Academic Hiring Is Broken
January 20, 2016 10:39 AM   Subscribe

At Brandeis University, students are petitioning the school to take well regarded adjunct sociology professor Jillian Powers on as a tenure-track professor, after learning how tenuous her status is. A Slate article on the matter discusses why the student petition will most likely fail, and the incredibly broken system used to hire new tenure-track professors without any real consideration for their ability to teach.
posted by NoxAeternum (157 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
 
Professors are hired (and given tenure) based on how good they are at getting grant money and getting published in high-impact journals. The actual work of being a professor mostly involves managing people and teaching students. This, in my opinion, is the root of why so many professors are so terrible at their jobs. It's pretty fucked up, honestly.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 10:43 AM on January 20, 2016 [15 favorites]


Time for a Very Special Episode of Big Bang Theory.
posted by amtho at 10:53 AM on January 20, 2016 [5 favorites]


Puts me in mind of this recent piece by an adjunct professor whose contract was cancelled - the resulting loss of stability, she says, could result in homelessness.
posted by larrybob at 11:00 AM on January 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


Maybe everything shouldn't be run like a business. Since the cost of a college education is growing faster than anything else, including healthcare, where is all the money going?
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 11:01 AM on January 20, 2016 [11 favorites]


I'd like to see more universities have "instructor" positions---that is, positions where most if not all of the responsibilities are in teaching and service, rather than the usual tripartite appointment---on the tenure track.

My department just hired some instructor positions, which is great because at least they have a full time contract with benefits an expectation that the contract will be renewed annually (instead of their previous positions with us, which was as part time adjuncts), but --- they're not tenure-track, and indeed, there are no tenure-track instructor positions as far as I know.

(In fact, it's a little surprising that there aren't, because the university ate the community colleges about 25 years ago, so there is a collection of what were the community college professors, who only have bipartite appointments, who are in a different union. But they're also in a special division in the university, and the "regular" departments as far as I know don't allow this sort of tenure track instructor appointment. Pretty sure certainly not the ones who would be in my union at least. But certainly, it's a complicated question.)
posted by leahwrenn at 11:04 AM on January 20, 2016 [7 favorites]


Well, at least the students got a realistic view of what your prospects are with a Ph.D. in that field.
posted by Mitrovarr at 11:04 AM on January 20, 2016 [20 favorites]


Sorry but as a consultant in the government industry who is used to govt contract jobs I have very little understanding of the "plight" of adjunct or non-tenured professors. Oh noes, you don't have indefinite job security! Oh noes you have to face contract renewal which may not be approved! Hello, welcome to the world of contract work. And even employees who don't work on contracts work for employers that will lay you off if their incoming work lulls and they need less employees. What is with the entitlement mentality that you're owed job security? And it's not just the life of employees..every business owner faces the possibility his company may go belly up if he can't keep steady business coming in..
posted by TestamentToGrace at 11:04 AM on January 20, 2016 [4 favorites]


Since the cost of a college education is growing faster than anything else, including healthcare, where is all the money going?

Most of it is replacing money that is no longer coming in from government support (e.g., state funding of its universities, federal research grants).
posted by Etrigan at 11:06 AM on January 20, 2016 [21 favorites]


Sorry but as a consultant in the government industry who is used to govt contract jobs I have very little understanding of the "plight" of adjunct or non-tenured professors.

So, if things are shit for you, they should be shit for everyone?
posted by Mitrovarr at 11:06 AM on January 20, 2016 [106 favorites]


What is with the entitlement mentality that you're owed job security?

Sure, it sucks for other people in other industries. But wouldn't it be nice if more people, both in and out of the academy, did have better job security?
posted by Etrigan at 11:07 AM on January 20, 2016 [23 favorites]


Professors are hired (and given tenure) based on how good they are at getting grant money and getting published in high-impact journals.

You know, the first thing that popped into my head was, "sounds kind of like the conditions of a startup CEO." Bring in money, increase visibility.

Maybe everything shouldn't be run like a business.

Ah, but public funding for education has been decimated over the past my-lifetime! Howver, all of this is good grist for my "teachers should be paid triple what they get now," movement.
posted by rhizome at 11:08 AM on January 20, 2016 [2 favorites]


where is all the money going?

This is a decent breakdown, although giant points off for using pie charts for comparisons. Depending on public vs private:

27-33% for instruction
8-14% for institutional overhead (managers, legal services, etc))
11-12% for research
9-11% for affiliated hospital costs (although affiliated hospitals are generally net revenue sources)
9-10% for auxiliary enterprises (residence halls, dining halls, etc)
7-9% for academic overhead (academic admins, libraries, etc)
4-8% for student services (admissions, registrars, counseling, etc)

Smaller amounts for things like public service, grant aid, depreciation, etc.

Basically everything just got more expensive in general. It's hard to point at any one category and say "if we just got rid of X then it'd be like the good old days of low tuition and tenure for everybody."
posted by jedicus at 11:08 AM on January 20, 2016 [13 favorites]


...I have very little understanding of the "plight" of adjunct or non-tenured professors.

H-Adjunct publishes regular updates from COCAL (Coalition of Contingent Academic Labor) that describe the situation of adjunct workers.
posted by audi alteram partem at 11:13 AM on January 20, 2016 [2 favorites]


The problem is that Adjuncts get paid a fraction of what Tenure track professors do and are absorbing a larger and larger percentage of the teaching burden in most departments in order to free up Tenure track professors for the rigors of grant applications and writing research papers.

The result is that the students who are paying for the vast majority of the costs of education have far less instruction from actual tenure track faculty. It's getting to the point where a large percentage of undergrads will often have a majority of their classes taught by a combination of GRAs/Instructors/Adjuncts but in effect their tuition dollars are going to support this layer of tenure track professors that they have barely any contact with.

In results in a dysfunctional relationship where the most meaningful relationships many students are going to have are with adjuncts and instructors rather than tenure track professors.
posted by vuron at 11:13 AM on January 20, 2016 [36 favorites]


Brandeis is a R1 (top tier research focussed) university so their tenure track hiring preferences will reflect that. But let's say hypothetically Brandeis prioritizes being teaching focussed, and is also run in a highly non-business-like way . That still leaves the formal procedures for a nationwide hiring search committee described in the article and the intense internal faculty politics over who is chosen. There's no boss who can just give Powers a tenure track position (actually in this way, Brandeis like other universities, really is NOT run like a business). Maybe, unlikely but maybe a donor with deep pockets and influence can make it happen in an exceptional case. If I were advising the students on their campaign I would tell them to focus on persuading Brandeis donors to cough up $ with conditions.
posted by Bwithh at 11:14 AM on January 20, 2016 [2 favorites]


If I understand correctly, it's not so much that the universities' costs have gone up, but that the demand has gone up due to a tight job market and employers deciding a college degree was a filter for hiring, while state funding of schools has gone way down.
posted by Zalzidrax at 11:15 AM on January 20, 2016 [4 favorites]


Usually classes are cancelled the first week of school. There is no way to plan your life if you don't know until the last moment what your income will be. If you don't have supplemental income your fucked
posted by angrycat at 11:16 AM on January 20, 2016 [14 favorites]


Ms. Wombat is much more qualified than myself to comment on this issue, but I will relate the following anecdote as it is illustrative of the current working/job-seeking conditions in academia:

Ms. Wombat, then age 31, had just moved to ABD status in her PhD program when she told her advisor she was pregnant with our first child. The advisor (and the rest of the faculty's) reaction was basically, "this is tantamount to career suicide, you should have KNOWN BETTER".

Fast forward a few years. Ms. Wombat has changed career direction and now works in non-profit ed-reform (in no small part due to the broken system she encountered in higher ed). Thanks to her prior experience, she was absolutely terrified to tell her new team that she was pregnant again, coming up with all sorts of tactical excuses not to do so. On my end, I was distraught that she was feeling this way, but knew that the only way she'd believe what I'd been saying ("academia is terrible and full of jerks") was to see how other employers reacted.

So I can't tell you how happy I was that when she finally mustered the courage at her holiday party, her boss responded with a huge smile, a big hug, and sincere congratulations.
posted by turbowombat at 11:17 AM on January 20, 2016 [38 favorites]


There's no boss who can just give Powers a tenure track position

A dean could literally just do this. Doing things like that is their job.
posted by kiltedtaco at 11:17 AM on January 20, 2016 [6 favorites]


on review, I realize the preceding comment was a bit off-topic, not specifically addressing the issue of the rising adjunct precariat. sorry about that.
posted by turbowombat at 11:20 AM on January 20, 2016


The recent successful adjunct union negotiation at Northeastern also highlights the issues facing adjuncts and the ways that university administration can take meaningful action to create more equitable working conditions.
posted by audi alteram partem at 11:20 AM on January 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


Sorry but as a consultant in the government industry who is used to govt contract jobs I have very little understanding of the "plight" of adjunct or non-tenured professors.

This is confusing; you don't understand something because you're used to a similar experience?

Oh noes, you don't have indefinite job security! Oh noes you have to face contract renewal which may not be approved! Hello, welcome to the world of contract work.

So it's not that you don't understand, you just think that adjuncts are, what -- naive or something? Because they continue educating people in spite of poor working conditions that are largely outside their control? Also, you neglect to consider that there is an absolute floor on the cost of living, so adjuncts who get paid only $3,000 for teaching a semester-length class and therefore need to teach four classes just to survive aren't exactly whiny babies, they're people barely keeping their heads above water while doing a vital and extremely valuable professional service.

And even employees who don't work on contracts work for employers that will lay you off if their incoming work lulls and they need less employees. What is with the entitlement mentality that you're owed job security?

I think people feel entitled to not die from the effects of penury if they're highly-trained professionals working probably well over 40 hours a week. If that seems like some kind of silly entitlement to you, I think you should really consider why you have such animus for other workers but not for the bosses who are making six figures and don't have to worry about these issues.

Power is not evenly distributed in America. Complaining that the powerless should stop whining about their terribly insecure lives without addressing the fact that the powerful are taking a progressively-greater share of society's wealthy every year seems both morally perverse and breath-takingly fatuous.
posted by clockzero at 11:21 AM on January 20, 2016 [123 favorites]


But wouldn't it be nice if more people, both in and out of the academy, did have better job security?

I'm convinced the gig economy and lack of stability and security on the labor side of the equation is the real biggest contributing factor in the breakdown of communities and destabilization of social/family life in the US. Those pushing hardest for workers to have no clout are also inadvertently contributing most to the social disorder and lack of stability they claim to be worried about in supporting the economic/labor marginalizing agendas of the big money.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:23 AM on January 20, 2016 [24 favorites]


A dean could literally just do this. Doing things like that is their job.

Deans are part of making that decision, sure, but I'm not sure that they can open up tenure lines on their own initiative. Personally, I think that the instructors should take over every university in America, from community colleges to the Ivy League, kick out the administrators, and run higher education with learning, knowledge production, and equity in compensation as the primary goals, but that's just me.
posted by clockzero at 11:24 AM on January 20, 2016 [7 favorites]


It's also really important to note that while the percentage of money going to administrative overhead has been steadily increasing over the last few decades a large percentage of that comes in the form of price inelastic goods and services.

University IT for instance has been a massive source of cost growth in the academy over the last couple of decades but there really are limits on how much those costs can be contained because like every big company Universities typically need an ERP and Student Information Services solution and the number of players in those fields are largely limited. Factor in massive increases in terms of networking and system costs associated with meeting the academic and research needs of a research institution and you can see were problems are steadily happening and unlike corporate or government environments you can't just freeze the desktop in amber.

Institutional overhead in the form of regulatory programs has also increased dramatically over the last couple of decades and most of those regulatory programs are designed to achieve very good goals. You just have to staff them.

Of course there is waste in almost every university and the cost for recruiting and retaining talented administrators have increased at a rate far in excess of inflation but that's a problem shared across all industries. And I'm not even going to get into the athletic departments being critical to alumni development issues.
posted by vuron at 11:24 AM on January 20, 2016 [2 favorites]


> Professors are hired (and given tenure) based on how good they are at getting grant money and getting published in high-impact journals. The actual work of being a professor mostly involves managing people and teaching students. This, in my opinion, is the root of why so many professors are so terrible at their jobs. It's pretty fucked up, honestly.

