Where is the money going?


If you read these tales of the horrifying reality of the academic job market, you will learn that adjunct professors are paid a pittance, and often have to do piece work, teaching multiple classes at multiple colleges to make ends meet. They’re getting paid next to nothing for what ought to be the central work of the university. So the money isn’t going into their pockets.

And then you learn that many universities are relying almost entirely on adjuncts to do their teaching.

It is insane to see that my department has only 3 FULL TIME PROFESSORS and 20 ADJUNCTS!!!

So the cash must all be flowing into the pockets of those 3 professors? Nope. Most tenured professors are making a comfortable middle class income, but aren’t getting rich. Tenure means stability, not wealth. If you’re looking for a profession that will give you opportunities to rake in fabulous sums of money, don’t look to the professoriate.

The students must be laughing themselves to the bank with all of their cheap educations, right? No, you know that’s wrong: skyrocketing tuition costs have been the order of the day, and students are graduating with legendary debts, debts that would have been unheard of for my generation. Money is pouring in, but it’s not going to the educators.

It’s going to academic parasites like Elsevier. It’s going to academic bureaucracies that have lost sight of what their institution is for: we have big advertising goals that are not necessarily in alignment with making the best damn university we can. We sink cash into college athletics, without assessing whether it actually benefits our mission. The highest paid state employee in most states is the college football or basketball coach, which is utterly nuts.

If you look at the methodology behind college rankings, it’s all stuff like graduation rates (here comes the pressure for grade inflation) and class sizes (hiring lots of cheap adjuncts actually benefits your rankings) and peer evaluation (them that has a good reputation gets a good reputation). It would be really interesting if US News & World Report announced that they were going to multiply colleges’ final score by the full-time/part-time faculty ratio; a lot of schools’ much sought after rankings would tumble down rapidly.

But there are many vested interests that are working hard to avoid having anyone gaze at the teacher-student interactions that ought to be the center of any evaluation of a university’s quality.

Comments

  1. says

    Big universities aren’t going to stop doing big-time athletics so I think the most we could hope for there would be for big ticket athletic programs to cut their ties to the schools themselves and be run directly by the alumni associations. Then we could stop pretending the practice had anything to do with “student-athletes”, a fiction that nobody believes anyway.
    Of course that wouldn’t really solve the main problems: universities being run by lawyers and B-school grads who don’t believe in putting academic interests first. It seems like this is just another area of life that has been taken over by the rent seekers (in the economic sense of ‘rent’ as income earned without expending effort).

  2. says

    People have been trying for years to get Useless News and World Distort to change their ranking scheme substantially; to borrow an image from Kurt Vonnegut, that scheme changes about as quickly as the rules of chess.

    Part of the problem is that US News doesn’t even acknowledge the existence of adjunct faculty at all. So when they give points for “percentage of faculty with terminal degrees,” they don’t even have to notice the tens of thousands of Masters-holding and ABD faculty teaching the lion’s share of undergraduate courses in the US or the thousands of others that do have terminal degrees, which puts a perverse incentive in place to hire people without them because they cost (even) less.

    That said, it’s important to note that this has nothing at all to do with the quality of teaching that adjunct faculty do. It’s tempting to conclude that adjuncts must be worse teachers (or they’d have better jobs or better credentials), but the record is clear those aren’t connected in any meaningful way.

  3. says

    California community colleges have a statutory goal of 75/25 in its full-time/part-time ratio, but in most of the state’s CC districts it’s well short of achievement. The governor and legislature routinely suspend the goal in allocating state budget money to the CCs (so that local districts have “more flexibility” and more “local control” in spending state funds, which would otherwise mandate hiring more full-time faculty). There have, of course, been plenty of excuses/justifications for these suspension actions in recent history, especially with the Great Recession, which had CCs scrambling to survive, let alone thrive. At least the existence of the official 75/25 goal, breached as it is, enables school groups and faculty unions to argue and lobby a little more effectively on the issue, putting elected representatives on the spot. But will we achieve the goal in my lifetime? Well, what do the actuarial tables say about the likelihood of my living to the age of 200?

