Join 3,512 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


they’re willing to do it for the money: there’s no shortage of them
July 26, 2012 11:09 AM   Subscribe

I fantasize about academic sharecroppers organizing with contingent workers across industries, a category (taxi drivers, seasonal workers in agriculture and tourism, truckers, office temps, construction temps...) that has exploded over the last twenty years. Together their power would overturn cities. But for that to happen, academic sharecroppers will have to tear their allegiance from the people who love what they love, that is, they will need to understand that my job is funded by their oppression, that there are more of them than there are of me, that they are the shaky foundation on which people like me totteringly stand. There are more and more of them and fewer and fewer of me. Adjuncts as sharecroppers. There's a reason it's #14.

Meanwhile, Yale is trying to figure out what to do with its recent Ph.D.s.
The Mellon Grant will also allow Yale to build on an already existing program for post-graduate fellows in the humanities. The program provides recent doctoral degree graduates with new opportunities to teach at the undergraduate level and to broaden their teaching portfolios to include a diverse palette of humanities courses. In addition to enhancing the future employment prospects of the Ph.D. graduates, the program will further enrich the robust community of humanities scholars at Yale.

Yale is also considering ways of extending the resources afforded by the Mellon grant by developing partnerships with nearby universities and liberal arts colleges. Among strategies under consideration is a cost-sharing plan whereby Yale would pay part of the salaries for recent Yale Ph.D.s to teach at small liberal arts colleges and other universities within a a two-hour driving radius of New Haven. With this pooled funding, Yale could increase the number of post-doctoral fellows it supports, and the fellows themselves would find new teaching opportunities and gain pedagogical experience.
Previously: The Adjunct Project.
posted by gerryblog (67 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite

 
I've posted this other, similarly provocative metaphor in the comments here, but forgot to include it in the main post. Rationing by Queue: The Postdoc as Breadline.
posted by gerryblog at 11:11 AM on July 26, 2012


Ugh, now I wish even more that I'd gotten into Yale.
posted by liketitanic at 11:13 AM on July 26, 2012


But for that to happen, academic sharecroppers will have to ... understand that my job is funded by their oppression, that there are more of them than there are of me, that they are the shaky foundation on which people like me totteringly stand.
Speaking as an adjunct sharecropper, I'm astonished that she imagines we lack this insight. But if her fantasy union starts organizing (truckers? hellooo, Teamsters membership!), I'll happily enlist.
posted by feral_goldfish at 11:29 AM on July 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ok. You are a sharecropper...but you choose to stay one and write up about how bad it is. Why? Because you love the setting and willingly stay with it.
posted by Postroad at 11:31 AM on July 26, 2012


You are a sharecropper...but you choose to stay one and write up about how bad it is.

The very first sentences of the piece explain that the author is a tenured professor.
posted by gerryblog at 11:33 AM on July 26, 2012 [11 favorites]


Really nicely put piece. Thanks for posting it.
posted by latkes at 11:50 AM on July 26, 2012


Well, it's good that Yale is thinking about improving it teaching opportunities in the humanities; in some departments, teaching your own course is nearly impossible.
posted by jb at 12:00 PM on July 26, 2012


I really, really want to get a PhD. I love research, I love teaching. A number of professors from my masters program were very supportive of the idea. However, pieces like this come out, and I'm just not sure I could give up my current well-paying job doing work I mostly enjoy to gamble that maybe I'll beat the odds (or log-odds) and make it in academia. The glut of PhDs out there isn't going away any time soon.
posted by smirkette at 12:11 PM on July 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


I hate the way adjuncts are treated, and I've tried to do something about it at my own university.

A few important points, though:

1. Adjuncts in my department mostly wouldn't really qualify for tenure-track jobs there/here. Most don't have their Ph.D.s. Many are grad students from other schools making some money and getting some experience in their last year of grad school. And so on. It's not as if, on average, the distinction between tenure-track faculty and adjuncts is entirely arbitrary.

2. It's misleading to suggest that it's the cushy jobs of tenure-track faculty that make adjuncts necessary. If universities spent money more wisely--less on administrators, less on sports, less on bread and circuses for the students--they could hire enough full-time faculty to teach all the classes. But it's not like tenure-track faculty (at the average school) have cushy jobs, supported on the backs of adjuncts.

Our administrators multiply like bunnies, and their main job seems to be making more work for us. We could, in all honesty, get by with half the number we have. In fact, we'd be better for it. Oh and: we are currently building a large, expensive frisbee golf course. Yes, the game invented to be played on college campuses...we're building a special field for it, with custom-made obstacles. I'd suggest, by way of being snide, that we build a kick-the-can stadium...if I were sure the suggestion would not be implemented...
posted by Fists O'Fury at 12:11 PM on July 26, 2012 [10 favorites]


I link to this a lot: Just Don't Go - Part 2
posted by lalochezia at 12:12 PM on July 26, 2012


Hi, Geryblog --

Is there a reason why the note on postdocs qua rationing breadline seems to suggest it is a problem in the humanities but not in the sciences? Or at least, doesn't address it except to note that it's a model borrowed from the physical sciences?
posted by samofidelis at 12:20 PM on July 26, 2012


It's misleading to suggest that it's the cushy jobs of tenure-track faculty that make adjuncts necessary. If universities spent money more wisely--less on administrators, less on sports, less on bread and circuses for the students--they could hire enough full-time faculty to teach all the classes.

This.

I am an adjunct. Some (I would not say all) faculty I know are all too aware that their ability to teach a reduced courseload and get their research done is thanks to the labour of adjunct instructors. And there are very few whom I would characterize as living large and enjoying the good life as a result. They work very, very hard, and long, long hours. Most of them are very good at their jobs, and I include teaching in that. Meanwhile, (and I've pointed this out on the blue before), there are university presidents who receive close to a million dollars per year. I'm not even talking about the Ivy League here. Not even close. I'm sure these people work very, very hard, too. But not ten times as hard as the tenured professors I know. They certainly working as hard when they leave and get severance packages in the several hundreds of thousands of dollars per year after they retire.

