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Update–see how the other half thinks

October 18, 2006

As an update to my recent post about getting what you pay for, Dean Dad has presented the admin side of the debate (found here Adjuncts and Retention).

DD argues that lower retention/higher adjuncts is a symptom of the larger institutional fiscal health–often tied directly to the local communities economy since CCs get the bulk of the funding from, well, their communities. So, the wealthier the less adjuncts and the better the retention. Right and well said

But DD doesn’t really address the core issue here (or perhaps he does from the admin side–which for me is really telling of the gulf between labor and management) in that the economic model of outsourcing to adjuncts won’t be solved by his suggestion of endowed CCs (CC endowments go more toward student scholarships than toward CC operating costs) or cost-appropriate departments (each degree is aligned more appropriately with its real costs of production). Yes, there are valid, day-to-day operating realities, and these suggestions might actually help the situation. Yet, the discussion must, in my opinion, include not just fiscal options but a larger, institutional allegiance to inexpensive labor that is not entirely fiscally led.

That is, adjuncts are over-utilized simply because they are cheaper. Adjuncts have, like or not, become the de-facto instructor model because, and this is an off-the-top of my head list (please add to this if you are able):

* there are a lot of under-employed intellectuals out there (Smith’s supply and demand)
– irresponsible (if not fraudulent) phd-granting institutions
* a professo(rat) that just won’t die (read retire–I am not that pissed off)
* different models of recognition (evaluations, publications, etc.) that lead to skewed measures of tenured/tenure track worth
* elitist models of who can and can’t teach
* Uncertainty of institutional mission (teaching skills versus creating aesthetes)
* Move toward centralized content that requires on “facilitators” versus teachers

Anyone have anything to add?

  1. Dean Dad permalink
    October 18, 2006 5:42 pm

    Thanks for the feedback. I’m a little confused by your post, though. First you say, intriguingly, that there is a “larger institutional allegiance to inexpensive labor that is not entirely fiscally led.” This sounds promising, if vague. But you follow it immediately with “adjuncts are over-utilized simply because they are cheaper.” Back to cost. Maybe I’m misreading.

    The bullet points don’t really help. Most of them are variations on cost. The ‘elitism’ and ‘aesthete’ points don’t apply to community colleges. The point about centralized content, I think, gets the causal arrow wrong. We’re not going adjunct in order to standardize. We’re standardizing to make it easier to go adjunct. Cost is the driver.

    In my experience, when a community college is relatively flush, it hires a bunch of full-time faculty. For many reasons, relatively few cc’s are flush these days.

    If we had access to other sources of funding, it would be easier for us to hire. That was the point of my aside about endowments. If cost is really the driving factor, and I think it really is, then finding new sources of income is very relevant. It may or may not work, but that’s another issue.

    The hopeful side of the article is that it may help give ammunition to those of us fighting for more f-t faculty lines, since we can argue that short-term savings (which are real and easily measured) will be swamped by long-term losses from student attrition (which are prospective and harder to measure).

  2. Umm 'Skandar permalink
    October 18, 2006 7:43 pm

    In my case, the longer I adjuncted, the worse my teaching became!! I just declined my sections for spring because I could no longer handle the downward spiral of my teaching skills. Over time, it becomes demoralizing to teach classes for so little money and have so little institutional support (no office, I hold office hours at the campus coffee shop, no easy access to a copier, etc) that I ended up subconsciously “stealing back” my time my time by reducing prep, recycling materials, refusing to add on-line components, etc. My school is not a cc but a mid-sized university that wants to get bigger and better. Unfortuately, they started by improving the marketing department not faculty. Cheap adjuncts are definitely part of their model for the future. An RI university just up the road keeps them supplied.

  3. Piss Poor Prof permalink
    October 18, 2006 9:53 pm

    I disagree that the bulleted list are just variations on costs. For example, the first bullet describes a topic that you have written on in the past: namely the over-saturation of various academic fields. While there are economic components, I am arguing that there are other factors at play (institutional entropy, personal fiefdoms, etc.).

    Next, I present the reality of an aging professorate that won’t retire.

    Then I talk about centralized content: a business model that virtually requires adjuncts. I don’t know your particular situation, but a certain large, for-profit university in the southwest is standardizing materials to hire cheaper labor. True. Cost is the driver there. But for the average institution with some sense of academic integrity, standardization doesn’t seem to have the cost imperative so much as a weak attempt to ensure quality.

    Finally, my list, which you don’t find helpful, wasn’t entirely about CCs. Yes, no doubt that more money would likely lead to more full-time positions. But, that isn’t going to happen anytime soon.

    So, yes, I do think I began a list that moves beyond money as reasons to perpetuate the adjunct model. We could parse further (Marx would say that costs drive everything), but my initial point still stands: there are other, self-serving reasons for institutions to perpetuate the adjunct model—even in times of plenty.

    [Snarky comment warning] Thanks as well for the style writing style tips (“promising, if vague”). I live for that kind of feedback.

  4. Piss Poor Prof permalink
    October 18, 2006 9:56 pm

    Umm ‘skander’s point lists quite nicely the dangers of over-reliance of adjuncts: burnout. I have seen it in my own classes. I commend you for stepping back. A break does help.

  5. Cdr Ed permalink
    October 18, 2006 11:33 pm

    All, I find your discussion interesting. However, I must point out that it is only from the academic standpoint. I recently completed my Masters online in Security Management. I am a 54 year old professional (maritime security) who has been working in the decipline for 30 years. Only since 9-11 has the major been offered. The online experience by adjunct professors was the only way for me to get there . . . I am still working in the profession. There was no where else to go. My field has suffered from neglect for so long, that online was the only way to go, and there is no expertise within academia to produce a valid course without adjuncts. That’s my thoughts. I intend to enter the adjunct field to be able to share what I have learned . . . while still working. That allows me to keep updated information flowing. Those are my thoughts on the matter.

  6. Dean Dad permalink
    October 18, 2006 11:45 pm

    Okay, maybe ‘tantalizing’ would have been a better word than ‘vague.’

    Labor saturation drives cost down. It’s about cost. One of my not-so-hidden agendas is to talk reality to adjuncts, as a way of making it harder to continue exploiting them. If you feel exploited, it’s because you are. If you think it’s about money, you’re right.

    The lack of retirements is absolutely a cost driver. Salaries are determined largely by seniority, rather than productivity, so very senior people riding out the clock earn very high salaries, putting the squeeze on the college as a whole. You and I both know how we make up for that.

  7. Piss Poor Prof permalink
    October 19, 2006 5:38 pm

    Wow, an actual conversation…thanks.

    cdr–your situation drives straight to the point. Don’t feel that your material can only be presented by adjuncts. What you want is someone from the field that has moved to a position where he or she is able to combine experience with scholarship (the real ideal here). Adjuncts may be able (if their day job pays well enough–but then there is the time factor that eats into effective scholarship), but that adjunct would be rare.

    The model you describe is the one a certain university in a hot state touts as their model–one which, given my experience with them, is hit and miss. Again, one gets what he pays for, even with scholars.

    Now, stepping back, your field may not align with the university model of “valid” disciplines (see my notes about “worth” and “value” in academia), handled more often at the cc level. So, you are absolutely correct in saying that with the current model adjuncts were the only way to give you what you need. I just wish the current model wasn’t so restrictive.

    Good luck teaching. Underneath the ire and irk of not getting fiscally validated, I really do love it.

    PS: thanks DD. I didn’t think you would be that snarky.

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