  4. Bill Buckner says

    #2,

    That said, it’s important to note that this has nothing at all to do with the quality of teaching that adjunct faculty do. It’s tempting to conclude that adjuncts must be worse teachers (or they’d have better jobs or better credentials), but the record is clear those aren’t connected in any meaningful way.

    Statistically, that is not true at primarily teaching colleges. The reason is simple. Suppose teaching ability is ranked 1-5, 5 being good. Then something like this happens (I’m making up numbers but you’ll get the point):

    — Tenure track faculty will be weeded out if they cannot consistently teach at, say, a 3.5 or above.
    — Adjunct faculty will be routinely rehired as long they teach at, say, a 2.5 level or above.

    I think anyone who has ever been a chair at a teaching university can confirm this. As a chair I was under a ton of pressure to get all the adjuncts I needed. The standards for teaching were not in the dirt, but they were defintely lower than what you’d accept from tenure track faculty.

    At a research university, things are probably quite different.

  5. consciousness razor says

    Bill Buckner, #4:

    I think anyone who has ever been a chair at a teaching university can confirm this. As a chair I was under a ton of pressure to get all the adjuncts I needed. The standards for teaching were not in the dirt, but they were defintely lower than what you’d accept from tenure track faculty.

    At a research university, things are probably quite different.

    I don’t understand. If a primary focus is on creating good educators, not so much on doing other things like research,* I’d expect that the standards for tenure track faculty at such an institution would be relatively high, since the idea is that they will not focus so much on these other things like research. Adjuncts, however much they may be needed, will fill in the gaps, but again basically the only reason they are there is to provide a quality education to people who mostly intend to become quality educators. So, based on that alone, I don’t see a motivation for lowering standards for adjuncts. With no actual stats and just your personal experiences to go on, then why should we expect that to be the case in general?

    Also, I’d expect that if tenure track faculty at a “research university” are busying themselves with research, then someone out there (adjuncts or others) would have to pick up the load and do the bulk of the actual teaching, under the assumption that graduates from such places do end up learning stuff somehow. But if the main focus of the school is not on education (or specifically educating educators), then I don’t see why there would be a much better set of “teaching standards” for these people. They just have to do an adequate job, enough to propel their graduates into research or industry or what have you. There is relatively less pressure on them to excel at teaching**, because their institution’s success, more or less by its definition as a “research” institution, doesn’t depend on that. So I don’t see a motivation for such places to have relatively high standards for teaching among their non-tenured faculty (much less their tenured faculty).

    *It’s not clear whether you intended to lump all colleges/universities into either a “teachers'” category or a “research” one. I’ll just assume you didn’t want to address any other types of schools.
    **For large schools, as those dedicated to research tend to be, you might say it’s about quantity and not quality. But the point is essentially that “doing more of the work” doesn’t imply anything like “doing a better job.”

  6. says

    Yes, sometimes the urge to hire off the street without any regard for quality is an issue. The same is true for the quality of tenure-track faculty at some kinds of institutions. My point isn’t that adjunct faculty are automatically better teachers, but to caution against equating crappy conditions with crappy teaching.

  7. Dean Pentcheff says

    This whole issue — where money is going in U.S. college/university education and how that has changed over the last couple of decades — is one that keeps cropping up. All of us have anecdotal observations. Does anyone know of any substantive, scholarly studies of this? I can’t imagine it could be done in less than a book-length work (given the heterogeneity of college/university structures). But I imagine it’s been tackled by someone by now.

    Reading suggestions, anyone? Thanks!

  8. Bill Buckner says

    With no actual stats and just your personal experiences to go on, then why should we expect that to be the case in general?

