When planning her own recent humorous chapter book, Brainstorm colleague Naomi Schaefer Riley (no relation to Roscoe) apparently didn’t get the memo that the “lazy professor” stereotype has been consigned to the cultural dustbin since, roughly, her own graduation from kindergarten. As you might surmise from the title (The Faculty Lounges–har har–And Other Reasons You Won’t Get the College Education You Paid For), the book relies on silly, outmoded stereotypes, arguments from anecdote and bluster from the likes of John Silber instead of evidence.
At one time or another in what too often reads like an audition for Fox News higher education
attack dog analyst, Riley deals every bromide in the deck, usually from the bottom: while accepting conservative foundation support for her own propaganda, she goes far out of her way to caricature Ford Foundation grants in support of academic freedom as a”gravy train” for left academics (would that it were so!)
Just like the beginning chapter books my son favors, Riley’s book features one cartoon illustration per chapter, usually reprinted from stock cartoon banks. None of them have anything to do with the issues; they just underscore the irrelevance of her stereotypes (“Your wife hasn’t broken the law, professor–she can leave you even if you do have tenure!”) Ha, ha, chuckle, zzzzzz.
That’s too bad, because Riley is bright and analytical, and sometimes grasps real problems with the tenure system, which is more than I can say of many contemporary observers on my own side of the political aisle.
She’s right, for instance, to note that the tenure system as we know it today is deeply flawed:
Supposed to produce courage and security, it breeds cowardice and anxiety, check. Supposed to unite the faculty, it now serves as a marker of apartheid between the academy’s minority “haves” and majority “have-nots,”check.
Supposed to encompass peer accountability for all professional activities it too often rewards those who neglect their students, family, and the profession, check.
Supposedly the pipeline for equality in the professions, the tenure system funnels academic and professional women into subordinate positions, check.
Supposed to guarantee reasonable economic return on education (you know, so that English professors can expect lifetime earnings not too much lower than good legal secretaries), tenure has become a generational lifeboat for greybeards selfishly uninterested in the crisis of young faculty, check.
All of these concerns, which plenty of tenure’s defenders are all too happy to gloss over, add up to an argument against tenure from the labor front.
Contingent-faculty activists like Joe Berry have long observed that tenure is reserved for a shrinking labor aristocracy–the group of persons who do front-line supervision of transient labor, and who provide the talent pool for upper administration. From the perspective of actual, informed unionists like Berry, tenure has frequently served as an engine of inequality.
Nor is it generally the goal of contingent-faculty unionists to win entrance into the stressful, irrational tenure crapshoot which is far from the gold standard of job security that most faculty imagine (ask anyone who’s had a department restructured or eliminated, or had an administrator declare a fake fiscal crisis).
Therefore, many contingent faculty, and left-labor faculty of any appointment type, share Riley’s sense that tenure should be abolished. (Either that, or like me and the AAUP, they feel that a reformed, teaching-centric tenure system should be the norm of faculty experience, as it was in 1972, when the professoriate was largely populated by well-off white men.)
Riley’s at her best and most revealing when she talks about how the tenured (like her father) treat contingent faculty, like her mother. At times the book is honestly reported–Riley admits that tenure isn’t the reason college is expensive–quite the contrary, it saves on salary–and that tenure is a minority experience.
I think if Riley’s analysis had taken the form of a long essay on the extremely important theme of how the tenure system marginalizes women teaching faculty, a topic scandalously under-addressed by liberals and academic feminists alike, it almost could have been one of those occasional offerings from the right that joins with the left in challenging some of the sacred cows of the liberal mainstream. (See chapter 4, “The Academic Underclass,” which appropriately excoriates “the hypocrisy of academics who claim concern for society’s marginalized while ignoring the [gendered and racialized] underclass in their midst.”)
If you subtract the ideological claptrap from Riley’s book, you have a perfectly reasonable call to invest in undergraduate teaching. However, in adding enough vitriol and borrowed observations to make a book, Riley goes awry in two basic ways, the scary and the lame.
Under the heading of scary, I have to point out that every once in a while, Riley’s mask of reasonability slips. In chapter 2, she wonders aloud, a la David Horowitz, Don’t some radical faculty members deserve to be run off campus?
A little later we learn the identities of the radicals to be run off, when she channels the radio talk shows for this sweeping non sequitur: “Whether it’s women’s studies or black studies or queer studies, the entire premise of the discipline often rests on a political agenda…. there [is] a growing sense that projects that are not strictly academic are not deserving of academic protections.”
The scary part is that we and her actual target audience know what she’s saying even though she isn’t saying anything–what is the meaning of the nonsense phrase “the entire premise of the discipline”? This is all too much like Limbaugh, rolling empty longish words off the tongue in order to manufacture a sense of cogitation and portent.
Under the heading of lame, I have to place the one argument she really makes with any vigor, that so much of higher education is “vocational” that there’s no controversy in those fields, hence no need for academic freedom. “These are all fields with fairly definitive answers,” Riley says in total ignorance of the fields she cites–like nutrition, family sciences, security, and sports history. “Faculty members don’t really need the freedom to ask controversial questions in discussing them,” she says, with unearned confidence.
