The Hypocrisy of the American University

This post offers Part 2 of our conversation with Pennsylvania State Senator, Daylin Leach.

It has been many years now since faculty voices within academia have been speaking out against adjunct hiring, which is the low-wage semester-by-semester hiring of university professors that has replaced full-time status for approximately 75% our country’s college educators. Gradually, awareness of the situation has grown, with concern about the many ways these hiring practices negatively impact not only the role of our scholars in higher education, but the quality of education our students are receiving. It wasn’t until the death of adjunct professor Margaret Mary Vojtko, and the outcry created by a series of articles, the first written by Daniel Kovalik for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, that the cold-hearted cruelty, the social injustice of such practices really became part of the public conversation.

Talking about the late Professor, our Pennsylvania State Senator, Daylin Leach, discusses the plight of the adjunct professors across the country.

As the Senator says, Vojtko’s earnings, which barely reached $25,000 a year,
“… is poverty, and that is just a salary. There are no benefits, no healthcare, no support system. It is really an impoverished life.”

Senator Leach points out that the perception people have too often is that adjuncts are teaching as a side activity, and are people with full-time jobs elsewhere. This is largely a false perception, intentionally perpetuated by the universities themselves. The truth is that the majority of university educators are living in poverty because university teaching IS their profession – and a profession for which they trained on average, with ten years of graduate work, research and study. Often, those years of study also mean years of student loan debt, now crippling these professors who are earning so little that they often qualify for food stamps and other forms of public welfare.

The argument has been made against companies like Walmart or McDonald’s, which pay such low wages that our social welfare system, paid for by our citizen’s taxes, is supplementing their workers’ needs. The same argument must be made against universities who also “game” the public welfare system by so severely underpaying their faculty that the same supports are necessary. Why should taxes be used to supplement these organizations which refuse to take responsibility for paying a living wage? Why, especially, when these same organizations, universities included, have seen an explosion of administrative jobs and salaries? As our legislators beat the drum against food stamps, talking about the need for “austerity”, there is no honest evaluation of the largest beneficiaries of that welfare – the corporations and universities, as a recent article in Truthout has discussed.

Far too often, the rhetoric about people on food stamps or other welfare supports is that they are lazy, that they “don’t want to work”, that they prefer to sit at home and let the state pay for their lack of responsibility. Nothing could be further from the truth. Too many of those receiving these benefits are working many hours at jobs in companies and universities which manage to shirk their responsibilities, succeeding in paying wages that are despicably low, not living wages at all.

“These are not lazy people…..(but) people who are very smart…leaders in their field sometimes. It speaks an indifference which I find both ironic and troubling on the part of universities. Because, frankly, there is this image of universities as bastions of liberalism….but in terms of how they treat their employees, suddenly all that goes out the window. You’ll have universities which teach great courses on the American Labor Movement, and….you’ll have universities with courses on poverty studies….but they don’t see the irony in the person teaching that not being able to heat their home because they won’t pay them. At the same time, we’ve seen here in Pennsylvania, administrative salaries go well into the 7 figures. So….this is a reflection of what is happening in society as a whole….”

Senator Leach is right. Universities should be a “bastion against that,” he says. But they are not. “They are deliberately doing this,” he says. Deliberately taking and exploiting the labor of hard-working, well-educated, dedicated faculty and driving them into poverty.

Margaret Mary Vojtko has become the symbol for this suffering. She was 83 years old when she died, over a year and a half ago, collapsing on the lawn of a home she couldn’t afford to heat or repair, a home she could no longer live in because of its condition, and the freezing temperatures inside. She died sick, without healthcare or savings. As Kovalik writes, “As amazing as it sounds, Margaret Mary, a 25-year professor, was not making ends meet. Even during the best of times, when she was teaching three classes a semester and two during the summer, she was not even clearing $25,000 a year, and she received absolutely no health care benefits. Compare this with the salary of Duquesne’s president, who makes more than $700,000 with full benefits.”

Dr. Vojtko’s poverty was so desperate by the end of her life that she was buried in a cardboard box.  A national outcry against her suffering rose, and the disrespect of those at Duquesne University who were not only aware of her plight, but who caused it, was exposed.  Her fate could well be the fate of many of the over 1.5 million university professors now working on adjunct contracts.  The first generation of “career adjuncts” is well into retirement age, with no retirement savings or benefits, no healthcare, nowhere to turn.

Isn’t time to ask: what sort of world is this, where such desperation is intentionally created? What sort of economic system creates and perpetuates this kind of suffering? What has happened to our American university system that the values and morality have become so warped that those upon whom the entire educational endeavor depends are left to suffer poverty, illness and degradation while the ever-growing number of administrators are living lives of comfort and well-being, and in many cases, wealth? What kind of country has America become?


To see the clip of part 2 of our interview with Senator Leach, click here.



Posted in Social and Economic Inequality | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Call to Adjunct Walk-Out Activists — Help Us Shoot the National Event for Our Documentary

Hi everyone!  This is a call to all the adjunct activists who are planning to be involved in the nationwide walk-out on Wednesday, February 25, and in other demonstrations for the rights of educators and students that are taking place that day.

Chris M. LaBree, co-producer of ‘Junct: The Trashing of Higher Ed. in America had a great idea last night.  I’m hoping that it isn’t too late to coordinate this and make it happen. Chris’s suggestion is that we get activists who are taking part all over the country in these demonstrations to shoot some footage on their phones – group shots, maybe some individual comments from various people involved, sweeping vista shots of the amount of people involved – anything, really, that feels good and exciting to each of you. In order for us to be able to use it, Chris says that it would have to be shot in landscape, not portrait. As we wrap the final interviews and put an “act three” to the film – the focus is going to be on what we are DOING to change this situation for the better – for the scholars/educators and for the students, for American academia.  It would be terrific if this part of the film could be crowd-sourced in this way, as yet another indication of the growing group effort pushing back against corporatized academia.    Chris and I, obviously, can’t be everywhere at once, so this would be a great way to really include a concerted group effort into the documentary. It would only require that we get a general release from you in order to use the footage, and if we DO use what you send, you’ll get a thank you in the credits. Email me at so that I can put you on the list, and get your information for the release form. Let’s make this happen! It would be great if we could document this in the film, and really capture the energy that is about to explode all over the nation.


Posted in Activism, Social and Economic Inequality, The Breakdown of the American University System | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Law and the Labor-Abused

These pages have discussed many aspects and problems of what has happened to America’s scholarly class, and how the casualization of the profession of the academic has ruinous repercussions throughout not only higher education in the U.S., but through American society.

In our work on the documentary, ‘Junct: The Trashing of Higher Ed. in America, my co-producer, Chris M. Labree, and I have talked to many people about the difficulties and struggles of those attempting to survive in an academia which offers little beyond poverty and professional misery. We’ve also talked to those in national policy institutes, in national unions, and on local campuses across the country, searching not only for the truths of what has happened to our country’s system of higher education, but ways to restore the quality and honor of what American academia used to be.

More and more is written now about this situation, and how it impacts scholarship in the country, how it harms our students – America’s next generation of adults – and how the corporatization of what had previously seen as an institution of social good has to be stopped.

One question I’ve asked to those we’ve interviewed is “What about legislation? Can we pass laws that put an end to the casualization of academic labor – and by extension all occupational casualization which has proliferated since the beginning of this so-called “Great Recession” – in order to restore professional stature?”

