About Critical Mass [dot] Writing [dot] Reviews [dot] Contact
« previous entry | return home | next entry »

November 13, 2005 [feather]
Phasing out the tenure system

Some intriguing numbers reported by an Oregon paper:

--The American Federation of Teachers reports that over the past decade, the percentage of college and university courses taught by adjuncts has increased dramatically: Today, 43% of college teachers are working part-time, off the tenure track; a decade ago, the figure was 33%.

--In 2004, the Cornell Higher Education Research Institute reported that adjunct faculty are paid around 64 percent per hour less than tenure-track assistant professors.

--Over the past decade, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst has replaced 200 tenure-track faculty with part-time, adjunct labor.

--Since 1999, the number of adjuncts teaching in Oregon's public universities has risen from 25 to 33% of all faculty. At Western Oregon University, 53% of the people teaching are adjuncts.

The figures indicate a denigration and devaluation of academic labor via a rapid process of deprofessionalization. Administrator after administrator claims that budget constraints and skyrocketing enrollment compel them to rely increasingly on adjunct professorial labor, but what gets presented as an unfortunate side effect of the market is also effecting a dramatic shift in culture.

Almost half of all college teachers are entirely unprotected by the vaunted "academic freedom" that is so often touted as the philosophical mainstay of academic life. Add to the number of adjuncts the number of grad students and non-tenured assistant professors who are also teaching college courses in the absence of job security, and you get a picture of an academic world where very, very few people actually have the freedom to speak, write, research, and teach as they see fit (by "see fit" I don't mean to defend those teachers who abuse their positions to proselytize, or who are incompetent in some way; I mean to defend those who might have legitimate reasons for pursuing unorthodox pedagogical methods and scholarly topics, as well as those whose politics might endanger their professional positions, if known). The picture is one of an academic world in which "academic freedom" is the privilege of the tenured few; it is thus not a "freedom" at all, but the special privilege of an increasingly small group of academic elites. This, it need hardly be said, flies in the face of the very concept of academic freedom, and speaks loudly to the true state of free inquiry--not to mention strong, innovative teaching--on campus. "We have a lot of reports from part-time faculty who tell us that they are very concerned that if they say something controversial, or if they are too hard on the students, they won't be rehired," said John Curtis, the AAUP's director of research.

The figures also indicate the manner in which market forces--combined with the failure of individual institutions either to adjust the teaching loads of tenure track faculty or to hire more tenure track faculty--amount to a procedure-based, unspoken, but widely accepted phasing out of tenure itself. Some say the tenure system is necessary to protect free inquiry, while others say it is actively damaging the future prospects of free inquiry by producing conformist drones who are more interested in job security than in taking intellectual risks. But surely we can all agree that tenure should not be phased out without awareness, deliberation, and intent, and that the de facto elimination of the system as more and more college teachers come from the ranks of adjuncts is both actively taking place and urgently in need of formal acknowlegement, discussion, and debate.

Thanks to Maurice Black for the link.

posted on November 13, 2005 9:52 PM


64% of what tenure-track assistant professors make? Pardon my language, but bullshit.

Try 40%, but only on the West Coast, where adjuncts in the humanities are making between $2500 and $3000 a course.

In the East and the Midwest, the going rate is closer to $1500 per class. That can make it as low as 25-30% of what assitant professors make per hour.

Posted by: Winston Smith at November 13, 2005 9:58 PM

Uhm, it says 64% LESS than tenured faculty, which is indeed right around the same as what you state, 40% of what tenured faculty make.

Posted by: David Mercer at November 13, 2005 11:51 PM

Ah. I misread that. Missed the "less."

In that case, it's correct, but only for the West Coast.

Posted by: Winston Smith at November 14, 2005 12:49 AM

It seems to me that tenure is in fact being discussed and debated at great length. I've cited the AAUP's position at my site, and I've pointed to the positions of people like King Banaian, Michael Drout, and Jim Hu -- who've certainly not been silent -- as well. The former Invisible Adjunct blog discussed it as one of its main topics.

The problem is that tenure hasn't delivered on its claims. The conformist drones are the ones who've GOT tenure. Why do we have a situation where the great majority of tenured faculty adheres fairly consistently to far-left political views?

Why do we have so little contribution to the active intellectual life of the country from tenured faculty? Where are the Lionel Trillings, Philip Rahvs, and other public intellectuals today?