I had an university Irish history professor who was one of the world's leading authorities, had written multiple books, etc., etc., but as a teacher he could barely hide his contempt for us lowly undergrads and put in even less than what I'd call a minimum level of effort. The class was a three hour night session; he'd lecture for an hour or so, call a break and then he'd disappear and one of his assistants would throw on a movie about/set in Ireland to fill the rest of the class, like it was a rainy day in grade six. It's a shame because it could have been an amazing course, but as it was I felt insulted (and I wasn't exactly the most highly motivated student as it was).

A few years later I met his daughter, who confirmed that he *hated* teaching and gritted his teeth through what the university required him to do in order to get back to researching, writing books, etc.
posted by The Card Cheat at 11:26 AM on January 20, 2016 [2 favorites]


Maybe everything shouldn't be run like a business.

Hell, universities would be treating their employees better if it were a business. It feels like higher education treats folks worse than business treats them.

I've worked a bunch of jobs that were 'permanent'; full time employment, full benefits... If I decide to leave or am under performing we may part ways.

Companies I've been that employ a ton of temp workers or have workers that aren't actually working for them (janitorial staff, kitchen staff at tech companies, etc) aren't part of the 'core competency' of the organization. Teaching staff at a University is absolutely part of the 'core competency' of the organization.

Hell, people working at Taco Bell have more job security than adjunct professors.

A bit off-tangent: the first professor I knew socially finally got a tenure position at her University... The next year her department was disbanded and she was let go.
posted by el io at 11:27 AM on January 20, 2016 [10 favorites]


Who's crushing the dreams of wanna be phds ? I've been hearing about the bad job market for some time now, but colleges have no problem continuing to pump out newly minted phds. The supply/demand is just awful. When a kid says they will go on to play in a professional sports league, we tell the kid "yeah, right" .. Are folks thinking they're not like everyone else and will land that tenure track job ?

I got in trouble some 5-6 years ago when I was on a panel at my alma mater's career center and I, and 3 other folks in the panel, explicitly said to the undergrads that came to hear/ask questions: "don't go to grad school, it wastes your time, employers don't care". (Haven't been asked back since.. hah!)

It's victim blamey, yes. Prof's couldn't do their grant work or teach/grade w/o over worked, under paid grad students, colleges couldn't get coverage for their course catalog w/o over-worked, under paid grad students, the whole house of cards would fall down if those grad students realized how shafted they are. Toil away, get degree, and a huge "now what" crisis. There's no upside unless you're in the top 5 of a top 5 school, and even then, no guarantee.
posted by k5.user at 11:28 AM on January 20, 2016 [10 favorites]


Sorry but giving a tenure track position to an adjunct because the adjunct teaches well is unfair to all the potential applicants to the tenure track position.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 11:30 AM on January 20, 2016 [6 favorites]


I would argue, actually, that teaching benefits from stability. (It's possible that government contractor jobs do as well - I'm not sure exactly how portable the skills involved are.)

When you're teaching, you need time to prepare your semester's classes. People like to do this, in a general way, before the semester begins. The more precarious your job is, the more difficult this is.

When you're teaching, you get better by teaching the same class several times, refining on the material, deepening your sources, eliminating or changing how you handle the things that don't work for students, etc. Again, precarity, bad scene.

Different schools have different curricula, student bodies and requirements. English Literature 101 is not the same at Brandeis and a nearby community college. Again, precarity, bad scene.

You get better as a scholar by having time to conduct research, publish, attend conferences, read, deepen your knowledge of your field, assimilate and response to new developments, etc. When you're making $8,000 a semester for a three class load, you can't do that.

Also, to my mind, there's some value in students being able to grow alongside their faculty - you take a class with someone as a freshman, take more classes with them, build a relationship, etc. If you're off to graduate school, they can write you a reference letter. But even if not, building at least some steady contact with a professor is one way for the student to deepen their knowledge and understanding of a field. Certainly, there were several faculty in my area where knowing them over several years was of great benefit to me. Precarity, bad scene, etc.

If someone is paying $25,000 a year or whatever it's up to now, it seems like they should expect be to taught by someone who can grow as a professional and function as a scholar - I don't think that's an unreasonable expectation.
posted by Frowner at 11:30 AM on January 20, 2016 [25 favorites]


$25,000 a year? How quaint.

First year tuition at Brandeis is now over $47,000 per year.
posted by craven_morhead at 11:34 AM on January 20, 2016 [3 favorites]


The problem is that for a lot of people in some careers getting a master's degree is basically a requirement for advancement beyond entry level positions especially if it's in a field where there aren't a ton of supplemental certifications you can require prospective employees get.

The result is that increasingly I'm mentoring people with undergrad degrees that are desperate to find a way to pay for grad school as a way to improve their circumstances even though they really have no driving desire to get a grad school education. It is literally just a box that they are clicking off on their way to middle management.

For those of us who really see value in a grad school experience for it's exposure to higher level thinking and ideas it's pretty depressing but that's really the issue. Instead of Master's programs being filled with people that really want to be there you have them filled with people who are trying to fit in a program around their career requirements and PhD programs have become the last refuge of scholarship in many ways and even then I'm seeing evidence of PhD credentialism at work.
posted by vuron at 11:36 AM on January 20, 2016 [2 favorites]


"When a kid says they will go on to play in a professional sports league, we tell the kid "yeah, right" .. Are folks thinking they're not like everyone else and will land that tenure track job ?"

I can't speak for my colleagues, but I actively discourage students from attempting grad school in philosophy (my field, of course). I tell them, bluntly, that if they can imagine themselves being happy doing anything else, then they should go do that.
posted by oddman at 11:36 AM on January 20, 2016 [4 favorites]


$47,000? Augh. I will shake my fist at clouds now.

But another thing - when you're an adjunct, you don't always even have an office. I know plenty of people whose "office" is their car.

Where do you keep your materials? How do you maintain anything resembling a basic set of scholarly resources? Where do you meet with students? (Surely you can see that conducting sensitive conversations with students or building any kind of mentoring relationship is helped immensely by having an office rather than, say, the student coffee shop.)
posted by Frowner at 11:38 AM on January 20, 2016 [4 favorites]



Sorry but as a consultant in the government industry who is used to govt contract jobs I have very little understanding of the "plight" of adjunct or non-tenured professors. Oh noes, you don't have indefinite job security!


As a fellow grant grubber I'd agree, except unlike a professor, I serve people who pay appropriate sums of money under appropriate conditions to get work done with me.

Students, meanwhile, put themselves in hock for huge sums for the privilege of being instructed ostensibly under appropriate conditions (i.e. the professor who teaches the class has taught it before and will teach it again, and can practically do it in his sleep.)

At the nearby adult-ed center near my home, the teachers only start getting paid when a class has reached minimum enrollment, which could be hours before the first class. But they are not PHDs, they did not incur debt to become qualified teachers, and their students pay for precisely this level of teaching quality. Undergrads paying undergrad tuition should get something better than a harried adjunct.
posted by ocschwar at 11:39 AM on January 20, 2016 [2 favorites]


And I should note that I'm one of the lucky ones who has tenure. I make a point of letting them know that even my job at a community college (often seen as a less than desirable job by PhDs) is an unrealistic goal.
posted by oddman at 11:39 AM on January 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


Yeah, no dean is going to be able to just "open up" a tenure track position. That presupposes that the dean has his or her own budget to do this with.


I found the students' innocence in the Slate article both funny and frustrating. Students are ostensibly the raison d'etre of the university system and yet they know absolutely nothing about how said system is run. At the end of last semester my husband's university debated going on strike. One of my students, who knows that I'm married to my husband, was asking me questions about the process, and let out this gem: "But, the students have already paid. Teachers can't just go on strike and take our money!" I am a bit ashamed to say that I laughed in his face as I replied, "What? You don't pay me. What's the tuition at this school for a semester? $10,000? Ok, so one and a half of you pay me my salary. Where is the tuition of the other 25 of you in this class going?"

He was gobsmacked. I was bitter.
posted by chainsofreedom at 11:39 AM on January 20, 2016 [28 favorites]


Staffing a college with adjuncts is like operating a business with a bunch of temps - if people are competent, it doesn't fall apart immediately. However, there's no vision, no planning, no consistency, and any experience anyone gets goes walking out the door with them.
posted by Mitrovarr at 11:40 AM on January 20, 2016 [20 favorites]


Hahaha public universities are rapidly getting into the $25,000 range. Just about every private institution I'm really familiar with is hovering around the $50,000 mark which seems like it's become the new normal. Granted between tuition assistance and scholarships the number of people paying market rate at private universities is dramatically decreasing but even then undergrad student debt is increasing at massive rates and the cost benefit ratio of an undergrad degree is rapidly becoming problematic especially when you factor in the aformentioned credentialism that is locking undergrads out of middle management unless they get a master's degree.
posted by vuron at 11:41 AM on January 20, 2016 [2 favorites]


Mirtrovarr, which should tell you exactly who is running universities these days.
posted by 1adam12 at 11:41 AM on January 20, 2016


Sorry but as a consultant in the government industry who is used to govt contract jobs

The government industry?

I have very little understanding of the "plight" of adjunct or non-tenured professors.

The one real thing you wrote. Should've stopped there.
posted by Celsius1414 at 11:44 AM on January 20, 2016 [12 favorites]


Sorry, I have a lot of feels about this. But I am a visiting instructor this year on a one-year, non-renewable contract, and I could have to wait until June to discover whether they are even opening the position up for next year again. Then I have to reapply. Meanwhile there's nothing in the area right now at an instructor or lecturer level (which I am right now, as I just started my doctorate this past year), and moving is not really an option since my husband was lucky enough to snag a tenure track position, something he has been trying to do for the past 6 or 7 years. He just passed his reappointment review and we would be fools to go anywhere else at this juncture.

Note that I am not a contractor, not an adjunct. I did that for 3 years so I know quite well what it is like, but I have been working full-time at community colleges and universities for the past 4 years and even with an open-ended, long-term contract my job is always predicated on the administration's needs. This year is particularly bad with the one-year contract but it wasn't much better when I was THE Spanish teacher at my community college. Unless you are tenured, job security is a joke and to be honest I am not sure what we are going to do next year if I don't find something. It's already past the time when most full-time positions were posted, and HigherEdJobs.com is looking pretty sparse . . .

Welcome to PrecariCorps indeed.
posted by chainsofreedom at 11:47 AM on January 20, 2016 [4 favorites]


The idea that there's someone more qualified than the person who has won this much student support suggests that we're using the wrong conception of "qualified."
posted by anotherpanacea at 11:51 AM on January 20, 2016 [6 favorites]


Random question - is 2 pubs, 2 more coming, and a book 'under contract' an 'ambitious publication record' in this field? Feels a little light to me - I have 2 first-authored pubs, a few more I contributed to, and some other stuff, and that was just from a master's program.
posted by Mitrovarr at 11:52 AM on January 20, 2016


Universities staffing classes with adjuncts are simply operating within the constraints as they stand.

Nobody wants to pay more for an undergrad and arguably people can't pay for what they are getting. So in the absence of more government funding the solutions are to decrease operating costs or increase tuition/fees. One methodology for decreasing instructional overhead is to use technology to increase the number of students highly paid instructors can teach in a given semester but to date nobody has 100% figured out the mechanics/economics of online learning so while you have increased the number of potential students and eliminated some of the overhead of a brick and mortar experience it's not 100% workable for all students. The other methodology for reducing costs has been to take advantage of the high number of highly educated GTAs/PhDs out there and use them as adjuncts. This has been the methodology that alot of schools have gone with especially if they don't have the scale to make online learning the major strategy.

The realities are that every senior university administrator knows the problems with the system as it stands because let's be honest the Chronicle of Higher Education basically talks about the issue constantly so you'd have to totally be burying your head in the sand to avoid it but nobody really has a whole lot of workable solutions.

