Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Customer Service Needed for Adjuncts Too

academic customer service, universities, colleges, student services, retention, graduation

A letter to the editor with a follow-up letter point up an extremely ethics-free, perhaps scandalous, example of excessively poor customer service to a large segment of the internal academic community. They also point to a reality that has yet to embraced. Higher education has changed, perhaps permanently, and we need to deal with it – properly.

Here are the letters in order of publication:

Overuse of part-time instructors hurts Columbus State students

Publication: The Columbus Dispatch (Ohio)
Date: Saturday, March 13 2010

…The editorial points out that Ohio Board of Regents Chancellor Eric D. Fingerhut firmly believes that students and taxpayers must get their money's worth when investing in higher education. How do we measure their money's worth? Certainly the components of students' success in college -- retaining students from one term to the next, obtaining degrees, attaining jobs upon graduation, and/or successfully transferring to other colleges -- are all good indicators.

Students' success in college is the primary goal for faculty at Columbus State, but it is made far more challenging when approximately 70 percent of our classes are being taught by part-time instructors, who receive no health benefits, do not accrue sick leave, have no job security from one term to the next and may be teaching at several other colleges in central Ohio to earn a living. For some of them, the office where they keep student records, textbooks, lesson plans and other classroom materials is the trunk of a car.

Meanwhile, the college's provost essentially was banned from campus and told to "work from home," while getting paid more than $64,000 to produce a grand total of four reports totaling just over 23 pages. For that money, the college could have paid the salaries of 43 part-time faculty members each to teach a three-credit-hour course for an entire quarter.

The unbalanced, ineffective ratio of full-time to part-time faculty is not taken seriously by the college's administration nor the board of trustees. Curriculum, program planning and leadership at a college are accomplished primarily by the work of the full-time faculty. And with the upcoming transition from quarters to semesters in 2012, the opening of our Delaware campus this autumn and faculty-driven student-success initiatives mandated by the state, full-time faculty members increasingly will be pulled from their focus on the classroom while low-wage, part-time faculty members teach more and more of our students, as enrollments increase…



Columbus State Education Association

Then the follow-up letter:

Adjuncts work hard and are underpaid

Publication: The Columbus Dispatch (Ohio)

Sunday, March 21, 2010 4:55 AM

The March 13 letter "Overuse of part-time instructors hurts Columbus State students," from Darrell Minor, president of the Columbus State Education Association, made some valid points on adjuncts and the need for more full-time faculty at Columbus State Community College. But he missed his own points. Having adjuncts teach around 70 percent of classes is not bad learning or even a bad educational practice, as such. A good adjunct can teach as well as a good full-time faculty member.

The scandal is that adjuncts are the indentured serfs of higher education. They must have the same academic credentials as full-time faculty yet are paid worse than Wal-Mart workers, have less job security and have no benefits at all. They deserve recognition and they need to be paid a living wage and get some job security and benefits.

The argument for more full-time faculty is simple: Without them, there is no one to keep curricula up to date, create new courses, develop new programs, evaluate courses, maintain institutional history and hold administrators' feet to the fire on issues such as the multiple provost quittings and firings and subsequent payments.

Neal Raisman

Three Adjunct Realities Higher Education Needs to Face

Here is the inexorable reality. Adjuncts are now teaching more sections than full-time, tenured and tenure-track faculty. Adjuncts and other non-tenured or tenure track faculty such as graduate assistants now make up 73% of all faculty nationally. This is an almost total reversal of what was the situation in the 1960’s when 75% of all college faculty were full-time. Adjuncts teach most undergraduate sections in the nation’s four and two year colleges and universities. This situation is unlikely to change given three factors:

1. Colleges and universities do not have the funds to hire more full-time faculty.

2. When funds are available, they will not be spent on teaching faculty.

3. Full-time faculty do not want to teach the courses anyhow.

Public colleges, universities, and community colleges are having a horrible time trying to make their budgets work. Public sector schools have lost millions of dollars in support from their states. This is not going to change soon. State revenues depend on real estate and income taxes. Both of these sources have plummeted along with housing assessments and employment. Private colleges complain of endowment losses taking their toll on their revenues though this could change going forward as the Dow hovers around 11,000. Both have to deal with increased costs of operations whether those go to teaching students or not; and many do not.

It is perceived budgeting ad fund raising “wisdom” that a new tenure track position costs a school $1,000,000 over the employment of the faculty member. Considering that the future is unclear, it is likely that few schools will want to invest that much in a teaching faculty member; in a researcher, maybe.

Most schools can hire enough adjuncts to cover almost 27 classes for the cost of an average faculty member which the AAUP stated is $80,368 in 2009-2010. Oh wait. Forgot the benefits which usually run at about 30% of salary so that’s another $24110 or another eight sections. So, for the cost of a full-timer faculty member, a school can get 35 sections covered by adjuncts who are too willing to take them just to be able to eat and pay rent.

Furthermore, not having a faculty member committed to a specific department and most usually a sub-specialization in that department (English, American Lit, 19th century, fiction, Melville, Moby Dick, lack of boat shoe images…) allows the institution greater latitude in putting funding where the demand is – like composition which no sensible faculty member seeking tenure or promotion would want to spend time teaching.

Hiring adjuncts provides administrators and managers with much greater flexibility too. Adjuncts really have few if any rights so they can be maltreated so much more easily than full-time faculty. Full-timers have these pesky unions and representation they can fall back on to fight for them. Faculty can be persuaded to take up the cause of even a faculty member they do not like, respect or feel should be teaching/researching/taking up space if there is a precedent that might affect them at some point. But adjuncts can be hired by the semester or term so if there is any reason not to rehire an adjunct, it is simple to not do so. Once a full-time faculty is in place, moving him or her is a cause for real problems even if the faculty are excoriated by students as appears to have been the case at the University of Missouri which had to pass a Board policy to be able to take questionable faculty from the classroom.

Adjuncts will also be willing to take the sections of courses that others do not want like a required math, English, history, social science even science course or for that matter most any course before 10 in the morning, after 2 in the afternoon and surely not in the evening college. And if an adjunct should balk at an early morning or late night section, drop hi or her from the list and get another.

Many of the reasons why administrators like adjuncts are shared by full-time faculty. Full-timers prefer Tuesday-Thursday or at worst Mon, Wed, Friday schedules but not with sections too early or late in the day. Adjuncts will take the large or work intensive required courses that full-timers prefer to avoid. Cheap adjunct labor can allow for more release time for full-timers so they can pursue their research/publication/tenure/promotion agendas.

One More Reality about Full-timers and Adjuncts

Let me be very clear here too about the reality that there are very fine, dedicated full-timers who do like teaching, teaching required courses and are not at all afraid or aversive to work. They are the wonderful people that have made American higher education what it used to be. I was fortunate enough to have had some of them as teachers at the University of Massachusetts in Boston and in grad school at UMass-Amherst. They deserve all they get/got and much, much more.

But then so do adjuncts. We need to accept the reality that they are here and they are dear to students everywhere. They can teach as well and sometimes better than full-timers as study after study has established. They are the backbone of the core mission of higher education – teaching and learning. They are the ones that support the reason why students come to college, people pay for it and our taxes support it.

Yet, we do not support them well. They are the pariahs of higher education. We are totally dependent on adjuncts yet treat them as if we do not care about them much at all or wish they would go away while not wanting that to happen. They are grossly underpaid and under-appreciated.

Granted some adjuncts teach because they wish to do so; to give back, earn some flat screen TV money or just enjoy teaching. They are independent of the earnings they get from adjunct teaching. But the majority of adjuncts are dependent on the college or university for their livelihood and sense of professional self. These are the people higher education created and pushed to go to grad school, become a credentialed professional. These are the same people we encouraged to take our grad classes, get an MA or even a PhD so they could become a…an adjunct? Didn’t we know the situation in the job market? Maybe but we do need the dependent adjunct class.

The reality is also that we created the dependent adjunct class, an academic serf class that depends on the gleanings from the fields of academe. We thus need to accept this reality too and start to realize the world we once knew or imagined or pine for is gone. The world we created, the one of the adjunct is here and we need to find ways to not just make peace with it but cut out a fair piece of it with the adjuncts who make today’s and tomorrow’s academia work at all.



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