I've also looked with some frequency on my site at the pay statistics for tenured faculty. These folks are earning in the high five figures or low six figures for eight months work, ten hours a week, Christmas and spring break and lots of holidays thrown in.

We're discussing tenure. It just isn't doing anything to help retain it. (The AAUP acknowledges, by the way, that more than half of all new academic hires are contingent. At many public institutions, more than half of all classes are taught by contingent faculty.)

Posted by: John Bruce at November 14, 2005 11:19 AM

"I've also looked with some frequency on my site at the pay statistics for tenured faculty. These folks are earning in the high five figures or low six figures for eight months work, ten hours a week, Christmas and spring break and lots of holidays thrown in."

Don't believe that the gigs held by a relative handful are the standard. I have 20 years in, gold-plated annual evaluations, enough teaching awards to stock a trophy case, and a decent number of publications. I just cracked $60K last year. Subtract $7000 off the top for health insurance. I teach 4-4 always, 4-5 or higher sometimes; During the school year, I am putting in 70-80 hour weeks just to keep up with the work. No grad slaves to do homework or other helpful tasks, either.

Posted by: ThaProf at November 15, 2005 7:37 AM

I think ThaProf's experience is more typical. I suspect that the "lazy tenured prof" stereotype is caused more by a few bad apples than by the majority.

I am (fairly newly) tenured. I make about $42K before taxes. I am in by 7 am, five days a week, and many days don't leave until 5 pm or later. I also work at home on grading, prep, keeping up with the academic reading. I don't take summers off; I teach and do research. I do my own grading and if I'm lucky, I have an interested and talented undergrad to help with the research, but I've never been able to push a big bunch of my work onto someone else (nor would I want to; early in my career I had a grad assistant to do grading but they didn't get it done in what I regarded as a timely fashion).

"10 hours work a week" is laughable. I'm usually in the classroom 12 hours a week. And that doesn't include the ten hours of office hours, the several hours a week spent grading, writing exams, writing homeworks, the seven to ten hours a week spent working on research, the hours spent in meetings (some of them largely pointless), etc., etc.

I'd like to see anyone who knocks professors as lazy try following my schedule for a week.

I tend to take tenure more as a vote-of-confidence, as a "you're doing fine, now keep it up" than as a "okay, you can come to a dead halt now." Actually, I'm busier now than I was before I was tenured - things like committee chairmanships only get foisted upon us tenured souls.

Posted by: ricki at November 15, 2005 9:30 AM

Neither ThaProf nor ricki indicates what region or what institution he or she is teaching at, which makes a big difference. This goes again to the non-efficacy of tenure in guaranteeing "academic freedom" -- ThaProf and ricki are presumably extra-cautious about the potential repercussions involved in speaking out about any of their professional specifics, even though they have guaranteed jobs and presumably are performing very well. As an interested observer who sometimes gets to vote on tenure-related issues, and who tries to help shape opinion via a blog, this is very interesting indeed. I will point again to the AAUP statistics on my site -- I looked at both 4-year and research, state and private institutions in my area, and average pay tracks extremely well for knowledge workers in general -- associates start about 60K; full profs quite a bit higher.

I don't know exactly what kind of papers the profs here are grading, but from a private industry time-management point of view, and from my own experience as a TA, I can't help wondering if too much time is going into them.

Posted by: John Bruce at November 15, 2005 11:15 AM

Seems to me that the trend is for work to be divided as follow: adjuncts deal with undergrad students, tenured professors do research (however that may be defined) and teach grad courses.

To the extent this is true, does it reflect a reasonable allocation of the substantial resources that we are putting into higher education? It seems hard to defend...

Posted by: David Foster at November 15, 2005 12:06 PM

One interesting bit of information I got from a commenter at my site was a policy from Ohio's Wright State University English Department outlining what counted as "research" for the purpose of getting an annual raise. You could simply attend two conferences a year and get an "adequate" for research (and presumably some kind of raise). Or you could give two talks to students or community groups. And all these had an "or equivalent", which raised for me the question of whether some kind of political action like a rant at a Columbus Day protest could be counted as "research". My tentative conclusion was that it depended on how good you were in with the dean or department chair.

