Post Academic


A Middle Ground Between Tenured Faculty and Adjuncts?

The New York Times set up a debate called “Rethinking College Tenure.” You’ve probably already read it, and it’s the usual Tenure Debate stuff, in which various types who should know something about the subject make their points, some dude whines that conservatives are oppressed and someone gently hints that tenured professors are lazy, oblivious or both. (Read Arnold’s in-flight adventure to figure out how to respond to that myth.)

If you read through the NYT articles again, you’ll notice a thread in which tenured faculty members are pitted against adjuncts, or a “more flexible” job model. If adjuncts are treated fairly and receive the pay and benefits they deserve, where does that put tenured professors? What’s the real difference between the two? Should there be a difference?

Or, are debates like these a manifestation of a divide-and-conquer strategy, a setup for a Tenure Vs. Adjunct Showdown? One of the writers, Mark C. Taylor, attempts to offer a “middle ground”:

It is a mistake to pose this question in all-or-nothing terms – either you have permanent tenured faculty or itinerant adjuncts. A middle ground will address most of the problems. After a trial period of three to five years, faculty members who merit promotion should be given seven-year renewable contracts. For this system to work effectively, these reviews must be rigorous and responsible.

Since I’m not an academic, a guaranteed job for three to five years followed by seven year periods sounds nice, especially since I’ve been through layoffs. But the Hamster World is a different matter since it is more subject to market forces, and Taylor’s solution doesn’t address how to protect academic freedom so that the market isn’t determining the curriculum. How does Taylor’s idea sound to you? If it sounds like BS, is a middle ground possible?

Why Are There So Many Underpaid Adjuncts in Higher Ed?

Megan McArdle’s piece at the Atlantic, which is a response to a piece on the rough lot for adjuncts at Inside Higher Ed asks a good question: If academics are supposedly liberal and pro-labor, why do underpaid adjuncts make up so much of the higher ed workforce?

Here are a few possible answers, plus my evaluation of those answers from the Hamster World perspective:

Tenured faculty members don’t pull their weight when it comes to teaching.
Response: I’m sure there are some tenured faculty who don’t carry their load and give everyone else a bad rap, but those people should be treated as individuals. In the Hamster World, you wouldn’t fire an entire department if it is harboring one slacker. You’d put the slacker on notice and then fire the slacker (or at least give the slacker a hard time since you can’t fire someone with tenure).

That’s what Socialism gets you.
Response: McArdle warned her commenters not to make assumptions and claim the academy made its own bed. First of all, too many people assume that academics are liberals. Anyone who’s been in the academy for any amount of time will tell you that’s not so. The Socialism argument is a crock because the system is obviously broken, and pointing fingers isn’t going to fix it. In this kind of situation, one’s political leanings are irrelevant.

More after the jump! (more…)

Establishing an Emergency Fund for Grad School or Changing Careers

Posted in Transfer Your Skills by Caroline Roberts on May 10, 2010
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Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionDeveloping a back-up plan has been a recurring theme on Post Academic. Thanks to the shrinking job market, both grad students and even full-fledged professors must continue to build new skills over time. That way, “post academics” can make a graceful transition into a new profession.

Part of making that graceful transition, however, is having enough money during that scary “in-between jobs” phase. An emergency savings fund can help you breathe easy and make the right job decisions. A career change is scary enough without worrying about how you’re going to put food on the table. But how do you build an emergency fund when you are an underfunded academic?

Figure out how long your emergency fund should cover. Financial experts can’t seem to agree on how many months of unemployment you should cover. Some say three, some say six. In this economy, set a base goal of three, especially if you are on grad student wages, but try to aim for six before you either graduate or leave your program.

Determine how much you spend a month. Tracking spending and budgeting can be overwhelming, especially if you read the tips on decluttering and unhoarding. Yet knowing your monthly needs is also empowering because, if you don’t get that postdoc, you can look at your bank account and know exactly how long your money is going to last. Then multiply how much you spend a month by the number of months your emergency fund should cover, and you have your target amount.

More after the jump! Image by ADwarf, public domain, Wikimedia Commons.

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Broke-Ass Schools: Slap a Fark Tag on These Florida Universities?

Posted in Broke-Ass Schools by Caroline Roberts on April 21, 2010
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FARK.com, repository of all that is goofy in the news, lets its site visitors submit stories from all over the Web and then tag them in some clever fashion, usually with “stupid,” “obvious,” or “Florida.”

Well, the following story definitely involves “stupid” and “Florida.” Some employees of Florida universities allegedly decided to go hog wild with the company credit card. Purchases made by some employees included the following:

–Weight Watchers books, labeled as “WWII books” (at least the initials were similar …)
–Xbox “gaming currency”
–CDs and DVDs, labeled as “soil and nutrients”

These types of indiscretions aren’t what put university systems in such dire financial straits, but they don’t make university employees look good when they ask for students to pay more money each year.

Credit card fraud, misuse found at 5 Florida universities [SunSentinel.com]

“F” Is for “Fired”: No More Trump University?

Posted in Absurdities,Broke-Ass Schools by Caroline Roberts on April 18, 2010
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Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox Extension Earlier, I recommended trying out for Donald Trump’s “The Apprentice” as a way to make a little money in a terrible job market. Mr. Trump, however, may want to try out for the show himself since he could use a few lessons on opening up a for-profit university. According to the NY Daily News,
“Trump University” just caught heat for using the word “university” even though Trump doesn’t hand out degrees:

In a strongly worded letter obtained by the Daily News, the state Education Department slammed the tycoon for calling the cyber-school a university and demanded he stop using the term.
“Use of the word ‘university’ by your corporation is misleading and violates New York Education Law and the Rules of the Board of Regents,” wrote Deputy Commissioner for Higher Education Joseph Frey.

Now that more students are turning toward online education programs and bricks-and-mortar universities have to compete, it’s nice to see the NY Education Department making sure that customers are informed about what is and isn’t a university. Sure, if you want to take a Trump-certified course, go ahead, but you should know that the school is unaccredited.

H/T Chronicle of Higher Ed

Administrators: Are They on the Dark Side or the Other Side?

Posted in Broke-Ass Schools,The Education Industry by Caroline Roberts on April 15, 2010
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Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionTerri Givens wrote an enlightening article at Inside Higher Ed about the time she spent as an administrator. Earlier, I wrote about professors getting a bum rap, and I often direct my rage toward administrators, who earn far more money than professors do, at least according to Bain & Company’s recent study of UC Berkeley’s financial problems.

Givens, however, offers a perspective that makes me pause a little bit before railing against administrators:

People tend to assume that I am happier being a faculty member rather than an administrator – that I have returned from “the dark side.” Many of these people don’t seem to understand that this is a false dichotomy. I feel that it is a responsibility for those of us on the faculty with administrative skills to spend time in administration. There is no “dark side” if we consider that faculty as a whole are responsible for the governance of a university. We are all administrators in one way or another, whether you are a member of your department voting for changes to your graduate curriculum, or the president of a university.

More after the jump! Fantasy image of an administrative fatcat from Wikimedia Commons, public domain. (Actually a caricature of Leopold de Rothschild from Vanity Fair, 1884.) (more…)

Rage Against the Professor

Posted in The Education Industry by Caroline Roberts on April 14, 2010
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Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionThe report on professor salaries made it to the Huffington Post, and this information generated some wild speculation on what professors make and what it is they actually do. Some of the comments reflected a streak of anger toward professors in general and could be summed up as “quit yer bitching.” The comments swiftly turned into a debate over whether or not professors were valuable, period:

“I had drunks for professors, BORING professors who read out of the book, MEAN professors, you name it. And they all had tenure.”*

“These professors have a bloated sense of entitlement. At least they got an average increase!”

“Professors are no doubt due a decent salary – but the fact that they get the salary they do while being GROSSLY under worked is driving the cost through the roof.”

