Slave Labor: The New Story of American Higher Education

The other day, I called my gynecologist’s office to ask if she could recommend a plastic surgeon with whom I might consult about a proposed mastectomy (the breast issue is being dealt with at the Mayo Clinic; my gynecologist, one of the rare doctors whom I happen to trust, is “in the wild”: i.e., not with the Mayo). After considerable jabber with the telephone gate-keeper, I explained for the third time that it looked like I was going to have to have a mastectomy, that I do not want reconstruction, that my surgeon is pressuring me for reconstruction, and that I’d like to consult with a plastic surgeon who is not with the Mayo.

“Is that a pelvic procedure?” the young-sounding woman asked.

“No, dear,” I said, unwittingly condescending in my astonishment — was I speaking with a child? “They’re going to chop my boob off.”

“Oh,” she said. After the briefest of pauses, she resumed: “How do you spell that?”

You have got to be one of my students, I thought.

Back-office staff in doctors’ offices usually have at least an AA. Many have the BA. This, then, presumably was a college graduate who wondered if a mastectomy is a pelvic procedure.

Think of that.

Well, what I think is that this is yet another result of short-changing the educational system.

The practice of replacing full-time faculty with adjuncts is also a consequence of short-changing the educational system. And in my opinion the outcome is exactly what we see here: young people who are so ill-educated they’re not fit to be sitting at a desk in an office.

Many adjunct faculty, of course, are dedicated and highly competent. Many are not: we’re not paid to be either dedicated or especially competent. At pay rates that work out to less than minimum wage after grading and course prep are factored in — especially in writing-intensive face-to-face courses — we have more incentive to cut corners and rubber-stamp students along than we do to spend extra hours tutoring kids whose vocabulary is at the middle-school level. With no office space, no phone, no campus-based computer, and often not so much as a locker to hang a jacket in, we are simply not equipped to deliver real teaching to students who need extra attention. Or to any students, in my opinion.

The community colleges are awash in students who need real teaching. Yet the community colleges hire the lion’s share of adjuncts — at my district, for example, now the largest in the country, 80 percent of the faculty is adjunct.

Colleges and universities short-change employees and students for a simple reason: increasingly legislatures short-change education.

When education is shorted, as this case vividly demonstrates, business is shorted.

When business is shorted, America is shorted.

There is simply no way a US industry can compete in the global economy when employees can’t even define or spell the names of the industry’s services and products.

That’s why the issue of adjunct hiring is a business problem. It’s not just an education problem. It’s not just the problem of a few legions of PhD’s and MA’s who were foolish enough to pursue advanced degrees in the humanities (and in psychology, and in anthropology, and in art, and in music, and in the STEM disciplines…). It is America’s problem.

And it’s a very serious problem.

After three books, one of them a best-seller, emitted through mainline publishers, my first effort at self-publishing has gone live at Amazon! Slave Labor: The New Story of American Higher Education describes the predicament of America’s large and growing contingent faculty and shows what it is like to spend a semester in a classroom as an adjunct.

I hope you’ll take time to buy it and to recommend it to your business, community, and political leaders.

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College Students: Are You Getting What You Pay For?

If you are attending a college or university or if you have a child in college, you need to read this book.

As a college student, or as a student’s parent, you face endless tuition increases. Do you know what that tuition is buying — and not buying?

Some 80% of college instructors are not professors at all, but underpaid, often underqualified part-time adjuncts. Fewer and fewer American students get what they pay for when they arrive on a college campus. Meanwhile, graduate programs churn out thousands of would-be college faculty with master’s and doctoral degrees, few of whom ever land full-time jobs in education.

Quality of higher education drops as full-time faculty disappear and are replaced by part-timers with no infrastructure, low pay, no benefits, and no representation.

This book explains the short- and long-term effects of replacing professors with part-timers and chronicles one adjunct’s semester in America’s largest community college district.

Posted in Education in America, Slave Labor: The New Story of American Higher Education | Leave a comment

Online Progress, Online Updates

We’re about two-thirds of the way through this semester’s online Eng. 102 course and a week or so into the online magazine writing course, Eng. 235.

Feeling pretty pleased with the 235s. One of them is exceptionally talented, a clear writer, thorough, and well organized. The rest are doing OK. Judging by the first three scores, several of them surely will ace the course and the rest will score decent grades, assuming they turn in all the papers.