Meanwhile, universities continually upgrade the facilities with more and more student lounges. They're ostensibly for studying but really they're more social spaces. The library keeps putting more and more books in storage and trying to find more "efficient" ways to use space because they're running out of room in part because students need couches.

The problem with adjunct salaries can't be laid wholly at the feet of full-time professors. Not all of them are entirely without blame, but there are far better places to pointing fingers.
posted by synecdoche at 12:22 PM on July 26, 2012 [7 favorites]


1. Adjuncts in my department mostly wouldn't really qualify for tenure-track jobs there/here. Most don't have their Ph.D.s. Many are grad students from other schools making some money and getting some experience in their last year of grad school. And so on. It's not as if, on average, the distinction between tenure-track faculty and adjuncts is entirely arbitrary.

I think there's definitely a lot to be said for that caveat; MLA president Michael Berube even talks a bit about the difference between the national TT market and the highly local NTT market here. Still, I would suggest this is increasingly not the case: the collapse of the TT job market has left a PhDs scrambling to find any type of academic employment at all, and now they very commonly do wind up adjuncting in departments alongside peers (or younger) who are being paid twice as much or more. (This is especially true if you view, as I do, the postdoc as a glorified adjunct position.)

A friend on Facebook put this pretty well:
...higher education labor is caught in the teeth of a bizarre disjunction: on one side, starvation-wage-earning adjuncts teaching the same classes that (on the other side) rigorously selected people with nearly the same credentials are hired to teach at full compensation and benefits.
2. It's misleading to suggest that it's the cushy jobs of tenure-track faculty that make adjuncts necessary.

I don't know if I agree. Without adjuncts, who would teach those courses? The easy exploitation of adjuncts is a buffer that protects TT faculty from flexibilization.
posted by gerryblog at 12:23 PM on July 26, 2012


Is there a reason why the note on postdocs qua rationing breadline seems to suggest it is a problem in the humanities but not in the sciences? Or at least, doesn't address it except to note that it's a model borrowed from the physical sciences?

I don't know, but I imagine it's because the person who wrote it is coming from a humanities background. Postdocs are also significantly worse in the humanities than in the sciences, from what I can gather: less prestige, less time for research, on a shorter term with less pay and little opportunity to cross over into TT employment. But perhaps they're terrible on both sides.
posted by gerryblog at 12:25 PM on July 26, 2012


Originally, the Ph.D. was only something that you got if you were independently wealthy or, at least, had a patron who was. It was not viewed as a means of supporting one's self, let alone a family, as it was recognized that the vast majority of academic disciplines have no immediate--and in most cases even attenuated--economic productivity. "Philosophy bakes no bread," as it were.

Philosophers, as is their wont, tend to interpret that in a particular way which disarms the aphorism, i.e., that philosophy does, in fact, have some practical application. That is as may be, but it's also too clever by half. The point is not that philosophy is useless, because it isn't. The point is that to the extent that philosophy has a use, it is not a material one. It, literally, bakes no bread, and fixating only on the metaphorical meaning misses the forest for the trees. Philosophers don't bake bread; that's what bakers are for. It may be good for society if bakers know how to philosophize, but at the end of the day, someone still needs to bake the damn bread, and you do that by baking, not philosophizing.

Somehow, we forgot that. Somehow, we got it into our heads that it makes sense for an economy to employ tens of thousands of people who do not immediately contribute to the material well-being of society. Is history important? Yes. Vital even. So are philosophy, literature, and the rest of the arts. But, historically speaking, they are luxuries. You buy them, you don't buy things with them. So a gentleman, in the early-modern sense of the word, might go to university and get a doctorate, but only because he didn't need to work to live. Most of the people we're sending to university these days not only aren't independently wealthy, but actually have to go through significant financial hardship to be there.

I think this is connected to a broader point that we've somehow assumed that it's possible to have a vital, functional, even growing economy that isn't composed of a majority of agriculture and manufacturing. But there's a special sort of amnesia involved in academia. The university has always been one of the bastions of privilege. Letting people with no money through the doors does not actually change what it is that universities do.
posted by valkyryn at 12:35 PM on July 26, 2012 [7 favorites]


Good gravy, it is not tenured faculty that has created the adjunct market it is the lower, WAY lower, cost of the adjunct. The administration of universities get to reduce the pains in the ass tenured faculty through attrition and get the cost savings of hiring adjuncts who are not players at all on campus. Even if you have a faculty union of strength the adjuncts never participate in great enough numbers to even make a serious dent in governance. Hell, it is hard enough to get them to yell at the union negotiator for more money during negotiations.

Because of the cheapness of adjunct faculty the admin and its stooges then start saying, "tenure, why do faculty need tenure?" It is SO unfair to the adjuncts. Why yes, it is so unfair that you, the administration, cannot fire ALL the faculty at will.

MBA-ification of higher education is appalling. Know the price of everything but the value of nothing.
posted by jadepearl at 12:37 PM on July 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


Ok...I am long retired but "back then" we did not need or use or have adjuncts except for very specialized courses, and not for"grunt work." we had grad students going for degrees so they too could become full-time tenured teachers. Adjuncts came on the scene when universities discovered they could save money by hiring fewer full timers and giving much less tenure.

You do not need adjuncts. You use them to save money. At one time, accrediting agencies questioned the number of full-timers to part-timers; the number of PhDs etc etc but now they too have become part of the corporate world the university has become, the very thing noted a long time ago by Thorsten Veblen.

What is for me interesting and a bit distressing is that in all the discussions of money problems and higher education nearly always no one ever notes the huge jump in administration personnel that has taken place over the years.
posted by Postroad at 12:40 PM on July 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


The problem with adjunct salaries can't be laid wholly at the feet of full-time professors. Not all of them are entirely without blame, but there are far better places to pointing fingers.
I agree wholeheartedly with your other points, but: is anyone actually arguing the position disputed here? (The tenured poet is expressing her guilt at merely participating in a dysfunctional system which disproportionately privileges her over many of her immediate colleagues, not claiming to be Public Enemy #1 or the fattest cat in the university.)
posted by feral_goldfish at 12:40 PM on July 26, 2012


If I seemed perhaps, to have seen further than others, it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants, who, in turn are standing on mountainous piles of dead slaves.
posted by StickyCarpet at 12:46 PM on July 26, 2012 [12 favorites]


Our administrators multiply like bunnies, and their main job seems to be making more work for us.

