The University of Akron’s Mistreatment of Adjuncts Continues Unabated

The University of Akron has once again made national headlines for its poor treatment of “part-time” faculty.  National Public Radio recently featured the plight of adjunct faculty at The University of Akron and Cuyahoga Community College during its “All Things Considered” radio program.  Maria Maisto, former UA adjunct and Executive Director of the Akron based New Faculty Majority Foundation recently testified before Congress about the plight of adjunct faculty in America, and coverage of her testimony was recently featured in The Chronicle of Higher Education.  These stories come on the heels of other negative publicity surrounding UA’s abysmal treatment of adjunct faculty.

UA’s Vice Provost Rex Ramsier was interviewed for the NPR program and was quoted as saying, “Institutions have to be very mindful that if we simply were to try to staff every course with full-time faculty that have full benefits, the cost of higher education at any institution would go up thirty or forty percent potentially.  The public’s not going to accept that.”  Dr. Ramsier goes on to observe that, “Part-time work is truly part-time work.  We’re not trying to take advantage of people.”

Whether The University of Akron is “trying” to take advantage of people or not is quite beside the point.  The reality is that The University of Akron’s business model is dependent upon a pool of ready, cheap labor.  The university cannot function–given its excessively high utilization of adjunct faculty–without the more than one thousand part-time faculty who teach roughly half of all courses on campus.  These highly educated and skilled teachers are paid poverty wages, are denied access to health insurance, often work term-to-term for decades, and have their unemployment compensation claims between terms challenged by lawyers who are hired by the university to fight these claims on often spurious grounds.

But even if we accept Dr. Ramsier at his word that UA’s intentions are good, we ought to challenge his math.  By all accounts Dr. Ramsier is a brilliant physics professor, but he really gets the numbers wrong by claiming that staffing every course with full-time faculty would increase the cost of higher education by 30-40%.  This is simply not true.  The university’s approved 2014 budget states that “Compensation is the largest expense within the budget–nearly 60% of the General Fund.”  The General Fund budget for 2014 is approximately $380 million.  Of the 60% of the budget earmarked for compensation, full-time faculty consume less than $114 million per year of the university’s budget (or less than one-half the total amount budgeted for employee compensation).  If we subtract out the part-time faculty’s paltry share of the budget (about $10 million per year), we are left with $104 million per year.  Since about half of all course sections at UA are taught by part-time faculty, we could simply double that amount to arrive at the approximate marginal cost of converting all part-time teaching positions to full-time positions.  This shift from part-time to full-time faculty would represent a 27% increase in the university’s budget–and that is based on a very high estimate.

Most part-time faculty would earn at the lower end of the full-time faculty compensation schedule, thus we can reasonably discount the $104 million per year to more like $70 million per year.  This means that the required increase in the overall budget would be about 18%, and not 30% or 40% as projected by Dr. Ramsier.  This calculation, of course, does not take into consideration the benefit that the university would derive from converting itinerant part-time faculty to full-time faculty.  Some of these benefits include improved retention and graduation rates, enhanced faculty recruitment, decreased administrative overhead, decreased demand for parking, and an increase in institutional prestige.  The University of Akron has gotten a real black eye over the past several years for staunchly refusing to budge on the part-time faculty issue.  UA is clearly wrong.  They know it.  The faculty knows it.  And, increasingly, students and parents are discovering this fact for themselves–and they are not happy.  This is beginning to have an economic impact for the university as prospective students look elsewhere for a quality education.

Dr. Ramsier also claims that “part-time work is truly part-time work.”  He is being coy here.  What he means is that, since we call them “part-timers” they shouldn’t expect a fair wage or access to equitable compensation or benefits.  Dr. Ramsier is well aware that most “part-time” faculty work at two, three, or more institutions, and that most rely primarily on their teaching income at these schools as their primary means of financial support.  It’s not okay to pay a highly educated, highly skilled worker $8.00 per hour while their full-time colleagues who do essentially the same work are paid many times that amount.  That’s the definition of exploitation.

Bureau of Labor Statistic’s Description of Faculty Pay Reads Like Work of Fiction

Adjunct faculty often get blamed for taking on a profession that doesn’t pay well, generally provides no meaningful benefits such as health insurance, and in which there are few opportunities for advancement or promotion.  Of course, this position presupposes that most adjuncts pursue their (often) terminal degrees with the intention of working in a non-tenure track job.  In reality, being contingent faculty member is, more typically, the result of being unable for whatever reason to secure a tenure track position.

