Death of an adjunct
September 18, 2013 9:32 AM   Subscribe

 
"The poor will always be with us" said Jesus, who as we all know was in the business of making excuses for the rich and powerful.
posted by mhoye at 9:39 AM on September 18, 2013 [15 favorites]


This is an outrage. They should be ashamed of themselves.
posted by gauche at 9:41 AM on September 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


The mainstream church consistently preaches the virtues of poverty and meekness to its followers while surrounding its hierarchy with the luxury, privileges, and freedom from accountability of the powerful.

Duquesne's union-busting shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone - from their perspective, it's squarely in line with "Catholic values".
posted by ryanshepard at 9:42 AM on September 18, 2013 [10 favorites]


I believe you're looking for Supply Side Jesus.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 9:43 AM on September 18, 2013 [5 favorites]


Ugh. How awful. :(

What the hell is it with Catholic universities and unions? Isn't taking care of one's workers a Catholic value? Why would they hide behind a religious exemption rather than do the right thing? This has been an ongoing problem. St. Xavier went through this a couple of years in Chicago, and the National Labor Relations Board countered with ruling that they didn't qualify for religious immunity. Manhattan College also tried to screw over their adjuncts.
posted by zarq at 9:48 AM on September 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


This would be news to Georgetown University -- one of only two Catholic universities to make U.S. News & World Report's list of top 25 universities -- which just recognized its adjunct professors' union, citing the Catholic Church's social justice teachings, which favor labor unions.

Being married to a longtime adjunct professor, while I understand the Christian angle makes for some fun extra shaming on the side, this is more of a general college issue than a religious one.
posted by charred husk at 9:49 AM on September 18, 2013 [21 favorites]


God, so disgusting. If I thought they were capable of shame I'd say they should be forced to writhe in it. As it is, a vat of current and former adjuncts' spittle will suffice.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 9:50 AM on September 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


I pulled Kovalik's most aggressive quote because he's rather "soft written", but (a) most American universities actively prevent their adjuncts from unionizing, just like Duquesne does, and (b) frequently the adjuncts land in the same union with the regular faculty, who don't give a rats ass about them.
posted by jeffburdges at 9:50 AM on September 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


Ack, missed the part where they were claiming religious immunity. Flame on, everyone. They deserve it.
posted by charred husk at 9:50 AM on September 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


charred husk: " Being married to a longtime adjunct professor, while I understand the Christian angle makes for some fun extra shaming on the side, this is more of a general college issue than a religious one."

No, it's absolutely a Catholic issue. A 1979 Supreme Court decision (NLRB v. Catholic Bishop of Chicago) held that religious schools and colleges are exempt from NLRB jurisdiction. Catholic schools took the issue to the Supreme Court in order to establish their religious immunity from unions. Are adjuncts typically underpaid? Yes. But this is specifically a Catholic institution effort.
posted by zarq at 9:54 AM on September 18, 2013 [6 favorites]


Oops. Sorry husk. Shoulda previewed.
posted by zarq at 9:54 AM on September 18, 2013


Duquesne's union-busting shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone - from their perspective, it's squarely in line with "Catholic values".

The Catholic Church has taught that value of unions for over a hundred years. It doesn't come as a surprise, because the Catholic hierarchy doesn't always behave in accordance with its professed values, but Duquesne is still wrong as a matter of Catholic theology.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 9:54 AM on September 18, 2013 [13 favorites]


I believe Kovalik highlighted the religious aspects because they're quite singular here. In particular, Duquesne's betrayal comes off worse because Vojtko was presumably working there largely because she was a Catholic herself. Are adjuncts treated worse at religious institutions? I donno maybe, but Kovalik's story sounds typical for career adjuncts at most American Universities, probably even the ones with adjuncts nominally members of the faculty union.
posted by jeffburdges at 9:59 AM on September 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Was curious. Looked it up.

Busted Halo blog: What does the Catholic church teach about labor unions?

CNN Religion Blog: Catholic Church voices support for unions, to a point

Our Sunday Visitor ('Bringing your Catholic faith to life'): Unions, yes. But when the Church is employer?
posted by zarq at 10:01 AM on September 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


Yeah, that Supreme Court decision is a motherfucking devious union-busting tactic, but academia (public, private, religious, secular, nonprofit, for-profit) is full of devious union-busting tactics.

Seems to me that the right spin here is "Duquesne has somehow managed to be even more offensively reactionary on labor rights than most American schools," which man oh man is an impressive feat.
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 10:04 AM on September 18, 2013 [13 favorites]


There is a clear moral here : Just don't be an adjunct professor/lecturer.

Also, any time I hear people discussing unionizing I'm left with this feeling that they're employing an old solution that American society has thoroughly sabotaged. Unions are necessary but they seem insufficient now.

As I understand it, adjuncts are usually teaching because they enjoy teaching and they cannot think of anything else to do. I wonder if in their case we should actively "sabotage the quality of instruction" by pushing the best adjunct out the door as quickly as possible.

For example, a union that cared about adjuncts could arrange that (a) after a couple semesters they had the right to take classes towards a masters in education, allowing them to switch to teaching high school eventually, (b) identify the most qualified and capable adjuncts in STEM fields and pressure them to start applying for industry jobs, or even help find them university positions abroad.

Of course, you need an organization like a union or something to do this, but it's obviously self defeating from the union's perspective to push employees out, especially focusing on the best employees. Yet, that's probably what needs to happen.
posted by jeffburdges at 10:08 AM on September 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


Great. But the Catholic angle is not very helpful. How many non-Catholic colleges, public colleges, private universities have unions for adjuncts? Adjuncts are the farm workers of academic life:
crap wages, no benefits, treated like dirty laundry, disposable diapers, and useful to ensure that the many many administrators get great salaries.
posted by Postroad at 10:19 AM on September 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Whited sepulchres.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 10:27 AM on September 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


It's important to remember that most Catholic universities in the United States more or less told the Church to shove it back in the late 60s with things like the Land O'Lakes statement, a statement its signatory institutions have never repudiated despite over the years making efforts to keep up appearances.

So yes, that so-called Catholic colleges and universities give unions the shaft just like their secular brethren does not surprise me in the least.
posted by Fukiyama at 10:27 AM on September 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


One thing I find odd is that the adjuncts voted to join the United Steelworkers. That seems... odd.
posted by charred husk at 10:30 AM on September 18, 2013


It's not uncommon for white collar workers who unionize to affiliate with existing more traditional unions. There's a UAW local in New York, for instance, that's mostly lawyers. I'm guessing it's because unions like the Steelworkers or the UAW have organizing experience and resources, but I could be wrong.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 10:33 AM on September 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


One thing I find odd is that the adjuncts voted to join the United Steelworkers. That seems... odd.

When I was working for the U of Chicago Press, I discovered that its employees were unionized by the Teamsters. As Bulgaroktonos says, it's all about who has the organizational chops.
posted by thomas j wise at 10:34 AM on September 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


God, every time I think I've heard the worst story about the precarious lives of adjuncts, someone manages to add in some new level of horror.

I've written here before about my favorite (adjunct) professor's suicide, under similar circumstances. Mounting pile of school and medical debt, health problems, barely making rent in a dilapidated group house, working a food service job after being fired by a (non-Catholic) university. Last post to facebook before he died said that he was afraid of having to go to our local men's shelter. Besides his younger age, the parallels between his story and Ms. Vojtko's are downright eerie.

Even with that experience, though, the religious exemption for unions in this particular story adds a whole other layer of sadism as far as I'm concerned. Adjuncts are just narrowly scraping by at colleges of all types, true. But to not pay people a living wage, commensurate to their education and the amount of work they're doing...and then claim you're doing that in accordance with some sort of deeper moral values? I'm sorry, but those moral values you're claiming are literally killing people. Pushing professors out of a job suddenly like that, because you've discovered how poor they are, because hurf durf they teach useless humanities classes, because your school needs to save a few bucks; whatever your reason, it has very real consequences.