It’s hard to believe that someone with two academic parents made this argument or, having made it, kept it in the manuscript–as its great gotcha! centerpiece, no less. When Gary Rhoades pointed out to Riley that nutrition faculty, just for example, engaged in plenty of controversy, she amateurishly dismisses the point rather than checking to see whether, in fact, there aren’t some fairly intense controversies in the field. Hint: there are, as in every one of the other fields she names.
But what of the obviously roiling controversies in other “vocational” fields, like legal, business, and medical education? Riley has nothing to say.
Riley is similarly cavalier with the evidence regarding faculty and teaching. There are literally thousands of studies evaluating faculty teaching, but instead of addressing any of them, Riley uses a few administrators as quote farms in support of her preconceived thesis and dials up the Limbaugh: “Tenure means they can simply neglect their students!”
At other points the just-published work is already out of date, touting the Garcetti decision, which has been successfully challenged, or Stanley Fish’s positions since recanted.
Frequently it’s just juvenile, as with the cartoons or snarkily describing the academy as a “profession” only in skeptical quotation marks.
Sometimes it’s just inept, as when she relies on John Silber’s “analysis” of tenure to make her case that it isn’t necessary to protect academic freedom–when, notoriously, it was only tenure that protected the late, beloved and irreplaceable Howard Zinn from Silber’s relentless efforts to drive him from the campus.
Much of the rest is cribbed from usual suspects like ACTA and Richard Vedder, or retread David Horowitz–Oh my gosh, the Berkeley writing classes sometimes cover controversial content!
A couple of points under the heading of full disclosure: Riley interviewed me for this book, and I make several appearances in the one chapter I thought worthy of her talents. She treats me as far less of a caricature than she might have, and I wish I had kinder things to say about the project.
Additionally, my spouse and I are, like Riley’s parents, and as many as a third of all faculty, navigating the often-breathtaking challenges of a dual-career academic couple in a system that is particularly cruel to academic women.
I share Riley’s disquiet with academic hypocrisy. On top of still rampant sexism and sex discrimination in academic employment, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like the viciousness with which many academic “feminists” with tenure treat some of their “sisters” off-track.
As I read Riley’s book–which I had to buy because her publisher declined to send me a review copy–I thought often of my son, and his sunny disposition. I hope that we can find a way to insulate his good nature and deeply, deeply inquiring mind from the academic shabbiness, hypocrisy and dishonesty that Riley chronicles best from her personal experience.]]>
Why so popular? ‘Cause Asus clued in to the fact that we produce content with our computers, not just consume it, and addressed that insight with a stable mobile-computing design that everyone else will scramble to imitate.
The Transformer is a $399 full-internet touch tablet, running Flash, and employs the sun-beating IPS (in-plane switching) screen technology. In seconds it “transforms” into a netbook, snapping onto a lightweight keyboard ($149).
Brag alert: last fall, I predicted this design would be the “industry standard in a couple of years.” Lenovo has a similar model coming out this summer, and it seems clear that most manufacturers will have to follow.
Especially clever is the extra eight hours offered by the second battery built into the keyboard. Early reviews offer some modest complaints, mostly about camera quality. For most Windows users or smartphone owners, the Android Honeycomb operating system will feel intuitive, do everything you expect from a Windows netbook, and produce content compatible with your desk machine.
With the events in Japan, current backorders may not get fulfilled until June. Which will be good for all of those manufacturers stuck with tablet-only configurations. Watch for prices of machines that can’t accept a clamshell keyboard to tumble into the sub $300 range, but students, teachers, and parents should resist the temptation to buy.]]>
Just when you thought that everyone was going to buy a CB radio/pet rock/mood ring/Betamax/eight-track, you had the courage of your convictions and held off. Good for you.You probably also haven’t yet tied your mobile media consumption to either Apple or Amazon. Double good for you–waiting a year has paid off. Now you can buy a lightweight mobile media viewer/tablet PC that is also a full netbook computer.
For the same price as the iPad (about $550) Dell’s just released the device that is the likely leader of the pack, the Inspiron Duo. It’s a nifty flip-screen netbook that they’re calling a tablet/netbook hybrid, but which one day they’ll just call “a personal computer.”
I think the Dell product is close to a stable design for the notebook. In a couple of years the industry standard will have better batteries, more advanced docking and a detachable clamshell keyboard, but this version will work just as well for you completing your presentation on an airplane as entertaining your toddler in a car seat.
It’s also a far better choice for the college student writing papers, streaming lectures, and playing Halo on the go.
Leisure reading plus everyday computing
For the past year, I’ve done most of my leisure reading on a netbook, making use of a variety of different e-reader formats and sometimes using screen orientation software that turns the netbook screen into vertical orientation. I turn off the wireless connection, dim the screen to its lowest level, enlarge and customize the font, and often reverse the type (to white on black). Very soothing, and no need for a lamp when H. is trying to sleep.
The Dell tablet will handle the reading function nicely. It’s a touch heavier than either the Kindle or the Ipad, but lighter than either of the netbooks I already use for e-reading and occasional screening of missed episodes of Sons of Anarchy.
On my desk sits a large, heavy “media laptop,” but for all my other computing/media consumption at home, in the office, or on the road, I’ve long switched to the netbook, first a nice little Asus that I left on top of my car while latching my son into his car seat, then my current HP mini. Both run eight hours or longer on a single charge. Right now the Dell item runs about half as long, but I imagine the next iteration will offer more.
It’s true that currently that the Kindle and iPad beat this particular Dell offering in a few ways: they’re lighter, run longer on a charge and better adapt to extreme viewing angles.
But as a media creation device–anything requiring a keypad, from writing papers to editing a powerpoint–both are all but useless. What their purveyors fail to understand is that for most professionals and students reading and writing (media consumption and production, if you prefer) are intertwined at every level, from annotation to original or collaborative composition. That’s why netbooks have succeeded and most tablets have failed.
Furthermore: giving the Apple store so much prominence in your media consumption is plain foolhardy, especially when it comes to very young children.
Your toddler will want one too
As I’ve previously written, our son Emile has had his own touch-screen computer since he was fourteen months old, a large, expensive HP all-in-one which gives us access to the very large and important world of early learning activities such as poissonrouge and starfall.com.
We play these games together, as we would any other play-based learning activity, and for less than an hour a day (initially only fifteen minutes). They’ve been just one component of a broad spectrum of parent-intensive play-based learning, but a very important one. The touch screen makes a world of difference: children acquire the pointing reflex around ten months, and with the ability to point follows the capability of interacting with a screen and parent.
At some point I’ll write more about Emile’s “zero to three” learning experiences, which have been enormously successful by both traditional and progressive measures. He’s currently just two years and nine months, so maybe I’ll write when he turns three. You can read all of my caveats on the subject in the earlier pieces, but I’ll just reiterate here that we play with him: the learning is embedded in, and incidental to, play.
Based on our experience and the very substantial research about early learning, I’d recommend a Windows-based touch netbook to any toddler with a parent who understands the difference between play-based learning (as at poissonrouge or starfall) and the pointless mind-numbing drill of flashcards, “hooked on,” etc.
There’s no question in my mind that the feelings and good intentions that have led millions of parents to buy useless and perhaps harmful “Baby Einstein” videos would be far better served by parentally-involved play with a touch screen and the right kind of early learning.
Both drilling your child and using video as a babysitter are harmful. And neither of them bears any relation whatsoever to thoughtful, play-based, parentally-involved interactive learning facilitated by a touch screen.
Most of these early-learning games are flash-based applications that Apple does not support, primarily to maximize revenue to its media sales operation. While there are some early-learning apps written for the iPhone and iPad, they are far more limited. The arrival of the Dell and several other netbook tablets is a big boost for your toddler.
Buying for myself, I’ll wait until battery life meets the netbook standard of eight hours or more. But buying for Emile–I’ll buy what’s available when he needs it. His first summer in Quebec we left his thousand-dollar monster thirty-pound HP all-in-one behind, and regretted it; the next summer we packed it into a suitcase and brought it with us, and were glad we did.
Come May, we’re buying this Dell for him unless there’s a better option.]]>
Filmmaker Vicki Abeles is no propagandist, so the film isn’t as slick as the glib, dishonest work of Davis Guggenheim.
It spends too much time on the issues of wealthy children competing for college admission and occasionally conflates those issues with those of other students, especially the much larger group of young people for whom “overscheduling” means wage labor pulling lattes and serving pizzas to her own children. It fails to fully capture the ways that lawmakers and for-profit education-management corporations drive education policy.
She pushes too hard on one (good) thesis–that students have too much homework from an early age–and the big picture into which it fits isn’t always crisp.
Nonetheless you should see this film, and anyone who sees WFS should be required to watch it. With just one email you can arrange to have it shown on your campus. Why not talk to your students about the film and the issues it raises? Just for starters: ritalin abuse, stress and cheating; cynical community service (and service as hyper-exploitation); the failure of content-driven pedagogy associated with high-stakes testing (and the reliably-documented “memory dump” two weeks later).
I saw the film in Cupertino, a community infamous for cramming, with tutorial services on every block, and talked with parents who, like the Oakland filmmaker, worried about their own children (up to two hours of homework a night in kindergarten).
Then I talked to someone I’ll call Terri N., one of our babysitters, who we pay fifteen to seventeen dollars an hour. She’s a pre-med biology student attending a local private university and works three jobs during the school year and as many hours she can get summers. She works at a sports bar, averaging twelve dollars an hour or less including her tips. She works as a science tutor and peer health educator for eleven bucks an hour. Summers she’ll work sixty hours a week; “more if I can get it.” There’s no time for partying, dating, seeing movies.
What is she spending the money on, besides tuition? To pay for what she sees as gilt-edged service learning, an immersion trip with a self-titled “global medical brigade.”
