Another Guest Blog Post

I wrote about public colleges and adjuncts at Megan's blog today. 


17 thoughts on “Another Guest Blog Post

  1. Have fun with her commenters. I think they’ll probably think you’re describing a situation that hasn’t gone far enough yet–when adjuncts also have to clean the restrooms in buildings where they teach in order to earn their present wages, they’ll probably think things are moving in the right direction. Howard Roarks are made, not taught.

  2. lol. You’re totally right, Tim. That’s exactly what the commenters are saying. Before that, I angered them by saying that Republicans don’t really want vouchers. Just to piss them off even further, I’m going to write a school equity post next. Or maybe I should write “Why I Heart The Welfare State.”

  3. On the primary and secondardy education front, it is all charter schools here now. There is an even an effort to turn a whole failed district into charter schools but I wouldn’t be surprised if the main point of that proposal wasn’t to get people to stop fighting the proposed merger with another district.

  4. Adjuncts are better than full-time faculty for certain limited purposes. When I took media law as an undergrad (very good, very tough course!), the instructor was a working lawyer. Likewise, a number of my journalism instructors were LA Times guys who’d put in a full day at the office and then come teach a night class (my reporting instructor even had us come in and work on our final at the LA Times itself–I had to crank out an obituary for Yassir Arafat, who hadn’t died yet). Those guys certainly knew what they were doing and had very strong industry contacts. A full-time journalism professor with a PhD would not be an improvement in this sort of vocational program. And there are a lot of vocational programs in the modern university.
    The majority of MM’s commentors are looking at higher education as something they have to figure out how to pay for for their kids. Of course they’re not going to weep big tears for the fact that there are adjuncts keeping the prices down.

  5. At the bottom of the thread, someone made this interesting observation:
    “I think there is an unrealized Catch-22 in this post, i.e., (1) Public universities are great because they are more affordable. (2) Public universities have far too many inexpensive, non-unionized adjunct staff.”

  6. Yeah, I’ve heard horror stories–adjuncts teaching 5/5 for $15,000/year and no benefits.
    As a graduate student lecturer, I have mixed feelings about my role. On the one hand, it’s good for me in my current position, since the classes are tiny and there’s very little prep work for me and the students are pretty much a dream so it’s good teaching practice, and (due to our fake union, since we’re legally barred from actually unionizing) the pay is good and if I didn’t already get health insurance, it would come with health insurance, but I do feel bad that University of Chicago students are paying lots of money and getting me instead of full-time faculty. Also, even though I don’t currently feel exploited, I do know the university is saving lots of money by having me teach and paying me extra than by hiring more professors. (They do have full-time lecturer positions in the college core, which are permanent, pay well though less than a full professor, come with benefits, and require a PhD, but don’t require any research.)
    Another trend I’ve noticed is the seeming creep of the postdoc. In my field, getting a post-doc after graduation seems to be as common as getting a TT position. While postdocs usually come with a decent salary and some benefits (like health care and occasionally pensions), they’re still nomadic positions which make it hard for people to have stability or put down roots in the school.

  7. I think a bigger Catch-22 is the society-wide desire to pay only the marginal cost of an extra hour of labor regardless of the fact that it is logically impossible for everybody to do that. Everybody wants to hire somebody who doesn’t need benefits because they get insurance from a real job, their spouse, or their parents. Everybody wants the other employers to pay the wages of the real job, the spouse, or the parent.

  8. “Another trend I’ve noticed is the seeming creep of the postdoc.”
    I don’t know about the sciences (where it seems to function differently), but in the humanities, isn’t the post doc the major beneficiary? Even if you don’t get a real job, a post doc allows you to keep your qualifications fresh and put another institution on your CV with minimal/no loss of face.

