Thursday, July 28, 2011

Blog: LXXXVIII (88): Adjuncts and the Community College

Grand Rapid, Michigan is best known as the hometown of former President Gerald R. Ford. It is also home of Grand Rapids Community College. This institution just like the University of Massachusetts is facing growing issues. The following article by Dave Murray, a reporter with The Grand Rapids Press, entitled: "GRCC Faculty, President Split over Adjunct Hiring; President says it's the Best Way to Accommodate Growth" also explores the job market from the perspective of the institution; a less prestigious institions than UMass, but the type of school that hires more Ph.D.s than the research universities. This article appeared in the October 24, 2010 issue of the Press on its front page:

GRAND RAPIDSFull-time faculty at Grand Rapids Community College are speaking out against the school's rapid growth and the president's management and hiring strategy, specifically that part-time faculty now teach more classes than they do.

Faculty union leaders say they have become disenchanted with President Steven Ender in his second year at the helm, contending he doesn't work closely enough with professors and others before making big decisions.
"We have become GRACGrand Rapids Adjunct College," union President Frederick van Hartesveldt III told trustees at a meeting last week, speaking at the urging of the Faculty Council.

"We need to grow, but it's like we're on steroids," he said. "Both the rapid growth and the steroids are unhealthy. We don't have the support, the framework, the systems, the personnel in place for the rapid growth which we've undertaken."

Ender makes no apologies, saying the record enrollment prompted a rash of hiring. And he thinks he was hired in part to bring a fresh, outsider's perspective to the college.

"I believe that's my job, to make decisions," he said. "The buck stops with me, and I'm accountable to the Board of Trustees."

Van Hartesveldt said the college needs to slow down enrollment, now at a record 17,920 students, and a 5.5 percent increase over last fall. The administration has been hiring teachers to meet the demand, but largely part-timers.

Van Hartesveldt said the college has about 260 full-time professors, but 940 adjunct instructors. The full-timers are covering 4,470 contact hourstime spent before studentswhile part-timers cover 4,620, about 51 percent.

He said Ender last year said his goal was to have full-timers cover 60 percent of the hours.

"Human capital should be our first priority, our foundation," Van Hartesveldt said. "We're an institution designed and built on permanent full-time employees. The irony is that we are in the business of creating jobs for other people, and we need to be creating jobs here."

The number of adjuncts poses a strain on department heads, who van Hartesveldt said spend more time dealing with training and other issues tied to part-timers. He said full-timers also are expected to serve on committees and perform community service.

There also is no effective way to tell if the often inexperienced instructors are doing a good job, he said, because they are checked by student evaluations and an occasional observation.

Ender gets credit, Van Hartesveldt said, for doing a "tremendous job" raising money for the college, building a capital campaign to renovate buildings and purchasing the former Davenport University campus on Fulton Street.

But he said employees are disenchanted by his decision-making."

To be a productive institution, labor and leadership need to truly collaborate," he said. "We have become less so."

Salary comparison coming
The union is working with a contract extended a year while a consultant wraps up a comparison of GRCC salaries with those at other community colleges in the state and region.

The most recent union contract, approved in 2008, gave professors pay hikes of 2 percent annually, but also froze overtime pay for full-time professors.

A 2007 salary survey by The Press showed that nearly half of GRCC's full-time professors made more than $100,000 by combining base salaries with an extensive overtime plan.

Van Hartesveldt said the union will propose contract terms to cover both hiring and growth.

"Our desire is to raise quality and morale, maintain fiscal responsibility, and garner those esteemed marks of distinction -- not marks of mediocrity," he said.

Ender said the enrollment growth is based on "unprecedented demand" fueled by a bad economy.

He also said that the cost of attending a four-year school has risen to the point that many families can't send their children there the first two years.

"We're growing because we're responding to our community's needs," he said. "People are coming to us to be retrained so they can get a job or upgrade their skills so they can keep the job they have. These are real people with real problems, and it's our job to serve them."

