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How The American University was Killed
August 14, 2012 9:13 AM   Subscribe

“'Funding for public universities comes from, as the term suggests, the state and federal government. Yet starting in the early 1980s, shifting state priorities forced public universities to increasingly rely on other sources of revenue. For example, in the University of Washington school system, state funding for schools decreased as a percentage of total public education budgets from 82% in 1989 to 51% in 2011.' That’s a loss of more than 1/3 of its public funding. But why this shift in priorities?" How The American University was Killed, in 5 Easy Steps.
posted by Larus (48 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite

 
For UW, a lot of the cuts came after 2008, when the economy tanked and the state struggled to find revenue. Washington has promised no further cuts for the time being, but we'll see. To make up for losses, the school has instituted hiring and wage freezes, benefit reductions, as well as pushing out-of-state enrollment, to the detriment of in-state high school students. Funding cuts effectively privatize public education by degrees, reducing quality in the name of efficiency. On the other hand, I can go to downtown Seattle and see the swanky UW Store selling branded clothing and other gear, or I can look at the fancy new stadium and rail station being built for the football team, so in some ways I wonder if the school is already a business entity, given how well it is doing for itself.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:32 AM on August 14, 2012


Thank you for posting this. I don't have a huge amount of confidence in what the future holds for higher education, but in order to have any chance of resisting and reversing the corporatist colonization that's ruining the scholarly profession and gravely damaging and undermining the process of higher education itself we must at least have a clear and accurate understanding of what's happened.
posted by clockzero at 9:36 AM on August 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Missed an important step:
Encourage everyone, no matter how unqualified, to obtain a college degree.

Sure, colleges were much more affordable and more focused, but much fewer people attended.
You can't develop a society that practically requires at least a 2 year degree for the simplest of jobs and expect the resulting flood of students to get a quality education.
posted by madajb at 9:38 AM on August 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


Madajb -- the article agrees with you. The original purpose of higher ed wasn't job training, though that's what it has turned into.
posted by Larus at 9:40 AM on August 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


I think it deserves highlighting, here, that Romney has been showing support for for-profit colleges, even visiting them recently on the campaign trail, when said colleges tend to result in more debt and less employment for even those who graduate. This is what the GOP is supporting as an alternative to working public universities. That, to me, makes the notion that this is intentional, or at least a known and accepted side effect of the policy decisions being made, a lot more plausible.
posted by gracedissolved at 9:45 AM on August 14, 2012 [22 favorites]


As faculty was deprofessionalized and casualized, reduced to teaching as migrant contract workers, administrative jobs now offered good, solid salaries, benefits, offices, prestige and power. In 2012, administrators now outnumber faculty on every campus across the country.

A lot of misinformation here. First, university administration is nothing like an HMO. It is not some separate entity brought in to take over administration and siphon all the university resources into their own coffers. I work for a public university, and we certainly do not have more admin staff than faculty. Faculty are paid considerably more, and benefits are pretty much exactly the same because it's all through the state. Admin positions, with many be the exception of the president, are not prestigious or powerful. Even the president is so beholden to the state education board and similar entities that its power is pretty negligible.

Faculty do not want to manage the university. I'm not saying that university administration is not ubiquitously ripe with mismanagement, waste, redundancy, and all of that, but I get the impression here that the author thinks it would be better if the faculty were managing things like building operations, development, contracts, payroll, housing and life, etc. which is not only not true, but I don't know any faculty members who would want to take any of that on.

Most of the administrative positions at public universities that have a direct hand in the academic well-being of the university - provosts (and often the president), chiefly - usually are former faculty members.

What they don’t say, and without demand of transparency will NEVER say, is that they have not saved money by hiring adjuncts — they have reduced faculty salaries, security and power. The money wasn’t saved, because it was simply re-allocated to administrative salaries, coach salaries and outrageous university president salaries.


This is just absurd and it reads like yet another diatribe from a disgruntled adjunct. I'm not saying that the adjunct system is good for professors or students or the university in general, because it certainly isn't. But it does save money when universities have been basically stripped of their funding and the saved money is most certainly NOT going to bolster administrative salaries. Faculty always get raises raises before admin, and most of the saved money goes to continuing to pay into the state retirement and health plans which are very generous but continually more expensive and difficult to maintain for everyone at the university. That is, the saved money is being used to maintain the benefits and salary status quo of existing faculty. It's true that some presidents get paid a pretty high salary - and that may be worth examining - but to imply that public universities are akin to corporations where worker salaries are being pillaged so that one or two at the very top can get mega-rich is just ridiculous. There is so much oversight over state universities that this would never be allowed to happen.

