Thursday, July 14, 2016

This week's Big Thirsty from Frankie. The good news: You're getting a 40% raise! The bad news: This brings you up to just over minimum wage.

More adjunct misery.

The University of Memphis has given its adjuncts their first raise in three decades, from $1,500 to $2,100 per three-credit-hour course. They probably won't be able to teach more than three because then they'd be eligible for health insurance. So they'll max out at $12,600 a year.

Why don't adjuncts just quit, as a commenter (predictably) asks?

I wonder. Even if everyone who would prefer a T-T position walked away, we'd still have a good supply of people who have real jobs elsewhere and enjoy picking up a class or two on the side (like the adjunct history professor who is employed full time at an investment company). Add to that the retired professors who are so eager to stay active that they are willing to teach for free, and we don't have a lot of bargaining power for underemployed Ph.D.s.

Rio Salado College in Tempe, Arizona has no campus. All its courses are online, and the overwhelming majority of instructors are adjuncts (22 full-time faculty and over 1,300 adjunct faculty). Not only have they not been shunned and shamed, their deliberate mass adjunctification has been lauded as a strategic success, saving 27% on per-student expenditures.

It seems to me that the most effective action would come from the accreditors, but what's their motivation? Accrediting teams are made up of administrators, who may not be in a position to throw stones. And why should they? (See Rio Salado, above)

Q: Is there a way out, or are we headed toward postsecondary teaching as a hobby for people who don't need the money?


  1. It seems to me that the greater pressure is coming from governments in the public universities and from the parents in the selective private ones. It hasn't been effective pressure for the most part, but I don't see accreditors as the big lever here.

  2. The development of AI could accelerate and eliminate the need to have human teachers--even to the point that Tom Sawyer robots might offer humans the privilege and honor of teaching if they're qualified and willing to pay a small price. Kind of a variation on the negative-inflation theme.

    1. But doesn't somebody need to program the AI system, and adjust it to fit changing student needs, update course goals, and such? I realize the sort of AI system many envision would do all of that itself, somehow, but I'm skeptical. I suspect there's going to need to be a lot more input from non-artificial intelligence than those who think this will solve the labor issue in academia anticipate.

      It does, however, point to what I, at least, see as a discouraging trend: the money is definitely increasingly in curriculum (and test) development, rather than in hands-on teaching (and sadly the real money is probably in supervising the development of such material rather than in actually creating it; that's increasingly low-wage piecework, too).

    2. That right there is a GREAT point.

    3. I am praying (praying!) that the "GREAT point" comment refers to what I wrote. However, if it has to refer to what CC wrote, then I will be ok with that.

      @CC: With regard to your second graf, I think there are probably a few proffies who "hedge their bets" by taking long positions in Pearson, B&N Ed, and related stocks--the idea being that the proffies would at least own part of the companies that will eventually put them out of work.

  3. Replies
    1. Frod, you've really got a knack for sales. How much is the Fresno Chamber of Commerce paying you? Whatever it is, it's not enough.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. I would fire whatever intern made that horrible looking author photo

  5. I don't think overreliance on adjuncts is sustainable in the long term (i.e. many decades/several generations), because the millenial generation, on average, is feeling much more financially squeezed than the boomers, and is going to be less able/willing, on average, to work for free or nearly free.* The current exception may be millenials who are still being at least partly supported by boomer or early Gen X parents, but that can't last forever; among other things, at some point the millenials are going to start having their own children, and their parents are going to need to channel more of their wealth, and/or their children are going to need to channel more of their time, into elder care.

    In short, there's reason to think that even fairly privileged millenials will experience the whole sandwich-generation phenomenon with a vengeance, which is likely to turn their prosocial impulses (which are very strong -- a good thing) inward toward their own families, or at least toward volunteer activities that support the vulnerable groups with which they're most familiar: the very young and the old.

    All of the above is even more true for families who were less privileged in the first place -- e.g. those with a relatively recent history of immigration, and those whose parents and grandparents were part of the now-nearly-vanished blue-collar middle class. I don't think those groups are feeding the longterm adjunct corps much at the moment anyway, simply because they can't afford to, and, due to disparate birth rates, they're going to be an increasing proportion of the population.

    But I'm not sure how long it's going to take for those patterns to have a real effect on the adjunct labor pool. I suspect that applications to Ph.D. programs in disciplines where the Ph.D. is almost entirely a qualification for higher-ed teaching might be a measure, but there's still the counterpressure from retiring baby boomers looking to keep busy and do something useful.

    *I can forgive the retiring baby boomers who haven't been professors, and want to try it out (partly because I suspect they're not going to keep it up all that long, at least not at the 3/3 or even 2/2 level, once they realize just how much work it entails), but I am not happy with retired professors who volunteer to teach for free, or even adjunct wages. That's especially true if those professors ever advised Ph.D. candidates. I think I understand their motivations -- loyalty to the institution in general and to programs they helped build, desire to tide all of the above over what they hope is just a rough spot -- but they run the risk of doing their own advisees out of jobs, or at least of propping up a system that is no longer sustainable. At the very least, I'd suggest that they teach at the local community college rather than their former institutions, and it would probably be better if they turned their energies toward supporting students in a way that doesn't involve providing free FTEs to any institution).

  6. Gawd, this is awful. I feel so lucky to have a solid tenured job from which I can and will retire next year. I caution all of my students who are looking to teach in higher ed. What a screw job adjuncts are getting.