“I’m actually working to pay for volunteering,” she says. “It’s definitely good experience and probably a fun trip. But the truth is you have to do it. Everyone does it now. These are the things you have to do to get in. If you’re the one that doesn’t, you’re the one who’s not getting in.”
Turns out Terri went through the same thing in high school. Not from a wealthy family, she worked twenty-five hours a week in order to pay for her clothes, books and a similar immersion trip, gilding her college application.
And here’s the thing. Terri’s one of the “winners” in this crazy system. She’s not burned out. Her family is supportive, stable and just well enough off to pay a lot of her bills. She’ll make it in to a decent school, come close enough to the employment she imagines for herself, make a good salary, pay off her loans, probably manage to have kids if she wants them.
Most people don’t have Terri’s abilities, support, and emotional stability. A system that with tremendous sacrifice barely works for someone like Terri is failing most other young people–not because it demands too little of them, but because it demands way, way too much.
Fixing this problem is not rocket science. It just requires some honesty. We are exploiting and super-exploiting young people. We herd them into a system that manufactures desperation and then hand them hamster wheels with sickly hypocritical grins on our faces. The best of them tell us to piss off, find a better path or destroy themselves in the searching. The next best run in circles just to make our shopping, our research leaves, and our foreign policy as cheap as possible. Only a handful ever stop pacing the wheel.
Many things may get more expensive, from education to fast food. But we need to stop displacing adult wage labor with students and volunteers, especially volunteerism of the extorted variety.]]>
About this time last year, when Emile was fourteen months old, we evaluated for his use the best options then available, the touch-screen netbook and the large HP TouchSmart 600, choosing the latter for screen size and interface quality. If the iPad had been available, we’d have given it a close look.
When I last wrote about electronic reading devices, I concluded that e-reading was here to stay–but so far none of the currently available e-reading options had pushed beyond travel & leisure use. Neither Kindle-type dedicated devices nor netbook apps had demonstrated their readiness for the prime time of workday academic, business and professional reading.
The arrival of the overhyped iPad doesn’t change that. Heavier than a Kindle, more awkward to type on than a netbook, the iPad is more of a toy than a tool. It’s basically a Kindle plus–a really good device for media consumption on the go–rather than a device for professional reading and writing. Which explains what David Pogue calls the device’s uniquely polarizing effect: working techie insiders like Cory Doctorow despise it, and folks who passively consume a lot of media love it.
Since e-reading is here to stay, the likeliest future for reading on the go will be something like an iPad/netbook hybrid, with a detachable clamshell keyboard/dock, so that you can take either just the tablet or the tablet and a keyboard. Devices of this type are already on the market, and my guess is that the iPad and Kindle will converge on this design configuration. The iPad has an optional keyboard dock, but it’s for your desktop. Doubtless a later iteration or a competitor will have a detachable netbook-style keyboard.
If you are interested in how you can help your toddler or pre-schooler to learn using a touch screen, I’d suggest you take them into an Apple store and a computer store stocking the HP device and go to starfall.com for starters. Also try: jacksonpollock.org, lecielestbleu, poissonrouge, Peep ‘n Quack, and Literactive, among many others. You might be surprised by your child’s abilities in playing memory games and puzzles. The best online jigsaw puzzles for very young users are the 12-piece images at Jigzone: there’s a decent snap-to effect and the pieces remain in the correct orientation to each other (no rotation necessary). For many games you may want to set the monitor resolution lower.
I’ll write about Emile’s early learning experiences another time, and possibly in another forum: there’s just too much to say in this space. In brief, though:
Yes, it’s been a big success by several different measures.
No, we don’t endorse phonics.
No, we don’t think the computer replaces any other traditional learning or interaction.
No, we don’t leave him in front of the computer and yes, we have only gradually increased his time from 15 to 30 minutes a day.
Yes, we agree that soccer, gym, art, music, and play dates and reading aloud are more important for two- year olds.
Yes, there is a great deal of dangerous mind-numbing “educational software” out there, and it vastly outnumbers the useful stuff.
No, you cannot make your toddler smarter by having them watch any kind of video whatsoever.
Yes, you can do any and all of these learning activities without a computer, and yes, most of our reading time is with the several hundred real books he owns, including picture books. Last night, for example, we talked for an hour over his latest, Audobon’s Complete Birds and Mammals.
No, you can’t trust PBS to teach your kids online either.
Yes, it’s one of the few good things about Obama’s education policy that he supports pre-school and zero to three learning.
No, reading and literacy are not the same thing. Reading is a symptom of literacy, not the other way around.
The point is to accommodate your child’s burgeoning literacy–the already existing thirst to communicate, know, learn, and interact.
I once read of a parent bragging that they’d taught a very young child to read by reading the same book over and over again. How sad: I cannot imagine a better illustration of mistaking the sign of a thing for the thing itself. In the context of very young learners, eventually reading is the sign of a rich literacy.