Posted by: John Bruce at November 15, 2005 12:35 PM

John, I post as "ThaProf" because my institution requires for purposes of admissions that I expose my two usual e-mail addresses on the university web site. Besides leading to hundreds of Viagra and real estate spams daily, I also have an inbox full of mails from assorted kooks wanting to show a "perfesser" how they have come up with the grand unified theory of social change and historical causation. I have cheerfully called senior administrators sleazeballs to their faces when I thought it was warranted, so I do make some use of my tenure protections.

You are wholly mistaken about my "guaranteed job." My job, and indeed, the whole department, could be eliminated for financial reasons at the end of any contract year. All tenure means here is that, as long as the university decides to maintain teaching in my area, that I will be offered a contract for the following year. My salary could be frozen or cut, just as in any private business; any benefits that we could have can be taken away too. [and have been in recent years]. I am not in an area like English that more or less has to be continued in some form: a few bad years of recruiting students, and I assure you, the administration will get rid of me.

The cost of living in the Midwest is certainly lower on the coasts, so let's factor that in. Let's also factor in that even though I'm expected to do some research, there is practically no financial support for it--I even buy my own office computers rather than wait for the six-year (yep) replacement cycle here. Let's also factor in that "average" salaries are completely misleading at universities. I'm in a humanities/social science area. The average salary in my division is in the high 50's. The average salary in Business Administration is nearly $90K. The reported university average is a bit above $70K. The faculty in the professional schools have (courtesy of their accreditation) reduced teaching loads as well. I don't personally have any big problem with market factors in terms of salaries or even teaching loads. What I do violently object to is being told by the clueless about how little I am working and how much I am paid for working so little. When I worked in the vaunted "private sector," I worked a LOT less for nearly equal compensation.

As far as writing goes, why don't you try grading 1200-1500 pages of undergraduate writing per semester? Be sure that 1/3 of it has to go through at least one draft, too, and that you check the references on at least 20% of the papers. Do that while you are teaching four (or five) separate preps, and then come back and tell me about all of the leisure time that you have.

Posted by: ThaProf at November 16, 2005 8:07 AM

I'm puzzled, Perfesser, by the explanations I hear, not just from you, about e-mail addresses and the use of real names. One guy complained that he used a particular name to post on blog comments because his real name was similar to some other people, and he got too many phone calls meant for them. Huh? By the same token, the university may have provided you with e-mail addresses subject to spam or crank notes (a problem unique to you??), but why does this inhibit you from saying who you are?

My understanding of standard academic workloads is either two or three classes per semester. You mention four or five preps. That sounds like adjunct workload, for which I have much more sympathy. Again, by not telling us about your specific situation, you're doing some measure of violence to your credibility. It's hard to imagine four or five prepes for completely different classes, rather than, say, two or three sections of freshman comp or history survey.

Let's take your low estimate of 1200 pages of writing per semester. If I teach 4 sections, that's 300 pages per section. If I have 20 students in each section, that's 15 pages per student. That, frankly, seems a bit high -- one long term paper or two short ones, or maybe 7 2-page freshman comp essays. But a "page" in this case is 200-250 words, not the 500 or so on a printed page, so let's be sure we're using the correct terms.

If it's undergrads, my experience as a TA (and the plagiarism links on my blogroll don't dispute this) was that maybe half or more of all papers were plagiarized. Most of the cases I couldn't prove to a dean, but they were clear-cut (UK spelling, for instance). I spent a LOT less time on those. If there were major grammar issues, I didn't waste time on logic. And so forth. I'm not really sympathetic to claims that the work takes all that much time -- I've been there.

"Research" as I've noted in my post above means many, many different things. I'm not sympathetic to claims that "research" as defined at places like Wayne State takes much time, either.

Posted by: John Bruce at November 16, 2005 10:18 AM

The nominal teaching load at this institution and many, many others is 4-3, regardless of contact hours. Because of staffing cutbacks, the reality is that 30%+ of the faculty is 4-4: we either do that or the students don't graduate. I went to an elite grad school where 2-2 was indeed the norm. The vast majority of faculty in the US don't work in those settings. Your "understanding" is, to put it kindly, a misunderstanding. In fact, the people at the regional state university down the road have a standard 4-5 load.

Your experience as a TA means squat to someone who has been doing this for twenty years--talk about credibility issues! The reality is that I NEVER have multiple sections of the same class, and in the last 15 years, I have never had fewer than four regular classes per semester. Never had a sabbatical, for that matter, before you bring up that aspect of our life of ease.