So what is the problem with corporate money, you might ask? A lot. When corporate money floods the universities, corporate values replace academic values. As we said before, humanities get defunded and the business school gets tons of money.Serious issues of ethics begin to develop when corporate money begins to make donations and form partnerships with science departments – where that money buys influence regarding not only the kinds of research being done but the outcomes of that research. Corporations donate to departments, and get the use of university researchers in the bargain

This doesn't really work this way. There are very strict guidelines and agreements signed when a corporate foundation gives money to a university. First, corporate funding is not "flooding" the university. Corporate foundations give grants and in-kind gifts to universities for scholarships, equipment, and occasionally for general operating type costs to fund a study. But it certainly does not make professors beholden to those corporations. It is sad of course that universities depend on these types of gifts to continue to function, but it is not generally detrimental to the academic integrity of the department. Furthermore, it is often beneficial. Many corporations have R&D departments on the forefront of innovation and can provide pieces of equipment and the like that the university would never be able to afford in exchange for, often, teaching classes for some of the corporate employees, which is honestly a win-win. The whole 'good job' emphasis corporate training type mentality that has become prevalent is really unfortunate but is actually relatively new and really only came about after the whole 2008 fiasco, which universities are all still reeling from, and I think the jury is out on where that will go.

I'm not saying that this guy doesn't have some good points, or that public university funding is totally fucked up, because it is. But it is more complicated than OMG THE MONEY CORPORATIONZ ARE KILLING STUDENTS AND FACULTY. Yes, it would be good to have more public funding for schools, but universities are, and always have been, a broad partnership across sectors in our states and it is usually to the benefit of the institution.
posted by Lutoslawski at 9:47 AM on August 14, 2012 [10 favorites]


*isn't* fucked up. Where's that edit window?
posted by Lutoslawski at 9:55 AM on August 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


In the UC system, administration outnumber faculty. In the CSU system, professors have endured 10% pay cuts along with larger class sizes due to not hiring for positions left vacant by retiring professors. Academic departments are shrinking and administration is flourishing, at least in CA.

Your argument defending corporation funding is fundamentally flawed. Given the competitiveness for academic positions (because fewer exist!), professors are brought in not based on their teaching ability, but their ability to obtain grants. Since there is significantly less public funding for said grants, this money must often come from corporations, which fund studies based on their interest in said studies. Professors are ABSOLUTELY beholden to corporations, if they want a job.
posted by Larus at 10:01 AM on August 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


It is sad of course that universities depend on these types of gifts to continue to function, but it is not generally detrimental to the academic integrity of the department.

Except in the way that, over time, everyone seems to forget about how this is supposed to be for the public good. Don't even ask the state legislature for more funding anymore; that's laughable. But maybe Pepsico would like to fund some agricultural research...
posted by General Tonic at 10:15 AM on August 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Universities aren't dieing so much as getting split in half. You have your humanities/social science departments, in which thousands and thousands of undergraduates take classes by poorly-paid adjuncts. Then you have your science/technology/medicine departments, in which a professor is really a manager of 10-20 paid graduate assistants and postdocs, and teaches maybe one class a year of elite undergraduates or grad students. One side is struggling and the other is thriving.
posted by miyabo at 10:16 AM on August 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


But it is more complicated than OMG THE MONEY CORPORATIONZ ARE KILLING STUDENTS AND FACULTY.
So is the argument you chose to reduce to this caricature. I'll tell you what, though: corporations are a much bigger problem with education than warning people of their heavy influence in our universities.
Missed an important step:
Encourage everyone, no matter how unqualified, to obtain a college degree.
I've never understood this criticism. The job market saturation "problem" is not related to more people receiving higher education, it's related to the fact that education is now considered a conveyor belt to the job market. I can see no bad side to more people receiving more education. Everyone deserves it: not just those we've trained to succeed in the bullshit elitist structure around which our institutions are designed.
posted by Catchfire at 10:19 AM on August 14, 2012 [5 favorites]


Your argument defending corporation funding is fundamentally flawed. Given the competitiveness for academic positions (because fewer exist!), professors are brought in not based on their teaching ability, but their ability to obtain grants.