Any activity that seeks to develop early reading per se–at the expense of that rich literacy–is a huge disservice to the child.
All in all, we’re ecumenical rather than evangelical on the question of early learning: it’s all too easy to do the wrong thing in this area, I suppose. But I also think that many people mistakenly deprive their children’s hungry brains of the chance to learn–and then, not knowing what else to do–plunk them in front of an “educational video.”]]>
You are wise. Without you, tuition would soon rise to a point where most Californians couldn’t afford it. Public higher education in this state used to be free–and now it’s going to cost more than a new small car every year? Pretty soon a UC bachelor’s degree will cost the equivalent of four luxury cars. Who can afford that? Thank you for throwing yourselves into the trenches against the Schwarzeneggers and the Yudofs who want to turn public higher education into a subsidy for the rich.
You are compassionate. You are demanding that cuts not fall on employees earning less than $40,000. Thank you for demanding fairness, and asking that–if cuts are actually necessary– the thousands of wealthiest UC employees dig a little deeper.
You are honest. The reality is that undergraduate tuition subsidizes every other activity in the university, and the administration has billions of reserve funds. As Bob Samuels says, “UC does not have a budget crisis; it has a crisis in priorities.” The savage 40% tuition hike–while raising class sizes, cutting sections, etc–is really a massive increase in the tax on undergraduates represented by cross-subsidy. Thank you for asking that education come first.
You are fighting racism in admissions. Economic discrimination is always wrong in a democracy, but in our state it falls much harder on African-Americans and Hispanics.
You are fighting racism in university employment. Faculty salaries in the humanities already offer an unbelievably low return on the ten years it takes to get a PhD (if you’re lucky, around age 35 or 40 you’ll get a job that pays you $55,000, or less than a bartender). This means that mostly persons from wealthier backgrounds can afford to become professors–a form of economic discrimination that explains why university faculties are among the most disproportionately white workforces in the country.
You make us think. It seems the administration has been trying to mislead the media with the statistic that UC professors make an average over $100,000. Funny thing about averages, though. If your neighbor earns a million dollars a year, and you earn $15,000–guess what? Your average salary is half a million bucks! The fact is that “average” salary includes a lot of people making huge, inflated salaries, and a lot more folks barely scraping by.
Your typical humanities prof–you know, the person they show as a prof in the movies, talking to you about history, culture, or philosophy–puts in about ten years getting the Ph.D., then another three or four years on temporary appointment, before even starting a tenure track job.
Even worse? Most university teachers aren’t tenured profs at all. Most courses are taught by grad students or folks on temporary, part time and nontenurable appointments. Most of these faculty make fifty or a hundred dollars per student per year. Thank you for inspiring us to ask: If it’s not going to the persons teaching our students: where’s our money going?
In solidarity, Marc Bousquet
UC Student Association (pdf)
UC Faculty blog (FAQ, teach-in materials, etc)
UC Staff one-day strike in solidarity
I answered most of the responses in the comments portion of the original post, such as where to find the data.
Among the excellent responses, I felt one deserved a post of its own. It went something like this: “well, if demand for education is rising, and tuition is soaring, where does the money go, if not to the faculty?”
For that, I promised to reprint this post from before I joined Brainstorm.
Who Benefits From the Tuition Gold Rush?
The logic of the HMO increasingly rules higher education. Management closely rations professor time. Thirty-five years ago, nearly 75% of all college teachers were tenurable. Only a quarter worked on an adjunct, part-time or nontenurable basis.
Today, those proportions are reversed.
If you’re enrolled in four college classes right now, you have a pretty good chance that one of the four will be taught by someone who has earned a doctorate, and whose teaching, scholarship and service to the profession has undergone the intensive peer scrutiny associated with the tenure system.
In your other three classes, you are likely to be taught by someone who has started a degree but not finished it, was hired by a manager not professional peers, may never publish in the field he is teaching, or who got into the pool of persons being considered for the job because they were willing to work for wages around the official poverty line.
In almost all courses in most disciplines using nontenurable or adjunct faculty, a person with a recently-earned Ph.D. was available, and would gladly have taught your other three courses. But they could not afford to pay their loans and house themselves on the wage being offered.
Higher education employers can only pay those wages in the knowledge that their employees are subsidized in a variety of ways. In the case of student employees, the massive debt load subsidizes the wage. For poorly paid contingent faculty, who are women by a substantial majority*, the strategies vary, but include consumer debt, reliance on another job or the income from a domestic partner.
Like Walmart employees, the majority female contingent academic workforce relies on a patchwork of other sources of income, including such forms of public assistance as food stamps and unemployment compensation.
It is perfectly common for contingent university faculty to work as grocery clerks and restaurant servers, earning higher salaries at those positions, or to have been retired from such former occupations as bus driving, steelwork, and auto assembly, enjoying from those better-compensated professions a sufficient pension to enable them to serve a “second career” as college faculty.