Goal is 60 percent full time
Ender said his goal is to have full-time professors on a tenure track account for about 60 percent of faculty. But he said it's difficult to hire that many full-timers until he knows if enrollment will continue to grow.

He's also waiting to settle a the next faculty contract, which hinges on the compensation comparison.

"I can't continue to hire people while I'm still working with a contract that just do not believe is sustainable," he said.

Ender said the college hired adjuncts to make sure it could offer classes to the 3,000 new students, and said there were skilled people available to teach because of the region's high unemployment.

"And by doing that, we've created hundreds of jobs," he said. "That's a short-term solution, but we've got some great people in the adjunct ranks, and that helps the students. I look at it as a win-win-win situation."
By speaking out about adjunct hiring, van Hartesveldt raised the ire of some part-timers, and later sent a letter of "clarification."
"Please don't construe my comments to the board of trustees as an attack on adjunct faculty," he wrote. He said the staffing model is the issue, not performance.

"To run our entire college that way is institutional mediocrity," he wrote. "It doesn't mean that adjuncts who teach their classes at or above expectations with little support are mediocre. It means it's a poor model to achieve institutional excellence."

Two-year schools across the country are leaning more on adjuncts to meet demand, said Michael Hansen, Michigan Community College Association president.

"Clearly part of it is a cost issue, as we're all trying to do more with less," he said. "Grand Rapids certainly isn't unusual to have adjuncts handling more than 50 percent.

"But there's an advantage in flexibility and expertise. Many of these people are experts in their fields who want to teach a little."

Monday, July 18, 2011

Blog LXXXVII (87): Take a Number

This blog has spent a lot of time offering professional advice to individuals—which is its main purpose—but to perform that mission we also need to take a look at the perspective of the institutions.  A lot of essays in this blog have been complaining about the fate of adjuncts and underemployed Ph.D.s but what is happening to colleges and universities?  Particularly in this economic environment?  The following article from the December 19, 2010 issue of The Boston Globe entitled “A Course Correction: UMass Tackles Challenge of Crowded Classes, Smaller Faculty” shows us that they are not having an easy time of it either and puts the adjunct phenomenon into a larger context.  The situation that the University of Massachusetts, Amherst is facing is not so different from those at Ohio State, the University of Texas, and so one.  One of the implications of this article is that the job market is not going to get better anytime soon.  Here is the article: 

AMHERST—Charlie Ciano slipped into a quiet nook in the hallway between classes and nervously flipped open her laptop. With each passing minute, her chances of enrolling in the courses she wanted next semester dwindled.

Fingers crossed, the UMass junior logged onto the university’s online registration system. Just 20 minutes into her assigned enrollment period, the screen was already crowded with blue squares, indicating that half of her choices were full.

“I know that in the end, I’m going to have to take something I’m not interested in just to graduate on time,” Ciano said.

Overbooked classes are among the academic hurdles many undergraduates face at the University of Massachusetts Amherst—a campus struggling to break into the top ranks of public universities after losing nearly a fifth of its tenured and tenure-track professors in the past two decades.

Classes at the flagship campus can be so large that some students sit on the floor in lecture halls, leaning against their backpacks, the walls, or the legs of fellow classmates. Nine percent of all classes have more than 100 students—compared with a national average of 2 percent, according to a College Board analysis of public universities. Faculty lament that they have little choice but to evaluate students in oversize classes by multiple-choice exams and use computers to grade homework.

Some professors have made attendance at lectures optional, offering as an alternative prerecorded lessons over the Internet, which allows the university to serve many more students than would fit into an auditorium. Some students have even received letters from their departmental advisers suggesting that they take classes at other colleges to improve their odds of graduating in four years.

“We’re offering less than we could,” said Sigrid Schmalzer, a history professor. “This is a cheaper way of selling degrees, but I really worry about what’s happening to the quality of our education.”