As long as undergrad and grad school education is seen as a way up to the middle class by Americans and we collectively don't want to pay for it you are going to run into issues where the system is rigged to screw over either the student or the instructor or both.
posted by vuron at 11:54 AM on January 20, 2016 [5 favorites]


Sorry but giving a tenure track position to an adjunct because the adjunct teaches well is unfair to all the potential applicants to the tenure track position.

No, it isn't, and the fact that you think so illustrates why academic hiring is so broken.
posted by NoxAeternum at 12:04 PM on January 20, 2016 [4 favorites]


It's worth noting that open hire processes are specifically implemented to avoid discrimination, favoritism, and general nepotism. They have very good reasons for not just hiring from within.
posted by corb at 12:06 PM on January 20, 2016 [3 favorites]


It's worth noting that open hire processes are specifically implemented to avoid discrimination, favoritism, and general nepotism. They have very good reasons for not just hiring from within.

Yes, that's the lie that academia likes to tell itself to pretend everything is alright. And yet all other sorts of human endeavor manage to balance things out when considering internal candidates.
posted by NoxAeternum at 12:09 PM on January 20, 2016


I know UC for example does do tenured lecturer positions. I think their pay maxes out *much* lower than research professors though, at least in science and engineering. A couple of my best teachers were in that boat - a couple others were very esteemed researchers so I'm not saying you can only be one or the other but it's uncommon.
posted by atoxyl at 12:10 PM on January 20, 2016


It's worth noting that open hire processes are specifically implemented to avoid discrimination, favoritism, and general nepotism. They have very good reasons for not just hiring from within.

This is exactly the problem. In any other work culture, this would be called "getting a promotion". No one would ever cry favoritism or nepotism if someone who had worked for a company for several years and had done excellent work got new job responsibilities and more money. But in academia, it's a completely different job that necessitates opening a new line in the budget and going through a hiring process.

Know what my tenure-track husband does that's different from what I do? Nothing. We have literally the same job. The difference is that I will never be "promoted".

This is not a mark of "fairness".
posted by chainsofreedom at 12:11 PM on January 20, 2016 [47 favorites]


It's worth noting that open hire processes are specifically implemented to avoid discrimination, favoritism, and general nepotism. They have very good reasons for not just hiring from within.

Again, temps in the corporate world have it better; they'll actually be hired if they're found to be competent and useful and would complement the organization they are working for. Also, when I was temping at the beginning of my career I made more than adjuncts make.

I have a friend that works in a food service position at a university; she has more job security than adjunct professors (ie: is an actual employee, will be coming back the next semester as long as she doesn't severely fuck up, etc).
posted by el io at 12:11 PM on January 20, 2016 [7 favorites]


No one would ever cry favoritism or nepotism if someone who had worked for a company for several years and had done excellent work got new job responsibilities and more money. But in academia, it's a completely different job that necessitates opening a new line in the budget and going through a hiring process.

From my experience, this applies to the nonprofit world as well, rather than just academia. In fact, I was in a very similar situation myself once - I had a job at a set salary, but once it expanded slightly and the salary raised, an entirely new hiring process had to open that was nationally advertised. I still eventually got the job, because I was the most qualified, but there would have been an enormous stink made if they hadn't advertised it. (I know this because they tried an unadvertised position and it went Horrifically Awry in terms of PR).
posted by corb at 12:17 PM on January 20, 2016


This is exactly the problem. In any other work culture, this would be called "getting a promotion". No one would ever cry favoritism or nepotism if someone who had worked for a company for several years and had done excellent work got new job responsibilities and more money.

This is a very good response, actually. It's a bit crazy that we don't talk like this more often. For one thing, it suggests that universities may be inappropriately hamstringing themselves, and thus that there actually is a hiring process failure that anybody who does that "human resource management" job would recognize.

Thinking about it, this is a deeply weird line that we've drawn: people on either side of the tenure line can be promoted to administration, but the idea of being promoted to tenure-track, which itself is basically seven years of very close monitoring and precarity all its own, just never seems to make sense to anyone.

I'll add, that's not entirely a good thing for adjuncts: right now the one benefit adjuncts have is that they can treat their employers as disposable, too. But if you're holding on to tons of relationships and insitutional capital ultimately hoping to be promoted to TT, you get systems like the Europeans have, where a lot of academics spend their thirties as a some senior professor's lackey and almost no one gets on the tenure track until their forties.
posted by anotherpanacea at 12:19 PM on January 20, 2016 [3 favorites]


In any other work culture, this would be called "getting a promotion".

Non-tenure track folks have it worse, for sure, but compared to other work cultures, as a university professor in the states I am eligible to get promoted exactly twice: once upon promotion from assistant to associate, and once from associate to full. In other words, I get whatever cost-of-living increases my union may have managed to negotiate, and a 10% bump, if I'm lucky, twice.
posted by leahwrenn at 12:19 PM on January 20, 2016 [4 favorites]


Advocating for more tenured instructor positions is probably the best case scenario although I'm not sure that many tenure-track professors will want the increased competition coming from lower paid instructors with less demands on their time.

As for a Dean being able to suddenly hire a non-tenure track adjunct as a tenured instructor? Never ever going to happen, a) Deans rarely have that level of say in an environment without Provost approval, b) like other's have said virtually nobody has that level of uncommitted budget so it's literally taking a position from someone else and c) it would be extreme disruptive to the already fracturing tenure process.

Keep in mind that Deans in university environments are often easily disposable and typically report to a VP or Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs who is going to take a more holistic view and even then typically requires Chancellor or Presidential approval. And it's not like every university President or Chancellor isn't accountable to their Board of Regents. Yes it's a system that is designed to push ultimate accountability up the chain but it also avoids some of the pitfalls of top down arbitrary decision-making that is so prevalent in other industries.

I mean unless you really want Deans making people full professors exclusively because they are friends with important alumni donors.
posted by vuron at 12:24 PM on January 20, 2016 [6 favorites]


What is with the entitlement mentality that you're owed job security?

It's an "entitlement" in the sense that it is a "deal" made as a professional who does good work when it comes to their relationship with their employer.

And as far as government contracting in the DC area, outside of tenured professors, there is very little more secure than an engineer with a security clearance when it comes to working for a government contractor.
posted by deanc at 12:27 PM on January 20, 2016 [3 favorites]


Again, temps in the corporate world have it better; they'll actually be hired if they're found to be competent and useful and would complement the organization they are working for.

I wish this were universally true.
posted by asperity at 12:34 PM on January 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


I also think it would be a lot better if we divorced the instructor from the research professor. It's all well and good to do research, but it isn't going to help your students a ton, and when you are literally trying to publish to survive, that helps no one.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 12:34 PM on January 20, 2016 [8 favorites]


Non-tenure track folks have it worse, for sure, but compared to other work cultures, as a university professor in the states I am eligible to get promoted exactly twice: once upon promotion from assistant to associate, and once from associate to full. In other words, I get whatever cost-of-living increases my union may have managed to negotiate, and a 10% bump, if I'm lucky, twice.

Be more active in your union. Be more active in your union. BE MORE ACTIVE IN YOUR UNION.
posted by clockzero at 12:37 PM on January 20, 2016 [12 favorites]


Lots of great comments here. Here is the real background
Faculty think of themselves as professionals and not as workers and the notion of unions was and still is for some demeaning. Doctors and lawyers, note, band together for self interest and call themselves Guilds or simply organizations.

The bit union for faculty AAUP. But half of that group seem incapable of supporting strikes, picketing, walkouts. Thus, full timers allowed adminstration over a short period of time to bring in more and more part time workers, assuming that with tenure they had nothing to lose. And so what would have been new, young full time people quickly got replaced by adjuncts, or part timers.

Now adjuncts have no tenure, no benefits and can be put to work or let go each semester.
This all came about because full time people believed it did not really matter.
And in a sense they were right: accrediting (regional) groups used to insist upon a small percentage of part time people so that a university was staffed by qualified, experienced, teachers.

As for Brandeis, the example used here. They had a president making nice salary. His wife was tenured at the same school. The school wanted more money so tried to sell off fine art donated to them. That did not fully work out. The president stepped down. He is retained at a very big salary as consultant, or was last i had heard. Then his replacement soon stepped down and now a new president.

We may like or dislike a part-timer as our teacher, but the college is not about to let go of the golden goose they acquired when they learned how to use the adjunct racket.
posted by Postroad at 12:39 PM on January 20, 2016 [8 favorites]


Staffing a college with adjuncts is like operating a business with a bunch of temps - if people are competent, it doesn't fall apart immediately

Except that in most of the private sector, the hourly costs of temps/contractors are HIGHER than those of permanent employees.

Some professors don't want to do research. I respect that. There are more classes that need to be taught than there are TT professors available to both do research and teach them. No problem there!

So you would think that the reasonable thing to do would be to hire full time "teaching faculty" to do the teaching that needs to be done so that the TT research faculty isn't overwhelmed with classes, rather than relying on low paid adjuncts and disposing of them when they're no longer needed
posted by deanc at 12:39 PM on January 20, 2016


There actually is a sort of workaround for "promoting" an adjunct or someone already associated with a school into a professor position while still having an open hiring process: just narrowly tailor the position description to the expertise and experience of the person you want to hire. Happens all the time.
posted by LionIndex at 12:42 PM on January 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


"Yeah, but now suddenly - you know, universities are notoriously market oriented, too."
--Jim Harrison
posted by valkane at 12:43 PM on January 20, 2016


It's 2016 and tenure -- lifetime employment, with little regard to quality of work -- is still a thing.

And you wonder why your tuition is so high.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:44 PM on January 20, 2016


Actually, deans sometimes do have the power to unchain money and open up a hiring line. I've witnessed this to happen (in the sciences) several times for people who were funded and successful but in essentially temporary long-term positions. It's difficult, the budget won't always stand for it and there's a lot of administrative hoops to go through, but it's not ipso facto impossible.

Also - and this is true in academia just as it is elsewhere - you can certainly run a job search with the goal of hiring an internal candidate. The risk is that if you have candidates who are actually better than your internal candidate, you of course have to hire them, but you're allowed a certain amount of "a strong argument in favor of this candidate is that she has a proven track record of teaching Obscure Microbiology Seminar, which is an essential part of this position's responsibilities".

It's not so much that students could never, ever provide meaningful support for the hiring of an adjunct into a real position, or that the system never works - it's more that it doesn't work a substantial percentage of the time, and that's the problem. You don't need to have a 100% subservient adjunct population and a 100% expertise-loss due to staff turnover to be getting a really suboptimal outcome.
posted by Frowner at 12:44 PM on January 20, 2016


Thus, full timers allowed adminstration over a short period of time to bring in more and more part time workers, assuming that with tenure they had nothing to lose. And so what would have been new, young full time people quickly got replaced by adjuncts, or part timers.

This is pretty much the standard playbook for undercutting a union, and it works well because many many people work to protect their own interests while selling out the interests of the future. See: UAW, etc.
posted by OmieWise at 12:46 PM on January 20, 2016 [3 favorites]


I'll never understand why people are so entitled to believing they should get paid for their work. What gives them the right to not want to die poor and homeless?
posted by flatluigi at 12:50 PM on January 20, 2016 [20 favorites]


"It's 2016 and tenure -- lifetime employment, with little regard to quality of work -- is still a thing."

It's 2016 and some people still think this is what tenure is.
posted by oddman at 12:55 PM on January 20, 2016 [49 favorites]


I'll never understand why people are so entitled to believing they should get paid for their work. What gives them the right to not want to die poor and homeless?

Eh, there's plenty more work-motivated, self-starter plebs where they came from
posted by clockzero at 12:55 PM on January 20, 2016


"It's 2016 and tenure -- lifetime employment, with little regard to quality of work -- is still a thing."

It's 2016 and some people still think this is what tenure is.


