Tuesday, January 6, 2015

An Adjunct Dies Honorably

By Professor Doom

     I’ve written a few times of the incredibly exploitative system that is the fate of most faculty in higher education today: adjuncthood. Instead of teaching and research in a professional job, the reward for many of our highly educated members of society is subsistence living on the fringe, earning less than minimum wage working for ridiculously highly paid administration.

     Part of the reason for this abuse is simple supply and demand: there are lots of people with advanced degrees and no jobs, desperate for anything, especially something that relates to all the time they spent studying. Granted, some of this oversupply is due to the all the bogus institutions granting bogus degrees, in turn due to bogus accreditation, but the fact remains, there are still quite a few legitimately educated people being exploited most abusively.

      One of them, at least, has decided to do the right thing, and reduce the supply:

     Ok, that’s a scary title, and he’s not dead…but he has admitted that being an adjunct is simply supporting a system of exploitation.

“I have worked 6 day weeks. And in the spring of 2013, ran a 7 day a week schedule after I added to my 8 university classes 4 self-run online, interactive classes held through video conferencing…”

     Like many adjuncts, he has to work a ridiculous schedule simply to get by. High school teachers teach 5 courses a semester…he’s teaching 8. Typical full time faculty teach perhaps 4 a semester (it varies, but I’ve never seen more than 5).

      Like  many adjuncts, he’s done the math and realizes something is very wrong:

“For all these efforts, I have been paid between merely $2,500-$4,200 per section of philosophy, with no health insurance or retirement benefits or any other such alternate forms of compensation (while each class I taught generated $35,000-$105,000 in revenue to the universities)…”

     Much like I’ve noticed, this former adjunct doesn’t understand why, if he’s bringing in $500,000 or more of revenue a semester, there’s only enough money in higher education to pay him some $15,000 a semester…with no benefits or job security in any form.

      He’s a VERY LUCKY adjunct to make that much, by the way. The bottom line is still, there’s no excuse for the wide disparity in pay between the teachers in higher education, and the administrators (where an administrator making less than 100k a year is somewhat unusual). Tack on the insane hours and abuse that adjuncts must take, and it simply makes no sense to teach college as a career.

He also says that he was enabling what he calls higher education’s exploitative labor system, and that it affected him deeply. "I also realize that by continuing to allow universities to take advantage of my labor at a discounted rate, I was helping to perpetuate a pernicious system that was harming my peers and me,” he wrote.

     Pernicious is one of those $10 words us academic types use. In this case it means deadly, causing great harm. And he’s right. The course load he needs as an adjunct is destructive to education, and is destructive to fellow teachers. It’s also deadly for him: he can’t sustain those kinds of hours, and with no benefits, there’s simply no future in it for him. All he has to do is get sick for a week, and his career is over, permanently.

     For a career, that’s as deadly as it gets.

     For his new career, he’s just going to start teaching classes on his own. Amazingly enough, it’s working to some extent:

So far, Fincke has offered standalone courses. But he’ll soon start offering sessions that meet repeatedly over a series of weeks and months, on variations of the same topic, including Nietzsche, ethics, and introductory philosophy. Class sessions average about $16 per hour, per student. Most classes have few students and involve lots of dialogue with Fincke. MOOCs and other static content “can’t touch that,” he said.

      Do note: he’s offering a real education. Instead of hordes of students massed in an auditorium, diligently copying down some lame PowerPoint presentation, his students have “lots of dialogue” with Fincke…this is an aspect of education that is completely gone from what we laughably call higher education today, with dialogue and instruction replaced in most cases by mindless scantron tests and journals where students talk about their feelings. He’s happier, the students are better off, and he has a real future.

      There can be no greater sign of the failure of higher education today that both student and teacher are better off when the schools are removed.

      I certainly wish him well, and am glad to hear of his success so far. The comments section is generally supportive, but a few are worth note:

if the colleges that hired him knew full well of the extent of his other classes, then they should be brought up on ethics charges. eight and eleven courses at a time spread out among different colleges is not reasonable person, student, or college.

      Ethics charges? Administration? HAhahahaha. While regular readers of my blog know of the chronic malfeasance of administrators and abuse of faculty, realize most people in “the real world” are really at this level of ignorance as who what higher education today is all about. The commenter is answered easily enough:

Huh? In my years as an adjunct, administrators have been scrupulously incurious about my non-teaching time, probably because they'd rather not know how I make a living on their sub-subsistence wages. Administrators know full well that they are on the wrong side of any ethical equation when it comes to adjunct labor. Additionally, Fincke's case is more typical than outlier;

          One more comment from a veteran faculty, just to illustrate how little of what I’ve had to say on this blog is either new or particularly imaginative. I’ll cut it into pieces, however:

“Somehow Accrediting Agencies need to step up and require that no more than 25% of courses offered can be taught by adjuncts and also class sizes on the average need to be no more than 40 students on the average…”

      Seriously, almost everyone in higher education knows that accrediting agencies have failed, deeply, in their mission. Much of the fraud of higher education could be casually fixed by fixing accreditation.

 “The guidelines of SACS, an accrediting agency for southern universities, call for assessment of a student being able to engage in critical thinking. The use of multiple-choice tests, the mainstay of assessment in large classes, cannot measure a student's ability to communicate in written form their critical thinking. Moreover, if 200 students turn in research papers, which require even10 minutes each to analyze and write comments on (probably an underestimate), then that is at least a 30 hour project for a professor (or probably a graduate student at most research institutions).”

     And, again, any professor that looks at what’s going on in higher education realizes that the current system is deeply unlikely to provide any education. It’s simply not possible to assign papers in classes of size 200. It’s simply not possible to give a real test of ability with a Scantron. And yet that is the typical class in higher education today, and SACs (or any every other accreditor) legitimizes this obvious fraud. Every time.

     But, at least there’s one less adjunct being exploited by this system.

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