Funny, over in the provost's office we have been known to grump that if we could get the units to provide us the information we need we could avoid hiring more admins. Thankfully it's not much my area, but I was involved in such an issue last year; we had to throw a lot of labor at the wall because we could not get units to provide us with appropriate credential information for their instructors. Without it we wouldn't pass our review with the credentialing committee and nobody would get to keep working.

It's easy to point fingers back and forth but not all the pressure that comes from administration has anything to do with what administration wants; I'm involved in a huge number of projects that all involved wish would just go away, but we have legal reporting requirements. My office sits in the financial aid area and I listen to them grind away at preparing reports required if we're going to continue to be able to get any funds for our students. You know, the ones who go to those classes?

Classes we sometimes have trouble scheduling and have to hire adjuncts for because it's a herculean tasks to get professors to teach at the times when students wish to come to classes. I'm not passing the adjunct buck here in any way, but at least at our institution we get a lot of them (particularly in technology/engineering) who are in local business and willing to come teach at the 705p slot. There's nothing special about the tech startup teaching one of our Intro to Signal Processing class; it could be taught by any of our engineering profs, a department that's well funded by several grants and some building naming donations. But they won't teach in the evening.

Adjunct costs matter, but laying everything on that isn't accurate, at least not at my institution.
posted by phearlez at 12:47 PM on July 26, 2012 [5 favorites]


Somehow, we got it into our heads that it makes sense for an economy to employ tens of thousands of people who do not immediately contribute to the material well-being of society.
I blame Adam Smith, for arguing that economies cannot maximize their productivity without the kind of good public education that enables citizens to critique policy.
posted by feral_goldfish at 12:49 PM on July 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


this, though pdf, well worth a look
posted by Postroad at 12:51 PM on July 26, 2012


I blame Adam Smith, for arguing that economies cannot maximize their productivity without the kind of good public education that enables citizens to critique policy.

Primary and secondary education are not universities.
posted by valkyryn at 12:57 PM on July 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


University of Oregon adjuncts are now unionized (along with the faculty and everyone else - all non-administrative positions are now in some union - either GTFF, SEIU, or UAUO). It will be interesting to see what happens now. Hopefully, it will put the institution on a less exploitative path and make it a model for others - in much the way it did when grad students unionized and eventually won raises for all and health care for grad students.
posted by pmb at 12:57 PM on July 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Why college costs have gone up so rapidly: a good argument can be found here and here. It's not about greedy faculty (as the pundits claim) or greedy administrators (as many other claim), it's a lot worse than that. After all, if it were purely about mendacity, it wouldn't be so goddamned universal. There'd be pockets of resistance, a smattering of schools that transcend the problem. But there aren't. Every college is getting hit with it. The problem is systemic.
posted by Harvey Jerkwater at 12:58 PM on July 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think the main problem with the use of adjuncts is that they're dead-end, non-benefited positions that are paid like crap and not offered health insurance. If some of that could be resolved, I honestly think it could be a benefit to the education system. Tenured research professors really are not necessary to teach 100-200 level courses; their level of expertise in their subject is not only unnecessary to do it, it's unhelpful. It's a waste of their time, which could be better spent teaching the high-level courses their expertise is actually needed for and doing research. Having dedicated teachers to take some of the pressure off of them wouldn't be a bad thing at all if they weren't kept at starvation wages and overworked.
posted by Mitrovarr at 12:59 PM on July 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think the main problem with the use of adjuncts is that they're dead-end, non-benefited positions that are paid like crap and not offered health insurance.

But other than that, Mrs. Lincoln...
posted by gerryblog at 1:01 PM on July 26, 2012


What is for me interesting and a bit distressing is that in all the discussions of money problems and higher education nearly always no one ever notes the huge jump in administration personnel that has taken place over the years.

Yes, there are more people at universities who aren't teaching than there were a generation ago, but a generation ago, "tech support" was the guy who changed the bulbs in the projector rather than the army of sysadmins and other IT professionals who keep the modern university going. Similarly, unlike 30 years ago, we now have the Clery Act. Care to argue that students are worse off for knowing the crime rates around campus? I'm not saying that there's never any fat anywhere in university administration, but you can't just look at "professors" and "all others" and assume that the problem must be that the latter category is growing faster.
posted by Etrigan at 1:01 PM on July 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


1. Adjuncts in my department mostly wouldn't really qualify for tenure-track jobs there/here. Most don't have their Ph.D.s. Many are grad students from other schools making some money and getting some experience in their last year of grad school. And so on. It's not as if, on average, the distinction between tenure-track faculty and adjuncts is entirely arbitrary.

This absolutely matches what I have seen. It's a bifurcated labor market, and I think for the most part people are fairly clearly on one side or the other.

Personally, I think the primary solution is at the accreditation level. Set a floor for the percentage of courses taught by tenure track faculty, and if you can't meet that, you don't get accredited as a school or program. Within that, I also think unionization and organizing by adjuncts is absolutely a good thing, but won't solve things nationally.
posted by Forktine at 1:02 PM on July 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


Funny, over in the provost's office we have been known to grump that if we could get the units to provide us the information we need we could avoid hiring more admins.

Translation: if we could get the faculty to do more undesirable administrative work without any form of compensation whatsoever, we could avoid hiring more admins.

Testier and unfair translation: If we could get faculty to do more adminstrative work instead of all that teaching and research bullshit, we could avoid hiring more admins.

Yes, there are more people at universities who aren't teaching than there were a generation ago, but a generation ago, "tech support" was the guy who changed the bulbs in the projector rather than the army of sysadmins and other IT professionals who keep the modern university going. Similarly, unlike 30 years ago, we now have the Clery Act.

