly reasonable. It's hard to balance the immediate needs with long term solutions).
posted by Lutoslawski at 3:40 PM on March 27, 2012


Any ideas about how universities can put pressure on state and federal governments to increase or at least not cut funding? Is there a lobbying agency out there that tries to do this, or what? I assume there's something, just not anything very successful, but is there any way that universities could be asking their wealthy and well-connected alums to help not just by donating money, but also by lending influence to help free up more government funding for their alma maters? Is this happening already? Why is it so unsuccessful?
posted by Scientist at 4:03 PM on March 27, 2012


As a data point, I pay $2500 to my adjunct professors at Austin Center for Design; that's for 8 weeks, and 5 hours of a week of face-time. It comes to $62.50/hour (or $130k), which is prolly a little less than these professionals make working.

My reflection on the entire topic is that "adjunct professor" means something really, really, really different for practitioners of a craft-based discipline (computer science, design, business) than for a liberal art.
posted by jkolko at 4:48 PM on March 27, 2012


jkolko: Have you considered the fact that your adjuncts might not just be walking right into the classroom without any preparation? So their real hourly rate is less than the number you give.
posted by madcaptenor at 4:56 PM on March 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


madcaptenor - they've all taught their classes before at least once, and the vast majority of our classes (like those in the practitioner and craft-based disciplines) aren't lecture based, so there's not a huge amount of prep. I hear your point, and I'm sure there's work that's done out of class.
posted by jkolko at 6:01 PM on March 27, 2012


Even if they've taught the class before there is still preparation before and after class. Also, I assume your adjuncts have office hours? And are expected to answer email from students? And they probably grade tests and/or other work from students? I think it's rather disingenuous to calculate an hourly wage based on only the time that their classes are actually in session, frankly.

And the $130k number is pure fiction. Even if they teach four classes per semester (which is pretty nuts, most professors would find that much teaching to be straining) they're making $10k per semester. Assuming two semesters, that's $20k/year. So giving a yearly income of $130k based on the idea that they are working for $62.50/hour, 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year (not even a week off over Christmas? really?) is an assertion that frankly has no basis in reality whatsoever. (62.5*40*52=130,000)

A professor teaching four classes in a semester is not going to have a whole lot of time left over to do other work, either. They are probably working more than 40 hours per week on those classes, rather than the 20 you'd have us believe. Of course, they still have time over Christmas break and summer to freelance, and maybe they can squeeze in some small side projects during the semester if they really don't care about having a social life, but I find it pretty fucking hard to believe, pardon my language, that they're making even $65k/year, let alone the $130k you so blithely tossed out.

What the fuck, man? We're not idiots here, we can do basic math. The situation you described for your adjuncts is a fantasy. "Naively optimistic" is about the most charitable term I can think of.
posted by Scientist at 6:48 PM on March 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


Now, to be a little more charitable, perhaps some of your adjuncts are only teaching one or two classes per semester and are just using adjunct work as a way to fill in time when their main work is slow and to hedge against times when there's no work to be had at all. But I would be shocked if this was what all of your adjuncts were doing, and even the ones who are only adjuncting part-time are presumably doing it because there's not enough more-stable, higher-paid work to go around in their field. Yet you're churning out more people just like them.
posted by Scientist at 6:55 PM on March 27, 2012


Nice job making all sorts of claims about a topic you don't understand.

All of my adjuncts are employed full time. That's what makes them qualified to teach - they actually work in the discipline they teach, and they understand the subject matter they are teaching. There's no tests in design work. They take office hours with students as necessary.

And yes: all of my adjuncts are teaching one class per quarter, and are teaching because they enjoy it, and there's plenty of stable, higher-paid work in their field. If you really want to play this game, go look at their bios. Additionally, I'm not "churning out" people: I graduated 9 last year. All 9 are employed doing what they love.

There's no fantasy, "man". I'll take optimistic, but I'll pass on naive. Stop making judgements on things you know nothing about. Ironic for someone with a nick of "Scientist" - maybe you shouldn't judge based on your inductive observations with your extremely limited perspective.
posted by jkolko at 7:38 PM on March 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


maybe you shouldn't judge based on your inductive observations with your extremely limited perspective

You're the one holding up the experiences of your adjuncts as representative of the typical adjunct's experience even though they diverge from that reality about as much as is imaginable.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 8:01 PM on March 27, 2012


So your adjuncts each teach one class which requires exactly five hours of work per week including assessing student work, dealing with email, and "as necessary" office hours, with no preparation or takedown required before or after class (they've all taught their class before and don't have to modify or organize their materials beforehand -- really, nobody is teaching a class for the first time? All your adjuncts come to your school having, what, taught exactly the same class at a different school or something?) and none of them have any trouble finding full-time employment working in their fields yet they adjunct at "prolly a little less" than their normal billable rate simply because they love doing it? And all your graduating students place into stable full-time work? Every time? Because you seem to be tossing out an awful lot of absolutes here, and I've just never heard of such uniformity in any field whatsoever, you know?

