Thursday, January 28, 2010

Blog XXXIX (39): Getting Paid

An issue that often gets little notice in graduate school, but become very real afterwards is the amount of pay that one makes as an academic. Terry L. Allison, the dean of the College of Arts and Letters at California State University, Los Angeles discusses this issue in a guest editorial he wrote for the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, a newspaper that circulates in the eastern suburbs of Los Angeles. This essay appeared in the paper on September 29, 2009. Here is Allison's op-ed:

On the recent Labor Day weekend I was catching up with old friends and naturally the state of the California economy came up. One of my friends, a very well informed person, complained of all the highly paid university administrators in the two state systems, knowing that I might be one of them.

"One acting department chair at UCSD is getting $267,000," she said!

I told my friend that after years of diminishing numbers of tenure-track faculty we had done a number of recruitments in the past year resulting in 16 new hires in the College of Arts and Letters at Cal State Los Angeles. I explained that most faculty members had at least eight years of university education and several had 10 or 13 years. Then I asked my well-informed friend how much she thought they earned as new professors.

"$175,000 a year?" she asked.

"No, about $60,000," I replied. "That's all we can afford to pay."

Is Cal State LA particularly cheap among the CSUs? I regularly meet with my fellow arts, humanities and social sciences deans and we discuss what it cost to hire faculty. Cal State LA is about in the middle of the 23 campuses in salaries. Our exact figures? New faculty who have a master of fine arts degree got on average $60,400; those with doctoral degrees get $62,211 per year. But this new school year they will earn 9.23 percent less on CSU's furlough program. I mention these specific dollar amounts so you understand how little we value higher education in our state. Accountants, information scientists, chemical engineers, and many other new bachelor degree recipients earn on average $50,000 to $70,000 per year. Our newly minted professors, who often have spent years as low-paid teaching assistants accumulating student loans, finally grab their dream job only to find that it barely pays the rent.
One of my colleagues had to work at Hallmark Cards, others moonlight in community colleges, and still others take on consultant or other work just to make ends meet.

That doesn't mean that the faculty doesn't work hard. In fact, they typically work between 50-60 hours per week to prepare for class, teach, grade, hold office hours, do administrative work and creative work or research. For that work, we pay less than many prison guards or plumbers earn in California.

This year, I'm very excited about our new hires, some selected from among hundreds of applicants. I also worry how long they'll stay and whether they can afford to remain, especially if they plan to have children. The two main reasons we lose newer faculty are the cost of living versus salary and because some faculty who accept our job really prefer to work at a research university. The second reason is acceptable; people learn through working what they want to do most. But the first reason, to lose promising people who we know can succeed and contribute to California, is a tragedy we witness too often.

Building a quality faculty at a public university is a decades-long project frequently interrupted by California's roller coaster tax base. Without any more tricks or budgetary lock-ins, we Californians need to find a way to finance our future through more dependable spending on higher education.

We must continue to attract and retain the brightest new professors through decent salary, benefits, and workload. We can continue to skimp but ultimately we will pay -through less business creation, a lower tax base, higher unemployment, outflow of skilled jobs, higher social welfare, and yes, even higher prison costs. That's a future we simply can't afford.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Blog XXXVIII (38): The Plight of the Adjunct, an Alternate View

The use of adjuncts has generated a lot of interest among the readers of this blog. Many people are angry at what they see as the exploitive behavior of academic administrators. There is good reason for this anger, very good reason, but it is also time to look at the other side of the issue. The basic idea of using part time instructors is sound. If you are a journalism school and the news anchor of your NBC affiliate station is interested in teaching a class on broadcast journalism, bring him in and have him teach a class. This practice adds some zest to your programs of instruction and makes them more creditable. It also makes your anchor feel good, because he is sharing some of his insights and helping contribute to the development of his profession. Who does not like to do that?