Twenty students per section? Right. In my dreams. I always have at least two classes (sometimes three) with enrollments of 30-50.

Those of us who are competent devise writing assignments that are difficult to plagiarize and compel students to follow a note-taking/outline/draft/final draft process. Those of us who are competent also correct grammar as well as logic.

It's been real, John, but I have to get back to all those imaginary classes and papers.

Posted by: ThaProf at November 16, 2005 11:25 AM

I'm curious. Is it your faith in your competence that leads you to believe your anti-plagiarism efforts are effective? It took me some time -- and in fact it was part of the process that made me realize I should leave grad school -- to realize how thoroughly I was being had by my students over cheating and plagiarism. I'm not sure if you've been through this process.

I didn't insist that all teaching loads are 2-2. I said 3-3 was common. I'd be interested to hear the prevalence of 3-4, but you're saying that out of sheer benevolence -- so students can graduate -- you're teaching 4-4. If you're doing this by choice, you shouldn't be complaining.

I know sabbatical policies vary by university, but I also know of remarkably unproductive profs who've gotten sabbaticals approved for pretty inconsequential research. If it's your choice not to ask for one, you shouldn't be complaining.

Posted by: John Bruce at November 16, 2005 11:37 AM

By the way, I checked the National Center for Education Statistics, which says that the average teaching load for tenured faculty at non-doctoral institutions was close to 3-3, for doctoral 2-2. When you say "Your 'understanding' is, to put it kindly, a misunderstanding. In fact, the people at the regional state university down the road have a standard 4-5 load."

OK, Perfesser, but first, I'm relying on generally available statistics, and second, if I quote from same, it's not imaginary or deliberately misleading. You remind me of profs from my younger days -- authoritarian and abusive in the face of well-sourced information. Hate to say this, but if this is what tenure produces, let's have less of it.

Posted by: John Bruce at November 16, 2005 11:55 AM

While plagarism can be a problem, it has become less of one with the use of services such as turnitin.com, where papers are compared against the internet as well as the database of previously submitted papers (from all institutions) and given a score. Profs can also go in and look at the sources and the submitted paper side by side (after all, even correctly quoted sources will still show up as a potential violation). I use this to help cut down "cut and paste" plagarism that is so tempting in writing papers that analyze a company and/or industry.

We teach a 3-3 load, but I know that the next step down is usually 3-4 or 4-4. However, whether at a 2-2 or a 4-4, I don't know many (any?) professors that have an abundance of leisure time. (And I want to scream when people ask me if I'm "working this summer" -- I'm trying to fit a year's worth of research into 3 months, plus update teaching materials and possibly prep for a new class! These are the same people who look at me askew when I talk about the stress of tenure because they are only familiar with it from a k-12 perspective.)

Also, in those schools with a 4-4 (or more) load, the overall size of the faculty is generally smaller, with less specialization. Thus, a single faculty member will be responsible for a wider variety of classes. In business, for example, I've seen ads that are looking for someone who can teach operations management, HRM, organizational behavior, and policy, plus hopefully a marketing or communications class!

Liz (actual professor who doesn't put her last name due to fear of weirdos on the web!:-)

Posted by: DrLiz at November 16, 2005 1:20 PM

Dr. Liz still doesn't address several issues. Turnitin.com is by no means universal. Checking sources side by side is time-consuming, and to tell the truth, from a time management perspective, my position would be that plagiarism isn't something to spend expensive PhD time on. There's got to be a better way, which is one more reason I think tenure isn't giving academics the bang for the buck that it ought. If Dr. Liz recommends someone track plagiarism by calling up sources side by side (when a machine ought to do this more cheaply and quickly), I'm skeptical of how efficiently she uses the time she claims to be spending on teaching and research.

Naturally, If Dr. Liz says on Critical Mass, "I'm Liz Pappenfuss, PhD", armies of preverts will e-mail her on the spot. Again, the silly arguments tenured faculty give for not identifying themselves go to what they seem to think is the credulity of the average citizen. If you can't identify your name and institution -- forget your e-mail -- because you think you'll get too much Viagra spam or crank e-mails or propositions, I've got to wonder how you got a PhD. And I do.