That there should be legislation, I think, is indisputable. As long ago as 1999, the case for laws ending this labor exploitation was made. John C. Duncan, Jr. of the Texas Wesleyan University School of Law, wrote an extensively exploration of the situation in academia, and concluded that both the unionization of contingent faculty and laws to protect the professoriate were necessary:

“If schools cannot step forward and provide equitable treatment of adjunct faculty members, then the law should provide the appropriate protection. Consideration in accreditation is just one possible solution. Legislatures and courts should realize the treatment of these professional educators is inadequate. Whatever the specific solution, the general answer should be this: recognize adjuncts as professionals, treat adjuncts as professionals, and afford adjuncts the rights and protections they deserve as professionals.”

Such laws have been extremely slow in coming. Recently, Colorado legislators attempted to introduce such a bill, HB 14-1154, which was lauded throughout the country, especially by unions and the 1.5 million educators suffering adjunctification. Sadly, the bill was squashed by legislators more beholden to corporate interests than to education or workers.

We talked about this situation with Pennsylvania Senator Daylin Leach, a progressive member of the state legislature in PA, a former candidate for the Congressional seat of Allyson Schwartz, who has himself taught on an adjunct basis, and knows well the indignities. His view is clear-eyed, and holds forth little hope in state houses which are dominated by the same sorts of corporate interests which derailed the Colorado effort.

His suggestion? Vote. Get involved at the grass roots level. Raise candidates who support workers and those whose occupations have been casualized, who are determined to restore economic security Americans in all occupations.   Of course, legislation at the state level is only one way to address the issue. National legislation against such occupational exploitation would, in one sweeping act, restore our fair treatment. Of course, the same issues exist at the national level, even more severely. There is no political will for helping the beleaguered worker, the casualized professional. With the exception of a few senators, such as Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren, we see no real concern for the plight of impoverished workers in any occupation. So, again, State Senator Leach’s advice rings true: Vote. Get involved. Begin at the roots and build up the candidacy of those who are dedicated to issues of workers’ right, of supporting and restoring the institutions of social good.

According to what Senator Leach said, not only is the political will to protect workers’ rights missing in the kind of people currently holding office, both at the state level and the federal level, but there is an undisguised hostility toward workers in general.

I asked him, “So what you are saying….is that some of the people who are holding these representative positions don’t really believe it’s a legislative duty to address economic labor inquality.”

Senator Leach agreed, “….I would go further than that. Some of them think that income inequality is a desired outcome. It’s a good thing, because…in heir view of the world, we need a system that picks winners and losers aggressively, and the winners need to be rewarded infinitely…the people they perceive as and actually rhetorically call losers, who have not reached the top of the economic ladder….that’s a character flaw on their part and people with character flaws should be punished…that’s literally the philosophy we are talking about.” (To see the full clip of this segment of our interview, please go to our new youtube channel, and remember to subscribe!)

Our legislators are not supporting the people.  These elected people populating our state houses, our national legislative positions, cannot truly be called our representatives. If this isn’t an argument for more impassioned involvement in what’s left of our democratic processes, I don’t know what is.

So please: consider the plight of our students, our country’s scholars and the quality of our institutions of higher learning when you research the candidates at all levels of our government. Get involved on a deeper level and demand of our representatives the kind of justice and respect for our citizens – in all occupations and endeavors – that a healthy and responsive government should embrace.





Posted in Social and Economic Inequality, The Breakdown of the American University System | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Inequality, MOOCs and The Predator Elite

It’s been too long since I’ve written here on The Homeless Adjunct blog, but I am back and ready to move forward.  The silence was caused by a particularly hard year of never-ending job searching.  Two of my three adjunct teaching jobs disappeared, leaving me with barely 30% of what was already a poverty level income.  I suspect that this has had something to do with my outspokenness on the issue of adjunct labor abuse, but as those of you working on contingency contracts all know far too well — there is simply no way to definitively prove such retaliation.  And after a year of falling victim to the severe trauma that we adjuncts are always facing, I have gotten myself back up, and have determined that I won’t let myself be silenced by poverty, or fear.  While it has certainly proven to be an effective tactic, it can only be effective if we allow it to take our spirit along with our income.  It’s pretty clear that this is a Braveheart moment, where I either continue to fight against tyranny — and the corporatized university is a tyrannical institution — or I let them win.

And thanks to the Scottish warrior blood in my veins, I choose to fight.

Since many people have kindly asked, I should also say that my co-producer, Chris Labree, and I are putting together a fundraising campaign shortly, to help us raise the money we need to get the remainder of the film shot, and into post-production.  So, you’ll be hearing a good bit on these pages about how that’s going.  You’ll also be reading about some of the people we’ve already interviewed, and the issues we’ll be addressing in the film and in the book.

So, since my last article, what’s been happening in higher education?  Tuitions are continuing to increase.   Student loan debt is continuing to increase.  Administrative jobs are continuing to increase.  Use of low-wage adjuncts is continuing to increase. Presidential salaries are continuing to increase.  But the quality of education is plummeting.

Yes, more people are talking about the terrible situation in academia.  But the focus still seems to be skewed.  The myth of the “lazy tenured professor” still gets bandied about by too many people as if it were a truth.  For profit “information delivery” methods are on the rise.  MOOCs proliferate, despite plenty of research that points out the serious flaws in
this “model”.  The game plan seems clear – destroy the teaching profession, then blame those educators still struggling against all odds to teach, hold them responsible for the systemic failures.  Then replace a system which focused on the social good of education with a for-profit model run like an edu-factory.  There is a reason that billionaires like Bill Gates have bought into education – and its the same reason that Gates owns over a half million dollars worth of Monsanto stock.  Factory farming and factory-ed have the same goal: profit.  And not for you or me.  Certainly not for our children.  But for Rupert Murdoch and Bill Gates and the other 1%-ers who have muscled their way into ownership of the “education industry”.  And, I will say it until I’m blue in the face (and yes that’s another Braveheart reference):  Education is NOT a for-profit endeavor, any more than medicine should be.  It is a social good, and must be treated as such.  Teachers are professionals and know more about the complexities of educating individuals than the “Instructional Designers” and curriculum technicians who are doing their best to take over.

An article from outside of academia caught my attention the other day.  It’s an interview from with Jaron Lanier, long seen as an internet visionary.  Lanier has grown more than a little concerned about the ways in which the internet has become a driving force for inequality and, sees it at the root of the destruction of the middle class.  He points to several professions – artists, musicians, journalists – whose livelihoods have all but disappeared.   His new book Who Owns the Future continues his war on digital utopianism and his assertion of humanist and individualistic values in a hive-mind world. But Lanier still sees potential in digital technology: He just wants it reoriented away from its main role so far, which involves “spying” on citizens, creating a winner-take-all society, eroding professions and, in exchange, throwing bonbons to the crowd.”

The idea of this erosion of professions is what caught my attention the most.  He warns that internet technology has been destroying the middle class by destabilizing jobs – by both shrinking the pool of possible jobs, and then creating instability in the few jobs available.  Instability comes in two ways: job instability (part-time, contract work has been replacing full-time work) and the low wages and lack of benefits that go with such part-time jobs.
While the last 20 years of academia have seen these two destructive practices
aimed at the professoriate, it hasn’t been until lately that the threat is driven by the internet — in the case of academia, in the form of MOOCs that are now looming enormous, casting monstrous shadows over the college campus. The MOOC model, from the standpoint of the professoriate, is an entirely exploitative one.  The professor designs a class, has lectures and other media support shot and “canned” — and then the university, or the MOOC itself owns that material.  It OWNS the intellectual property of a professor who has trained for, on average, a decade for advanced degrees, who has taught for years and developed skills and abilities.  And, once that particular area of scholarship is canned — who needs the professor, ANY professor, anymore?

Lanier talks about what happened when digital photography overtook the old style of photograph development.  He uses Kodak as an example.  At one point they employed over 140,000 workers.  Instagram, at the point it was sold for….about a billion dollars was it?….to Facebook, had 13 employees.  THIRTEEN.

Digitizing does away with the need for the human.  In the case of MOOCs, it is a scholarship killer. Education, at the university level especially, is the outgrowth of ongoing scholarship by the faculty.  A lifetime of research, writing, speaking, engaging with other scholars in your field, produces not just the articles and books of each scholar’s work, but the classes – NEW classes, exciting never-before-given classes, which provide a furtherance of study and scholarship in a given area.  By MOOC-ing college classes, an illusion of higher education is created.  Nothing more.  It’s “virtual” education in all the worst ways.

Remember when SAG and AFTRA did bloody battle with the film studios and TV studios in the early days of VCRs?  When a whole new way of distributing the work of the actors and crew on films and TV shows offered tremendous increase in revenue….but not for THEM?  Well, that’s what the MOOC model does in academia.  The owners of the MOOC platform, the universities under contract with the MOOC companies — those are the beneficiaries of all this digitized “information delivery”.  The shrinking career of the professor just got diminished even more.  And, unlike the members of SAG/AFTRA, we have no union capable of providing significant pushback.  The traditional educational unions have been nearly worthless – they haven’t been able to stop the casualization of the majority of university professors in the country, for instance.  They’ve been notoriously short-sighted.  Who is there to fight against the already-impoverished professoriate being MOOCed?

Lanier talks about the social contract that is being broken by the casualization of more and more areas of labor — he calls it the “informal” economy of our current employment situation. “We kind of made a bargain, a social contract, in the 20th century that even if jobs were pleasant people could still get paid for them. Because otherwise we would have had a massive unemployment. And so to my mind, the right question to ask is, why are we abandoning that bargain that worked so well?”

This observation is certainly relevant to what he sees happening in the creative industries, and in journalism.  But it is just as true in academia.  The idea that if a person loves what they do — even if it takes a lot of work and dedication to do it — they don’t deserve to be paid a middle-class salary to DO it — is part of what fuels the disappearance of the scholar as a professional.

The problem is, as Lanier points out, that we are not living in an informal economy, simply suffering with the income of an informal hiring system.  This informal, casualized labor situation puts far too many people, across all professions, into a terrible situation when they crash up against the formal economy we actually LIVE in — that’s the economy where you must still use cold, hard cash to pay for your housing, your utilities, your food, your healthcare.

“It was all a social construct to begin with, so what changed… is that at the turn of the [21st] century it was really Sergey Brin at Google who just had the thought of, well, if we give away all the information services, but we make money from advertising, we can make information free and still have capitalism. But the problem with that is it reneges on the social contract where people still participate in the formal economy. And it’s a kind of capitalism that’s totally self-defeating because it’s so narrow. It’s a winner-take-all capitalism that’s not sustaining.”

Think about the writing-for-free model that has taken over journalism.  His point can be supported by the millions made by Arianna Huffington, while many of her writers worked for little or nothing.  Yes, writing is one of what Lanier is calling the “pleasant” jobs — as is teaching (I didn’t say easy.  But dedicated writers and educators alike see what they do as rewarding and important work.)  Why should journalists or educators be working for little to no money, living at the edge of poverty, while the people at the top of this sort of economic structure are reaping enormous fortune?  According to Lanier, this is a conscious breach of the all-important social contract that not only provides what he calls the “hump” of middle class citizens — that middle area surge on the economic chart where the majority of people fall — but that large, sustained middle class keeps the rest of the system going.  Without it, the economy fails, as does democracy itself.

“We don’t realize that our society and our democracy ultimately rest on the stability of middle-class jobs…The way society actually works is there’s some mechanism of basic stability so that the majority of people can outspend the elite so we can have a democracy. That’s the thing we’re destroying, and that’s really the thing I’m hoping to preserve. So we can look at musicians and artists and journalists as the canaries in the coal mine, and is this the precedent that we want to follow for our doctors and lawyers and nurses and everybody else? Because technology will get to everybody eventually.”

Technology will get to everybody eventually.  Well, it’s already more than started in the professions he lists.  Internet diagnosis and the silo-ing of medical treatment.  Lawyers’ duties being unbundled, with online document reviewers being outsourced to other low-wage countries.  Scholars being reduced to migrant status, teaching conveyor-belt classes with “common syllabi”.

We’re all screwed.  And we’ll stay screwed if we keep struggling as individuals, or as separate classes of professionals.  We’ve got to come together and rise up together – all workers, across all platforms and industries – and put our talents and our multiple intelligences to use for our own benefit.  Stop giving our talents and abilities away to the Predator Elite, and start working together to figure out how to use our talents for each other.  If all exploited journalists stopped writing; if all exploited artists stopped creating; if all exploited educators stopped teaching — what would these exploiters have?  A great big bunch of nothing.  No articles or news stories.  No music, theatre, film, visual art.  Empty classrooms and campuses.

The most exploited are the most necessary.  We can never forget that.

Posted in Social and Economic Inequality | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 24 Comments

How The American University was Killed, in Five Easy Steps

A few years back, Paul E. Lingenfelter began his report on the defunding of public education by saying, “In 1920 H.G. Wells wrote, ‘History is becoming more and more a race between education and catastrophe.’ I think he got it right. Nothing is more important to the future of the United States and the world than the breadth and effectiveness of education, especially of higher education. I say especially higher education, but not because pre- school, elementary, and secondary education are less important. Success at every level of education obviously depends on what has gone before. But for better or worse, the quality of postsecondary education and research affects the quality and effectiveness of education at every level.”

In the last few years, conversations have been growing like gathering storm clouds about the ways in which our universities are failing. There is talk about the poor educational outcomes apparent in our graduates, the out-of-control tuitions and crippling student loan debt. Attention is finally being paid to the enormous salaries for presidents and sports coaches, and the migrant worker status of the low-wage majority faculty. There are now movements to control tuition, to forgive student debt, to create more powerful “assessment” tools, to offer “free” university materials online, to combat adjunct faculty exploitation. But each of these movements focuses on a narrow aspect of a much wider problem, and no amount of “fix” for these aspects individually will address the real reason that universities in America are dying.

To explain my perspective here, I need to go back in time. Let’s go back to post World War II, 1950s when the GI bill, and the affordability – and sometimes free access – to universities created an upsurge of college students across the country. This surge continued through the ’60s, when universities were the very heart of intense public discourse, passionate learning, and vocal citizen involvement in the issues of the times. It was during this time, too, when colleges had a thriving professoriate, and when students were given access to a variety of subject areas, and the possibility of broad learning. The Liberal Arts stood at the center of a college education, and students were exposed to philosophy, anthropology, literature, history, sociology, world religions, foreign languages and cultures. Of course, something else happened, beginning in the late fifties into the sixties — the uprisings and growing numbers of citizens taking part in popular dissent — against the Vietnam War, against racism, against destruction of the environment in a growing corporatized culture, against misogyny, against homophobia. Where did much of that revolt incubate? Where did large numbers of well-educated, intellectual, and vocal people congregate? On college campuses. Who didn’t like the outcome of the 60s? The corporations, the war-mongers, those in our society who would keep us divided based on our race, our gender, our sexual orientation.