The problem, though, is that administrators (provosts, deans, and department chairs) have been using adjuncts to make up the shortfalls between budgets and programmed requirements. This tendency is understandable. If you only so much money, you need to make sure that you go as far as possible with your limited resources. You can either hire a full time instructor, (pay his health benefits and retirement) and get four or five classes out of him/her, or for the same amount of money hire 10 part timers who will teach two classes each.

The heavy reliance on part-time instructors is not good for anyone. Since Ph.D. programs overproduced, there are plenty of scholars who will take this part-time work in order to keep a foot in the profession for which they were educated and trained. Doing this for a year or two while you are writing your dissertation or after you have finished and are looking for a job is okay, but trying to live on part time pay for five or six years is not; you do not end up in a good place economically or professionally. It is also bad for the full-time faculty. It makes it difficult for departments to hire more people and develop their programs. Deans can and often do say, it is easier to hire an adjunct than give you the money for a new permanent faculty member. You cannot build a graduate program with part-timers. It also hurts the permanent faculty when it comes to their salaries. If you want a pay raise, it is very easy for the administration to say no when there are honestly 50 people who would do the job for half of your wage. It is also shortchanges the students. They and their families are shelling out a lot of money for a quality education and they deserve instruction from people that are going to be devoted to that effort. Taking a journalism class from adjunct professor Walter Cronkite would be a real blast and a highlight of your undergraduate career, but what would it be like if you took ¾ of your course work in your major from part-time instructors who probably are new and, more importantly, cannot devote as much time to their profession because they are trying to do something else to bring in adequate money to take care of their own needs. Adjuncts are unhappy and for good reason.

So why does this system continue? Naomi Schaefer Riley addresses this question in a thoughtful editorial she wrote for The Wall Street Journal. "So You Want to be a Professor" appeared in the April 24, 2009 issue of that paper. Riley is the deputy taste editor of the Journal, and the author of God on the Quad: How Religious Colleges and the Missionary Generation Are Changing America (2005). She argues there are sound reasons why the main constituencies of universities have little concern about the use of adjuncts, which should give us all reason to pause. Here is her column:

Late last month, the Web site Inside Higher Ed reported that several universities were shrinking the number of students admitted to their Ph.D. programs this year. Emory University is cutting its doctoral students by 40% -- admitting 220 this fall, down from 360 a year before. Columbia is reducing its intake by 10%. New York University is planning a reduction, although a "very modest" one, according to school officials. And the University of South Carolina is considering a plan to have some departments admit doctoral students only every other year.
There are several reasons for this doctoral downsizing. For one thing, teaching graduate students costs universities money -- at least on first glance. Ohio University economist Richard Vedder estimates that schools spend anywhere from five to 15 times as much on graduate students as on undergraduates. Grad students are taught in small classes with senior professors. And students in doctoral programs (as opposed to those who leave after taking master's degree) are generally on some kind of fellowship. They pay no tuition and receive a school-year stipend between $10,000 and $20,000.

But graduates students also act as teaching assistants, doing a great deal of time-consuming classroom work (and grading) that professors themselves are thus not compelled to do. In all sorts of courses, especially in their freshman and sophomore years, undergraduates may find themselves being instructed more often by a 25-year-old doctoral candidate than by the university's full-time faculty members, who, of course, already have their doctorates (and one or two books to their credit, too). It is an odd, upside-down arrangement, but it has an economic logic: By providing cheap labor, graduate students save college administrations millions of dollars each year in salary costs.

So why the cuts? Well, the calculations work out differently for different schools. For instance, universities in lower tiers might not have to do as much because they can get away with having a higher percentage of classes taught by graduate students. But some of the schools making doctoral cuts this year gave compassion as their reason. Catherine R. Stimson, the dean of Graduate School of Arts and Science at New York University, was quoted in Inside Higher Ed: Given the state of the academic job market, she asked, referring to would-be doctoral candidates: "Is it fair to bring them in?"