I'm sure this does happen, but by and large, no, this is not the case. In general, professors don't have all that much influence on obtaining grant funding, and certainly the cost of a position will generally far outweigh the amount of grant funding that professor will bring in over the lifetime of the position, which is often the lifetime of the professor. There are professors who have close ties to industry and can leverage those for corporate funding, that is true. But the corporate foundation has it's own bylaws regarding this practice, and will generally not continually fund a single professor or project in perpetuity or make gifts that solely fund the position of a professor. I have never seen a situation where a professor's job is contingent upon bringing in donations from a specific corporation. At least in the Oregon system, where I work, that would be considered highly suspect. Professors more often will work with corporations to obtain equipment or sometimes to work on a study. If the professor is tenured, there is no need to come up with results that favor the corporation. If he isn't, it would be frowned upon in his tenure process to do so.

The other thing is that corporate funding, especially for studies, but for capital expenses and operating and the like, is a pretty small part of the funding that universities acquire to make up for the loss of public funding. Most of it comes from private foundations or alumni (as well of course as incredible tuition increases).
posted by Lutoslawski at 10:20 AM on August 14, 2012


So if we all vote the democratic ticket in November, will we actually have a discussion on annihilating the HMO/EMO model in the US? Of repairing the damage done by 40 years of defunding sabotage? Will we even have that discussion after eight solid years of momentum of left wing ideas in say... 2020?

Because I don't see that happening. This is one of those problems that is so beneficial to the people holding the levers of power that it ain't going away.
posted by Slackermagee at 10:24 AM on August 14, 2012 [5 favorites]


Name one institution in the US that isn't run by and for corrupt ladder-climbing shitbags... why should universities be different from anything else in the US?
posted by ennui.bz at 10:26 AM on August 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'll tell you what, though: corporations are a much bigger problem with education than warning people of their heavy influence in our universities.

No that's totally true. Look, I'm not saying corporate funding of universities is a Good Thing or a Beneficial Thing. I'm just saying it really is not *yet* a wholly terrible thing, and is nothing new or novel. Universities and university admin are not getting rich from corporate partnerships - they are just staying afloat. The loss of public funding for universities certainly is a terrible and scary thing, and if it continues, I can see how reliance on corporate funding could snowball and become a really detrimental thing. It just isn't there yet.
posted by Lutoslawski at 10:27 AM on August 14, 2012


Like Lutoslawski, I'd like to see a cite on that "faculty are outnumbered by administration at every university". I'd believe that most institutions have more staff than faculty, but that's probably unavoidable with all of the services schools provide: dining halls, counseling, employment services, housekeeping, groundskeeping, plant operation, health care, mail service, activities, admissions. Those people are just working stiffs, not some parasitic managerial class.

There's not some vast right wing conspiracy to destroy public education. Or rather, there is a vast right wing conspiracy, but it's more of a "decades old primary and public right wing goal" of reducing government spending. Public higher education is just one place where the effects are being seen.

In the UC system, administration outnumber faculty.

I don't think that's actually true, or even close. If you look at the total university FTE report for April 2012 (most recent, from here) it shows 8,604.86 ladder-faculty FTE, but only 725.5 for academic administrators. The UC system has a bunch of medical centers and over 100,000 employees, I'm sure they need a lot of managers.
posted by ghharr at 10:29 AM on August 14, 2012


I'm sure this does happen, but by and large, no, this is not the case. In general, professors don't have all that much influence on obtaining grant funding, and certainly the cost of a position will generally far outweigh the amount of grant funding that professor will bring in over the lifetime of the position, which is often the lifetime of the professor. There are professors who have close ties to industry and can leverage those for corporate funding, that is true.

umm... at the research university I just got a PhD from they are scoring whole academic departments based on their potential for attracting grant revenue. Those without prospects are slated for either deletion or shift to a purely educational focus with concordant reduction and/or termination of the associated graduate program... you have no idea.
posted by ennui.bz at 10:29 AM on August 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


umm... at the research university I just got a PhD from they are scoring whole academic departments based on their potential for attracting grant revenue. Those without prospects are slated for either deletion or shift to a purely educational focus with concordant reduction and/or termination of the associated graduate program... you have no idea.

