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Sep 16 2012

How We Fund Education

As you’ve probably already heard, Dan Fincke has moved Camels With Hammers to Patheos. He didn’t do it because of strife here. I know I’ve disagreed with him as much as anyone, but always with the hope of getting through and helping him change his mind in areas where I thought he wasn’t looking at a whole picture. We’ll miss Dan around here.

Moving to Patheos will get Dan a boost in pay. It will also put him more in the way of believers, which fits his approach better than many people’s, but it’s the pay that’s important. It really, really shouldn’t be, but it is. Why?

Last school year I taught 17 sections of college classes across six universities in three states as an adjunct professor just to make ends meet in New York City and deal with my student loan debt and accumulated credit card debt from when I was living at subsistence level as a graduate student for a decade.

Adjunct professors like me are drastically underpaid for our levels of qualification, years of schooling, classroom experience, and years of committed service to our institutions and to our students. By the end of this semester I will have taught 82 classes at the University level over the span of ten years, including during 7 years while I was also writing my dissertation. I have a Teaching Fellow of the Year award, excellent student evaluations and faculty evaluations, and numerous schools willing to hire me semester after semester year after year. Though my PhD is from Fordham University, my dissertation on Nietzsche’s ethics was written with John Richardson of New York University, one of the most elite scholars of Nietzsche teaching at one of the highest ranked philosophy programs in the country, as a reader on my committee.

Yet I only make between $3,600-$4,200 per section depending on the school and, until possibly this semester, have had no health benefits through my employers. One school paid me less than $3,000 for a section even after I had served there for several years and had attained to my PhD. Meanwhile many of these schools charge students at a rate of over $3,000 per section, which means that out of the 25-35 students in my classroom typically only one or two pays my salary for the semester.

I was already plenty sad to be seeing Dan go. It’s just galling to know that it’s happening because someone who is teaching, with that full a course load, has to choose a place to blog that pays well. Splitting these jobs up doesn’t make them any more cheaply done. Quite the opposite.

Yes, we have funding problems with education. They are fixable if our governments are willing to fix them. Either way, whatever we do, it’s time to stop balancing our budgets on the backs of labor. It’s the shortest of short-term solutions that is grossly unfair to the people involved.

Go show Dan some love at his new home, would you? Tell him you’re glad to see him settling in. Pick up a link or two to share with the theists who keep making the same silly arguments over and over again. See him get paid a little better for at least part of the work he does.

He’s earned it.

13 comments

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  1. 1
    smhll

    Either way, whatever we do, it’s time to stop balancing our budgets on the backs of labor. It’s the shortest of short-term solutions that is grossly unfair to the people involved.

    I had dinner with two of my male in-laws this week. Both of them are “swing voters”. Since both of them have been struggling with unemployment, both of them expressed how a race to the bottom in wages and working conditions hurts people in the US, and fucks up our economy. You can count them as two white men who won’t be voting for Romney. (Also, include my very liberal husband and son in that tally.)

    I think even the caustic anti-union rhetoric is losing traction with the formerly successful members of the 99%. I hope so.

  2. 2
    iknklast

    And now, schools are looking at their full time faculty, and trying to figure out how to put us in that same spot. I see it every day. Our president tells us we’re lucky to be employed. No matter that we have spent years (and thousands of dollars) to educate ourselves enough to become attractive to the colleges and universities around the country; never mind that we work 75+ hours a week for 40 hours pay (I figured it out – my hourly salary comes to around $12 an hour when you calculate how many hours I actually work); never mind that we’re paid much lower than people in industry with comparable skills and education, but we stay because we believe in what we’re doing. We’re LUCKY to be employed. The worst of it is, he’s right. Because we overload our professors, huge classes, and use so many adjuncts (like Dan), the academic world has an even longer line of applicants than most fields. And because we’re now operating schools (even public schools) as if they’re businesses, and the sole driving force is “customers” and “bottom line”, it’s getting worse. Until we recognize the extreme value to society of an educated populace, it won’t get better. We don’t value our academics, we dis them as “elite” and “out of touch”. So valuable talent like Dan (and zillions of others) is unappreciated and under compensated.

    Meanwhile, they use those underpaid underappreciate folks to drive down the salaries and benefits of full time instructors. Bust the union, at all costs, even if that cost is the education of our youngsters.

    By the way, what’s with the possible imposter screen? If a blog doesn’t require a sign in to comment, how come I have to sign in just because I’m using my sign in name? That hasn’t happened in the past!

