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.