I'm sure it's different in every state, however, and we don't do a ton of research. I do see this discussion play out a lot more w/r/t federal grants, but rarely w/r/t to corporate funding.
posted by Lutoslawski at 10:36 AM on August 14, 2012


I've been thinking about how to reform university education ever since I started paying back my student loans (I owe a lot of money because I went to an expensive private university, but I can't regret the decision too much because I met my wife there - and she's a doctor now! Yay lucky me!). I don't have any comprehensive plan, but at least it's a few ideas. And like most of the ideas I post on Metafilter, they are probably not good ideas.

1. X% of payroll must be paid to faculty. I have no idea what this "X" would be, but it could probably be enforced by state law in state universities. Or if that is too stringent, it could be between X% and Y% where the difference is only 5%.

2a. Instead of loans, the federal government should focus on providing scholarships to children who's parents didn't graduate from college. These could be 2-year or 4-year scholarships to achieve an Associate or Bachelor degree respectively. Upward mobility is good.

2b. The business of giving educational loans would be fully privatized, but dischargeable in bankruptcy. Maybe this would act as a downward pressure on tuition costs?

3. A federal or state tax on all television media contracts that Division 1 universities/ conferences make for their athletic teams. This could be used to help fund point 2a above.
posted by Groundhog Week at 10:37 AM on August 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


I will be a counterpoint to Lutoslawski. Admins heavily outnumber faculty at the state college I work at (in right wing friendly North Florida), and are paid 2 to 3 times our salaries. Oh, and tenure in Florida is called "continuing contract" which means you must be given one year's notice if they intend on letting you go. As far as I am concerned, the linked article is spot on.
posted by wittgenstein at 10:39 AM on August 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


Universities and university admin are not getting rich from corporate partnerships - they are just staying afloat.

University presidents (at least in Canada, which is where my experience comes from) are certainly getting rich from corporate partnerships. And I don't know about administration staff outnumbering faculty, but it's fairly easy to find facts that show that admin staff has grown at a rate far exceeding that of faculty. The creation of new high-paying admin jobs also points to universities modelling corporate structure. For those who see corporate influence as, yes, a bad thing, that's alarming.
posted by Catchfire at 10:42 AM on August 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ahh I see (sorry, got my wires crossed earlier) -- this certainly plays out more with federal funding than corporate funding in my field. I come from an academic family, most of whom teach at public universities, and most of those family members bring in far more grant money to fund grad students and research than their salary/benefits in a given year. The funding source depends on the field.

As far as hiring new positions goes, it's been made clear to me that without consistent grant support, I will not be looked at for even mere postdoc positions. I'm in a STEM field.

Bottom line -- I think corporate funding will become more of an issue as public universities continue to privatize.
posted by Larus at 10:44 AM on August 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Universities aren't dieing so much as getting split in half. You have your humanities/social science departments, in which thousands and thousands of undergraduates take classes by poorly-paid adjuncts. Then you have your science/technology/medicine departments in which a professor is really a manager of 10-20 paid graduate assistants and postdocs, and teaches maybe one class a year of elite undergraduates or grad students. One side is struggling and the other is thriving.
At least from my perspective as a grad student (I'd love to hear more administrators chiming in on this...), this is not accurate. Universities are split in half, but what distinguishes the halves isn't so much thriving vs. not thriving or exploited vs. not exploited. Instead, it's that there's two different methods of exploitation in play. On the humanities/liberal arts side, classes bring in money for the departments, and those classes tend more and more to be taught by grad students on minimal stipends or by underpaid adjuncts, neither of whom have much hope of getting tenure-track jobs. On the sciences/engineering side, grants bring in money for the departments, and the lab work is done by grad students on minimal stipends or underpaid postdocs — who have better chances of getting corporate jobs than humanities people do, but who are often also locked out of tenure-track jobs in academia. "Postdoc treadmill" is the term to google for here, I believe.