It sounds like a logical question, but is it really? After all, the dire academic job market is nothing new. As Peter Berkowitz recalls from his time as a graduate student and professor at Harvard and Yale in the 1980s and '90s: "The departments knew that something like half the students they admitted to their programs wouldn't get Ph.D.s." And, says Mr. Berkowitz (who is now a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution), "something like half of those wouldn't get tenure-track jobs."

In an article called "Contingent Faculty and the New Academic Labor System" (2004), Gwen Bradley notes that an academic job shortage is rarely the result of some surprising lurch in supply-and-demand curves, since "the same institutions both manufacture and consume the Ph.D. product." In other words, universities know very well that they are producing far more Ph.D.s than they need. Compare this situation with the medical profession. Even if medical residents are made to work long hours under difficult conditions, the vast majority of them will get jobs as doctors. The vast majority of, say, Ph.D.s in English literature will not. Given that the typical doctoral degree takes six or seven years to complete (during prime job-training and family-forming years), there is a moral problem here. It is no great exaggeration to say, as Mr. Berkowitz does: "Many lives are ruined this way."

With more and more people going to college, one might reasonably wonder why there hasn't actually been a shortage of Ph.D.s in recent years. Two decades ago William Bowen, a former president of Princeton University, predicted as much, claiming that there would soon be far more university teaching jobs than academics to fill them. He co-authored a study foreseeing "a real shortfall" in the humanities and social sciences starting in the late 1990s.

The shortage never materialized. Even during boom times, there was not much of an uptick in job listings for university faculty. Any increase in job demand was met by an overwhelming increase in labor supply. Universities began hiring adjunct faculty members. They typically teach courses at more than one school. (In California, they're referred to as "freeway flyers.") They don't get benefits and, all told, probably earn less than minimum wage.

Not surprisingly, these adjunct faculty members are feeling exploited and getting angry. In recent years, their concerns have been taken more seriously by the American Association of University Professors, which now has committees engaged in rigorous hand-wringing over their ordeal. Marc Bousquet, the author of "How the University Works," sees a couple of key ironies in the academic job market: Getting a Ph.D. now often means the end of an academic career rather than the beginning of one; and the American university, which claims to be an egalitarian institution, relies on people who can only afford to take badly paid adjunct teaching positions because they have another source of income, either from a spouse's job or a second job of their own.

One response may be: So what? Is there any compelling reason that universities--as self-interested as any institution--should reconsider their employment policies? Why not staff classes with adjunct labor? Why not give customers the same product at a lower cost?

The last question points to a bigger problem, though: Is it the same product? Who knows? Higher education has gone so far off the rails in recent years that parents and students hardly know what they are supposed to have learned in a freshman composition course or in Sociology 101. And as long as there is a degree waiting at the other end, they hardly care.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Blog XXXVII (37): The Plight of the Adjunct, Part II

