AdjunctNation.com » Unconventional Wisdom http://www.adjunctnation.com News, Opinion, Analysis and More For the Adjunct Faculty Nation Tue, 05 Jul 2016 19:48:52 +0000 en-US hourly 1 USC Student Argues SEIU Adjunct Union Not a Panacea http://www.adjunctnation.com/2016/02/10/usc-student-argues-seiu-adjunct-union-not-a-panacea/ http://www.adjunctnation.com/2016/02/10/usc-student-argues-seiu-adjunct-union-not-a-panacea/#comments Wed, 10 Feb 2016 20:14:47 +0000 http://www.adjunctnation.com/?p=6590

by Valerie Yu

Last Tuesday, the National Labor Relations Board announced landmark results for USC’s faculty union vote, allowing USC, the largest private university in the state, to organize faculty. Though unions aren’t good or bad per se, it’s paramount to keep in mind that they also aren’t a panacea to the growing concerns of adjunct faculty, rooted in issues that are decades in the making and larger than this campus alone.

In terms of the vote’s breakdown, two of three schools voted to join Service Employees International Union 721. Non-tenure-track faculty members of the Roski School of Art and Design and USC International Academy, by votes of 31 to 6 and 32 to 3, respectively, approved union representation. USC’s oldest school, the Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, however, rejected union representation in a close vote, with 113 in favor and 127 against. According to the Los Angeles Times, faculty who voted in favor of unionization were “frustrated with large workloads, low pay, shrinking benefits and poor career prospects.”

By no means an isolated incident, this latest development is a phenomenon that stretches far beyond this campus. Over the past years, a wave of contingent unionization has swept the nation. The University of Chicago, Boston University, Georgetown and Loyola University Chicago all have organized faculty. Just last February, faculty at Tufts also voted to approve union representation.

At face value, unions are powerfully beneficial entities. Without them, there would be no organizations to reign in unfettered capitalism. Yet, it is also unions, along with a volatile political and economic environment, that drove industrial giants such as General Motors and U.S. Steel to disintegration. Hopefully, academic unions will tell a different tale. In a perfect world, all professors should be in a position that provides support in balancing responsibilities and research efforts.

The reality, however, is that higher education is always evolving, for better or worse. The growing reliance of universities nationwide on adjunct faculty has made for an increasingly competitive and unstable job market in academia. For the 2012-2013 academic year, the American Association of University Professors reported that 76 percent of all higher education instruction positions were filled on a contingent basis. In addition, this number has increased 300 percent from 1975 to 2011.

Risa Lieberwitz, professor of labor and employment law at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations, told Fortune that universities have become “more corporate in the way the structure themselves.”

With this disproportionate hike in the number of less expensive, more flexible adjunct professors, fewer tenure-track positions open. For those who don’t see tenure in the near future, the security of a union becomes more appealing. Meanwhile, as factory jobs disappear, unions are focusing more on recruiting professors who are now more open to their message.

It comes as no surprise then that the National Center for the Study of Collective Bargaining in Higher Education and the Professions reported a 17 percent increase in faculty and graduate students who are part of collective bargaining unions when looking at data collected from 2008 to 2010.

Those statistics may see continual increase with a recent National Labor Relations Board ruling made December 2014, which expanded the option of unionization to a greater number of faculty members at private universities. This is an opportunity that had previously been limited by the 1980 U.S. Supreme Court decision in NLRB v. Yeshiva University. The decision stated that full-time faculty are “managerial” and therefore, not eligible for collective bargaining. The new ruling sets detailed criteria for determining which full-time faculty are eligible based on their involvement in areas such as finances, curriculum and enrollment management. It cited growing “corporatization” in university decision-making and that “colleges and universities are increasingly run by administrators, which has the effect of concentrating and centering authority away from the faculty.”

Yet, even as a strategy to combat this “corporatization,” unionization will not solve all employee concerns. After all, like most systems, things are more complicated than they seem. With SEIU 721 now in the picture, the relationship between administration and faculty could become strained, or even adversarial. There are options out there that don’t require unionization — from asking for a review of salary to expressing views in the Academic Senate, as Provost Michael Quick stressed in an email to staff members on Jan. 6.

Many possible routes exist. At the end of the day, however, no matter what the future holds or what disagreements arise, there’s one thing both administrators and faculty need to keep in mind. Working conditions matter, wages matter and resource allocation matters. But it is educating students that matters most.

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Catholic Colleges Face Religious Objections to Adjunct Income Inequality http://www.adjunctnation.com/2015/09/23/catholic-colleges-face-religious-objections-to-adjunct-income-inequality/ http://www.adjunctnation.com/2015/09/23/catholic-colleges-face-religious-objections-to-adjunct-income-inequality/#comments Wed, 23 Sep 2015 11:00:16 +0000 http://www.adjunctnation.com/?p=6181 Gerald J. Beyer,  associate professor of Christian ethics at Villanova University, has posted an interesting journal article that holds Catholic universities accountable for their treatment of poorly paid adjunct faculty. He writes:

Some Catholic institutions pay significantly above the national median per course, but the pay rate for most adjuncts on our campuses mostly mirrors national trends. Moreover, the fact that Catholic universities employ academics as temp workers as opposed to full time workers with decent benefits and job security is inexcusable — even if they try to justify it with a utilitarian logic alien to Catholic social teaching. Saving costs on the backs of adjuncts to keep tuition down while spending money on highly paid administrators, athletics coaches, expensive athletics facilities, stadiums and luxury dorms runs afoul of the church’s “preferential option for the poor.” To add insult to injury, several Catholic university administrations have blocked the efforts of adjuncts to unionize, thereby stripping them of what John Paul II deemed an indispensable “mouthpiece in the struggle for social justice.”

Also writing on the Catholic Church’s teaching on the right to unionize, Jim Dwyer reports in the Times of support that Catholic Charities in the Archdiocese of New York has shown for car wash workers who have unionized — including a worker who will meet Pope Francis next week.

Whether for car washers or adjunct professors, this is how income inequality can be addressed. Catholic universities need to try harder to heed this tradition in Catholic teaching. No one is saying this is easy but, as Beyer notes, a good  step would be to stop filing legal challenges to prevent adjuncts from unionizing.

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Why I’m Walking Away: Tenured Faculty Pity Adjuncts. But We Can’t Help Them. http://www.adjunctnation.com/2015/09/09/why-im-walking-away-tenured-faculty-pity-adjuncts-but-we-cant-help-them/ http://www.adjunctnation.com/2015/09/09/why-im-walking-away-tenured-faculty-pity-adjuncts-but-we-cant-help-them/#comments Wed, 09 Sep 2015 17:09:33 +0000 http://www.adjunctnation.com/?p=6113 by Oliver Lee

My grandmother worked in a school cafeteria. My mother taught second grade. Nearly two decades ago, I resolved to enter public education, too, but with plans to rise even higher. I would become a college professor, advancing the scholarship of my discipline, free from the petty bureaucratic concerns that hamstrung my mother’s career.