In any case, the point is that the transition to underpaid contingent labor is happening throughout the university as a whole, not just in the humanities.

okay, maybe not the university as a whole, he says, glancing meaningfully toward the business school...
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:44 AM on August 14, 2012 [12 favorites]


But the corporate foundation has its own bylaws regarding this practice, and will generally not continually fund a single professor or project in perpetuity or make gifts that solely fund the position of a professor

Doesn't Oregon have endowed chairs? That's pretty much what an endowed chair is: a wealthy individual or, often, a wealthy corporation, gives a lot of money to a department and a position is created (or, an existing position's salary is no longer coming from the university lines but now from the endowment) with naming rights. Solely funding the position of a professor, in perpetuity.

That's not counting the many, many professors whose positions are contingent upon grant funding (I'm thinking of U-T and its newish 'professor productivity' system in which one of the types of productivity is grants received).

I didn't think the linked article was all that and a bag of chips, but the points being raised are pertinent in more ways than you might think. Administration is multiplying, student loan is exponentially increasing, faculty are primarily being replaced with adjuncts (worse yet: we replaced a full time professor who retired last year with a graduate teaching assistant!), and yet costs continue to soar. The university is broken and it's worth examining all potential solutions to fixing it, including the uber-lefty 'eliminate the corporations' solutions.

Hahaha, You Can't Tip a Buick, my job is to liaise with the business school on campus. Funny how they always seem to do well! I admire that about them.
posted by librarylis at 10:49 AM on August 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think it's fair to say that the UW is definitely a savvy business entity, ever since 1895 when they decided to move to the current campus and lease out the Metropolitan Tract in the middle of downtown. From a 2009 BizJournal article about the tract:
“The state hasn’t built a building on (the Seattle) campus since 1997,” Emmert said. “All of the construction that has been done here has gone on with institutional money, donor money and research dollars. We assume that we are going to have to take greater control of our destiny, and that includes generating more cash off this asset. We absolutely have to do that.”
posted by lantius at 10:50 AM on August 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


I will be a counterpoint to Lutoslawski. Admins heavily outnumber faculty at the state college I work at (in right wing friendly North Florida), and are paid 2 to 3 times our salaries. Oh, and tenure in Florida is called "continuing contract" which means you must be given one year's notice if they intend on letting you go.

Holy shit. Well, experience bias on my part it seems. I make about 50% of the average professor salary. Higher-up admin staff make about the exact same. The president makes more (he is a former professor as well).

Doesn't Oregon have endowed chairs?


We do; it's almost always endowed by an individual, through a fund managed by a foundation that acts as a separate 501c3 on the University's behalf (same with corporate funding). But it usually isn't funding the entire position. It's usually part of it. Most corporations won't give to endowments, with some exceptions. At least that has been my experience.
posted by Lutoslawski at 10:54 AM on August 14, 2012


I think the post is mostly accurate, and really resonates with the situation on my campus/state system.

Faculty always get raises raises before admin

HAHAHA I'm sorry but I'd love to visit your reality, because it sure doesn't match mine. In the CSU system in California (the nation's largest public university system by a fair shot, with 23 campuses and nearly a half million students) our administrators have been getting outrageous raises while faculty have been without a contract for several years, and our tentative new contract includes no wage increases. The state legislature has simply abandoned its commitment to higher education and as a result the CSU has lost 40% of its total funding in the past four years. The legislature appears to assume that we can 'make up the difference' with fee increases (the CSU has no tuition, btw, as it was created to be FREE to all qualified California residents, and was in fact mostly free for a few decades). On my campus our fees have quadrupled in the past decade, and we are nowhere near making up any shortfalls.

The corporate influence I personally see is subtle but glaring once you notice it. For instance, in the past few years "assessment practices" have become a very big deal on our campus. This past year, I served as an assessment coordinator for my College and learned some of what that's all about. The goals of such comprehensive assessment practices are nominally to increase the effectiveness of all teaching across curricula, but in the very first meeting I was handed--by a campus VP in charge of all this--several slick pieces of corporate propaganda stressing the importance of "increasing access to higher education for more Americans" and informing me that assessment practices as they recommend are the way to do that.

This goal--that we need MORE people in four-year universities--struck me as odd, especially since our campus, like so many others, is limiting enrollment severely and rationing the course load students can take (effective this academic year: no CSU student can exceed 15 units/semester), so I checked up on the glowingly innocent non-profit think tank that is funding much of these efforts. It's the Lumina Foundation, and sure enough, their goal sounds noble: "To increase the proportion of Americans with high-quality college degrees, certificates, or credentials to 60% by 2025."

