Tag Archive for new faculty majority

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.

 

Obamacare will force higher education reform. Will adjuncts benefit?

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld healthcare reform today, and the decision promises to change the landscape of the healthcare industry in America.  While much of the focus of the debate has been on the individual mandate, the employer mandate may have some surprising (and potentially positive) implications for the nation’s nearly 1 million adjunct faculty who often teach for poverty wages and are frequently denied access to employer sponsored health insurance.

The controversial health care law includes an employer mandate that requires large employers (i.e., those with more than 50 full-time employees or full-time equivalents) to provide health insurance to its employees or pay a penalty.  Virtually every college and university in the country would qualify as a large employer under the law, though I have been unable to ascertain whether there exist any exemptions to the applicability of certain provisions of the law to organs of state and local governments (e.g., state supported universities and local community colleges).  Having uncovered no such exclusions, I presume that the law applies equally to colleges and universities with the possible exception of certain religious schools.

In an effort to curtail an anticipated free-rider effect, a so-called free-rider penalty will be levied upon organizations that qualify as large businesses under the act and where at least one employee of the organization receives the government subsidy (premium credits) provided for under the law.  To qualify for this subsidy the employee must meet two conditions.  First, their household income must be less than 400% of the Federal Poverty Level (amount varies with family size).  Secondly, the employee’s portion of the insurance premium on the employer’s plan must exceed 9.5% of the employee’s household income.

So let’s examine a real world scenario based upon the employment conditions at The University of Akron, a state university located in Akron, Ohio.  Again, I will reiterate that I believe that the law applies equally to private and public sector organizations, though the states attorneys general who fought the law will likely continue to fight to curtail its application now that it has been upheld as constitutional.

There are roughly 1,000 part-time faculty teaching at The University of Akron.  They earn on average about $800 per credit hour, and they are limited by university rules to teaching a maximum of 21 credit hours per academic year.  This yields an annual salary of $16,800 per year for working 7/8 of a full-time equivalent load.  This is $6,250 below the 2012 federal poverty level for a family of four.  It is $75,400 below the 4 times the federal poverty level required for eligibility for the subsidy under the healthcare law.  It would appear that the vast majority of part-time faculty members at The University of Akron meet this first income requirement.  Let’s call it 70% for the sake of illustration (we’ll use this percentage in a calculation later).

As to the second condition requiring that the employee’s portion of the insurance premium, the low wages paid to part-time faculty at The University of Akron drive this calculation.  And it doesn’t work in the university’s favor.  9.5% of an annual $16,800 wage equals $1,596 per year.  The annual employee contribution for the university’s PPO plan is $2,193 for an employee earning $28,000 per year or less.  Only one employee of the university need qualify under this provision for the institution to be subject to the rule.

The free-rider penalty can be substantial.  If the organization otherwise provides health insurance to employees, its annual penalties will be equal to the lesser of the number of subsidized employees (i.e., those receiving premium credits) x $3,000 OR the number of all employees in the organization minus 30 x $2,000.

It is reprehensible that adjunct/contingent faculty are paid such low wages and denied access to such basic benefits as health insurance.  The law that was affirmed today by the U.S. Supreme Court may have a pronounced impact on the business model to which higher education has become addicted.  Here’s why…

The penalties that will accrue to organizations that fail to meet the employer mandate are substantial.  If 700 of UA’s 1,000 part-time faculty are eligible for the subsidy, this would yield a total cost to the university of $2.1 million.  Of course, those are small potatoes when compared to the aggregate compensation of the university’s president and 36 or so vice presidents (in excess of $5 million per year in cash compensation alone, which is more than 50% of what UA’s 1,000 part-time faculty earn as a group)…to say nothing of its athletics program or the proposed $400 million physical expansion that comes on the recently completed half a billion dollars in physical campus improvements.

So perhaps schools like The University of Akron will decide that paying the subsidy is the price that they must pay in order to continue abusing adjuncts.  After all, $2.1 million absorbed by 30,000 or so students is only about $70 per student.  I can imagine the forthcoming student fee appearing as a line item on the tuition bill.  It will read something like Administrative Health and Wellness Regulatory Recovery Fee.

Ever the optimist, I cannot help but hope that the levying of such penalties–or the mere threat of the same–will serve to focus attention on the fact that our colleges and universities are riding free on the backs of hardworking, highly educated teachers who earn, at least at my former institution, less than manual laborers who tend to the grounds of an ever-expanding campus.  All the while these adjuncts are being denied the opportunity for a better life that is depicted in glossy viewbooks.  The groundskeeper toils away with the hope that his child may obtain the college education that he was not afforded.  For his sake and the sake of his child, he should hope that they don’t become an adjunct, lest they exchange sweat and gloves for the ball and chain of perpetual poverty and debt.