Of course, this framing is actually very instrumentally useful to the people behind the deprofessionalization of education, and not merely an outdated misconception arising from innocent ignorance.
posted by clockzero at 12:57 PM on January 20, 2016 [18 favorites]


CPB- High cost of tuition has been shown over and over to be almost completely unrelated to the tenure track process. There might be some exceptions is ultra high-end research sciences field where the top institutions are competing for talent among a very small pool of elite researchers and tbh the economics of Tenured MDs at teaching hospitals have never made a great deal of sense to me but the vast majority of the increased cost of a university education have come from a) declining governmental support, b) increased overhead costs and c) the easy access to student credit.

Almost no part of the rise in university costs are related to the tenure track process and in fact doing away with it wouldn't necessarily result in cost savings because just about every other industry has shown that businesses with high turnover require either extremely low skill employees (not relevant in this scenario) or suffer from long term increases in costs because recruitment and retention of skilled employees is very expensive (often worth several months at least of productivity).

Higher Education has massive problems but pulling out the occasional anecdote about how the tenure track process allows crappy professors to survive despite low productivity disguises the very real benefits that having the tenure track process in place helps.

It's just that like others have said we need to transform the existing tenure track process to encourage a new form of academic that is focused more on pedagogy than research.
posted by vuron at 12:57 PM on January 20, 2016 [11 favorites]



It's just that like others have said we need to transform the existing tenure track process to encourage a new form of academic that is focused more on pedagogy than research.


Why? Teaching is important at liberal arts colleges. Research is more important at R1's (like Brandeis). Why try and make the R1's more like liberal arts colleges?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 1:14 PM on January 20, 2016


Research is more important at R1's (like Brandeis).

But for what purpose? The students at Brandeis deserve equally qualified and dedicated professors.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:15 PM on January 20, 2016 [4 favorites]


Because the research university doesn't exist solely to teach undergrads? It has other aims, like advancing human knowledge?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 1:19 PM on January 20, 2016 [3 favorites]


Because the research university doesn't exist solely to teach undergrads? It has other aims, like advancing human knowledge?

Perhaps they shouldn't enroll undergraduate students then. The whole thing is ridiculous. Do research at a think tank.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:20 PM on January 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


MP- are you seriously suggesting that R1 universities should just drop the liberal arts altogether and that only students that go to high end liberal arts universities should get professors with a talent for pedagogy?
posted by vuron at 1:23 PM on January 20, 2016 [2 favorites]


No. I'm suggesting that hiring profs at R1s with absolutely no consideration for their ability to conduct research is bad. There are many things professors at research universities do. Research is one of them. Teaching is another. Service is another one.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 1:25 PM on January 20, 2016 [2 favorites]


Of course, this framing is actually very instrumentally useful to the people behind the deprofessionalization of education, and not merely an outdated misconception arising from innocent ignorance.

Just this morning I was reading about how a tenured professor violated the 'zero-tolerance' policy for sexual harassment and wasn't fired because ... tenure? And another, and another, and another, and another...

The tenure system is seen as functioning to protect , etc. etc., even though the goals of rendering adquate cause via due process system are the actual protections. This will be one of the stated rationales for its destruction*. This is what is meant.

*already occuring via the choking off of tenured positions, replaced with adjuncts. The real reason is the opening of State resources to extractive logic.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 1:26 PM on January 20, 2016 [3 favorites]


I'm not certain the unions are what can help in this situation. We are fully unionized and the union negotiated a new agreement a few years ago. But in spite of their best intentions, that agreement has made life even worse for the teaching assistents and adjunct professors, and the situation described in the article has become harsher still here. Basically, the university has become more reluctant to get people into real (tenured) jobs, while the part time positions have become worse both in pay and in time.
Also, the whole system designed to prevent nepotism etc. actually strengthens those who are ready to game the system - as LionIndex indicates. Actually, it is not hard to get an academic career. You just have to give up all of your ambitions concerning research, relevance to society and education and focus entirely on the mechanics of the system. (Not certain if this applies to all fields, but I certainly know it applies to all the disciplines I interact with professionally and my own). I know how to do it, and my bosses are constantly pushing me to get going, but I feel it would ruin my quality of life to ignore my students and my peers out in the industry. I'm seriously thinking of finding another job because of that pressure.

Some of my friends have excellent academic careers, and do good work sometimes. But an inordinate percentage of their work is presenting papers at conferences where no-one listens, chairing sessions at other conferences where no one listens, publishing articles which are carefully harvested elements of their (great) research because publishing the whole in a meaningful manner is something that should be done very rarely and controlled. They also organize huge conferences filled with people who are only there to fill up their list of publications and don't care the slightest about any of the other speakers so my friends have to fill up the audience with students who don't get the point because only fragments are presented because you cannot present the same whole at different conferences and in different articles. I won't even begin with the journals.. Suffice to say that peer review is not always what it says on the box.

I have colleagues who game the system with no bounds. They go right to the edge and then a bit. Management loves them. They cheat their sponsors, their students get a worse than nothing education, they alienate all of their colleagues, but that doesn't matter. They are always able to find new dupes to cheat, and thus external financing. They publish the same articles a hundred times (literally) in different journals, but change the authors and the title. They have well-functioning citation circles so they get high ratings on citation listings. They review each other favorably even if the articles/papers/applications are shitty. They have journals and conferences that are blatantly designed to game the system and they are rewarded by management for "understanding what academic succes is about".

It's not just academic hiring that is broken, academia is broken. I'm saying that as someone who once wrongly thought more transparent management could improve the quality of research and education. Quantitive evaluation of research is a scandal and should stop now. And yes, any university should seek a balance between education and research when hiring, because they are responsible for both functions.

It is the students and their paying parents who should protest - and strike - because their money is not going towards their education. And given the type of "research" described above, some of the sponsors should strike as well.
posted by mumimor at 1:27 PM on January 20, 2016 [17 favorites]


No. I'm suggesting that hiring profs at R1s with absolutely no consideration for their ability to conduct research is bad. There are many things professors at research universities do. Research is one of them. Teaching is another. Service is another one.

And if you read the piece, you would have known that Ms. Powers has been demonstrating that, in addition to her skill as a teacher, she also has been an able researcher with a solid publication record. So, given that, why should they go looking anywhere else?
posted by NoxAeternum at 1:34 PM on January 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


That's a valid point MP. What I was suggesting is that R1s can have parallel track for Pedagogy focused professors and Research focused professors. Let the researchers research and the teachers teach.

That way you don't have to take researchers out of their labs and into contact with the dirty unwashed masses of undergrads you can just open their door to their lab and throw meat periodically to the researchers and hope the don't cannibalize too many GRAs and post-docs.

On the other hand you can staff your classes with professors that actually care about the teaching mission of the academy but really could care less about the publish or perish rat-race or who have not desire to compete for the ever declining pool of research grants. Seriously it's getting to the point where even TT STEM professors are having to drop out of the universities because they can't continue to compete for the scarce NSF or NIH research grants and they simply can't keep their labs staffed.

Of course in the meantime you'd have fewer research positions because now you'd have to split tenure track dollars across researchers and educators but long term it would probably be more fair and sustainable than trying to abuse the Adjunct process to keep costs somewhat under control.

However with an increasing precentage of TT faculty entering the twilight of their careers and eventual retirement it's not entirely clear how the new university model will work.
posted by vuron at 1:37 PM on January 20, 2016


Having spent most of my adult life around academics, I strongly, strongly feel that the primary reason these issues come up is because most people have no idea what a professor does most of the time. There is a persistent and completely wrong-headed notion that professors are mainly teachers, tenure is a lifetime paycheck for doing nothing, and sabbaticals are year long vacations.

There is a lot wrong with the tenure track hiring process, but it is not because of some secret cabal of rich, lazy, evil professors out to screw students everywhere. There are certainly lousy professors out there, but for the most part, academia is held together by workaholics whose personal lives are frequently sacrificed to an intense and poorly funded dedication to their field and students.

There is no doubt that lecturers, instructors, and adjuncts are vastly undervalued for their work, and TT folks aren't a whole lot better off. Academic funding has tanked for just about every single field, and there is a troubling trend to begin measuring research output strictly in monetary terms. We need more and better teachers, but we also need highly qualified researchers, and society benefits when you have both in regular contact with students. When you have a political and funding climate that is hostile to both, is it any wonder that everyone involved starts turning into terrified, slavering wolves?
posted by Diagonalize at 1:39 PM on January 20, 2016 [19 favorites]


She simply doesn't have a solid publication record for an R1 almost five years out of a PhD.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 1:41 PM on January 20, 2016 [2 favorites]


She simply doesn't have a solid publication record for an R1 almost five years out of a PhD.

I have friends with 3/3 and 4/4 tenure-track loads who work 80-90 hours a week and barely have time to fit in research. How is any adjunct supposed to manage it? Plenty of them teach 5/5 or even 6/6, spend all their time grading, and literally don't have office space to work in.

This is 75% of the reason I left academia, actually, even though I got out before adjuncting. (20% was constant student plagiarism and subsequent threats against me, yayyyyyyy.)

For those of you intimately familiar with the injustices of adjunct life, I have to recommend a decidedly peculiar mystery series that begins with A Skeleton in the Family. The conceit of the series is that the main character solves murders with her best friend a sentient skeleton.

But the actual plot is an exploration of the myriad indignities adjuncts experience, and how the main character is always one semester away from disaster (even with a supportive family), and how her human dignity is always a trifle to be played with by administrators, and how many people lose all respect for her when they realize she isn’t tenure track, etc. It’s like an ongoing series about the evils of the current University system, except there is also a sentient skeleton and occasional murders.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 1:47 PM on January 20, 2016 [26 favorites]


Basically everything just got more expensive in general. It's hard to point at any one category and say "if we just got rid of X then it'd be like the good old days of low tuition and tenure for everybody."
posted by jedicus on January 20


Well, thriving athletic departments manage to bury their 'student' costs among several different departments within their institutions.
posted by ZeusHumms at 1:56 PM on January 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


what's funny is when i go to inservice and the admins are 'HERE IS THE FANCY BIG THING WE'RE DOING WITH DATA THAT YOU DON'T USE' and meanwhile completely mucking up like, the most important information, like when grades are due
posted by angrycat at 2:05 PM on January 20, 2016 [2 favorites]


Non-tenure track folks have it worse, for sure, but compared to other work cultures, as a university professor in the states I am eligible to get promoted exactly twice: once upon promotion from assistant to associate, and once from associate to full. In other words, I get whatever cost-of-living increases my union may have managed to negotiate, and a 10% bump, if I'm lucky, twice.

Wait are those really the only pay grades where you are? No additional notches underneath each title? If that's true that's fucked.
posted by atoxyl at 2:07 PM on January 20, 2016


Sorry but as a consultant in the government industry who is used to govt contract jobs I have very little understanding of the "plight" of adjunct or non-tenured professors

I also live in Governmentland, and I know that contractors and government employees often fill different roles. Contractors are hired on to fill the gaps or go above and beyond what the government employees can do, and generally for more money than the (roughly) equivalent salaried government employees make. The danger? They can be let go, or even if they do a great job once, there is no promise they'll get something else. They're competing against other contractors. But there's the money, and the flexibility, and the chance for advancement. And if you don't like the company where you work, strike out on your own and become your own boss! True freedom!

Why is anyone a government employee? Because of the stability. On the other side, that's why some government employees don't have motivation to move quickly or do better - their options for advancement are limited, and their chances of being let go are very slim.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:07 PM on January 20, 2016


A couple of random points from a U.S. higher ed scholar:

1. I am convinced by the evidence that some economists have presented that the fundamental cause of ever-increasing increases in tuition is Baumol's cost disease, the same mechanism that is broadly responsible for rising costs in health care and other industries that are inherently difficult to automate or rapidly improve. It's an idea that I believe is critical for everyone to understand and I strongly encourage everyone to give the idea at least a cursory glance.

2. Some deans do (mostly) control their own budgets, especially at institutions that have some form of responsibility center management as their budget model. It's a model where units that make money, including academic departments who teach classes and ostensibly earn money through tuition, retain most of that money and have significant control over their own budgets. The general idea is to make funding and associated decisions (and their impacts!) visible to more people as decisions are pushed down to lower levels of the organization. One of the hopes is that units will be better stewards of their budgets if they have more clarity and control.