Relying on adjuncts
The diminished size of the permanent faculty—described in a UMass report as considerably smaller than at top public research universities—presents a serious challenge to Chancellor Robert Holub’s goal of improving UMass’s national reputation.

The number of faculty in the tenure system, the lifeblood of research universities, has dropped from a high of 1,201 in 1987 to 978 today, even as the number of undergraduates has risen slightly, to just over 20,000.

Holub, who wants to have 1,200 tenure-system faculty members and 22,500 students by 2020, said a robust faculty is essential as the university seeks to improve undergraduate education, increase the number of doctorates it awards and the amount of research produced on campus, and boost its overall prestige.

But he also argues that when adjunct lecturers who work on temporary contracts are included, the overall student-faculty ratio at UMass is 18-1, which he says is similar to peer universities. And despite the decline of tenure-system professors, the total number of full-time faculty is about the same size as it was 20 years.

“Nationally, when looking at student outcomes, the key factor is not whether you have tenured or tenure-track faculty, but whether you have full-time faculty,” Holub said.

He said the university is working to improve the ability of students to enroll in the classes of their choice, as well as to add more small classes.

“It is a priority of ours to have students get into the classes that they need to make progress toward their degrees,” Holub said. “We’re dedicating resources to it. You don’t hit it on the nose every semester.”

The number of classes enrolling fewer than 20 students increased by 31 percent over the last year. This year, the university reduced the number of students in each freshman writing section from 24 to 15.

Holub has also instituted freshman seminars of no more than 18 students to expose first-year students to some of the university’s top professors.

And the university recently announced a $182 million investment in its honors college for a small percentage of elite students, who have greater access to smaller classes and meaningful contact with permanent faculty.

“We are really attacking these problems,” said Provost James Staros. “It’s not that they don’t exist, but we’re not sitting back and doing nothing.”

But many professors and students are less sanguine.

For professors, heavier workloads leave them less time for research and hurt their ability to advise students and write letters of recommendation. And while students overwhelmingly reported being satisfied with their college experience in a UMass survey of the last three graduating classes, nearly a third of respondents said they were disappointed by the quality of academic advising, as well as career preparation and guidance.

“UMass right now has the reputation as a decent school, but not the greatest,” said David Robertson, a junior majoring in political science and economics. Robertson said he sees the oversubscribed classes and faculty shortage as significant problems for the university.

“They’re putting effort into becoming one of the front-runner universities, like Michigan and California,” he said. “But if you want better educated students who will go on to do great things and donate to the university down the road, this is detrimental to their own cause."

‘The wrong direction’
Many other public universities facing budget pressures have also replaced tenure-system faculty with adjunct professors and have introduced online options to meet student demand—coping strategies that are expected to increase, according to national higher education experts.

“It’s happening all across the country,” said Molly Broad, president of the American Council on Education in Washington, D.C.

But the cutbacks—and their resulting challenges—are detrimental to UMass’s aspirations to rise into the upper echelon of the nation’s public universities.

“UMass has the very hard job of trying to increase their momentum in quality and recognition at a very tough time,” Broad said.

State funding makes up 25 percent of UMass Amherst’s revenues today, down from 40 percent in 2000. And Holub expects that the state’s budget difficulties will lead to more than $18 million in cuts next year.

To help make up for declining state funds, UMass Amherst has raised tuition and fees to $11,732 a year, one of the highest price tags among the nation’s public universities. It currently ranks 49th out of 598 public four-year universities in cost, according to a Chronicle of Higher Education survey. And the university is considering instituting an additional “flagship fee” that could add hundreds of dollars to the bill for Amherst students.

Only half of UMass Amherst students graduate in four years, and 66 percent do so in six years. The university lags behind its peers, where an average of 73 percent of students make it through in six years, according to a UMass report comparing the university with a group of 10 schools including the University of Connecticut and Rutgers.