Even if this is true, where exactly does your $130k figure come from that you tossed out earlier? None of your adjuncts are working full time for you, and even if they were they'd not be doing it year-round which is what would be required to hit that number. So where does that come from?

It's not as though graphic design is the only field where professors have experience working in their field, either. All of my biology instructors have lists of published research as long as your arm, including the ones who can't do research right now because they don't have a tenure-track position. I will agree that it's a very different working environment but we're not just talking about obscure humanities disciplines here (not to bag on the humanities, I realize that the humanities isn't just an endless treadmill of student->teacher either) a lot of the people in the situation we're discussing in this thread are actively working (or trying to work) in fields that have very practical, concrete, even commercial aspects to them.
posted by Scientist at 8:06 PM on March 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


There's a huge range of adjuncting (as the spreadsheet in the fpp indicates). There's the crappy exploitative kind, there's the nicely paid career kind, and there's the kind that jkolko describes, where no one could make a career out of it (because no matter how good the hourly rate is, there aren't enough hours on offer to make a living wage out of it) but no one involved is trying to live off of it, so all is good.

I've been offered similar gigs to jkolko's, and they are always (in my very limited experience) paid hourly by classroom time, with the expectation that there are other hours involved (eg prep, grading, etc), but that the hourly teaching rate is generous enough to cover them. There are very good reasons that people take those jobs -- a little extra cash never hurts, it helps the resume to show some teaching work, sometimes the networking is good, it is fun and a nice break from the regular office slog, etc.

And this kind of professional work (I'm calling it that because you are offered the adjunct position based on your professional standing) is not at all the same thing as an unhappy ABD person stringing together a set of crappy, underpaid adjunct teaching jobs to try and pay the rent. They are different animals, and it's probably a mischaracterization to call them by the same name, for all that they are both temporary teaching positions.
posted by Forktine at 8:18 PM on March 27, 2012


OK, I find that totally understandable and believable. I guess what made me kind of go off the rails a bit was jkolko's use of figures which on the face of it seemed rather disingenuous but which I now see are really more just irrelevant to the situation, as the reasons that one would take that kind of teaching job don't seem like they have a lot to do with the actual hourly rate.

I can even see that that kind of situation would probably be more common in fields where it is relatively easy to find paid work outside of academia -- which applies to the sciences as well as plenty of other degree paths no doubt including graphic design. Still, there are many departments in a variety of subjects across the country that are totally dependent on large amounts of exploitative teaching labor in the form of adjuncts who are chasing the dream of a respected, stable position as a professor, blending research and pedagogy in a tradition that has roots as far back as the ancient Greek philosophers. It's an alluring proposition and it's a shame that so many universities exploit that dream to serve their bottom line.
posted by Scientist at 9:39 PM on March 27, 2012


And yes: all of my adjuncts are teaching one class per quarter, and are teaching because they enjoy it, and there's plenty of stable, higher-paid work in their field. If you really want to play this game, go look at their bios.

Uh, yeah... the situation of the people in your link is completely atypical of adjunct teachers in every way, and it has something, but far from everything, to do with being in what you're calling a "craft" discipline (that is, in a professional program rather than a liberal-arts-and-sciences research field). The people in your link are what we might call lifestyle adjuncts (as you might call a shop whose owner enjoys running it, but doesn't need it to make money, a "lifestyle business"): people who presumably choose to teach because they find it personally rewarding, but need the money only as a token compensation for their efforts. Quite apart from your gross overstatement of the hourly wage equivalent (which Scientist already demolished, but really, the pay-per-student-contact-hour-only thing is a ridiculously recurrent canard in discussions like this), it's a sad thing to see this being held up as any kind of point of reference in a discussion about wages and working conditions for non-lifestyle teachers. It's basically fine with everyone involved if lifestyle adjuncts continue teaching, at whatever token wage; no one objects to a rich neurosurgeon or a rich lawyer or a rich engineer teaching an occasional course to students of their profession. But the vast majority of adjuncts in the vast majority of colleges and universities are people who want a career in teaching, and who are trying to eke out a living around or below the poverty line because they can't find a secure, fairly compensated, benefitted teaching position — not people with other stable income sources who enjoy the non-material rewards of teaching an occasional course. It's silly even to claim these are the same category of work; one of them isn't work (in the "job you do so you can pay rent and get healthcare" sense) at all.
posted by RogerB at 9:49 PM on March 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


one more dead town's last parade, RogerB -

I'm not making any claims about any larger population than those I know about, which was my entire reason for chiming in, in the first place: we have a nice large thread with self-reported (and obviously biased) data making a pretty huge jump to the idea that teaching adjunct is shitty pay. And it likely is, for those that only teach adjunct and are doing it because they really want a career in teaching but it's all the University will offer. But as you pointed out for me, there are multiple reasons people teach adjunct, and for some of those people, the pay is quite good on an hourly basis and they feel they are supporting education. You see what you want to see; I added a data point, which is real, and not at all inflated, which illustrates a completely different phenomenon. Perhaps you missed where I said "adjunct professor" means something really, really, really different, but ultimately, thanks for agreeing with me and giving this difference a name ("lifestyle").