    I’m not sure who is this “we” you are talking about, but I’ll try to answer. It is only a plausibility argument. I have seen stats for a gazillion professors at my university and, based on student evals, on average tenure track and tenured faculty score higher than adjuncts–especially if they have made it past their 4th year review. But I have not seen data from other universities. Try not to imagine I am speaking negatively about adjuncts–it is a bias that by design takes skews the pool of tenure track faculty as they proceed through the process.

    We can make the assumption that the universal pools of adjuncts and of tenure track candidates have the same distribution of teaching abilities. However, the process tenure track candidates go through cull the heard, introducing a significant bias of better than average teachers. It’s natural selection. We (at a teaching university) select for survival, to a high degree, on teaching ability.

    If I have a faculty position, I recruit from all over the world. The process is designed, in large part, to find good teachers. So the careful selection process for tenure track will already introduce a bias, but that is not the big effect. The big effect is reviews for retention. If we are mistaken (it happens) then if they are catastrophically bad (say less than 2 on a scale of 1-5) they won’t make it past the two year review. If they are mediocre (say less than a 3) they won’t make it past the 4th year review and definitely won’t get tenure.

    Now there is some selection of adjuncts. But way less rigorous, out of necessity. I won’t rehire an adjunct that is less than a 2 (unless I’m desperate). But an adjunct that is 2-3, I will definitely rehire. Why is the standard lower? Because of large service classes with many sections. When, as chair, I am faced with 10 sections of PHYS101 Lab and 5 sections of PHYS101 lecture that need to be staffed for the fall, and it’s already July–well beggars can’t be choosers. We can’t recruit adjuncts from anywhere–they have to be local. You have some (as a chair, your pool of trusted adjuncts is a resource more valuable than gold) that you know are good to great and you hope they come back, but there are always slots you fill on little more than a phone call. The closer to the start of the semester, the more the threshold asymptotes to a) do you have an appropriate degree? and b) do you have a pulse?

    If you accept that this is the process, then it is inevitable that, on average, tenure track and tenured faculty (at a teaching university) will be better than adjuncts. On average.

    It’s not clear whether you intended to lump all colleges/universities into either a “teachers’” category or a “research” one.

    For simplicity. We are actually somewhere in the middle. But it is still true that at our university a big grant will not save you if you are a lousy teacher, where at most R1s it will.

    But the point is essentially that “doing more of the work” doesn’t imply anything like “doing a better job.”

    Of course I never said that. My argument boils down to natural selection. Bad teachers die whether they are tenure track or adjuncts. Mediocre teachers die if they are tenure track but not if they are adjuncts. The bias is more pronounced.

  9. says

    I also work in a primarily teaching institution/system; both the full-time tenured/tenure track and the full-time non-tenure-track faculty (we don’t use the term adjunct and don’t distinguish between full- and part-time NTT) teach 4/4. More notably, every untenured faculty member, whether on the tenure-track or not, undergoes the same yearly evaluation procedures (student evals, peer observations, write-ups of both by a department committee, the chair, and the dean). So we get a whole lot of information about teaching quality from both the TT and NTT cohorts. There is no difference reliably attributable to status.

    What’s also true as a result of our system rules is that it’s easier to cycle out poor NTT teachers than poor TT teachers, especially after the third year when TT faculty get grievance rights if they’re non-renewed.

  10. Bill Buckner says

    #9,

    At our school, and I believe it is typical, tenure track and non-tenure track faculty (not adjuncts) undergo an extensive review that includes a) the preparation of a dossier/portfolio b) review by a departmental committee c) review by the dean, d) review by the university-wide faculty review committee and finally e) review by the provost. There is no way in hell we could do the same thing for the legion of adjuncts. I’m impressed that your institution (if I understand you correctly) has a universal review process that applies to adjuncts as well. (If so, I wonder why the adjuncts put up with it for peanuts.)