I distinctly remember what propelled me to pursue a master’s degree.  My undergraduate rhetoric professor, impressed with several papers that I had written, opined that I should consider going to graduate school.  As the son of a retired college professor the thought had certainly occurred to me before, though I was contemplating law school at the time.

I eventually followed his advice, turned down my acceptance offer to a local law school, and began pursuing graduate degrees in political science and public administration with the notion that I would probably go on to get a PhD

Prior to making this decision I did the research.  While not quite as lucrative as being an attorney, it seemed to me that being a professor was a much better lifestyle choice for me: less stress, more time to “think,” and an opportunity to teach–which is something that I have always very much enjoyed.

In researching the occupational prospects of being a professor, I came across the Bureau of Labor Statistic’s Occupational Outlook Handbook.  I don’t remember the exact figures back in the early 2000′s, but the numbers were reasonably impressive.  Even today, a college professor can expect to earn a median salary of $62,250.  Not too shabby.

Below is the summary taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistic’s website:

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But here is the rub.  The statistics are based upon full-time faculty salary wages, not overall faculty wages.  Since about half of all faculty in the United States work on a contingent basis (i.e., their employment is contingent upon a variety of circumstances such as enrollment, being preempted from teaching a course by a tenure track professor, or any number of other circumstances beyond the control of the adjunct), the statistics presented by the U.S. Department of Labor misrepresent in a most egregious way the earnings potential for postsecondary teachers.  Note the use of the term “postsecondary teachers.”  This is not my term.  It is the formal categorization used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  It doesn’t read “full-time tenure track faculty” or even “full-time faculty.”  The category name would lead a reasonable person to conclude that it includes all postsecondary teachers.  It clearly does not.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics owes it to the public not to misrepresent employment data.  This information is relied upon by prospective graduate students, the media, and the general public to inform decisions and to otherwise provide context for the occupational outlook in higher education.  The Bureau of Labor Statistic’s description of faculty pay reads more like a work of fiction than an objective employment outlook for postsecondary teachers.

A Suggestion for American Airlines

To whom it may concern, if you are really listening.

I have always been impressed by American Airlines, but today I was underwhelmed by your airline’s shortsightedness.  Here’s why:

I arrived at the airport nearly four hours before my scheduled flight.  I called in advance to request whether I might move to an earlier flight, and I was told that my request could be accommodated for a fee of $75.  I was insufficiently motivated to spend the extra sum (in economic speak they call this “insufficient marginal utility”), so I decided I would inquire at the ticket counter instead.  There was plenty of availability on the earlier flight, incidentally.

When I inquired about “standby” at the ticket counter the agent snidely informed me that there is no such thing as standby.  She again informed me that I could pay $75.  I declined.

Here’s the rub.  Last night my flight was delayed.  Not terribly so, but it was about 40 minutes late.  It seems like it’s always a one way street.  The airlines make a mistake or encounter an operational difficulty,and the customer pays.  The customer makes a mistake or asks for a reasonable accommodation, and the customer pays.  The customer always pays…and pays…and pays.

Of course, there is a business case to be made in this particular case.  It involves shifting risk.  If you have a plane that you know is going to be on-time, and you’ve got unfilled seats, and it’s nearly time to take off–you are able to shift the risk of a delay due to bad weather or mechanical breakdown to a flight that is less likely to encounter difficulties.  Time introduces uncertainty, and uncertainty in the airline industry costs money.

I certainly understand that airlines make a considerable amount of money on fees, and that they don’t want to train their customers to expect the mitigation of those fees for any and all reasons.  But when the airlines screw up or simply encounter difficulties, they should be prepared to pay it forward.  They should bank some goodwill.

How about this?  When the airline has a difficulty, why not show some goodwill toward the customer by issuing an “IOU”.  It needn’t be particularly valuable, just a gesture that shows that the customer is more than a golden goose.  Maybe a waived overweight bag fee or a free bag or a few air miles or an in-flight drink or wi-fi coupon.

Treat customers right, and they’ll repay you with their loyal business.  Of course, you know what happens when you kill the golden goose.  No more golden eggs.

In the meantime, I’ll spend the next four hours in your beautiful lounge doing my best to eat your snacks and drink your beverages in my attempt to balance the ledger.  Just be glad that I’m not a big drinker!  I do, however, have my own blog.