From 1998 until 2012, I pursued that objective with extraordinary focus. I graduated from college at 19. I went to law school and passed the bar exam. At 24, I was admitted to the history PhD program at the University of Pittsburgh. There, I made connections with brilliant academics, won prestigious fellowships and grants, and, at the age of 29, just five years after starting graduate school, I landed a tenure-track job.

I can’t understate how rare this opportunity is: Tenure-track jobs at large state universities are few and far between. Landing one without serving a postdoctoral appointment or working as a visiting assistant professor is about as likely as landing a spot on an NBA team with a walk-on tryout — minus the seven-figure salary, naturally.

I had read all of the doom-and-gloom think pieces about the status of the American university system, of course, but it felt like none of that applied to me. I had a full-time position, secured early in my career — the possibilities were endless. Although a legal historian by training, I viewed myself as beyond such simple labels: I was a cultural historian, in command of critical theory and immersed in the latest and best work on gender and sexuality. Activism informed my teaching; I exhorted my students to transcend and transform the status quo. I coached my university’s legal debate team to a national championship bid and served on nearly a dozen PhD and EdD dissertation committees. I launched several digital humanities initiatives and curated a museum exhibit about professional wrestling, attracting mainstream attention in the process.

I had not just survived the academic Hunger Games — I had emerged triumphant.

Then it all began to fall apart.

First there was sniping, from peers and administrators. Critiques of my teaching and debate team coaching, often made through backchannels and delivered to me secondhand or not at all, centered on my easygoing personal style (He doesn’t use the title “doctor!” He teaches in T-shirts!), my effusive student evaluations (If he’s pleasing them, he must be doing something wrong!), and my relatively calm demeanor (If a young academic doesn’t seem stressed beyond capacity, he’s not working hard enough!).

Then there was official pushback and politics. A proposal to create interactive teaching materials from archival materials was derided as bewildering and gimmicky. I learned that the public outreach in which I engaged — that is, publishing in popular magazines — had ruffled certain feathers. I watched administrators and donors who had championed my career be shown the door, or at least swept under the rug, by an incoming presidential administration — proving that the autonomy I had imagined upon entering academia really was an illusion.

Finally, I realized not even students were too invested. When my best friend visited my campus to give a talk, he observed one of my lectures. I’ve got many shortcomings as an academic, but lecturing isn’t one of them. I’ve been on TV, radio, podcasts — you name it. By professor standards, which admittedly aren’t that high, I could rock the mic. But while my friend sat there, semi-engrossed in the lecture, he found himself increasingly distracted by the student in front of him.  That student, who like all in-state students was paying $50 per lecture to hear me talk, was watching season one ofBreaking Bad. In a class with no attendance grade, where the lectures were at least halfway decent, he was watching Breaking Bad.

Later during that same visit, my friend asked me, in total sincerity, “Why aren’t you doing something meaningful with your life?”

“This is important,” I insisted. But there was no passion behind my words. I was a priest who had lost his faith, performing the sacraments without any sense of their importance.

Op-eds about the failings of higher education are like certain unmentionable body parts: Everybody’s got one. Professors are or aren’t afraid of their liberal students, adjuncts are underpaid and exploitedgrade inflation is rampantcollege graduates can’t find jobsstudent loan debt will doom us all.

But these are just parts of a larger and even more troubling story. After spending four years working in higher education, trying to effect piecemeal improvements, I’m convinced that the picture is more dire than most people realize: There’s no one single problem to fix or villain to defeat, no buzzword-y panacea that will get things back to normal.

And so now, after devoting nearly 20 years to this life, I’ve decided to walk away. I’m quitting my tenure-track position; by May of next year, I’ll be out of this side of academia forever.

Here are some departing thoughts.

1) Too many people go to college

As recently as a year ago, I remained willing to work inside that fractured system of pay-to-play higher education. If students wanted to take out federal loans to buy degrees, who was I to stop them? Let the chips fall where they may; graduate them alland let the invisible hand sort them out.

But that system is unsustainable. Liberal arts programs, and the humanities in particular, have become a place to warehouse students seeking generic bachelor’s degrees not out of any particular interest in the field, but in order to receive raises at work or improve their position in a crowded job market.

Once upon a time, in a postwar America starved for middle managers who could file TPS reports, relying on the BA as an assurance of quality, proof of the ability to follow orders and complete tasks, made perfect sense. But in today’s world of service workers and coders and freelancers struggling to brand themselves, wasting four years sitting in classes like mine makes no economic sense for the country or for the students — particularly when they’re borrowing money to do so.

Every so often, we’re treated to an essay about how liberal arts majors can prepare students to make creative contributions to an employer’s bottom line. Do you know how else you can prepare to make these vague creative contributions, much more cheaply and efficiently? By sitting around in your parents’ basement and reading great works of literature. Yes, lectures and classroom discussions might help open your mind to new possibilities, but so will skillfully produced videos that are freely available on YouTube. Expert oversight is valuable — but how valuable is it really? I imagine most people wouldn’t fork over $50 an hour for the privilege, regardless of their respect for the stellar minds whose contributions to society can rather easily be accessed and understood for free.

2) Online education isn’t the solution

Despite my department boasting more than 20 full-time faculty with solid research and teaching credentials, a majority of history students don’t come anywhere near their classrooms. Instead, they’re remote students, enrolled in an online education.

For some, online degree programs are a solution to the cost and time problem. If there’s mass demand for BAs, but the time and expense of real college doesn’t make sense for most people, why not provide a similar service digitally? Online classes could unite knowledge seekers from around the world, advocates say, allowing them to get a version of the university experience more compatible with the demands of the modern world.

But in practice, online education isn’t a solution — it’s a Band-Aid on an infected wound.

In place of thought-provoking video chats and genuinely creative software applications the theory promises, most online students get Blackboard — a cumbersome and inefficient program that only a bureaucracy could love.  The “lectures” amount to little more than uploaded PowerPoints that may or may not be accompanied by instructor narration. Usually a single module serves as the university-wide template for an entire mandatory subject, such as US history to the Civil War, allowing professors to be replaced by “graders” capable of administering these courses for even less than the pittance paid to adjuncts. At my university, for example, a grader for one of our online courses supervises approximately 30 to 50 students for an entire course. The grader typically makes $700.

Meanwhile, online classes are — in defiance of all reason — generally longer and more involved than in-person classes. To make up for the lack of in-person instruction, they gorge on assignments, sometimes featuring as many as 60 quizzes in a term. The consequence is cheating as often as education; if you’ve got a willing partner or three, you could theoretically divide up the coursework and hope the underpaid grader doesn’t notice.

