The daily stress of making sales drove one of my supervisors to demand a demotion. She was smoking two packs a day. In the office. A small fan blew the smoke around me, not away from me. If it rained, we worried no one would come shop, and if it was too warm, then no one would buy clothes. We tracked shipments from sweatshops, and marked down the unsold garments to 70% off, which was their true price. Underneath the smell of perfume from the cosmetics counters was the stench of fear. I preferred to read the medieval poets.
Flash forward to now. Now, I am spending many hours hiring contingent workers for pennies, and replacing them when they drop out a couple of hours before the store opens, I mean, class starts. Do you have a pulse and a MA? Here's a syllabus, and good luck. Let me show you how to use the cash register, I mean the projector. I have been given projects to create new business and marketing plans to increase enrollment. 2 classes for the price of one, anyone? I see students paying almost as much for textbooks as one class would cost. We sell our education by the credit. Quality of sales means more than quality.
The biggest discouragement I feel comes from heavy reliance on adjuncts, who will work for so little. And yet, we rely on them so much. They have no reason to be invested in their teaching, but most are very invested. Some more than the FT faculty. The effects on the quality of education are obvious, but although we bemoan the low retention rate, we don't connect it to this devaluing of education. A couple of thousand dollars to teach a class that could mean a student will progress forward or not. And if we don't value our teachers, then why should students? So, we cry about poor attendance, and lazy attitude toward class work, but why should we expect them to appreciate education when it is just another product that we are selling?
I find it ironic that universities like Arizona State are partnering with businesses like Starbucks, who are also reliant on the contingent workers. Perhaps, there is a dystopian novel in the making here. Working in the administration section of this corporation called hIgher education has nearly ruined education for me. I am not even sure what the good fight is, anymore.
Damn, I should have gotten that MBA after all.
The biggest discouragement I feel comes from heavy reliance on adjuncts, who will work for so little. And yet, we rely on them so much. They have no reason to be invested in their teaching, but most are very invested. Some more than the FT faculty. The effects on the quality of education are obvious, but although we bemoan the low retention rate, we don't connect it to this devaluing of education. A couple of thousand dollars to teach a class that could mean a student will progress forward or not. And if we don't value our teachers, then why should students? So, we cry about poor attendance, and lazy attitude toward class work, but why should we expect them to appreciate education when it is just another product that we are selling?ReplyDelete
This. Add in the fact that many of our students are working too many hours under the present just-in-time variable scheduling regimes created by those hordes of '80s/'90s MBAs to pay for the textbooks overpriced by publishing firms overtaken, and drive to meet double or treble the traditional profit margin, by said MBAs, and you've pretty much got a perfect storm. My view may well be shaped by the population of the institution at which I teach (high proportion of first-generation -- college and/or American -- students), but my overall sense is that, while there are certainly snowflakes out there, structural issues such as the total cost of tuition, fees, books/materials and living costs compared to available grant (not loan) money, and the things students need to do to bridge the gap, are far more important.
And yes, the structural issues are both created by and create adjuncts, as well. People who care a great deal about teaching for various reasons (including those who are driven/willing to prioritize it out of possible over-conscientiousness, which probably best describes me) are more likely to end up in the contingent corps than those who (quite possibly wisely) prioritize research and/or those who don't get sufficient psychic rewards from teaching to outweigh the terrible pay, and leave the academy. But curricula, compromises with higher administration about teaching conditions such as class size, etc., etc., are all worked out by tenure-track faculty, who, whatever their original inclinations and/or best intentions, are increasingly driven by the reward system in place (and/or fear of needing to find another job someday, which affects us all) to focus on research and/or administration. So undergraduate teaching gets short shrift in all kinds of ways, while there's ongoing incentive to recruit graduate students (i.e. future adjuncts) and to maintain the illusion (for themselves as much as for others) that the market is going to pick up one day, traditional tenure-line jobs will reappear, and those prepared to take advantage of that moment (with recent Ph.D.s in growing fields and teaching experience) will profit from being ready to step in (so, really, it's okay to produce more Ph.D.s, and give them a chance to gain some additional teaching experience as adjuncts, because sometimes it works out -- after all, the last two people we hired to tenure lines (our total hires in the last 5 years, but let's not think too much about that) spent a year or two doing adjunct work).
I'm sure my self-interest influences my perspective here, but the only way I see out is the creation of a teaching tenure track, and the conversion of present contingents (people as well as lines) to those positions.Delete
As far as grad programs go, I suspect we need to focus more on M.A.s and certificate programs with practical outside-the-academy applications than Ph.D. programs. It's hard to justify creating new Ph.D.s when there's such a dearth of jobs, and such an oversupply of qualified, if perhaps a bit "stale" in some ways, candidates. I suppose another direction that Ph.D.-teaching energy could be directed is to NEH-style summer seminars designed to "freshen up" the research programs of longtime Ph.D.s who've been focusing mostly on teaching. But no, we wouldn't be able to pay for such offerings; in fact, we'd probably need stipends to replace lost summer pay. In short, we, like many of the groups toward the bottom of the various status/pay hierarchies created by/in the present economy, are a really shitty market. And that, I suspect, describes the larger problem as well as anything I've said above.
Trish and Cassandra, well said. I wish every parent of a college-bound HS senior could read what you've written here.The only thing I'd add is that tenured faculty have less power than people think. I know tenured faculty members at both public and private institutions. In every case not only do they have no say about class size, treatment of adjuncts, and so forth, but insisting that the institution follow its own published rules about these matters is a good way to burn what little political capital they have.Delete
That's my sense, too, Frankie. I'm seeing a good deal of hesitancy on the part of tenure-track faculty of unquestioned good will and considerable political skill/clout to spend political capital on things that shouldn't require political capital in the first place. In my local case, I think the underlying fear is that the future envisioned for us by the powers that be is as a "service" department in a STEM-research focus university (with maybe an occasional bow to the performing arts to fill out the "STEAM" acronym, but little respect for humanities research/criticism). Proposing new Ph.D. programs in arguably-growing fields is, of course, a survival mechanism in such an environment, and a way of reminding the folks in other divisions of the university that we do research, too, but it's still part of a vicious circle.Delete
Just came from a meeting where we were told we need to focus on marketing, customer service, and developing our business mentality. And to serve cookies to students waiting in line.Delete
I really hope that last sentence is a joke. Please??Delete
Nope. No Joke.Delete
BTW, Thanks for the graphic!
I can't let this go.Delete
Serving cookies (presumably at your own expense) to students?
Well that's the first scene of your dystopian novel right there.Delete
This may well be apocryphal, but legend at my Ivy League grad school had it that one grad TA received a student evaluation with a single written comment: "cheap cookies." Apparently Archway didn't cut it; only Pillsbury would do.Delete
But there's quite a leap from entitled students to administrators insisting that it's useful for professors to act in a way that increases the likelihood that students will confuse them with either the snack mom at the soccer game or catering waitstaff. Both are perfectly good roles for people to fill, but they're pretty far removed from a professor's traditional role. Even serving cookies in the classroom seems more appropriate to me.