    Now I have said nothing about non-tenure track full and part time faculty–there is no difference that I can tell in their teaching and tenure track– if anything they are a tad better because they are constantly reviewed on just one thing: teaching. But these are not adjuncts. They get paid way more. The only reviews adjuncts get are student evals and a classroom visit by a regular faculty.

  11. says

    #10, yes, what you’re describing is typical for part-time adjuncts. In a distressingly high number of instances, they don’t even get student evaluations, much less observations, which means they’re renewal/non-renewal decisions are often based on literally nothing, or anecdote, or zeitgeist, or magic, or prayer, or….

    Another difference in our system–we compensate way above average for NTT faculty. The pay per section is the same for full or part-time (it starts about $6K/section), and they become benefits-eligible (health insurance, retirement contributions) at half-time. That’s one reason they put up with the evaluation regimen. The other is that our union contract has a provision in it allowing them to become eligible for conversion into tenure-track positions if they teach full-time for 10 consecutive semesters–the language is complex and the process isn’t automatic by any means, but obviously they can’t make much of a case for conversion with evidence that they’ve been doing the job well.

  12. consciousness razor says

    I’m not sure who is this “we” you are talking about, but I’ll try to answer.

    I simply meant anybody who wants to know. I don’t know how else that could’ve been interpreted.

    We (at a teaching university) select for survival, to a high degree, on teaching ability.

    Now I don’t know who is this “we” that you are talking about. How does that not apply just as much to adjuncts at a teaching university? Or does it? You seemed to be suggesting this has something to do with tenure or a tenure track.

    Anyway, adjuncts need to “survive” at such places too, and the whole point of such places is to have teachers with a high degree of teaching ability, tenure track or no tenure track. Like I said, if the school really is focused on that, not on research or athletics or profit or whatever it might be, then it seems like that demands the same things of all faculty whether or not they’re on tenure track. What else are these adjuncts for at such places, if not for that? Do you need to raise the temperature of the place with a bunch of warm bodies, or what? And whatever the reason may be, is it specific to institutions focused mainly on teaching?

    Now there is some selection of adjuncts. But way less rigorous, out of necessity. I won’t rehire an adjunct that is less than a 2 (unless I’m desperate). But an adjunct that is 2-3, I will definitely rehire. Why is the standard lower? Because of large service classes with many sections. When, as chair, I am faced with 10 sections of PHYS101 Lab and 5 sections of PHYS101 lecture that need to be staffed for the fall, and it’s already July–well beggars can’t be choosers. We can’t recruit adjuncts from anywhere–they have to be local. You have some (as a chair, your pool of trusted adjuncts is a resource more valuable than gold) that you know are good to great and you hope they come back, but there are always slots you fill on little more than a phone call. The closer to the start of the semester, the more the threshold asymptotes to a) do you have an appropriate degree? and b) do you have a pulse?

    Okay…. I’m not sure if you’re describing your process, or if it’s the process, which may not usually sound so desperate.

    It’s not like there’s a larger supply of tenure track faculty to pick from, and this “beggars can’t be choosers” thing doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. So is the reasoning supposed to be that this happen, because you need a much larger number of adjuncts, because they (or anybody) needs to fill in many slots, compared to the very small number of tenure track faculty you’re expected to hire which won’t fill in many slots? If you’re expected to hire so few of the latter, for budgetary reasons or for whatever reason, if they are not so easy to come by (evidently much less so than adjuncts), then you’ll also be pressed to retain the very small number of them in their very few spots. What relevant stuff has actually changed in that case?

    Needing to have lots of them (or very few of them) doesn’t actually suggest anything about their relative ability. It implies administrators have got other considerations to worry about, something other than getting the best possible teachers in every position. Most likely, you’ve also got to worry about the budget, for example. And good, great, fantabulous, etc., teachers will in fact work (if they have no better options, which they typically don’t) for whatever kind of pay they can get.

    My argument boils down to natural selection

    I would call that artificial selection, but okay. My understanding is that being tenured is a relatively safe, cushy sort of position, where it’s harder to fail to “reproduce/survive” (metaphorically speaking). To me that suggests less pressure, not more. Where is this extra pressure for the tenured supposed to come from?

    Also, in my experience, at a small liberal arts institution which was certainly on the normal school end of the spectrum, the tenured faculty were invariably the worst at having a sort of “out for lunch” attitude to teaching, not to mention personal and professional interactions and everything else. While I was there, adjuncts were not very prevalent, but they certainly weren’t a bunch of slackers who could’ve gotten away with many of the shenanigans that tenured and tenure-track people did.

    You might think you need them a lot, so you think any old one will do, so why bother with high standards…. But from their own perspectives, which has little or nothing to do with your budget restrictions, I think you would see things very differently. Because of their relatively precarious employment situation, which as you said may not even last for more than a single year at a time, they have to work hard at it every day, competing against a very large number of other qualified candidates for the job. Working hard at it as a matter of routine is 99% of doing anything well, while having tenure/tenure-track in and of itself has apparently nothing to do with that. If anything, I would guess it has a negative influence. Probably their opinions of themselves grow, and the stories they tell themselves about how it is that they kept their positions are maybe just a bit fantastical; but confidence (to put it in the nicest terms) certainly won’t do the job all by itself.

  13. Bill Buckner says

    #12,

    Now I don’t know who is this “we” that you are talking about. How does that not apply just as much to adjuncts at a teaching university? Or does it? You seemed to be suggesting this has something to do with tenure or a tenure track.

    Come on man it is not fucking rocket science and I explained it in baby steps. The threshold for rehiring adjunct faculty is lower than the threshold for retaining tenure track. It’s that simple. I rehire adjuncts with teaching evaluations that would get a tenure tack faculty dismissed, or result in no merit pay increase for tenured faculty.

    it seems like that demands the same things of all faculty whether or not they’re on tenure track. What else are these adjuncts for at such places, if not for that? Do you need to raise the temperature of the place with a bunch of warm bodies,

    Well you’re wrong. The most charitable way to couch your ignorance on this matter is to say you are idealistic. The demands on adjunct faculty are (for the Nth time) considerably less than tenure track. Here is another way to look at it… for a chair of a department the untenured faculty are somewhat at your mercy. Well you, the chair, are at the adjuncts’ mercy—because you are in deep shit if you can’t get enough of them to fill the slots you need to fill in your schedule.

    It’s not like there’s a larger supply of tenure track faculty to pick from, and this “beggars can’t be choosers” thing doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.

    If you mean tenure rack candidates there is an enormous supply. Any faculty search will have (easily) over a hundred applicants from all over the world. But for adjuncts you are limited to those who are local and who want to work for peanuts. For tenure track the supply greatly exceeds the demand, for adjuncts you struggle mightily to find a supply to match the demand.

    It’s not like there’s a larger supply of tenure track faculty to pick from, and this “beggars can’t be choosers” thing doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.

    No, tenure track faculty are easy to replace, there will always be a highly qualified pool from all over waiting to apply. That is why you get rid of them if they are not great teachers. For adjuncts, if one pulls out (happens regularly) a week before classes start, you might be tempted to stand in front of 7-11 and ask customers if they have a graduate physics degree.

    Needing to have lots of them (or very few of them) doesn’t actually suggest anything about their relative ability. 

    Of course it does. If I need 20 physics adjuncts from the local community I am going to get a very different mix than if I need 2 tenure track faculty from the world-wide community.

    Where is this extra pressure for the tenured supposed to come from?

    Merit pay, promotion, status, peer pressure.