Completion rates for online courses are dismal as well, especially at places such as the University of Phoenix Online, which has invested heavily in front-end services like financial aid advising but far less in teachers and student support.

All of this makes perfect sense from an economic standpoint: University administrators are rational actors, and what they’re incentivized to maximize are paid student enrollments. There’s still no real penalty for failing to graduate students, so why not chase that easy federal money and focus all the effort on upfront enrollment? But what’s clear is that this system does not offer a viable, sensible alternative for students; it just allows administrations to exploit the crisis in education to make even more money with even less effort or investment.

3) Tenured professors pity adjuncts. But we can’t help them.

We all went into this business with the best of intentions. Those of us who sought PhDs in overpopulated and declining fields knew that the market was not only rough but absolutely brutal; dark humor about the impossible odds facing PhD seekers is part and parcel of the whole grad student experience.

Among the handful of academics who do land tenure-track jobs, one finds little sympathy for the less fortunate. Lip service, to be sure, but academia is a bloodless, endless game of Survivor in which every winner is saying to himself or herself, “There but for the grace of God go I” — or, more likely, “Sucks for them, but what can you do?”

As someone who has sat in department meetings, served on hiring committees, and powwowed with other “real” academics at conferences, I can offer the following statement with confidence: No matter how bad things are for the adjuncts, they’re effectively non-people to their ostensible colleagues. We won’t save you. It’s not that we full-timers don’t care; it’s that we can’t. The rules of the game for tenure are simple and terrible — “do twice as much as you think you need to do” — and there’s no time to worry about the fallen when your own pay lags well behind the national average.

Life for the liberal arts adjuncts, who surely deserve better, is only getting worse as enrollments climb. University administrators maximize the bottom line, and the bottom line at most non-elite schools is tuition-paying customers. If you can pay someone to teach five history classes for $15,000 or pay someone else $60,000 to teach those same five classes, why bother with the latter? People complain, but there’s no real evidence showing that loss of business from students turned off by less-qualified instructors is even close to competing with the savings.

The incentives are especially destructive in the humanities. When administrators do decide to invest in faculty, they tend to favor STEM professors. Those guys rake in the valuable grant money, and thanks to the miracle of co-authored papers, they produce far longer CVs with far better citation counts, a valuable asset when chasing a higher school ranking and the cash that comes with it.

The situation has become dire enough that I often think the only feasible solution would be to eliminate tenure altogether. Morally, such a plan would be repugnant: Academics deserve the freedom to work at their pace and without the fear of too much administrative interference. But economically, it might be the only thing that allows for real labor market flexibility, forcing out elderly and ineffective professors and driving a rise in the standard of living for those many talented adjuncts who are unable to find work under prevailing conditions.

4) “Alt-academia” isn’t a solution — it’s surrender

So if not to the wretched life of an adjunct, whither our underpaid, overeducated PhDs? The notion of “alternative academic” careers has become a rallying cry for many, particularly those whose alternative academic position involves finding alt-ac jobs for other PhDs.

Briefly put, “alternative academia” is a catchall term for the process wherein individuals, unsuccessful in their quest to become university professors or disillusioned with that sort of work, seek alternative employment at places like libraries, nonprofits, university presses, and private sector think tanks.

These positions are typically filled by people with master’s degrees or other terminal credentials; those with doctorates, goes the reasoning, would be able to use their critical thinking skills to excel in such fields, which lack many of the pressures associated with the tenure track but still offer opportunities to undertake meaningful, exciting work.

The concept is good enough in theory, but in practice it’s just another way of phrasing the problem: There’s not enough room in academia. Go find a job in a different field.

Some blame scholars themselves for the problem — claiming that today’s PhD holders aren’t as capable or as qualified as generations past. But after sitting on hiring committees and reading hundreds of CVs and writing samples, I refuse to blame the earnest applicants whose sole crime was being told scholarship was a worthwhile pursuit and believing it. If anything, market pressures have resulted in the production of some of the finest scholarship in generations, with even many adjuncts having a handful of great publications under their belts. The problem is that the system is more than happy to take their money and use their services from undergrad all the way to their doctoral graduation, but when it comes time to pay it off with a real job? Sorry — best look somewhere “alternative.”

Recently, an article circulated that urged PhD seekers to view their degrees as a six-year, time-limited job, after which they should expect to move on to something else. That’s all well and good, but like my $50-a-pop lectures, is that something you’d want to invest in? When presented with such stark questions, I’d imagine most people would say no. Forcing people to master multiple languages, paleography, archival research, coding, yet all the while reminding them they need to be ready to retool as academic advisers or advertising executives, isn’t a solution to the academic crisis — its outright surrender to it.

5) The students and professors aren’t the problem; the university system is

All of these issues lead to one, difficult-to-escape conclusion. Despite all the finger-pointing directed at students (“They’re lazy! They’re oversensitive! They’re entitled!”), and the blame heaped on professors (“Out of touch and irrelevant to a man”), the real culprit is systemic. Our federally backed approach to subsidizing higher education through low-interest loans has created perverse incentives with disastrous consequences. This system must be reformed.

When I started out, I believed that government regulation could solve every problem with relatively simple intervention. But after four years of wading though this morass, I’m convinced these solutions should be reevaluated constantly. If they’re not achieving their objectives, or if they’re producing too much waste in the process, they ought to be scrapped. We can start with federal funding for higher education.

The quickest and most painful solution to the crisis would involve greatly reducing the amount of money that students can borrow to attend college. Such reductions could be phased in over a span of years to alleviate their harshness, but the goal would remain the same: to force underperforming private and public universities out of business. For-profit universities — notorious for their lack of anything resembling good academic intention — should be barred altogether from accessing these programs; let them charge only what consumers in a genuinely free market can afford to pay for their questionable services.

Without the carrot of easy access to student loans, enrollments would shrink. Universities would be forced to compete on a cost-per-student basis, and those students still paying to attend college would likely focus their studies on subjects with an immediate return on investment. Lower tuition costs, perhaps dramatically lower at some institutions, would still enable impoverished students eligible for Pell Grant assistance to attend college.  Vocational education programs, which would likely expand in the wake of such a massive adjustment, would offer inexpensive skills training for others. The liberal arts wouldn’t necessarily die out — they’d remain on the Ivy League prix-fixe menu, to be sure, and curious minds of all sorts would continue to seek them out — but they’d no longer serve as a final destination for unenthusiastic credential seekers.

In the time that’s allotted to us to in life, we have to make many choices. Opting to pursue an unmarketable career solely because one loves it is an available option. But that decision has consequences. In a university system like ours, where supply and demand are distorted, many promising young people make rash decisions with an inadequate understanding of their long-term implications. Even for people like me, who succeed despite the odds, it’s possible to look back and realize we’ve worked toward a disappointment, ending up as “winners” of a mess that damages its participants more every day.

