Friday, October 30, 2015

Adjunct Abuse Might End?

By Professor Doom

     I’ve written more than a few times of horrible treatment of the typical college professor now. The adjunctification of higher education has been a secret for years, and it’s long past time that people know that getting a really good education can lead, not to riches, or to even security, but to sub-minimum wage jobs, even in an industry, higher education, that is drowning in wealth, thanks to the student loan scam and the unquestioning support of a gullible public.

      A recent article in The Atlantic highlights details I’ve pointed out many a time. Let’s go over them again, because only through the spread of knowledge regarding the great evil being wrought on our campuses can there be hope for its end.

     First, the source of hope:

In early June, California labor regulators ruled that a driver for Uber, the app-based car service, was, in fact, an employee, not an independent contractor, and deserved back pay.

      Higher education isn’t the only industry that is using “contingent labor” rules to skirt the employment laws. Across the country, workers in other industries are being squeezed, and squeezed hard. They’re being reclassified as “independent contractors.” Because they have to maintain company hours, perform a wide variety of company duties, and maintain company property with their own money, these “independent” workers, after trying to reason with company bosses, are taking their complaints to court…and winning, at least sometimes.

In their winning lawsuit, for example, the California FedEx drivers complained that the company shifted hundreds of millions of dollars in costs onto them, from buying and maintaining their FedEx-branded trucks to following FedEx schedules that didn’t allow for meal breaks and overtime.

     Now, companies complain that they need to shift these burdens onto their workers because, hey, doing so lowers overhead costs, and increases profits, providing an advantage over competitors. All well and good, I suppose, but this makes no sense in higher education, where there isn’t much in the way of a drive to increase profit margins. Many institutions are tax-supported, making profits a low priority.

     Nevertheless, tenure is pretty much dead, and the cliché of the stable professor job is far removed from the reality of barely-surviving, contingent, adjunct-hood.

That colleges and universities have turned more and more of their frontline employees into part-time contractors suggests how far they have drifted from what they say they are all about (teaching students) to what they are increasingly all about (conducting research, running sports franchises, or, among for-profits, delivering shareholder value).

     Trying to survive as an adjunct is murderous. You have no security, and so must adhere to administrative demands to offer the most ridiculously simple coursework; you have no influence, as an educator, over anything relating to education. And it’s really, really, hard to get by this way:

“…Mitch Tropin, teaches at six different colleges in the D.C. area. Through a combination of perseverance and good karma, he has been able to align his three Baltimore schools so he teaches there on the same days, allowing him to minimize commuting time. He always aims for employment at six schools because, he says, “You never know when a class will be cancelled or a full-time professor will bump you at the last minute. Sometimes classes just disappear.” 

     This guy teaches at six different schools, all accredited (legitimized) by the same accreditor. How can the accreditor not be aware of the abusive situation at not one, not two, not three, four, or five, but six different schools? These six schools, rather than each hire faculty to teach full time, collude to each hire 6 teachers, and employ each part time. How did accreditation not notice this scheming? The answer is simple: accreditation is a sham, run by the same people that run those schools, the same people that put faculty into adjuncthood, denying them jobs for the personal profit of administration.

      We’re told time and again that education is the key to a better life, justifying the ridiculous expense of higher education. But what’s the payoff for these highly educated people? Let’s see:

“To say that these are low-wage jobs is an understatement. Based on data from the American Community Survey, 31 percent of part-time faculty are living near or below the federal poverty line. And, according to the UC Berkeley Labor Center, one in four families of part-time faculty are enrolled in at least one public assistance program like food stamps and Medicaid or qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit.”

     These highly educated people get no befits from these jobs, not even health care:

A recent study shows that a large portion of universities and colleges limit their adjuncts’ teaching hours to avoid having to provide the health insurance now required for full-timers under the Affordable Care Act.

      Obamacare actually leads to people becoming even more impoverished. I can’t emphasize strongly enough how the lack of integrity amongst our rulers of higher education is a big factor in what’s happened here. When you consider that our campuses are very Left-biased nowadays, and thus should be driving to create that “worker’s paradise” that is the key Left platform, the hypocrisy here is quite foul…”Liberal Hypocrisy” is as redundant a phrase as “tiny shrimp,” it seems.

