Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Professor Quits Tenure in Protest of Treatment

By Professor Doom

     Most people’s vision of higher education comes basically from the movies: a typical professor has a secure job, a nice office, and can bloviate endlessly on bizarre topics.
     Only one of those is true.

     The secure job and nice office are basically things of the past. Higher education has changed, and now your typical professor has a sub-welfare job and is likely to conduct any office business out of the trunk of his car.

     The offices, and the nice salary jobs, have long been requisitioned by administrators of higher education.

     These administrators have slowly been squeezing out the tenured faculty. Such faculty came into existence in the past, when education needed to be legitimate to survive…honest faculty were desired, and could command good job conditions. A school with honest faculty could attract honest, paying students. There weren’t so many paying students in the past.

     The student loan scam has killed legitimacy in higher education. “Paying” students are now a dime a dozen million, as anyone can secure Federal student loans and grants to go through accredited institutions. Accreditation, long since corrupted, no longer verifies legitimacy.

      So, there really is no need for tenured (or honest) faculty…so much money is flowing into the system that schools which focus on education, instead of grabbing the student loan loot, are just  left behind. 

     With no need for honest faculty, bogus graduate degree programs sprung up to create bogus college faculty. It’s a simple matter to type in “Masters Of Education Graduate Degree” program into Google and get 80,000,000 results. Such degrees count as jokers for all other disciplines—it’s a curious quirk that such a professor might not be able to teach in public school (because he can’t pass teacher certification tests), but have no difficulty getting a college teaching position…not that these positions are all that desirable, but you must get a job quickly, any job, to have a hope of paying off the big loan for the degree.

     Now, there are still tenured positions, and the professors holding such positions have been accused of doing nothing as they see the next generation of college professors condemned to lives of abject poverty. To some extent this is true, although faculty have so little power in higher education that there’s very little any individual faculty member can do as they watch administrators abuse the younger faculty members, simply because they can.

      Nothing anyone can do, perhaps, except resign in protest:

“…she had tried to lift up other writing instructors — offering them positions that, while not on the tenure track, at least were full time and on long-term contracts.
Last week, however, convinced that her efforts were about to be undone by administrators as part of a broader reorganization, Ms. Steinberg decided to walk away from her otherwise secure position. She formally resigned, effective at the end of the summer, when she plans to begin teaching at a private Jewish high school in Riverdale, N.Y.”

     It really is amazing. This faculty spends years as director of the writing program, providing legitimate jobs to honest teachers, and she could do nothing to stop administrators simply “reorganizing” the institution, wiping out those jobs (although, of course, offering to rehire them at greatly reduced, adjunct, pay):

Among the instructors who lost jobs was Tsering Lama, who had been there two years. Ms. Lama said she had refused Yeshiva’s offer of a new part-time position because it would have offered less than half of the pay of her current position, with no benefits. "It would just be a lot more work for a lot less money," she said.

      This sort of stuff is happening all over the country, and it really is abusive. “Reorganize” the institution, possibly due to “financial exigency”, and fire the faculty, offering to rehire them at much reduced pay. Neither tuition nor administrative pay will be reduced, however.

       Don’t get me wrong, if there’s no money, something must be done. I’m just not so sure the folks that spent all the money should have such power.


--I was fortunate to adjunct some courses at a university. This is the number of students that needed to be in the class to cover what the university paid me. My pay, plus a few erasable markers and the use of a room in a 100 year old building on tax-free land, were all the expense of the class, which had over 40 students. Where oh where is the rest of the money going? Where I parked my car before coming to class is now a construction site for a future athletic building…

     Adjunct faculty are most common in English, apparently. Teaching and grading writing is a very time consuming process, and rules keeping class sizes small-ish are forever being contested by administration. I have to concede, the teachers there do seem to get far more abuse than in other fields.

     Kudos to professor Steinberg for her taking a stand on principle. Too bad the concept of principle is as alien to an administrator as calculus is to a cat. It’s always a good laugh to read an administrator’s confusion in the face of integrity:

"We take writing very seriously," said Selma Botman, the university’s provost, adding that "universities that are self-confident and bold look at their requirements and if there is any way to tweak them, to reimagine them."

      They take writing seriously…that’s why they’re getting rid of 60% of their full time writing instructor positions. “Tweak”? “Reimagine”? We’re not making a cheese sandwich here, this is writing, the most important, critical, skill in human civilization, and these bureaucrats are “tweaking” it to enhance their profits…and spinning this as a good thing.

   Professor Steinberg’s idealism is certainly worthy of academia:

"We all lament the way contingent faculty are treated, but we often also allow that treatment to persist," she said. If enough tenured faculty members "refuse to allow it," she continued, "universities’ attitudes towards contingent faculty will have to change."

     No, that won’t happen. Faculty are completely powerless here. The only reason tenure hasn’t been removed in total is because the legal costs currently exceed the financial benefit gained by firing the tenured faculty. I imagine every year administrators re-do that calculation. With each tenured faculty leaving (or, as likely at this point, dying), it becomes ever more fiscally viable to merely sweep away the remaining faculty, and impose a new world order on higher education: huge boiler rooms where young people are sucked in for 6 years or so, and then spit out deep in debt. 

     I’ve seen many faculty resign in disgust over sleazy behavior by administration (and I did the same thing, myself), but one comment ultimately sums up the effect of such resignations:

The administration is relieved because they have one less person resisting the plan they are trying to implement. They are probably well aware of their treatment of contingent faculty, but find that it is good enough to attract the teachers they need.

     The average age of a tenured faculty member is about 55, and every year that number goes up almost another year—very few new faculty are joining that club. Most everyone who can resign in disgust over what’s going on in higher education has done so, so we have, at most, another 20 years before there’ll be nothing left to stop administration from “tweaking” and “re-imagining” education into a system of debt slavery for all.





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