AFAIK, most people looking at the increases in administrative staff mean just that: administrative, not support like IT, food services, student health, etc. A vast explosion in deans and deanlets and associate provosts and provostini and assistant VPs and such.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:06 PM on July 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


ROU_Xenophobe: From the blog I quoted from earlier, written by a community college administrator:

A recent study showed that the growth in “administration” has not, in fact, been in people in high-level or supervisory roles. In fact, the number of people in those roles has decreased even more rapidly than the number of people in tenure-track faculty lines. So the Marc Bousquet-ish cartoon of rapacious deans living high on the hog while hollowing out departments is exactly wrong.

The actual growth has occurred mostly in three areas: IT, financial aid, and students with disabilities. The former is a predictable outgrowth of technical change, and the latter two are entirely compliance-driven. Critics of “bloat” are invited to specify which of those three areas is inessential.

The external argument from “administrative bloat” has resulted from a category confusion. If you lump all salaried non-faculty employees into a single category and call it “administration,” then yes, you see growth. But conflating financial aid staff or the people at the computer center helpdesk with deans and vice presidents is mystifying at best.

I’ve also heard ‘bloat” used to describe people who coordinate outcomes assessment or diversity programming. But those are really objections to outcomes assessment and diversity programming. If you’re going to do those things, you need people to do them. (And if you don’t do the former, good luck keeping your accreditation.)

I can’t imagine an intelligent way to identify “bloat” without knowing what people actually do. In my first couple of years as faculty, I had no idea what Human Resources did all day; my only dealings with them involved signing up for direct deposit, which hardly seemed to require a full staff. Now, of course, I see the necessity.

All of that said, the reason the “administrative bloat” argument feels right to so many people is that colleges and universities have taken on many more functions than they have in the past. Most community colleges are spared the administrative nightmare of dorms, but even here, we have to deal with ever-more-onerous regulations, increased student needs, increased reporting requirements, ever-tighter record-keeping and compliance requirements, and basic technological advances. For example, we have someone whose full-time job it is to manage and coordinate the human patient simulators for Nursing. When I was in college, those simulators (and that job) didn’t exist. Every grant-funded program needs a dedicated Director as a condition of the grant. (If you really want to strike a blow for efficiency, replace grant-funded programs with significantly higher sustained operating budgets, and let colleges figure out for themselves how best to use the money. But nooo...)

posted by Harvey Jerkwater at 1:13 PM on July 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


Where I teach, we call each other "junk lecturers." Read that other FPP about the tenured professor who jumped ship to work for google. It's the Republicans' fault.
posted by Obscure Reference at 1:18 PM on July 26, 2012


It's too easy to blame the GOP. They're a cog here. The same thing is happening to universities in Canada and even overseas.
posted by mek at 1:22 PM on July 26, 2012


I dunno, Harvey J...maybe my school is a special case...but it's hard to deny administrative bloat here. The university crammed an ill-conceived general education program down our throats a few years back, and created a "college of general education" out of thin air. The core curriculum stuff, which used to be administered by existing departments and colleges, now has its own dean, its own deanling, and five "cluster coordinators." Oh, and, of course: secretaries, offices, and all that. A friend of mind got a kind of low-grade administrative position, and hates her job because she doesn't know why she was hired and can't find anything to do. And that's where lots of the bloat occurs. I keep running into people who have been hired by the university to staff these new centers and weird, quasi-counseling-y offices that are springing up everywhere. (E.g. our "student success center" as just one example...God knows what happens there...)
posted by Fists O'Fury at 1:25 PM on July 26, 2012


Read that other FPP about the tenured professor who jumped ship to work for google

Link, please?

I think I know that guy.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 1:31 PM on July 26, 2012


@feral_goldfish, not so much here but I have heard the argument made. Mostly I was responding to the bit from Fists O'Fury's post, which I quoted. Blame was probably the wrong word on my part, in this discussion, at least. I do feel that there are a lot of T-T faculty who are not being oblivious to the fact that having adjuncts around makes their jobs... if not easier, certainly different but aren't quite willing to go to bat for them. This is problematic because, well, adjuncts are sometimes called "contingent" faculty for a reason. They have very little power to do anything about their lot because they're quite replaceable. Tenured faculty do wield some power and some of them do what they can but many others do not and increasingly see adjuncting as "paying your dues." That'd be all well and good if paying your dues got you admission into the club.

With regards to people saying that most adjuncts are not qualified for T-T jobs, I imagine that's true in some places. Where I teach, though, we have a number—a growing number—of adjunct faculty who are well qualified but can't find work because it just isn't out there. The competition is fierce and getting worse. These are people with publications—even books! Published! With a good press!—and excellent teaching evaluations, as well as strong letters of recommendation.

At the same time, we have a growing crop of part-timers who have just settled into their positions and aren't going anywhere. Their seniority does count here and so they continue to get a few classes each year, enough to live off. (I am at a place that, relatively speaking, treats its adjuncts pretty well.) They're well beyond hope of a T-T job, but it is steady pay and I think they're okay with that. But now the newly minted PhDs who are looking for a class so that they can "pay their dues," as well as upper-year PhD students who just want something to pay the bills while they finish up, are unable to find teaching gigs and are forced to either leave town or find non-academic work to pay the bills, emerging on the other side without the teaching experience that is expected on the job market.

An alarming number of good scholars and good teachers are being lost because of all this and more's the pity. The quality of education students receive will suffer. The problems run very, very deep.
posted by synecdoche at 1:31 PM on July 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


Don't worry, once we get rid of tenure, labor costs in academia will go down down down! (As will academic freedom!)

Re: Overproduction of PhDs: I think that if the US had a sane, nationally-mandated vacation policy (4-6 weeks per year) like other advanced countries, fewer people (though obviously not enough to end the glut) would pursue careers in academia, one of the few professions in the US that often offers a humane amount of time "off."
posted by dhens at 1:31 PM on July 26, 2012


Ugh, that sentence in my first paragraph... it's just awful. Sorry. Should have edited before posting.
posted by synecdoche at 1:32 PM on July 26, 2012


And...used Google to find post about Google (from within a Google IP space). Metaheadasplode.

Here's the link.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 1:33 PM on July 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Translation: if we could get the faculty to do more undesirable administrative work without any form of compensation whatsoever, we could avoid hiring more admins.