Of course, therein lies the problem with community college courses, especially those presented online: typically a third to half of them will drop before the term ends. Many who drop would do all right if they could hang in there, but for one reason or another they either have to drop (economic or family pressures) or choose to do so (discouragement, distraction, changes of plan).

One of the 235s has failed to submit any of the three assignments. Three refrained from sending in the first significant assignment, thereby dropping 100 points. That’s four of the twelve enrolled students: a third of them in danger of failing or withdrawing.

Of the 102s, nineteen of the original twenty-one are still on the roll. One has turned in three of the thirteen assignments due so far; one is missing five of the assignments; one is missing four. Still, only one is actually flunking, because the course has so many assignments, most of which are low-value scores. If eighteen of twenty-one students are still  hanging in there, with only one major assignment and three busyworks (out of 12) coming due, that is not bad at all.

Another challenge, of course, arises from our students’ often weak academic skills. Some show up in the second-semester freshman comp course with reading skills so weak they don’t seem to be able to parse out the instructions for how to do an assignment, and you wonder how on earth they managed to get through the first semester. One suspects, especially in the cases of those who’ve tried several times, that they retake the course until they encounter some instructor who takes pity on them.

Two of the 102s’ three essays have come in. One student demonstrated remedial-level skills on the first assignment and then submitted an example of perfectly idiomatic and smoothly edited prose: copied and pasted straight from the Internet. Presumably that also is a way some of them get through 101. :-D

Some of them simply don’t read. Whether it’s because they can’t read is unclear. They must be able to limp through the required assessment tests and remedial courses, so evidently they can comprehend written language at some level. In some cases, I’ve observed, the person shows that she or he understands the meaning of a word in isolation, but when the term is placed in context can’t figure out how it relates to the other words or statements around it.

How exactly that happens is a mystery to me. Possibly the present generation of students is being taught to parse meaning first by memorizing a word’s definition and then by deducing the the rest of the sentence’s sense. That’s how they’re behaving. If it’s so, then it’s exactly the opposite of the way we were taught to interpret meaning, back in the Dark Ages when most kids came out of grammar school with a fair degree of literacy. We learned to guess meaning by context. Sometimes we got it wrong, and if we didn’t come from a higher-SES family we often got the pronunciation wrong (you don’t even want to know how I thought “Beethoven” was pronounced!). But most of the time we figured it out.

Too many of the classmates who come my way can’t figure it out on their own. And that’s worrisome.

Oh well. I can’t solve the problems of the world. The best I can do is try to help the present flock make its way through the courses and hope they somehow manage once they get out into the world.

Some of these students should be in face-to-face sections. But from my own point of view, I can’t see ever teaching in the classroom again, unless it’s for a very short-form summer session. With all the surgery I’ve had — four since the end of last June — if I’d had to show up on the campus this semester, I would  have lost my job.

Such as it is.

The online format has made it possible for me to run two sections in spite of repeated surgeries that have disrupted my business and my daily life. The piddling pay for the courses has kept the Mayo Clinic from completely draining my checking account.

Next semester the journalism program’s director wants to drop the magazine writing course’s textbook, which is like all textbooks absurdly overpriced, and replace its content with readings on the Internet.

That will pose a problem, because it’s going to involve a lot of work. And if I end up undergoing more surgery during the winter break, a distinct possibility, I can’t even begin to imagine how I’m going to find the time and energy to rewrite the entire course using a scattering of websites to undergird the content. It’s going to be a real bitch.

Posted in Community Colleges, Online coursework, Students | Leave a comment

STEM Grads: Welcome to the World of Exploitation!

So you were kicking yourself for pursuing that Ph.D. in humanities, just because it was a subject that made you passionate and that you thought you could excel in and maybe even make a real contribution to knowledge-building, teaching, and all that? Well, move over, pal, and make room for your colleagues from STEM.

Yeah, that would be the ones we’re told we need so many more of.

Turns out we’ve got a glut of those, too. Or maybe not so much a glut as simply a failure of will on the part of the body politick and corporate leadership to fund basic research. NPR recently ran a piece titled When Scientists Give Up, whose author detailed the failure of funding in the hard sciences and the consequent exit of scientists fed up with living on grad-student wages. One man, a tenure-track bioscientist at UC whose career path included Johns Hopkins(!) and Penn State and who has published in tier-one journals, threw it all over to buy a small-town grocery store. Another, a UC Berkeley Ph.D., is starting a distillery.