Finally, the "research" claim keeps being made, in spite of what departments define as "research", which I've cited above. All of you anonymous types, I assume, are turning in conference attendance, visits to high school classes, dorm meetings, and whatnot as "research". If not, why not let us see your CV? Oh, no, you'd get dirty e-mails!!

Again, the statistics I cited above suggest that 3-4 or 4-4 teaching loads are outliers. I would challenge you PhDs to cite statistics that show they aren't. Again, you argue less well than a B-plus sophomore. Why should I assume you spend worthwhile time grading their papers?

Posted by: John Bruce at November 16, 2005 2:54 PM

Dear Erin,

15 years ago I was paid about $1500 per quarter to teach at University of Cincinnati, and when they gave me a 1-year appointment as full-time adjunct professor, it was for the princely sum of $19,000.00 for three quarters. I LOVED it! I had five classes per day each with about thirty students — 300 students per week. Had to get’em all comfortable and confident finding their way around the Mac and four or five fundamental applications they would use in all of their courses. The students were all motivated, and they shared information and solutions with each other that they learned from me, from their co-op jobs, or that they’d just discovered independently. It’s hard to find a commercial job where you could expect to be surrounded by such enthusiasm and energy.

I have a B.A. from Yale, but no advanced degree. However, I am an animator with three decades of experience of which the last 20 years has included Tiny Toons, AniManiacs, RugRats, CatDog, etc., broadcast video, 2D & 3D computer animation, interactive games and CDs and web entertainment, etc. My work has been awarded one regional emmy, and several Addies. Currently seeking fulltime work, I can confirm that many 4-year colleges are only offering about $1500 per 3-credit course for adjunct instructors.

It’s an odd situation: seemingly hundreds of new colleges starting degree programs in computer animation, and all of them needing to recruit instructors with at least Master’s degrees or equivalent professional experience, to fulfill their accreditation requirements. Well, it’s only been since about the mid 1990’s that schools even offered advanced degrees in video broadcast and computer animation and interactive game development. So there aren’t many people my age in the industry with advanced degrees, and there aren’t many with the degrees that have any real industry experience. Somewhere, people will find a balance, but with so much of the work having moved to India and Southeast Asia, it seems my compatriots and I should be studying conversational Hindi and Mandarin.

Tenure for the most honored professors, bestowed by vote of the assembled faculty, is a legacy of medieval universities. The oldest European universities arose during an epoch in which robbers, highwaymen, and brigands roamed the lands outside walled towns and cities. The burghers and guilds of those municipalities were happy to cede the universities autonomy over their own affairs. But as society has settled down (in some neighborhoods, anyway) the Tenure system — which had been a necessary insurance against unwarranted meddling in academic matters by largely uneducated petty local officials — has become increasingly irrelevant. These days local civic leaders are generally as well educated as their local college faculty. And anyhow, the independence of universities is no longer subject to the whims of local city councils, but more to the budget battles that go on annually in state legislatures.

It’s not clear to me that the Tenure system these days does much to benefit the Universities, the students, or the larger community the universities are meant to serve. The underlying logic of Tenure was to insulate the best faculty from the vagaries of economic upheaval and local politics. Those could be accomplished by contracts that run for specified periods. As I understand it, most Tenured positions can be revoked only if the tenured person is convicted of some major crime. Maybe time for evolution.

Posted by: David March at November 17, 2005 5:22 PM

Now that I've taken the time to skim some of the other comments here, I'd like to thank TheoProf for his perspective. I've been away from academic communities for a decade, and it's nice to hear a voice that reminds me of the more sane members of those communities. I know there are some teachers who really are devoted to the profession and its highest ideals, even while there are others that are just peeing in the pool.

Posted by: David March at November 17, 2005 5:32 PM

David, I certainly agree that the version ThaProf gives of his circumstances reflects well on him. That's nne reason it makes me skeptical that he won't come out and say who he is -- so many profs, tenured (as he claims to be) and untenured are in fact proud of their CVs and have them up on the web. If I had research or teaching to be proud of -- and if I had tenure, certainly -- I'd be willing to say who I am and list my specific research and teaching awards.

Actually, I don't think it's too much of a stretch to suggest that blathering anonymously and claiming to be a member of the Learned Profession is something not far from a violation of the AAUP's almost entirely unenforced civil discourse canons. ThaProf feels entitled to abuse folks here who post as real people, but he gets to hide behind a pseudonym.

Posted by: John Bruce at November 18, 2005 11:33 AM