I suspect that, given the opportunity, those groups would have liked nothing more than to shut down the universities. Destroy them outright. But a country claiming to have democratic values can’t just shut down its universities. That would reveal something about that country which would not support the image they are determined to portray – that of a country of freedom, justice, opportunity for all. So, how do you kill the universities of the country without showing your hand? As a child growing up during the Cold War, I was taught that the communist countries in the first half of the 20th Century put their scholars, intellectuals and artists into prison camps, called “re-education camps”. What I’ve come to realize as an adult is that American corporatism despises those same individuals as much as we were told communism did. But instead of doing anything so obvious as throwing them into prison, here those same people are thrown into dire poverty. The outcome is the same. Desperate poverty controls and ultimately breaks people as effectively as prison…..and some research says that it works even MORE powerfully.

So: here is the recipe for killing universities, and you tell ME if what I’m describing isn’t exactly what is at the root of all the problems of our country’s system of higher education. (Because what I’m saying has more recently been applied to K-12 public education as well.)

First, you defund public higher education.

Anna Victoria, writing in Pluck Magazine, discusses this issue in a review of Christopher Newfield’s book, Unmaking the Public University: “In 1971, Lewis Powell (before assuming his post as a Supreme Court Justice) authored a memo, now known as the Powell Memorandum, and sent it to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The title of the memo was “Attack on the American Free Enterprise System,” and in it he called on corporate America to take an increased role in shaping politics, law, and education in the United States.” How would they do that? One, by increased lobbying and pressure on legislators to change their priorities. “Funding for public universities comes from, as the term suggests, the state and federal government. Yet starting in the early 1980s, shifting state priorities forced public universities to increasingly rely on other sources of revenue. For example, in the University of Washington school system, state funding for schools decreased as a percentage of total public education budgets from 82% in 1989 to 51% in 2011.” That’s a loss of more than 1/3 of its public funding. But why this shift in priorities? U.C. Berkeley English professor, Christopher Newfield, in his new book Unmaking the Public University posits that conservative elites have worked to de-fund higher education explicitly because of its function in creating a more empowered, democratic, and multiracial middle class. His theory is one that blames explicit cultural concern, not financial woes, for the current decreases in funding. He cites the fact that California public universities were forced to reject 300,000 applicants because of lack of funding. Newfield explains that much of the motive behind conservative advocacy for de-funding of public education is racial, pro-corporate, and anti-protest in nature.

Again, from Victoria: “(The) ultimate objective, as outlined in the (Lewis Powell) memo, was to purge respectable institutions such as the media, arts, sciences, as well as college campus themselves of left-wing thoughts. At the time, college campuses were seen as “springboards for dissent,” as Newfield terms it, and were therefore viewed as publicly funded sources of opposition to the interests of the establishment. While it is impossible to know the extent to which this memo influenced the conservative political strategy over the coming decades, it is extraordinary to see how far the principles outlined in his memo have been adopted.”

Under the guise of many “conflicts”, such as budget struggles, or quotas, de-funding was consistently the result. This funding argument also was used to re-shape the kind of course offerings and curriculum focus found on campuses. Victoria writes, “Attacks on humanities curriculums, political correctness, and affirmative action shifted the conversation on public universities to the right, creating a climate of skepticism around state funded schools. State budget debates became platforms for conservatives to argue why certain disciplines such as sociology, history, anthropology, minority studies, language, and gender studies should be de-funded…” on one hand, through the argument that they were not offering students the “practical” skills needed for the job market — which was a powerful way to increase emphasis on what now is seen as vocational focus rather than actual higher education, and to de-value those very courses that trained and expanded the mind, developed a more complete human being, a more actively intelligent person and involved citizen. Another argument used to attack the humanities was “…their so-called promotion of anti-establishment sentiment. Gradually, these arguments translated into real- and often deep- cuts into the budgets of state university systems,” especially in those most undesirable areas that the establishment found to run counter to their ability to control the population’s thoughts and behavior. The idea of “manufactured consent” should be talked about here – because if you remove the classes and the disciplines that are the strongest in their ability to develop higher level intellectual rigor, the result is a more easily manipulated citizenry, less capable of deep interrogation and investigation of the establishment “message”.

Second, you deprofessionalize and impoverish the professors (and continue to create a surplus of underemployed and unemployed Ph.D.s)

V.P. Joe Biden, a few months back, said that the reason tuitions are out of control is because of the high price of college faculty. He has NO IDEA what he is talking about. At latest count, we have 1.5 million university professors in this country, 1 million of whom are adjuncts. One million professors in America are hired on short-term contracts, most often for one semester at a time, with no job security whatsoever – which means that they have no idea how much work they will have in any given semester, and that they are often completely unemployed over summer months when work is nearly impossible to find (and many of the unemployed adjuncts do not qualify for unemployment payments).  So, one million American university professors are earning, on average, $20K a year gross, with no benefits or healthcare, no unemployment insurance when they are out of work. Keep in mind, too, that many of the more recent Ph.Ds have entered this field often with the burden of six figure student loan debt on their backs.

There was recently an article talking about the long-term mental and physical destruction caused when people are faced with poverty and “job insecurity” — precarious employment, or “under-employment”.  The article says that, in just the few short years since our 2008 economic collapse, the medical problems of this group have increased exponentially.  This has been the horrible state of insecurity that America’s college professors have experienced now for thirty years. It can destroy you — breaking down your physical and emotional health. As an example:  the average yearly starting salary of a university professor at Temple University in 1975 was just under $10,000 a year, with full benefits – health, retirement, and educational benefits (their family’s could attend college for free.) And guess what? Average pay for Temple’s faculty is STILL about the same — because adjuncts now make up the majority of faculty, and earn between $8,000 to $14,000 a year (depending on how many courses they are assigned each semester – there is NO guarantee of continued employment) — but unlike the full-time professors of 1975, these adjunct jobs come with NO benefits, no health care, no retirement, no educational benefits, no offices. How many other professions report salaries that have remained at 1975 levels?

This is how you break the evil, wicked, leftist academic class in America — you turn them into low-wage members of the precariat – that growing number of American workers whose employment is consistently precarious. All around the country, our undergraduates are being taught by faculty living at or near the poverty line, who have little to no say in the way classes are being taught, the number of students in a class, or how curriculum is being designed. They often have no offices in which to meet their students, no professional staff support, no professional development support. One million of our college professors are struggling to continue offering the best they can in the face of this wasteland of deteriorated professional support, while living the very worst kind of economic insecurity.  Unlike those communist countries, which sometimes executed their intellectuals, here we are being killed off by lack of healthcare, by stress-related illness like heart-attacks or strokes.  While we’re at it, let’s add suicide to that list of killers — and readers of this blog will remember that I have written at length about adjunct faculty suicide in the past.

Step #3: You move in a managerial/administrative class who take over governance of the university.