This article has generated three hundred and fifty-two responses.  Overall the tenor echoes the sound of the humanities adjunct: the groan of those who are screwed, shafted, and living in poverty.

I was generating $3 million a year in billable services working in an IVF laboratory and I was begging them for a raise to go from $36K to $38K! No 401K and no pension and no overtime. We used to sneak into pharma lunches and pick off the stale food to avoid paying for dinner in the cafeteria! I had to fight to get them to pay for me to go to our annual scientific meetings so I could stay current. The job demanded 60+ hours a week, but because I was salary, I was “exempt” from labor laws. I was driving a 1979 Plymouth Horizon with 250K miles on it and repairing it in my spare time when it broke down. (I can now change an alternator in less than an hour!) 10 years later I had nothing saved, couldn’t afford a downpayment on a house and I gave up- I had to do something to get out from under the education debt. i couldn’t get a night’s sleep. Sales was nearly as demanding for time and urgency, we were expendable, but it certainly paid better. Later, when I worked in pharma sales- I’d order extra food so the lab techs could have something to eat. –Geraldine Merola

I have a Ph.D. from an ivy league university with more than 30 years working in academic (and some corporate) research. The US government invested millions of dollars training me and funding my research. I had to quit doing scientific research when I could no longer get any funding for my research laboratory, my own salary, and salaries for my assistants. I think the current glut of biomedical PhDs chasing (and failing to obtain) stagnant research dollars will have a chilling effect on US science for decades to come. That’s okay, there are plenty of other countries funding cutting edge biomedical research–we can just wait for them to publish their latest research. (Oh, you don’t read Chinese? too bad.) –Jen Jones

I am at the interface of life sciences and engineering. When I get enthusiastic young undergrads wanting to talk about research careers, I tell them the truth — Unless you go to the best schools working for the best professors and then still get very lucky, you will be bagging groceries when you are done and have wasted your entire 20s in the lab. If it wasn’t for a few personal connections, I would have never landed the tenure-track job I have now because I don’t have an undergrade at Ivy School A, a PhD from Ivy School B, and a postdoc at Ivy School C. The game is rigged and in a world of limited research money, it comes down to both luck and connections.

I need two PhDs for tenure consideration, but once I have tenure I will probably never train another PhD student. I won’t set up any more students to enter a world where their PhD is a burden to their careers and a waste of their time. –Mark99

It goes on and on like this. Overall the gist is that, like graduates in the humanities and social sciences, young STEM grads also find themselves unable to earn a living in the fields for which they spent years training — and for which the US taxpayer spent millions of dollars per student to train.

Once again we’re brought back to a thought I’ve posed elsewhere: that if we as a nation will not fund jobs for the best and the brightest, than we must legislate to prevent our young people’s exploitation. And that means federal and state quotas on the number of Ph.D. graduates any given university may have enrolled in any given year. Funding should depend on matching that quota: exceed it, and the institution is no longer eligible for taxpayer dollars.

That represents the easiest and the fastest way to bring a stop to the merciless abuse of graduate students and young doctorates. If you’re going to end up running a grocery store anyway, you might as well get started on it before you waste your time in graduate school.

 

Posted in Adjunct Poverty, Education in America, STEM | Leave a comment

Prof to Students: Hold the e-mails?

Recently Slate.com reposted an article from Inside Higher Education  that described Salem College Assistant Professor Spring-Serenity Duvall’s decision, arrived at after some lengthy and thoughtful consideration, to strictly limit student e-mails. Her policy: no e-mails unless you’re scheduling an in-person meeting. One exception: they were allowed to send her content relevant to the course.

She then provided plenty of office-hours time for meetings, and also agreed to meet classmates outside of office hours if necessary to fit their schedules.

The results:

a) She managed to silence the nonstop barrage of emails begging her to reiterate the syllabus content 15 ways from Sunday, reporting that a student or an assignment would be late, and communicating the various whinges to which students are subject.

b) Students started showing up for class better prepared.

c) Students’ papers were better.

d) And a vast Time-Suck went away.

I like it.