The system of cheap teaching doesn’t sort for the best teachers. It sorts for persons who are in a financial position to accept compensation below the living wage. As a result of management’s irresponsible staffing practices, more students drop out, take longer to graduate, and fail to acquire essential literacies, often spending tens of thousands of dollars on a credential that has little merit in the eyes of employers.
The real “Profscam” isn’t the imaginary one depicted in Charles Sykes’ fanciful 1988 book, which concocted the image of a lazy tenured faculty voluntarily absenting themselves from teaching.
Instead the “prof scam” turns out to be a shell game conducted by management, who keep a tenurable stratum around for marketing purposes and to generate funded research, but who are spread so thin with respect to undergraduate teaching that even the most privileged undergraduates spend most of their education with para faculty working in increasingly unprofessional circumstances.
As the union activists of the nontenurable will tell you, the problem is not with the intellectual quality, talent, or commitment of the individual persons working on a non professorial basis; it’s the degraded circumstances in which higher education management compels them to work, teaching too many students in too many classes too quickly, without security, status, or an office; working from standardized syllabi; outsourced tutorial, remedial, and even grading services, providing no time for research and professional development.
Working in McDonald’s “kitchen,” even the talent of Wolfgang Puck is pressed into service of the QuarterPounder.
Despite the tens of billions “saved” on faculty wages by substituting a throwaway workforce for professionals scrutinized by the tenure system, managed higher education grows ever more expensive.
Tuition soared 38% between 2000 and 2005, out pacing nearly every other economic indicator.
Where does the money from stratospheric tuition and slashed faculty salaries go? At for-profit institutions, the answer is obvious: it goes into shareholder pockets. Lacking even the veneer of a tenurable stratum, the dollars squeezed from a 100% casual faculty joined tax money and tuition from the country’s poorest families in enriching the shareholders of education vendors. But in nonprofit education, which only “pretends” to “act like” a corporation, where have the billions gone?
At first glance, there are no shareholders and no dividends.
However, the uses to which the university has been put do benefit corporate shareholders. These include shouldering the cost of job training, generation of patentable intellectual property, provision of sports spectacle, vending goods and services to captive student markets, and the conversion of student aid into a cheap or even free labor pool. So one sizable trail to follow is the relationship between the financial transactions of non-profits and the ballooning dividends enjoyed by the shareholder class.
The shareholders of private corporations aren’t the only beneficiaries of faculty proletarianization and the tuition gold rush.
Because public non-profits have been receiving steadily lower direct subsidies from federal and state sources, there has been a general belief that higher tuition and staff exploitation has all somehow been accomplished by sharp-eyed, tight-fighted managers with at least one version of public wellbeing in mind, if only within the narrow framework of “reduced spending.” But that belief is open to question, since managers have been spending fairly freely in a number of areas.
One area in which nonprofit education management has been freely spending is on themselves.
Over three decades, the number of administrators has skyrocketed in close correspondence to the ever-growing population of the undercompensated. Especially at the upper levels, administrative pay has soared as well, also in close relation to the shrinking compensation of other campus workers. In a couple of decades, administrative work has morphed from an occasional service component in a professorial life to a “desirable career path” in its own right (Lazerson et al, A72).
Nonprofits support arts and sciences deans, chairs, associate deans, and program heads comfortably in six figures. Salaries rise into the mid six figures for many medical, engineering, business, and legal administrators. University presidents have begun to earn seven figures, close on the heels of their basketball coaches, who can earn $3 million annually and are often the highest-paid public employees in their state. In thirty years of managed higher education, the typical faculty member has become a female nontenurable part-timer earning a few thousand dollars a year without health benefits. The typical administrator is male, enjoys tenure, a six-figure income, little or no teaching, generous vacations and great health care.
There are lots of other areas in which nonprofit administrators have spent even more. With the support of activist legislatures, they’ve especially enjoyed playing venture capitalist with campus resources and tax dollars by engaging in “corporate partnerships” that generally yield financial benefit to the corporate partner but not the campus (Washburn).
More prosaically, they’ve engaged in what most observers call an “arms race” of spending on the expansion of facilities and physical plant. And as Murray Sperber and others have documented, they’ve spent recklessly on sports activities that–despite in some cases millions in broadcast revenue–generally lose huge sums of money.
The commercialization of college sport has raised the bar for participation so high that students who’d like to play can’t afford the time required for practice. Students who’d like to watch can’t afford the ticket prices.
Traditionally, the phenomenon known as “cross-subsidy,” the support of one program by revenue generated by another program, primarily meant a modest surplus provided by the higher tuition and lower salaries associated with undergraduate education, used in support of research activity that was unlikely to find an outside funding agent.
Under managed higher education, cross-subsidy has eroded undergraduate learning throughout the curriculum while becoming a gold mine for all kinds of activities satisfying the entrepreneurial urges, vanity, and hobby horses of administrators:
Digitizing the curriculum! Building the best pool/golf course/stadium in the state! Bringing more souls to God! Winning the all-conference championship!
Why have those who control nonprofit colleges and universities so readily fallen into the idea that the institution should act like a profit-seeking corporation? At least part of our answer must be that it offers individuals in that position some compelling gratifications, both material and emotional.