Had I known sooner, I would’ve given up on this shrinking side of academia many years ago, saving myself plenty of grief while conserving the most valuable quantity of all: time. No one should have to wait so long or sacrifice so much of it for a system like this. Time is money, and we must spend it wisely. Until something is done — something that isn’t just a quick fix, something that looks long and hard at the structure of the present university system and tears it up from the foundation, if that’s what it takes — the academy is no longer an investment of time worth making.

Originally posted to Vox.com.

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Why We Decided To Form An Adjunct Union at Our Community College http://www.adjunctnation.com/2015/08/26/why-we-decided-to-form-an-adjunct-union-at-our-community-college/ http://www.adjunctnation.com/2015/08/26/why-we-decided-to-form-an-adjunct-union-at-our-community-college/#comments Wed, 26 Aug 2015 19:21:11 +0000 http://www.adjunctnation.com/?p=6031 by Luke Niebler

On my first day teaching at the Community College of Allegheny County in Pittsburgh, I was wracked with the normal anxieties of a new college instructor: What if the students don’t like me? What if my lesson plan falls apart? Where exactly is the copy machine? What if my hair looks stupid?

However, as I adjusted to life as an adjunct instructor with a semester-to-semester contract, my questions quickly changed: What if my classes don’t run and I can’t make rent? How do I get from class to my next job in time? How do I meet with students without real office space?

After years of organizing, we have won our union election, and hopefully I can get back to worrying more about lesson plans than my financial stability. On July 14, 86% of my colleagues voted to form a union with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), effectively unionizing over 800 instructors across CCAC’s four campuses. And while this is only the first step before we head to the bargaining table, it represents a huge victory for academic labor and contingent faculty.

The road to the election was long, starting through casual office discussions in 2012. From then, we began to form a relationship with the United Steelworkers, who were then organizing adjunct faculty at Point Park University and Duquesne University. After some discussion, we then chose to be represented by the AFT, which has represented the full time faculty at CCAC since 1971. With the help of our full time colleagues, we then put our nose to the grindstone and tracked down hundreds of our coworkers scattered throughout Western Pennsylvania. Two years and countless phone calls, house calls and hallway conversations later, we have full recognition as members of a union.

Although the adjuncts at CCAC have tried to organize in the past, our drive flourished because of a few key factors. First, the changing political climate over the past few years has brought adjunct labor issues to the front of many people’s minds. Especially in Pittsburgh, the death of Margaret Mary Vojtko at Duquesne University provided a tragic example of adjunct exploitation and kicked off a national conversation. As I spoke to my colleagues, they were aware of the larger picture and how the corporatization of higher education has marginalized faculty. Many instructors were excited to hear that we could band together to improve our working conditions and have a real voice in the life of the college.

Second, the national movement to unionize contingent faculty was instrumental in our organizing effort. The work of adjuncts in the Washington, D.C. areaSt. LouisBostonPhiladelphia and across the country provided us with valuable lessons as we talked to coworkers, community members and students over the past three years. The momentum of adjunct organizing inspired us as we watched our friends at Duquesne fight a hostile administration and as we followed George Washington University’s successes at the bargaining table. During the campaign, we were bolstered by messages from the United Academics of Philadelphia, who are fighting a tough campaign against the administration at Temple University. Throughout our union drive, the national movement showed us time and time again that unionizing was possible and essential to reclaiming our value as workers and educators.

Third, the support we received from the larger community was invaluable as we moved to the election. No one can live or organize in a vacuum. The full-time faculty union provided essential support to us, and the members have helped us build a strong working relationship with the college’s administration. Amazingly, CCAC’s administration has not thrown any roadblocks our way, choosing instead to respect the voices of faculty at the college. This spirit of collaboration has been aided at every step of the way by our team of AFT organizers, other union allies and even friends in the administration. This coalition of supporters will be essential as we fight for our needs at the bargaining table and work as members of the CCAC community.

The barriers to organizing adjuncts are real and difficult to overcome. We often don’t know our coworkers, we are decentralized and our lack of security creates a pervasive fear among adjuncts. However, the only way that we will be able to fight for increased pay, greater job security and a voice in the college is by working collectively.

We are teetering at the edge of major changes in the structure and future of higher education in the United States. Faculty—those of us who are most concerned with students’ well being—must have a voice in creating a sustainable, just education system, both for us and future generations of students.

Of course, this is only the beginning. So far, we’ve only won the legal right to bargain collectively, and the real work of building a contract is only starting. However, the relationships we have built through the process will give us power to advocate for a stronger, sustainable and more just educational community. And hopefully, we’ll be able to help push the movement forward as other groups of adjuncts across the country seize power in their workplaces and make their voices heard.

from—In These Times, used here with permission.

 

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It’s Student Evaluation Time—Are Student Evals Worthless? http://www.adjunctnation.com/2014/04/25/its-student-evaluation-time-are-student-evals-worthless/ http://www.adjunctnation.com/2014/04/25/its-student-evaluation-time-are-student-evals-worthless/#comments Fri, 25 Apr 2014 13:56:29 +0000 http://www.adjunctnation.com/?p=5901 by Rebecca Schuman

It’s student evaluation time again—and I should be the last professor in the world to complain. With slight exceptions for “caring too much” and courses that meet “too early” (9:10 a.m.), my evaluations are quite good. And yet the student evaluations of teaching (SETs) I’ve received during my decade-long teaching career have meant absolutely nothing. This is because student evaluations are useless.

Ostensibly, SETs give us valuable feedback on our teaching effectiveness, factor importantly into our career trajectories, and provide accountability to the institution that employs us. None of this, however, is true.

First, evaluations promote sucking up to customers—I’m sorry, students—often at the expense of teaching effectiveness. Arecent comprehensive study, for example, showed that professors get good evaluations by teaching to the test and being entertaining. Student learning hardly factors in, because (surprise) students are often poor judges of what will help them learn. (They are, instead, excellent judges of how to get an easy A.)

Indeed, some of the worst evaluations I ever got were for hands-down the best teaching I’ve ever done—which I measured by the revolutionary metric of “the students were way better at German walking out than they were walking in.” Alas, this took work, and some of the Kinder attempted to stage a mutiny on evaluation day. Little did they know that a “too much work” dig is the #humblebrag of the academy—and, indeed, anything less on evals is seen as pandering at best, and out-and-out grade-bribery at worst.

Speaking of grade bribery: Evaluations impact career trajectories, all right, but only of the most vulnerable faculty in the university—yes, adjuncts, whose semester-long contracts are often renewed (or not) on the basis of student feedback alone. Meanwhile, only in the rarest and most politicized cases do even scathing evaluations harm tenured big shots—who, unsurprisingly, often care about undergraduate teaching the least. In short, asking students to evaluate their professors anonymously is basically like Trader Joe’s soliciting Yelp reviews from a shoplifter.