It is, of course, workable only for face-to-face classes, and only for full-time faculty who actually have offices in which to hold office hours. As an adjunct who is paid only for the number of hours I stand in front of a classroom, I’m not about to sit around the campus library for two or three unpaid hours a week (or more) waiting for students to wander in as they wish, nor do I think it is wise to discuss academic issues with students in a public place. And of course because I’m now teaching exclusively online, the only way to communicate with my bunch is by e-mail or through announcements.

However, if you’re real faculty with a real infrastructure, it’s a brilliant idea.

The vast online proprietary schools raise e-mail tyranny to the institutional level: faculty are often required to send e-mails to every student in a class at least once or twice a week, and also required to respond to student e-mails within a set amount of time.

Duvall notes that most student e-mails ask questions whose answers are on the syllabus. They don’t bother to read it, or they don’t take time to figure out what it means.

That certainly is true. Every semester at least one student asks me to reiterate, in detail, an assignment that I’ve already explained, with all the clarity that I can muster, on my syllabus and again on my assignment sheet. And a third time in Canvas, come to think of it.

This semester it came to my attention that students truly do not understand the content of syllabi and assignment sheets.

Unknown to me, the college had switched to the 11th edition of our textbook. My syllabus was keyed to the 10th edition. The only difference between the 10th and the 11th editions was the selection of post-chapter readings. The content of the chapters themselves was unchanged.

To persuade classmates to read the book, I ask them to turn in “reading reviews” synopsizing the chapters and applying the principles therein to one of the related readings.

Well, when they saw the page numbers didn’t correspond and some of the essays had been changed, they freaked.

I had to find the 11th edition’s table of contents on-line and then write them a new list of reading reviews.

Soon, reviews were coming in…reviews of the wrong chapters.

They couldn’t figure out that I was not asking them to read the chapters in order from 1 to 14. Stubbornly, they stuck to their conviction that reading review 3 must cover chapter 3, when in fact it covers chapter 14.

Some of the material that appears later in the book is important for their success on the first paper. They need to read chapter 14 now, not two weeks before the semester ends.

Their confusion, we can see, was a result of not reading closely. They don’t read  carefully because they barely read at all. Some have surprisingly low comprehension levels.

I suspect, too, they don’t read closely because they’ve become so accustomed to getting information through video channels that the act of reading feels clumsy for them. Look at the local news websites: recently they’ve trended toward removing written articles from their pages altogether. The only way you can get the sentence or two of reporting that interests you is to sit through a tedious, often frothy blabathon delivered by a talking head.

Personally, I find it far easier and faster to read a news article than to have it read to me. But that’s a function of fluent reading. If you’re not a fluent reader, you want someone to read to you. And when one comes down to it, that’s not an efficient way to absorb information.

At any rate, expecting them to read the syllabus may be asking a bit much, because many of them don’t read and can’t read, at least not very effectively or comfortably.

Still. If a ban on e-mails would force them to at least try, that would be an improvement.

Posted in Education in America, Teaching strategies | Leave a comment

Another semester, another 30 challenges

Just got the assessment scores for this fall’s online Eng. 102 section. These tell you how your new students did on the various reading, writing, and math tests they’re subjected to, and also what remedial and regular courses they’ve taken and their grades in those courses. When you see these things, you realize why so many community college students never make it even to the AA, and what an unholy challenge it is to bring a large body of low-SES students up to par.

I forget where I read it — saw it just recently — but studies show the single most accurate predictor of academic success (or lack of it) is socioeconomic status. Poverty breeds failure in school. For a variety of reasons, of course: broken families, parents who themselves are uneducated and so have no academic cultural capital to pass to their kids, hungry children, abused children, children growing up inundated in violence, poor medical care, substandard ghetto schools, kids having to work to support themselves or to help support their families, unwed mothers, and on and on.

Heavenly Gardens Community College is far from the lowest-SES school where I’ve taught. But it has its share of classmates who come from working-class or true poverty-level backgrounds. Most of these are bright young men and women: they’re smart, they’re usually hard-working, and they would not be here if they didn’t want to get ahead.

At this age, of course, the “hard-working” part works against them: many have to work so hard at surviving, there’s no time or energy left to succeed in college courses. Some are very smart, but not sophisticated in an academic way and so are stymied by the cultural barriers we erect around higher education.