The following article appeared in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on September 28, 2009 as a guest editorial on that paper's opinion section. The author is Eric Fox and the essay had the title: "Adjuncts Exploited on College Campuses." This essay raises some of the issues that I discussed on April 6, 2009 in Blog IV and that the Tim Norton editorial discussed in Blog XXXIV on November 30, 2009. Here is Fox's editorial:
For the past four years I was an adjunct instructor of English at a technical college in Georgia. I taught hundreds of classes, thousands of students, developed solid relationships with faculty and administrators, and received outstanding student evaluations and recommendations from colleagues.
And then, at the whim of administrators, my contract was canceled. The college was under no obligation to explain to me their reasons, nor did I have any legal recourse in finding out why I was let go. Being a temporary employee, I was "merely" expendable.
This is the life of the college adjunct, where job security, health benefits, administrative support and fair compensation are the rare exceptions in a field in which 68 percent of all new faculty appointments are now part-time or non-tenure-track positions.
Colleges and universities across America have been successfully exploiting this system for years because it saves them money--money they can spend on parking decks, buildings and football stadiums.
There's nothing wrong with maintaining infrastructure and keeping pace with expanding enrollments, but not when it's disproportionately placed on the backs of part-time faculty.
Then it becomes a social injustice. Temporary faculty rarely have the bargaining power or the collective representation of traditional unions, so their ability to negotiate a fair salary is thwarted. Administrators can safely offer lower salaries, knowing that enough teachers are willing to work for reduced wages.
Some adjuncts accept these conditions because they have a second job, or a working spouse, and the poor compensation is tolerated. Others, however, are not so fortunate.
To make ends meet many adjuncts commute long distances to two, sometimes three colleges a week. I know. I did it for years.
I'm now teaching four classes, a full load for a college professor, but my compensation barely covers my monthly expenses. And because my employment is temporary, I have little opportunity for advancement.
With little incentive to stay, many adjuncts leave, so turnover rates are high, depriving students and schools of the critical continuity needed for a healthy educational culture. Recently, I encountered a situation that powerfully emphasizes the inequity of part-time teaching.
My employer offers students and adjuncts a health clinic, where minor illnesses can be evaluated and treated. The clinic also provides counseling services. When I contacted the clinic to speak to a counselor, I was told that the clinic couldn't help me. They only help students.
If I have a cut, or a cold, or a nose bleed, then I am accorded respect and treated. But if I seek help for a common emotional condition, such as stress or anxiety, then I am shunned, and told to seek help elsewhere. Is not the emotional health of a teacher as important for the classroom environment as the effective treatment of a cold?
Further, my employer prides itself on its progressive institutions and humane attitudes in solving various problems of the human community. Am I not part of that human community?
This double standard is galling. It speaks to the absurdity of a system that wastes the talents of dedicated teachers, drives them from the classroom, and punishes the students who are promised an extraordinary education, but only at the price of an exploited faculty.
Without pressure on administrators to reform the system, contingent faculty will continue to face workplace discrimination on various levels, resulting in a further erosion of professionalism, collegiality and scholarship.
How is this good for America's students?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Blog XXXVI (36): Job Hunting