3. In my opinion, one of the primary reasons why many institutions continue to rely more heavily on research productivity than teaching quality in hiring and promotion is because (we believe that) research is much easier to measure and count (as long as you think in terms of number of books, number of articles, number of citations, awards, etc.). There aren't many disciplines, especially outside of the professions like nursing and engineering that have credentials, where we have significant agreement on the learning outcomes for each degree AND how we can determine if students are meeting those outcomes. It's extremely difficult and complicated to compare the effectiveness of different instructors without both of those things.

4. The whole adjunct dilemma scares the hell out of me because it is as bad as many people make it out to be and there aren't any easy or obvious solutions because there aren't (many) stupid or evil people making the decisions that contribute to the situation. In my experience, they're smart, dedicated people who are trying to make the best decisions they can with the information they have as they balance many complicated and important challenges. I imagine that this sounds like weak-willed doubletalk in defense of my chosen profession but it beggars belief that all senior administrators in U.S. higher ed are as evil, incompetent, or corrupt as many people portray them to be. It's very appealing to believe that these people exist and are in charge because it means that there is an easy and obvious solution (fire them all and put the smart, competent, and just people in charge!) but unfortunately it's not true.
posted by ElKevbo at 2:08 PM on January 20, 2016 [10 favorites]


Perhaps they shouldn't enroll undergraduate students then. The whole thing is ridiculous. Do research at a think tank.

Nobody except people engaged in current research is qualified to teach higher-level courses. Everyone else is either not current with the field or insufficiently experienced.
posted by Mitrovarr at 2:13 PM on January 20, 2016 [6 favorites]


Wait are those really the only pay grades where you are? No additional notches underneath each title? If that's true that's fucked.

That's standard at a lot of places, unfortunately. Over the past two decades or so, our campus has lost both its "steps" within ranks and its paid-to-base merit increases, leaving us with exactly two normal* opportunities for pay raises aside from COLI (my promotion to full last year was about a 3% bump).

*--The only other opps involve moving into administration or earning one of the Distinguished Professorship designations, the latter of which are generally reserved for faculty far along in their academic careers.
posted by thomas j wise at 2:26 PM on January 20, 2016 [2 favorites]


I'll say one thing about academia as a labor-politics organizing problem, it certainly brings out a notably wide variety of flavors of scab ideology. It draws out everything from the nakedly philistine anti-intellectuals to the crab-bucket anti-"entitlement" downward-levellers to the sophisticated insiders full of "meritocratic" carping about process and inadequate publication records, and then you get the "broken system built on good intentions" management-apologia handwringing for icing on top of the sickening pile. You don't have to wonder very hard why things have gotten as bad as they have.
posted by RogerB at 2:38 PM on January 20, 2016 [13 favorites]


the vast majority of the increased cost of a university education have come from a) declining governmental support, b) increased overhead costs and c) the easy access to student credit.

This is tangential to the topic at hand but I'm in a bitter mood, so...

I am a graduate student at a private university where at sticker price tuition plus room and board comes to a bit over $60k per year. A few years ago, the dean of my college announced a comprehensive plan to retool both the faculty structure and graduate education. Currently we have roughly 80% full professors, 10% associate, and 10% assistant. The plan calls for that to become 50% full, 20% associate, and 30% assistant - which obviously means that most junior professors will not be able to get tenure regardless of their popularity or the quality of their work, a system already in place at a few other elite schools. Graduate students received a small (though long overdue) bump in pay but department sizes will be reduced and there will be strong pressure to be out in five years, when the current norm for many departments is six or seven. Under the previous regime, many departments would do their best to allow students to continue on in order to have more shots at the job market - a system that resulted in most students eventually finding academic jobs, where now it seems that the administration has lost even the pretense that they care about job placement, a process almost certain to lead to the degradation of our long-esteemed graduate programs.

Many graduate students and faculty asked why the administration thought that this was the best way to go forward. The dean held a meeting to explain. The problem, she said, was that our university is funded differently than some of our "peer institutions." 80% of yearly operating costs come from tuition, where at our peers (particularly Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and Princeton, who all have endowments over $20 billion), they can fund themselves mostly out through their endowments. But, you might ask, how could universities where one has a merely solvent funding model be the peer of an institution where funding is both secure and abundant?

You could write a book answering that question, but the bottom line is that university administrations have been encouraged to live far beyond their means, resulting in radical solutions like completely restructuring the faculty and graduate programs because increasing the percentage of faculty-taught classes to match universities for whom budgetary concerns are nearly meaningless is seen as a better way forward than behaving in a way that will maintain the structures that made our university world-renowned.

It often seems like the perspective of the university administrator is that their institution is in a sort of perpetual crisis, fighting against the world's most deep-pocketed universities to maintain that precious top ten US News and World Report ranking. I can see why it might be useful for great universities without strong brands to compete in such a rat race, but we could fill every seat with top-tier students ten times over even if our ranking suddenly slid twenty spots due to our specialties, the prestige of our name, and the small number of seats at top universities compared to qualified candidates that has driven admissions rates way down across the board. Instead our administration explicitly sees itself in a competition that we can't possibly win in the short term without totally gutting ourselves in the process.

And because administrators move from dean to president by showing their measurable improvements, they have little incentive to seriously care about the long term health of the university, so it's no surprise to find radical reform trumping reasonable caution in the modern university. Indeed, our dean pushed through the plan and quickly took a higher-ranking position at another university.

There are strong arguments to made for cutting costs wherever possible at universities that rely mostly on tuition, to be sure, and of course it's clearly possible to deprofessionalize instruction. My school is put in a position where it has to accept large numbers of students who don't need financial aid in order to remain solvent with the system as it stands now. In our case, something like 48% of students receive need based aid. That's obviously a substantial number, but on the flip side, that means that over half the students at the school are coming from households that earn more than $200,000 each year, to give a rough number for the cutoff for need-based aid. So, from the outset, there's a de facto quota system that benefits those already most highly privileged, since half the spots in the university are basically reserved for folks from the wealthiest 5% of society for budgetary reasons. Except at the elite universities for whom undergraduate tuition isn't the major source of funding - you could count the number on your hands - the rich benefit from similar quotas, though the percentage of spots reserved for students paying full price varies, of course.

But to talk about this like it's some completely intractable problem, that we're stuck in a system where the only choice is between the traditional academic structure of employment or to institute even more appalling rich people's quota, is to leave behind the obvious solution for schools with such a dilemma: increase undergraduate class sizes and admit more students. We have people clamoring to give us money for undergraduate educations, but a refusal to consider options that would damage our precious measurables means that, as the dean told the graduate students quite candidly, the long term financial plan of the university is to get graduates to donate more rather than actually increasing revenue. There's no reason to believe that the clamoring folk are underqualified - indeed, our admissions rate has dropped by more than half in the last six years. But the administrators everywhere are choosing to upset the apple cart rather than acknowledge that it's unfeasible to keep pace in every way with schools that have ten or twenty times their endowment.
posted by vathek at 2:47 PM on January 20, 2016 [14 favorites]


I'd like to see more universities have "instructor" positions---that is, positions where most if not all of the responsibilities are in teaching and service, rather than the usual tripartite appointment---on the tenure track.

My wife's previous department did this. They lost 3/4s of the people within two years. All of them within 3 years. A big part of it is because they were treated even worse than adjuncts and grad student instructors. All of the crap rained down and them and any time they said anything about their workload they were told to suck it because those were the conditions they were hired under.

I'm not sure they have even had a single person renew their contract yet. I do know that it pushed a few younger full-timers out because they thought might be streamed to teaching only and they decided to get while the getting was good.

When you shovel shit down the ladder don't be surprised if it piles high enough that you find yourself in it.
posted by srboisvert at 3:01 PM on January 20, 2016 [4 favorites]


No. I'm suggesting that hiring profs at R1s with absolutely no consideration for their ability to conduct research is bad. There are many things professors at research universities do. Research is one of them. Teaching is another. Service is another one.

Teaching and service are factors in hiring decisions at R1s and teaching especially is increasingly so. It's silly to think they aren't. There are always going to be people rubbish at teaching who are brilliant researchers who'll get hired, but they're an extreme minority.
posted by hoyland at 3:02 PM on January 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


Definitely the right FPP to bring back the sick systems post.

Conditionally Accepted is a good read too.
posted by yueliang at 3:59 PM on January 20, 2016 [2 favorites]


Conditionally Accepted is a good read too.

I did not know until reading that blog post that I was in fact doing "me-search"! All this time! *snerk*
posted by chainsofreedom at 4:03 PM on January 20, 2016


In my department, and in my university more broadly, teaching really is important in hiring and tenure. I suspect this is the case at many non-R1 places.

When we hire, we search the world for someone who is a good teacher and scholar. It never has been the case that adjuncts we had were as good as the best people applying from elsewhere. Hiring one of our adjuncts would make the department weaker than it would have been with a standard TT search and hire. The bar for being an adjunct is considerably lower than it is for TT hires, at least with our department.
posted by persona au gratin at 4:06 PM on January 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


Also, our longer-serving adjuncts are on three-year contracts and have better job security than assistant professors do. It's not a plum gig, but it's somewhat better than it is elsewhere.
posted by persona au gratin at 4:08 PM on January 20, 2016


I think the situation of adjuncting is shitty and miserable all around, but I also think, and I know it's small consolation, that professors and chairs are not always soulless people that just don't care about honoring contracts. It is agonizing to have to deliver that message. Plenty of the message-deliverers know that your shitty contract is the only thing paying for groceries. Plenty of them have fought and fought hard to keep your three classes, and then two, and then please-just-one so you can keep your benefits. The problem is way higher up than even chairs.

Also, classes get cancelled so late that the alternative would be for adjuncts not to get hired at all until a week or two before classes. I guess it's personal opinion whether it's better to have a contract and know it COULD be cancelled, or not to know if you have a contract at all.
posted by nakedmolerats at 4:09 PM on January 20, 2016


As a state employee of the University System of Georgia, I am having a good laugh at this thread. You have unions! Adjuncts who teach 3 classes get benefits! You get cost of living raises! In other words, as shitty as things are where you are, you wouldn't believe how much shittier they could be if you lived in a state that hates education with a fiery passion.
posted by hydropsyche at 4:18 PM on January 20, 2016 [12 favorites]


And I realize that part of her argument is that the bureaucratic machine means it's not really any one person's fault or blame for her dehumanization. But she still seems pretty upset that the tenured faculty didn't stand up for her, when in a lot of cases (maybe not hers), they do. Many tenured faculty happily support unionization for adjuncts. But they are stuck in the shitty system, too, unless they decided to just leave academe.
posted by nakedmolerats at 4:20 PM on January 20, 2016


As a state employee of the University System of Georgia, I am having a good laugh at this thread. You have unions! Adjuncts who teach 3 classes get benefits! You get cost of living raises! In other words, as shitty as things are where you are, you wouldn't believe how much shittier they could be if you lived in a state that hates education with a fiery passion.

Former North Carolina community college faculty here. These sorts of things were one of main reasons we were so incredibly desperate to get out of the South. Solidarity fist bump, my man. *fist bump*
posted by chainsofreedom at 4:25 PM on January 20, 2016


There is no reason not to consider her for a TT job if she applies for one. There is ample reason not to give her a TT job without doing a search and considering other applicants.
posted by persona au gratin at 4:32 PM on January 20, 2016


So, as a follow up, it seems from reading the comments here the stronger complaint is actually the low pay of non tenured staff vs tenured. That's a little more reasonable but inevitably a product of market forces.

