Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Contingent Faculty Train Picks Up Speed.

So my department, after a pretty good period where we've tried to be humane in our use of contingent faculty, has decided to offer 3 positions of "full time instructor" for 5 classes per term for a grand total of $33,500.

The part-timers are lining up for them, too.

It's a matter of a slight increase in our student body and a recent t-t retirement.

Many of us fought this notion, hoping to keep the tenure line open. But when that was lost we fought to make these one year jobs something people could actually live on.

We don't live in a very expensive part of the state, but I got my calculator out and realized only a monk could live on $33,500, especially when said monk has to meet our our new "business casual" "requirement/suggestion" from the Dean.

I don't know. Obviously I'm lucky to have a good job, but I also feel like I should be an advocate for how our department does stuff.

These instructors are going to be stuck in one shitty office in a shitty building barely on campus. AND, part of their re-hire guidelines (1 year to start, 3 years available after a good year) involves some campus service. It seems like too much.


  1. 5/5 for 33.5K is about 1/2-1/3 over piecework adjunct wages, and presumably comes with FT benefits, so it's at least a real job. But it's in that gray area between barely reasonable and borderline abusive, and we really don't want to live there....

    But service on top? Tenured faculty must be really shirking the committees...

  2. Abusive. No question. And they will have droves of applicants.

  3. Especially if there are benefits involved, such jobs *do* beat adjunct work in a lot of ways (e.g. security/predictability, which means less time spent repeatedly job-searching/juggling/scheduling, one of the huge uncounted human/productivity costs of the overuse of adjuncts; more reasonable/predictable commute, etc.) . But they're obviously a worse deal than a TT job, for pretty much everybody but the bean-counters. To verify that, all you have to do is look at the load and the salary, and the fact that they've apparently financed three jobs mostly, if not exclusively, from the saving created by one(!) TT retirement (and I doubt even your most senior colleagues are earning enormous salaries).

    Also, 5/5 is just not reasonable, for pretty much any kind of course, and it's completely unreasonable if (as is likely to be the case) the faculty members are going to be teaching mostly labor-intensive gen-ed/intro. courses. While an experienced adjunct (which is undoubtedly the pool from which your hires will, and should, be drawn) will figure out how to design and keep up with a good-quality course under those conditions, (s)he'd undoubtedly be able to deliver a higher-quality course under 4/4 or 3/3 conditions. I don't know what your load is, Hiram (I realize it, too, may be quite high, and undoubtedly includes research as well as service), but it seems there has to be some sort of proportionality.

    The office situation is also ridiculous. If anything, people who are teaching more are more in need of private, convenient (for them and for the students) offices than those who have lighter teaching loads. In addition, if these faculty members are going to be fully integrated into the department, they need to be co-located with other members of the department. Actually, this is the one problem I see that your department could solve, all by itself, by reshuffling office assignments -- either some longer-term members of the department could voluntarily exile themselves, perhaps on a rotating basis, to the shitty/remote office, or you could double/triple/whatever up, with each other or with the new hires. You shouldn't have to do this, of course, but it's something under your control, and might demonstrate your commitment to the principle that these faculty members need decent office space/locations to be effective. Of course, it might also backfire, since the powers that be could say that you've worked it out, and don't need more space. For whatever it's worth, administrators sometimes seem open to the idea that overly-crowded offices inhibit faculty/student interactions and invite FERPA violations, since students have no privacy; on the other hand, I've heard of such arguments resulting in sign-up systems where faculty are *limited* to a single hour per week in an otherwise-satisfactory private office. As with many things, there are pitfalls everywhere, but still, this sounds like the one issue that you might actually manage to address in some productive way before school starts. But don't end up being the one tenured member of the department sharing his office with 3 contingent faculty; that's not really a solution, either.

    On the brighter side, service expectations/requirements can be a good thing, since they give faculty a voice in governance/curricular decisions. I very much wish service were part of my job (but not on top of my present 4/4 load; however, I'd probably do more than one course's worth of service in exchange for a 4/3, simply because I valued the chance to participate/have a voice. But that's me, and if it were imposed as a requirement, I'd be much less happy.)

    1. Review/renewal systems are a whole 'nother subject, with which I have a good deal of experience, both good and bad (and into which I have even put some -- voluntary, unpaid -- time/labor). While our system is still a work in progress, I'm pretty happy with the procedures we've currently got, and would be happy to share experiences and documents privately. Email me (contingent.cassandra AT gmail ) if you're interested.