And I’m afraid that often our well-intentioned efforts to break down those barriers and help them get ahead just make things harder for them. Here’s some poor soul who has taken a barrage of fifteen assessment tests in math, writing and language! Imagine the stress and frustration…heaven help us.

 Of thirty classmates, five have taken one remedial course; three have taken two remedial courses, one has assayed five remedial courses. That’s almost a third of the students.

Understand that each of these things delays the student by a semester, or at least by a summer session. Think of the sheer persistence entailed in sitting through five of them!

Not to be outdone in the persistence department, four people enrolled in Eng. 101 twice, one person enrolled three times before passing, and another four times. Three people have tried twice before this semester to pass Eng. 102, and one rugged soul has made five runs at this course.

So, a fifth of the classmates had to make more than one try to pass first-semester composition, a course that requires nothing more than four short essays. And more than a tenth have tried to pass the present course more than once.

I’ve said before that attrition rates in a typical Heavenly Gardens course can run as high as 30% to 50%.  If half of these folks drop — which I sincerely hope they do not — only fifteen of them will make it through their two required freshman comp courses. Little wonder that so few of our students, especially those who need remediation, ever make it all the way to a diploma.

Posted in Assessment, Students | Leave a comment

The Blackboardization of Canvas?

Ugh! I hate the new gradebook in Canvas. They’ve gooped up what used to be a simple, easy interface by adding new layers of nuisance pointing-and-clicking…just like Blackboard.

It used to be that when you finished grading a paper in Word (I use Word’s track changes to show edits and enter comments), you could go to the appropriate cell in the grading spreadsheet, click on it, enter the grade, and straightaway upload the graded paper as an attachment. That was fast and easy.

You had an option of using the Speedgrader pane, which allows you to read the paper in Canvas but which does not offer the kind of sophisticated mark-up you can do in Track Changes — all you can do is enter comments, which means instead of showing a student where an apostrophe should go, you would have to write out an explanation: “Enter an apostrophe before the ‘s’ to make this possessive.” Right. We’ve all got lots of time to do that over and over and over again…

In the old Canvas grade sheet, you didn’t have to do that. Now, though, to enter a grade and upload a file, you HAVE to click through to Speedgrader, even if you don’t use it.

Consider what this does to your workload.

1. Click on the cell for the student’s assignment
2. Click again to go to Speedgrader
3. Enter student’s grade
4. Enter a message to the student
5. Click to upload file
6. Navigate to file
7. Select file
8. Upload file
9. Submit grade and attachment

Nine actions for every grade; that would be 225 mind-numbing actions for any given class with an enrollment of 25.

Something similar happens when you copy a course into a Canvas shell and then go to change the due dates to fit the new semester. Just to change a date…

1. Open an assignment
2. Select “options”
3. On the calendar icon, click through the months from the spring semester’s due date to the fall semester’s due date: that’s 5 clicks
4. Do the same for the “make available” date: 5 more clicks
5. Do the same for the “make unavailable” date: 5 more clicks
6. Click “Update”

The English 102 section I just prepped for the fall semester asks students to write 11 “reading reviews,” 3 full-length papers, and two extra credit projects, for a total of 16  assignments to enter in the course shell.

16 assignments x 18 steps = 288 mind-numbing steps

And all you’re doing is inscribing the new due dates in the website. It doesn’t include writing the weekly announcement, posting dates for those (16 weeks x 6 clicks per announcement = another 96 steps!).

It doesn’t sound like much, but when you’re talking about 384 steps — assuming you don’t make an error and have to back up and do something over again — it gets to be quite time-consuming. And I use the term “mind-numbing” advisedly.

That doesn’t include writing the required 26-page syllabus with the required redundant calendar of due dates that repeats the list of assignments with their descriptions and due dates. It doesn’t include sitting down with a hard-copy calendar and figuring out when these things should come due. It doesn’t include designing the assignments in the first place, or writing and posting t he auxiliary course materials, or writing and posting the rubrics.

All of it is free labor. Adjuncts at my school are not paid for course prep and grading. We’re paid solely for our presence in the classroom.

The syllabus writing and the assignment design and the calendar-juggling, of course, can’t be blamed on Canvas or on Blackboard. But the clumsy, unnecessary web design that requires click after click after click of everyone, even those who desire not to use x or y feature, certainly can be. Especially since we’ve seen, in an earlier version, that said frantic clicking is unnecessary.

