Thursday, December 26, 2013

AdjunctCrisis.com

I have just added the blog AdjunctCrisis to my blog list.  For me, being adjunct faculty is not a crisis.  But I have an okay-paying, full-time job as well, with health insurance.  My current hope is to retire at the end of next year, so that I can afford to teach history.  For the majority that teach at the college level, it is a crisis.  If you are not independently wealthy, teaching is pretty much a vow of poverty occupation.

Why should you care?  Do you really want people who are highly educated and potentially quite influential on the next generation to be poorly paid, without health insurance, and full of resentment?  This is not a long-term positive strategy for a free market capitalist society.  It is true that the problem is largely a result of how governmentally-funded colleges and universities operate.  That is a subtle distinction that may be missed by at least some adjuncts who are suffering from near poverty (and sometimes, true poverty).

7 comments:

Josh said...

Do you really want people who are highly educated and potentially quite influential on the next generation to be poorly paid, without health insurance, and full of resentment? This is not a long-term positive strategy for a free market capitalist society.

Does negating this effect improve the situation? Other environments where high pay and health insurance are common, or where resentment is intentionally catered for, have not, historically, been very good situations for free market capitalist societies -- and that goes double when provided government force or mandate, as much of adjunctcrisis's terminology leans toward.

The Detroit model is, if you don't mind understatement, not a good thing, but it's what the folk at universities and linked by adjunctrcrisis seem very prone to desiring.

Clayton said...

It isn't necessary for adjuncts to be paid like full-time faculty -- but the current situation is pretty astonishing. At College of Western Idaho, the maximum amount that an adjunct can make (after the next set of pay raises take effect) is just under $17,000 a year. Even in a two adjunct family, that's $34,000 a year gross, and they still have to pay for their own, now much more expensive health insurance. That is a bit better than being a full-time minimum wage worker here in Idaho ($7.25 per hour).

Not surprisingly, with that kind of pay, adjunct faculty lean left (even here in Idaho). The right solution is likely a bit more equitable distribution of wages. Public institutions are very administration heavy, and wages tend to rise quite dramatically once get to vice president and above.

Josh said...

I agree that it's an issue -- indeed, your example isn't even the worst I've seen -- but that's different from it being an issue we should care about because of its political ramifications. Adjunct faculty leans far left, true. But so do tenured faculty, unionized non-teaching staff, and even most graduate and post-graduate students. And so do teachers with 'more equitable distribution of wages' in the non-college world, or in parts of Europe where adjuncts have not taken as large a place in colleges. And so on.

Moreover, we're talking a populace that trends to the far left not just on economic matters, but on a wide array of 'social' issues. They're usually stricter regarding social issues: individual academics can discuss Rand or not be a socialist and merely be strange, but violate the taboos related to the oppression olympics on matters like sexuality, religion, race, or individual responsibility and you can easily become a target of the day's five minute hate. There are bastions of economic conservatism on campuses, while social conservatism doesn't manage anything closer than a frat house.

There are a lot of good humanitarian and practical reasons (I'm pretty sure selecting for college graduates that are willing to take near-minimum-wage pay does not help find good teachers). If you want to change the course of politics in academia, there's a number of things that matter more, and more immediately. Actually having arguments that can exist on campuses is one of them.

At a more immediate level, the phrase "equitable distribution of wages" makes my skin crawl, and not just because it's often spouted by socialist or communist. It usually stinks of bad math. Not as bad here as where folk are fighting against private industry and the tyranny of basic division, but still worse than I'd hope for from a history professor. CWI's President, Vice President, and Provost make somewhere in the order of 100-350k USD/year, if a quick search turned up the right numbers, but they are around 200 actual educational staff. You might be able to slice off 1mil USD/year from the administrative staff's pay, if you assume that there's nearly no value to these people, but that'd only bring maximum adjunct pay into the area of 22k-24k USD/year (caveat: these numbers a napkin-math, at best, and my sources may be out of date). That's an improvement, of course, but it's still below the poverty line for a family of four. When they're comparing themselves to the average starting salary even for other humanities degrees (>35K USD), that's not going to seriously reduce the desire to eat the rich. Even to solve the pay problem, you'd have to look farther into deeper architectural issues -- but these are often the very things that attracted adjuncts and professors to the field to start with.

I think you're also mistaking the values of the average adjunct for your own. A very big and constant concern that shows up in places like InsideHigherEd and AdjunctCrisis is not pay, but stability or the appearance of stability. Work at a single institution is a big deal, even if it's independent from making money. Contract over at-will employment, and hard-to-terminate contract over year-to-year contract. Comprehensive health insurance over anything that makes actuarial sense, especially for younger staff. I'm not sure these are even possible for colleges to offer if they wanted, but that they are constant demands shows something about the desires of the folk asking for them.

Clayton said...

I don't expect adjuncts are going to be getting high salaries. I just would like them to be able to make enough to get above the poverty line. At least part of the problem is that CWI, like most colleges, now limits adjuncts to three sections a semester to avoid having to pay for health insurance. Putting a bit more of the money at the top into adjunct pay AND letting them teach full-time would get them into somewhat better situations financially.

It turns out that nearly all businesses are screwed by a current requirement that at least half of the cost of group health insurance must be employer-paid (federal regulation). That means that even if a college wanted to offer group health insurance as an employee-paid plan, they are prohibited from doing so.

Perhaps I teach somewhere rather weird: I know that I am not the only social conservative there.

Josh said...

Putting a bit more of the money at the top into adjunct pay AND letting them teach full-time would get them into somewhat better situations financially.

In short, the solution is to hire them as something other than adjuncts. And that's probably a good solution, although at this point there are few ways to actually apply it short of a legal mandate, since non-mandatory rules would result in a cartel where all groups have very high incentives toward defection. As you point out, we're increasing the marginal costs of full-time employees right now, and are likely to keep doing this; short of reversing that trend through magic, you'll pretty much need to do it through force.

There are worlds where that might not go terribly wrong, but I'm not sure that there are any worlds where that would make academia less left-wing. Again, non-adjunct college staff are not exactly prone to -- or even unopposed to -- conservatism.

Perhaps I teach somewhere rather weird: I know that I am not the only social conservative there.

A midwestern community college is, yes, somewhere in the <20% corner of the bell curve. But I'm sure you can find one or two others. CWI has a couple hundred staff, though. If you found all of the social conservatives, would it be hard to fit in a janitor's closet?

And are any of them nearly as outspoken as you are on the topic, nevermind as outspoken as the social liberals are? I'd actually be interested to see it, since even if I find a lot of your criticisms of GLBT stuff sloppy, I'd rather be aware of the argument than not.

Clayton said...

It would be a real concern to have a mandate imposed on private institutions, but if state governments encouraged public institutions to offer more full-time employment, perhaps tied to limits on the number of administrators, I don't see a problem with that.

I think there are more social conservatives not just at CWI, but at most colleges, than you might expect. (And remember: to many social conservatives, I'm too close to a libertarian to consider one of their own.) It is true that most are not outspoken; most are deeply closeted because they need that job, and the opposite of diversity is university. I am outspoken because I really do not need a teaching job. I do it because it important, and because there needs to be more than one point of view represented among the faculty.

Clayton said...

When I say that "I'm too close to a libertarian" I mean that I consider sodomy laws constitutional but silly, and it does not particularly bother me if governments impose bans on sexual orientation discrimination for government employment.