Alyssa Colton, for example, the subject of an NBC News story earlier this year, was hired initially as a full-time teacher with benefits at the College of St. Rose in Albany, New York. The college did not renew her contract four years later, but after a semester had gone by, it rehired her as a part-time instructor without health insurance or pension contributions. “I essentially took a pay cut,” Colton told NBC, “doing the same work for less money and less respect.”

     It’s a big bait-and-switch in higher education. We’re told that we shouldn’t feel pity for these people because, hey, they should just get another job. This whole situation has happened slowly. Every year, I get another pay cut, in some form or another (either a higher health insurance premium that my employer won’t pay, or I’ll be forced to pay more for the privilege of parking on my campus’ tax free land, or some other fee that I must pay as part of my job), and no pay raises; it’s takes a decade of this before you realize you’re never getting ahead, ever, as the carrot of “full time position,” dangling just a little out of your reach, is moved further away by a chuckling administrator every time you step forward. 

     Higher education at the graduate level has been diluted down so that you can get a degree qualifying to teach on campus more easily than licensing to teach in the public school…and none of the schools selling these degrees mention “warning: you can only get sub-minimum wage paying jobs with this degree.” Instead, these institutions say “tuition is $20,000 per year, but you can get a great job with your Education Master’s Degree. We’ll help you fill out the student loan forms…”   Again, integrity would really help with this sort of thing.

     We’re also told that we have to pay faculty nothing, because keeping costs down keeps tuition down. Well, we know that sure doesn’t work. It’s a simple enough matter to watch administrative palace after palace going up on (and off) campus and deduce where the money is going. Administration sure doesn’t cut corners when it comes to their own positions:

Even while keeping funding for instruction relatively flat, universities increased the number of administrator positions by 60 percent…10 times the rate at which they added tenured positions.

---the article doesn’t mention the student base greatly increased while this happened.

      Not just the number of administrators, but their salaries, can only increase:

“[I]n January 2009, facing $19 million in budget cuts and a hiring freeze, Florida Atlantic University awarded raises of 10 percent or more to top administrators, including the school’s president.”

     While what’s really going on in our scams schools of higher education are unknown to the general public, anyone inside the system can tell something has gone terribly wrong in the pricing/payment scheme:

One adjunct teacher, JJ, posting a comment online, calculated his/her pay as an adjunct as $65 per student per semester, adding up to the princely sum of $2,000, noting that “each student paid $45,000 in tuition and took about 4 classes a semester.… I think their parents would be rather upset to learn that only $65 of the $45,000 went to pay one professor for an entire semester.”

      I’m not a big fan of unions, but for lack of a better solution, I’m willing to accept unions as a possible solution here. Naturally, the low status of adjuncts means forming a union is a termination-level penalty (yes, I know corporations do the same thing; the issue here is higher education gets extra money poured on it because, supposedly, it’s not about the profit motive). Despite the obstacles, adjuncts don’t have much choice but to fight:

Tiffany Kraft, who teaches at four different institutions in the Portland, Oregon, area says, “What do we have to lose? We’ve been scared into complicity for so long, but I didn’t go through fourteen years of higher education to be treated like shit.”

     It’s a shame that simply asking the pompous overlords self-styled titans of industry leaders of higher education to stop the hypocrisy of paying highly educated people peanuts while charging students a fortune because education is so “valuable.” If they had integrity, it would have stopped long since.

     Hopefully the courts can turn things around, but there’s a flaw in that. A class action lawsuit, with thousands of adjuncts suing an institution, could result in a court award of tens, even hundreds of millions.  Too bad that if that happens, the school will simply close its doors, paying nothing to the victims and stranding students with worthless credit hours…while the people that committed the crime will simply walk free. Can anyone think of a better solution?

     In the meantime, the immense plundering going on in higher education is becoming ever more known. While it would be naive to expect the plunderers will ever pay the price for their misdeeds, the first step is make the crimes public knowledge, and The Atlantic is at least helping.


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