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Meritocracy and Adjuncting

June 22, 2006

I am cross-posting my comment to Dean Dad’s question about Meritocracy and Losers.

I will start focused and then go large.

Meritocracy advocates (mostly Reps. but not all, white bear) feel assured that good works-cum-intentions will be rewarded.  This helps motivation a lot.  [I wonder if religious it not a greater indicator of adherence than political party]  Why else do something good if it is not going to be rewarded?  Goodness as its own reward?  How quaint.

So, the idea of a rewarding (read “just” or “fair”) world is terribly appealing.  Even going the other way…that evil will be punished and injustice addressed.  It is to appealing that I would advocate that everyone work toward it.

That is not to say, though, that the world is, de facto, ordered this way.  Pluck, luck and who you know (what were you thinking I was going to say?) play, at times, far greater parts in your play than your ability.  Sure, ability, talent and hard work helps, but there are plenty of talented, hard working poor and sick.  

Going specific: university education is founded, grounding and established on the notion of the best and brightest being assembled.  “Go to University X because we know more.  You will get more for your tuition dollars.”  Sometimes they are right.  Often, though the “brightest” don’t teach well, or the best teachers aren’t as cutting edge as they could be.  

So, it seems, over the evolution of Higher Ed the way to attract the hardiest stable of profs is to wave the carrot of tenure, encouraging participation in a steeple course of requirements that, once completed, ensures healthy pastures (insert appropriate “stud” activities if you wish) unto death.  

Does this result in the “best” educational structure?  Education is an experience as much as a commodity, so the market analogy (or Darwinian approach) may not serve the best.  So, why keep the tenure model?  Why not piece-work (adjunct) the whole structure?

If you are arguing that this approach is foolish or irrational or something else, consider that the average institution (even the better brands) have increased their use of adjuncts (some call them one or two year contracts) exponentially in the last 30 years.

Just some thoughts.


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