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The Adjunct Underclass: How America's…
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The Adjunct Underclass: How America's Colleges Betrayed Their Faculty,… (edição: 2019)

de Herb Childress (Autor)

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262710,329 (3.5)Nenhum(a)
Class ends. Students pack up and head back to their dorms. The professor, meanwhile, goes to her car . . . to catch a little sleep, and then eat a cheeseburger in her lap before driving across the city to a different university to teach another, wholly different class. All for a paycheck that, once prep and grading are factored in, barely reaches minimum wage.   Welcome to the life of the mind in the gig economy. Over the past few decades, the job of college professor has been utterly transformed--for the worse. America's colleges and universities were designed to serve students and create knowledge through the teaching, research, and stability that come with the longevity of tenured faculty, but higher education today is dominated by adjuncts. In 1975, only thirty percent of faculty held temporary or part-time positions. By 2011, as universities faced both a decrease in public support and ballooning administrative costs, that number topped fifty percent. Now, some surveys suggest that as many as seventy percent of American professors are working course-to-course, with few benefits, little to no security, and extremely low pay.   In The Adjunct Underclass, Herb Childress draws on his own firsthand experience and that of other adjuncts to tell the story of how higher education reached this sorry state. Pinpointing numerous forces within and beyond higher ed that have driven this shift, he shows us the damage wrought by contingency, not only on the adjunct faculty themselves, but also on students, the permanent faculty and administration, and the nation. How can we say that we value higher education when we treat educators like desperate day laborers?   Measured but passionate, rooted in facts but sure to shock, The Adjunct Underclass reveals the conflicting values, strangled resources, and competing goals that have fundamentally changed our idea of what college should be. This book is a call to arms for anyone who believes that strong colleges are vital to society.  … (mais)
Membro:Daedalcipher
Título:The Adjunct Underclass: How America's Colleges Betrayed Their Faculty, Their Students, and Their Mission
Autores:Herb Childress (Autor)
Informação:University of Chicago Press (2019), Edition: First, 208 pages
Coleções:Sua biblioteca
Avaliação:*****
Etiquetas:Nenhum(a)

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The Adjunct Underclass: How America’s Colleges Betrayed Their Faculty, Their Students, and Their Mission de Herb Childress

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For a seemingly smart guy, Childress has written a stupid book. It's full of useful facts & stats, so it's good research fodder but his analysis is so simple-minded that you almost feel sorry for him. The most glaring problem is that Childress treats the 40-year decline of higher-education teaching as if it's caused by something like the weather: it just happened; no one knows why, but it sure is awful. Childress never mentions the word "neoliberalism" nor does he seem even slightly familiar with its concepts. He quotes smarter books (for instance, Marc Bousquet's "How the University Works") but doesn't seem to have taken in much of what they said. Most of what he says about adjunct teaching is true. Everything he says about administrators is pure fantasy. I wonder who he thinks made all the decisions that created the awful adjunct jobs he describes. Certainly not his altruistic, hard-working admins. What a disappointment. ( )
  susanbooks | Mar 10, 2021 |
This book is on a topic that is very near and dear to my heart, so I will forgive the many shortcomings of the book (notably, that it is one long quasi-organized rant) to agree with it in principle.

However, this book is very narrow. Like most in academia, it ignores those who are teaching faculty on purpose. While discussing community colleges (in that dismissive way that "real" academics frequently do), we are mostly ignored. Getting PhDs for any reason other than to become an academic is ignored.

I have always firmly believed that getting a job as an academic at a research university is like making it big as an internationally famous rock star. Some people get there, and they are either extraordinarily talented, or very lucky. Usually both. You shouldn't plan your life expecting to be famous like Lady Gaga or Beyonce. You should have a realistic life plan. Same thing goes with being a faculty member in academia (as people like the author would define academia).