I’m sorry—a bigoted shoplifter. Because student evaluations aren’t just useless: They’re biased. The other day I put a call out for notable evaluation stories, and the response was both overwhelmingly depressing and depressingly unsurprising:

Indeed, many evaluations, no matter who the professors were, focused on hair (andbeards!), clothes, general disdain for the subject matter (“Philosophy sucks!”)—anything but constructive assessment of teaching. Seriously, though, anecdotal data notwithstanding: Bias in evaluations is widely accepted, so much so that some who use evals as assessment tools already control for it:

@pankisseskafka we discuss those things (compare women to average among women, not pure averages, for example). 1/2

— Tom Pepinsky (@TomPepinsky) April 17, 2014

Just what I wanted, to be “pretty smart, for a girl.” Oh wait:

Because of all this—off-topic vitriol, irrelevance, bias—most tenure-track professors I know (who aren’t hanging onto their evals for dear life) don’t read their evaluations at all.

This isn’t to say that professors should be left solely to their own devices, a million poorly-dressed sovereign nations, left to declare “constructive” naptime during Freud seminar, or emulate Wittgenstein’s turn as a schoolteacher and employ corporal punishment. Egad. Assessment of teaching is vitally important—but how can we actually do it so that it works?

Peer evaluations are a common suggestion (and, indeed, often common practice). But those only work if your peer actually cares about teaching in the first place—or doesn’t want to sabotage you. Outside reviewers (from other departments) couldsolve for this, but only if you underestimate the academic’s propensity toward petty vindictiveness: One bad review from English of a history professor, and we’ve got a permanent schism between two departments that should be clinging onto each other for survival.

All right, so what about “effectiveness measures” from the administration? Yes, let’s create even more administrators—what today’s universities need are more people who’ve never taught a day, highly invested in running departments on the cheap. All right, fine, how about we just test the students, and base professor effectiveness on the results? Sure, because that’s worked out so fantastically for K–12.

Or, OK, we could measure performance in subsequent classes—but many of us teach general ed, and our departments will never see those kids again. Measuring “good teaching” is a touchy, complicated subject, and all solutions involve both massive compromises in pedagogical autonomy and substantial amounts of “service work”—two of professors’ very favorite things.

I see two actual resolutions to the evaluation calamity. One of them is massively important and will never happen; the other is fairly trivial and could happen tomorrow.

The first: A complete cultural shift at doctoral-granting institutions about the importance and value of teaching. Damn near everyone with a doctorate learned to teach (or didn’t!) in an environment where undergraduate teaching is, to paraphrase Nietzsche, an affair of the rabble: Graduate TAs and adjuncts.

In grad school, I was actively told “not to care too much” about teaching—advice that is standard practice:

So again, the first, best and most important way to measure teaching effectiveness would be to create a culture at elite research institutions where the instruction of undergraduates actually matters. Fat chance.

So here’s another solution, almost breathtaking in its simplicity. Combine peer evaluative measures (of lesson plans and assignments, not just classroom charisma or test scores) with student evaluations—but make the students leave their names on the evals.

The day the first yahoo on Yahoo wrote a comment was the day we should have stopped anonymous student evaluations dead. The “online disinhibition effect” both enables and encourages unethical, rash behavior, and today’s digital native students see no difference between evaluations and the abusive nonsense they read (and perhaps create) every day.

Actual constructive criticism can be delivered as it ought to be: to our faces. Any legitimate, substantive complaints can go to the chair or dean. There is no reason for anonymity—after all, we have no way to retaliate against a student for a nasty evaluation, because we can’t even see our evals until students’ grades have been handed in to the registrar (and if you hated us that much, you won’t take our class again). And besides, I hate to tell you this, but professors know handwriting; we recognize patterns of speech; we can glean the sources of grudges. We know who it was anyway.

Sure, this won’t change the culture of academia, where getting a position at a so-called “teaching college”—and thus spending all of your time with undergrads, as I now do—is considered abject failure. But it will certainly de-Yelp-ify the evaluation process, cut down on some of the bigotry, and it might even (gasp) offer us someconstructive feedback. That’s a solution I evaluate at 4 out of 5 (“Agree”!)—which isn’t bad at all, for a girl.

This was originally published by Slate and is used here with permission.

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If You Think The Treatment of Adjuncts Doesn’t Impact Tenured Faculty, Think Again http://www.adjunctnation.com/2012/03/20/if-you-think-the-treatment-of-adjuncts-doesnt-impact-tenured-faculty-think-again/ http://www.adjunctnation.com/2012/03/20/if-you-think-the-treatment-of-adjuncts-doesnt-impact-tenured-faculty-think-again/#comments Tue, 20 Mar 2012 19:58:06 +0000 http://www.adjunctnation.com/?p=4232 by Jonathan Rees

While this piece from the NYT‘s business section is designed for any worker, it should have special relevance for academics:

These are the kinds of comments I hear in my work as a consultant:

• “I’m overwhelmed, and with all the changes going on here, it’s getting worse. There aren’t enough hours in the day to do my job.”

• “I have new responsibilities that demand creative and strategic thought, but I’m not getting to them.”

• “I have too many meetings to attend, and I can’t get any ‘real’ work done.”

• “I have too many e-mails, and, given day-to-day urgencies, the backlog keeps growing.”

• “I feel like I’m not giving the right amount of attention to what’s most important.”

And here’s a common kicker, for those willing to admit it:

“I just can’t keep going like this.”

To quote the Talking Heads again, “How did I get here?” The answer is technology:

Though one person may now be producing the previous results of three, she’s not being paid three times as much. That’s the whole point of companies using technology and other improvements: fewer people are now needed for the same results.

But the workers who remain also tend to have much more responsibility. And they can’t just comfort themselves with the notion that their companies are more efficient than they used to be, because all of their competitors have the same new tools, and are using them to gain any advantage they can.

While those of us on the tenure-track have not yet been replaced by machines, technology allows our managers to develop new and annoying ways to track our productivity (whatever that means in an educational context). What we have been replaced by are adjunct faculty members who experience all of the problems of our coming all-online higher ed utopia and get none of the rewards. If we had more tenure-track faculty colleagues, there would be more people to share in the bureaucratic scut work that everybody hates. Instead, they get more classes and we tenure-track faculty get more technologically-inspired paper to push.

Yet their problem is our problem for more than just that reason. As this piece about the recent Left Forum conference explains:

“Adjuncts are the people under the stairs” who have lost control over their career possibilities and their lives, said Ms. [Debra Lee] Scott. “We have been deprofessionalized. And by de-professionalizing us, the administration has gained control and silenced the faculty. Now our influence is more managed, and they can keep us impoverished.”