On the anger with the nature of contract work in terms of its instability I stand behind my earlier comments. I work in IT consulting in the federal sector. This consists of getting an offer (usually through a recruiter) for a position on a contract a govt contractor is expecting to win a contract bid for. So the job offer is conditional on the employer winning the contract to begin with. Then after they win and you are hired, often the first year is stable but the govt can decline to renew the option years (1 to 5 adds years beyond the first ). If any of those years they don't renew you are out of a job and must hunt for a new one or if your company keeps the contract till it ends then you are out of a job then unless your company bids on the new contract recompete if there is one and wins it. So it's just constant turnover and job hunting every few years. And obviously if you do anything to upset your employer while on contract you can still be fired bc while they have a contract w the govt you are an at will employee. Of course if you're good at what you do and have special skills like a clearance you'll be in high demand and better situated to land new contracts and you'll generally make 150k to 300k a year. But in general i would not say the life of contract work is about stability. If that's important to you then you don't take contract jobs. Also again, I say even "permanent" employees in almost every industry face layoffs if budgets shrink or customer demand falls off. It's the nature of the market. Business owners aren't any better off...many small business tank and go bankrupt leaving the owner in debt and jobless. I just don't see why anyone is surprised or outraged that teaching is any different. Why should college teachers expect something the rest of us do not?

I have a feeling if the demand for their work was such that they could attract higher pay and know they could get another teaching contract when theirs ended then the issue of not getting tenure would be moot. The real problem is too many people getting degrees in academia beyond the demand for their skills so they're seen as totally disposable and not worth paying a decent salary. And I mean why would you even go into an industry so overpopulated like that if earning a decent amount of money and having good job prospects mattered to you? It's a disservice that someone isn't pulling aside ugrads on the academic track and teaching them about the labor market and where the best prospects lie.
posted by TestamentToGrace at 4:34 PM on January 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


TestamentToGrace: I just don't see why anyone is surprised or outraged that teaching is any different. Why should college teachers expect something the rest of us do not?

Most people do have more job security than that. Look, colleges are almost entirely not going away - most departments also aren't going away anytime soon. So the job disappearing is just not going to happen, nearly all of the time. A regular corporate worker would know, if they held that position. that they were pretty secure assuming they didn't screw up badly enough to get fired or something. Why should a college instructor have less security than that, when the job is nearly always suitable for offering pretty good stability? The instability is entirely artificial!
posted by Mitrovarr at 5:00 PM on January 20, 2016 [9 favorites]


Of course if you're good at what you do and have special skills like a clearance you'll be in high demand and better situated to land new contracts and you'll generally make 150k to 300k a year.

I am good at what I do, and I have specialized skills. I can speak and teach 3 languages and have a Masters, with a doctorate in the pipes. I've lived abroad and traveled extensively, something highly in demand for language teachers as you then have personal experience to draw on in the classroom. All of these achievements were gained at personal expense of both time and money. I am also intimately familiar with the university system both in America and abroad (specifically Mexico). Not to toot my own horn, but I AM often in high demand; when I was adjuncting I never had a semester in which I was teaching fewer than 5 classes, including summers. I've worked in 4 different universities and 2 different community college systems. I am unusual in that I never have to worry about who will hire me because I know many schools who would be eager for me to pick up classes. I always have at least an adjunct contract.

Using my best year of adjuncting as a salary, it would have taken me 10 years to earn that much money. It has never occurred to me to "expect" that sort of salary. I know I won't even be pulling down half of that salary ever in my lifetime.


But in general i would not say the life of contract work is about stability. If that's important to you then you don't take contract jobs.

Great! Be sure to tell that to the full time jobs outside of academia that I have been applying to. I'm sure they will suddenly realize that I'm not "overqualified" and be happy to give me a job.

Are you seriously arguing that personal and social instability not only IS the way of the world, but SHOULD BE the way of the world? Because a lot of people in this thread have been discussing improvements that can be made in the realm of contract work. And your response is to tell us that we are entitled???



Telling us we should just go back in time and not develop the research interests and passion for teaching that we all did in grad school in our 20s is equally shitty, by the way. We're here now. We're professors now. Don't tell us that the solution is to somehow not encourage us to do what we a) love, and b) are damn good at.
posted by chainsofreedom at 5:01 PM on January 20, 2016 [14 favorites]


Former North Carolina community college faculty here. These sorts of things were one of main reasons we were so incredibly desperate to get out of the South. Solidarity fist bump, my man. *fist bump*

As an NC native, yeah, North Carolina is currently the place that we in Georgia are glad we don't live. Here, there was never any illusion that the state gave a shit about its university system--the legislature has been full of people who hate pointy headed academics forever (the fact that most of them graduated from one of our schools is irrelevant to them).

But North Carolina--when I was a kid, we were the envy of the rest of the country. Somebody with good grades in NC could get into UNC more easily than folks from elsewhere and pay very low in-state tuition for a truly first rate education. I knew people who couldn't believe that I gave up the best bargain in US education to go to a snooty private liberal arts college. Nobody is thinking that sort of thing anymore, as the faculty are all packing up and leaving as fast as they can.
posted by hydropsyche at 5:08 PM on January 20, 2016 [4 favorites]


I've worked in academia, contracting and government, and I can't see any argument for instability. It's fine to go job-to-job if there jobs, but in my field there simply aren't enough jobs to provide stability. The students I mentor want to raise families: what advice can I possibly give them?
posted by acrasis at 5:23 PM on January 20, 2016


acrasis: tell them to go into one of these 25 fields...


posted by TestamentToGrace at 5:29 PM on January 20, 2016


I just realized I was responding, earlier, to larrybob's linked article early in the comments, instead of the FPP links.

I'm stupid. (But my points still stand, just um, confusing if you thought I meant the FPP)
posted by nakedmolerats at 5:36 PM on January 20, 2016


[using a sock puppet account because of potentially identifying info mentioned in this comment]

>Why? Teaching is important at liberal arts colleges. Research is more important at R1's (like Brandeis). Why try and make the R1's more like liberal arts colleges?

>But for what purpose? The students at Brandeis deserve equally qualified and dedicated professors.


I got my BA from Brandeis not that long ago, and I do just want to vouch for the fact that in my experience, Brandeis does very much prioritize teaching to undergrads even though they are an R1 university.

I think the only class I took that was taught by a graduate student was my Calc II class (not counting lab TAs and discussion section TAs). With maybe one or two exceptions, the rest of my classes were taught by tenured or tenure track professors.

(I have a parent who is a university professor so I am very aware of the difference between tenured professors, adjuncts, grad students, etc., and I spent a fair amount of time reading up about professors before choosing my classes each semester, so this isn't just idle speculation.)

Also, overall, the professors I had at Brandeis were awesome. I took a lot of classes across various disciplines in both the sciences and the humanities, and I only had two teachers that clearly shouldn't have been teaching to undergrads. Not surprisingly, they were both teaching intro lab sciences.

And yes, these professors also did research, and I know several of them were pretty big deals in their field. And seriously, I could spend a long time going on and on about how great a lot of my professors were.

Of course, I wouldn't be surprised if, like a lot of universities, Brandeis has become more reliant on adjuncts and grad students to teach classes in the years since I graduated, but I just wanted to put it out there that it's not like it's some sort of impossible goal to have professors who are both great teachers and solid researchers.

At the same time, I do think there's a lot to be said for having some professors who are dedicated instructors and some professors who are dedicated researchers, especially in the hard sciences. This is a model used for some classes at the university where I currently work, and I have to say the quality of the intro level lab sciences is definitely a step above what I saw at Brandeis. (The upper level, non intro science classes I took at Brandeis were great, though). Still, this only works if you give the instructors job security and adequate compensation, which a lot of universities seem not inclined to do.

I feel like I sound like some kind of product placement for Brandeis, but I promise that I'm not actually in any way affiliated with the university aside from the fact that I was an undergrad there.
posted by puppet, sock at 5:43 PM on January 20, 2016


You know what's also broken? The hiring of university presidents, like the one who uses metaphors of drowning or shooting students and wants them drop out early so the school can fudge its retention rate.
posted by TwoStride at 5:55 PM on January 20, 2016 [4 favorites]


> I have a feeling if the demand for their work was such that they could attract higher pay and know they could get another teaching contract when theirs ended then the issue of not getting tenure would be moot.

Your "feeling" does not reflect reality, because colleges and universities are not flinging money at super-talented and well-trained teachers and researchers to come to their institutions to teach a semester here and a semester there. They are doing what every business does: paying people as little as they can get away with (unless, of course, that person is the CEO, in which case well, you have to offer stupid sums of money to attract talent but that metric is not applied so religiously to people who have the gall to be ordinary shmucks like 90% of people who work for a living).

Forcing one particular model (run it like a business; treat everyone like contractors (instead of treating contractors better); etc.) on every field is monumentally stupid, counter-productive, and did I mention stupid.

>Why should college teachers expect something the rest of us do not?

Because goddamn all of us should expect (and demand) more, instead of dragging all the other crabs back into the bucket.
posted by rtha at 6:09 PM on January 20, 2016 [13 favorites]


>Your "feeling" does not reflect reality, because colleges and universities are not flinging money at super-talented and well-trained teachers and researchers to come to their institutions to teach a semester here and a semester there. They are doing what every business does: paying people as little as they can get away with...

That's the point! How little they can get away with paying an employee is directly correlated with how in demand the job is. As long as there is an oversupply of academics ready to step into the job, they can get away with paying less. Notice I didn't say to get paid better you just had to be super talented or well-trained. That's not enough. I specifically said you had to be in-demand ie there has to be less supply of qualified academics then there is job openings. When there is a seller's market for the skillset (less academics available then positions) then the wages will rise or the universities will shut down for lack of staff. It's simple supply and demand economics.
posted by TestamentToGrace at 6:21 PM on January 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


chainsofreedom it's not about going back in time. It's never too late to retrain for a different career. My first career was in psychology as a mental health counselor. The pay was horrible, the hours were grueling and there was not a lot of freedom in the job. I gave up the idea of being a clinical psychologist and switched careers to IT bc it allows me to still be in a helping role but with much better benefits, pay, and freedom/flexibility in my work arrangements.

There are many more people on the academia track then there are job openings. This is always going to lead to depressed wages and being treated as if you're disposable. BC to you're employer, you are. And then the cuts to education budgets on exacerbate the problem. The practical answer is to direct your labor into markets and industries where it will be in demand. Right now that looks like healthcare and IT, especially data analytics.
posted by TestamentToGrace at 6:29 PM on January 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


acrasis: tell them to go into one of these 25 fields...
I am not telling anyone to become an Engagement Manager or a Solutions Architect. I am also not telling anyone to become an Engagement Architect or a Solutions Manager.

Lots of my students want to be Physician Assistants, though. I agree: that's a great job.

I don't want to steer the most talented young people away from things like basic scientific research, because those things are important. You want to live in a world where the most talented people all read some magazine article and decide to become Engagement Architects. I think that would be a shitty world. I want our society to encourage the expansion of knowledge and understanding, even when those things aren't directly profitable.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:43 PM on January 20, 2016 [6 favorites]


Yeah, ok. Come back and tell me how well that's working out for you when your field is similarly saturated.

I'm kinda done with this thread. I'm glad that the solution is to get paid literally the least amount of money you're worth, and not a penny more, just so we all don't get entitled.
posted by chainsofreedom at 6:45 PM on January 20, 2016 [4 favorites]


Precarious Faculty
…to promote open exchange of ideas and information on higher education and the concerns of adjunct/contingent faculty and other precarious knowledge workers, the no longer new but actual faculty majority in most colleges and universities since 2000 or before…to support the goals of local, national and international casual faculty organizations, COCAL International, Program for Change, and the UDHR, Articles 23 and 26 in particular...
posted by audi alteram partem at 6:51 PM on January 20, 2016


The tenure system is one of the biggest reasons I left academia. When I was a grad student, we had talented passionate adjuncts who constantly lost their courses, but we also had really awful tenure track professors who were *terrible* teachers, but were hitting the right marks for publication.

In my grad programme, there was one tenure track hire who was so awful that the grad students took the unheard of step of complaining about her during her tenure review. All but 5 of the students showed up to argue that she should not get tenure. (She regularly came 45+ plus late to class, sometimes didn't show up at all. I was her TA for one semester and she would share nothing at all with me and then call me 15 minutes after the class started to ask me to "entertain the students somehow".) This was at an inner city school where many of the students paid more than they could afford to try to get an education.