This is an age of executive license. In addition to a decent salary and splendid benefits, George Bush enjoys the privilege of declaring war on Afghanistan and Iraq. College administrators commonly enjoy larger salaries and comparable benefits, and have the privilege of declaring war on their sports rivals, or on illiteracy, teen pregnancy, or industrial pollution.
It feels good to be president.
As a “decision maker,” one can often arrange to strike a blow on behalf of at least some of one’s values.
What must be swept under the rug is that the ability to do these things is founded on their willingness to continuously squeeze the compensation of nearly all other campus workers.
The university under managerial domination is an accumulation machine. If in nonprofits it accumulates in some form other than dividends, there’s all the more surplus for administrators, trustees, local politicians, and a handful of influential faculty to spend on a discretionary basis.
*While women and men are about equal in numbers in pt ntt positions, women outnumber men in ft ntt lines, the fastest growing appointment category. The statistically significant subcategory of well-paid contingent faculty tend to be men. The more poorly paid, insecure and lower the status, the more likely contingent faculty are to be women. Women are over-represented in contingent positions relative to tt positions almost everywhere, and women with children are 2x as likely to serve contingently than men with children.]]>
For the most part, the federal money will replace some state funds.
That’s what happened in the first round of federal “public works spending” under Hoover and FDR — weak efforts that merely replaced a percentage of state-level cuts, with no net gain in spending until the more ambitious “Second New Deal.”
Obama’s gotten a free ride from students and faculty so far. And replacing the state aid was the right move. But to win the Lincoln plus FDR rep he craves, he’s going to have to do a lot better than wish for the easy sellouts that history handed Clinton.
Unlike Clinton, Obama has no choice but to face up to four decades of higher education’s “innovation” of the lousy forms of employment and super-exploitation that have gutted the econony.
That means restrictions on student labor and full employment for the faculty. That’s at least four million jobs right there. Plus some actual education, which would be nice.
18 years from now
originally posted February 19, 2008
My son Emile Amitai arrived on Valentine’s Day at 5 a.m. To the best of my knowledge based on our brief acquaintance, he is healthy, intelligent, big-boned and good looking. If all goes as planned, 18 years from now he’ll be a big man on campus somewhere.
But what will that campus look like?
If current trends continue, that campus will closely resemble another American institution — an upscale suburban shopping mall, with highly standardized “products,” a student work force, degraded floor managers wearing pocket protectors, an expensive yet disposable physical plant, and corporate executives designing everyone else’s work process at a great distance from the shop floor.
The “faculty” will be 87 percent contingent and upper-division undergraduates will do much of the teaching of lower-division students.
Tenure and curriculum will be the privilege of administrators.
At most institutions, whole fields of the liberal arts — philosophy, history, music, literature — will no longer be represented by departments.
Basketball coaches will earn as much as $10-million a year, and teaching eight classes a year as a “part-timer” will pay less than the minimum wage.
Ten percent of undergraduates will not be working at all, but the remaining 90 percent serving their lattes, correcting their papers, and doing their laundry and nails will be working 40 hours a week while in school.
A variety of assessment instruments will have been developed and imposed upon traditional institutions, permitting the for-profit education industry to make the claim that they are providing “exactly the same education” as Cal Poly or the University of Virginia.
But not at all trends are in the direction of such cretinous, self-serving “quality” on the part of administrators and the investor class they so cheerfully serve.
If current trends continue, graduate-student employees will have successfully unionized at 60 percent of public and private institutions (this assumes the reversal of the travesties perpetrated under a Bush-packed National Labor Relations Board).
There will be large undergraduate union locals in various stages of organization in New York, California, Illinois, and Massachusetts, including a couple of dozen with contracts.
Contingent faculty unionization likewise will have reached perhaps 40 percent, and the demand for pay parity will have been taken up in earnest by the major faculty unions.
Contingent faculty will be the union leadership at half a dozen major faculty unions and have bargained actual pay parity in a few noteworthy cases.
Full-time and part-time contingent faculty alike will have attained steadily increasing degrees of employment security, in many cases representing fairer and more rational systems of employment security than the tenure system.
In short, if current trends continue — and there is little reason to suppose otherwise in the national political agenda — things will get much worse on campus before Emile arrives.
On the other hand, Emile may arrive at a moment when undergraduates are at the heart of a revived American labor movement, an American labor movement with the kind of ambitions it hasn’t had since long before either of his parents were undergraduates.
In short, it probably still won’t be a great time to be on the faculty. But it’s sure to be one heck of an interesting time to be a smart, committed student interested in taking back the public sphere from the hacks, sleaze artists, and greed peddlers who’ve been running the show for the past 30 years.]]>
Those whose children are older don’t fight with each other about these issues, but put a wild-eyed First-Time Parent at the table, all hopped up on hormones, sleep deprivation and a bookshelf of contradictory advice and you’re guaranteed a sectarian conflict. The first-timers can’t keep their matches away from the conversational gasoline.