  4. Work to get them raises. The permanent positions are a good start.

  5. Write an open letter to your local newspaper, with the express purpose of embarrassing the motherfucking scumbags who are creating this situation. Stick to the facts: if they are how you related them here, they are very damning indeed. Also point out that the market rate for a worker to do this kind of job is about $55k/year, and that a 5/5 load gives no opportunity for professional development. Also point out that any administration that would even consider offering employees such a shamelessly shitty deal clearly does not rate their students' education a high priority. Go ahead and do it, Hiram: you have tenure, don't you? As long as you stick to the facts, what can they do to do?

  6. Had a nice talk with one of our part-timers who seems to us as a shoo-in for one of the new positions. She was overjoyed about the chance, knocked out at the money and security, and filled me in on some of the freak show jobs she's been doing up to this point.

    I want to do more, and am going to start by talking to the one Dean who I've not pissed off with complaints about other matters concerning fairness on campus. (Don't get me started.)

    1. "She was overjoyed about the chance . . ."

      This kind of blows some of my argument to shreds. I was going to say that anyone who would accept those terms as offered would be either 1) damaged goods, lacking in self-awareness and/or other options, and not to be trusted to remain sane for very long OR 2) using this position as a stepping stone to make at least some coin while searching for their "real" job, and not to be trusted to remain at your joint for very long.

      I find myself agreeing with almost everything about Frod's comment of July 14, 2015 at 10:12 PM above. Where I'm not so sure is whether the letter to the paper would work as desired, but other than going to the TV news people, for the life of me I can't think of what else to do, specifically. "[A]ny administration that would even consider offering employees such a shamelessly shitty deal clearly does not rate their students' education a high priority . . ." Damn! What would the customer^H^H^H^H the students and their parents footing (some of) the bills say about THAT? Does U.S. News & World Report consider faculty salaries in their ratings? Why is it conventional wisdom that to attract and retain "good" CEOs they must be given exhorbitant salaries, but good educators are supposed to work for nothing?

    2. Because they can, of course. They must be stopped.

    3. I'm not surprised that the job looks pretty good to her. It probably is a real improvement on her present circumstances. The tricky question is whether she is harboring (probably-unrealistic) hopes of the sort OPH mentions in #2 above, and/or whether the job will look quite as good once she's actually tried living on the salary for a couple of years. Of course, I'm in no position to throw stones at her, since I've remained in an only-somewhat-better situation (in a much higher cost-of-living area) for the past 15 years, and have no real plans to make a change. There is some danger of creating a gently-simmering frog problem, I think (no, the pot is not really uncomfortably/dangerously hot yet, at least not so long as I go about my business over here near the sidewall, but I/we need to keep in mind that the pot is still on the burner, and, while we can't reach the controls, others with very different priorities can). It's also entirely possible that, while the contingent faculty are in a pot directly on the stove, the tenure-track faculty are in a double-boiler set on top: one step more insulated, but not really immune (and not actually in reach of the controls, either).

      So, yeah, talking to anyone you trust who might have some idea of how to improve these positions before everybody involved gets too comfortable with them seems like a good idea.

      I also like Frod's letter idea, or possible modifications thereof (open letter to the campus newspaper, plus some electronic sharing/publicity? Pitch the story to a reporter at a local rag?) Ideally, I think, you need at least two tenure-track faculty members, working together but perhaps not being too open about that fact. One plays the radical firebrand, insisting on the most outrageous things (teaching needs *must* be supplied *only* by tenure-track faculty hired from the adjunct corps, teaching only the customary load, and paid at the level customary for TT faculty of their education and experience! Anything else is a betrayal of academic freedom, responsibility to students and taxpayers, etc., etc.! If need be, keep firing administrators until we can afford it!), while the other plays the pragmatist, suggesting that, while the firebrand's suggestions are a bit extreme and impractical, (s)he does point out some real problems, and perhaps there are less-extreme ways to address them. The pragmatist can, of course, get away with asking for a lot more if there if the firebrand (or a bunch of firebrands) have successfully moved the whole discussion toward more comprehensive problems and solutions. I suppose you might get away with playing both roles for a while online (sock-puppeting occasionally has its uses, at least until/unless it's exposed), but an actual coalition is better (and such roles tend to emerge naturally in many actual coalitions, if members can manage to maintain respect for each other while coming at the issue from somewhat different viewpoints).

      Alternatively, you might be able to get an "outside agitator" to play the firebrand. I'm not sure what's up in Ohio these days, but there seems to be a growing interest in union organizing of contingent faculty, even in my (right-to-work, but adjacent to more union-friendly states) state. Maybe a tip-off to the AAUP, the SEIU, and/or one of the contingent advocacy organizations (http://www.newfacultymajority.org , http://cocalinternational.org/, somebody mentioned in this article: https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2015/04/17/ohio-bill-would-effectively-bar-faculty-unions-public-colleges ) would bring you an outside firebrand to work with/play off against.