Large lectures are common on nearly every college campus. But the experience is the norm for many UMass students, particularly freshmen and sophomores. Some sit through several classes a day in the 469-seat Mahar Auditorium, the largest lecture hall on campus, which is fully booked from 8 in the morning until 5 in the evening.

In the last decade, the number of classes with more than 100 students has risen by more than 20 percent. Basic interaction with faculty that students at other universities take for granted has become nearly impossible for some UMass students.

Mikayla Astor, a sophomore majoring in resource economics and business management, said her accounting professor was so overwhelmed dealing with hundreds of students that she did not have time to answer her questions before a recent exam.

“I tried to see her during office hours but she said she was already booked,” Astor said. “Here I am, trying to learn, and it’s kind of hard. I ended up getting help from a friend.”

Erika Tabur, a junior from Northbridge, said she teaches herself from the textbook instead of relying on professors.

“It’s really frustrating,” Tabur said. “That’s how I got through calculus, and that’s how I’ve made it through chemistry.”

History professor Audrey Altstadt recently received an e-mail from a student asking her to write a recommendation for graduate school. Altstadt has only spoken to the student three times.

“Students will say, ‘I know you don’t know me very well, but the people I know are gone or too busy,’” she said.

The history department last year stopped requiring students to consult with their advisers before registering for classes. Instead, it recently started training students to mentor one another.

In the kinesiology department, hundreds of majors received an e-mail last spring with an unusual recommendation: Consider picking up courses at other universities.

“We’ve just had a large number of students not being able to get into classes,” said Frank Rife, who advises the 700 students majoring in kinesiology, the science of human movement. “So I suggested that if they were trying to stay on some sort of four-year pace, they should take some of their classes over the summer online, or at Salem State, Framingham State, UMass Boston, wherever it works for them.”

Biology professor Randall Phillis recalls that when he arrived at UMass in 1989, the biology department was home to 43 tenure-system faculty and about 250 students majoring in the subject. Today, 26 permanent faculty serve the needs of close to 1,000 biology majors. As a result, he said, some advanced or specialty courses, such as cancer genetics and invertebrate biology, are simply not taught.

On a recent afternoon, about 400 students squeezed into Mahar for Phillis’s introductory biology class. An overhead screen flanked by two smaller flat-screen televisions displayed a diagram of fatty acid chains.

Every few minutes, students were asked to answer multiple-choice questions displayed on the screens by pressing a button on a handheld device that resembled a remote control. It is the only way for Phillis to gauge how much of the material students understand when many are too intimidated to speak up in such a large class.

“The size of the class challenges my ability to ramp up the difficulty and slows my ability to move forward,” said Phillis, who also teaches a more intimate version of the class to 48 honor students, every one of whom he knows by name.

“Great education can be available here, but certainly not with a student-faculty ratio that keeps slipping in the wrong direction,” said Phillis, president of the faculty union.

Quantity and quality
Five years ago, UMass instituted a plan to hire 250 additional tenure-track professors by 2010. So far, it has only managed to increase the total by 61.

Many of the tenured faculty who have retired or resigned have been replaced by adjunct instructors, who now make up nearly a fifth of full-time faculty, compared with 7 percent two decades ago.

UMass students today, particularly underclassmen, are less likely to be taught by a permanent faculty member. Last academic year, tenure-system faculty taught just 45 percent of undergraduate courses; adjuncts taught 35 percent, and graduate teaching assistants taught the remaining 20 percent, according to university data.

UMass this year also increased the number of credits per class for some courses that satisfy graduation requirements, reducing the number of courses students need to graduate. The higher-credit classes are supposed to be more rigorous, but some faculty say the additional work often takes the form of online discussions or computer-graded homework.

“It is clearly driven, even if they don’t say so, as an effort to reduce the number of faculty you need to teach the same number of students,” said Robert Zussman, a sociology professor. “The expectation has cheapened.”

Professors say they are trying their best to cope. Many routinely allow more students into a class than the maximum occupancy posted in a room, banking on the fact that not everyone will show up.