Oh come on, really? Is any administrative work desirable? Are you under the impression that, in the example I specified, that anyone really wanted to provide the giant pile of documentation that our accrediting organization demanded?

And mostly these requests go to the chair who is indeed compensated for the additional responsibility as well as provided relief from hir teaching load.

Aside from all of that, the point I was making was in response to this idea that administration expands and simultaneously demands more of academics. So either it needs to be done or it doesn't. You can't both complain about not wanting to do it and demand nobody be hired to take care of it.

There's plenty of problems in academia and I have seen my share of bloat though inefficiency and failed or sandbagged projects. I just reject this idea that it's all happening in some sort of top-down manner. It doesn't match my observations, at least.
posted by phearlez at 1:41 PM on July 26, 2012


I think that if the US had a sane, nationally-mandated vacation policy (4-6 weeks per year) like other advanced countries, fewer people (though obviously not enough to end the glut) would pursue careers in academia, one of the few professions in the US that often offers a humane amount of time "off."

Not convinced this is true. There are plenty of non-academic jobs that offer this sort of thing, the absence of a legal requirement notwithstanding. Lawyers certainly can take that amount of time off, and many do. So do physicians. All federal employees get two-and-a-half weeks their first three years, four weeks for years three to six, and five weeks after that, and they all get ten designated holidays. Many state and local governments have similar policies. Teachers pretty uniformly get ten to twelve weeks off a year. And a lot of businesses offer four-odd weeks off once you've been there for a few years.

But they're all salaried. The real trick is vacation time for non-salaried employees. A lot of non-salaried employees don't necessarily have PTO. But I think it's pretty safe to say that except for the phenomenon of overqualified people working wage jobs, most of the people who don't have PTO or have less than four weeks of it a year probably weren't even going to go to college, let alone aim for academia.

So yes, maybe we do need some kind of mandated vacation policy--I'm not going to argue for or against at this point--but I highly doubt that instituting one would have any effect on the number of people getting Ph.D.s.
posted by valkyryn at 2:08 PM on July 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


Regarding the academic qualifications of adjuncts:

My wife was an adjunct for 7 or 8 years. She's been a contract instructor for the past 5. All in English or Composition departments. Part of that time she had a 1 year contract managing the other adjuncts. The department she works for has 4 full time staff and engages something like 30 adjuncts every semester to cover their courses.

What she tells me is that the proportion of terminal degrees in the adjunct pool is steadily increasing, at least in those fields.

That may well not be true in other fields, but I doubt it: When I first became aware of the existence of adjuncts at the university level, 30 years ago, every single one I knew of had a PhD. Since then, it's fair to say that every adjunct I've personally known who worked in a university was either a PhD or had significant relevant experience (e.g., was an award-winning novelist).

In community colleges and small colleges, I've met a bunch of non-PhD adjuncts. But I think the field is shifting there, too (my wife's experience, e.g., is all in state colleges, not in universities).

Now, that's all based on drawing a distinction between adjuncts and GAs. Which, I'll freely admit, is a really problematic (even if valid) distinction.
posted by lodurr at 2:17 PM on July 26, 2012


The most bloatiest university administration I have ever encountered was at one of the world's oldest universities, and its bloat was definitely a historical relic, not anything new.

This university (clue, it's in the UK and rhymes with Bambridge) had (and still has, as far as I know) no central lecture scheduling office to coordinate room use. Instead, every single department - many of them were their own faculties - would have a building just for their own lectures. Also, for reasons that were unclear, there were only lectures in the morning. So there were these buildings all over town sitting empty for the vast majority of the day.

In one faculty, there was reportedly one secretary/admin person for every three students. This is by way of hearsay, but I would still find it amazing even if the ratio weren't so high, as the admin people appeared to excel at not helping people. It's like it was their special mission in life to not guide you through the bureaucracy. In that faculty, I know someone who was told that they weren't eligible to apply for funding, and later found out that they were but the secretary decided that she did not want to have to process their application. Someone else was very nearly kicked out of his program because he did not submit the form (buried in a 50 page+ document) to request to receive another form to request to register for the next term.

The Board of Graduate Studies (BOGS - man, do they deserve the name) is equally insane; people would just work around them to get things done. Like another friend who had sent his thesis -- against the rules - to his committee instead of waiting for BOGS to forward the copies he gave them (printed at his own expense). Which is good, because his viva date came around a few months after he had submitted, and BOGS still hadn't forwarded his thesis to his readers. Of course, they couldn't hold the Viva even though they had already all read the dissertation, because they weren't SUPPOSED to have read the dissertation until BOGS sent it to them, and BOGS hadn't sent it despite having held it for 3+months. So he had to wait another 6 months to hold his viva and graduate.

Great research and teaching was and presumably is still being done at that university - all in spite of the administration.

And every time I think of crazy administration and bureaucracy in North America, I remember that place and think about how we're just dilettantes.
posted by jb at 2:20 PM on July 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


As for the "adjuncts aren't qualified to be TT" argument:

I've always found this to be so strange. If they aren't good enough to be a member of your faculty, then why are you allowing them to be the public face of your faculty? Teaching isn't the whole of an academic position, of course, but it's still a very important part. If the adjuncts are good enough to teach, they are - by definition - good enough to be in your departments, because they already are.

There may be some teaching positions that don't really require an active researcher to be teaching -- what I can think of are language skills and applied courses or the arts. I have long thought that language courses would be better taught not by the literature specialists that fill foreign language departments, but by professional language teachers whose interest was in pedagogy and language, not literature, the same way that ESL is done. This would be better for the students and the teachers. (As opposed to the current system, where it's inevitably some overworked grad student teaching you, "Bonjour, je m'appelle jb...")

But for other courses - even introductory ones - having an active researcher is important. University courses are not high school - you aren't there to learn just the basics but also the most up-to-date parts of the field, and even in slow-moving fields one can get out of date within less than a decade after leaving active research. If your lecturer isn't actively engaged in research, what your intro lectures cover could already be out-of-date. It's no good listening to lectures on the class origins of the English Civil War, for example, only to get to the upper level courses and find out that primarily Marxist explanations for that conflict had been overturned 40 years ago. (This isn't a random example - I did have one older, and not so active, professor who assigned me to write a paper on the "Rise of the Gentry" debate in 17th century British history -- that was a debate put to bed BEFORE I WAS BORN).