“Educators love to site the “prep time” and all the “work” that happens outside the actual teaching in a classroom. Perhaps these people that thrive on education should spend some time educating themselves about the real world.”

More after the jump! Image from Wikimedia Commons, US Department of Agriculture, public domain.
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Broke-Ass Schools: Berkeley Fights the Bloat

Posted in Broke-Ass Schools by Caroline Roberts on April 13, 2010
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Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionWhen humans feel bloated, they take a few pills to fit in their pants. When universities feel bloated, they pay $3 million smackers to a consulting firm to diagnose the problem and recommend solutions.

Consulting firm Bain & Company has evaluated the University of California Berkeley and discovered the real source of its financial troubles—managerial bloat. According to the San Francisco Chronicle,

The biggest [problem], say the consultants, is too many managers. The human resources department alone has one manager per 63 employees, compared with an average of one per 127 employees across other universities.

However, will the university be willing to lay off from among their own? Or will they pass the cuts on down the line? Bain & Company also made suggestions that involve eliminating grad student housing and child care services. I have a sinking feeling that the university might spend $3 million more figuring out how to implement these suggestions.

UC Berkeley bloated, wasteful, consultants say SF Gate
Full Report on UC Berkeley Managerial Bloat

What Disco and Academia Have in Common

Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionThe article “A Letter From a Graduate Student in the Humanities” over at the Chronicle of Higher Ed provoked a comment frenzy. The article, by Katharine Polak, rightly calls for academics to stop panicking and start thinking of solutions to the glut of PhDs and humanities adjuncts.*

Some of the comments stirred the pot, but one commenter offered a simple suggestion that might help academics shift gears:

The secret? Always be on the lookout for work, always say yes — to any work for which you are arguably qualified. Don’t hold back for that good fit job, or that academically rewarding job. Hustle. If you are not smug, do not have a sense of entitlement to a tenure track job, if you are willing, available, and present, you will likely work.

I don’t agree that all academics who are out of work harbor a “sense of entitlement” and are turning down jobs because they’re not tenure-track. Entitlement really doesn’t matter when the economy is in the toilet. However, the commenter’s advice to “always say yes” and “hustle” is completely on target.

In a tough situation, the survivors are always the ones who are willing to “do the hustle,” so to speak. Having an open mind, learning new skills, and taking on jobs outside academia could open up some wonderful career opportunities. Administrators and tenured faculty could also learn from this advice and think of new ways to market the humanities in an era of budget cuts.

*Though there’s nothing this Post Academic enjoys more than the occasional freak-out over a broke-ass school.

A Letter From a Graduate Student in the Humanities [Chronicle of Higher Ed]

Broke Ass Schools: New York State of Mind

Posted in Broke-Ass Schools by Caroline Roberts on April 9, 2010
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Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionIf you thought the grad school humanities job market was bad, the entire academic job market just got bleaker. The State of New York has shut down an entire campus, Stony Brook Southampton.

The Stony Brook Southampton page has a few notes in tiny print: “Admissions events cancelled” and “Residential program and new undergraduate admissions at Stony Brook Southampton will be suspended.”

According to the NYT, the cuts will save $6 million dollars. Later in the article, however, the author points out that Stony Brook as a whole faces a staggering “$34 million budget gap in the coming year.”

How did this happen? Think Magazine noted that, “President Stanley alone makes $650,000 a year, and the combined salaries of those on stage totaled over $1.4 million based on 2008 figures.” High salaries alone didn’t cause this problem, but it makes you wonder if the administrators have been working hard enough to prevent this situation. They sure didn’t work hard enough to keep students informed, as many of those quoted in the Think Magazine article argued that they were blindsided by the announcement.

Maybe our commenter who said academia was most like “Battlestar Galactica” was right. In the “Battlestar Galactica” view of academia, “there’s never enough of anything,” and now there’s a whole lot less.

Stony Brook Southampton site
Facing Cuts, Stony Brook Will Close Programs [New York Times]
Administration Announces Decision to Close Most of SB Southampton [Think Magazine]

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