This new class takes control of much of the university’s functioning, including funding allocation, curriculum design, course offerings. If you are old enough to remember when medicine was forever changed by the appearance of the ‘HMO’ model of managed medicine, you will have an idea of what has happened to academia. If you are not old enough – let me tell you that Once Upon a Time, doctors ran hospitals, doctors made decisions on what treatment their patients needed. In the 1970s, during the infamous Nixon Administration, HMOs were an idea sold to the American public, said to help reign in medical costs. But once Nixon secured passage of the HMO Act in 1973, the organizations went quickly from operating on a non-profit organization model, focused on high quality health care for controlled costs, to being for-profit organizations, with lots of corporate money funding them – and suddenly the idea of high-quality health care was sacrificed in favor of profits – which meant taking in higher and higher premiums and offering less and less service, more denied claims, more limitations placed on doctors, who became a “managed profession”. You see the state of healthcare in this country, and how disastrous it is. Well, during this same time, there was a similar kind of development — something akin to the HMO — let’s call it an “EMO”, Educational Management Organization, began to take hold in American academia. From the 1970s until today, as the number of full-time faculty jobs continued to shrink, the number of full-time administrative jobs began to explode. As faculty was deprofessionalized and casualized, reduced to teaching as migrant contract workers, administrative jobs now offered good, solid salaries, benefits, offices, prestige and power. In 2012, administrators now outnumber faculty on every campus across the country. And just as disastrous as the HMO was to the practice of medicine in America, so is the EMO model disastrous to the practice of academia in America, and to the quality of our students’ education. Benjamin Ginsburg writes about this in great detail in his book The Fall of the Faculty.  

I’d like to mention here, too, that universities often defend their use of adjuncts – which are now 75% of all professors in the country — claiming that they have no choice but to hire adjuncts, as a “cost saving measure” in an increasingly defunded university. What they don’t say, and without demand of transparency will NEVER say, is that they have not saved money by hiring adjuncts — they have reduced faculty salaries, security and power. The money wasn’t saved, because it was simply re-allocated to administrative salaries, coach salaries and outrageous university president salaries. There has been a redistribution of funds away from those who actually teach, the scholars – and therefore away from the students’ education itself — and into these administrative and executive salaries, sports costs — and the expanded use of “consultants”, PR and marketing firms, law firms. We have to add here, too, that president salaries went from being, in the 1970s, around $25K to 30K, to being in the hundreds of thousands to MILLIONS of dollars – salary, delayed compensation, discretionary funds, free homes, or generous housing allowances, cars and drivers, memberships to expensive country clubs.

Step Four: You move in corporate culture and corporate money

To further control and dominate how the university is ‘used” -a flood of corporate money results in changing the value and mission of the university from a place where an educated citizenry is seen as a social good, where intellect and reasoning is developed and heightened for the value of the individual and for society, to a place of vocational training, focused on profit. Corporate culture hijacked the narrative – university was no longer attended for the development of your mind. It was where you went so you could get a “good job”.  Anything not immediately and directly related to job preparation or hiring was denigrated and seen as worthless — philosophy, literature, art, history.

Anna Victoria writes, on Corporate Culture: “Many universities have relied on private sector methods of revenue generation such as the formation of private corporations, patents, increased marketing strategies, corporate partnerships, campus rentals, and for-profit e-learning enterprises. To cut costs, public universities have employed non-state employee service contractors and have streamlined their financial operations.”

So what is the problem with corporate money, you might ask? A lot. When corporate money floods the universities, corporate values replace academic values. As we said before, humanities get defunded and the business school gets tons of money. Serious issues of ethics begin to develop when corporate money begins to make donations and form partnerships with science departments – where that money buys influence regarding not only the kinds of research being done but the outcomes of that research. Corporations donate to departments, and get the use of university researchers in the bargain — AND the ability to deduct the money as donation while using the labor, controlling and owning the research. Suddenly, the university laboratory is not a place of objective research anymore. As one example, corporations who don’t like “climate change” warnings will donate money and control research at universities, which then publish refutations of global warning proofs. OR, universities labs will be corporate-controlled in cases of FDA-approval research. This is especially dangerous when pharmaceutical companies take control of university labs to test efficacy or safety and then push approval through the governmental agencies. Another example is in economics departments — and movies like “The Inside Job” have done a great job of showing how Wall Street has bought off high-profile economists from Harvard, or Yale, or Stanford, or MIT, to talk about the state of the stock market and the country’s financial stability. Papers were being presented and published that were blatantly false, by well-respected economists who were on the payroll of Goldman Sachs or Merrill Lynch.

Academia should not be the whore of corporatism, but that’s what it has become. Academia once celebrated itself as an independent institution. Academia is a culture, one that offers a long-standing worldview which values on-going, rigorous intellectual, emotional, psychological, creative development of the individual citizen. It respects and values the contributions of the scholar, the intellectual, to society. It treasures the promise of each student, and strives to offer the fullest possible support to the development of that promise. It does this not only for the good of the scholar and the student, but for the social good. Like medicine, academia existed for the social good. Neither should be a purely for-profit endeavor. And yet, in both the case of the HMO and the EMO, we have been taken over by an alien for-profit culture, our sovereignty over our own profession, our own institutions, stripped from us.

A corporate model, where profit depends on 1) maintaining a low-wage work force and 2) charging continually higher pricers for their “services” is what now controls our colleges . Faculty is being squeezed from one end and our students are being squeezed from the other.

Step Five – Destroy the Students

While claiming to offer them hope of a better life, our corporatized universities are ruining the lives of our students.   This is accomplished through a two-prong tactic: you dumb down and destroy the quality of the education so that no one on campus is really learning to think, to question, to reason. Instead, they are learning to obey, to withstand “tests” and “exams”, to follow rules, to endure absurdity and abuse. Our students have been denied full-time available faculty, the ability to develop mentors and advisors, faculty-designed syllabi which changes each semester, a wide variety of courses and options. Instead, more and more universities have core curriculum which dictates a large portion of the course of study, in which the majority of classes are administrative-designed “common syllabi” courses, taught by an army of underpaid, part-time faculty in a model that more closely resembles a factory or the industrial kitchen of a fast food restaurant than an institution of higher learning.

The Second Prong:  You make college so insanely unaffordable that only the wealthiest students from the wealthiest of families can afford to go to the school debt free. Younger people may not know that for much of the 20th Century many universities in the U.S. were free – including the CA state system – you could establish residency in six months and go to Berkeley for free, or at very low cost. When I was an undergraduate student in the mid to late 1970s, tuition at Temple University was around $700 a year. Today, tuition is nearly $15,000 a year. Tuitions have increased, using CA as an example again, over 2000% since the 1970s. 2000%! This is the most directly dangerous situation for our students: pulling them into crippling debt that will follow them to the grave.

Another dangerous aspect of what is happening can be found in the shady partnership that has formed between the lending institutions and the Financial Aid Departments of universities.  This is an unholy alliance. I have had students in my classes who work for Financial Aid. They tell me that they are trained to say NOT “This is what you need to borrow,” but to say “This is what you can get,” and to always entice the student with the highest possible number. There have been plenty of kick-back scandals between colleges and lenders — and I’m sure there is plenty undiscovered shady business going on. So, tuition costs are out of control because of administrative, executive and coach salaries, and the loan numbers keep growing, risking a life of indebtedness for most of our students. Further, there is absolutely no incentive on the part of this corporatized university to care.

The propaganda machine here has been powerful.  Students, through the belief of their parents, their K-12 teachers, their high school counselors, are convinced by constant repetition that they HAVE to go to college to have a promising, middle class life, they are convinced that this tuition debt is “worth it” — and learn too late that it will indenture them.  Let’s be clear: this is not the fault of the parents, or K-12 teachers or counselors.  This is an intentional message that has been repeated year in and year out that aims to convince us all about the essential quality of a college education.

So, there you have it.