The following news story originally appeared in The Houston Chronicle on October 15, 2009. The title of the article is "Job-hunting with a Ph.D. isn't what it Used to Be: Tenure Track-track Positions Elusive as Academia Suffers from Cuts" and the reporter that wrote it was Jeannie Kever. This story discusses some of the same issues I raised in April 6, 2009 in Blog IV.
Samuel Condic looks unbeatable, on paper: A new Ph.D. in philosophy, with a dissertation on the hot topic of stem cell research. A decade of experience in the oil and gas industry, a sign that he knows the business world as well as academia.
And yet he is happy to have a temporary appointment to the faculty of the University of St. Thomas.
Next year?
"At this point, I'll take anything I can get," Condic said. "Tenure-track is what you'd like to shoot for, but to be honest, I would be happy to have something that's full time and permanent. I don't have the luxury to be very selective."
The academic job market has been tight for years, especially in the humanities. But finding a job is even harder now, as colleges and universities caught in an economic squeeze delay hiring and in some cases, order unpaid furloughs for faculty.
"There are a lot more people in love with English literature than there are jobs in English literature," said Mary Catherine Sommers, who chairs the philosophy department at the University of St. Thomas.
There are no definitive statistics on how the recession has affected hiring in higher education.
"But it probably is the case that there are even fewer openings now," as schools hire part-time or temporary teachers to stay within tight budgets, said John Curtis, director of research and public policy at the American Association of University Professors.
Warning students
Already, he said, 68 percent of faculty jobs nationwide are part-time or contract, known as adjunct positions, rather than the tenure-track posts that have traditionally been at the heart of academia.
Tenure doesn't guarantee a job for life, but it does require certain procedures to be followed before someone is fired, intended to ensure that faculty members don't lose their jobs for pursuing unpopular ideas.
Adjunct positions are cheaper - they often don't include benefits, and the pay can be half or even less than that of a tenure-track position.
"They don't have benefits," Curtis said. "But they also often don't have an office, a campus e-mail address, a telephone on campus. Because they're hired only on a limited basis, they're often not available to students outside of class time."
Nowadays, Sommers feels compelled to warn students entering a doctoral program.
"I think I have to deliver the brutal news," she said. "You try to tell them, this is not enrichment. This is professional training. You're forgoing income in those years, sometimes coming out with a debt."
So why do it?
Condic, 42, grew up in the academic world, where his father was a university professor.
"That's the best kind of job you can have, to pursue ideas and learning and knowledge," he said. "It is a rare honor to be tasked with that job."
And it's a pleasure
"I think my gift is in teaching," said Ken Martin, who has worked as an adjunct at several community colleges since earning a master's degree in statistics in 2006. "I love teaching. I could do analysis with my statistics degree, but that wouldn't be as fulfilling to me."
Pressure to deliver
Martin, 58, took a circuitous route to college teaching, working as a civil engineer in his native South Africa and then coaching tennis when he arrived in Houston 26 years ago.
Without a Ph.D., he is limited to community colleges, which don't always require one. But increased competition for faculty jobs at four-year schools means people with doctoral degrees are more likely to consider two-year schools, pushing the competition downward.
Still, Martin said, the additional degree would be unlikely to boost his earning potential enough to justify the expense.
He's now a full-time adjunct at San Jacinto College, a position that offers benefits but no job security.
Finding a job is only part of the puzzle for would-be faculty members. Once hired, academics are under increasing pressure to justify their salaries and the security offered by tenure.
Dan Wells, a biology and biochemistry professor at the University of Houston, started his term as president of the Faculty Senate last winter by giving board members an idea of how faculty members spend their days.
The pressure increased in Texas last year when Gov. Rick Perry urged university regents to consider several changes that would make higher education more responsive to the marketplace, equating students with customers.
"It has been a morale issue, especially in public colleges and universities," Curtis said. "There isn't really an understanding of what goes into teaching."
Nonetheless, there's no shortage of people who want the jobs. Consider Anne Heath Welch, an adjunct at Kingwood College.
"There are lots of people who are extremely well-qualified who are working as adjuncts for extremely poor pay," she said, estimating that the average adjunct earns about $20,000 a year.
"Clearly, people wouldn't do that if they had another option, and obviously, you can't live on that," she said.
‘It is what it is'
Heath-Welch, 56, was in the middle of a doctoral program in vocal performance at the University of Texas at Austin when she left to perform in Europe 25 years ago.
She returned to Houston in 2005, drawn by family and looking to support herself by teaching.
Her husband is an adjunct at Kingwood, too. And while money is tight, Heath-Welch said the work is satisfying.
"It is what it is," she said. "Maybe that's just the way American academia is going."
Maybe so, said Harvey Yarborough, a math professor at Brazosport Community College and vice president of the Texas Faculty Association, who said the use of adjuncts is a growing issue at community colleges and four-year schools.
"They have this love for academia," he said, "and they'll sacrifice all kinds of things to pursue their passion."

Administrative Note 7

The blog will be back in action tomorrow as promised. Over the holiday season, a number of news articles about many of the issues involving the job market and career development made their way to my computer. The two major media outlets that focus the most on the professional issues that academics face are The New York Times and The Chronicle of Higher Education. Since these two publications have such a wide reach, I have not bothered to reproduce any of their reporting. There has, however, been some good journalism in other publications. While we wait for the guest contributors to this blog to finish their essays, I will post a number of interesting article and opinion pieces.

This blog will then resume its series of essays on employment outside of traditional history departments. To be honest, these efforts are taking longer than expected. The guest columnists to this blog are writing their posts out of their own generosity and a belief in the mission of this undertaking. The forthcoming guest contributors are going to discuss working as a public historian, as a school teacher, as a journalist, as an editor of historical publications, and as a professor at foreign universities.