As a result, they deferred her tenure review (they couldn't afford to do anything else-- we were threatening publicity) but she got it a year later. Because she was one of their star recruitments for her publications. It was at that moment I realised that teaching was what I liked about academia, but that teaching was not valued at all.
posted by frumiousb at 7:12 PM on January 20, 2016 [4 favorites]


No one would ever cry favoritism or nepotism if someone who had worked for a company for several years and had done excellent work got new job responsibilities and more money. But in academia, it's a completely different job that necessitates opening a new line in the budget and going through a hiring process.

I've seen this happen in public sector jobs, where a promotion means exactly what you describe, creating a new position and so on. I also have a couple of friends in big, publicly traded companies where changing positions and getting promotions is not a fast or easy process. It's not as cumbersome as going through a full national search for a tenure track line, but it is a lot more involved than someone just announcing it by fiat.

These discussions always reveal a number of interesting (read: frustrating) ideas about how academia actually works, what the standards and professional norms are, and how things could be improved.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:25 PM on January 20, 2016


I'm a Long-time-lurker, but this thread poked me just enough so that I joined tonight to say "Um yes, but..." So be nice!

I'm an Adjunct in the California State University system and I think it's very important to point out that we are talking about Apples & Oranges here: R1 universities and State Universities are very different places in terms of what's valued for promotion.

Being an Adjunct, I'm shut out of either system, but I think the meme of "lazy research professor who has tenure and sucks as a teacher" just does not apply to teaching schools, which (numerically) outnumber the other kind.

The (hidden?) point that we all share is this massive wealth/opportunity/generation gap.

Anecdata: My parents both got R1 tenure-track faculty job offers before finishing their Ph.D's in the late 1960s.

About 40 years later, I applied (somewhat on a lark) to a tenure-track jobs at an R1 school and received a very nice letter saying "Thank you, but of the 150 applicants we received were all supremely qualified..."

From "pretty much guaranteed job for life" to "pretty much impossible" in 40 years is a pretty big societal change, and I think it is not isolated to academia.
posted by soylent00FF00 at 7:36 PM on January 20, 2016 [15 favorites]


I just want to point out that in the Meta Talk thread on what MeFites would do with their fictional Powerball earnings, a prominent answer - among proposals to build a gigantic pinball machine, and fix the LA school system - was to "buy a tenure track position at an R01 university"
posted by cacofonie at 7:54 PM on January 20, 2016 [3 favorites]


what's funny is when i go to inservice and the admins are 'HERE IS THE FANCY BIG THING WE'RE DOING WITH DATA THAT YOU DON'T USE' and meanwhile completely mucking up like, the most important information, like when grades are due.

Basically my summation of my life as an admin academia for the past 5 years. "Here is this thing we are doing with data that we don't use."
posted by Young Kullervo at 7:58 PM on January 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


There are many more people on the academia track then there are job openings. This is always going to lead to depressed wages and being treated as if you're disposable. BC to you're employer, you are

Employers should not treat employees as disposable, and employers should definitely not treat teachers as disposable, because their profession is so important, and the benefits of stability and experience are so great.

I don't hold it against anyone for (and in fact encourage people to) saying "fuck it" to college academia and teaching high school, working for a think tank, or doing anything else. But don't treat the adjuncts like shit-- in fact, don't have adjuncts at all, outside of a few professionals teaching night classes. Because without them, for all practical purposes, there's no undergraduate university.
posted by deanc at 7:59 PM on January 20, 2016 [8 favorites]


many institutions continue to rely more heavily on research productivity than teaching quality in hiring and promotion is because (we believe that) research is much easier to measure and count

I think it's worse than that. I think there's a pretty pervasive idea in academia and elsewhere that teaching isn't possible. There's a constant stream of students, the smart ones are gonna rise to the top no matter what while no magical teacher is going to make unmotivated students into geniuses.

That is probably why in my final year of grad school I was assigned to teach SIX intro classes in my subject (250+ students) while the professors who were nominally in charge did whatever it was they were incentivized to do. And why I dropped out and got an industry job where I am so, so much happier.
posted by miyabo at 8:09 PM on January 20, 2016


The tenure system in the United States spread because it was an effective hiring incentive. Universities couldn't compete with industry salaries (and still don't-- most tenured & tenure-track professors make nine-month salaries, and work for free for a quarter of the year). But universities could offer greater stability.

At my own institution, tenure is under threat due to statewide politics. As a result, professors are leaving. The professors who teach in "practical" majors, such as computer science and economics, are going first. I love teaching and research, and have my own little niche in academia, which I'm not ready to give up on yet. But I'm acutely aware that I could get a fifty- to one-hundred-percent raise by switching to industry; my institution can't afford to compete on salary.
posted by yarntheory at 10:04 PM on January 20, 2016 [4 favorites]


I spent 10 years in R1 schools, and another 20 in "teaching" schools. I've never seen a terrible professor at either. I know they exist. But unless my experience is anomalous, they are the exception rather than the norm.
posted by persona au gratin at 11:21 PM on January 20, 2016


Let me also say, as someone who takes undergraduate teaching incredibly seriously, those who don't really piss me off. You think your research really is more important than taking teaching seriously? Really? Are you Saul Kripke? Oh, right, you're not. Then it almost certainly isn't.
posted by persona au gratin at 11:29 PM on January 20, 2016 [2 favorites]


Wait are those really the only pay grades where you are? No additional notches underneath each title? If that's true that's fucked.

Yep, and I'm on a 9 month contract, so I only get paid 9 months out of the year. And when I asked 'couldn't you at least pay me 9 over 12, like other universities', I got told oh no, our payroll software couldn't handle that. (Yeah right. Other people can manage it.) So I simply don't get a paycheck 3 months out of the year. (Sure, you can sequester chunks of other paychecks, but it's a hassle.) And summer salary is in short supply as a grantless-mathematician.
posted by leahwrenn at 1:40 AM on January 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


I spent 10 years in R1 schools, and another 20 in "teaching" schools. I've never seen a terrible professor at either. I know they exist. But unless my experience is anomalous, they are the exception rather than the norm.

I think that's was pissed me off about this post. It framed deadweight old tenured slackers who hate students vs the poor adjunct who is the only one who cares.

One of the reasons that research is valued for hiring even at liberal arts colleges is because it's a pretty good indicator of how well you know the material. It's also easy to measure. But there are very few scholars who know a topic that they haven't done research on well enough to teach upper level courses.

edit: first sentence should read thread instead of post
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 4:08 AM on January 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


The idea of "non tenure track" academic labor in the United States was invented in the 1970s; previously, "adjunct" was a relatively rarely used position assigned to people actually working in industry who wanted to teach a class or two as a hobby.

As part of a union-busting scheme, this category was gradually expanded to cover almost all teaching labor. University tenure used to be something more like K-12 tenure — something that everyone doing the work got after a few years — rather than a marker of who is worthy of consideration as a producer of research and who is a lowly teacher. Never mind that most academic work isn't read by anyone, and that the chief influence of any professor on the world comes through the teaching they do rather than the research they produce.

However, because academia hates teaching and teachers, and because academics are particularly susceptible to getting suckered by elitist sorting schemes, a strong teaching record is more or less a liability. The way I've heard it is that your career in academia is determined in large part by your first job; if your first job is adjuncting, you will always be an adjunct, if your first job is tenure-track at a small state school, you'll always teach at small state schools, if your first job is at a SLAC, you'll always teach at SLACs, if your first job is tenure-track at an R1, you will always teach at R1s, and so forth. This is why it is not sufficient to allow adjuncts to apply for tenure-track jobs at the universities they work at; they will never be considered, because not only do they have the bad taste to be adjuncts, they've established a track record of rubbing their bad taste in the faces of the hiring committee by being adjuncts at the hiring committee's own institution.

So here's a small proposal for an initial step toward fixing this situation (Just spitballin' here. If anyone's got a better solution, I would love to hear it):
  1. Tenure all instructors now. Immediately. Have you been teaching at a given university for more than six years? You now have tenure there. Hell, do it up like the K-12 schools do; assign tenure to people who have been teaching for three years. Tenuring immediately is necessary to avoid administrative scheming. Many institutions have rules, written before the invention of non-tenure-track academic labor, that state that all instructors (even "non-tenure-track" instructors) have to be considered for tenure after six years. Standard practice in these institutions is to fire lecturers after five years.
  2. Point 1 can only be achieved through well-organized direct action outside of the usual channels of academic organization. Sit-down strikes of adjuncts (supported by undergrads, by grad students, and by the tenure-track professors who still think of themselves as workers rather than as managers of grad students and adjuncts) may be the most effective tactic here; seize and hold the actual classrooms and the actual labs in a large-scale highly visible way that will draw significant press attention to how few classes are actually taught by tenure-track professors, and don't let go until major concessions are won. Despite the ostentatiously upheld idea that the work of professors is research rather than teaching, the reason why most university professors (aside from in a few very visible STEM fields) are tolerated by wider society is because they teach university classes. Making it messily apparent to everyone, in terms that cannot be denied, that professors since the 1970s have been refusing to teach is key to winning concessions from university administrators and their tenure-track collaborators.
Adjuncts have two advantages in this fight. First is devotion from the undergrads, for whom they are the chief point of contact with the university. This has to be leveraged in a large-scale organized way, rather than as a one-off as in the case under discussion here.

The other advantage they have is physical access — the ability to seize and hold very expensive university buildings filled with expensive equipment. Expensive buildings and equipment are, unlike students, things that university administrators and donors actually care about.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 5:40 AM on January 21, 2016 [7 favorites]


However, because academia hates teaching and teachers, and because academics are particularly susceptible to getting suckered by elitist sorting schemes, a strong teaching record is more or less a liability.

Adjuncts have two advantages in this fight. First is devotion from the undergrads

There are a number of academics in this thread and elsewhere who have reported that their personal experience is far from this outdated view. Many enjoy teaching and are quite good at it. Why are you discounting their very real accounts? I've spent my entire adult life in academia and I have no idea what the fuck you are on about.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 5:51 AM on January 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


I am talking about what is valued by university administrations, not about what individual professors take pleasure in. This is not about enjoying teaching or about being good at it. It is about pay and job security.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 5:54 AM on January 21, 2016


Then you should know that university administrators often don't make hiring decisions. So I don't know how a strong teaching record is a liability.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 5:56 AM on January 21, 2016


Also, you're mixing up your elitisms. The reason why people who adjunct rarely get tenure track jobs is not because they're teachers. It is because you typically only adjunct if you can't get a tenure-track job. Being shut out of tenure-track jobs happens before you start adjuncting. Some people, I'm sure, get tenure-track jobs after adjuncting. But generally, it is an indicator that The Academy is not interested in either hiring you or pushing you off for a couple of years with a fellowship or postdoc. It is a pretty clear signal that you are not appealing, but it functions as that signal because you typically do it because you're not appealing.

The real issue here, as I see it, is the oversupply of PhDs. I think it's criminal to encourage upper-middling students who have no chance at the jobs they want to go into PhD programs. But if we didn't, who would teach the undergrads and grade the papers? Presumably, people who have been hired to do so. So the oversupply of PhDs wrecks the market even before they graduate.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 6:03 AM on January 21, 2016 [3 favorites]


Let me be clear that by "upper middling students" I mean by the standards of academic hiring, which are intensely snobbish and typically kinda fucked, IMO. But relatively predictable.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 6:05 AM on January 21, 2016


The reason why people who adjunct rarely get tenure track jobs is not because they're teachers. It is because you typically only adjunct if you can't get a tenure-track job

Yep. I feel sorry for people who keep adjuncting with the idea that it will somehow lead to something better, because they are deluding themselves. But this is one of the things that undergrads have over me: they are unencumbered by this harsh reality are willing to fight for something that people like me would believe is futile. Maybe things will change.