Treating adjuncts poorly sadly hardly counts as news now, but trying to claim moral high ground for your poor treatment does.
posted by ActionPopulated at 10:35 AM on September 18, 2013 [15 favorites]


Our adjuncts are required to have relevant work experience in industry. So just about all of them, except for a few older ones who have retired and do this as a side gig while they consult, have full-time jobs that pay more than, likely, our faculty make. A marked difference in business schools and arts and sciences schools, I think. Our arts and sciences school require adjuncts in English to hold PhDs because the market is so saturated. The B-school only requires a masters with consistent and current industry work.

Adjunct professing can be a good side gig for a lot of people, but it should be a side gig that you sometimes do, not something that should be relied upon as steady income.
posted by zizzle at 10:38 AM on September 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


Just don't be an adjunct professor/lecturer.

I'd add: don't get a PhD, or don't get a PhD and expect to stay in academia for the rest of your life.
posted by mattbucher at 10:39 AM on September 18, 2013 [10 favorites]


Y'all can tell the adjuncts what to do, or what not to do, but many are awesome teachers.

Doesn't it make better sense to tell colleges and universities to pay living wages to everyone?
posted by allthinky at 10:41 AM on September 18, 2013 [18 favorites]


zizzle:
Adjunct professing can be a good side gig for a lot of people, but it should be a side gig that you sometimes do, not something that should be relied upon as steady income.
The problem in today's economy is that this is like saying only high school kids getting their first jobs should work for minimum wage a McDonald's. If you cut the number of good-paying jobs and replace them with a bunch of jobs that shouldn't be relied upon for actual income then you're going to get these situations.

Hell, our local college lost it's nursing accreditation due to not having enough full-time staff teaching. They knew it was a problem but were too addicted to that cheap, cheap labor.
posted by charred husk at 10:42 AM on September 18, 2013 [19 favorites]


Postroad: "Great. But the Catholic angle is not very helpful.

They're claiming a religious exemption. It's appropriate to focus on them for it, especially since they are defending a status quo that is keeping their employees impoverished.

How many non-Catholic colleges, public colleges, private universities have unions for adjuncts?

Unknown, but the number is climbing. And unionization does make a huge difference for them.

See this report: As of 2009, nearly 1.8 million faculty members and instructors made up instructional workforce in degree-granting two- and four-year institutions of higher education in the United States. More than 1.3 million (75.5%) were employed in contingent positions off the tenure track, either as part-time or adjunct faculty members, full-time non-tenure-track faculty members, or graduate student teaching assistants. Also:
The respondents paint a dismal picture, one that clearly demonstrates how little professional commitment and support part-time faculty members receive from their institutions for anything that costs money and is not related to preparing and delivering discrete course materials. The findings also reflect a lack of processes and resources to include part-time faculty members in the academic community of the college or university. Available resources and support differ modestly by institutional type. Interestingly, respondents indicate that most forms of support are offered more commonly at two-year institutions than at four-year institutions (table 38). This difference may be due to the heavy reliance on part-time faculty in two-year institutions, resulting in more attention to these issues, or it could be due to the higher rate of unionization in this sector, since that variable also correlates with an increased availability of resources and support (table 39).

Respondents who reported the presence of a union on at least one of the campuses where they teach were consistently more likely to receive resources and support, particularly on matters of compensation (table 39). Respondents with a union present on at least one campus where they taught indicated the following levels of support:
◆ 17.9% indicated they are paid for class cancellations, as opposed to only 9.9% of respondents without a union present.
◆ 9.7% indicated being paid for attending departmental meetings, as opposed to only 5.4% of respondents without a union present.
◆ 14.5% indicated being paid for office hours, as opposed to only 3.8% of respondents without a union present.
◆ 33.9% indicated receiving regular salary increases, as opposed to only 12.1% of respondents without a union present.
◆ 19.4% indicated having job security, as opposed to only 3.9% of respondents without a union present.

Support for professional-development activities was also reported more frequently by respondents teaching on at least one campus where a union was present. Yet the overall low percentage of institutions providing such support represents another indicator that institutions are not investing in maintaining and improving the quality of instruction. Respondents teaching on at least one campus where a union was present reported greater access to various kinds of administrative support as well, but the difference between unionized and nonunionized settings was not as great on these items as on other forms of workplace support. The data on professional support gathered in this survey imply an institutional assumption that part-time faculty members will for the most part appear on campus only to deliver a discrete course and not to participate with students or colleagues in any other structurally supported way.

posted by zarq at 10:47 AM on September 18, 2013 [7 favorites]


One thing I find odd is that the adjuncts voted to join the United Steelworkers. That seems... odd.

The headquarters of the United Steelworkers is less than a mile from Duquesne. If you're looking to unionize in Pittsburgh, it would be the default place to look first.
posted by octothorpe at 10:58 AM on September 18, 2013 [5 favorites]


Yeah, I think the Catholic angle is indeed relevant. A Catholic university should be making just the opposite stand to the one that Duchesne is making. Church teaching runs strongly counter to this kind of exploitation, and it applies whether a school should qualify for a religious exemption from FLRB jurisdiction or not.

What a fucking disgrace. I feel sick about this.
posted by gauche at 10:59 AM on September 18, 2013 [8 favorites]


I agree with the systemic problem of adjuncts, but I do also think it's different in some fields than in others.

We keep our rate to about 20-30% per semester. This is due to our regional accreditor telling us it has to be no higher than 30%. We also have to meet a separate standard of Academically Qualified or Professionally Qualified. Academically qualified faculty hold PhDs and have published three times within the past five years. Professionally qualified faculty are faculty who have at least a Masters degree and three years of industry work within the past five years. AQ faculty can be part-time (adjunct) or full-time (long term contract or tenure track). PQ faculty can also be part-time or full-time. It gets very messy sorting it all out. Our AQ faculty have to make up 70% of our AQ+PQ ratio, which has to be at least 90%. But part-time AQ faculty can lower what is called the Participating ratio, which is full-time status. Full time status has to be at least 70% as well. So meeting both sets of standards can be difficult because not all faculty at universities hold doctoral agrees. Some are clinical instructors, some are something-or-other-in-residence, but those types of faculty are not tenured-track. They typically hold 5-10 year contracts that have to be renewed, unlike tenured faculty who do not fear non-renewal at all ever.

Our adjuncts relatively recently unionized as well. It's been great for the CAS folks, but it's been not so great for the business folk. The CAS folk almost certainly rely on adjuncting for regular pay. The business folk do not, and the union took away the b-school adjuncts' ability to negotiate their own pay with our deans' office -- a few of them saw a salary cut because of that. So the business folk don't really see much benefit for them as individuals to the unionization.

I am pro-union in almost all cases, so please don't take the above as my personal opinion. I do think the unions will help the longterm issues of part-time faculty.

Our full-time faculty are not unionized. Nor do they want to be. We're also seeing a more recent trend in our senior level classes where those students are almost universally giving the part-time faculty higher evaluations because the part-time faculty's real world experience is more useful than the theoretical examples provided by our full-time faculty --- who study business, as opposed to participate in business.

It leaves me wondering, for sure, about what that also may mean longer term that students are finding the better experience to be with the not tenured-track faculty.
posted by zizzle at 11:00 AM on September 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


i recommend expressing your disgust to one or all of the 'leadership'. i did.

http://www.duq.edu/about/administration
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 11:02 AM on September 18, 2013 [5 favorites]


Horrible story, but having attended a Catholic college I'm not entirely surprised.

