Posts Tagged ‘academy’

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Today is National Adjunct Walkout Day. Adjunct professors on campuses across the country hope to draw attention to their poverty-level wages, with no chance of advancing to a tenure-track position.

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According to an extensive crowd-sourced survey of adjunct working conditions conducted in 2012 by the Coalition on the Academic Workforce,

Adjuncts don’t make much money, they receive little support in terms of professional development from the institutions where they teach, and most would accept a full-time tenure-track position if it were offered to them.

As Karen Hildebrand, an adjunct professor at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh, explains,

This National Adjunct Walkout Day aims to help adjuncts achieve parity with full-time faculty – better pay, job security, equality in professional development opportunities, etc.

But there are two things about this day that are pretty basic to how we treat each other and how we view the world.

First, hiring people as adjuncts sets a very bad example to college students. That’s not the way to treat people.

Instead of signaling “Get used to it – this is the world you will inhabit, we will use you, wring everything we can out of you and throw you out,” educators should be signaling, “Young College Graduate – we will help you make the world a better place.”

Second, this thing of paying substandard salaries to teachers is a victimization of people who love what they do.

Ask any musician or actor how many times she or he has been asked to donate a free performance. After all, to the people hiring them, it’s not real work – it’s fun! It seems people who love what they do are punished for it.

Parents tell their children, “Get a degree in something you love – but make sure you can make a living from it.”

Following that logic, teaching is one of the things that you shouldn’t get a degree in.

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According to the Wall Street Journal, an extraordinary 70 percent of the instructors on the campuses of U.S. colleges and universities were (as of 2011) adjuncts and other contingent workers. That’s up from an already-high 43 percent in 1975.

But now, fortunately, the academic precariat is starting to organize:

Since late November, adjuncts have won unionization votes at eight colleges, from Boston University to Dominican University of California. Last week, full-time, nontenure-track faculty at Tufts University’s College of Arts & Sciences voted to unionize.

Those union victories come after more than 15,000 part-time teachers at 40 schools joined unions in the 2012-13 academic year, bringing the total number of unionized, part-time teachers to about 172,000, according to the National Center for the Study of Collective Bargaining in Higher Education and the Professions at Hunter College in New York. The National Labor Relations Board in December issued a ruling opening the door for more union action at private religious schools, and a national adjunct walkout day is scheduled for Feb. 25.

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Special mention

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Justin Wolfers has assembled some serious information. But, in my view, he has offered a less-than-serious explanation of that information.

The information is pretty straightforward: references to economists in the New York Times have grown over time and far outnumber mentions of members of other academic disciplines, including historians, psychologists, sociologists, anthropologists, and demographers. (The same is true, as it turns out, of the number of mentions in the Congressional Record.)

I have no reason to dispute the numbers. And they make sense to me—from my own reading of the Times over many decades and the fact that, “if you are running a government agency, a think tank, a media outlet or a major corporation, and don’t have your own pet economist on the payroll, you’re the exception” (to which I would only add, major university).

Wolfers’s explanation is, however, much less serious:

This economist is drawn to conclude that if our relative success is not due to supply, then it must be demand, which means that our popularity reflects the discerning tastes of our audience in the marketplace of ideas.

What I think we need to grapple with is the economizing tendency of bourgeois society. What I mean by that is the idea that, within contemporary society, all major individual and social questions are increasingly subject to an economic logic. Should I stay in school? What kind of job should I look for? How do we organize our households? Can we eliminate poverty? Should we lower the retirement age and expand Social Security benefits? And so on and so forth.

Given the way our society is currently organized, the answers to those questions are generally viewed through an economic lens and couched in an economic language. It’s a lens and language (borrowed mostly from mainstream economics) of incentives, tradeoffs, scarcity, costs and benefits, equilibrium, and so on. It’s a discourse according to which a system based on individual decisions, private property, and markets is considered sacrosanct. And it’s a project that seeks to economize—to subject to an economic calculation—all major individual and social issues.

If that’s true, is it any wonder that economists find themselves at the top of the heap?

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As a result of the National Labor Relations Board’s latest decision, the members of the university precariat find themselves in a stronger, less-precarious position.

The decision on Case 19-RC-102521, in response to a petition by the Service Employees International Union, Local 925 seeking to represent a unit of all nontenure-eligible contingent faculty members employed by Pacific Lutheran University, affirms the right of those faculty members to form a union. This is a major victory for the growing number of contingent faculty members in American colleges and universities (now amounting to some two-thirds of all faculty in institutions of higher education in the United States).

There were two significant criteria behind the decision—one having to do with religion (the religious nature of the institution and of the employees’ role in the institution), the other with the nature of the employees’ work (whether or not they should be considered part of management).