Is The University of Akron Violating U.S. Antitrust Law?

The Akron Beacon Journal has reported several times in the past week or so that officials at The University of Akron have stated that they are providing the names of their best part-time faculty to other local colleges and universities in hopes that those institutions will reciprocate and provide them with referrals to part-time faculty who may have been adversely affected by the institutions’ caps on part-time faculty work loads.  These caps are being adopted by some colleges and universities in response to the Affordable Care Act, apparently in an effort to ensure that they do not have to provide health benefits to part-timers.

While on the surface this “shopping around” of UA’s adjuncts may seem harmless, maybe even benevolent, I am very concerned about this practice for several reasons.  First, part-time faculty have presumably not authorized The University of Akron to release their information in this fashion and for this purpose.  The Ohio Supreme Court ruled in State ex rel. Dispatch Printing Co. v. Johnson that state employee home addresses (and, presumably, phone numbers) are not public records and are not subject to the state’s open records law.  The University of Akron has no business whatsoever releasing this information for the purpose of soliciting employment opportunities for these employees without their prior consent.

Secondly, maintaining lists of “best adjuncts” implies that some system is in-place to evaluate, assess, and rank part-time faculty.  I find this notion highly disturbing.  What are the criteria for making the list?  Who is making these determinations?  Do part-time faculty have a role in the process?  Is there a “worst adjuncts” list?  Does one get placed on the latter list for…say…attending rallies in support of a living wage and access to healthcare?  The idea that the university would even attempt such an undertaking is very troubling.

Finally, by sharing such information with other colleges and universities, The University of Akron may be violating federal antitrust laws.  I would argue that the sharing of such proprietary information with other institutions is anti-competitive under one or more theory of antitrust.  The theory that is most obvious to me is commonly referred to as “raising rivals’ costs” or RRC Theory.  Under this theory of antitrust a predator possesses the ability to raise competitors’ marginal costs of production in the context of a market with sufficiently inelastic demand such that the predators’ marginal costs are raised less than the affected competitors’ costs, thereby giving the predator an unfair advantage in the market.

In this case, UA’s sharing of proprietary information with other colleges and universities gives The University of Akron an unfair advantage in recruiting part-time faculty while concomitantly helping to ensure that these adjuncts are able to secure sufficient additional employment to offset their losses of income.  UA thus stems the loss of part-time faculty who otherwise might be inclined to leave the profession in search of other better paying and more stable employment opportunities.  Any such net loss in the pool of available workers would serve to drive up labor costs by creating scarcity in the marketplace.  Since the university’s motivation in reducing maximum teaching loads in the first place was to avoid incurring higher labor costs (i.e., through the healthcare mandate), we can reasonably deduce that their motivation in sharing employee information is to maintain the status quo in light of emerging adverse market conditions that would otherwise raise the costs of production.  To accomplish this, however, they need trading partners (i.e., other colleges and universities with whom to share proprietary employee information).  Colleges and universities that are not in on the scheme are adversely affected insomuch as their non participation in the collusion means that they are more fully subject to the emerging adverse market conditions than are the predatory actors, who benefit from resulting marginal difference in the costs of production.

While we don’t typically think of higher education in such nakedly economic terms, it is not unfair to reflexively apply the vernacular of the market that has been so wholeheartedly embraced by academe over the course of the past thirty or forty years.  The rub, of course, is that universities are content to benefit from the upside of market analogies (e.g., university presidents compare themselves to corporate CEOs), but they demand protection from the downside.

The University of Akron would likely argue that its actions do not violate U.S. antitrust law because it benefits from immunity as a state actor.  I would not find this argument particularly compelling.  Under FTC v. Phoebe Putney Health Systems, Inc., the U.S. Supreme Court narrowed the grounds on which a state chartered actor may successfully assert a state action claim of immunity from antitrust laws.  Borrowing from the reasoning in the case, I would argue that any state action immunity defense would fail under the clear-articulation test because there is no evidence that the state of Ohio affirmatively contemplated that university authorities would engage in the specific anticompetitive practices heretofore alleged.  Simply possessing a charter from the state does not grant the university carte blanche to engage in activity that, but for a claim of immunity, would constitute a violation of U.S. antitrust law.