We go to university to learn from people who are active researchers, even if they aren't as talented as teachers, because being at university is about: engaging with the academic research process. If you don't have that, university will just be several more years of secondary school.
posted by jb at 2:33 PM on July 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


And every time I think of crazy administration and bureaucracy in North America, I remember that place and think about how we're just dilettantes.

Yeah, it's amazing how much bureaucratic cruft can develop over eight hundred years. I'd bet money that a lot of the more inefficient traditions--and that's what they are, not just policies, but traditions--hark back to a time when a significant percentage of both faculty and students were titled landowners.
posted by valkyryn at 2:35 PM on July 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


You do not need adjuncts. You use them to save money. At one time, accrediting agencies questioned the number of full-timers to part-timers; the number of PhDs etc etc but now they too have become part of the corporate world the university has become, the very thing noted a long time ago by Thorsten Veblen.


That's the problem with the "unionization" idea: unionization = tenure.
posted by ennui.bz at 2:40 PM on July 26, 2012


well.. to get all pedantic

the faculty were not often titled landowners, but the scions of elite families (titled and non-titled - England historically has a tiny nobility and a large gentry). After all, the actual titled landowners were much too busy being noble, sitting in the House of Lords, drinking themselves under the table. And, of course, many were also in the Church.

some, but not all, of their students were titled, but that cut down on the bureaucracy: in the eighteenth century, students who qualified for and paid for Noble or Gentleman Commoner status didn't even have to sit exams to get their degrees. Just pay, hang around for three years, graduate. (They were officially the MOST ENTITLED generation of college students EVAR).

but I think the specialness of the contemporary medieval university is the mixing of ancient organization (whereby every college has its own legal status and isn't under the authority of the university) with clearly Kafka-inspired 20th century British bureaucracy, of the type that made the WW2 war effort work but also inspired Brazil.

all glued together by the cluelessness of assuming that because they are who they are, no one else could possibly have a better way of doing things. Certainly not any upstart institution - some of those aren't even 500 years old yet!
posted by jb at 2:43 PM on July 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


That's the problem with the "unionization" idea: unionization = tenure.
What problem? Are you claiming that wanting unions for adjuncts is necessarily inconsistent with wanting tenure for tenured faculty?
posted by feral_goldfish at 2:52 PM on July 26, 2012


> Ugh, now I wish even more that I'd gotten into Yale.

Ugh, now I'm even gladder that I dropped out of the PhD program at Yale.
posted by languagehat at 2:59 PM on July 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


Hipster.
posted by Nomyte at 3:07 PM on July 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Primary and secondary education are not universities.

True -- but what's your point? Are you saying that students don't find their critical faculties enhanced by post-secondary education? That primary and secondary school teachers aren't affected by their own post-secondary training? That post-secondary education is only for the elite?
posted by feral_goldfish at 3:11 PM on July 26, 2012


Academia is definitely problematic in the US.

Yeah there is a glut of adjuncts in many programs even to the point where some departments use adjuncts to teach master level coursework. Do they serve a needed function? Probably because they allow departments to stretch their share of the university's revenue further and free up researchers for the supposedly more important tasks of conducting research and grant writing.

Why do institutions keep pumping out grad students in field that have no hope of actually getting jobs? Because all too often those professors need the low cost labor of the grad student labor pool to conduct their research because they are busy writing grants.

Yes there has been significant growth in administration at many institutions and there are definitely plenty of highly paid administrators but I venture most of the growth has been centered around institutional compliance, IT and increasing the attractiveness of a university to prospective students (student life positions and what not).

At least at most of the university systems I've seen the number of people assigned to clerical and managerial tasks has stayed relatively sane. The only area that routinely has to add extensive amounts of manpower is IT simply because the relative cost of that and the rapidly increasing requirements of computing in Academia.
posted by vuron at 3:13 PM on July 26, 2012


When students figure out how a university works, they are justifiably angry that they're getting a mix of teaching, some from faculty with PhDs who have done research, published, etc., and some from a grad student who's getting some practice, and some from a guy with a Master's who was able to pick up a few courses to supplement his day job/night job/writing/tax preparing/truck driving, etc. I would really like to see some statistics on the quality of instruction from regular faculty, grad students and adjuncts.

Adjuncts should, of course, unionize. But the faculty unions may not want to let them in, as this is a game-changer. Universities have elaborate hierarchies and rules based on medieval times. Much of this has nothing at all to do with education, research, invention, or producing and publishing anything of any value. Some fields of study have become arcane and bizarre in their specialties. I genuinely believe in the value of knowledge and art for their own sake, but some faculty are publishing what is expected, not creating Truth or Beauty. You know who you are.

I keep hearing about the glut of PhDs; surely there are highly qualified adjunct-meat available. Students racking up that kind of debt deserve a quality product.

Academic freedom. I'm not faculty, though I work at a university. I have no professional freedom. I've seen "academic freedom" used to justify some nasty pieces of work. How about if we all get protected from discrimination on the basis of age, sex, sexual orientation, race, religion, military status, pregnancy, national origin, disability, credit rating, genetics, citizenship, marital or parental status, political affiliation. Sexual orientation, marital or parental status, and political affiliation, by the way, are not usually protected. My boss is free to make stupid choices, and to give me a crappy review because I have different ideas. As long as I produce quality work that meets his requests, why don't I have protection?

It's changing really fast. Some types of learning, and some students, lend themselves well to online courses. The community colleges offer training in the trades for students who want a reliable job, and will be employed at good wages as a plumber, and write the Great American Novel at night. Students are better consumers now, and will spend their tuition at the institution that offers the best value. Sure, some parents want their kids to have the traditional 4 year college experience, but the cost is too high for too many families/students. It's a great thing, spending 4 years learning (c'mon, some of the time it's actually about learning), being with your age cohort, living on what is a virtual island. I would do that again in a heartbeat if I had a pile-o-cash. Do universities want to be a luxury product, or a practical, vocational product, or some pother thing? And then there are the for-profits, with great ads and a fleet of adjuncts. They're not going away.