    Also, in my experience, at a small liberal arts institution which was certainly on the normal school end of the spectrum, the tenured faculty were invariably the worst at having a sort of “out for lunch” attitude to teaching, 

    That is a bullshit stereotype, one commonly found in Republican legislators. Most tenured faculty I know work ~60 hours per week. And to get tenure they will already have passed four major events to weed out bad teaching: 1) passing a highly competitive hiring process 2) passing a 2-year review 3) passing a 4-year review and 4) getting tenure. Then if they want merit pay increases they have to continue to get good teaching evaluations. Not to mention if they want to make full professor. The faculty member who gets tenure and withdraws is the exception, not the rule.

    they have to work hard at it every day, competing against a very large number of other qualified candidates for the job. 

    Yes most of them work very hard and most of them are adequate teaches and some are spectacular. But honestly being a teacher has less to do with working hard than you might imagine. In my experience teaching is mostly a gift. I have seen people work very hard at it and get crummy evals, and others just naturally excel in the classroom. It is especially true in the modern classroom, which involves much more street-theater than 20 years ago.

  14. says

    It’s going to academic parasites like Elsevier. It’s going to academic bureaucracies that have lost sight of what their institution is for: we have big advertising goals that are not necessarily in alignment with making the best damn university we can. We sink cash into college athletics, without assessing whether it actually benefits our mission. The highest paid state employee in most states is the college football or basketball coach, which is utterly nuts.

    So, the money is going everywhere but where it ought to be going. Big surprise, that.

  15. consciousness razor says

    Come on man it is not fucking rocket science and I explained it in baby steps. The threshold for rehiring adjunct faculty is lower than the threshold for retaining tenure track. It’s that simple.

    That tells me nothing about their teaching ability. It means you are more or less rigorous about scrutinizing their work, based on how they’re employed. You’re just telling me (1) how high your expectations are for the groups, as well as (2) what kind of situation you happen to be in, which leads to (2a) you having certain priorities and (2b) making certain types of hiring/firing decisions. I’ll just accept pretty much whatever you say on that front. Those priorities and decisions and such may even be justifiable somehow, at least as a practical approach to take. On a good day, I would even grant you that. But it has zero to do with another person’s teaching ability, which I assume is something that could actually be evaluated and could be done directly (and somewhat scientifically), instead of using these weird and convoluted arguments that seem to consist of telling us about yourself and about why you do it that way and about confirming what you already believed.

    A proper conclusion to reach, from not subjecting them to as much scrutiny and not providing equal employment conditions compared to tenure track faculty, is that you have no clue whether they are (ceteris paribus) more or less effective at teaching, because that evidence simply isn’t available. Am I missing one of the bits of your rocket equation? So far I’ve got “my particular school does it this way, for reasons” and “adjuncts aren’t as good at teaching,” but I still do not get how those are connected or where the second one is supposed to be coming from.

    That is a bullshit stereotype, one commonly found in Republican legislators

    Okay then. I’ll consider that well full poisoned now. I was however just relating my own actual immediate experiences, not what I’ve been told to believe, by Republican legislators or by anyone else. I don’t know how much to extrapolate from those experiences, fair enough, but I’m definitely not bullshitting you about them. And I’m certain I wasn’t in a highly unusual situation, so there is at least that.

  16. says

    So this thread got weird….

    @BillBuckner: I can believe that your situation in physics is different from mine in English (for most of us in the humanities) in the perception (which I don’t think is warranted, but that’s a conversation for another day) that people who meet minimum qualifications are harder to find locally. But if you’re a chair at a teaching-intensive institution and your management won’t hire enough permanent faculty to fulfill your mission, then something’s gone horribly wrong at the management level, hasn’t it? They don’t get to have it both ways–touting the teaching mission of the university, and then demanding that chairs hire and evaluate the teaching faculty so willy-nilly.

    Or, apparently, they do get to have it both ways. But it’s criminally reckless and dishonest on their part.

  17. Bill Buckner says

    But if you’re a chair at a teaching-intensive institution and your management won’t hire enough permanent faculty to fulfill your mission, then something’s gone horribly wrong at the management level, hasn’t it?