  9. Here’s another advantage of the long-term, part-time adjunct: less burn-out. My dad has gotten back into adjuncting at the local community college’s branch office as one of his winter jobs, and is obviously heart and soul into it. I believe he’s gotten rather good terms from the CC, as it’s hard to get somebody with his qualifications in that area. He’s doing primarily remedial math, which is depressing and soul-killing if you do it full-time (you’ve got to put the pieces back together for people whose math career derailed in mid-elementary school), but he only teaches a course or two at a time and likes it very much.

  10. Amy P,
    Post-docs can be beneficial and helpful, especially ones which allow you to write a book, and they’re certainly better than being unemployed, but they also delay the TT career and just add to the general uncertainty of a young academic’s life. Although not unprestigious, bouncing around from postdoc to postdoc isn’t exactly a desirable life, nor does it allow you to connect really with the university you’re a postdoc at.
    With adjuncting, I don’t think there’s no need for it at all, or that some people can’t/shouldn’t do it as basically a paying hobby, but that academia shouldn’t be built on it. My dad also adjuncted over the years at CC teaching Norwegian, which made him happy and allowed the CCs he taught at to offer a little-studied language, but you couldn’t replace the Norwegian dept. at U Minnesota with a bunch of non-academics who happen to speak Norwegian fluently and want to spend some time teaching it to others. I think remedial math is similar. Honestly, universities shouldn’t really be offering remedial math, and you don’t need a PhD to teach it either, so it seems like something well-suited to being taught by a non-academic at CC.

  11. The kind of adjuncts Amy P is talking about are the best kind and the kind that used to be the only kind. I took Physics for Poets with a retired NASA scientist who was one of the best science teachers I ever had, because of his sheer joy in the subject and exuberance for the class, not to mention wealth of practical experience.
    BI: teaching remedial math is best left to those who educate as a profession–helping someone understand math they’ve been taught before but never “got” is harder than it looks. The Norwegian example, however, is another excellent use of adjunct labor.

  12. The local adjuncts that are trying to unionize want the right to work full-time. I assume that if successful something like half of them will be laid off and that they’ve decided 50% odds of a better job is worth the risk.

  13. Doug said:
    “The phrase “full-time adjunct” pretty much gives the game away, doesn’t it?”
    MH said:
    “The local adjuncts that are trying to unionize want the right to work full-time. I assume that if successful something like half of them will be laid off and that they’ve decided 50% odds of a better job is worth the risk.”
    Oh dear.
    Related–some years back, the CC where two of my relatives adjunct became legally obligated to provide benefits (including medical) for adjuncts who taught three or more courses. Instantly, two courses became the maximum the CC would give adjuncts, which was a pain for my relative who was trying to actually live on her adjuncting. I think she’s since been able to get the needed number of courses (and pick up some other work, too), but it was a bad patch, especially since the adjunct teaching assignments there have traditionally been made at the last possible minute, so you never know until the last minute what you’re schedule and income will be (in fact, what with somebody’s alcoholism and somebody else ditching a course mid-term to go on to greener pastures, there’s been at least one mid-semester start). And if you turn a course down, maybe they won’t offer you more…
    My relative has mastered a couple of dark arts that have proved useful in getting consistent course loads. I totally wouldn’t encourage young people to do the adjunct thing long-term and just hope things get better, but as far as it is possible for an adjunct to hit the jackpot, that’s what my relative has done. Keeping it vague (although I’d be happy to give more detail in email), the key is probably that adjuncting is not her only gig, and there’s very strong synergy (sorry about using that word!) between several of her projects. She has at least 5 sources of income at this point, which is not bad for a 60-something divorcee.

  14. Occasionally, you get amazing adjuncting windfalls. I think my very best was a short course (on punctuation?) that I taught to some foreign students. I never asked if there was a mistake, but if you divided the classroom hours by the pay, I was getting $75 per classroom hour. Of course, there’s prep, grading, etc., but nonetheless, $75 per classroom hour! (At the time, I was usually getting paid about $16 per classroom hour for adult ESL.)
    Likewise, one of my adjunct relatives once did a summer program with a lot of contact hours (it was an intensive program). She made $20,000 that summer just for teaching.

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