Classics professor Debbie Felton has allowed upwards of 490 students into a 469-person Greek mythology class, and still had to turn away dozens who came the first weeks of class, hoping for a break.

“I get a number of e-mails from students saying, ‘Please, I’m a senior. Let me into your class,’ “ Felton said. “But I just can’t. It’s already overenrolled.”

The opening of a new science complex has allowed some teachers, like chemistry professor Paul Lahti, to use technology to teach as many students as needed, though not in the same room.

“Our goal in chemistry remains a seat for every student,” Lahti said, even if that means watching a piped-in lecture occurring in an adjoining room, a method Lahti employed last year for an organic chemistry class.

“We’ve struggled philosophically,” Lahti said. “Is it critical that every student have a seat in every lecture section?”

An online option
At 9:45 p.m. on a recent Wednesday, senior Ellen Trapp settled into her dorm room bed to watch one of her favorite professors on her computer. The class—Communications 288: Gender, Sex and Representation—was recorded last year.

The professor, Sut Jhally, leaned on a lectern and spoke about the representation of gays on television. An 1 hour, 15 minute lecture will often take Trapp more than two hours to watch because she frequently pauses to take notes and rewinds to make sure she understands the points Jhally is making.

“I feel like I’m in a lecture hall because this is exactly what I would see—the board and the teacher at the front,” Trapp said. “But all from the comfort of my own bed.”

Jhally began taping his lectures six years ago so more students would have access to his courses. The lecture hall he teaches in is limited to 230 students. Online, with lessons re-recorded every three to four years, he said he can reach 1,300.

Students perform just as well in online courses as they do in traditional classes, university officials said, and more than 1,000 undergraduates are enrolled in online courses this fall. In addition, many are taking new hybrid courses in computer science, biology, calculus, and physics, which combine traditional lectures with online instruction.

“I tell kids on the first day to come to class only if they want to,” said Robert Moll, a computer science professor. Fewer than half show up to his introduction to Java programming class.

Students who attend his lectures say they come to get their questions answered. Moll is so busy he has to delegate the answering of many e-mailed questions.

“If I can answer it in 15 seconds, what the hell, I’ll get back to you,” he said. “But if they say, ‘I’m lost. I don’t understand a concept,’ I say, ‘Go see a TA.’”

Moll has written an interactive online textbook for students to teach themselves computer science concepts. Practice programming problems are embedded throughout the text. Students submit their solutions, which are automatically graded on a remote server that also tracks each individual’s performance.

“The more cynical view from faculty, not without some merit, is that this is a way for the university to live with diminished faculty numbers,” he said. “There is some truth to it. But as an educator, I sort of believe in this do-it-yourself approach.”

Friday, July 8, 2011

Blog LXXXVI (86): Summer Seminars

WEST POINT, NEW YORK—Many different institutions around the country sponsor Summer programs for scholars and writers. One of the best of these programs is the West Point Summer Seminar in Military History. It is a hidden gem and I cannot recommend it enough.

The Seminar was at one time a program that the U.S. Army official sponsored to help faculty at other institutions to develop enough expertise to teach the military history that was required for ROTC programs. That requirement was phased out and the department of history at West Point decided to run the program with private money as a way of bolstering professional interest in military history. I participated in the first Seminar with this new focus back in 1999 and returned to West Point to give a talk to on June 30, 2011.

The Summer Seminar is wonderful in that it is a number of things all at the same time: it is a graduate seminar in military history, it is a research seminar, it is a teaching workshop, it is a distinguished speakers series, and it is an opportunity to develop a professional network of like-minded peers. For me it was like taking a new Ph.D. field in military history two years after I graduated.