    Of course, but I can’t solve that problem (screaming and hollering doesn’t seem to help.) I have to operate in the circumstances caused by that problem. Only I would not place the lion’s share of the blame on the administration–it’s a lack of adequate funding from the state.

    that people who meet minimum qualifications are harder to find locally

    That’s not quite what I said (or intended to say). What I said was the pool of tenure track and tenured faculty is self-selected via the up-or-out review process and therefore is skewed toward better teachers. The pool of adjuncts is culled much less rigorously (to put it mildly). I thought I was careful to state that I have no reason to suspect any difference in ability between the pool of adjuncts and the pool of people applying for tenure track positions.

    Or, apparently, they do get to have it both ways. But it’s criminally reckless and dishonest on their part.

    It is not unusual. Note that this is in a state (Virginia) with one of the best–some might even argue the best– state university systems. As far as I know all over the country the rate of adjunct usage at public colleges is ~25% or higher. This leaves chairs everywhere saying: how will I find the adjuncts I need to fill these classes that for now are assigned to “staff”?

    Anecdote from just today: a faculty member in our department who was on a terminal contract (That is, he did not pass a review last year but was given one year to find a job) has announced that he found a job (good for him) and would not be returning. That means three more empty slots for fall that will be filled by adjuncts. How they be screened: look at their cv for the appropriate degree. If they taught before look them up on RateMyProf. Talk to them on the phone. If you don’t see any red flags, hire them.

  18. says

    That’s reality: when we lose someone on short notice because they quit or got a better job elsewhere, we still have to teach the course they were scheduled to do, and current faculty are stuffed to the gills with their courseload. We may not have time to do the thorough vetting we do with a tenure track search, so our standards are lowered in the name of expediency.

    That doesn’t mean that these temp faculty can’t be as good or better than the regular faculty. We hired someone a while back on short notice pending approval of a tenure line search, and then this same temporary faculty applied, got the thorough once-over, and ended up being hired.

    And you would not believe how practically impossible it is to find local academics hanging out on the job market in rural Minnesota. It creates a real problem for temporary hires: we’re going to hire you for one or two years of teaching, and you have to move to this remote cornfield 3 hours from the nearest airport.

  19. consciousness razor says

    Bill Buckner:

    I thought I was careful to state that I have no reason to suspect any difference in ability between the pool of adjuncts and the pool of people applying for tenure track positions.

    Do you remember carefully stating this at #4, in response to Seth Kahn?

    That said, it’s important to note that this has nothing at all to do with the quality of teaching that adjunct faculty do. It’s tempting to conclude that adjuncts must be worse teachers (or they’d have better jobs or better credentials), but the record is clear those aren’t connected in any meaningful way.

    Statistically, that is not true at primarily teaching colleges. The reason is simple.

    That was of course followed by a bunch of noise which didn’t address whether or not the quoted statement was true. Instead, you began to describe how/why you use lower standards, which isn’t in any meaningful way evidence that they are (“statistically” or otherwise) worse teachers.

  20. Bill Buckner says

    Do you remember carefully stating this at #4

    I remember carefully stating this in #8:

    “We can make the assumption that the universal pools of adjuncts and of tenure track candidates have the same distribution of teaching abilities. ”

    That was of course followed by a bunch of noise which didn’t address whether or not the quoted statement was true. Instead, you began to describe how/why you use lower standards, which isn’t in any meaningful way evidence that they are (“statistically” or otherwise) worse teachers.

    I can’t help if it you can’t grasp a simple concept. Let me try one more time.

    TIME 0
    Pool A: pool of adjuncts, teaching ability 2.5, normally distributed
    Pool T: pool of tenure track candidates teaching ability 2.5, normally distributed

    TIME 1, following highly competitive hiring process for which the most important aspect of the campus visit is the live teaching demonstration, hire a tenure track candidate. Lets make the generous assumption (from your perspective) that on average we can’t tell who will be good teachers and only, on average, hire average 2.5 teachers. So if nothing else happens the pool of tenure track and tenured faculty has the same distribution. (Of course, we are reasonably good at telling who will be good teachers–but let’s ignore that.)