Within one generation, in five easy steps, not only have the scholars and intellectuals of the country been silenced and nearly wiped out, but the entire institution has been hijacked, and recreated as a machine through which future generations will ALL be impoverished, indebted and silenced. Now, low wage migrant professors teach repetitive courses they did not design to students who travel through on a kind of conveyor belt, only to be spit out, indebted and desperate into a jobless economy. The only people immediately benefitting inside this system are the administrative class – whores to the corporatized colonizers, earning money in this system in order to oversee this travesty. But the most important thing to keep in mind is this: The real winners, the only people truly benefitting from the big-picture meltdown of the American university are those people who, in the 1960s, saw those vibrant college campuses as a threat to their established power. They are the same people now working feverishly to dismantle other social structures, everything from Medicare and Social Security to the Post Office.

Looking at this wreckage of American academia, we have to acknowledge:  They have won.

BUT these are victors who will never declare victory — because the carefully-maintained capitalist illusion of the “university education” still benefits them. Never, ever, admit that the university is dead. No, no. Quite the opposite. Instead, continue to insist that the university is the ONLY way to gain a successful, middle class life. Say that the university is mandatory for happiness in adulthood. All the while, maintain this low-wage precariate class of edu-migrants, continually mis-educate and indebt in the students to ensure their docility, pimp the institution out to corporate interests. It’s a win-win for those right wingers – they’ve crippled those in the country who would push back against them, and have so carefully and cleverly hijacked the educational institutions that they can now be turned into part of the neoliberal/neocon machinery, further benefitting the right-wing agenda.

So now what?

This ruination has taken about a generation. Will we be able to undo this damage? Can we force refunding of our public educational system? Can we professionalize faculty, drive out the administrative glut and corporate hijackers? Can we provide free or low-cost tuition and high-quality education to our students in a way that does NOT focus only on job training, but on high-level personal and intellectual development? I believe we can. But only if we understand this as a big picture issue, and refuse to allow those in government, or those corporate-owned media mouthpieces to divide and conquer us further. This ruinous rampage is part of the much larger attack on progressive values, on the institutions of social good. The battle isn’t only to reclaim the professoriate, to wipe out student debt, to raise educational outcomes — although each of those goals deserve to be fought for. But we will win a Pyrrhic victory at best unless we understand the nature of the larger war, and fight back in a much, much bigger way to reclaim the country’s values for the betterment of our citizens.

I am eager to hear from those of you who have been involved in this battle, or are about to enter it.  We have a big job ahead of us, and are facing a very powerful foe in a kind of David and Goliath battle.  I’m open to hearing ideas about how to build a much, much better slingshot.

Posted in The Breakdown of the American University System | Tagged , , , , , , , | 756 Comments

What We Must Demand of Our Colleges

To those readers who have followed The Homeless Adjunct for a while, this entry might seem to be a little off-side of our regular discussions, which focused largely on the issues of faculty exploitation.  The next few entries are going to expand that focus a little, in order to discuss issues from a different perspective.  This discussion is aimed at another exploited population within higher education:  students.  I’ve made suggestion below about the ten things students and their parents should demand of colleges before they even consider attendance.  I welcome suggestions from others – faculty, parents, students – in the hope that we might begin to build a checklist with which to arm those considering attendance at an institution of higher learning.  I especially welcome feedback on suggestion #8 — that universities reimburse students for their failure to provide fully-compensated faculty, full faculty access, available core course sections, errors in advising.

Our society has become convinced that the only way to a secure, middle class life is through a college program which confers a degree in a “marketable” set of skills. From the time our children are quite young, they are told by parents and teachers, by counselors and advisors, that they must prepare for college. Even elementary school children are told how important it is to work hard, get good grades, learn as much as possible in order to do well in middle and high school, in order to “get into a good college”. There is a discussion which will be tabled for another day – examining whether this constant message and deeply ingrained belief in college as the one sure route to a successful life is, in fact, true. For now, the discussion will focus on just what a “good” college is, and how to assure yourself that your child will be attending one. We know that a very important, exciting, and frightening, time in a teenager’s life is that time when he or she begins to search for colleges.

Discussions of “college rankings” are everywhere. Books are sold yearly, offering information about the colleges and universities of our country and other countries, in order to help the students and families make reasoned decisions. What is the tuition? The average SAT or ACT scores? Do they have fraternities and sororities? How are they ranked regionally?….nationally? Some very important and significant information is not contained in those books, and certainly won’t be found on the websites of the schools themselves. This missing information is directly related to much of the current conversation about the state of America’s colleges, the learning outcomes of our students, the crippling debt caused by explosive tuitions. It is what the universities have managed, for nearly a generation, to conceal from the general public.

So, here is a list of questions that should be answered by your own research before making a final decision about your own, or your child’s, college choices. You can try asking the universities you are considering; but I suspect that you won’t get a straight answer. These questions constellate around issues like faculty hiring — over-use of underpaid part-time faculty and teaching assistants, a glut of administrative jobs and a dearth of classroom support — corporate involvement in educational institutions, and most especially just how much of the tuition money being spent goes directly into classroom and educational costs. Over the last thirty years, unbeknownst to most people outside academia, there has been an enormous shift in the way universities hire the professionals who teach our students.

In the 1970s, more than 70% of all college professors were hired as full-time, tenure-track faculty. As you might expect, they were given private offices in which to do their work and meet with their students and colleagues. They had office staff to assist them in their daily activities. Reimbursement for their professional development costs, like that of their medical and legal counterparts, was considered part of the compensation provided by their university. Part of their responsibilities included researching and writing in their field, publishing, offering lectures, engaging in academic conversation internationally in order to move the knowledge in their area of expertise forward for the next generation. They were also engaged in what is known as “governance”, which means the administrative work required to run a department, a program, a university. This included committee meetings, faculty meetings – a variety of responsibilities that faculty shouldered in the management and maintenance of the university community, in order to shape and support the mission of the school. And what was the mission of the school? It was to provide a community for the scholars, and a system of education for the students; it was to maintain the highest possible educational standards and scholarly output, for the benefit of students, university, community and society.

Fast forward to 2012. More than 70% of all college professors are now hired “part-time” — many for only one semester at a time — for wages so low that it is necessary for our college professors across the nation to take on several jobs in order to cobble together a meagre living. University professors now, contrary to the “lazy tenured professor” illusion perpetrated by so many in the media, in industry, and in the country in general, earn an average of $30K gross salary by simultaneously working several jobs, without benefits, without healthcare, and without any form of job security. Of the 1.5 million university professors working in America, a full one million of them work in these precarious jobs. They are given no private offices in which to work, or meet their students. When they are offered offices at all, they are “group” offices, crammed with half a dozen other part-time faculty — spaces where no one leaves their belongings, no one can concentrate to do any work, and certainly no one can have a private meeting with a student. Office staff is nearly non-existent, and those who remain are not there to support the needs of the part-time faculty. There is no one to offer office support, to answer a telephone when a student calls, to accept papers or messages from students.

Because America’s part-time professors are working several low-wage, precarious jobs, their ability to research and publish in the field they dedicated an average of ten years worth of graduate work to is close to non-existent. They receive no financial support for the professional development necessary to stay abreast of new developments in their field. They are not designing courses in their areas of specialty which can be offered to students. These part-time professors are also excluded from the governance of the universities in which they devote their teaching time. Replacing them are the ballooning number of administrators who now constitute a majority class, holding the preponderance of power. These administrators are now the ones deciding on curriculum changes, on allocation of funds, on which college programs receive support and which ones do not. These non-educators are often directly involved in issues related to the educational content of the school’s programs, even though most of them have never set foot in a classroom as a teacher. These administrators are hiring PR people, lawyers, outside consultants – an army of very expensive “professionals” to help them “manage” the university. And to see just how much this system of administrators and expensive outside “experts” has failed, we need only look at the last ten years of statistics about the skills of our students, the drop-out rate, the ranking of American programs and students against universities and students internationally.