Just for full disclosure it seems like we should note that this isn't some friend of the professor's who is writing, it's a lawyer for the union:
Daniel Kovalik is senior associate general counsel of the United Steelworkers union.
posted by XMLicious at 11:03 AM on September 18, 2013


Maybe the issue with unionization at Duquesne was with the United Steelworkers? Maybe the school wasn't comfortable dealing with that group--i.e., 'we'll deal with you adjuncts/instructors, but not with some outside body' or something like that?

Catholic social teaching with regard to a laborer's just wages is incredibly clear (depriving a laborer of his wages is one of the four sins crying out to heaven for vengeance), and I'd hate to think a Catholic school is ignorant of that fact. But unions complicate the matter owing to their political involvement and, frequently, the use of harmful tactics to force their position. Nor does the right to a fair wage necessarily imply unionization or collective bargaining. So I wonder what drove Duquesne to take a different tack than Georgetown? There must be more to this terribly sad story that what United Steelworkers' attorney writes about.
posted by resurrexit at 11:07 AM on September 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


Maybe the school wasn't comfortable dealing with that group--i.e., 'we'll deal with you adjuncts/instructors, but not with some outside body'

Even if that's the case, that is not Duquesne's choice to make. What's the difference between saying that and saying "we'll deal with you adjuncts/instructors one-on-one, but not together"?
posted by Lemurrhea at 11:12 AM on September 18, 2013 [8 favorites]


resurrexit: "Maybe the issue with unionization at Duquesne was with the United Steelworkers? Maybe the school wasn't comfortable dealing with that group--i.e., 'we'll deal with you adjuncts/instructors, but not with some outside body' or something like that? "

Nope.

"...Duquesne is arguing that its affiliation with the Spiritans, a Roman Catholic order, affords it a special exemption from the jurisdiction of the National Labor Relations Board. It’s a conflict between church and state, the school’s lawyer argues, to allow workers to file for a union election."
posted by zarq at 11:22 AM on September 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


There is a clear moral here : Just don't be an adjunct professor/lecturer.

Y'all can tell the adjuncts what to do, or what not to do, but many are awesome teachers.

From The Chronicle on Higher Education: Adjuncts Are Better Teachers Than Tenured Professors, Study Finds (if you read the article, you may want to note how much the adjuncts are being paid.)

And, if you're curious about the wages of adjunct professors near you, check out The Chronicle's Adjunct Project.
posted by Going To Maine at 11:24 AM on September 18, 2013 [7 favorites]


One thing I find odd is that the adjuncts voted to join the United Steelworkers. That seems... odd.

Someone's already noted the Pittsburgh angle. The UAW is actually the union representing the most academic student employees (which is code for grad students). It's just a function of who has the resources and willingness to give it a go, basically. (I've been told that the largest UAW bargaining unit west of the Mississippi is UC grad students, which, if you think about it for a second, makes total sense. There are a lot of UC grad students.)

Maybe the issue with unionization at Duquesne was with the United Steelworkers? Maybe the school wasn't comfortable dealing with that group--i.e., 'we'll deal with you adjuncts/instructors, but not with some outside body' or something like that?

We had a grad student unionisation effort two years back. That was one of the university's anti-union talking points--the big scary UAW couldn't represent us. But it wasn't an actual problem with the UAW, it was that the UAW, unlike a group of students working without support of an organisation like the UAW, had the know-how and the money to organise a unionisation campaign.
posted by hoyland at 11:26 AM on September 18, 2013 [5 favorites]


I don't know what kind of adjuncts zizzle has known, most of the ones I know do not have a lucrative side gig. I'm one of them. They pay me a measly $2,000. to teach a 3-credit semester-long class. In my "side gig" I'm an underpaid librarian, making way less than any tenure-track faculty member on campus.
posted by mareli at 11:28 AM on September 18, 2013 [13 favorites]


We've had two failed efforts at unionising grad students in the last couple of years. One was UAW. Before that, it was IBEW. We'll be down to the IWW next time around, probably, who seem to be the union of last resort around here.

But, yeah, the Catholic thing is a total red herring, other than that Catholic social teaching should suggest Catholics be pro-union. You don't need to be a Catholic university to have a dean who thinks it's appropriate to email people instructing us to vote against unionisation.
posted by hoyland at 11:30 AM on September 18, 2013


If the workers unite and strike, they can force the university to bargain with them, NLRB be damned. By giving religious organizations the "right" to abuse their workers, the government really isn't leaving those workers with any choice. If the law doesn't protect the workers then the workers still enjoy freedom of association. If their position is dire enough then a wildcat strike may be their only move.
posted by 1adam12 at 11:30 AM on September 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


Mareli, a lot of our adjuncts work for major global companies in very high places.....or else have started their own businesses that have done very, very well. One was recently hired by the federal government for some really, huge contract.

The adjuncting is the side gig.

What they do when not adjuncting is their real job.
posted by zizzle at 11:36 AM on September 18, 2013


You may have missed the part where I repeatedly state "business school."
posted by zizzle at 11:37 AM on September 18, 2013


...any time I hear people discussing unionizing I'm left with this feeling that they're employing an old solution that American society has thoroughly sabotaged.

This exactly. Anytime someone mentions unions, you're a dirty socalist/Communist/out to destroy Amerika. The right has made sure that workers get shit. Barely liveable minimum wage, Right to Work, throttling whistleblowing, slashing any and all protection for workers.

Now this? Fuck the Catholic church. I left them years ago. The love of Jesus? What a myth.
posted by BlueHorse at 11:38 AM on September 18, 2013


Now this? Fuck the Catholic church.

In the church's defence [wow I don't say that often], this is not really in line with their own pronouncements, and to a pretty decent degree their own actions. Yes the Church could do more if they pushed, but so could we all.
posted by Lemurrhea at 11:46 AM on September 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


Mareli, a lot of our adjuncts work for major global companies in very high places.....or else have started their own businesses that have done very, very well. One was recently hired by the federal government for some really, huge contract.

It seems like you're at a professional school of some kind, where the adjuncts, while still technically adjuncts, are a whole other kettle of fish.
posted by hoyland at 12:01 PM on September 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


You may have missed the part where I repeatedly state "business school."

Ha. Well, I missed all but one mention of the word business, which made me a little uncertain you were at a business school.
posted by hoyland at 12:03 PM on September 18, 2013


Lemurrhea: "In the church's defence [wow I don't say that often], this is not really in line with their own pronouncements, and to a pretty decent degree their own actions. Yes the Church could do more if they pushed, but so could we all."

I might buy that if they weren't specifically claiming a religious exemption to secular law. That needs a better excuse than "we're usually not this terrible".
posted by Proofs and Refutations at 12:04 PM on September 18, 2013


I'm at a NEASC and AACSB accredited university in Boston.

I don't know what you mean by "professional school," but we're not ITT Tech. Some of our competitors include BC and BU.
posted by zizzle at 12:17 PM on September 18, 2013


I meant a professional school in the sense of 'part of university granting professional degrees', i.e. a business/law/med/etc school--basically the parts of universities that might have adjuncts who have high-paying jobs elsewhere. (I didn't read closely enough to see that you were at a business school and not, I don't know, public policy or something.)
posted by hoyland at 12:26 PM on September 18, 2013


Engineering programs often also employ adjuncts like the ones zizzle refers to: full-time professionals, often very senior, who teach on the side in the more applied courses. I'd be interested in seeing the statistics on adjuncts who rely on adjuncting for their primary income versus those who do it as a sideline. My impression is that the former are far more common, but that impression may be wrong...
posted by mr_roboto at 12:26 PM on September 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


I was just reading about Duquesne. In the 1930s it was led by Rev. Jeremiah Callahan, who insisted that Einstein's theory was wrong and that he could prove the parallel postulate and trisect the angle.
posted by escabeche at 12:33 PM on September 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Now this? Fuck the Catholic church.

In the church's defence [wow I don't say that often], this is not really in line with their own pronouncements, and to a pretty decent degree their own actions. Yes the Church could do more if they pushed, but so could we all.