Faculty Have a Branding Problem

College faculty in America have a branding problem.  When even the Vice President of the United States disses you publicly, scapegoating you as the reason that college tuition has skyrocketed over the past twenty years…and when the vice president is supposed to be your ally…and when the vice president’s wife is a community college professor (i.e., he should know better)…well…like a Jeff Foxworthy joke…you might have a branding problem.

The rise in the use of contingent faculty on American college and university campuses over the past thirty years is shocking.  We’ve gone from about 30% contingent employment in American higher education nearly 70%.  It has occurred through a continual process of erosion.  Drip, drip, drip…the canyon is carved one drip at a time.  The frog is boiled so slowly that it doesn’t even recognize its predicament before it’s too late.

But there is something that tenured and tenure track faculty in America can do.  They can work to re-balance the equation.  They can insist that any calculations of their compensation include ALL faculty in the denominator.  They can voluntarily identify with their lowly contingent colleagues–starting, of course, but recognizing that contingent faculty are their peers–and project a picture of the profession that is accurate and complete.  Contingent faculty have become the majority faculty in America, and the crisis is not abating, it’s accelerating.

Tenure track faculty have a branding problem, because they are seen as overpaid, privileged, and unaccountable.  But that all changes when you add contingent faculty to the mix.  The question, of course, is whether lumping oneself in with the unwashed masses is too much of a blow to the ego for the privileged few.  The reality, of course, is that unless tenured and tenure track faculty find a way to change their image, they may, themselves, discover what its like to beg for scraps.

Passed Over Once Again by UA’s BOTs

Well, it has happened yet again.  The majority of faculty at The University of Akron were once again passed over for a raise.  With every year that passes the university’s 1,000 or so part-time faculty–about two-thirds of the total faculty on campus–get further and further behind.  These highly educated, hard-working professionals are paid a poverty wage (about $18,000 for a full-time equivalent load), are denied health benefits, are refused unemployment compensation between terms, and are ignored by the Board of Trustees and the administration when it comes time for raises.

UA’s trustees are led around on a very short rope by President Proenza and his 35 or so vice presidents in a highly orchestrated charade designed to obscure the fact that the university’s budget is being balanced on the backs of these exploited workers.  In the end, it is the quality of education that suffers.  As the cost of living rises, these adjuncts are being tasked with doing more for (and with) less.  It’s apropos that the acronym for Board of Trustees in the university’s web address is BOT.  Wake up oh learned BOTs and start thinking for yourselves.  This is wrong, and you should know as much.  Do something about it.  Start paying adjuncts a living wage with access to health benefits.

Time to Fix the Problem: Politicians of All Stripes Need to Put Up or Shut Up Re. Higher Education

Last night I had occasion to watch a few of the speeches at the Democratic National Convention.  There was quite a bit of talk about the importance higher education, and a student from Miami Dade College extolled the value of higher education.  She went on to introduce First Lady Jill Biden, a community college teacher.

Despite the emphasis on higher education, no one paused to say something to the effect of, “You know, if we are intent on having a competitive economy driven by world class education, then we need to actually start investing in classroom instruction.  And that isn’t happening right now.”

I wonder if Angie Flores, the young Miami Dade College student who introduced Jill Biden, is aware that fully 83% of the teachers at her school teach off the tenure track (see http://www.mla.org/acad_work_data?id=135717).  That is, they are low-paid academic laborers who earn a poverty wage (see www.mdc.edu/main/search/search_results.aspx?cx=003737384118370267526%3Ahchzsajmmww&cof=FORID%3A11&q=adjunct+pay&sitesearch=www.mdc.edu&sa=Search) and have very limited access to health benefits (see http://www.mdc.edu/hr/Benefits/CareAccess/default.asp).

The emperor is riding the elephant around the room naked and acting like a jackass, and no one seems to be paying any mind.  It’s quite a sight!  It is astounding just how blind to the truth the politicians on both sides of the aisle are.  How can they simply continue to ignore the fact that the poor educational outcomes that we are observing actually have something to do with what is going on in the classroom?  That a teacher’s working conditions are a student’s learning conditions?

Politicians of all stripes need to put up or shut up regarding the value of higher education until they admit that the system is inherently exploitative, economically unsustainable, and largely incapable of achieving stated and desired educational outcomes.  It’s time for the politicians to admit that a problem exists so that we can get on with the business of fixing it.