Guys! If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Pre-reading a Student’s Papers?

So, how do you feel about agreeing to critique a student paper, at the student’s special request, a day or two before the paper is due? In other words, you’re asked to perform extra work, unpaid, for one student who is eager to maximize a grade but insecure about his or her ability to do the assignment as requested?

Here’s what I have: a very bright and eager student, one who calls herself a “visual learner.” She’s not a kid; this is a woman in her late 20s who undoubtedly feels all those worries and doubts that plague a returning student. But trust me: she’s very smart and once she finds her footing will do well.

My current pedagogical craze is the “reading response”: to get students to go so far as to read the textbook, I ask them to synopsize the chapter and then to apply some of the knowledge or principles the text presents to one of the chapter’s readings. To do so, they have to pull specific examples out of the reading selections to illustrate the chapter’s high points. This works well to demonstrate a) whether the classmate has read the material at all and b) how well he or she has understood it.

These are very short exercises worth 15 points apiece, and there are plenty of them.

Some classmates don’t quite get the idea of applying their understanding of the textbook lesson to the content of the reading selection, and so they’ll speak in generalities: “Ah, yes, in this essay Mencken demonstrates the uses of ethos, pathos, and logos.” Period. No clue to exactly where these astonishing phenomena occur.

Before I could even return the most recent pile of papers, Ms. Promising (as we’ll call her, because she surely is promising) spotted her score of 10 out of 15 on two of them in the e-gradebook. Alarmed, she e-mailed to ask what on earth she’d done wrong. So I had to dig out her papers (three of them), reread them, reread my comments, and type detailed explanations into a return e-mail.

This, you understand, is time-consuming, and for me, time is money. When I’m not using my time to earn a living, I’m trying to use it to enjoy living. Perhaps I’m unduly jealous of those uses of my time….

Next thing I know, she’s e-mailed back saying she didn’t do a very good job, it was all her fault (awww…), and on Monday would I please read her next set of reading responses and tell her what she needs to do to get As on them.

In class? before class? after class? FOR FREE?

Because that’s what it is: unpaid, FREE extra work.

More to the point, it’s unfair to the other students. If I’m going to give her special one-on-one tutoring, then I have to offer special one-on-one tutoring to ALL the students.

Isn’t that what the writing center’s for?

Well, okay, chances are the writing center is closed over the summer. But peer review would do the job, too.

Am I unreasonable for feeling that critiquing a single student’s paper in advance of the due date, so that she can maximize her scores by five points here and five points there, is a) unfair to the other classmates and b) unfair to me?

Posted in Ethics, Students | 4 Comments

Into the Breach…Again: I must have lost my mind

“Never say never,” eh? It is true, I did say I would never set foot in another face-to-face classroom again. Ever. Never.

But tomorrow I ride into the mouth of Hell once more.

In a weak moment, I told my delightful chair and his redoubtable admin that I’d take on a four-week section of freshman comp this summer. It starts tomorrow.

As a practical matter, an extremely compressed section like this is a whole ’nother critter from the last gawdawful section I taught, which was offered over a standard sixteen-week semester. Students who sign up to do a semester’s work in four weeks tend to self-select into a fairly elite group, even in the community college. By and large they’re ambitious types, and justifiably confident of their skills and abilities.

It meets four days a week between June 2 and July 2. I managed to wangle generous amounts of library time and computer commons time, and so they’ll have opportunities to do much of the course’s work during class meetings, which will be helpful for those who can write their names without too much difficulty. With any luck, those who need remedial work will have enough sense to sign up for a 16-week-long section in the fall.

Twenty-four students are enrolled, one short of the max. That doesn’t mean, of course, that one more won’t show up in the next few days. We’ll see how many last. At the normal attrition rate, we should end up with eight to twelve on the final day. But given the type of student likely to sign up, it’s within reason to hope that most of them will hang in there.

I also hope no nut cases surface this time.

Yes, I know: mentally ill folks deserve a college education, too. But I am a writer and an editor; I am not a psychiatrist, a therapist, or a social worker. If our colleges and universities are to train the out-of-control mentally ill, then colleges and universities should hire psychiatric and social workers to teach — and pay commensurately.

Posted in Students, Teaching composition | Leave a comment

Slave Labor? REALLY?