However, people receive PhDs for reasons other than teaching at R1 universities. I learned as an engineer that if I didn't get a PhD, I would never be able to be truly engaged in challenging work that really fulfilled me. In fact, most of my peers with their BS in STEM fields are project managers and such now, most do not do any technical work. That was not what I wanted. I never got a PhD hoping to work as a professor at schools like either of my alma maters. Some of the folks I went to grad school with are faculty members, but many more work for industry or NGOs.

All that is to say, I agree with the author that there are a glut of people getting specialty degrees. If you think it's bad that nobody prepares undergrads for shitty job markets, imagine how it feels to have spent 10 years of life in college and grad school only to get a PhD and realize it's even worse because you're worth more money and have a very specialized skill-set. Definitely something needs to be done about that. But let's not pretend either that 100% of those PhDs were intending to one day become TT faculty. (And let's also not pretend that TT faculty have a wonderful life, even with their salary and benefits. I would never want to spend every waking hour of my life trying to bring in grant money. Publish or perish is about the worst lifestyle I can imagine.)

The author considers non-research faculty to be fall-back jobs. Things you get because you just couldn't hack it in the big leagues. In fact, the community college where I teach has some of the most unbelievably qualified, amazing full-time faculty members. All three of us in the engineering department have PhDs. All of us have some experience in industry or national labs. Our jobs were highly competitive, and were not just filled by people hoping to step up to UIC, UIUC, or IIT someday. Just because community colleges have a huge amount of adjunct positions does not mean that the faculty are sub-par or less-than, or that student experiences suffer because we just want to kick them out the door to their transfer schools. Students save enormous amounts of money, get much more individualized attention (in much smaller class sizes), and are able to experience opportunities at a community college that they would not be able to do if they were freshman at large state or private universities. Of course, this cuts both ways. When it's hard to get a teaching job even at a community college, it's freaking HARD to get a job teaching. (I was an adjunct for a year; I am the exception that proves the rule that you almost never get hired full-time after being an adjunct. I was exceptionally lucky to have been hired at peak enrollment at my school. I doubt I would have gotten hired full-time if I'd had been an adjunct even one year later.)

All of this is to repeat, I totally agree with the author. But the author still misses the point on how we can fix things. Hiring full-time faculty isn't going to come about because of some "feel good" mission statement. We have to really analyze how adjuncts came to be such a large piece of the pie, and how we can change things.

Unions play a large role in this, even as the author mostly ignores them or shrugs them aside. The reason my community college is such a wonderful place to work, that attracts such amazing scholars, is because we have a strong union. We are able to collectively bargain for things that would not still exist if it weren't for our union. This translates directly into the quality of education that our students receive. Faculty, as the institutional memory and life-blood of a school, should play a large role in how that school carries out its duties. Administration (which I'll discuss in a second) are increasingly looking into cost-cutting and running universities as businesses (which is a terrible idea for the long-run). Of course administrators are interested in undercutting the strength of a union by hiring contingent workers. Our adjuncts are unionized, but let's not kid ourselves into thinking that the adjunct union is going to be able to negotiate away anything but the worst of offenses. It's the combination of tenure and a union that provides the working conditions that, let's be honest, most people in the workforce deserve (not just full-time faculty members). But tenure and a union are scary things to people interested in austerity and increasing the levels of inequality in the United States.

Administrative positions at most colleges and universities used to be taken from the faculty. Professors would spend some time as department chair, or dean, or may even provost for a few years. They had their tenure as job security, and after a few years of taking on an administrative role, would step back into teaching. Because they had experience as faculty, they knew what faculty members needed to do their jobs more effectively. Their network included faculty who would remain a part of the conversation. (And can I say right now, I hate that the author went on about how faculty members are apparently incapable of getting things done. That is such utter horse-shit that it made my blood pressure go up.) However, administrative positions now go to MBAs, EdDs, and people who are not faculty, have never been faculty, but get paid $200,000+ per year to run schools like a business. Administrators breed more administrators. It's like a virus. And those administrators don't like strong faculty unions. So they hire more adjuncts to decrease the bargaining power of the full-time faculty unions. This is a huge issue that the author mostly just hand-waved away. I recently heard a quote that so aptly summarizes my point: "administration will always take advantage of faculty good will." That is only true now that college administration has turned into a management role instead of a faculty role.

