Monday, December 15, 2008

Will Obama let colleges keep treating faculty like Walmart workers?

The Huffington Post ran a good article on how colleges and universities abuse most of their faculty by having two separate and unequal classes: one paid far less per class to do the same job and usually given no job security or health benefits.

The best part of the article is the bit when she asks administrators if they aren't ashamed of doing this (which I have included at the end). I asked the same thing on the discussion board at The Chronicle of Higher Education, and administrators actually said it was our own fault because adjuncts are stupid enough to take the jobs.

Gina Nahai
Posted December 14, 2008 | 09:30 PM (EST)

The Great Shame of America's Colleges

You think Wal-Mart employees are exploited?

What if I told you that all over this country, major institutions created and sustained with a mission to pursue the betterment of mankind, colleges and universities that sit on billion dollar endowments are using the current economic crisis to further enrich themselves at the expense of the meager livelihood of long-time faculty? That at the same time as they claim to be the guardians of knowledge and the champions of the arts, they treat their faculty to the legal and financial equivalent of what migrant day laborers earn by standing outside Home Depot?

Freeway Flyers: aka "adjunct professors", aka "teaching professionals." They're the dirty little secret of universities and colleges all around the United States. They're the PhDs with decades of teaching experience, award-winning artists, published authors whose names and reputations draw students to the universities, whose work justifies the $50,000/year tuition, raises the million-dollar donations, earns the sought after rankings in USA Today's annual poll.

In exchange for all that, they are hired only on a part-time basis, made to sign a pledge that they will not work more than twenty hours a week and will not--not now, not ever--have a claim to health or retirement or any other kind of benefits, not even a parking pass. That they are "at will" employees who can be let go at any time, for any reason. Their salaries are so meager, they have to teach two, three, sometimes five classes a semester, at five different universities, just to pay their rent. That's why they're called Freeway Flyers. One writer I knew taught for twenty years at a Southern California college with more money than the GNP of a small country. He was paid so little, he had to supplement his income by working the graveyard shift at airport gift shops. He was the author of one of the biggest literary novels of the 20th century; when he died, his family couldn't afford to bury him. Another guy--a teacher of mine from the days when I was a student of writing--drove four hours each way to teach the same class for twenty-seven years. He made something near $3,000 a semester. He was recently let go because the school could take advantage of the rising unemployment rates to hire a younger person for less than $3,000.


Aren't the heads of these colleges ashamed of the exploitation? Wouldn't they want to do the right thing even if they don't have to?

I've asked many of them these questions, especially recently. One of them was a former peace corps volunteer. Their answers are short and scripted: "Of course we want to do the right thing; but only when possible." His colleague, another dean, lamented openly the fact that out of every professor on their payroll, there was one who could not be let go or forced to work for half her usual salary because that one, unfortunately, had a contract. Not that anyone's unhappy with the professor's work, mind you. They just don't like paying more than they have to.

Even during the darkest days of the Bush administration, higher education was an island of reasoned debate and progressive dissent. This apartheid faculty system, with a small minority given decent pay and job security, and the rest exploited and abused, is part of the right's decades long effort to crush any sources of opposition. As Karl Rove said:
As people do better, they start voting like Republicans --- unless they have too much education and vote Democratic, which proves there can be too much of a good thing.
Anything that threatens Karl Rove and his kindred spirits in the GOP should be protected and rewarded.

If you think this abuse of faculty is something that should change, tell the incoming Obama administration.

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