Higher Education Administrators Who Invoke Fallacy of Necessity to Justify Contingent Faculty Working Conditions are Intellectually Dishonest

I am struck by the frequency with which I hear college and university administrators, when queried on the subject, justify the working conditions of low paid contingent faculty with economic arguments in favor of maintaining the status quo.  It is as if we’ve turned back the clock fifty or a hundred or a hundred and fifty years, negating the progress that has been made on the human and civil rights fronts, effectively pulling the shade on the enlightenment that we all cherish and which was claimed at so high a price.

Before “unpacking” this, though, let me first state unequivocally that I don’t believe that the conditions under which adjuncts labor is equal to the conditions of slavery.  But there are some similarities, particularly with respect to the arguments that have historically been used to justify that terrible institution.  I similarly do not believe that adjunct working conditions are equal to the internment of Japanese Americans in World War II.  Yet, again, necessity and expediency raise their ugly heads.

As a former high school and college debate coach I never would have accepted as argument the logical fallacies so often propounded by university presidents and other college administrators in their rationalizations of contingent faculty working conditions.  The fallacy of necessity is the one that I hear most frequently disguised as an argument in favor of the status quo.

According to the Wikipedia entry for “fallacy of necessity”:

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A fallacy of necessity (fellacia necessitas) is a fallacy in the logic of a syllogism whereby a degree of unwarranted necessity is placed in the conclusion.

Example:

a) Bachelors are necessarily unmarried.
b) John is a bachelor.
Therefore, c) John cannot marry.

The condition a) appears to be a tautology and therefore true. The condition b) is a statement of fact about John which makes him subject to a); that is, b) declares John a bachelor, and a) states that all bachelors are unmarried.
Because c) presumes b) will always be the case, it is a fallacy of necessity. John, of course, is always free to stop being a bachelor, simply by getting married; if he does so, b) is no longer true and thus not subject to the tautology a). In this case, c) has unwarranted necessity by assuming, incorrectly, that John cannot stop being a bachelor. Formally speaking, this type of argument equivocates between the de dicto necessity of a) and the de re necessity of c). The argument is only valid if both a) and c) are construed de re. This, however, would undermine the argument, as a) is only a tautology de dicto–indeed, interpreted de re, it is false.

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The logic applied to contingent working conditions is as follows:

a) Reducing reliance on adjuncts is prohibitively costly.

b) Colleges and universities have inadequate resources and funding.

Therefore c) Colleges and universities must continue to rely on adjunct labor.

This fallacy was similarly applied as a justification for both slavery and the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.  Economic expedience and preference were substituted for necessity.  It was argued that slavery was a necessity required to ensure the economic viability of the nation, but we have since demonstrated absolutely that slavery was not, in fact, a precondition to economic viability.  Similarly, though segregating and interning Japanese Americans may have been seen by some as economically expedient at the time, it had negative immediate and long-term costs that far exceeded any immediate short term economic benefit.

When university administrators and politicians invoke the fallacy of necessity, they are doing so in a context that ignores that implies that they (the administrators and politicians) have no control over the conditions that give rise to the exploding use of contingent faculty.  On the contrary, politicians and university administrators alike have the ability to control how resources are utilized.  They make choices that may ultimately constrain their ability to make other future choices, but that does not mean that the matter is outside of their control.  If I use my entire paycheck to purchase a new computer, I cannot expect my bank to accept the argument that I don’t have enough money to pay my mortgage.  When a university decides to spend millions of dollars to finance the cost of a few football stadium or build a recreation center with a lazy river and other spa-like amenities, it has prioritized one thing over another.

American colleges and universities are consistently deprioritizing instruction in order to promote the construction of new facilities, escalating administrative costs, and intercollegiate athletics programs.  It is mystifying to me how, after so demoting the importance of instruction, college administrators can then scratch their heads in bewilderment over the abysmally poor student educational outcomes that obtain.  It’s not possible to build five televisions with the parts of three any more than it is possible to obtain optimal outcomes in the classroom when the faculty charged with educating the least prepared students are afforded the fewest resources to accomplish the feat.

This bewilderment is better described as a state of denial.  I submit that administrators are fully aware of the consequences of their actions, but they are unwilling to address the problem.  Again, expediency raises its ugly head.  It is more expedient to blame state legislatures (which are certainly not without blame) and to blame the economy than it is to admit that universities are administratively top-heavy, that intercollegiate football consumes far too many resources, or that the beautiful facilities described in the seductive architectural renderings may not be the best use of the public’s money.