Why should any of this matter to parents and students when they are choosing a school? Because the ludicrous administrative-run programs of our universities have all but driven us over a cliff academically. Because professors who can’t practice their profession fully cannot continue to develop to their own fullest potential, and certainly can’t provide their students with an ever-changing and growing body of their own work. Because the horrible working conditions of 70% of America’s poverty-stricken faculty become the horrible learning conditions of America’s college students. Because the debt incurred by so many of our students is not being used to benefit their own instructional excellence, but to pay for the administrators, consultants, PR firms, lawyers — not to mention sports coaches and teams! — who are the only ones benefitting from this new, awful system.

Over the last several years, I have had friends taking their children on college visits. So, I’ve sent them with ONE question to have answered on those tours: “How many full-time faculty will be teaching my undergraduate?” These friends visited colleges all over the country, yet they all came back with the same answer: “All our faculty are professors.” My friends, none of whom work in academia, were satisfied by that answer, thinking that it actually said something. What none of them realized was that this response does NOT answer the question that they asked. How strange do you find it, that on every campus, in answer to that very specific question, the same answer was given? It was clearly a rehearsed dodge with the intent of not answering a very important question. What should that tell us? It tells us that the colleges don’t want parents to know the fact that most of the faculty who will be teaching their children are low-wage part-time contract hires without offices, without benefits, without the ability to meet and conference, to mentor, their students. Colleges don’t want parents to know that the majority of the faculty teaching undergraduate classes are working under academic sweatshop conditions.

It also tells me that arming parents with ONE question is not enough. Parents and students need a list of questions, and an explanation as to why each of the questions is important. These questions must be part of your own research because they are, if not more, as important than the pieces of information you receive from the published college guides.

So, let’s start with that first question again.

1. What percentage of the faculty teaching your undergraduate classes is full-time? What percentage is adjunct? Why is this important? For several reasons. To repeat what I said above, unlike full-time faculty, who receive a respectable professional wage, staff support, professional development support, and an office, part-time faculty are paid, on average, 30% of what full-time faculty are paid, for teaching the same class. They receive no staff or professional development support. They are not given offices — or at best, are given offices shared by a rotating number of other part-timers — an “office” which more closely resembles a public restroom or janitor’s closet than an actual office space.

So what? Well, to begin with, because of the precarious state of their worklife and the extremely low wages, which rarely exceed $15,000/year gross at any one school (since there are limits to the course assignments they can receive) with no healthcare or any other benefits, part-time faculty have no choice but to work several jobs. Other professors combine their teaching work with service or retail work, often earning more money waiting tables than they make teaching their university classes. Sometimes the jobs are other teaching jobs at a variety of universities, which require them to spend most of their time traveling from campus to campus rather than being available between classes for their students. Of course, the fact that they have no offices in which to conduct private meetings with their students is an additional issue. Students have a right to private consultation with their professors, to mentoring and time for conversation and guidance.

Think of it this way: You need an attorney. You make an appointment at a law firm with a good reputation. Your attorney meets you in the lobby, with a rolling suitcase; s/he explains that, since s/he doesn’t have an office space, you’ll need to meet there in the waiting room. Unzipping the rolling suitcase, your attorney explains that, without an office, s/he has no place to store forms and files. During the conversation, your attorney realizes the time and makes an embarrassed excuse, “I have to leave; I have another part-time job at Starbucks.” Say that, despite this, you hire this person, only to learn that every fifteen weeks, the firm requires that each part-time attorney reapplies for their same job, and there is no guarantee that your attorney will be back again. “But there are plenty of other part-time attorneys,” you are told, “who will handle your case just as well.” Do you think there is any possibility that an attorney with so little support from its firm, no matter how excellent or smart they are, can represent you fully? Do you think that any professor, with so little support from its university, can educate and support your child fully? That is why you should care.

Of course, it should also be pointed out that parents who would never allow their kids to wear clothes made in sweatshops overseas, have been sending their children to universities where exploitation and misery are the reality of most faculty.

2. A related question: what percentage of my child’s classes will be taught by Teaching Assistants? Remember the days when the title “teaching assistant” was given to someone who assisted a professor in teaching his or her class? Well, forget it. In today’s university, a “teaching assistant” assists no one. Instead, they are given full responsibility to teach a class. These are graduate students, perhaps only in their first semester of graduate school, being put into classes with undergraduates, and expected to teach — while also carrying their own full-time load of graduate classes. Bottom line: these TAs have to prioritize, and what is their priority? Their own classes and their own grades, of course. No matter how much they care about their students, or want to teach well, the stress of trying to juggle it all is impossible to disregard. These are young, inexperienced and overextended people put into the entry level classes where your students will be exposed, for the beginning of their college career, to enormous amounts of work and challenge. These are the classes where students need even more support, more guidance, more expertise — and they are getting less. That is why you should care.

3. Are undergraduate students guaranteed full access to their professors on campus? What is “full access” you might ask. Well, “full access” means that a professor is available on campus during times other than class times. It means that your student can arrive in a department and expect to see faculty in their offices, doing their own research, their own class preparation, meeting with students. It means that those professors might be offering seminars or departmental talks which they can attend. Full access does NOT mean email exchanges, or telephone calls. Full access means face to face conference and mentoring time. Personal support. It means the possibility to develop strong, personal and professional relationships with professors who will continue their mentoring and support long after the semester is over. If, instead, your student is forced to depend on email exchanges, text messages, brief telephone calls, what is the quality of the exchange or the support that can be expected? If your student finds a favorite professor or two and wants to continue pursuing study with such a professor, will they be able to? Or is that professor limited to one or two courses, taught again and again because of this new assembly line kind of education?

4. Are undergraduate students guaranteed private meetings in their professor’s private offices? Why are such meeting spaces important? Privacy, for one thing. How many students want to have a conference with a professor, discussing their difficulties with an assignment, or their less-than-stellar work on a particular paper, in front of a half dozen other people? Doesn’t your student deserve the respect of private consultations? Would you want to have a medical or legal consultation in a public space? Isn’t the quality of conversation that takes place greatly impaired without the possibility of some privacy and dignity? I have seen professors meeting their students in hallways, in outdoor spaces on campus, sitting on windowsills, for heaven’s sake. One professor I know opens his car trunk, and sits inside with students, going over papers. Heaven help him on especially rainy or windy days.