Actually, I think the better point in the church's defense (and which is mentioned in the original article) is that this is an argument that is being made at Duquesne, but not at Georgetown. Your diocese matters.
posted by Going To Maine at 12:37 PM on September 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


mr_roboto, I'm betting there's a pretty clear division between humanities and non-humanities areas.
posted by zizzle at 12:47 PM on September 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


I get the outrage, but something here doesn't smell right.

An 83 year-old person would have been eligible for Medicare for 20 years! Sure, it doesn't pay everything, but it would pay for NEARLY everything.

Also, she should have been collecting Social Security. So her teaching gig would have supplemented her monthly stipend.

As for the house falling down around her, why didn't she sell it and go live in an easy to manage apartment? Or sign it over to the state? That was HER decision and it was a crappy one.

Pennsylvania has EXCELLENT elder resources, it's a shame that Ms. Vojtko didn't avail herself of any of them.

It seems to me that the General Counsel for the United Steelworkers Union, who is so angry at Duquesne, should step back and re-evaluate. We have Social Security, food stamps and Section 8 precisely for folks in Ms. Vojtko's situation. All she needed to do was to actually TALK to the caseworker at Adult Protective Services, to see what her options were. Someone called them on her behalf because they were concerned that she wasn't taking care of herself properly. RIGHTLY, I might add.

Ms. Vojtko started working at Duquesne at the age of 58 as an adjunct. That means she had 40 years as a working adult before she got to Duquesne. So why aren't we all wrapped around the axle about her previous job not offering her a pension? Or benefits, or what have you?

You CHOOSE to work as an adjunct, no one forces you. If someone in their late fifties chooses to be an adjunct, the assumption might be: This person has had a full career elsewhere and is looking for something to get them out of the house for a few hours a week. If this person needed more money, she should have taught high school for the city, or selected a different job.

Ms. Vejtko made decisions that put her in a precarious place. She ACTIVELY tried to keep social services from helping her. A lot of things fell through the cracks here, and that's sad, and the Adjunct System is a cheap and sleazy way for universities to get folks to work for cheap. Know what would cure that? People refusing to BE adjuncts.

A union wouldn't have solved Ms Vejtko's problems. It's silly to think it would have.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:03 PM on September 18, 2013 [6 favorites]


Actually, I think the better point in the church's defense (and which is mentioned in the original article) is that this is an argument that is being made at Duquesne, but not at Georgetown. Your diocese matters.

Georgetown is actually run independently of the Catholic hierarchy. (There are 4 or 5 Jesuits on a 50-some member board, and the school is obviously vaguely culturally Catholic, that's it. We do have crucifixes on the walls, which is a bit weird.)
posted by downing street memo at 1:08 PM on September 18, 2013


downing street, Duquesne U is similar in that it's owned by a religious order, not the diocese. So the diocese makes no difference. Honestly, both the Georgetown Jesuits and the Spiritans of Duquesne are old, liberal orders, so that's why I keep saying there has to be some kind of reason the school would fall back on the church-state issue to prevent United Steelworkers from coming in (in fact, it must pain them greatly to do so!). The school or religious order that owns it are assuredly not opposed to unionization or collectivity in some sense among its slave class, er, adjuncts. There has to be something else.
posted by resurrexit at 1:11 PM on September 18, 2013


You CHOOSE to work as an adjunct, no one forces you.

This is a bullshit excuse for exploitation whether its applied to an adjunct professor or a coal miner or a sweatshop worker. The workers in this case want a union, so while maybe you're right that it would have helped this particular woman, obviously they think it would help them. What people are wound up about here, at least, is the union busting, not this particular woman.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 1:16 PM on September 18, 2013 [17 favorites]


You CHOOSE to work as an adjunct, no one forces you.

This is a bullshit excuse for exploitation whether its applied to an adjunct professor or a coal miner or a sweatshop worker.


The difference is Adjunt Professor is by definition NOT a full-time, permanant position. Coal Miner and Sweatshop Workers are.

Sure, the union should be allowed into Duquesne, if that's what the workers have voted for. But I'm highly skeptical that the union would have helped Ms. Vojtko, in fact, the author specifically was calling to ask social services NOT to help Ms. Vojtko. (That blows my tiny mind.)

I've been a member of two unions, I was a shop steward in one of them. Unions are fine institutions and they help people all over the world, but this particular situation would NOT have changed with the intervention of the Union.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:25 PM on September 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Absolutely vile.
posted by edheil at 1:28 PM on September 18, 2013


The difference is Adjunt Professor is by definition NOT a full-time, permanant position. Coal Miner and Sweatshop Workers are.

An adjunct professor is more like a Walmart employee, employed at the whims of their managers but always less than whatever state or federal regulation would require an extra financial commitment from their employer.

Except that adjunct professors have years of training in specialized set of skills. Unfortunately, that knowledge is only employed by a cartel which is free to impoverish them because they have little alternative for employment which makes use of their years of investment in said specialized knowledge and skill outside of that cartel.

All you computer programmers and other "knowledge workers" feeling pretty confident about your highly specialized skillset and years of experience should take note.
posted by ennui.bz at 1:34 PM on September 18, 2013 [25 favorites]


> When I was working for the U of Chicago Press, I discovered that its employees were unionized by the Teamsters. As Bulgaroktonos says, it's all about who has the organizational chops.

We need One Big Union. (One Big Union.)
posted by languagehat at 1:47 PM on September 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


Bumped into Jesus on my way into work this morning and I ran this one past him. He just shook his head slowly and looked very tired and sad.
posted by reynir at 1:50 PM on September 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


A short obit, from before this became a story. Appended to it is the following from Duquesne University Chaplain and Director of Campus Ministry:

“I was incredulous after reading Daniel Kovalik’s op-ed piece about Margaret Mary Votjko. I knew Margaret Mary well. When we learned of problems with her home she was invited to live with us in the formation community at Laval House on campus, where she resided for several weeks over the past year. Over the course of Margaret Mary’s illness I, along with other Spiritan priests, visited with her regularly. In addition, the University and the Spiritan priests at Duquesne offered several other types of assistance to her. Mr. Kovalik’s use of an unfortunate death to serve an alternative agenda is sadly exploitive, and is made worse because his description of the circumstances bears no resemblance to reality.”

Make of it what you will.

(Plus a few hints of what she might have been doing outside of teaching French. I'd curious to see full CV.)
posted by IndigoJones at 1:56 PM on September 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Any authoritarian organization will exploit people, languagehat, the more powerful the authority the worse the exploitation.

There is actually considerable competition amongst Unions in Europe, like at least four big ones just for the SNCF in France, plus some small ones. These unions do not all agree when to strike, but they all love to strike, and any strike still hurts the company, so the companies negotiate quickly.

Anyways, if anyone here works as a recruiter who occasionally fills non-super-start positions, then you might look into poaching adjuncts in fields related to the positions you fill. Need an SQL guy? Why not see if the local CS department is exploiting some adjunct for an intro to databases course?
posted by jeffburdges at 2:07 PM on September 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


> Any authoritarian organization will exploit people, languagehat, the more powerful the authority the worse the exploitation.

As an anarchist, I thoroughly agree, but say what you will about the Wobblies, they weren't/aren't authoritarian.
posted by languagehat at 2:22 PM on September 18, 2013 [5 favorites]


I hate looking at the shell they've become. They do make the occasional win but they simply don't have the resources or membership to offer much support to locals.

On the other hand, the UFCW, which does have said resources but from what I've heard from members essentially doesn't care.
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:43 PM on September 18, 2013


Georgetown is actually run independently of the Catholic hierarchy.