What happens in the classroom matters.  We accept this conclusion at every level of the American educational system, but we deny the same conclusion on the college campus.  Denying faculty the resources necessary to do their jobs effectively is to deny students the education that they require and the public the value that they expect.  This is happening not just because there are insufficient resources being brought to bear in higher education, but, rather, because the resources that are being deployed in higher education are being largely misspent on things that have little to do with educational outcomes.

Administrators who persist in blaming the continued exploitation of contingent faculty (e.g., poverty wages, no job security, little opportunity for advancement, no health insurance, no access to unemployment compensation insurance, and limited retirement benefits) on circumstances beyond the control of their institutions are intellectually dishonest.  It really is that simple, and it’s time to call a spade a spade.

Special Note: The author’s opinion is not necessarily the opinion of the organizations with which he is affiliated and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of anyone else associated with those organizations.

 

Wet Tinder: Will the Adjunct Movement Ever Catch Fire?

I have struggled from time-to-time over the past several years that I have been involved in the adjunct & contingent faculty movement, occasionally reflecting on the question of when, if ever, the movement will achieve meaningful change.  The sparks–which have been plentiful–have thus far failed to ignite the tinder and yield a useful flame.  Why is this?  Will it change?  It it the right time?  What am I doing here?  Is all this merely a waste of time and resources?  Are we really just spinning our tires?

My late night ruminations have included the following:

If the faculty unions continue to serve as mere cheerleaders and well-wishers in lieu of providing meaningful, reliable support to adjuncts in need: will the movement ever acquire the political power necessary to exact the sort of transformative legal and organizational change that will have a real, meaningful impact?

If we can’t increase the number of adjuncts moving in the same general direction (i.e., in opposition to the status quo), does that evidence a lack of determination to change our collective circumstances?  Do we deserve the change some of us seek?

If the public remains blissfully unaware of the problem–which they certainly shall if the forgoing two considerations are not adequately addressed–will such change ever be politically possible?

I got my start in this movement because my sensibilities were offended by the fact that my employer refused to sell me health insurance for which I was prepared to bear the entire cost (i.e., more than my salary).  I explored this issue with the human resources department and was flatly told that the university didn’t want to insure adjuncts because our itinerant status meant that we would constantly move in-and-out of status, thus driving up the cost of insurance for the rest of the pool.  Besides, anyone who was willing to pay such obscene rates must really need the insurance and should certainly be denied coverage in the interest of the rest of the pool.  I had missed my one and only opportunity to buy the prohibitively expensive health insurance policy, and I was therefore out of luck.

That led me to an on-campus screening of a few films about the plight of adjuncts, and I was introduced to Maria Maisto and several other colleagues at The University of Akron who were interested in this issue.  I discovered pretty quickly that I was a bit of a fish out of water as a politically active Republican swimming in a sea of…well…non-Republicans.

And yet, here I am, nearly four years after my introduction to the issue.  It’s been quite a journey, though I am painfully aware–and in awe of–those who have traveled this road for decades.  I cannot help but question whether I will someday be one of them.  The naysayers are plentiful, though their ranks seem to be shrinking with every small victory.  But we are a long way from our goal: equity for all in higher education.

My training in applied politics through the Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at The University of AKron (it’s a bit ironic that I should so frequently employ the knowledge and skills acquired through this program against the interests of my alma mater) coupled with my extensive background in strategic communication make me keenly aware that the odds are not in our favor.  It is incumbent upon us to sell the problem to a wider public, yet we have difficulty ginning up even a few hundred supporters whenever we promulgate a petition on this or that subject related to the plight of adjuncts. The seals and whales and spotted owls seem to have a more dedicated following.

So where is this movement going?  Are we making a difference?  Will anything change in our lifetime?  Will the adjunct movement ever catch fire?

Despite my doubts and occasional laments, I remain optimistic.  Groups such as New Faculty Majority continue to gain purchase.  Leaders of the adjunct movement are regularly sought out by the media for comments on stories of import to contingent faculty.  The unions are including us in their conversations on important issues.  A virtual think tank has sprouted up to tackle the topic.  Research is blossoming.  NFM has received funding from some of the top philanthropic organizations in the world.