60%??? Why? The research and conversation I'm aware of actually stresses the need to maybe reconsider that college is not the best path for so many. Why would this non-profit be so singularly focused on increasing the number of Americans enrolled in higher education, when that is actually among the least of our current problems in the field? Because the Lumina Foundation is funded by profits from the sale of a consortium of for-profit higher education lenders to the federal government a few years ago, and is clearly working to serve the interests of that industry: more Americans in college = more people needing big loans = PROFIT. And remember, student loan debt is the only kind of debt you can never, ever discharge, no matter what. You will always have that bill to pay and no kind of bankruptcy will change that.

So there I found myself in a meeting with what seemed to be a noble goal, but was actually a stealth way for an industry to enrich itself through the guise of supporting education. And many in California are in bed with this foundation, working toward their goals, because they have money to give, and the state of California does not. So there's one example of many.

The other very pervasive way I see that corporate influence is corrupting higher ed is actually not in a 'direct takeover/profit' sort of way, but conceptual: there are so many bone-headed business school types running universities (we have suffered terribly from this locally in the past seven or eight years) and they're busily bringing their market models to education, ruining what corporations can't co-opt. Sitting in meetings with university provosts and presidents and hearing them blather on about 'profitability' and 'market appeal' and our 'customer base' w/r/t education is, quite frankly, sickening, and the values and priorities of that worldview are seriously different than every single faculty member I know. Education is not a product and students are not customers. Market analogies really break down quickly, and when they're brought to bear on a large scale ('well, we have to cut three programs from our College of Humanities, let's see, Philosophy has the fewest majors, so with such low demand it obviously has no value' etc.) they can be devastating to the intrinsic quality of learning available on a campus.
posted by LooseFilter at 10:55 AM on August 14, 2012 [9 favorites]


/Even the president is so beholden to the state education board and similar entities that its power is pretty negligible.

Would that we had the same problem.
In contrast, the administration of my state's "flagship" institution are busy attempting to become completely independent of the state board and some say, go private.

This is, of course, not at all due to the desire of certain large donors for a corporate sports playground without all those pesky oversight rules and annoying taxpayers.
posted by madajb at 10:55 AM on August 14, 2012


In contrast, the administration of my state's "flagship" institution are busy attempting to become completely independent of the state board and some say, go private.

Our flagship is actually trying to do the same. It's a big deal right now, and I'm not sure how it will play out.
posted by Lutoslawski at 10:58 AM on August 14, 2012


I can see no bad side to more people receiving more education. Everyone deserves it:

They do, of course, but not everyone needs it.

Encouraging kids to go to college and then sitting them in 400 person lecture halls benefits neither the kids nor society.
posted by madajb at 10:59 AM on August 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


To be fair, I'm not sure the CSU system is very indicative of national norms. (That said, the Oregon system, in conjunction with Oregon community colleges, is in the process as we speak of trying to put something together with Lumina...)
posted by Lutoslawski at 11:00 AM on August 14, 2012


That's true, I wouldn't hold the CSU up as typical either, but being the largest system in the country my fear is that as we go, so will many more follow. (Also, I think the size of the system makes it hit critical mass on things like this much earlier than other places. And, given that there are slightly more than 20 million students currently enrolled in higher education in the U.S., our half million students are a pretty big chunk of the total.)
posted by LooseFilter at 11:07 AM on August 14, 2012


Holy shit. Well, experience bias on my part it seems.

Too bad we couldn't have gotten there before the thread became a referendum on your ill-informed dismissal of the article. "Yet another diatribe from a disgruntled adjunct" indeed — but did you ever pause to consider why it is that so many adjuncts might seem "disgruntled"? Yes, it's true, the article contains some intemperate rhetoric. Intemperate rhetoric is no reason to discount its account of the crisis in academic labor, which is in fact completely accurate.

I make about 50% of the average professor salary.

