Some College Presidents Say Obama’s Math is Fuzzy

Posted: February 1, 2012 in Politics, Socio
Tags: , , , , ,

With his trademarked rolled-up sleeves, President Barack Obama pulled no punches Friday at the University of Michigan, urging states to boost funding for higher education while calling for colleges and universities to contain the cost of the American Dream or else risk the loss of federal funding. Public universities especially are in an uproar, already squeezed by cuts in local funding, which is normally a much larger slice of their revenue than is the case at private institutions.

Illinois State President Al Bowman calls it “fuzzy math” and University of Washington President Mike Young believes Obama’s stance is “political theater of the worst sort.” For them, the real math is clear: the only significant cuts can come from loading curricula with giant lecture courses taught by more part-time adjuncts. In turn, quality education will suffer, according to Bowman.

This may be much ado about little. Currently, $140 billion of federal loans and grants go directly to students, falling outside of the president’s target. The funds in play are the $3 billion of “campus-based aid” that is currently funneled to students through college administrators. Obama proposes an almost 250 percent increase (to $10 billion) of this indirect subsidy, but would reroute the money to reward public colleges and universities that hold down tuition costs and foster higher graduation rates for poor students.

Obama also called for a redux of his “Race to the Top” grade-school scramble, this time with $1 billion in prizes to jolt states to make wiser use of higher education aid. The president also wants better tools for students to compare value among colleges. Collectively, these mandates call for higher education to create a competitive business model based on greater efficiency and transparency. Obama’s plan may look like a populist thrust and parry against his Republican rivals, but the real question is whether his tough love towards academia and pressure for fiscal accountability will be backed by sticks and carrots that are adequate for the job at hand. –Louis Altman

via The Nonprofit Quarterly | @npquarterly | Some College Presidents Say Obama’s Math is Fuzzy.

Adjunct professors make slave wages these days, and no pay for grading, planning, or anything else that takes place in an office rather than a classroom, including student contact time. Maybe they need federal sponsorship in the form of subsidies to their wages? And give them each a student teaching assistant earning work-study funding. When a student is granted $2000 for work-study, give them the money up front and make it the responsibility of the university to give them work to do. What happens now, most often, is that students never get the full grant because they’re not given enough hours to earn it. Where does the money go that isn’t paid to students?

I think, in order for public universities to survive the next two decades, many of them are going to have to become media creators and distributors of educational materials, and completely bypass the corporate textbook marketing machine. Academic departments will need to start publishing their own textbooks at their own, or others’, university presses, and make these available to students at a simple 5% mark-up from cost. When not publishing textbooks, the university presses can publish professional journals, graduate theses, faculty and graduate authored books, all necessary graduation printing jobs, including yearbooks, etc. There is no reason a university press cannot be profitable, since textbook publishers seem to have no trouble staying in business. And hiring students and graduate students to take on the extra work of publishing and get paid for it is profitable productivity while supporting the skills students gain from taking part in the publishing industry.

And while I’m on the subject, there is no reason that universities and local community colleges cannot work with their surrounding high schools, middle schools, and elementary schools to consolidate technology needs, repairs, upgrades, updates, etc. Local libraries have been doing this for over a decade now, and with great success. There is no reason to fund redundancy and obsolete hardware without the technical assistance needed to keep it all up and working in computer labs in the entire K-Grad School system. Work together, get better discounts by buying hardware together, teach each other how everything works too. And everybody gets a blog and a twitter account. Make it all work for you instead of against you.

The following is via Wikipedia:

An adjunct professor is a part-time professor who does not hold a permanent position at that particular academic institution. This may be someone with a job outside the academic institution teaching courses in a specialized field, or it may refer to persons hired to teach courses on a contractual basis (frequently renewable contracts). It is generally with a teaching load below the minimum required to earn benefits (health care, life insurance, etc.) although the number of courses taught can vary.

An adjunct is generally not required (or permitted) to participate in the administrative responsibilities at the institution expected of other full-time professors, nor do they generally have research responsibilities. The pay for these positions is usually minimal, even though adjuncts typically hold a PhD, requiring most adjuncts to hold concurrent positions at several institutions or in industry if seeking to make a living from it. Due to the considerably lower salaries of adjunct professors, many universities in North America have reduced hiring of tenure-track faculty in favor of recruiting more adjuncts (and/or Lecturers) on a contractual basis. “Contingent faculty” (non-tenure-track faculty) now make up more than half of all faculty positions in the United States.[15]

Adjuncts provide flexibility to the faculty, acting as additional teaching resources to be called up as necessary. However, their teaching load is variable: classes can be transferred from adjuncts to full-time professors, classes with low enrollment can be summarily canceled and the teaching schedule from one semester to the next can be unpredictable.

It is commonly thought that if the university makes a good faith offer to an adjunct professor of teaching during the following semester depending on enrollment, the adjunct generally cannot file for unemployment benefits during breaks. This varies from state to state. In California, as a result of the 1989 Cervisi decision, adjunct professors who do not have “reasonable assurance” of returning to work can receive unemployment compensation during breaks in employment. Virtually all appointment offers to adjunct professors are contingent upon meeting minimum enrollment, funding levels, or program continuation. The 1989 Cervisi decision confirmed that such contingent offers do not constitute “reasonable assurance” of reemployment as defined in state unemployment code.