These things were not happening three years ago.  We have persisted longer than most anyone expected.  Our tinder may still be damp, but that is permitting us sufficient time to establish a movement, to marshal resources, to gather fuel.  If a bit of damp tinder is what it takes to avoid the dreaded flash in the pan, then we should embrace challenges and obstacles and continue to prepare for brighter day brought about by the conflagration of our ever-drying tinder, the defiant spark of a few who seek change, and the growing pile of fuel being so diligently assembled.

 

DOL Doesn’t have a Clue: Handbook Description of Higher Ed Teaching a Work of Fiction

I have created a petition addressed to U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis requesting that the DOL revise and update their characterization of the profession.  Please take a moment to add your name to the petition.

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How can our own government get it so incredibly wrong?  The U.S. Department of Labor publishes occupational outlook data in its Occupational Outlook Handbook.  This publication (available online at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/) reports median and average salaries for various occupations along with details about types and amount of education typically required to enter professions, typical working conditions, total number of jobs, growth or contraction outlook, etc.

The DOL OOH (pronounced “doooh!”…the L is silent) identifies the median salary for college professors (i.e., postsecondary teachers) to be $62,050.  The median wage is the wage at which half of the workers in the occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. Median wage data are from the BLS Occupational Employment Statistics survey.

Anyone with even a modicum of understanding of the labor dynamics at play in higher education knows that this representation by the Department of Labor is, on its face, absurd.  The Coalition on the Academic Workforce just released a report entitled A Portrait of Part-Time Faculty Members in which it concluded the following:

Part-time faculty members’ responses to the CAW survey confirms much of what has been reported anecdotally.  Part-time faculty members demonstrate a level of commitment to teaching and to the institutions that employ them, but this commitment is not reciprocated by those institutions in terms of compensation or other types of professional support.  Pay per course is strikingly low, especially in the light of the professional credentials and length of service of many of these faculty members.  It is therefore not surprising that more than half of part-time faculty respondents reported an annual personal income of less than $35,000, and two-thirds reported an annual income of less than $45,000.

Some may challenge these findings on the basis that it was not a scientific sampling–though the survey did receive nearly 30,000 responses, with two-thirds of these coming from individuals who identified themselves as contingent academic workers in higher ed in the fall of 2012.  I would challenge anyone who may object to the results of the survey to expend the resources necessary to obtain a more scientific sampling.  But this is unlikely.  Why?  Because the situation as portrayed by the CAW survey likely understates the case.  And no one who has an interest in challenging the CAW survey results is interested in uncovering even more damning numbers.

The CAW survey also identifies the number and proportion of contingent faculty working in America:

According to data from the United States Department of Education’s 2009 Fall Staff Survey, of the nearly 1.8 million faculty members and instructors who made up the 2009 instructional workforce in degree-granting two- and four-year institutions of higher education in the United States, more than 1.3 million (75.5%) were employed in contingent psitions off the tenure track, either as part-time or adjunct faculty members, full-time non-tenure-track faculty members, or graduate student teaching assistants.

It is clear from this data that the DOL’s median salary numbers are undoubtedly high.  Furthermore, the descriptions of the profession are laughable.  Here’s what our government has to say about the working conditions of college professors (Source: http://www.bls.gov/ooh/Education-Training-and-Library/Postsecondary-teachers.htm#tab-3):

Postsecondary teachers’ schedules are generally flexible. Postsecondary teachers need to be on campus to teach classes and keep office hours. Otherwise, they are free to set their schedule and decide when and where they will prepare for class and will grade assignments.

About 29 percent of postsecondary teachers worked part time in 2010. Some postsecondary teachers work part time at several colleges or universities (emphasis added).

Most graduate teaching assistants work part time while also studying for their degree. The number of hours they work may vary, depending on the institution and their particular assistantship.

Okay.  So the DOL thinks that 29% of America’s 1.8 million faculty work part-time.  So that would be 522,000.  According to the CAW survey, more than 700,000 of all faculty in the United States are part-time, with more than 300,000 additional faculty working contingently.  Only about half a million are tenure-track, with the balance comprised of graduate assistants, post-docs, and “others.”

As you can see, the Department of Labor has gotten the numbers almost exactly backwards!  It’s amazing, really, to think about just how badly informed our leaders are when it comes to understanding the role of contingency in higher education.  Even the Vice President of the United States can’t get the figures right.  You may remember that he famously blamed faculty for rising cost of college tuition.

I have created a petition addressed to U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis requesting that the DOL revise and update their characterization of the profession.  Please take a moment to add your name to the petition.