Most Catholic universities in the US aren't diocesan, which is the level of 'independence from the Catholic hierarchy' that Georgetown has. Like all things in Catholicism, things depend on who's running the show, whether that's which diocese you're in or what order the priest is a member of or what order runs the school. That (plus however many years of tradition and other things that influence university culture) is what's separating Georgetown from Notre Dame.
posted by hoyland at 2:50 PM on September 18, 2013


Adjunct professing can be a good side gig for a lot of people, but it should be a side gig that you sometimes do, not something that should be relied upon as steady income.

Yeah, logged on to say this.

I've pushed to try to get better conditions for our adjuncts, though none of us are allowed to unionize in VA... People get sucked into adjuncting full time for years...many because they can't give up the dream of a full-time academic position. But I try to tell them all: do not let this become your full-time job... Do not think it's a route to something better in academia... I have no inclination to make excuses for universities, but people do have to take some measure of responsibility for their own actions. The guy across the hall from me, an adjunct, used to talk about how we should push harder to get the university to push to eliminate adjunct positions and hire more TT folks...which we do...and they've responded... But the thing was, he though he was going to get one of those positions...without a Ph.D. And he just wasn't/isn't. It wasn't pleasant, but I think I finally got him to recognize that.
posted by Fists O'Fury at 2:51 PM on September 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


We need One Big Union.

The problem with "one big union," even in the context of a university, is that students, grad students, adjunct faculty, tenured faculty, white-collar staff, and blue-collar staff all have different and often opposing economic and class interests (if you distinguish the two.)

The whole thing makes an instant parody of the collapse of skilled trade and industrial unionism in the US... if unionism even got a foothold which it hasn't at many if not most university campuses in the US.

In particular, adjunct faculty are effectively scabs for unionized tenured faculty, although they tend to be treated as if tenured faculty were managers to adjunct faculty employees. The recent Thomas Frank article "Fight Song..." on The Baffler lays this out pretty clearly (if in somewhat purple prose.)

When it comes down to it, given that class conflict runs right through the heart of academia, the idea of "solidarity" at the university doesn't make a whole lot of sense... even if you aren't a marxist.
posted by ennui.bz at 2:54 PM on September 18, 2013


But I try to tell them all: do not let this become your full-time job.

Try saying that at your local Walmart. Your adjuncts are lucky if this is their full-time job. It's not just about "pushing for better conditions," your industry is systematically exploiting people with graduate degrees, people a lot like yourself. You are trying to distance yourself by saying your adjuncts are "losers" in academia, but in 5 years, your adjuncts are all going to have PhDs... then what?

Again, adjuncts are systematically exploited by your industry: are you responsible as a quasi-manager?
posted by ennui.bz at 2:59 PM on September 18, 2013 [9 favorites]



It seems to me that the General Counsel for the United Steelworkers Union, who is so angry at Duquesne, should step back and re-evaluate. We have Social Security, food stamps and Section 8 precisely for folks in Ms. Vojtko's situation.

It used to be that, as a student, you didn't expect your college professor to need to be on food stamps.

Ms. Vojtko started working at Duquesne at the age of 58 as an adjunct. That means she had 40 years as a working adult before she got to Duquesne. So why aren't we all wrapped around the axle about her previous job not offering her a pension? Or benefits, or what have you?

Not necessarily. Considering when she was born, she may well have been a housewife for much of her adult life.

You CHOOSE to work as an adjunct, no one forces you. If someone in their late fifties chooses to be an adjunct, the assumption might be: This person has had a full career elsewhere and is looking for something to get them out of the house for a few hours a week. If this person needed more money, she should have taught high school for the city, or selected a different job.

Someone correct me if I'm wrong here, but I believe that three classes a semester, which is what she was teaching for most of her time there, is pretty close to a full-time job. It's certainly not under any circumstances "a few hours a week." And I doubt many high schools would hire a 58-year-old.
posted by ostro at 3:02 PM on September 18, 2013 [12 favorites]


To be fair, the Wobblies would say tenured and adjunct faculty have the same economic interests, namely abolishing wage labor.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 3:10 PM on September 18, 2013 [5 favorites]


From The Chronicle on Higher Education: Adjuncts Are Better Teachers Than Tenured Professors, Study Finds (if you read the article, you may want to note how much the adjuncts are being paid.)

As one of the three people on the planet who ponied up the $5 to actually read this study, and not the reports thereon, I have to point out that what it demonstrates is that "adjuncts at Northwestern University (mostly long-term and paid well beyond the norm for an adjunct position) who teach lower-division courses (and have done so for several years) are better than the tenure-track faculty at teaching those courses," not that "adjuncts are better teachers than tenured faculty." There are all sorts of reasons why this result cannot be generalized, including NU's geographical location (big local adjunct pool), unusually high pay (c. 5K/course), loyalty to its adjuncts, well-prepared student body, and so forth. For some reason, the authors did not study adjunct performance at the local community colleges or Chicago State U, where working conditions are very different (and even a full course load would not enable an adjunct to make a living wage).

In any event. Unionization works extremely well for adjuncts up to a point. The union at CSU Los Angeles, for example, managed to secure raises, benefits, and even virtual tenure for its longtime adjuncts (after a certain # of years, they were guaranteed first crack at their courses). That did not stop the university from summarily clearing out the adjunct ranks, however, when the financial excrement hit the rapidly moving blades. IOW, unionization can be great when the adjuncts are employed, but does not necessarily help when the institution elects to fire people. That's the rub. (We have seniority rules in place for hiring and firing adjuncts, I gather, but that still provides only limited security.) On preview: my own campus has been pushing for a 75%-25% t-t to adjunct ratio, and to that end my department has hired anywhere from 1-3 t-t faculty per year for nearly every year that I've been here (14). But several years ago, when the college started taking the ratio really seriously, many of our full-time lecturers were simply fired and replaced by t-t faculty, a number of them because they didn't have a doctorate & so weren't eligible for a t-t position.
posted by thomas j wise at 3:10 PM on September 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


Ruthless Bunny makes a keen observation. The article is an axe grindy editorial that lassos Vojtko's death for the union cause at Duquesne, mother's milk for yet another axe grindy Metafilter thread, when it's not clear the Union would have or even could have made a difference.
posted by 2N2222 at 3:20 PM on September 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well, alrighty then, guess I'll just be sittin' here grinding my axe so it's, you know, sharper.
posted by No Robots at 3:23 PM on September 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


Considering when she was born, she may well have been a housewife for much of her adult life.

No mention of any marriage in the obit. Not that that proves anything, of course. She did have at least one nephew. Curious to know how often he was checking in on her.
posted by IndigoJones at 3:55 PM on September 18, 2013


Try saying that at your local Walmart. Your adjuncts are lucky if this is their full-time job. It's not just about "pushing for better conditions," your industry is systematically exploiting people with graduate degrees, people a lot like yourself. You are trying to distance yourself by saying your adjuncts are "losers" in academia, but in 5 years, your adjuncts are all going to have PhDs... then what?

Again, adjuncts are systematically exploited by your industry: are you responsible as a quasi-manager?


That is utterly absurd.

This has nothing to do with Wal-Mart. Most of our adjuncts are not "lucky to have this as their full-time job," unless you mean something very weird by that. Most of them could have much higher-paying jobs. Most of them keep this job as a choice. They might be lucky as compared to someone working at Wal-Mart, but they aren't lucky compared to their possible selves, doing other things. Unless it's really what they want to be doing and they don't care about the money...in which case everything's fine. But trust me: few of them are happy.

I'm not "trying to distance" myself, and I didn't say they were "losers." You said it...you clearly think it...but I do not. Don't project your own beliefs onto me. And no, they are not going to have Ph.D.s in 5 years. For the love of God, you have absolutely no idea what you are talking about. Some adjuncts are going to finish their Ph.D.s, but many--very many--are not. Someone who has been adjuncting for 20 years and is not even attempting to finish is not going to finish. Most of ours are not going to do so. They have settled into a perpetual cycle of adjuncting, with no intention of moving on.

