17 February 2014

The #alt-ac Snake that Eats Its Own Tail

Two Penn State deans ask where the people with humanities Ph.D's end up, and get an answer: college teaching, off the tenure track.  Yup--we knew that.  But the graphic evidence is still, you know, graphic. And it's nicely timed to coincide with today's NY Times editorial on higher ed (and the op-ed page gets it right this time).

Some of those savvy underemployed Ph,D's, however, have found ways to get paid to identify the problem and fix it.  Check out this solution to the adjunct problem!
1. Adjuncts must be paid enough to make it worth their while. 
Obviously, “worth their while” is a different number depending on many things: field, market forces like scarcity of qualified adjunct faculty, union rules, etc. But as an institution, if you want to attract the best teachers and ensure that they are able to reach their potential as teachers, you must pay them enough to make it worth their while to teach instead of doing other things with their time, whether those other things are income-earning or not.
Well, yes--but if institutions perceived that teaching carried value that should be properly remunerated, we wouldn't need articles like this one, would we?  What else you got?

2. Adjuncts who currently teach as their primary means of making a living should find an additional career – and should bring that expertise and experience into the classroom.
I recognize that many adjuncts already do this. But my argument is that most or all adjuncts should do this... Really, this can be anything, from an alternative administrative position within a university to a consulting job for a major corporation to being a baristo at Starbucks. The “post” in post-academia is the “post” in postcolonialism, to hark back to my home discipline: it denotes not a demarcation between before and after, but rather a process of emergence from one state and growing into another state that is indelibly marked by and bound to the first. 
....One of the major charges levied against humanities programs is that they do not sufficiently prepare graduates for life outside the university....There is inherent heuristic value in being taught by someone who is working on the outside and can bring that understanding to bear in the classroom, even if their specific work is not directly relevant to the class material. At the very least, this helps students to understand the role of critical inquiry in the world outside university – and it may help them also to understand that the importance of their class material does not stop at the edge of campus.
Okay, so I emerge from my state of Ph.D.-ness into a state of barista-ness or a state where people pay me to consult or administrate and I keep on teaching anyway, because why exactly?  Oh right--slinging coffee isn't really a long-term career strategy but students will learn from the expertise I bring to the classroom.  And even if I can make good money by administrating or consulting, I keep on adjuncting because I...really love teaching?
Adjuncts must reject the notion of teaching as calling or vocation, and rather understand it as an economic exchange between themselves and the university. They must be prepared to reject that exchange if it does not offer terms that are acceptable to them.
Guess not.  But then, this article isn't really targeted to me, is it?
3. The model of adjuncting should change, both from the hiring side and the faculty side.
....Department chairs, deans and other administrators must understand that even if they receive short-term gain in hiring adjuncts at pittance rates, that short-term gain will translate into long-term pain for the institution. Students don’t like being taught by teachers who don’t have the time or energy for them. If your students are your customers – as so many adjuncts lament – then treat them like customers and give them better customer service. Perform a gap analysis and understand that a department with happy, effective and well-paid adjuncts is more likely to provide the kind of service to your students that will keep your reputation high. This is a business problem for which you need to make an effective business decision.
Hmmm...is there anyone out there who can help a beleaguered administrator make these kinds of effective business decisions?
I am currently working with a colleague on a prospective model for non-tenure-track faculty hiring that maximizes value for both the hiring department and the non-TT faculty member. (If your department is interested in trialing this model or discussing it further, please contact me.)
Oh you are, are you?  Tell me more!
I’m a PhD-educated veteran marketer and a social media obsessive since the days of Prodigy and 1200 BPS modems. In 2011 I founded ideas in flight, a social media and digital marketing consultancy that specializes in strategy, training and implementation for small- and medium-sized organizations. You can find out more about ideas in flight here - or just get in touch!
Well-played, Dr. Langer, and good luck to you.  May you find institutional clients willing to act on (as well as pay you for) the advice that they pay their adjuncts better.

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