    THEN:

    for every year from now until hell freezes over:

    I) Evaluate all tenure-track faculty at two years. Fire those whose teaching is less that 2.0 Warn those whose teaching is less than 2.5. This self-selection biases pool T, resulting in a higher average.

    II) Evaluate all tenure-track faculty at four years. Fire those whose teaching is less that 2.5 Warn those whose teaching is less than 3.0. This self-selection biases pool T, resulting in a higher average.

    III) Evaluate tenure candidates. Deny to those whose teaching is less than 3.0. This self-selection biases pool T, resulting in a higher average.

    If you don’t get it now, then maybe I’m one of those less than average teachers.

  21. says

    If we concede the point that there’s no way to distinguish pools of talent before hiring, then there’s only one meaningful answer to the problem of maintaining a teaching pool filled with substandard performers, which requires two pieces: (1) evaluate everybody evenly, and don’t keep people who don’t do well; and (2) support people who need it, especially if you’re in an area (as PZ points out) where it’s difficult to recruit.

    Put another way: if teaching matters, we (the whole profession) has to treat it with due respect and diligence. To wring our hands and pretend like we’re just stuck with bad teachers because-oh-well-that’s-just-how-it-goes reinforces the denigration of the entire project.

  22. Bill Buckner says

    Put another way: if teaching matters, we (the whole profession) has to treat it with due respect and diligence.

    Absolutely. The problem is, however, that the sate puts us in a position where, routinely, we have slots without teachers–in which case, as chairs, we more or less become desperate.

    The administration’s main culpability is in bowing before the US News & WR demigods. We keep more than 50% of our classes under 19 seats, because at 20 you take a US News & WR hit. That means lots of sections, thus more need for adjuncts since the state is very stingy in funding new tenure track positions, thus less vetting of adjuncts. If the number was 25 instead of 20 you’d need fewer sections, and you could be more selective with adjuncts. But then you’d have larger classes. It’s a lose either way, until the funding increases.

  23. says

    I get that–I’m not disputing the source of the funding problem–admin costs, reduced budgets from states, an increased demand for teaching quality while creating structural conditions that make it nearly impossible to comply, etc, all of which obtain almost everywhere, although the proportions vary from state to state/system to system. As somebody who teaches primarily writing courses, I’m not very happy with the idea of simply increasing class size; every additional student is hours of additional work if I’m doing what I’m supposed to. I understand that’s different in some fields than others, and varies also by level of curriculum.

    But I always wonder, in cases like you describe, what happens if you refuse to comply with the demand for substandard hiring and evaluation practices. What would your dean/provost do if you said (and not this belligerently–lots of ways you could buffer it), “I can’t run a department in good faith while being asked to staff the giant majority of my courses with people I hire under circumstances you put me in?”

  24. Bill Buckner says

    “I can’t run a department in good faith while being asked to staff the giant majority of my courses with people I hire under circumstances you put me in?”

    Hmm. What I have tried is a variation. At times I’ve just put fewer sections for service classes into the schedule. (The schedules are made almost a year in advance–of course they get tweaked.)

    Here is what happens:

    1) The dean might notice when they review the schedule, and call you in and tell you: “WTF, you had 10 sections of PHYS 1XX last fall, all full, now this fall you have only scheduled 6 sections. I’ve instructed the registrar to add the four sections you seem to have forgotten. You don’t have to thank me.”

    2) If the dean doesn’t notice, come registration students (and their departments–these service classes are for other departments) will raise holy hell when they can’t get into classes they need. Once again you’ll be forced to add the sections.

    If you take the principled stand you suggest–the likely outcome is you’ll be removed as chair.

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