Notice the transition there. They’ve deprofessionalized adjuncts, but have silenced the whole faculty. I don’t think that’s a mistake. While people like me may not be deprofessionalized (at least not yet), the fact that this has already happened to our adjunct colleagues keeps most people like me silent in the hopes that they won’t ever get around to deprofessionalizing us. I wouldn’t count on that strategy working in the long run. What we should be doing is demanding the redirection of productivity gains towards better compensation for faculty of all kinds.

Solving tenure-track problems without solving the problems of adjuncts (assuming such a thing is even possible) won’t make you any happier since you’re still going to get too much scut work because you don’t have enough colleagues who are payed to help you with it. More importantly, your chosen field will never get the respect it deserves as long as there are people who are being paid poverty wages just so that they can break into a profession that is hardly lucrative anyway. Heck, even business professors complain that they don’t get wages equal to what they could earn in the private sector.

In short, we’re all in this together. As Eugene Debs said in the Canton, Ohio speech that got him arrested:

I would be ashamed to admit that I had risen from the ranks. When I rise it will be with the ranks, and not from the ranks.

If calls to solidarity have no effect on you, then just think about your own longterm material self-interest. You’ll never earn the salary that you deserve as long as people are doing the same work that you are for substantially less money.

First appeared on Moreorlessbunk.

 

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The Tipping Point: Research Suggests A College Education Is No Longer Worth the Time & Money http://www.adjunctnation.com/2011/11/30/the-tipping-point-research-suggests-a-college-education-is-no-longer-worth-the-time-money/ http://www.adjunctnation.com/2011/11/30/the-tipping-point-research-suggests-a-college-education-is-no-longer-worth-the-time-money/#comments Thu, 01 Dec 2011 02:41:25 +0000 http://www.adjunctnation.com/?p=3993 by Marty Nemko

We have, for decades, accepted that graduates earn $1 million more than non-graduates over their lifetime. That statistic is misleading for a number of reasons. For example, it’s retrospective to an era when only the best and brightest went to college and employers couldn’t offshore jobs.

Those days are over.

photoHigher education has recently been the subject of a spate of reports finding that students benefit little from their college experience. It began with a 2006 report by the Secretary of Education’s Commission on the Future of Higher Education and has accelerated with such books as: Higher Education?, The Five Year Party,Crisis on Campus, and Academically Adrift, the last of which found that 36 percent of college students did not show a significant gain in critical thinking, complex reasoning, or writing in four years of college.

Today, assuming you graduate and learned anything, your employment prospects are uncertain. Slightly more than half, 53 percent, of college graduates are employed full-time, according to a 2011 study from Rutgers University’s John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development. Meanwhile their average salary between 2009 and 2010 was $27,000 — barely enough to either pay back their student loans or to live on — but probably not both. Another 21 percent are in graduate school. And almost half of the employed are working in jobs they could have qualified for straight out of high school. The numbers are even worse for the many weak students colleges now admit. An analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data by the Chronicle of Higher Education indicates that 60 percent of the increase in the number of college graduates from 1992 to 2008 worked on jobs barely requiring a high school diploma.

Many college students who got into and graduated from a designer-label institution are doing well. But many others who bit the college apple can’t be blamed for feeling deceived by the marketing machine: brochures, Web sites, targeted emails, and spiels by tour guides and admission “counselors” (salespeople) that hide the aforementioned facts. Many college Web sites make it difficult to find the sticker price, let alone the difference between the likely four-year cost in cash and the loan- or financial-aid-adjusted cost of attendance.

Many college graduates and especially dropouts might reasonably wonder if they might have been better off forgoing college and instead getting an apprenticeship or on-the-job training, perhaps at the elbow of a successful, ethical entrepreneur and investing the fortune they would have spent on college in blue-chip stocks. Indeed, in a GfK Roper Public Affairs & Media poll, nearly half of Americans polled felt college students, at both public and private colleges, were not getting their money’s worth.

I propose that the government mandate that, one click from the homepage of each college’s Web site, there be critical consumer information — a College Report Card. After all, we require tires to mold a report card into its sidewall, packaged food to bear a nutrition information label, home sellers to provide pages of disclosures to prospective buyers, drug manufacturers to present data to the FDA, and K-12 schools to post achievement scores and other consumer information. Why not require the same of colleges, which because of the decline in housing prices, can cost as much as a home, not to mention four to six years of time and opportunity cost? It is ironic that colleges, which sell one of the most important products, are among the least accountable to the public.

The College Report Card should list only six items, most of which, colleges already know but don’t make public:

— The projected four-year cost of attendance minus the amount of cash financial aid and broken down by family income and assets. Colleges were required by the federal government to post net price calculators by the fall of 2011. But they are not required to be posted off of the college or university’s homepage.

— Freshman-to-senior growth in written and oral communication, critical thinking, mathematical reasoning, and information literacy broken down by major and by student high school record. Only a random sample of students need to be tested in order to reduce the burden on an institution. The results would be posted on students’ transcripts to ensure they give their best effort.

— Four, six, and eight-year graduation rates, broken down by major and student’s high-school record.

— The results of the institution’s most recent student satisfaction survey.

— The most recent accreditation agency’s action and summary of its visiting team report.

— The percent of graduates that, within one year of graduation, hold a job requiring a college degree, broken down by major and by high school record.

To ensure that even the least sophisticated reader can understand The College Report Card, a student could simply enter their high school grades, SAT/ACT score and planned major, to see the results compared with peer institutions, presented as simple letter grades, with more detail just a click away.

To ensure integrity, an outside entity would randomly audit the reported data.

The College Report Card is different from, for example, U.S. News & World Report’s rating system. The latter focuses heavily on a college’s reputation, which is affected by an institution’s research productivity, size, and even age. It is not affected mainly by the quality of the undergraduate experience. U.S. News also heavily weighs colleges’ self-reported class size and faculty-student ratio, which are often misleading because they include professors who rarely teach undergraduates and classes that few students take, such as Intermediate Sanskrit, which may have five students while commonly taken intro courses like Intro to Biology have hundreds.

U.S. News also considers faculty salary, which is often based on how much research money the faculty member brings in, not on their ability to be transformational teachers of undergraduates. Research productivity is often inversely correlated with commitment to and excellence in teaching undergraduates. Student selectivity is also weighted heavily, while the value-added component, that is, how much students grow compared with similar students that attend similar institutions are ignored.

Shining a light on how little value many colleges add for all that time, money, and opportunity cost would — if only so colleges can better compete for students — encourage colleges to reallocate resources. They would be incentivized to spend less on non-critical administrative and infrastructure costs and non-essential faculty and research and more on a transformational teaching faculty, mentoring, advising, and a more helpful career center.