I am not a "quasi-manager." I have virtually no power. I'm just Joe faculty-member. Even our department has little power. Policies are set by the administration. We do what we can to make things better for them, but our influence is limited.

What's most interesting about his is that you have absolutely no idea what you are talking about whatsoever, but you feel free to make nonsense accusations. This is something I've seen on MeFi more than a few times, though this is one of the worst cases. Let me suggest that you find out at least a little bit about what you're talking about before you start making absurd accusations aimed at people yo don't know. Really, seriously, frothing at the mouth and shrieking when you are entirely clueless about the topic of discussion is just inexcusable.
posted by Fists O'Fury at 4:19 PM on September 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


All of the adjuncts that I was taught by in academic courses* already had their PhDs. One of my tenured professors didn't. (He was an older professor; perhaps when he was hired it wasn't an issue. He was an excellent lecturer.)

*The one exception was in creative writing, which was more of a professional course and which employed published novelists and poets as teachers, just as business courses will employ business people.
posted by jb at 5:48 PM on September 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm more concerned by the PhDs who end up career adjuncting because there aren't enough positions to the number of PhDs than I am about my adjuncts who don't.

Because my adjuncts have careers and do other than adjuncts.

The PhD adjuncts in the Englsh department? They're the ones to be worried about.
posted by zizzle at 5:55 PM on September 18, 2013


Ain't just English anymore, zizzle, all the STEM fields too. There is an awful lot of money sloshing around business schools, which occasionally gets used placing successful businessmen in front of students. Just not common elsewhere.

I'm fine with industry retirees adjunct teaching because they like seeing all those smiling young faces or whatever. In fact, I'd favor restricting all adjunct positions across all disciplines to people with significant industry experience and income, much like this AQ vs PQ distinction, but presumably that restriction applies only to business, not say physics.
posted by jeffburdges at 6:05 PM on September 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


I read the adjunct study too. It's a mess. The criterion for "adjuncts are better teachers" is "people who had an adjunct in the first course get a slightly higher grade in their second course." There's any number of reasons why that might be, and no particular reason to take that outcome as the be-all and end-all of anything.
posted by gerryblog at 6:31 PM on September 18, 2013


I am not a "quasi-manager." I have virtually no power. I'm just Joe faculty-member. Even our department has little power. Policies are set by the administration. We do what we can to make things better for them, but our influence is limited.

What's most interesting about his is that you have absolutely no idea what you are talking about whatsoever, but you feel free to make nonsense accusations. This is something I've seen on MeFi more than a few times, though this is one of the worst cases. Let me suggest that you find out at least a little bit about what you're talking about before you start making absurd accusations aimed at people yo don't know. Really, seriously, frothing at the mouth and shrieking when you are entirely clueless about the topic of discussion is just inexcusable.


I have a PhD, I have taught as an adjunct professor. Yup, I know nothing. What I was saying is that in X number of years instead of having terminal degrees like masters, your adjuncts will all have PhDs like me. Will you still be able to dismiss them as misguided people pursuing hopeless dreams?

Your condescension towards these people speaks volumes. And no you aren't powerless. No, your department isn't powerless.

But trust me: few of them are happy.

Oh believe me I know. These are people who teach for a living, and you are talking about them as if they were living in some sort of adolescent fantasy world because they refuse to quit. Outside of earning a living, people want respect for the work they do. But also to make a living.

The point of TFA is that you can work for 40 years as an adjunct and die destitute. Will any of the adjunct teachers in your department end up that way?
posted by ennui.bz at 7:08 PM on September 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


I think it's hard for people to see adjuncts as an economically exploited group of people because our default setting is to think that highly educated people have a lot of options and are choosing the lifestyle they want, rather than being pushed into a crappy job because it's the only one available. I find it a little bit surprising that there's so much "they shouldn't be adjuncting, they should go do something else!" in this thread.
posted by gerstle at 10:36 PM on September 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Wealth for us; Glory for Beliar!
posted by I-Write-Essays at 12:19 AM on September 19, 2013


You CHOOSE to work as an adjunct, no one forces you. If someone in their late fifties chooses to be an adjunct, the assumption might be: This person has had a full career elsewhere and is looking for something to get them out of the house for a few hours a week. If this person needed more money, she should have taught high school for the city, or selected a different job.

This may or may not be true in this specific case. But even if it is true that this woman had many other options and made an economically poor choice, does that mean she deserved to die penniless and practically homeless? Every single one of us makes poor choices sometimes, but that doesn't mean we deserve such punishment for those choices.

Also, she should have been collecting Social Security.

Social security is based on your lifetime earnings - many people get very little. And if, as someone else suggested, she was a housewife before getting her PhD, and then spent 5-10 years getting her degree, then 25 years adjuncting for such a low wage, it's not a stretch to think she'd be making on the bottom of the scale. I'd imagine a lot of her social security went for repairs on her house and to pay for medical treatment and/or time she had to take off. Your point about medicare is valid, though. That's a bit of a question mark.

I think the callousness of the university is appalling, but what really depressed me about this op ed is the harsh light it shines on what happens when you dismantle the social safety net. This woman was clearly a productive member of society, and she shouldn't have had to live the last years of her life like this. It's clear that society failed her. Whether that was an economic failure or a failure of social services, or both, it's pretty horrifying.
posted by lunasol at 12:26 AM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Adjuncts are "living a fantasy", ennui.bz. If you're primary employment is adjunct teaching, then you will wind up destitute shortly. It's will, not can.

Adjuncts are choosing to be exploited, gerstle. Afaik, adjuncts with PhDs are basically always qualified to do another job that pays a living wage, only psychological factors keep them there. I suppose "up or out" careers like academia are an extremely recent development that requires a massive oversupply of labor.

There is another reason we tell adjuncts to "do something else" though : Academic research currently depends upon professorship availability. Adjuncts lower the market value of teaching below what can support a research career, making them in effect "traitors to their subject". There is no "universal day job" for the arts that loses market value because we've too many starving artists doing it too cheaply.

There are many much more guilty parties here, especially the university administrators who happily hire fewer professors, instead squandering yet more funds on administration. Yet, the adjuncts remain the only group working against their own self interest, which makes them an easiest target for criticism. In fact, universities even benefit from overproducing PhDs, which creates the underlying labor oversupply.

There is now a shift towards automating much teaching labor via machine grading and interactive video lectures, although problem sessions should still require teachers. We'll need to either pay for research directly or else that baton will pass to nations that do so.
posted by jeffburdges at 1:16 AM on September 19, 2013


A note on Social Security: I currently work for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, so I am entitled (hopefully!) to a pension when I retire, but in exchange for that, I am exempt from Social Security. I don't pay in. And I won't get anything out. So not everyone gets Social Security, FYI.

Our department just hired a "Visiting Lecturer" and a "Full-Time Temp", but due to regime change in the administrators' office, we have hope of converting at least one of them into a TT line, which is nice, because the actual hiring process for these positions was the most depressing thing I've ever done. It is pretty grim out there if you have a Ph.D. in Math and don't get a good job right out of grad school.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 2:49 AM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Adjuncts are choosing to be exploited, gerstle. Afaik, adjuncts with PhDs are basically always qualified to do another job that pays a living wage, only psychological factors keep them there.

This is just wildly, blatantly, astonishingly untrue. And proof of the point I was making above about how wrong people's perceptions are about adjuncts. Having a PhD is not some guarantee of employability, and can sometimes be very much the opposite.

This should be fairly obvious from the fact that there exists an army of people willing to work for $20k a year and no benefits. Or from the reporting that's been done on the subject. But if you'd prefer anecdata, I'll tell you that the two PhDs in this household are getting closer and closer to being desperate enough to apply for adjunct jobs. And if that happens, it'll be the absolute last resort at the end of a two-year job search in industry, academia, and anywhere else we could think to look.