Best case scenario with a First Time Parent at the table is you’re going to lose half an hour to a food fight among the adults. That is, a fight about food–when to give solids, how long to breastfeed, using formula, which formula, blah, blah, blah. And what to an outsider might appear to be just an animated conversation is actually high-stakes moral combat. Reputations are going to be ruined. Friendships destroyed. “You gave him solids starting when?”
And food is just the beginning. Committed parents have beliefs with Great and Unshakeable Moral Authority about sleeping, diapering, speaking, playing, music, other caregivers, potty training, and early learning. Have a little boy? Wait ’til somebody wants to talk about circumcision over an otherwise charming lunch. (Think I’m making this up? I was that guy.)
Seriously. The big parenting cohort that a parent or couple begins with, say a local moms’ group, birth class, or the like–the choices of the first year or so whittle that huge bunch into a congeries of warring cliques based on compatibility of belief systems: Moms with Formula and Cloth Diapers but No Solid Foods; Dads who Co-Sleep and De-frost Breast-milk, etc.
Later, truces will be declared based on choices about day care and pre-schools, but certain parents will remember your Belief System for Infants years later even while sitting on the same pre-school boards: “I remember him from the parents’ group: they gave little Sophie turkey at six months!” “She thought they’d let Hector decide whether to get circumcised when he was a teenager!”
Einstein had parents, therefore?
Occasionally, you have pre-existing friends who have children at about the same time as you. This is somewhat different. With your birth class and mom’s group, it’s okay to throw people socially overboard for making One Wrong Choice. There are plenty more brand-new acquaintances where they came from.
But with your existing friends you have to ride out their Incredibly Bad Parenting without comment. And they have to do the same with your lousy choices. You wouldn’t rush into your friend’s house of worship and start howling “Idolater!” or “It’s just a wafer!”
But being parents, and having little time for anything except perhaps a guilty hour with Top Chef, and if you are incredibly selfish, an occasional visit to the gym, you have nothing else to talk about anyway. You are driven, absolutely compelled to discuss all the Forbidden Topics and Mysteries of your particular Parenting Religion, even with your friends with whom you have Irreconcilable Differences.
This leads inevitably to recriminations between couples and late-night anxieties, while one’s own Nearly Perfect Child naps on your vomit-stained shoulder.
Take our friends, the parents of A., who fortunately for us would probably more or less belong to our parenting clique anyway. (Thereby averting much strain on a twenty-year friendship.) But since our child is a couple of months older, we are always trying not to say, “oh, wait until [amazing next phase]” or “you absolutely must try [mandatory new belief system to which all Right Thinking Parents subscribe].”
But because we believe in using our child as a developmental-activities crash test dummy, we are always fooling around with “early learning” toys and programs.
You may not have heard of this particular one–it’s more popular in Europe–but we confessed to our friends that we’d ordered a copy of one of the more experimental early introductions to hyper-competition, YOUR CHILD CAN PLAY CHESS AT SIX MONTHS! (or something like that).
Our feelings were mixed, but if our Uniquely Gifted Child wanted to master the intricacies of opening with the queen’s pawn, we wanted to support him in that ambition.
So we shared this particular decision with our mostly parenting-compatible Friends of Many Decades, sparking anxiety and the following email:
Emile finishes Remembrance of Things Past
A. can’t stop eating dirt
Emile accepted early admission to Yale
A. continues toilet training
Emile retires from a successful career as software inventor
A. pokes a dead animal with a sharp stick
reprinted with the permission of Friends of Many Decades
This of course triggered our own mixed feelings about the possible trauma of even one experimental exposure to YOUR CHILD CAN PLAY CHESS AT SIX MONTHS, and Chagrined Spouse sent the following response:
A. plants a vegetable garden
Emile screams “you are poopy” to checkout boy
A. wins architecture prize for green design house on back of property
Emile smokes weed and plays guitar behind convenience store across from school
A. is elected mayor of home town, wins “best place to live”
Emile playing in garage band in parents garage
I’m sure this seems like small beans to those of you who actually have teenagers. (Hint: if you do have teens at home, absolutely do NOT read the twin Bay area memoirs by the Sheffs, father and son, about the son’s methamphetamine addiction, no matter how many times you pass the books at Starbucks or hear about them on NPR.)
I hear parenting is a lifelong journey–like recovery–in which you get over the idea that the choices of parents Absolutely Determine a child’s Prospects for Future Happiness and Success.
I’m definitely going to work on relaxing about parenting later today. When I have a minute.
First I have to go talk to Emile, who’s just pushed his king’s bishop to queen’s knight six.
In our next installment: Illinois Gov. Rod Blagoyevich survives impeachment by quoting Tennyson, thereby confirming all of the conclusions of the MLA/Teagle report, “Reading Books Certified as Literary Masterpieces by College Presidents and State Legislators Has Both Scientific and Magical Benefits Superior to Reading Absolutely Anything Else.” In other news, Eliot Spitzer issues a statement apologizing for not quoting Henry James more often during his governorship.]]>