While both criteria are important, I am most interested in the second: the grounds on which the NLRB found that Pacific Lutheran “failed to demonstrate that full-time contingent faculty members are managerial employees.”

In the famous Yeshiva University case, the NLRB found that faculty members participated in shared governance and thus were considered part of management. Therefore, they had no right to form a union. But the structure of university governance has changed since 1980. According to the latest decision,

Time appears to have confirmed the wisdom of the Court’s decision to address only the case then before it. Over the 30-plus years since Yeshiva was decided, the university model of delivering higher education has evolved considerably. As one commentator has explained:

The rise of consumerism, a growing push for accountability and declining public support for education are contributing to what many call the ‘corporatization’ of higher education. Nonprofit colleges and universities are adopting corporate models, cutting costs and seeking profit-making opportunities.

Indeed, our experience applying Yeshiva has generally shown that colleges and universities are increasingly run by administrators, which has the effect of concentrating and centering authority away from the faculty in a way that was contemplated in Yeshiva, but found not to exist at Yeshiva University itself. Such considerations are relevant to our assessment of whether the faculty constitute managerial employees.

A common manifestation of this “corporatization” of higher education that is specifically relevant to the faculty in issue here is the use of “contingent faculty,” that is, faculty who, unlike traditional faculty, have been appointed with no prospect of tenure and often no guarantee of employment beyond the academic year.

The fact is, most faculty members—both tenure-track and contingent—find themselves increasingly in the position of non-management employees, taking orders from administrators, with at best an advisory capacity with respect to most major decisions in their colleges and universities.

The latest NLRB decision recognizes that university administrators (such as the president, the provost/dean of graduate studies, the vice president for development and university relations, the vice president for finance and operations, the vice president for admission and enrollment services, the vice president of student life/dean of students, and the academic deans) are given faculty status. But that shouldn’t obscure the fact that most of the faculty, who do the bulk of teaching and research within higher education, are not administrators and do not participate in any kind of shared governance of the university.

Not in the new corporate university.

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The Koch brothers continue to use their enormous wealth to attempt to reshape the teaching of economics in U.S. colleges and universities.

The latest target is the University of Louisville [ht: db], where the Koch Foundation, in partnership with Papa John’s International CEO John Schnatter, are preparing a $6 million gift to the College of Business for the creation of a “center for free enterprise” to be led by BB&T Distinguished Professor in Free Enterprise Stephan Gohmann, who would have authority to approve anyone hired with the grant money.

The Koch brothers and their well-heeled partners are able to buy such influence, in part, because professors like Gohmann are willing to do their bidding.

 

It’s also the case that public colleges and universities are being undermined by their own states’ unwillingness to fund decent higher education for their citizens.

If the $6 million gift contract is approved and made available for review, it will continue the trend away from public funding of higher education and toward financing by private parties.

“If the people of Kentucky are worried about corporate influence distorting education, they must insist that the state reinvest in public higher education,” said Avery Kolers, a U of L philosophy professor. “For 15 years now, the state has been cutting budgets, leaving universities scrambling for any dollar they can find.

“The fact is, education is the only real path to long-term improvements in the quality of life of all Kentuckians,” he said. “Kentuckians who care about this need to demand a first-rate public higher education system and must insist that the state find a way to provide the public funding that makes it possible.”

The irony, of course, is that economics education in U.S. colleges and universities remains dominated by neoclassical economics, which celebrates a system based on individual choice, free markets, and private property. That’s the basic model taught to tens of thousands of students—both graduate and undergraduate—every year, with perhaps a few sessions on “market imperfections” toward the end of the course, when students are scrambling just to survive.

But apparently that’s not enough for the Kochs, Schnatters, and Gohmans of the world. I guess they want to make sure that even market imperfections are hidden from view—and what few market imperfections they do acknowledge can be blamed on unwarranted government intervention.

And, in the process, they—and the academic administrators who accept these gifts—are willing to undermine the kinds of open, critical inquiry that define what a university is.

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Students and faculty continue to protest the layoffs and budget cuts at the University of Southern Maine.

You can read and sign a petition [ht: ja] supporting them here.

The American Association of University Professors has urged the university administration to rescind the notices of termination that have been issued. More recently, the Association’s executive director has reached the conclusion that “these actions at the University of Southern Maine have raised significant issues of academic freedom, tenure, and due process that are of basic concern to the academic community,” and has opened an investigation into the layoffs and budget cuts.

As WGBH explains,

Maine isn’t alone. As states defund public higher education, colleges and universities have made steep cuts while also increasing tuition and fees.