I've known people who took adjunct positions because they thought teaching would be fun and their bills were paid by a more highly paid spouse. I'm not denying that that sort of thing happens all the time. But to pretend that those are the only people taking these jobs is completely ridiculous, frankly.
posted by gerstle at 4:07 AM on September 19, 2013 [6 favorites]


The problem is this idea that teaching and research are two sides of the same coin, when they're not at all.

Really excellent researchers suck at teaching. And some really great teachers suck at research.

Why the US model of higher education is dependent upon doing both, and emphasizing research OVER teaching is not anything I will ever understand.

I think, honestly and truly, there is value in splitting the market.

Hire the teacher who can teach and engage at a high level academic to teach. Hire the researcher who can research and engage at high level of research needed. Don't necessarily hire people to do both, because this research all the time emphasis? That's what's screwing over higher ed and screwing over higher education students. Students in undergraduate courses primarily do not give a shit what their professors are researching. They give a shit about who can best teach them what they're there to learn.

That US academia hasn't caught up to what the market wants is really astonishing. I think there is room, even at my relatively small university, to have people do both. Yeah, there might be a salary cut, but then the people who want to research can do that without "wasting time on teaching," as I have heard more than one faculty member say. And the people who are great at teaching can teach.

Doesn't mean neither shouldn't do the other. Just means cut back the expectations about how much of each different kind of faculty can do. A PhD is about research----not about teaching. And that, I think, is yet another huge failing of the US model of requiring PhD faculty to do both.
posted by zizzle at 4:15 AM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


One argument in favour of having researchers teach: they are much more current with their field. I have had undergrad classes with teaching-oriented faculty and research-oriented faculty, and the research-oriented faculty were more like to present current research and engaged students in how research is done.

My undergrad university had a more teaching focus and I had a number of professors who were known best as teachers. However, some of them were 10+ years behind on research (30+ years behind, in one case, albeit in a slow moving field) and that put me at a serious disadvantage in upper level classes and in graduate classes. I was missing important information which should have been covered in my classes.

Pertinant to the discussion: all of the people behind on research were tenured faculty. The adjunct lecturers had mostly gotten their PhDs within the past 10 years and were very current with research.
posted by jb at 5:17 AM on September 19, 2013


You want PhDs teaching the introductory courses on Abstract Algebra, Quantum Mechanics, and Complexity Theory, zizzle, courses required by any reputable math, physics or computer science program.

In math, adjuncts mostly teach the first year calculous courses. It's similar across most STEM fields. Almost anywhere else in the world first year calculous is considered high school level material. As I understand it, university faculty set the high school exit exams in France, meaning students cannot complete high school without passing an elementary calculous course.

At Georgia Tech, there were math professors pushing to make first year calculous courses into remedial courses, meaning they counted for no credit or consumed elective credit, but the university could make you take them if your high school hadn't taught you the material.

I suspect the math department never embraced that idea because it depended too heavily on the service teaching, which they likely provided partially through adjunct lecturers. If they'd done so, more Georgia high school would've hired math teachers able to teach AP calculous, and presumably Tech could've avoided hiring adjuncts. Just the wrong incentives though.

I suspect you're using adjunct lecturers completely differently business, partially because they just serve a different function, ala inspiration and prestige, but also because undergrad business degrees teach relatively easy material.
posted by jeffburdges at 5:18 AM on September 19, 2013


I wouldn't say writing a business plan and starting your own business within your junior year of undergrad is relatively easy material.....or relatively easy to do as a 20 year old. Yet, that's expected of our entrepreneurship majors.....

I'm not a business person by any means, but if anything, the business classes have higher real world expectations.......and I do think the business students come out with expectations that are a lot more in line with the current economic system than CAS faculty pushing students toward PhDs.......

We have adjunct faculty teaching in our graduate level capstone courses --- and they almost universally do better than the tenured research faculty. Because it's not research you keep up with in business to teach it successfully --- it's the Wall Street Journal and News Week for most people coming out with a BSBA or an MBA. They want real world applications as currently being done, not the industry experience of faculty who haven't been industry for 10 years.....if anything, in business, it's the researchers who are out of date. By the time they publish something (because of how revise and resubmits work and how long it takes), the information they published is already out of date and the companies studied have long since moved on to other practices.
posted by zizzle at 5:42 AM on September 19, 2013


Adjuncts are "living a fantasy", ennui.bz. If you're primary employment is adjunct teaching, then you will wind up destitute shortly. It's will, not can.

Adjuncts are choosing to be exploited, gerstle. Afaik, adjuncts with PhDs are basically always qualified to do another job that pays a living wage, only psychological factors keep them there. I suppose "up or out" careers like academia are an extremely recent development that requires a massive oversupply of labor.

There is another reason we tell adjuncts to "do something else" though : Academic research currently depends upon professorship availability. Adjuncts lower the market value of teaching below what can support a research career, making them in effect "traitors to their subject". There is no "universal day job" for the arts that loses market value because we've too many starving artists doing it too cheaply.

There are many much more guilty parties here, especially the university administrators who happily hire fewer professors, instead squandering yet more funds on administration. Yet, the adjuncts remain the only group working against their own self interest, which makes them an easiest target for criticism. In fact, universities even benefit from overproducing PhDs, which creates the underlying labor oversupply.

There is now a shift towards automating much teaching labor via machine grading and interactive video lectures, although problem sessions should still require teachers. We'll need to either pay for research directly or else that baton will pass to nations that do so.


This is ridiculous, disgusting victim blaming.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:57 AM on September 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


There's an inherent difference between a professional program and an academic program. I mentioned up thread that the one time I had a non-PhD adjunct was in an applied course: creative writing. A novelist is more knowledgable about how to write a novel than someone who specializes in literary criticism.

That said, part of the reason that business is taught in universities is, I hope, a desire to apply the rigors of academics to the practice of business. I'm quite close to a business professor who is from the academic side - he would never claim experience starting his own business, but he does empirical research on how businesses actually work, which isn't always how people who are immersed within the business think that they do.
posted by jb at 6:01 AM on September 19, 2013


As for the choices adjuncts have open to them:

PhDs really aren't tickets to a world of great job opportunities, especially if the degree is in an academic field and if the graduate is not from an upper-class background and thus has no access to the world of internships, etc. I know people with masters degrees working at Starbucks. Academic networks are only good for finding academic jobs.

Also, this assumes that people with PhDs have the other necessary skills to work in other fields. A PhD is someone who can conduct research and write about it. They are not required to have any of the organizational skills that someone in an administration position requires, nor any of the sales, marketing or people skills that promotional positions require. It's like training someone as a ballet dancer for 6 years (10-12 if you include all their tertiary education), and then expecting them to work as an orchestral musician or set designer. They may be multi-talented and able to do those things as well, but there is no guarantee.
posted by jb at 6:10 AM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Pope Guilty: "This is ridiculous, disgusting victim blaming."

Not only that, it mentions the shift towards automated teaching but then ignores just how big a problem that is. The economy is working towards streamlining everyone who isn't the 1% out of a job; any job that can be gotten rid of apparently will be. Yes, efficiency is good, yadda yadda, but where does that leave people who can't find their way into the trickle of new jobs that arise?
posted by jiawen at 6:12 AM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


As for entry level positions: most PhDs are in their 30s, and will be applying for positions with 20-somethings right out of their BAs. I think that anyone with a graduate degree is usually a bargain - a guaranteed level of intelligence and skill, and most learn more quickly. But a lot of HR people don't agree with me, and will turn down people with graduate degrees as "over-qualified".

In addition, most entry-level and even middle-level jobs are really repetitive and boring for someone who has done a PhD: they are used to an intellectual challenge. Bored intelligent people can be an asset - they may fill their time thinking of ways to improve their employer's systems. But a lot of employers can't handle that kind of independent thinking and squash it, leaving the educated employee just to get frustrated and resentful.