Here and throughout your comments you're conveniently defining "professor" and "faculty" to mean permanent, tenure-track (or at least full-time) faculty when it suits your purposes, even though it's almost certainly the case at your institution that such positions account for at most a small majority (very likely a minority) of both the course hours and the actual people employed to do teaching/research by the institution. (This is why they call them the New Faculty Majority!) It's also guaranteed to be true at your institution, as it is at all others, that an adjunct teaching a full-time course load is paid quite a bit less than 50% of the average tenure-track faculty member's salary, so that in fact you do make more, and very probably have better benefits than, a (at least close-to-)median full-time professor at your institution. This kind of slippery accounting, which allows you to conveniently treat a small fraction of the most privileged, best-compensated faculty workers as though they were all the people doing faculty work, serves the obvious purpose of making faculty look more privileged than they are and administrators less so, allowing the "disgruntled adjuncts" to be portrayed as unreasonable whiners rather than workers who have legitimate grievances about their workplace. Professors (T-T) have it good, so what are these professors (non-T-T) complaining about? Well, they're complaining because in fact the ones who have it good are a small and rapidly shrinking proportion of the labor force and because, yes, the remaining resources are being disproportionately allotted to administrative salaries.

"Disgruntled" is almost always a dogwhistle pejorative to easily dismiss workers who air grievances about their workplace, isn't it? I don't think I've ever heard "disgruntled" from anyone but a management apologist.
posted by RogerB at 11:22 AM on August 14, 2012 [17 favorites]


This pdf has a nice chart of state expenditures for public universities on page 48.

I'd like to point out that the state of Vermont gave less money to its flagship school than any other state and the only state that spent less per capita was New Hampshire. That's 7% of the schools operating budget (about half of which goes to cover in state students - about 25% goes to the med school and 25% to the school's agriculture services). The school still exists, still educates, and is not completely controlled by corporate interests. ...It's just also the second most expensive in-state tuition in the nation, behind Penn State.
posted by maryr at 11:23 AM on August 14, 2012


It’s not just the adjunct faculty system that’s dysfunctional for the schools and unfair to employees. Some community colleges in particular are operating on the backs of underpaid/ non-benefit-eligible non-instructional staff as well as adjunct faculty.

I work at a college where hundreds of non-instructional staffers are “part time.” In my area, the admissions office, there were at one time eight such “part-time” recruiters/ marketing people. Within the past year we’ve gone down 3 – 4 recruiters as people leave, of course, for better jobs. (If everyone who’s currently under consideration for other jobs leaves by summer’s end they’ll have two recruiters.)

Almost all of the recruiters have been highly experienced professionals, some with decades of experience and/ or advanced degrees, and most of us have stayed at least several years with the organization.

As “part timers” some regularly work 30-40 hrs./wk, for a not-great hourly wage and no benefits. The college has paid us in a variety of ways, many of which have not conformed to state regulation (i.e., the manner/ frequency of payment was illegal). We have not been able to get into existing unions.

Meanwhile, there are three upper-level managers/ directors in the department, all three union members making very good salaries and enjoying extensive, excellent benefits. (One manager has so many weeks vacation she’s hardly been in the office since mid-May. And she makes in a year what I’ve made in my five-plus years here.)

You do the math on the manager-to-non-mgr. ratio, and consider the treatment of the part-timers. And tell me if overall that’s money well spent and conducive to a well functioning institution.
posted by NorthernLite at 11:37 AM on August 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Too bad we couldn't have gotten there before the thread became a referendum on your ill-informed dismissal of the article.

It was not a dismissal and it was certainly not ill-formed. Obviously there is a great degree of variation among state universities and how there budgeting. Certainly the author's perspective is as tied up in his own hermeneutic apparatus as mine.

even though it's almost certainly the case at your institution that such positions account for at most a small majority (very likely a minority) of both the course hours and the actual people employed to do teaching/research by the institution.

Again, and perhaps it isn't the norm or even indicative, but most of our faculty are full-time, tenured or tenure track. We have very, very few adjuncts. We're a small state school, so again, perhaps things are different at the flagship universities.
posted by Lutoslawski at 12:30 PM on August 14, 2012


The IPEDS Data Center is pretty cool, though poking through various schools I have yet to find any examples that actually support the "more admin staff than instructional staff" claim.
posted by ghharr at 1:11 PM on August 14, 2012


I feel like there is two different meanings of "administrative staff" here - one to mean specifically high-level academic administrators, and the other to mean all white-colour support staff (including clerks/administrative assistants).

Costs at universities are definitely NOT linked to rising wages for administrative assistants - and even adjuncts at my local uni (if they can get a full load) make as much or more than administrative assistants.
posted by jb at 1:14 PM on August 14, 2012


while TT faculty make about 2-4 times what administrative assistants do.
posted by jb at 1:14 PM on August 14, 2012


I think a lot of the disagreements here come from differences in types of schools and geographic variables. (It always sounds like CA is totally screwed.)