I found the teaching workshop element to be the most unexpected reward. I have to admit in my arrogance, I expected that the civilian academics would do far better in this regard than the military officers. The history department at West Point has a mix of civilian and military faculty. The military officers were fantastic at sharing their approaches towards teaching. They were far better teachers than the civilians. They had many ideas that I incorporated immediately afterwards and others that I still plan to use. (Like having students take the same exam twice; once on their own and once with a partner. The higher grade is the one they keep. Taking the exam a second time forces a student to figure out what they got wrong the first time and they usually learn a bit in the process.) I could go on, but there point is there is a lot of teaching ideas the Seminar offers.

One of the major features of the seminar was a series of “staff rides” that the group takes. (A staff ride is an educational tool that the Royal Prussian Army developed in the 1830s-1850s. It is basically a tour of the battlefield itself, supplemented with a series of historical readings before hand and a discussion of ethics and decision making at the location itself). The east coast of the United States is littered with battlefields from the French and Indian War, the American Revolution, the War of 1812, and the U.S. Civil War. (The seminar mixes up which battlefields it visits from year to year.) When I was a Fellow the seminar visited spent eight days on the road visiting mostly Civil War sites; this year the group had fewer but were more mixed.

A difference between my Seminar and this year’s version is that the 2011 group had several panels of experts discuss and/or debate the historiographical nature of the field. I sat in on one on the Vietnam War before giving my talk about the Soviet war in Afghanistan. The panel was quite informative, entertaining and drew a small group of visitors—faculty from other West Point departments and historians at a few other universities in the nearby area. (I am afraid my talk based on a chapter from my book on the boycott of the 1980 Olympics kept in line with the tradition of military officers doing better than the civilians; my contribution was part of a speakers series rather than a distinguished speakers series.) The Seminar also spent a day at the Roosevelt Presidential Library touring the museum part of the complex and learning about the archives.

The cadre for the program are very good about looking at major military developments across the globe. In this sense, the military history they teach is world history. A shortcoming of the West Point program when I attended and that still remains ten years later is that it focuses on ground power. The program pretty much ignores naval and air power. Of course, that omission reflects the major focus of military history. Few historians in the United States or in any other country focus on the other mediums in which militaries project force. The majority write about armies rather than navies or air forces.

Another unexpected benefit of the Seminar was that I developed a network of friends and peers that I have relied on time and time again. More than 10 years later the group as a whole is still in touch with one another. Having a group of friends and peers in your area of expertise is an amazing asset. To give you just one example, since 1999 I have attended a number of conferences and at least one other person from my seminar has been there; a number of us have put together conference panels. I should add that I dedicated my third book to the Fellows in my year group.)

I would strongly recommend people consider attending a summer program be it the West Point Summer Seminar or another one while they can. These modules are often three to six weeks in length and it is difficult to take that much time if you are married or have children of a certain age. A number of different institutions sponsor them. The best known are the Summer Seminars and Summer Institutes that the National Endowment for the Humanities sponsor. (Every year the number, topics, and locations change. Go to the NEH website to see if they are sponsoring a program you would like to participate in). These types of endeavors often provide house and/or stipends for their participants.

I would also recommend that you attend a program that allows you to build on your expertise but also stretch a little. For example, if you are a historian of Victorian England attending a seminar that focuses on the United Kingdom in the nineteenth century is not going to give much, nor is attending a program on modern Latin America, but perhaps one that focuses on British Imperial history in the 19th and 20th Centuries would be right. I attended three other summer institutes: one that examined security studies and was geared more towards political science, a weekend long program that focused on teaching security studies, and a six week long NEH seminar on sport history. These all helped this diplomatic historian develop expertise in strategy—which I know teach—and military and sport history, which was very important in helping him write a book about the 1980 Olympic boycott.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Administrative Note 15

There was no posting last week because of professional and personal travel.  There will be another one this week, which will actually be a report on that travel.  But more on that in a bit.

While there was no posting to the blog last week, a number of small changes have been taking place.  I have been going through various postings, correcting silently a few typographical errors.  I have also been adding Arabic numerals to the Roman numbers in each essay title, since most people are not familiar with the expression of higher numbers in that system.