Not surprisingly, the term “slave labor” as applied to adjunct teaching has spawned a fair amount of controversy, academia being what it is.

Not an academic? Well…lemme tellya: Political Correctness R Us. Academia is the home of political correctness. It doesn’t matter what you say: sooner or later you’ll offend someone. That’s OK, though — it gets their attention. ;-)

Okay, let’s get serious here. My friend La Maya brought this issue to my attention by objecting to the term as the title of my forthcoming book and explaining why she feels it’s inappropriate. I responded that, alas, the book is copyrighted under that title and the ISBN is registered under that title and the artwork is done and I ain’t changin’ it.

Shortly, to her delight, she came across a couple of articles on the subject supporting her point of view, which you may be sure she forwarded to me with élan.

Never one to miss an opportunity, I decided to jump into the fray and so spent a morning cranking my own article. Josh Boldt over at The Adjunct Project just published the thing at his site’s blog, where it’s already scaring up a bunch of lively comments. Go on over and check it out — it’s an interesting discussion.

Coincidentally, Thursday morning was my turn to do the weekly presentation at my business networking group, the Scottsdale Business Association. The members of this group are mostly financial industry and real estate executives or owners of small businesses. Rushed and generally feeling harassed over the past couple of weeks, I had prepared nothing and had no clue what to speak about.

So, I brought a printout of the article and passed around a glossy printout of the book’s cover art and just read the damn thing to them.

You should have heard the uproar that caused. They were amazed and outraged when they understood the extent to which the practice of adjunct staffing has spread and the degree to which adjuncts are exploited.

You understand: adjunct staffing of university and college courses is a business issue! These people will hire our students. Not only that, but most of them have children and grandchildren in college now, racking up obscene debts in exchange for on-the-run teaching from low-rent “freelance” faculty. And they do recognize when the customers aren’t getting what they’re paying for.

The business world is where those of us who care about this issue should take our cause. Adjunct advocates should make it a practice to address Chambers of Commerce, BNI chapters, Local First, NAWBO, and other networking groups — they love it when speakers volunteer, BTW. Explain what adjunct hiring is, be frank and clear about how much adjuncts are paid and the conditions under which they attempt to teach, and draw a clear, explicit connection between the use of adjunct faculty and the falling quality of US higher education. And never fail to point out that as colleges and universities jack up tuition for a B.A. into the six-figure range, they staff those expensive courses with people who often make less than minimum wage.

A Chamber of Commerce, particularly one in a large city, has a lot of political pull. Politicians themselves often belong, and those that don’t are regularly in the pocket of this or that business lobbying group. If you address a business association like this, chances are high that you will reach someone who has the ear of a state legislator.

Just do it.

Posted in Academic psyche, Adjunct Poverty, eBook | 1 Comment

eBook Forthcoming! How do you like this cover design?

So, the e-book that will spin off this site (with significantly more commentary and reportage) is almost ready to go. About all that remains to be done is to approve the cover design, proofread the .mobi product, and tell the designer to Make It So!

After much thrashing around, I went back to an old friend of mine who is a premier graphic artist (a fine artist, too, on the side…) and asked him if he could come up with something that would work for the cover. The ideas I had in mind were just too, too politically incorrect. My favorite was a painting, now in the public domain, by Henry Louis Stephens of a Black man reading the Emancipation Proclamation. It really looked neat, except…

Well.

As a practical matter we are talking about a group comprised mostly of privileged Whites, none of whom is (objectively speaking) forced to work at the sub-minimum-wage job that is adjunct teaching. Not one but two African American friends looked askance at the thing.

At a writer’s group, I found a person who presented herself as a designer who said she could do e-book and print-on-demand covers for a ridiculously reasonable price.

Well.

Let’s just say you get what you pay for.

I asked her to create a cover, to Amazon’s arcane specs, with type only, no image. First, she proposed another politically incorrect image (ethnic is ethnic, m’dear! and this is academia we’re talking about…the Birthplace of Political Correctness). When pushed to the wall, she disgorged a cover with nothing but cover lines, hold the images.

The mock-up I’d tricked out in PowerPoint looked better. And I can spell my name correctly. :-D

So it was off to the guy who knows what he’s doing, and charges accordingly. And you do get what you pay for. How do you like this one?

IMG_3006

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