Confessions of a Community College Dean is always good reading on these topics, especially the differences between types of colleges. I remember a few posts on how a lot of the growth of "administrative" expenses comes from the growth of IT and the requirements of various mandates. (I may be phrasing that 2nd one entirely wrong, but I think he was talking about disability services, etc.)

Not teaching, but not exactly gold-plated middle-managers, either, and certainly not anything you can just do away with. On preview, IIRC he was looking at IPEDS info.

But point #1: remove public funding -- that seems to be a horrible, horrible constant, and maybe the one that leads to everything else. I think a lot of it is good people choosing between horrible options.
posted by epersonae at 1:20 PM on August 14, 2012


These kinds of discussions support my decision to decline a tenure-track position as an associate professor at a large Land Grant university to remain at my position in a government laboratory. Don't get me wrong, it's no great shakes being a federal employee these days, either, but it seems better than the alternative (at least in STEM fields). Watching the change in public universities over the last 20 years has been awful.
posted by wintermind at 1:22 PM on August 14, 2012


I feel like there is two different meanings of "administrative staff" here - one to mean specifically high-level academic administrators, and the other to mean all white-colour support staff (including clerks/administrative assistants).

On IPEDS the category is "Executive/administrative/managerial" and there is also "Clerical and secreterial"

For example, Virginia Tech full-time staff by primary occupational activity(Fall 2010):

Primarily instruction: 1,306
Primarily research: 714
Primarily public service, and Contracts: 59
Executive/administrative/managerial: 295
Other professional (support/service): 1755
Technical and paraprofessionals: 1218
Clerical and secreterial: 398
Skilled crafts: 276
Service/maintenance: 554
posted by ghharr at 1:51 PM on August 14, 2012


In general, professors don't have all that much influence on obtaining grant funding, and certainly the cost of a position will generally far outweigh the amount of grant funding that professor will bring in over the lifetime of the position, which is often the lifetime of the professor.

Sorry, but what the hell are you smoking?

At my large public university (and every other university I've ever been part of) we professors are the only people who have any influence in obtaining grant funding, because we write the grant proposals.

I don't know what you're department's like, but over here in engineering, most professors bring in significantly more external funding than the cost of their position. It's almost impossible for an assistant engineering professor at my university get tenure without at least $1M of grants on their CV. (That sounds a lot harder than it really is.)

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go prepare some more for my 200-student class.
posted by erniepan at 3:34 PM on August 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't know, erniepan, I guess it depends on your field. I'm part of a consortium that just received $3 million over 3 years. That sounds like a lot, and it would be if there was only one lab on the grant, but I think my share is only about $50,000 after overhead. That's not even enough for a postdoc. Or, heck, a master's student.
posted by wintermind at 3:54 PM on August 14, 2012


Madajb -- the article agrees with you. The original purpose of higher ed wasn't job training, though that's what it has turned into.
posted by Larus


This cancer is everywhere. Every time I hear about computers in the classroom, every time I hear about "employment" being the goal of going to school, every time I hear about "training", I want to puke.

I'm old and grizzled and I am pounding my cane, to be sure, but dammit I was lucky to have had Art Moss arguing with me in high school over a point in "La Peste", and Jim Kline telling me to "think, dammit", and Don Morosic saying "this is not just feeling, this is living in a world the composer created". I was lucky to have Herm Bettencourt say "your biases are showing". All these men influenced me because they asked for critical thought and being willing to challenge or accept anything at all according to a system of logic.

Where independence isn't the goal, the journey has got to be not the point and that is incredibly sad.
posted by jet_silver at 9:05 PM on August 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


I can't favorite this enough.
posted by 3.2.3 at 7:17 AM on August 15, 2012


First, you defund public higher education.

You really don't need steps 2-5 after this one.
posted by Rykey at 12:32 PM on August 15, 2012


Larus: "Madajb -- the article agrees with you. The original purpose of higher ed wasn't job training, though that's what it has turned into"

I'm kinda curious what history you're recalling this from. The very first American colleges were organized for the purpose of a specific kind of job training.
posted by pwnguin at 7:27 PM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


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