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View Diary: Warnings From The Trenches (188 comments)

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  •  We don't do much intellectual work at the college (27+ / 0-)

    level either.

    Most of us today are adjuncts barely paid a living wage (adjuncts teach a majority of college courses for undergrads in this country). We work semester to semester, without an office, and with annual income of between $12,000 and $30,000 for a full load that tenured faculty earn four to five times as much to teach. Most of us have to have other work to live, meaning verrrry long hours in our work lives and far less time available outside the classroom to our students; we continue to teach despite the very low pay and stressful conditions because we believe in learning and in our students.

    We don't have the keys to the copier. We don't get access to departmental materials. We often don't know what we're teaching (or how many courses) until days or even hours before the first student walks in the door. Sometimes the opposite happens and we "lose" a class we were supposed to teach when enrollments don't come in as expected—sometimes the week of the semester start. Oops! You lost half your work and half your teaching income. Sorry. Good luck in your remaining class this semester, and hope you can find something to fill the time!

    We answer to what is an increasingly MBA-driven administrative culture, even at the privates. I taught at two separate big-name NYC private universities (there aren't too many, so you know who the suspects are) and found the experience to be similar to what you are describing.

    "Metrics" and "benchmarks" often only tangentially related to mastering the discipline and information, sometimes for accreditation purposes, sometimes in response to institutional research (internal bean counter and prestige measurer) outcomes. Minimum N exams with minimum N questions, using one of the following prescribed formats, minimum N minutes group time, and N pages of essay writing, courses titled and material to be covered decided not by instructors or academics at all, but in order to match the product offerings of major publishers (Cengage, Pearson, etc.) with whom there are large existing contracts. And do set aside unpaid after hours time for the students that play sports; they will miss a third of class days this semester and you'll sign to indicate that this is okay and that you will do what it takes to help them pass—and if you don't, it'll come down on your head when your teaching ratings suffer. This is important; sports add to the bottom line in terms of drawing enrollments.

    Even more worrisome, I sat in on a meeting in which an entire social sciences department was on the chopping block due to a lack of profitability and an inability to contribute to the university's bottom line. What about the majors? The grad students? The tenured faculty (much less adjuncts) at issue? Well—Hard Choices Would Have to Be Made.

    The department ended up being saved. But in fact it was a serious discussion, brought to a head by MBAs in administration, about the fact that STEM (science, technology, engineering, medicine) fields earn cold, hard cash through patents and grants and spinoffs, humanities fields pay their own way with massive enrollments (how big is the average undergrad English department?), but some fields in the social sciences are just investments with a low ROI (no patents, no masses of paying undergrads packing the seats) and ought to be eliminated.

    What's a major university without economics, sociology, anthropology, etc.? One that doesn't ask what is happening in society and doesn't see those sorts of questions as valid foci of research.

    Interesting, that—and probably, structurally, in the larger view of the social system that we have and the education discussion here—no accident.

    -9.63, 0.00
    "Liberty" is deaf, dumb, and useless without life itself.

    by nobody at all on Tue Feb 05, 2013 at 01:42:06 PM PST

    •  Then there's that awful idea of (0+ / 0-)

      offering higher salaries to faculty who could earn gobs more money in the private sector in such fields as molecular biology, computer science, etc. to hire and retain them.

      •  It's funny— (4+ / 0-)

        at least half of my work hours have always gone to teaching. When I was in NYC (where the schools pay more than double for adjuncting than they do in the flyover states) it was maybe 20-30% of my income, despite the time and headaches involved.

        Now, even though I'm in a flyover state and doing contract work and my income has been radically slashed, teaching is an even smaller percentage—maybe 10-15% of my income, despite still being about half of my work life many semesters.

        The tenure-track jobs just aren't there; all departmental growth in the last two decades at most institutions has been a matter of swelling the ranks of instruction with adjuncts, who are cheap and can be contracted and released on a dime. I've literally been called the night before the semester begins to ask if I'd take on a new class about a new topic the next morning, and I've had three classes at the start of a semester and had two of them pulled out from under me due to low enrollment at the end of the first week of teaching.

        But I say yes to most of the courses I'm offered. Why? Because I'm a damned good classroom instructor (most adjuncts are—the tenured faculty tend to be wrapped up in their research and departmental service commitments) and the students need me. Given my real world professional experience in addition to my academic life, I believe I can teach the things I teach better than most out there, and I believe it's important that these things be taught to those that are willing to hear them.

        But my wife isn't so sanguine about it. She wishes I'd just stop doing it already—high stress, long hours, high risk (yes, students try to bribe you with all kinds of things, including female students, and with inappropriate things—and it always makes you nervous when you have to turn it down and/or report it), and very little pay, no benefits, and no stability, which impacts all the rest of your work and financial life.

        She used to teach, too—she was determined to be on the tenure track—but the reality of higher education, once she was in the departmental roles and doing the semester after semester teaching, simply drove her out. Now she's not just jaded, she won't talk to academics in general and is very torn about the fact that her own husband still wants to work in that environment.

        -9.63, 0.00
        "Liberty" is deaf, dumb, and useless without life itself.

        by nobody at all on Tue Feb 05, 2013 at 07:28:08 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

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