Okay, so how do we fix things? Other than just talking about some feel-good talking points for our university mission statements? (Which, by the way, is not an action-oriented plan that will fix anything.) First, we need to change the public perception of faculty, academics, and public employees. We are seen as out-of-touch, living in ivory towers, not doing real work, not having any practical skills, etc. Even the saying "those who can't, teach" is wildly out of touch with reality. People don't generally have to teach in their daily lives, so they don't understand how difficult (albeit rewarding) teaching is. People also don't understand the job duties of full-time faculty members. Somebody running for my college's board of trustees said that he thought tenure should be abolished and faculty should receive hourly wages; apparently that would help to balance our budget. You couldn't afford to pay me by the hour! Yet somehow somebody running for board thinks that faculty members go in to a classroom, teach, go home, and do nothing else work-related until the next day when they go in to teach again. People do not understand what faculty do and what we bring to the table. (Yet they somehow still trust us to teach and mentor their children to become tomorrow's engineers, scientists, managers, CEOs, and leaders.) That needs to change.

Second, we need to change the perception of taxes as being horrible things that just go to keep bloated governments spinning their big convoluted wheels. Taxes bring us important public services, and among those services is education. The more money schools get from taxes, the less tuition will be, and the more money in our budgets that can be spent on full-time faculty. Because let's face it, my school would not be able to turn all of our 1000 adjuncts into full-time faculty without going quickly bankrupt. But unless tuition and fees are increased, there's a limit to how much more a college or university can do. Especially those of us without endowments. The public doesn't want to pay more in property taxes (and I can't blame them), but part of this burden should be falling back on the federal government. Perhaps if the 1% (and giant corporations) were actually paying the taxes that they should, we would have more money for roads, infrastructure, education, the environment, and other public goods.

Let's also change the public perception that tenure is a bad thing. I think that people are cranky that some folks have job security. Instead of agitating to get job security for everyone (which is what we SHOULD be spending our effort doing), the cranky folks just want to take away the few good things that are left in the job market: tenure, unions, benefits, job security. Instead of being jealous that somebody else has job security and trying to get rid of it on principle, let's try to get job security for everyone! If we can stop trying to make everyone else's lives worse, just because we struggled, then maybe we can all live in a better country that we can be proud of. ( )
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Class ends. Students pack up and head back to their dorms. The professor, meanwhile, goes to her car . . . to catch a little sleep, and then eat a cheeseburger in her lap before driving across the city to a different university to teach another, wholly different class. All for a paycheck that, once prep and grading are factored in, barely reaches minimum wage.   Welcome to the life of the mind in the gig economy. Over the past few decades, the job of college professor has been utterly transformed--for the worse. America's colleges and universities were designed to serve students and create knowledge through the teaching, research, and stability that come with the longevity of tenured faculty, but higher education today is dominated by adjuncts. In 1975, only thirty percent of faculty held temporary or part-time positions. By 2011, as universities faced both a decrease in public support and ballooning administrative costs, that number topped fifty percent. Now, some surveys suggest that as many as seventy percent of American professors are working course-to-course, with few benefits, little to no security, and extremely low pay.   In The Adjunct Underclass, Herb Childress draws on his own firsthand experience and that of other adjuncts to tell the story of how higher education reached this sorry state. Pinpointing numerous forces within and beyond higher ed that have driven this shift, he shows us the damage wrought by contingency, not only on the adjunct faculty themselves, but also on students, the permanent faculty and administration, and the nation. How can we say that we value higher education when we treat educators like desperate day laborers?   Measured but passionate, rooted in facts but sure to shock, The Adjunct Underclass reveals the conflicting values, strangled resources, and competing goals that have fundamentally changed our idea of what college should be. This book is a call to arms for anyone who believes that strong colleges are vital to society.  

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