5. Are undergraduate students guaranteed advising from their departmental faculty? Will they have advisors who they can know and trust, and work with throughout their college career? Most parents remember meeting with advisors from their department — English professors if they were English majors, History professors if they majored in History, etc. There has been shift away from that, to an “advising department” where full-time advisors work in a kind of “pool”, and meet with students in what more closely resembles an assembly line. It doesn’t matter what your major is, what your concentration is, what your specific needs or interests are. You are merely one in a long line of students being pushed through the “advising process”. So? Isn’t it more streamlined? Isn’t it possible to train these advisors really well so that this is the only job they do, and they do it with expertise? No. As a professor myself, I have heard hundreds of horror stories my students tell, where they have been given the wrong advice, registered for and took unnecessary classes. They have lost time and money; they are never financially refunded. Faculty advisors, on the other hand, know their departments, know their programs, know their colleagues. As they work with an undergraduate student, they also get to know that student. Their advice and guidance would go beyond what courses to take in any given semester. It would include advice on how to shape the study, how to look for inter-disciplinary enrichment of their study. It would include advice on conferences, or other activities taking place at their university or others in the area which could enhance their understanding of the field in which they were studying. This kind of division of work depends on a factory model. It is sometimes called “unbundling” — meaning that all the skills and jobs that had been done by one professional have now been parceled out, unbundled as it were, into separate jobs handled in a more rote fashion. This is the fast food model, a factory model, where people are trained to do a limited amount of things, over and over and over again. It makes everyone more easily controllable, and much more easily replaceable. “Efficiency” and “cost effectiveness” are argued. But how efficient and cost effective is it for the student who has to take six years to earn a four year degree? Just who is saving the money? Not our students.

6. What is the number of “general education” or “core” classes required of my student’s major, or of the general university degree? Are these administrator-designed, common syllabi courses with common reading lists? Or are these individually designed courses by professors? How many courses are being offered to undergraduates that are designed by faculty in areas of their own specialty? Ask to see a few semesters of course selection guides, and you will see how “canned” the courses might be. Why should you care? Because this isn’t McDonald’s, is it? Why should every student be forced to take a large number of administrator-designed cookie-cutter courses with common book lists, taught by faculty with little to no say in the actual course content or reading material? Why shouldn’t your student be given a smorgasbord of class offerings each and every semester, designed by professors fully engaged in their own field of study, researching and writing and offering courses in their latest area of endeavor? Why shouldn’t there be that kind of lively scholarship and professionalism and academic growth at the college your student attends? It’s not like the tuition prices have gone down for this “one size fits all” education. Why should your student accept an off-the-rack education for couture prices?

7. Will undergraduate students be given ample access to the courses required for graduation within four years? This is a huge issue, and one about which universities must be required to provide assurance. As mentioned above, the average number of years a student studies before receiving a B.A. is now six years, not four. Why? It isn’t because your student is lazy or foolish or careless. It is because a) the advising is horrible (see above) and b) because the ever-growing number of “core courses” or “general education” courses required are nearly impossible to get. Again, why? Because schools are cutting and cutting and cutting the number of sections of these gen. ed. courses offered each semester. Students are unable to register for the courses they need, they are unable to take a leave of absence without their student loans kicking in, and they are told by those in the “advising pool” to take other courses “to raise their gpa” — and I know this because my students tell me that they are nudged into taking courses they don’t need, spending money and time they can’t afford, to merely tread water, hoping that they can get into the courses they really need the following semester. But here is the final kicker: they are never guaranteed preferential placement — so it is a miserable and stressful struggle each and every semester trying to get the required courses.

8. Will the university be willing to guarantee that my child’s classes will be taught by faculty who are compensated equally, provided with private offices and professional support, who will be available to mentor and guide my child outside of class as well as in? In the alternative, is the university willing to discount my child’s tuition each time they are taught by an under-compensated, unsupported part-time faculty member? If universities are now using over 70% part-time faculty, paying them barely 30% of the full-time pay for that class, offering those faculty members no benefits, healthcare or job security — why is it that tuition is exploding? Where is the money going? If your student is being taught by a faculty member receiving significantly less pay, who will be less available to your student – why should full tuition be charged? I suggest that we require that universities put in writing a guarantee of the quality of education, the years it will take, the work status of the professors in the classroom. I suggest, moreover, that these universities be required to agree, in writing, to the compensation or tuition reduction a student will get when the  conditions of his/her education are not sufficiently met.

9: Where does the tuition go? Will universities provide a full accounting of a) the number of administrative jobs and their salaries in comparison to the number of faculty jobs and their salaries, b) the presidential salary and full compensation, c) the salary of sports coaches and their support staff d) the cost of the new buildings and development projects on campus? What is the pay of a full-time professor, and the average pay of an adjunct professor? If the president of the university is making $2 million in salary, and a full compensation package of closer to $6 million, and that university is paying 70% of its faculty $2500 a course, or $10,000 a year, with no benefits – is that a school whose values are reflective of your own? Do you want to be supporting the CEO-like lifestyle of such a college president when the professors teaching your student are living on foodstamps and medicaid?

10. Finally, you might want to ask them about their corporate partnerships. These partnerships influence everything that happens on campus — which buildings are built, which programs receive the most funding. For instance, corporate contributions to the science and technology departments essentially give them control of those departments, so that the work done there, the research conducted, will be owned by the corporations. The faculty and students are controlled by the interests of the corporations. Objectivity? Hardly. Public good? Are you kidding? Ask on which corporate boards the president of the university sits, and how much is earned from those board positions.

Over the last thirty years, government has consistently defunded public education, making room for more and more corporate money. The more corporate money that has flooded our college campuses, the more “vocational training” has been touted as the value of a university education. The more corporate money, the more uneven the support for our college departments and programs has become. Liberal Arts and the Humanities are not easily “commodified”, and have been on the short end of budget decisions for over these last 30 years. Yet, all recent research shows that a liberal arts degree, especially in these precarious times, provides the greatest most broad-based education as well as the most flexible and wide-ranging set of reasoning, writing and communication skills possible…skills that are most valuable to our students as they face a horrible job market. So, even IF the value of a college education is primarily “vocational”, the latest statistics show us that the Liberal Arts and the Humanities should be more highly funded, and more highly valued.

With all the conversations taking place now in the halls of Congress, in the media, on talk shows and news programs, about the sorry state of our higher education in this country, there is a taboo in talking about the core problem — the corporatized take-over of the college’s mission of high-quality education. Until we force a return to that mission, reprofessionalize our faculty, and restore control of the university’s functioning to faculty governance, that mission will never be the central concern of the universities. Without that central concern guiding our principled decisions about the ways American higher education is run — and for whom — we will continue on this ruinous path. Without knowing the facts listed above, you and your children will be caught in the ruination, and will pay dearly for the experience.

Posted in The Breakdown of the American University System | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 23 Comments

John Casey’s response to the recently-released Coalition on the Academic Workforce Report. To quote him, “So it’s official, the dead horse has been beaten once again.” The fact that we keep this information, essentially, in-house, is a problem that he speaks of. These details have to be put into the hands of legislators, parents, other “stakeholders” in society who realize the need for solid, well-paid and consistently supported faculty positions. John agrees with my less-than-enthusiastic assessment of the AAUP-endorsed four phase plan, and, like me, would love to see something much closer to a plan to pay and treat faculty as the professionals we are.

John A Casey Jr

In what may qualify as the non-event of the year, the Coalition on the Academic Workforce (CAW) released its report on Adjunct working conditions yesterday.  The data paints a picture similar to that of Josh Boldt’s earlier crowdsourced study the Adjunct Project.  Non-tenure track faculty are working long hours for little pay, and they would gladly accept a full-time career track position if one were made available.  The more interesting statistic from the CAW study that gets lost in the overwhelming focus on pay is that a significant majority of those working off the tenure track are women who teach in humanities disciplines.

Reading through the CAW’s study, I couldn’t help but feel that the time spent on this project would have been better used somewhere else. The trends in Adjunct labor have not dramatically changed since the CAW was founded in 1997.  What has changed is that each year…

View original post 301 more words

Posted in The Breakdown of the American University System | 2 Comments