That bright light might even finally push colleges to stand up to the faculty senates with such cost-saving and student-learning-enhancing innovations as online classes team-taught by world-class instructors.

Some have argued that such a Report Card should arise from the accreditation process. But each college pays the accrediting agency, which means colleges have, for the most part, been able to resist being required to post a substantive report card on their Web site. One agency, the Senior College Commission of the Western Association has made small steps in this direction but, as a member of its task force on accountability and transparency, I am not convinced they’ll do enough quickly enough. I believe this is a job for the government.

Before we blithely support yet more increases in taxpayer-funded college financial aid, which too often merely allows colleges to continue to raise their sticker price beyond the inflation rate, shouldn’t we hold colleges at least as accountable as we do tire manufacturers?

Do you think colleges should be required to prominently post a College Report Card on their Web site?

Originally published in the Washington Post. Used here with permission.


 

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The Next Higher Education Woe That Will Be Blamed on Adjuncts http://www.adjunctnation.com/2011/03/01/74-the-next-higher-education-woe-that-will-be-blamed-on-adjuncts/ http://www.adjunctnation.com/2011/03/01/74-the-next-higher-education-woe-that-will-be-blamed-on-adjuncts/#comments Tue, 01 Mar 2011 04:00:00 +0000 http://www.adjunctnation.com/?p=3993 By P.D. Lesko

Over the course of the past three years, adjunct and part-time faculty have been systematically scape-goated for any number of problems plaguing the Academy. Students dropping out like flies? Why, blame the adjuncts. As I wrote in a 2009 blog entry for the Chronicle of Higher Education: "College administrators rend their garments and wail about student retention. Turns out, though, fretting over that issue is much like fretting about fried food: No matter your depth of concern, at the end of the day no one wants to believe that gorging on French fries is unhealthy."

Yes, adjuncts impact student retention rates, but not because they’re adjunct or part-time faculty off the tenure-track. Adjuncts impact student retention rates, because of the way they are (or are not) supported by their institutions. Therefore, the ultimate responsibility for rising drop-out rates rests squarely on the shoulders of college administrators who still believe that it’s fine to hire by the seat of their pants, let students decide which adjuncts stay by virtue of teaching evaluations, and treat faculty development as if it were a perk for full-time faculty only, and not a requirement of all faculty.

Be that as it may, thanks to "studies" commissioned by the nation’s education faculty unions to support the crazy notion that rather than compensate part-time faculty fairly, support them equally, hire them carefully, and evaluate them rigorously, it would be better just to get rid them and hire faculty on the tenure-track. The American Federation of Teachers push to further its FACE (Faculty and College Excellence) program and legislation is the single worst fraud that has been perpetrated in the name of "promoting" faculty excellence. In the name of FACE, AFT, NEA and AAUP leaders have testified before state higher education committees that adjunct faculty are, in essence, doing a disservice to their students and, by extension, a disservice to the Academy. AFT national and state leaders have tried mightily to convince state legislators who know no better that hundreds of millions of dollars need to be allocated in order to replace adjunct faculty with full-time faculty. Only then will we be able to "fix" what ails the American higher education system.

From NPR:

As enrollment rates in colleges have continued to increase, a new book questions whether the historic number of young people attending college will actually learn all that much once they get to campus. In Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, two authors present a study that followed 2,300 students at 24 universities over the course of four years. The study measured both the amount that students improved in terms of critical thinking and writing skills, in addition to how much they studied and how many papers they wrote for their courses.

Richard Arum, a co-author of the book and a professor of sociology at New York University, reveals the fact that more than a third of students showed no improvement in critical thinking skills after four years at a university was cause for concern.

I read this and felt queasy.

Surely the fact that one-third of college students leave without having learned critical thinking skills will be the next problem blamed on the nation’s 700,000 faculty off the tenure-track. I can hear the arguments now: If only 70 percent of college faculty were full-time, surely a higher percentage of students would leave college with stellar critical thinking skills. Experts hired by faculty unions to conduct studies provide ammunition to back-up the absurd notion that college excellence is predicated on more money being pumped into higher education to hire and compensate full-time faculty.

According to Arum’s book:

…One possible reason for a decline in academic rigor and, consequentially, in writing and reasoning skills, is that the principal evaluation of faculty performance comes from student evaluations at the end of the semester. Those evaluations, Arum says, tend to coincide with the expected grade that the student thinks he or she will receive from the instructor.

Thank you. It’s about time someone pointed out that allowing students to determine whether a faculty member is competent borders on the negligent. However, who among college faculty are most likely to be principally evaluated using the student evaluation? Adjuncts. Then problem will become about the fact that there are adjuncts, as opposed to the fact that adjuncts are not, as a rule, evaluated with the same rigor as tenure-line faculty. Of course, as long as a faculty member with tenure doesn’t teach naked or murder someone, there generally is no post-tenure review process at the majority of colleges and universities.

Again, according to Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses: Overall, though, the study found that there has been a 50 percent decline in the number of hours a student spends studying and preparing for classes from several decades ago. Arum told the reporter from NPR: "If you go out and talk to college freshmen today, they tell you something very interesting." Many of them will say the following: ‘I thought college and university was going to be harder than high school, and my gosh, it turned out it’s easier.’ "

Well, that’s because so many courses are being taught by adjuncts. Not. It’s because adjuncts often don’t have the protection of due process at the schools where they teach. Thus hundreds of thousands of faculty, unprotected in their jobs, don’t dare grade rigorously. The problem is not that there are adjunct faculty, of course. The problem is that the majority of adjunct faculty are not protected from arbitrary dismissal by college administrators who find firing an adjunct infinitely less complicated than standing up on behalf of adjunct faculty in the face of student complaints that grades are assigned using rigorous criteria.

I give it half a year, tops, before the "problem" of the lack of critical thinking skills among college students becomes about the faculty that there are "too many" adjuncts. In another six months, there will be a "study" from one of the education unions verifying what everyone suspects: The Adjunct Did It.


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In Defense of the Liberal Arts http://www.adjunctnation.com/2011/01/01/73-in-defense-of-the-liberal-arts/ http://www.adjunctnation.com/2011/01/01/73-in-defense-of-the-liberal-arts/#comments Sat, 01 Jan 2011 04:00:00 +0000 http://www.adjunctnation.com/?p=3993 By Victor Hanson

The liberal arts face a perfect storm. The economy is struggling with obscenely high unemployment and is mired in massive federal and state deficits. Budget cutting won’t spare education.

The public is already angry over fraud, waste, and incompetence in our schools and universities. And in these tough times, taxpayers rightly question everything about traditional education — from teachers’ unions and faculty tenure to the secrecy of university admissions policies to which courses really need to be taught.