Adjuncting, while poorly paid, is never unchallenging, and usually offers good autonomy.
posted by jb at 6:17 AM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


The economy is working towards streamlining everyone who isn't the 1% out of a job; any job that can be gotten rid of apparently will be.

And no one is talking about the obvious: CONSUMER CRISIS.

Who the hell will buy from the 1% when no one else has any money?
posted by jb at 6:18 AM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


and they almost universally do better than the tenured research faculty

s/do better/are more popular/

I wouldn't say writing a business plan and starting your own business within your junior year of undergrad is relatively easy material...

There really is a perception that business degrees are relatively undemanding. Part of it is for reals just prejudice against MBA programs. Part of that is because some MBA programs are structured in ways that do not permit the student to fail no matter how poor their performance is, which makes them inherently undemanding. Part of it is also that CAS/CLAS faculty can look at the courses being taught in MBA schools that are similar to their own courses -- these will primarily be methodological in some way -- and see that they're indeed less demanding or sloppier in one way or another. Like a former colleague's former wife who was in a local MBA program whose quantitative analysis class had them doing stepwise regression, which would make most hard-edged, up-to-date, social science quant types shiver in horror.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:20 AM on September 19, 2013


for those of us outside of the know: what is CAS/CLAS?
posted by jb at 6:21 AM on September 19, 2013


what is CAS/CLAS?

College of Arts and Sciences or College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. The subsection of a typical research university where all the "normal academic" stuff like English and chemistry are housed. As distinct from the other professional/nonacademic programs like the School of Law, School of Medicine, School of Business, School of Architecture, School of Dentistry, School of Pharmacy, etc.

Hire the teacher who can teach and engage at a high level academic to teach. Hire the researcher who can research and engage at high level of research needed.

Obviously it depends on the course; for introductory calculus, statistics, composition, Spanish, or American government it probably doesn't matter very much. But until you've had it happen, it's very easy to underestimate how much successfully teaching the right stuff benefits from having an active research program.

Students in undergraduate courses primarily do not give a shit what their professors are researching. They give a shit about who can best teach them what they're there to learn.

Except for the occasional genius, students in undergraduate courses do not yet know enough about their field of study to have any reasonable idea what they need to learn.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:33 AM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


jb: "Who the hell will buy from the 1% when no one else has any money?"

Yes. I'm not sure the ultra-rich are thinking of much of an endgame, other than "wealth will be produced somewhere off the premises".
posted by jiawen at 6:38 AM on September 19, 2013


There really is a perception that business degrees are relatively undemanding.

There's a reason.


Yes. I'm not sure the ultra-rich are thinking of much of an endgame, other than "wealth will be produced somewhere off the premises".

The end-game is the Gilded Age 2.0.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:26 AM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think the TT/adjunct split is teaching and research being split off from each other, at least at the 100-200 level (I agree that at the 300-400 level active research is going to give you an advantage in the classroom). It's just that the split is ugly.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 7:28 AM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


This may or may not be true in this specific case. But even if it is true that this woman had many other options and made an economically poor choice, does that mean she deserved to die penniless and practically homeless? Every single one of us makes poor choices sometimes, but that doesn't mean we deserve such punishment for those choices.

She wasn't being punished, people actively called APS to get someone to intervene and HELP her, she actively tried to get them to leave her alone. She even enlisted the union GC to call APS to have them leave her alone. As unpleasant as it is to accept, Ms. Vejtko CHOSE to live this way.


I think the callousness of the university is appalling, but what really depressed me about this op ed is the harsh light it shines on what happens when you dismantle the social safety net. This woman was clearly a productive member of society, and she shouldn't have had to live the last years of her life like this. It's clear that society failed her. Whether that was an economic failure or a failure of social services, or both, it's pretty horrifying.


The University is an employer, and for their side of it, we currently, only have the Union GC's word for what happened. As is noted above, some of the Priests at the university offered a place for Ms. Vejtko in their residence, she chose to stay with them for a bit, but not permanantly. Society didn't fail Ms. Vojtko. PA APS was asked to intervene, there were programs available should Ms. Vojtko wanted to avail herself of them.

What would you have the state do? Track her down and FORCE her to move out of her uninhabitable house, accept food stamps, move into a subsidized apartment?

Why is it so terrible to admit that even after a lifetime of productive employment, that for WHATEVER reason, you don't have enough money to do it for yourself as you live into your 9th decade?

Clearly Ms. Vojtko was either too proud or too stubborn to understand or to want the help that so many people wanted for her.

The social safety net was available for Ms. Vojtko, she didn't want it.

Exactly what would you have had done in this situation?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:11 AM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Mrs. Dr. Robots has a Ph.D. in English, and is finding the work situation quite demoralizing. She and I were discussing this last night. I told her that holders of advanced degrees are unaccustomed to seeing themselves as subject to the same cruelties of the labour market as everyone else. What happens, though, when hundreds of thousands of highly intelligent, highly disciplined workers start to see the universities in the same way that other workers see Walmart? What happens when the very best minds in society start to unite their own destiny with that of all the other exploited workers?
posted by No Robots at 8:13 AM on September 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


As is noted above, some of the Priests at the university offered a place for Ms. Vejtko in their residence, she chose to stay with them for a bit, but not permanantly.

Maybe because she didn't want to live as a boarder with priests? It's true that she wasn't forced out into the street, but hell, if my only housing option were to live with a religious order, I wouldn't be too happy about it.

I guess I just don't think it's too much to ask that elderly folks who have worked all their lives be given some more dignified options for housing.
posted by lunasol at 12:40 PM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


She could have sold her house and moved into an apartment. She could have applied for section 8. She had a TON of options. Why is it her employers fault if she chose to live in her dilapidated house?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 4:27 PM on September 19, 2013


She could have sold her house and moved into an apartment. She could have applied for section 8. She had a TON of options. Why is it her employers fault if she chose to live in her dilapidated house?

The funny thing about victim blaming is that there's always SOMETHING a victim could've done. There's no perfect victims. And thus, there's no need to avoid blaming them.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:54 PM on September 19, 2013 [9 favorites]


We've decided to stay positive and embrace the change. Perhaps the breakdown of the traditional university will provide new opportunities.
posted by No Robots at 6:53 AM on September 20, 2013


The funny thing about victim blaming is that there's always SOMETHING a victim could've done. There's no perfect victims. And thus, there's no need to avoid blaming them.

Victim of WHAT?

She died the way she wanted to die. In her house, on her terms. I'm still confused as to what you think SHOULD have happened?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:56 AM on September 20, 2013


Why You Don't “Fucking Love Science” (John Skylar on postdoc salaries)
posted by jeffburdges at 8:32 AM on September 20, 2013


Dismay all around.

My original reaction to the news of Professor Vojtko's passing was rage: one, that she appears to have completely slipped through the cracks of multiple systems; two, that Duquesne's official reaction consisted of angry and defensive spin that carefully avoided the fact that a sick, elderly long-time employee went without basic aid, or basic dignity in her time of need (kicking her out of her office for sleeping? Seriously?).

In hindsight, it seems that there are many unknowns in this story, including why she slipped through the cracks of Medicare and Social Security.

That said, it was with much regret that I chose not to pursue a PhD in English ten years ago for reasons that had entirely to do with the institutionalized instructor caste system running rampant in so many schools. As a university administrator, I was making more and had better benefits than my adjunct friends. I simply didn't have the stomach for the required years of under-compensation, underappreciation and uncertainty. I'm in no small awe of those who stuck it out under such conditions. The situation seemed fundamentally and unfairly skewed then. It seems even more so now.

I'm also dismayed to see what was once a uniquely American higher-ed business model - taking on hefty debt to finance competitive degrees - exporting itself around the world, including Europe, which has traditionally offered quality free or low-cost education to both citizens and immigrants.
posted by Occam's Aftershave at 6:26 AM on September 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


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