Adapt or perish.
posted by Mom at 3:22 PM on July 26, 2012


Academic freedom. I'm not faculty, though I work at a university. I have no professional freedom. I've seen "academic freedom" used to justify some nasty pieces of work. […] My boss is free to make stupid choices, and to give me a crappy review because I have different ideas. As long as I produce quality work that meets his requests, why don't I have protection?

It isn't an issue of quality. It's an issue of some faculty producing work that might run counter to the values and interests of university donors (to pick one example). It is still good, quality work, but faculty don't want to risk being shown the door because their research doesn't fit a particular donor's, or even a particular president's, predilections as to how or what their research should be doing. This research might even have a tangible benefit to society. That's why academic freedom is important.
posted by synecdoche at 3:27 PM on July 26, 2012


Adjuncts should, of course, unionize. But the faculty unions may not want to let them in

The author was not proposing that adjuncts join faculty unions. Au contraire. As you will see by reading the article, or even the teeny tiny bit of the article quoted in the original post.
posted by feral_goldfish at 3:29 PM on July 26, 2012


Tenured faculty are assholes. At a time when colleges were told by accrediting groups how many courses could be taught by Part Tie teachers, how many people a school needed for tenure etc,the tenured types thought themselves if not too good for unions than joining the AAUP, a union, they were in the main opposed to collective bargaining...meantime, part time folks were poorly treated and full timers ignored them. Now, schools flooded with adjuncts, tenured content because they are teaching the advanced courses and the "hirelings" teach the lower courses.
Had full time people stood up for unions and for ALL who taught, there would not be the mess there now is.
posted by Postroad at 3:30 PM on July 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wow. It's rare for me to take poets seriously, but for her bravery (and awesome writing style) in publishing this, Catherine Wagner gets ALL my thumbs up. I think I'm actually going to buy one of her books.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 4:46 PM on July 26, 2012


Our Chair did away with adjuncts because he thought it was immoral, but has basically been forced to use recent grad-students who want teaching experience (sort of like an internship I guess) and a few others, who are writers with other jobs, but want to teach CRW classes (and don't really need the money).
Still, I turned down the 3rd ranked "lit theory" school at the time (UF--behind Yale and Duke, but I'm sure it's dropped down by now) because the system is just. so. evil: creating a surplus of workers who then fight tooth and nail for one year, non-tenure track positions at some school in Utah. With a wife and two kids, I don't want to move around, fight for positions, etc., and fortunately, due to the creation of the "Permanent Instructor" position, I don't have to (supposedly--it's still a renewed one year contract). But I'm still mad that our Union doesn't seem to care about helping out adjuncts at all; in fact, when I was an adjunct, we got our first raise in 27 years (1972-1999 with no raise!!) when a few of us were talking about forming a union.
Over the last 15 years, I've seen a ton of Ivy League people come and go, while far far superior teachers--Visitors or some with just Masters--had to move on to other jobs.
posted by whatgorilla at 8:31 PM on July 26, 2012


Our college has done away with adjuncts too: in a single year, we've gone from a faculty of 60 (30 tenure/tenure track) and 30 long-time adjuncts. People who have been teaching for 20 years were let go with little advance notice, no alternate jobs, and no comparable institution in the province, let alone the city. The place I did my doctorate has done something similar: the adjucts are unionized and the admin does not want them to gain a toehold. They're being replaced with grad students -- and upper year undergrads. This means that MA students will be asked to teach undergraduate courses. That's officially insane.

Also: I'm a graduate of The Most Important Research Institution in Canada. I have tenure at Much Smaller and Colder Provincial School: I'm very lucky, because it's a great job, just in a small, isolated and rather lonely place. Summer research keeps me a) sane and b) published.
But I have friends who are products of the same program, with the same PhD, who in some cases are on book #2, who have stunning CVs and teaching dossiers, and who are working as adjuncts. Adjuncts are equivalent to TT professors -- it's a question of luck, and of willingness to move.
posted by jrochest at 9:25 PM on July 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


"and upper year undergrads"

That's insane.
posted by bardic at 11:29 PM on July 26, 2012


Yeah, I felt bad for those let go. Many were better than me. We have 4 or 5 new, state of the art buildings, constant construction, and administrators whose pay has gone up 20-40% in the last 6 years, yet faculty haven't had a raise in years--it's justified by the president (the city's former Mayor) by saying that we're focusing on not letting faculty go; he points out that other Florida universities, who have given raises, have all purged faculty. Michael Berube, in his book, Employment of English, basically argues that the older generation of tenured profs helped to create this mess and should retire early. Sounds good to me.
note: Julian Wolfrey's, a top Derridean scholar, was working part-time somewhere before UF picked him up (he's elsewhere now); he had 3-4 books to his name, along with others he'd edited, and tons of published articles.
posted by whatgorilla at 11:29 PM on July 26, 2012


whatgorilla: Our Chair did away with adjuncts because he thought it was immoral, but has basically been forced to use recent grad-students who want teaching experience (sort of like an internship I guess) and a few others, who are writers with other jobs, but want to teach CRW classes (and don't really need the money).

So, your chair switched from adjuncts to a mix of indentured servants and journeyman dilettantes because she thought sharecropping was immoral?
posted by lodurr at 5:08 AM on July 27, 2012


one of the things that always comes up around discussions of teaching in tertiary institutions in america is this idea that adjuncts and grad students will inherently be poorer teachers than the professors they stand in for.

Most of my schooling has been in humanities and social sciences, but I've worked in an engineering department and taken computer science and life sciences coursework, and I have benefitted from my wife's experience.

A lot of tenured faculty have a strong attitude of entitlement. My wife has mostly taught composition. At a school where she used to adjunct, they would assign freshman comp sections to the regular faculty. This is Comp 101 -- they have a specific set of learning objectives they're supposed to achieve that teach them how to write college papers. Most of the regular faculty taught it as a literature class with two papers. They couldn't be bothered to teach argument or style.