  3. 3
    Anonymous Atheist

    iknklast – It’s a new feature installed last week, necessitated by a spurt of trolls impersonating people. http://freethoughtblogs.com/lousycanuck/2012/09/10/trolls-are-spoofing-commentariat-and-authors/

  4. 4
    julian

    I tweeted this story to Dan Fincke yesterday (I think). I dunno if you know about it but it seems relevant.

  5. 5
    jflcroft

    Hear hear!

  6. 6
    Jason Thibeault

    Yeah, sorry about that iknklast. It’s entirely to prevent people spoofing registered users. Anonymous folks can still be anonymous but can’t use names others have registered.

  7. 7
    JMR

    At a rough guess, I would expect that the numbers and salaries of both adjuncts and traditional tenure track faculty will be reduced significantly as technology impacts higher education – with the result that more students get better and cheaper educations.

  8. 8
    carlie

    with the result that more students get better and cheaper educations.

    You’re kidding, right? All that would happen if numbers and salaries are reduced is that states would declare that this means the schools need even less support, and cut it accordingly.

    And in what world does having a higher teacher:student ration mean the result is a better education?

  9. 9
    Anonymous Atheist

    JMR – Pay per adjunct can’t be reduced much further without leading to homeless faculty, as Dan and iknklast demonstrated.

    Dan is being paid just 1/30th of the tuition dollars his classes bring in. Then there’s all the government/donor funds on top of that. The low price the universities pay for his teaching sure hasn’t lowered the tuition bills for his students.

  10. 10
    F [i'm not here, i'm gone]

    JMR

    Books didn’t do that. How do you expect IT will do so? It isn’t, doesn’t, and won’t. You need humans to research and produce the data and process it for students to learn.

    Screwing actual educators has nothing to do with disruptive technology, and everything to do with class warfare.

  11. 11
    JMR

    carlie- You would be right if that were all that were happening, but what technology allows is the (theoretically) best teachers to teach 100,000+ students as occurred with the Stanford Machine Learning class. This eliminates the need for many teachers, and enables students to access courses more efficiently and conveniently.

    Anonymous Atheist – This will lead to an elimination of adjunct jobs, not necessarily a reduction in adjunct pay.

    F – IT differs from books in a number of ways. Most notably, IT is interactive in a way that books are not. While humans need to do the same things with or without IT, the scaleability with IT is hugely greater. What a human professor could do for a hundred students without it (s)he can now do for a hundred thousand students. This eliminates the need for a large number of teachers.

  12. 12
    pHred

    @JMR

    As someone who actually uses those IT tools to teach and is actively involved in course development and delivery, I can say that you have an extremely naive understanding of IT in education. Seriously, as a first step, who the heck do you think is generating course content ? If the course is worth anything, there is a ton of work to do creating content, which should not stay static (for a variety of reasons). When the class is active you have grading, discussion, layers of interaction and, ta da, technical problems that take time to deal with.

    Those “Megaclasses” involve either tons of graduate student work to maintain, or you have students grading other students work (what a great idea {sarcasm} It really improves students writing skills {NOT}).

    Maintaining an on-line course usually involves more hours per student than a face-to-face class because everything tends to turn into individual need.

    Plus you have issues with verifying that the person participating in the on-line class is who they say they are and not someone being paid to take the class and guaranteeing you a minimum grade (Google it, it is already a growth industry). Certifying the content of the courses to make sure that the students are actually learning the same material that they would in a classroom. How about physical sciences that need laboratories or field trips ? Pretending to mix solution or watching a video is NOT the same. There are lots of issues that get glossed over.

    As for your last sentence, I have heard that same argument from the administration for years now and it is simply wrong. IT is not a magic bullet for fixing higher education and the more it gets pushed as one, the worse your average college education is going to get.

    BTW – you do know that faculty have other duties beyond teaching, right ? Research, keeping current in your field, developing new courses, new curriculum.

  13. 13
    smrnda

    My background is in computer science, and the idea that we can have the best prof teach thousands of students single-handed is ridiculous. Learning isn’t watching TV – you need to interact, in real time with real people who actually know things. A professor who isn’t quite top notch with actual time for student interaction can accomplish a lot more than the Big Deal Professor lecturing to a camera. I mean, come on, haven’t you sit in some massive class taught by the big ‘expert’ and realize you really weren’t learning anything? High volume education tends to shift the emphasis from learning to teaching a test so that the massive number of students can be graded easily and effectively.

    Plus, it’s tougher to communicate remotely. I know this because I work in the IT field and getting everybody in the same building can solve problems much faster than trying to handle it over Skype. Part of the reason is there’s just no way for me (over Skype) to as effectively walk over to the next desk, see what’s going wrong, walk back to my computer and then figure out which changes (out of thousands of lines) of code don’t work together.

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