In some cases, an adjunct may hold one of the standard ranks in another department, and be recognized with adjunct rank for making significant contributions to the department in question. Thus, e.g., one could be an “associate professor of physics and adjunct professor of chemistry.”

In some universities, there are different ranks of adjunct faculty. For example, at the University of Iowa, the ranks are adjunct instructor, adjunct assistant professor, adjunct associate professor, and adjunct full professor; the University states that “the expectations at each rank are similar to those for the same rank on the tenure track”[16]

Hiring adjuncts was, a generation ago, done primarily to fill in courses that would add to an academic department’s offerings; an example might be an IBM computer scientist coming into a university to teach a single course on mainframe computing. In this respect, it can also be a way to supplement the predominantly “theoretical” focus of traditional full-time academics with a more pragmatic “real world” perspective.

In the last twenty to thirty years, however, universities have increasingly utilized adjuncts (along with the trend towards hiring more full-time “Lecturers”) to cover courses in fundamental undergraduate skills, such as beginning mathematics and freshman composition. Some English departments are now staffed by a majority of adjunct teachers. Various problems result from this expediency on the part of university administrations, such as a general reduction in research accomplished by the overall faculty, increased departmental administration duties spread among fewer full-time faculty, and a reduction in academic freedom due to adjuncts’ generally precarious job security. It has also raised the competition among PhDs, especially in the humanities, to find tenure-track assistant professorships (see above), calling into question the existence and value of many PhD programs that produce graduates unable to find positions in their fields.

Adjunct pay in state and community colleges, including some private institutions on the East Coast hovers around $3,000–4,000 for a 3-credit hour course. By contrast, tenure-track faculty at major universities often only teach two or at most 3-credit hour courses a semester. To call adjunct faculty “part-time” and tenure track faculty “full time” is therefore often a gross misnomer which masks an underlying academic caste system. It is a caste system in that it is extraordinarily rare for even a senior adjunct to ever be offered a tenure track position or come anywhere near the salary and benefits of the most junior tenure track faculty. It is not unusual for junior tenure track faculty to earn 10 to 15 times as much (on a per course basis) (or 25-50 times as much on a per student basis) as their adjunct colleagues. It is not unusual for an adjunct to teach 4 or 5 courses, and hundreds of students a semester, yet be paid less than (often heavily unionized) university janitors (who also often have medical and other benefits). Many adjuncts effectively work longer hours and teach far more students than so-called “full time” (tenure track) faculty. It is almost impossible to make a middle class living wage as an adjunct. Many adjunct faculty are – by necessity on food stamps or have to live off the charity of others.

Much of the fundamental work of many universities (e.g. teaching students) is done by these minimally paid adjuncts. The low wages, lack of benefits, and complete lack of job security make adjunct teaching a very poorly compensated and difficult career. Typically, faculty do not become adjuncts by choice, rather they take these positions because they lack a Ph.D., don’t have a Ph.D. from a sufficiently prestigious Ph.D. program and influential enough advisor, don’t have sufficiently prominent research publications, or are in a field with very few tenure track positions.

Some tenure track faculty rationalize the pay differential by arguing that adjunct professors do not give the preparation and one-on-one time with students necessary to ensure good teaching. In practice, many adjunct faculty are highly experienced as teachers and are very effective at it – particularly since they can be dismissed or have their course allocation cut in any semester that their department considers their teaching performance subpar. They teach far more courses and far more students on average than most tenure track faculty.

Rather, the low pay of adjuncts emphasizes the low importance associated with teaching in many major universities. The way to tenure, and job security is – at many leading universities – uniquely through published research. Teaching – as is clearly demonstrated by adjunct pay – is typically worth less than the payment for janitorial services or low level university administrators. Junior tenure track faculty understand very clearly, that if they want any future which doesn’t leave them insecure and destitute, they must focus on publications and minimize the energy spent on their teaching activities. Most undergraduates, do not realize that they may be taught by an adjunct who receives less than $50 to teach them. This is ironic at a time when university tuitions are continuing to increase much faster than inflation and is becoming increasingly unaffordable to many students. (Ironically, if adjuncts could cut out the University “middleman” they could probably provide a quality undergraduate education at an extraordinarily affordable price). Universities clearly do not spend their money on teaching – rather its mostly for “prestige” items like (often rarely read) research, new dorms and gym facilities, and other new buildings.

  1. @Aine says:

    The University Press can also publish the student newspaper. And if the school has a public radio broadcasting license, there’s no reason a university can’t run a newsroom of its own and provide copy to both the paper and the radio station. Got guest speakers on campus? Where’s the simulcast online? Or YouTube upload for those that missed it? Every university has this capability right now. Every History Department, at the least, should be documenting events that take place at their universities and schools, and make these events available to the public on the most used, popular video upload sites online. Students are protesting at your school? Where’s your video team and why aren’t they covering it?

    Sports are not the only things that happen on campus. Other activities can be just as profitable, and just as interesting to the public. Universities have every opportunity to become their own media outlets and publishers, to educate the public, to do some common good, and to model the role of public servants.

  2. […] Some College Presidents Say Obama’s Math is Fuzzy ( […]

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