On one hand, there is an oversupply of PhDs. On the other hand, there are clearly a lot of classes that need to be taught by professors. It's unlikely that there are enough people like me (PhD holders in industry who would be happy to teach a class at night each semester) to fill the gap. Instead universities depend on a large pool of exploited labor.
posted by deanc at 7:13 AM on January 21, 2016


the idea that adjuncting will get you a full time gig is not something that is stated at my school but--at every inservice you get so and so dean saying "I started out as an adjunct too" which really promotes adjuncts to believe that if you just believe in yourself, you too will be one of the fancy people.
posted by angrycat at 7:30 AM on January 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


Since the cost of a college education is growing faster than anything else, including healthcare, where is all the money going?

The first question to ask if you want to know where the money is going is how much is actually going to the school in the first place. The numbers you usually see reported are for published tuition and fees, which are the "sticker price" for the school, and *not* what a typical student actually pays for everything-except-living-expenses.

Don't get me wrong; real (constant-dollar) college costs have been increasing substantially and these increases pose real challenges to middle-class families. But the increases in what typical people actually pay have been shallower than the increases in published tuition and fees.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:43 AM on January 21, 2016


My main source for the institution of non-tenure-track academic labor as a union busting scheme — analogous to the scheme the Detroit automakers used, where they convinced unions to sign off on a two-tier system with employees at the time of contract negotiation getting good terms, but new employees getting bad ones — are Marc Bousquet's How the University Works and his earlier Tenured Bosses and Disposable Teachers: Writing Instruction in the Managed University. (sorry no Powell's link; apparently it's out of stock there).
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 8:33 AM on January 21, 2016


I feel sorry for people who keep adjuncting with the idea that it will somehow lead to something better, because they are deluding themselves.

I have known a lot of adjuncts, and very few of them are deluding themselves with the blessed fantasy that a tenure track job is right around the corner.

What actually happens is that they are normal grad students who either don't become the golden children of the department (I have seen this happen, it is pernicious and toxic) and it slows down their progress, or they have normal human life events/emergencies (illness, pregnancy, debt) that prevent them from spending all their time on research and job market stuff. (The academic job market is a full time job that anyone not on a fellowship has to pursue while working another full time job.)

Usually people slip into adjuncting because their graduate funding runs out, and the administrators (low-level, Writing Program level) at the university where they are pursuing a degree are trying to help them out-- if they keep adjuncting at the same school, then they can finish the degree. But the degree slows down, and it becomes a trap-- the longer they adjunct, the less tempting they are to job search committees, and the less simple it is to transition into non-teaching positions.

Most people I know who adjunct know that it is a dead end, but that's the thing about dead ends. There isn't an obvious way out of them. Once a person has spent 15 years of a career working in academia and teaching, thinking "hmmm, I'll get into corporate HR now!" isn't remotely logical or even possible for most of them.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 8:41 AM on January 21, 2016 [8 favorites]


There are many fields that are difficult to leave--most of us invest a lot in a given career path and it's not always easy to get out. I have quite a lot of sympathy. I used to work as a nanny, and childcare is much more dead end than academia--at least people assume that academics are somewhat bright!

I simply don't know that the solution is to hire adjuncts as full-time employees. If anything, adjuncting seems to function like a lot of graduate programs do--delaying a lot of people's eventual exit from academia, yes, but doing so by exploiting them and taking up a disproportionate amount of their time.

Perhaps some of these people should go to law school; working as an attorney typically requires similar skills.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 9:11 AM on January 21, 2016


Perhaps some of these people should go to law school; working as an attorney typically requires similar skills.

And an even higher burden of debt, and a pretty terrible job market, according to most law school grads.

I mean, I'm not saying every adjunct should be automatically given full time work, but I am pushing back against the notion that many of them have any illusions about their future careers.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 9:30 AM on January 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


One of the tricky bits with adjuncting jobs is that often, it's not that the department is hiring adjuncts instead of full time positions. Rather, it's that one semester, we've got two sections to fill, the next semester only one, the next semester maybe someone's on sabbatical so we have six sections that need to be covered, but no money to hire a visiting position (and besides, I'm not even sure you could hire a visiting position for half a year), whoops, the next year there's a hiring freeze for full time positions...
posted by leahwrenn at 9:48 AM on January 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


There is no oversupply of PhDs. There has never been an oversupply of PhDs. The actual problem with academic labor is not dictated by supply and demand at all, but rather by the radical reallocation of a steadily growing demand for academic labor, away from stable and well-compensated positions and toward precarious and exploitative ones. The idea that there is an oversupply of PhDs is 100% anti-worker ideological myth and the use of the word is a shibboleth of the, at best, underinformed. Read the Bousquet book.
posted by RogerB at 12:24 PM on January 21, 2016 [8 favorites]


Right now I am employing two adjuncts whom I strongly believe should have full tenure. An hour ago I was engaged in a fight with my boss about them. The reason they do not have full tenure is institutional politics. It has absolutely nothing to do with their research or other qualifications. Contrariwise, no one will put a finger on their accomplishments, or even point to other candidates. It is about prioritizing entire fields against each other: should we focus on nano or bio? Which is absurd and against societal needs.
Obviously, there is a limited amount of funding and I respect that, but we can actually get the external funding as required. The school politics are completely internal and almost private, based on personal dynamics and stuff I can't understand, but maybe that they challenge the positions of people who are very powerful but somehow vulnerable.
posted by mumimor at 1:12 PM on January 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


as a personal note - in my career, what happened was that my advisor and mentor who'd seen me as his successor died during my second year of post-grad studies.

Even though I tried to build a new network, the potential mentors were too close to me in age to see me as a mentee. I don't want to go into the details of this, suffice to say, academic careers are not entirely about accomplishments.

I've never been in a position where my work was not acknowledged as state of the art, and I have several times been forwarded as a first among peers.

Still I was an adjunct for several years, even though everyone acknowledged that I should have been on tenure track from very early on, and eventually I got there. There are a lot of layers to that story, but my main point is that those posters above who are claiming that adjunct professors might be less qualified for tenure are not basing their opinions on facts.
posted by mumimor at 1:32 PM on January 21, 2016


At the vast majority of US universities, teaching really is valued. Even undergrad teaching. Your median US university isn't the University of Michigan. It's more like Eastern Michigan. And they care about teaching there.
posted by persona au gratin at 2:14 PM on January 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


mumimor: To be clear, I was talking simply about the adjuncts in our department. I've been a part of 5 national searches, so I know what applicants look like. And none of our adjuncts would have been shortlisted. That doesn't mean they aren't smart and good teachers. Most are! It's just that there are so few TT jobs that even smart people who are good teachers can be overshadowed by other people who are smart and good teachers. I mean, the extent to which it's a buyer's market right now is absurd, and the people we get would have been grossly overqualified 30 years ago.
posted by persona au gratin at 2:24 PM on January 21, 2016


After witnessing a few tenure battles, being friends with both graduate students and adjuncts, attending some prospective professor interviews and meet and greets, and knowing professors who have had to file lawsuits to get tenure, as well as seeing friends go to graduate school, I'm pretty weary and skeptical of all hiring practices in the academia. I truly doubt there is that much of a difference between who and who doesn't get hired, except that one basically has to be born out of Zeus's head at this point and be promised as a visionary luminary to get a tenure track position at this point. Or, they game the system hella hard and bring in a lot of lucrative contracts and press for the university. Or, they bring in a lot of patents. Everyone is being driven to the ground due to an artificial labor shortage, hope labor, and just being so emotionally invested in it all. I've seen professors go on extended sick-leave due to the horrible stress of it all (and they are mostly women of color who are denied tenure. urgh.)

I'm especially bitter because of my current Chancellor, and she is the definition of an academic with prominent and gloating ties to the university-industrial complex, and is really pushing everyone at my university to that point. This is at a Tier 1 Research university. The undergraduates should know what is going on, and I'm one such undergraduate who had an extensive witnessing and it was definitely vicarious trauma.

I also think it's weird that people defend all of this. They are usually the same people who aren't very affected, are willing to play the game, didn't have such a hard time or with as many barriers, or even appreciate it! It's very much saying "If you can't play this game, go home" rather than, "Let's talk about what is going on because it is screwed up and we are all getting played."
posted by yueliang at 4:21 PM on January 21, 2016 [3 favorites]


RogerB: There is no oversupply of PhDs. There has never been an oversupply of PhDs. The actual problem with academic labor is not dictated by supply and demand at all, but rather by the radical reallocation of a steadily growing demand for academic labor, away from stable and well-compensated positions and toward precarious and exploitative ones. The idea that there is an oversupply of PhDs is 100% anti-worker ideological myth and the use of the word is a shibboleth of the, at best, underinformed. Read the Bousquet book.

I don't know about this. If there wasn't an oversupply, you wouldn't be able to find people to adjunct because positions in industry would be available and would pay too much better. But, at least in my field (Biology) it feels like academia and industry aren't large enough to accommodate all of the graduates that exist. So, lots of people get stuck in the adjuncting holding pattern, and a lot more just fall out of the bottom of the field and switch careers.

There's also a pretty bad degree inflation going on, with PhDs who can't find jobs taking jobs that used to go to master's degree graduates, those people taking jobs that used to go to bachelor's degree graduates, and those people just not being able to find jobs at all. I used to work at a water treatment plant and we had multiple people with master's degrees doing basic lab-tech work which could have probably been done by anyone with a high school diploma, or at most, an associate's.
posted by Mitrovarr at 5:12 PM on January 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


" . . . [T]he practical answer is to direct your labor into markets and industries where it will be in demand. Right now that looks like healthcare and IT, especially data analytics."

No hand-wavy econ-101 actually plays out that well with labor, for a variety of complex reasons (time/expense of training/lack of socioeconomic mobility being prominent). We can get into these if you like, but to dismiss the concerns of a whole bunch of people--who are describing what it's actually like for them and proposing ways that it could be restructured--on these grounds is pretty weak.
posted by aspersioncast at 6:04 AM on January 22, 2016 [4 favorites]


I used to work at a water treatment plant and we had multiple people with master's degrees doing basic lab-tech work which could have probably been done by anyone with a high school diploma, or at most, an associate's

I'm in a different field but I've seen the same thing, with a lot of people with masters applying to entry level tech jobs that require either only a HS graduation or at most an associates. It's sort of doubly problematic, because they can end up crowding out the people with the AA, while also often being not that great at a tech role and very obviously using it as a stepping stone into the field rather than as a position they plan to hold for any length of time.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:28 AM on January 22, 2016


I don't know about this. If there wasn't an oversupply, you wouldn't be able to find people to adjunct because positions in industry would be available and would pay too much better. But, at least in my field (Biology) it feels like academia and industry aren't large enough to accommodate all of the graduates that exist. So, lots of people get stuck in the adjuncting holding pattern, and a lot more just fall out of the bottom of the field and switch careers.

I think the point of the claim that there isn't an oversupply is that our society actually desperately needs the expertise and training of the PhDs who are graduating, but our complete inability to employ them effectively is the problem. We need people who know subjects inside and out. We need people who know less about those subjects to be trained by people who know more.

The fact that people with PhDs are given contingent, low-paid piecework instead of opportunities to use their training effectively does not mean we have an oversupply of PhDs. It means we are squandering the supply that we desperately need. There's a famine going on and the grain is rotting in the fields.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 9:18 AM on January 22, 2016 [3 favorites]


Er, what famine? We're teaching huge numbers of people and doing as much research as we're willing to allocate funding for. There isn't anyone saying "we need scientists, but we just can't find any at any price." There are enough scientists for all of the science and teaching we want to do and then some, and we're training more in larger quantities all of the time.
posted by Mitrovarr at 10:23 AM on January 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


Mitrovarr, I don't think you understand what I was saying.

There are PhDs in many subjects other than science. Many of the people with those PhDs are unable to find employment where their expertise is utilized.

The number of people with PhDs who work as temps, or adjuncts, or baristas, while our schools and our governments and our cultural centers fall into hellish dystopias means that we are not using our human capital effectively.

(Also, for the record, plenty of people with PhDs in science have trouble getting connected to jobs outside of academe where they can use their skills. Academia has been failing for a long time at creating pathways from graduate school to any other industry except "becoming a professor".)
posted by a fiendish thingy at 10:34 AM on January 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


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