In research institutions, teaching generally has more or less no bearing on your performance evals. So research institutions to a large extent only function as learning institutions because of adjuncts and grad students. The best college-level instructor I ever had for a technical class (biopsych) was a grad student. Guy was a fantastic teacher. My experience has been that in CS you learn a lot more from the TAs than the profs, and that's what the math and EE students I used to work with told me about their fields as well.

So this idea that students are getting gypped because the level of documented experience is lower is offensive to me. They have every right to feel like they're getting gypped -- but it's the whole system that's a sham, and the sharecroppers & indentures aren't to blame for that.
posted by lodurr at 5:17 AM on July 27, 2012


In community colleges and small colleges, I've met a bunch of non-PhD adjuncts. But I think the field is shifting there, too (my wife's experience, e.g., is all in state colleges, not in universities).

I can't speak for any other accrediting agency but the one we're under, SACS, requires us to spend a LOT of time justifying people's credentials to to teach. The gold standard is the terminal degree. Anyone else requires documentation and justification - usually materials that show someone is accomplished in their fields. Dance is an example of an area where this is a pain in the ass since you likely don't have a PhD dance prof.

I don't recall if there was a hard percentage number for how many folks we could justify having who weren't terminal degreed but there was certainly a lot of pressure to keep it as low as possible.
posted by phearlez at 7:46 AM on July 27, 2012


If you go for a full time job at one of the many community colleges or state colleges here in NY, you'll be competing almost every time with PhDs from major universities. It's a rough market right now.
posted by lodurr at 8:01 AM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


I am a tenure-track professor and I am not an asshole.

With that out of the way, the system is very flawed and there is no one answer. What works in rural areas doesn't work in urban areas, and vice versa, for example. What works for a major research university doesn't work for small liberal arts schools.

What does work -- at least, I've seen it do a lot of good, and never harm -- is unionization. I had a kick-ass adjunct (VAP) job at Michigan State (actually even before we unionized -- but the unionization helped).

Here at Oklahoma State, geographical isolation also works in adjuncts' favor. We have a hard time attracting qualified adjunct faculty, so we do our best to create great NTT jobs (full-time, benefits, opportunities for specialized coursework) that are worth moving here for. Critical to this is the advocacy of the TT faculty -- the administration would love (and has suggested) hiring "bright seniors" to teach intro classes that we can't cover (we, the TT faculty, do teach some of them, but they're service courses and in disproportionately high demand). It is the responsibility of the TT faculty to demand, and help enable, the hiring of qualified teachers.

Some form of non-TT faculty will always be necessary -- and even valuable (one of my colleagues who is a permanent non-TT faculty member has refused to consider TT positions for over 20 years now). It is the responsibility of the TT faculty to see themselves as active contributors to the state of the system, not as helpless victims of administration.

As for the administration, it seems common at institutions where I've worked that although the absolute number of administrators hasn't skyrocketed unreasonably, the compensation for upper-level administration has gone up in a way that is dramatically disproportionate to faculty salaries. I do not know if this is a national/international trend; it has been consistent across five institutions for me.

I think the greatest impediment to a solution to the problem of adjuncting is that there is, in fact, far more diversity than people realize -- and no one solution that will work across the board. We couldn't even unionize TAs at my grad institution because the needs of TAs in different departments were so incredibly different, to the point of being oppositional.
posted by obliquicity at 10:32 AM on July 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


One thing to keep in mind here is that "adjunctification" is just the newest face of a very old phenomenon.

Tentured and TT faculty have always done a small fraction of all the postsecondary teaching that needs to be done, leaving a huge gap to be filled in more-or-less ad hoc ways by untenured workers. The main thing that's changed is the way that we cover the gap, not the fact that there is a gap.

The current ideal is that everyone should go to a 4-year university — and to make that ideal work, we need most of the teaching staff there to be adjuncts and TAs. But before that, there was an era when most postsecondary education took place at trade schools with no tenure system. Before that, in the centuries when the only people getting a postsecondary degree were already wealthy, the expectation was that they should either be independent and self-sufficient learners or hire a private tutor with their own money. And so on.

My own sense is that this tells us a few things:
  1. We will never have a system where all the postsecondary teachers have tenure. Even in eras when education was much better-funded than it is now, such a thing has not actually happened.
  2. If we get rid of adjuncts — ban the practice, or some such — then another class of "second-tier" teachers, official or unofficial, will come into existence to replace it.*
  3. If the goal is for all our teachers to make a living wage, then we should work to make adjuncting a decent job instead of trying to eliminate it.
  4. If the goal is not just a living wage for everyone, but actual equality, with all our official and unofficial teachers belonging to the same "class," then it's tenure we need to get rid of.
I have mixed feelings about #4. I think in order for it to make sense, we'd need to make other changes: decouple research from teaching, find some other source of funding for pure research, come up with ways to protect both teachers and researchers who have unpopular ideas. There are problems here that will need to be solved, but they're solvable. Indeed, they've been solved already, in various ways, throughout history: it's not like universities are the only place where research has ever happened, or the only place where intellectual freedom has ever flourished. But I say this with some trepidation, because I care a lot about seemingly-useless pure research. And maybe the best option will turn out to be #3, where we turn "adjunct" into a respectable job on par with the status "public high school teacher" had in the good old days, but retain a tenure system on top of that as a place for research to get done.

The point is, the world has always been full of postsecondary teachers who don't do research and don't have tenure, and we can't just wish those jobs away. We'll have to find a way to make them livable instead.

*Private tutors again? Companies instituting a second or third year of unpaid internships, where your job is to teach the first-year interns? Independent lecturers selling tickets to their lectures? A "pay it forward" system of indentured servitude, where your frat contractually obligates you to provide free tutoring for their new pledges after you've graduated?

Some of these systems would suck hard and some of them might be pretty okay — but for all of them the effect would be to take the current inequality that exists inside higher ed, and put the "second-class" teachers outside higher ed where we don't have to look at them. And that's a pretty dangerous move.

posted by nebulawindphone at 11:23 AM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


« Older "MathB.in is a website meant for sharing snippets ...  |  Today Google announced the det... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments