Thursday, July 26, 2012

My Answers to the Homeless Adjunct's Questions

There's a post up at the Homeless Adjunct that's well worth a read.  Actually, since hir points about the harms that overreliance on undercompensated adjunct labor has done to universities, professors, and students alike will be of no surprise to any of my academic readers, it's one that is well worth passing on to your non-university friends with offspring about to go to college, or who are about to choose a university for themselves.

The post provides a list of questions that people in this position might consider asking on their campus visits.  What's below is just a list of the questions, with my own answers.  Note that the original post explains and explicates each and every one of them very nicely, and brings up some excellent points.

My answers about my own institution (mid-tier four-year state school):

1. What percentage of the faculty teaching your undergraduate classes is full-time? What percentage is adjunct? About 45% a couple of years ago; surely more than that right now, for the simple reason that, with each round of budget cuts over the last few years, another batch of adjuncts lost their jobs, or had full-time cut down to part-time. I don't think this is the way we want to go about "increasing tenure-track density."

2. A related question: what percentage of my child’s classes will be taught by Teaching Assistants?  None, at least not in my department, but that's because we aren't a Ph.D.-granting program. I think that some classes over in Natural Sciences and Mathematics may be taught by TAs. (Note that HA does talk about the problematic nature of applying the term "assistant" to someone who is, in reality, fully responsible for a given class.)

3. Are undergraduate students guaranteed full access to their professors on campus?  Faculty, whether TT or contingent, are required to hold office hours, but there's no minimum or maximum.  I'd guess that 4-5 "official" hours a week are about average, with more random hours when we're between classes. 

4. Are undergraduate students guaranteed private meetings in their professor’s private offices? Up until recently, most faculty shared offices, but usually not on the same days.

5. Are undergraduate students guaranteed advising from their departmental faculty? This is where I get cranky. There were hours available with one of two departmental advisers (both department faculty) every day of the week, staggered times so that any student could make them. We also scheduled mandatory meetings for new majors, whether transfer or freshman.  But advising funding has been slashed.  We now have one person tasked with doing the job that, until now, it's taken two people to do... and there may be a 50% reduction in hir compensation for that work.  There is university advising as well -- important for general graduation requirements, but problematic when they try to give advice about the major. One, last year, advised at least a couple of majors to delay taking our (required for majors!) core course because it was "too hard."

6. What is the number of “general education” or “core” classes required of my student’s major, or of the general university degree? Good lord, I don't know... they seem to change this every two years or so.  I'd direct you to ask our departmental advisor, but... (see above, #5)

7. Will undergraduate students be given ample access to the courses required for graduation within four years? Probably not. Too many students, too few faculty, too many budget pressures to cut "underenrolled" courses within the first couple of weeks of registration.

8. Will the university be willing to guarantee that my child’s classes will be taught by faculty who are compensated equally, provided with private offices and professional support, who will be available to mentor and guide my child outside of class as well as in?  Hmmm... no, no/no, and... I'm supposed to do what?!?  (Unless the author means that I'll be available to mentor outside of class hours? Because I'm in no way qualified to handle the many personal issues that my students have. Sympathize, yes.  Direct them to the correct resources, certainly. But I have no business guiding their personal lives.)  Honestly, while this is a lovely thought, I doubt that any but the highest-ranking SLACs could say yes to this one.

9. Where does the tuition go? Will universities provide a full accounting of... [and here there's a bit about various salaries] Actually, for my state, all public employee salaries are searchable online; if you know my name and institution, you can find my gross salary for as recently as last year.  You can also find the gross salary of any adjunct or staff member or campus president.  What you won't find is an accounting of the extras.  For example: faculty members have (until recently) had access to about $800 per year in money for travel to professional conferences.  Campus presidents in high-cost areas get a supplement to their salaries that is a "housing allowance" equal to about what our most recent full-time faculty were hired at.  Lecturers get bupkis.

10. Finally, you might want to ask them about their corporate partnerships. I don't think our uni is allowed to have those (unless you count the concessions contracts).  But I could be wrong.  And I imagine that this makes more of a difference when you dig down into the corporations that are funding individual or group grants.

That's a longish post, and the original is even longer.  But I thought I should make a full accounting.  As you can see, my colleagues at Grit City U. are doing our best.  But the odds appear to be stacked against us, and I might want to revisit these questions at the beginning of next academic year.



Janice said...

An interesting set of questions and answers that sound pretty and sadly familiar.

Historiann said...

Hi Notorious--I think you ask some pretty great questions of your own, as well as provide a look at how your uni works.

This part of Homeless Adjunct's question also sparked my interest. I agree with the basic sense of your reply, but I want to address other issues so I will quote her more fully:

8. Will the university be willing to guarantee that my child’s classes will be taught by faculty who are compensated equally, provided with private offices and professional support, who will be available to mentor and guide my child outside of class as well as in? In the alternative, is the university willing to discount my child’s tuition each time they are taught by an under-compensated, unsupported part-time faculty member? If universities are now using over 70% part-time faculty, paying them barely 30% of the full-time pay for that class, offering those faculty members no benefits, healthcare or job security — why is it that tuition is exploding? Where is the money going?

Adjunctification is the main reason tuition at my uni has stayed so (comparatively) reasonable. It costs the same in inflation adjusted dollars to attend Baa Ram U. now as it did in 1990. Where is the money going? I would ask the parents of prospective students, why don't you support paying taxes required to sustain our state institutions of higher education? What's changed at my uni is that Colorado no longer funds higher education like it used to.

So, if prospective parents dare to interrogate me about the quality of out-of-class contact and the TLC I might offer little Ashton or Alexa, I would ask them if they agree with the absurdly low state and local taxes they pay, and if they understand the connection between public services and the rate at which they are funded. I would ask them why they think they can get something for nothing. I would beg them not to send their children to my uni, because please--our numbers of students have only continued to grow through the recession, but the numbers of regular faculty? Quite the opposite!

I would also ask Homeless Adjunct whether or not she understands the role that universities play in our society, versus the roles of high schools and community colleges. University faculty are not hired just to teach. We are obligated by our contracts to conduct research and to publish our findings, whereas I didn't see any awareness of that in her post.

nicoleandmaggie said...

I love you, Historiann.

The Homeless Adjunct said...

Thanks, Notorious Ph.D., for your comments on my most recent post. As I mentioned in my blog, these are the questions I suggest, and I am certainly open to the suggestion of others. My biggest point is that parents and potential college students should at least KNOW these issues exist. Most have no clue that the majority of their undergraduate classes will be taught by underpaid, financially desperate, under-supported migrant faculty, hired fifteen weeks at a time, given no office or professional status. Nor do they know that it now takes an average of six years nationally to get that B.A., largely because of the impossibility to get the "core courses" required for graduation and the horrible quality of advising that misguides them into courses they don't need.

To respond to Historiann, yes, of course I am aware that research is an essential part of the life of the scholar. Are YOU aware that the opportunity to do such research, when you are spending your career in the trenches of adjunct servitude, is barely existent? Most adjuncts have precious little time, given their need to teach at several universities each semester - or work at Starbucks or some retail store in the mall - to conduct research in the field they spent an average of ten years studying, or to write the articles and books they expected and hoped to write. We've lost an entire generation of scholars and their scholarship to the adjunct exploitation of corporatized universities. And, of course, our students and society itself has lost that scholarship as well.

Question #8, which seems to create such concern, is not something that the faculty is expected to guarantee -- rather it is a question I suggested be asked of the universities: are all your faculty receiving professional compensation and support for their scholarship? Faculty availability, which used to be a given, is now a rarity. My full-time faculty, when I was an undergraduate, spent hours in their offices when they weren't teaching; they were available and present - as mentors, friends, educators -- because the campus was not only a place where you rushed into some building to teach one or two classes, then rushed off to get to another campus, or another job. It was the place of faculty effort and action - in every way. I speak to this in more detail on the blog itself. The point here is that adjunct faculty are NOT supported as scholars, are not able to do the work or live the fuller life of scholarship - and they are cheated of their career thereby. But so are our students cheated of faculty engaged in their own on-going professional development, research and writing.

Historiann urges the understanding of the difference between K-12 and university. I would suggest that the differences which used to exist quite clearly have been blurred by this constant, growing administration-designed curriculum of "core courses" and "common syllabi" and "common booklists" -- there is something unnerving about this factory model that has taken hold. Adjunct faculty are reduced to the role of McDonald's workers, and our students are on that conveyor belt. So, yes, I certainly do know the differences between what K-12 used to be and what university used to be. My concern is that it IS a "used to be".

I welcome your comments, and invite you to stop by my blog at to read other blog entries as well.

The Homeless Adjunct said...

A follow up, on the issue of funding and adjunct salaries helping to keep tuition low. Tuition has increased over 400% in the last 25 years. Since the use of adjuncts has increased over that time time period, from about 25% in the early 1980s to over 75% in 2012, you can hardly draw a connection between the two. There are other factors that have to be taken into consideration, and other practices that have to be ended. In that same time period, administrative jobs on campus have exploded - and now outnumber faculty jobs - full and part-time - on every college across the U.S. The salaries of college presidents have gone completely out of control - in the milliions, with full compensation packages that include homes, cars, drivers, discretionary funds, delayed compensation, memberships to exclusive country clubs and other organizations. College coaches are paid millions of dollars. You can't draw a direct line between the growing use of adjuncts and the American university's attempt to cut costs -- it is, more accurately, a re-allocation of funds, into a more corporatized structure of pay, with all the part-time faculty being deprofessionalized and marginalized, and the governance and power shifted to a managerial class of people, most of whom have never set foot in a classroom as a professor. What has happened to academia is like what has happened to medicine in this country -- a corporate take-over of what used to be viewed as a social good, a managerial class that moves in and usurps the power of the professional practitioner.

So, to those who say that if we demand a return to professional pay and position for ALL faculty - full or part-time - that we have to be willing for tuitions to go up dramatically, I say that this is a fear tactic created by those in that managerial class who are the only people who have benefitted from what has happened to academia. Rather, we should be looking at something like the requirement in the healthcare law, which says that at least 80% of all premiums paid to healthcare insurance have to be spent in actual care, and not administrative costs -- I say let's press our legislators to demand the same thing -- that 80% of all tuition be spent in the classroom and on instruction and faculty, NOT on bloated administrative jobs, or their bloated salaries, NOT on PR firms and consultants, or high-priced law firms paid to block unionization of the exploited faculty. If all those practices were addressed and the structure of university workforces were returned to pre-Reagan realities you would see an enormous difference in all areas in which we now have ruin.

J. Otto Pohl said...

I can only answer for my department. But, for the History Department at the University of Ghana at Legon the answers are as follows:

1. 8 out of 9 faculty teaching are full time. The one is an emeritus who teaches one class.

2. None

3. Yes

4. Yes

5. Yes

6. ?

7. ?

8. Yes

9. ?

10. ?

I think that is pretty good. But, we are a small department and I can not make any statements about other departments. They may or may nor be similar. I do not have the data.