Opportunistic private trade schools have sprouted in every community, offering online certification in practical skills without the frills and costs of so-called liberal-arts “electives.”

In response to these challenges, the therapeutic academic Left proved incapable of defending the traditional liberal arts. With three decades of defining the study of literature and history as a melodrama of race, class, and gender oppression, it managed to turn off college students and the general reading public. And, cheek by jowl, the utilitarian Right succeeded in reclassifying business and finance not just as undergraduate majors, but also as core elements in general-education requirements.

In such a climate, it is unsurprising that once again we hear talk of cutting the “non-essentials” in our colleges, such as Latin, Renaissance history, Shakespeare, Plato, Rembrandt, and Chopin. Why do we cling to the arts and humanities in a high-tech world in which we have instant recall at our fingertips through a Google search and such studies do not guarantee sure 21st-century careers?

But the liberal arts train students to write, think, and argue inductively, while drawing upon evidence from a shared body of knowledge. Without that foundation, it is harder to make — or demand from others — logical, informed decisions about managing our supercharged society as it speeds on by.

Citizens — shocked and awed by technological change — become overwhelmed by the Internet chatter, cable news, talk radio, video games, and popular culture of the moment. Without links to our heritage, we in ignorance begin to think that our own modern challenges — the war in Afghanistan, gay marriage, cloning, or massive deficits — are unique and not comparable to those solved in the past.

And without citizens broadly informed by the humanities, we descend into a pyramidal society. A tiny technocratic elite on top crafts everything from cell phones and search engines to foreign policy and economic strategy. A growing mass below has neither understanding of the present complexity nor the basic skills to question what they are told.

During the 1960s and 1970s, committed liberals thought we could short-circuit the process of liberal education by creating advocacy courses with the word “studies” in their names. Black studies, Chicano studies, community studies, environmental studies, leisure studies, peace studies, women’s studies, and hundreds more were designed to turn out more socially responsible young people. Instead, universities have too often graduated zealous advocates who lacked the broad education necessary to achieve their predetermined politicized ends.

On the other hand, pragmatists argued that our 20-year-old future CEOs needed to learn spreadsheets rather than why Homer’s Achilles did not receive the honors he deserved, or how civilization was lost in fifth-century Rome and 1930s Germany. But Latin or a course in rhetoric might better teach a would-be captain of industry how to dazzle his audience than a class in Microsoft PowerPoint.

The more instantaneous our technology, the more we are losing the ability to communicate. Twitter and text-messaging result in economy of expression, not in clarity or beauty. Millions are becoming premodern — communicating in electronic grunts that substitute for effective and dignified expression. Indeed, by inventing new abbreviations and linguistic shortcuts, we are losing a shared written language altogether, in a way analogous to the fragmentation of Latin as the Roman Empire imploded into tribal provinces. No wonder the public is drawn to stories like The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia, in which characters speak beautifully and believe in age-old values.

Life is not just acquisition and consumption. Engaging English prose uplifts the spirit in a way Twittering cannot. The anti-Christ video shown by the Smithsonian at the National Portrait Gallery will fade when the Delphic Charioteer or Michelangelo’s David does not. Appreciation of the history of great art and music fortifies the soul, and recognizes beauty that does not fade with the passing fad.

America has lots of problems. A population immersed in and informed by literature, history, art, and music is not one of them.


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The SEIU Assault on American Colleges and Universities http://www.adjunctnation.com/2010/11/01/72-the-seiu-assault-on-american-colleges-and-universities/ http://www.adjunctnation.com/2010/11/01/72-the-seiu-assault-on-american-colleges-and-universities/#comments Mon, 01 Nov 2010 04:00:00 +0000 http://www.adjunctnation.com/?p=3993

By Al Kaltman

Unheralded and virtually unnoticed, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) has been pushing its way into the halls of America’s universities and colleges. Not content to restrict its activities to food workers and non-supervisory personnel, the Union has moved on to organizing part-time faculty.

The SEIU now has its tentacles wrapped around private institutions like the George Washington University in Washington, DC, and public institutions such as the Maine and Connecticut community colleges. Through the vehicle of union certification elections the SEIU is determined to convert America’s colleges and universities into union shops, and unfortunately the SEIU is succeeding.

In an attempt to keep their ever rising costs under some semblance of control, US colleges and universities employ large numbers of adjunct faculty—untenured part-time professors who teach one or two courses per semester. The salaries paid to adjuncts are relatively low, and since they are not tenured they may be terminated at will. The SEIU has cleverly recognized that the way to breach the walls of higher education is by organizing the adjunct faculty, who are often disenchanted with their low salaries, inadequate office space, overcrowded classes, lack of benefits, and at will employee status. The SEIU lures them with promises of higher salaries, and work rules that will prevent their being fired as long as they continue to pay the Union dues.

The Union calls election after election until an exhausted administration gives in

College and university administrations do attempt to protect their rights as employers, but the SEIU is persistent. The Union calls election after election until an exhausted administration gives in. If the Union cannot win an election that would allow it to organize an entire university’s faculty, the SEIU will drop its demands to organize those segments of the adjunct faculty which are preventing it from being certified. By analyzing the results of each election, and adjusting its demands accordingly, the Union eventually hits upon a winning strategy and gains a foothold at the university. The promises made by the SEIU to redress adjunct faculty grievances are often the key component of a successful Union strategy to win certification and turn the college or university into a union shop.

In accordance with the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947, every employee in a union shop must either join the union and pay union dues, or if the employee does not choose to join the union, the employee must pay the union an agency fee which is equal to the union dues less that amount which the union determines is not required for contract negotiations, monitoring and enforcement. The agency fee the SEIU charges is 82 percent of the union dues.

The pernicious effect of having adjunct faculty at our colleges and universities unionized is that the few remaining conservatives and principled independents teaching at these institutions will either have to contribute to an organization that none of them in good conscience can support and that many of them find repulsive, destructive of American values and vile in nature, or they will have to quit teaching. Some may choose to hold their noses and pay the SEIU its blood money, but I expect many will choose to leave. As a result of the actions by the SEIU, what little resistance remains against the tide of leftist liberalism that has swept through our colleges and universities will be washed away.

America’s private colleges and universities are under attack by the Obama administration

As recent articles in the Economist have pointed out, America’s private colleges and universities are under attack by the Obama administration, and American institutions of higher education are falling behind. US colleges and universities were once the finest in the world. Today, they run the risk of ending up like General Motors. As the SEIU continues to rack up unionizing successes, more and more institutions of higher learning will find that they can no longer fire incompetent professors and that some of their best and brightest teachers are choosing to leave rather than pay to support an organization they detest. If the SEIU has its way, America’s colleges and universities will find themselves in a headlong free-fall to the bottom.

Originally published in the Canada Free Press. Used here with permission.


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