Can you support this - the vast majority of adjuncts in the vast majority of colleges and universities are people who want a career in teaching - with any reference at all?


Scientist -

Its an alluring proposition and it's a shame that so many universities exploit that dream to serve their bottom line.

It is. I agree. Can you understand how my statement in no way disagrees with that? I find it interesting that the standard reaction to a fairly benign statement is to argue why I'm wrong, rather than try to understand where I'm coming from and why I would participate in the discussion in the first place. I started a school for a number of reasons, one of which is to help stop various forms of exploitation of students and faculty.
posted by jkolko at 6:25 AM on March 28, 2012


There is an interesting side effect of the heath care bill that could be manipulated to improve this situation somewhat : We could restrict institutions who offer adjunct positions without health insurance from receiving federally baked student financial aid. Institutions could still hire adjuncts who received healthcare through the university's student health coverage or retired faculty receiving medicare, but they cannot simply hire young PhDs as adjuncts, limiting their exploitability after post graduation.
posted by jeffburdges at 6:54 AM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


the pay is quite good on an hourly basis

Only if you exclude the prep work that's required outside the classroom; otherwise, you're likely heading down toward minimum wage or below, depending on class sizes.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 8:03 AM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Can you support this [...] with any reference at all?

Yes, I can. But frankly this is like asking for a "reference" before you'll concede that the sky is blue — asking this in a discussion of academic labor is a sign of astonishingly deep, possibly wilful ignorance about the topic. Start here: AAUP Contingent Faculty page (take a look at their reports and research, especially this one). The AFT also has a similar issue page containing similarly informative research, and a search of their site will turn up many more specifically focused reports.
posted by RogerB at 8:13 AM on March 28, 2012


RogerB - Spare me the insults. There's nothing astonishing, deep, or wilful about my ignorance. I'm not an expert in traditional academia, and I'm ignorant of a lot of things. I'm quite happy to admit my ignorance, and I'm equally happy to do something about it - like ask for data to help inform my point of view.

And thanks for the data. It's informative.

But the links you posted don't actually support your comment at all. Your comment specifically described the intent of the majority of those employed as adjuncts. Data that proves there are a lot of adjuncts doesn't indicate in any way that "the vast majority want a career in teaching." Case studies of a single adjunct having a particular opinion don't indicate in any way that "the vast majority want a career in teaching."

I have a feeling that if you stopped to investigate, you would find that you are arguing here on Metafilter amongst people that agree with you - and likely agree vehemently - except that you seem to engage with guns blazing, and so never actually engage in any form of productive discourse. You might reconsider your approach.
posted by jkolko at 9:19 AM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Speaking of trying not to generalize from observing a single institution: has anyone else seen unionized Tenure Track faculty and non-unionized adjunct? Because the CC I once worked for was like that and it seemed very much like a "got mine" scenario, and ultimately underwriting the doom of the union in general to have 5 people on tap for every 2 FT workloads.

I agree that adjuncting is a nice avenue to bring in professionals in industry who want a side gig. But I don't think this group accounts for army of adjunct where I worked, who taught 50 percent of the classes.
posted by pwnguin at 10:55 AM on March 28, 2012


As a state employee in a "right to work state", it is against the law for me to join a union. Just another data point in all of this. (I also had to sign an oath of allegiance to the state!)

I am in the sciences. All of the adjunct faculty I know would prefer to be full-time faculty. Several of them are underemployed with full time jobs that do not require their PhD (lab tech type jobs) and continue to adjunct on the side in hopes that they can actually use their PhD at some future point.

The proposal has been made at this school that some of the currently part-time adjuncts be hired as full-time lecturers, with benefits but without the research, service, or student mentoring responsibilities of professors (or the higher salaries that come with the title). My feeling was that we all had an overwhelmingly negative response to that, worried about a permanent class of second class citizens among the faculty. But such a solution is probably better than the persistent limbo of adjuncts, which is de facto permanent second class citizenship.
posted by hydropsyche at 9:16 AM on April 11, 2012


« Older For how long have you been an observer of New York...  |  MAIL SUPREMACY - How the Daily... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments