Professors do far less teaching than the public imagines

by Clay Shirky on June 8, 2015

I read Daniel’s LIBOR for the universities? with great interest, not least because I think the central thesis…

Bankers have had their day under scrutiny. But so have Members of Parliament (expenses scandal). So have journalists (phone hacking). So has the Church (paedophilia cover-ups). So has the BBC (ditto). This isn’t a specific issue about financial sector corruption. It’s a general trend, one of gradual social re-assessment of whether the fiddles and skeletons of the past are going to be tolerated in the future.

…is spot on, even translating it across the Atlantic.

However, I think his LIBOR comparison is a bit too literal, his scandals in potentia all hinging on system-gaming. In the U.S., kiting of research assessment and post-grad employment is small beer. Senior faculty claiming authorship is already regarded as a personal rather than systemic crime. U.S. New and World Report is simply making the previously tacit prestige ranking visible to the public. (I forget if it was Billy the Kid or Sun Yat-sen who said that academic politics is so vicious because the stakes are so low, but they both had a point.)

Nevertheless, I think there is a scandal brewing, though, like all academic change, it is moving slowly. That scandal is tied to growing realization that professors do far less teaching than the average citizen imagines.

What the public doesn’t understand (and what many academics don’t understand that the public doesn’t understand) is that the social compact between taxpayers and selective public colleges has been re-written. Up through the 1960s, state schools committed most faculty to teaching most of the time, while directing only a few institutions to hire and promote based on research. (Clark Kerr, PBUH, designed his famous Master Plan assuming that very few California schools should be able to offer Ph.D.s)

This limitation proved unsupportable. After WWII, research was where both the money and prestige was. This shift in our self-conception coincided with the spectacular but unsustainable support we got from the states after Sputnik. For fifteen glorious years, academies were funded as if we ran missile systems instead of monasteries. We used the money to reduce our teaching loads (in the old Carnegie model, a 4-4 load was considered full time) and allowed course release for anyone who brought in additional research dollars.

When our Cold War funding began to ebb in the mid-1970s, rather than go back to the classroom, our selective institutions began calling up an army of TAs and adjuncts to shoulder the teaching load, a transition so enormous that contingent faculty is now the majority, and we tenured faculty the minority.

As long as college was still cheap, and a degree consistently raised income, the public was largely indifferent to the increased reliance on contingent faculty to fill the gap left when we reduced our teaching loads. That period is ending. Constantly rising tuition and the emergence of a Bachelor’s degrees as a prerequisite for middle-class life is exposing the American academy to a degree of scrutiny and skepticism that little in our history has prepared us for.

That scrutiny of the hiring practices at selective schools is slowly going public, first as a source of conversation in the Chronicle, then Slate, and recently, in The New Yorker, as people who look back on their college days come to realize that many of their favorite professors weren’t actually professors.

This confusion is often quite deliberate. Last year, I got a copy of an NYU magazine (my institution.) On the cover, it said one of our professors was testing a new tool for family reunification in Internally Displaced Persons camps. That caught my eye, as one of my former students had also developed a project like that, and was teaching as an adjunct that semester. I thought, “Oh, I should tell Jorge about this professor’s work.”

But when I turned to the article, there was … Jorge’s picture. NYU was writing about his project, but since they were bragging on him to the outside world, they’d upgraded his title to Professor. Now imagine that Jorge had showed up, brandishing that magazine, to a Faculty Senate meeting. He would have been thrown out. Tenured faculty won’t let adjuncts play in any reindeer games, but our institutions won’t tell the public which teachers are and aren’t ‘real’ faculty either. The distinction between ‘people we trust to teach’ and ‘people we allow to be professors’ is not just something the public doesn’t understand; it’s something we actively hide.

However much academics assure one another that our research is what matters, a belief reinforced one tenure committee at a time, it is teaching that legitimates our work and our institutions in the eyes of the public.

If you want to see this playing out with real stakes, tune into North Carolina. In the state legislature, Senator Tom McInnis (R-Naturally) is proposing all that teachers in the UNC system have their compensation tied to a full-time teaching load (which he construes, as Carnegie did, as 4-4). Let us stipulate, as the lawyers say, that these legislators are knuckle-dragging, anti-intellectual boors and that SB 593 is a thinly disguised attack. Nevertheless, it’s the state’s money, so SB 593 requires a response.

The usual response has been to insist that if UNC professors are expected to teach more, they will not have as much time for their research. Responding to the proposed bill’s expectation that course release time would come from local endowments, Stephen Leonard, a professor at Chapel Hill, said “Good luck with that. Almost all of the campuses that are not Research 1 institutions would have a hard time coming up with the funds to do that.” Indeed. It’s almost as if R1 institutions were designed to be the ones funding large research programs.

Leonard takes it as axiomatic that the North Carolina system should allow the maximum number of faculty to do research, even if that takes them away from the classroom. In fact, it was designed (as most state systems were) to privilege teaching over research in most cases, and the change away from that model is recent. Faculty assumes this change was for the good; it is not at all clear that the public, once they understand what has happened, will agree.

Alongside this argument, another response to SB 593 has been horror that ‘meddlesome’ state legislators think they have any right to say anything about U.N.C. at all. This is a sophisticated version of “Keep your Government hands off my Medicare!” However satisfying withering contempt may be as a reply, even a whiff of “We are special snowflakes. The world owes us a living” will not go down well with taxpayers and voters, whose goodwill is the source of our institutional position and our daily bread. And while this affects state schools most, every college in this country is so wound up in tax breaks and Pell grants that we are all effectively public schools.

It seems to me a scandal needs two parts: unobserved behavior that suddenly gets scrutinized, and a sense that the behavior triggers moral questions, not (or not just) legal ones. It’s not clear that SB 593 will carry the day – it seems to be as much polemic as proposal – but McInnis’s strategy is not simply to argue that faculty have contractual obligations that should be re-balanced blah blah blah. His strategy is is to try to make our attitude towards teaching a scandal.

That is my bet on one of Daniel’s skeletons of the past that will not be tolerated in the future. With the rise of contingent faculty, now decisively the majority, the price of attending college is increasingly divorced from the cost of supporting the people doing the actual teaching, undermining the most basic rationale for tuition. Inside the academy, this is treated as business as usual. Outside the academy, the taxpayers don’t even understand that it has happened.

The fight to treat teaching as a valued activity, starting with treating adjuncts fairly, will require a revolution, precisely because it will require senior faculty to spend more time in the classroom, or it will require us to elevate contingent faculty, who do much of the actual teaching, to the status of valued colleagues. Neither is compatible with current norms.

That change could be gradual, as college continues its shift from being an elite to a mass experience, but like Daniel, I am betting it will be accelerated by uproar, as our insistence that we be subsidized then left alone, while grad students and adjuncts teach the teenagers left in our care, comes to sound increasingly scandalous when spelled out to the public.

{ 158 comments }

1

Marc 06.08.15 at 5:09 pm

In the sciences the research is supported by grant funding, which would not be possible in the limit of teaching at the community college rate. Faculty who don’t attract research grant funding tend to have higher teaching loads; they may not teach at the same rate as someone in secondary school does, but it’s substantial.

The answer in the first case is that the national science foundation, etc. is effectively picking up the tab from the reduced teaching rate; the answer in the second case is, again, that research has some real value to the students as well (e.g. doing research with students is in their interests as well.) So I don’t think that it’s intrinsically some sort of hard sell, although it can definitely be demagogued.

2

Harold 06.08.15 at 5:22 pm

It’a those damned overpaid professors”– Eschaton:
http://www.eschatonblog.com/2015/06/its-those-damn-overpaid-professors.html

3

AcademicLurker 06.08.15 at 5:26 pm

MOOCS are the obvious solution.

4

Plarry 06.08.15 at 5:35 pm

This article raises interesting points, particularly as a general critique of the adjunct system, but I’m not sure how much traction it really has. I can only speak for the US education model here. In the sciences, there is typically a tradeoff, teaching v. research. To say that behavior is unobserved is perhaps true as it applies the general public, but, on the other hand, is risible as it applies to the government and foundations because of the effort reporting that goes on with all federally funded research grants to justify and account for time spent doing research. So, someone wanting to make a big deal of how little time professors are spending teaching would have to ignore how much time and money the government and others are paying them to do research. An argument can be made that this is a bad investment, but it’s an argument, not a scandal.

Another point is that this article assumes that teaching is equivalent to courses. I believe that assumption fails for most areas of graduate education. So the pushback should be whether a school or University system wants to be a great source of graduate education or not, and push against the “4-4” model in this respect.

5

christian_h 06.08.15 at 5:37 pm

I agree and disagree, both. I think we are insane to drive for ever lower official teaching loads, and I include top research schools like the one I am faculty at in that. At the same time one consequence of this is that more and more teaching is done outside the official classroom setting, and administrative work explodes partly because all the temporary teaching faculty supposedly needs to be supervised in some fashion. For example, this term I taught one class. But my actual contact time with students, undergraduate and graduate, was about 15 hours a week. If I had taught three sections of calculus (say) to classes the size they were in Carnegie’s time, I would have had more research time than I actually did.

6

Corey Robin 06.08.15 at 5:37 pm

Thanks for this, Clay. I did have one question. At CUNY, where I teach, the teaching load is 21 credits per year if you’re at four-year institution. That’s a 4/3 teaching load for folks at the senior colleges. At the community colleges in the CUNY system, which has a lot of the tenure ladder faculty, the teaching load is 27 credits (5/4 per year). Given how much of higher ed is community colleges, and how many four-year public universities (and a fair number of privates too, I imagine) have teaching loads like CUNY’s, how many public research universities are we talking about in your piece? I was looking around and couldn’t find any hard data on what teaching loads are like at most public universities. But I’m curious if anyone has it.

7

harry b 06.08.15 at 5:44 pm

Marc — is that right? Could someone who has been a Dean or Provost (or CFO — or, basically, anyone who understands the byzantine funding structure of research universities) comment on that? I might be wrong, but as far as I know, in my university, a science professor with tenure who does not bring in research funding teaches a 2/1 load, and will have TAs for any large classes — very far from the teaching load of any secondary school teacher I know, and indeed lower than the load of a Humanities professor with tenure who does not bring in research funding. We do have staff researchers in the sciences, social sciences, engineering, etc, who are funded entirely through soft money, and they are definitely not subidized by, and probably subsidize, the teaching mission, but there aren’t many of them, and, crucially, they do not have the security of tenure and state and tuition fee funding to fall back on.

8

Neal 06.08.15 at 5:47 pm

McInnis revised his bill in late April. The new SB 593 called for teaching loads of 2-2 for STEM at UNC & NC State; 3-2 for non-STEM at UNC & NC State; 2.5-2 for STEM elsewhere; and 3-3 for non-STEM elsewhere.

SB 593 died in committee, however. It did not pass the state Senate before this year’s legislative deadline and was referred to the Legislative Research Commission for study.

9

harry b 06.08.15 at 5:49 pm

On Plarry’s point: there are (very crudely) two kinds of graduate course. 1) courses mainly directed to producing researchers and future professors and 2) courses mainly directed to producing people who will work outside the university. The former are usually counted in the course load of professors (I counted them in the 2/1 above), but are frequently significantly subsidized by funds directed at undergraduate teaching (because the graduate students are TAs and their tuition and stipend come out of tuition and, at public institutions, state funds aimed at undergraduate education.

Thanks for this post Clay, I’m really glad you wrote it, and hope it gets plenty of attention.

10

Freddie deBoer 06.08.15 at 5:51 pm

Who is the “we” here? Where is the data in this post? How much does the average professor at the average American college — who most certainly doesn’t work in an R1 or at a selective liberal arts college — actually teach?

11

mdc 06.08.15 at 6:02 pm

“the price of attending college is increasingly divorced from the cost of supporting the people doing the actual teaching, undermining the most basic rationale for tuition.”

This seems really important to me. Does anyone have an idea for a fair and intuitive statistic that would capture an institution’s investment in instruction? There are great differences between different schools in this regard. Maybe something like ‘proportion of spending on full-time teaching faculty compensation.’ (One thing that makes this difficult, and that few outside the ‘industry’ know, is that spending and price can have very little to do with one another.)

12

T 06.08.15 at 6:06 pm

This is a great OP. I would add that when profs make controversial public statements AND they don’t teach many classes, it will be used as a cudgel against the faculty. This is particularly the case when the public actions are outside of the academic’s expertise — for example, many supporters of BDS — but also when the issue is in their expertise — climate change.

I hinted at a related issue to the OP in the LIBOR thread but it didn’t seem to gain much traction:

“The adjunct issue may surface as well. But not because the adjuncts are treated miserably (which is a scandal) but because parents and students get pissed off that they are paying $60K to the college and having multiple courses taught by part-time adjuncts who may or may not have been vetted carefully. Once gain, the powerless adjuncts are shafted again.”

13

harry b 06.08.15 at 6:07 pm

Clay’s post is about ‘selective public’ institutions. Basically, all state flagships, plus a good number of other schools (so most of the UC schools would count, but not most of the CSU schools). Standard teaching load, from which deviations must be justified, is 2/2 for semesters, and 2-2-1 or 2-1-1 for quarters. Including graduate courses. Where is this documented? (That’s not a rhetorical question, and I am ready to be corrected, but that is my understanding — if people can give counterexamples that’d be great).

Clay’s post comes at a very awkward time for my institution: the legislature is planning to remove tenure from the state statutes, and to expand the kinds of conditions in which faculty can be made redundant even if they have tenure. The tone-deafness of the faculty response is embarrassing, because, as Clay says, faculty seem not to understand that the public doesn’t understand the the social compact has been rewritten, and the way the faculty is responding reveals how it has been rewritten without seeming to understand what a bad deal it looks to everyone on the outside (ie, the people who are actually paying for it).

14

Freddie deBoer 06.08.15 at 6:12 pm

(Note that those questions are meant to be inquisitive, not aggressive.)

15

Joshua Beatty 06.08.15 at 6:12 pm

Teaching load data from other public colleges should be in the Delaware Cost Study (http://www.udel.edu/IR/cost/brochure.html); the trick would be getting the info out of whatever office on your campus controls it.

16

Metatone 06.08.15 at 6:16 pm

I said on the original thread that most of the skeletons are either not dramatic enough or just don’t affect enough of the right demographic to become a scandal.

My own suspicion (as an adjunct – although not a full-time one) is that this one just isn’t dramatic enough to turn into a large scale scandal. States will re-examine the teaching/research balance at state universities – and some state politicians will raise the profile of the issue – but it will be piecemeal and not catch the popular imagination in a wider way.

17

VeeLow 06.08.15 at 6:22 pm

I think there’s basically nothing new here, Clay, unless you want to argue that “R1 faculty will be forced into teaching heavier loads.”

But since you say “R1 schools are the ones designed to be funding large research programs,” in a paragraph that implies your approvale of this design, the upshot of your analysis looks like…..nothing?

Outside the R1s, private schools, and liberal arts colleges, the 4/4 has already happened.

Which leave me confused: are you arguing that elite schools will be forced to fundamentally change how they handle faculty teaching loads, that they should do this, both will and should, something else…….?

18

Michael Cholbi 06.08.15 at 6:25 pm

Agreed – excellent OP.

I work in the CSU, where the standard teaching load for quarter campuses is 3/3/3 and 4/4 for semester campuses. Given our (relatively) low tuition and fees, I see the CSU system as one of the few where the public is getting a good educational bang for its buck.

To be frank, I don’t consider faculty at elite universities to have jobs that involve ‘teaching’ in anything more than superficial sense. If you’re responsible for two large lecture courses a year and have TA’s to do your grading, etc., you’re a content expositor rather than a teacher in any robust sense.

And my guess is that if/when a scandal breaks, much of it will revolve around how little of universities’ budgets go to support instruction as opposed to administration, student services, updating technology, provide students desirable lifestyle amenities, etc. I wonder if there might soon be a market niche for an American university pitching itself as ‘back to basics,’ eliminating the gyms, athletics, food courts, etc. — a more European sort of college experience, with high instructional investment.

19

Tiny Tim 06.08.15 at 6:29 pm

Mostly speaking from my experiences with relatively elite small liberal arts colleges, so keep that in mind, but I think plenty of tenured and tenure track faculty wouldn’t mind teaching more, if something else gave. The mantra tends to be 100% teaching 100% service 100% research which of course is 300% which I think doesn’t quite make sense. Standards for tenure and promotion are constantly in flux, but only research can really “guarantee” (nothing guarantees, of course) continued success both within institutions and for those looking to potentially move.

Post-tenure, especially, there should be more freedom to genuinely specialize. Let the teachers teach, let the researchers research, and let those who like to hold meetings hold meetings. Not complete specialization, of course, but more specialization. It has to be done in a way which allows you to, for example, teach an extra course or two and to genuinely use that as an excuse for having done less research when your promotion/review/whatever comes up.

The point is plenty of post-tenure (especially) faculty would choose a teaching track if they could be sure they’d be rewarded/recognized for it. That starts at the top – administration and the old guard senior faculty.

20

Metatone 06.08.15 at 6:32 pm

Contra Michael Cholbi, I think it’s very hard to get people exercised by that kind of operational detail. The closest analogy is probably charities, where some people do get very exercised by the question of “admin overhead percentage” – but even there it keeps failing to turn into a full-blown scandal for the sector…

21

Corey Robin 06.08.15 at 6:40 pm

harry b: “Where is this documented?”

Yes, that really is the question. You have a sense that what Clay is talking about is “basically, all state flagships, plus a good number of other schools (so most of the UC schools would count, but not most of the CSU schools). ”

I wonder if that is in fact true. I mean the UC, Wisconsin, where you teach, Michigan: these are really top-tier schools. Is it true of the University of Mississippi? But more important: how many schools are we talking about overall? And how many students affected by it? CUNY has 200,000 students in the system: that’s more than the entire UC system combined.

I’m not asking b/c I want to minimize the problem: I tend to think that if elite schools are targeted like this, that can only bode ill for the rest of us. But it would first be helpful to have a sense of what portion of the universe we’re actually really talking about.

22

Michael Cholbi 06.08.15 at 6:42 pm

Metatone:
1. But public universities aren’t charities. Individual taxpayers can’t opt out of funding them. And they expect to be available when their children are college age.
2. Two words: climbing walls.

23

Corey Robin 06.08.15 at 6:43 pm

Also, it would be good to know the specifics of how widespread the 2/2 teaching load is b/c if it is as rare as I think it is — relative, that is, to most public colleges and universities — it means that those folks who enjoy it are actually even more vulnerable.

24

ingrid robeyns 06.08.15 at 6:48 pm

Question of clarification for those not familiar with US Higher education: How much work is a course actually?
if you have a 2/2 teaching load, I take it (from Harry’s comment) that this is for the length of a semester. Is this 15 weeks, or less? How many hours per week do you give class, and how many hours do you have tutorials etc? How many students in one class? How many assignments for each student to grade per course? DO you have teaching assistants to help you with the grading or with the tutorials? How does the supervision of PhD students fit in – is this all on top of the 2/2 (or 4/4) and how many PhD students do professors on average supervise?

I think answers to the above questions make a big difference to how heavy a total teaching load effectively is.

In the Netherlands, until recently staff was hired on a 40-40-20 basis – 40% of one’s time should be devoted to teaching, 40% to research, 20% to administration. 10% teaching time equals one course plus supervising a few BA- and MA-dissertations, which are spread over all faculty. As a rule (at least in the humanities!) there are no TA’s, except if you have more than 30 students. Our teaching (as well as the rest) has increasingly become the object of bureaucratic surveillance by the government – under the heading of ‘quality control’. This takes up an additional large chunk of time.

Importantly, the new hires increasingly have more teaching – recent lectureships have been advertised as 70% teaching and 30% research (and no official time for all bureaucratic matters, which however no-one can fully escape).

Our MInister complains that we, professors, are over-prioritising research and that we should pay more attention to teaching. But the truth is the government has no knowledge on how much time we spent on either of those tasks: I know this, since I filed an official information-request at the Dutch Government, and was told that the government does not collect statistics on how many hours staff in higher education work. My hypothesis is that if you assume a 40 hours/week working time, many researchers (at last in the humanities, but I hear it from friends in the other fields too) do their research mainly in their leisure time. I think it is very worrisome that our higher education policies are, at least in this respect, based on fact-free politics.

25

harry b 06.08.15 at 6:55 pm

Corey — well, I hurriedly looked around philosophy departments at 3 flagships that are not like Wisconsin, Michigan, etc, and cannot find at all what the course loads are!! We should look at a hiring website probably. When people use the term “Selective” they usually mean about 400 institutions, many of which are private, and among the publics I don’t know how many students we are talking about. I’ll try to find out more, but not today or tomorrow probably. BBy then someone will have told us!

26

Tiny Tim 06.08.15 at 7:04 pm

ingrid,
there isn’t one answer to that, it varies widely between institutions and fields, even among institutions that are roughly comparably ranked. But if essentially all someone had to do was teach 2/2 and little else other than support for that teaching (office hours, grading, dealing with emails from students, etc.), that would indeed by quite a cushy gig in just about any context. But except for those few special people who seem to manage to evade all other duties and have also mostly ceased doing research (all institutions seem to have these people who are great at getting away with shirking), the workload is significantly higher than that (and would be for most people just doing the basic level of expected committee work and related not just research).

The US academics I know work a lot. Yes it’s a cushier job than most in many ways, but the idea that anyone still marginally focused on research (again, not everyone, but most) doesn’t work a lot is just wrong. Research (good or bad) takes a hell of a lot of time.

27

Matt_L 06.08.15 at 7:04 pm

This is a thought provoking post, but one of the problems I have is that it assumes a uniformity that does not exist. What Clay Shirkey argues might hold true for R1 universities, but is not universally applicable to any other type of college or university, public or private. Corey Robin & Michael Cholbi have raised this.

The problem with the cult of research is not that professors at UNC Asheville have a 2/2 teaching load and produce extraneous research to earn tenure. The problem is that Professors at Asheville teach 4/4 and are expected to do research like they were at Chapel Hill. At my school the faculty teaching load has not change since the 1960s, but the research workload did.

That said I think the strongest point of the post is the idea that the social contract on public education has changed. Faculty members need to be more outspoken about the impact of this change on the undergraduate teaching part of our jobs. If state leaders in NC and WI succeed in destroying the public universities it will do irreparable harm to our students and their prospects in the long run. It behoves us to respectfully explain the teaching and research sides of our jobs to the public at large.

28

Will 06.08.15 at 7:28 pm

For those asking, the National Survey of Post-Secondary Faculty (NSOPF:04) has the latest (and yes, it’s more than a decade old) data on US classroom hours broken down by institution type (so Doctoral = research…ish)

Here is a list of tables.

Table 21 will be of particular interest.

The short take:
Research Universities (Doctoral): 8 classroom hrs/week (equivalent to a 3/2)
Bacc/Master’s: 11 classroom hrs/week (equivalent to a 4/3)
Associates (Comm. Coll.): 18 classroom hours/week (6/6)!!

29

Chris Bertram 06.08.15 at 7:44 pm

A couple of points, neither of which is decisive and both of which are made by a UK-based academic who has never worked in the US system:

1. If what you’re selling is “research-led teaching” then you have to give people the time to do the research, and it is right that the teaching income contributes to the reproduction of the “human capital” that produces the research-led teaching. Of course, that’s to presuppose that RLT is what people want, or what they ought to get ….

2. Historically, the deal on recruitment to academia was that smart people would get the time to work on and think about the stuff they cared about, and in return they’d also teach (a bit). These conditions of work partly compensated people for lower pay than they (say Oxbridge or Ivy League graduates) could, ex ante, expect in other professions. If higher ed turns into a teaching factory then those people will choose different careers (or enough of them will). And not only them: the enslaved adjuncts are partly in thrall to the hope (or the hope they once had) of living the “life of the professor”. If that hope dies, because nobody gets to live that life, then they won’t be around either.

30

fgw 06.08.15 at 7:58 pm

“After WWII, research was where both the money and prestige was. This shift in our self-conception coincided with the spectacular but unsustainable support we got from the states after Sputnik. For fifteen glorious years, academies were funded as if we ran missile systems instead of monasteries. We used the money to reduce our teaching loads “
It also coincides with the period the US became the world leader in science, a position that is now imperiled.
Is it just me, or does this come across as if you’re reminiscing about the 4-4 as if it were some golden age, when men were men?
There is a real trade off between teaching load and research productivity, in my personal experience at least. I don’t see how cowering before demagogues will save anybody’s skin. When times are tough, the demagogue’s task is certainly easier, but isn’t the best defense to rigorously defend the US research enterprise rather than ceding ground?

31

Garrulous 06.08.15 at 8:26 pm

@29 And not only them: the enslaved adjuncts are partly in thrall to the hope (or the hope they once had) of living the “life of the professor”. If that hope dies, because nobody gets to live that life, then they won’t be around either.

You seem almost to suggest that delusion is a positive, socially-beneficially thing, since it – and the labor it motivates – indirectly sustains the Very Important Work of the tenured minority.

I suspect most of us (adjuncts of all kinds, i.e. those you unintentionally just put in a different category to the “smart people”) are kept going by un-illusioned necessity, not false hope. After a short number of stigmatizing years, it is clear there is no way up the ladder, only a grim hanging on to what you have.

I also suspect some of us would be happy to see the whole tenure-edifice crash down, coûte que coûte. If only because it might mean fewer smug bleatings from the lucky few at the top.

32

DCA 06.08.15 at 8:46 pm

Let me recommend Stuart Rojstaczer’s 1999 book, Gone for Good, which has a discussion of (among other things) the disconnect between what parents think professors do, and what professors actually do. It is written by someone whose experience was in STEM; I say was because he left academia to become a jazz musician and novelist.

33

SG 06.08.15 at 8:51 pm

The NSOPF survey breaks down classroom hours by institution type, but not by employment status. I suspect that the 8 hrs/week average for research universities is inflated by the inclusion of “temporary, adjunct, visiting, acting, or postdoctoral appointees” (p. 52) in the sample.

34

Paul Reber 06.08.15 at 9:59 pm

Professor at a Tier-1 research university here (Northwestern Univ, Psychology dept) and my teaching load is nominally 3.5/year in a quarter system, which is roughly similar to a 2/1. It is possible to reduce the load further by ‘buying out’ teaching time if you have enough external support.

The trend here has not been so much about research crowding out professor teaching leading to an increase in contingent faculty, as a shift by the college to hiring full-time lecturers to teach in our department instead of adding tenure-bearing lines. We now have 5-full-time non-tenure track lecturers and I *think* they are treated ok. I believe it is like having a 4-4 level teaching load and no “appointment with indefinite tenure” although there are benefits and I think there are multi-year contracts. N.b., I tried to find out more about their employment conditions when I was on a promotion committee recently for one of these lines (they do get promoted and nice titles), but not much of this info is public at a private institution.

My sense is that compared to adjunct positions, the lecturer positions are decent jobs. And honestly, the lecturers are flat-out better teachers than me and my research-oriented colleagues, so you’d rather have classes with them. One reason they are better is that they actually have some time to spend on prep and student feedback instead of spending hours/week on proposals, grant management, etc.

But as for asking professors to teach more, if you value the research/writing/scholarship that is being produced by 2/1 load professors, just hire more of them. Around here at least, they really ought to be able to afford more tenured lines. Tuition has been going up at 8-10%/year or something for 20 years now. My salary goes up at 1-2%/year.

I’m obviously biased but I think our research is worthwhile, so I’m generally in favor of more professors who do lots of research. I am also in favor of giving our lecturers either tenure or some other long-term work guarantee (7 year contracts?) because they are a vital part of our department.

There’s a separate issue that developing a research professor career is a particularly punishing trajectory for anybody trying to manage a work/life balance. 4-5 years underpaid student to get a PhD, 2-5 years post-doc (I did 5), then 5-6 more years busting your ass to try to make the tenure hurdle. Do the math and you might have some insight into gender disparities in some fields (e.g., its a lot easier for men to have kids at age 35-40 than women). This is also the answer to the question you might ask me, ‘why don’t you teach better?’ Because I go home to my family, so when time is short, I focus on the thing my workplace rewards me for (hint: it isn’t teaching).

35

Chris Bertram 06.08.15 at 10:09 pm

You seem almost to suggest …

If I thought it socially beneficial, I would have said so.

36

Clay Shirky 06.08.15 at 11:13 pm

One of the difficulties of posting from Shanghai (as the CT crew kindly did for me last night) is that I was asleep when the thread started, and am now just up and have to get the kids to school, so let me quickly clarify, to several comments above (e.g. #s 10, 17, 27):

The problem with talking about “college” in the U.S. is the one Freddie #10 alludes to, which is that most of the public conversation is obsessively focussed on the selective institutions (the USN&WR list is a reasonable proxy). So as Harry noted at #13, noted, I am only talking about selective colleges and universities, not broad admission state colleges or community colleges, which have remained teaching-centric.

So I am talking about the changed economic and social bargain at any school that has created a situation where professors have shifted their teaching load to contingent faculty. This is not the community colleges, nor Oberlin et frères et sœurs. That renegotiated contract (both legal and social) is most visible at large institutions, both state schools and private ones like mine (NYU.)

The kittens are crying for their morning bagel, so more later.

37

Eric 06.09.15 at 12:05 am

Professors work long days, on weekends, on and off campus, and largely alone. Responsible for a growing number of administrative tasks, they also do research more on their own time than during the traditional work week. The biggest chunk of their time is spent teaching.

38

Tom Hurka 06.09.15 at 12:32 am

These are Canadian examples, but at both the University of Calgary, where I used to teach, and the University of Toronto, where I now am, the teaching load was 3-3 in the 1960s and is 2-2 now, in just the way Harry describes, with a graduate seminar included among the 4. This is precisely the development the OP describes.

At the same time, a Toronto colleague who taught in the 1960s says he had more free time then. The classes were much smaller, so there was less marking per class. There was less administration, because department heads pretty much ran things on their own. And there was much less professional service, i.e. less refereeing for journals, fewer tenure assessments for other universities, fewer reference letters for graduate and other students, fewer grant applications and letters of support for others’ grant applications, etc., etc. The public may not know how little we teach, but they also don’t know how much non-teaching, non-research activity we now do.

All that said, I’m sympathetic to the OP’s general line and will entirely understand if the public, who think even selective universities should be primarily focused on teaching, decide we’ve strayed too far from that and demand a rebalancing. After all, they’re paying for it all.

Chris @ 29 may be right that selective universities should offer “research-led teaching,” but it hardly follows that the current division between research and teaching is an unimpeachable ideal — there were very different teaching loads in the 1960s yet universities then had no difficulties hiring smart professors. My only wish is that any increase in teaching hours comes at the expense of all that refereeing, letter-writing, and admin. But that’s probably a wildly unrealistic wish.

39

Alexir 06.09.15 at 12:38 am

An interesting piece, and a good set of comments.
Some thoughts:

1) The tenure system is among the walking dead. Surely our administrators have noticed by now that contingent/adjunct/teaching faculty do a good enough job, and why shouldn’t they be let go when they seem to falter? It’s efficient and a better way to run the institution.

2) A teacher with an active research program is surely preferable to someone who simply teaches. I would much rather be taught by someone who spends a significant portion of their time thinking about the interesting things in their field than someone who has mastered the textbooks and maybe follows the literature. It makes a difference.

I have no ideas how tho make the while thing work, in this country.

40

mdc 06.09.15 at 1:03 am

” I would much rather be taught by someone who spends a significant portion of their time thinking about the interesting things in their field “

Me too. But although it does not necessarily entail “an active research program,” this sort of thinking is especially hard to maintain on a contingent/adjunct basis.

41

harry b 06.09.15 at 1:16 am

The thing about tenure is that it gives you a lot of freedom to decide how much of the various tasks Tom describes to do. And some people are much more desirable committee members than others (a brilliant and conscientious colleague was pissed off that someone on a committee we sit on together slept through most of each meetings, till I pointed out to her that it was way more efficient when he slept than when he was awake). I agree that people have very little idea how much non-teaching, non-research work we do — except, I should say, for students, who at my institution, anyway, are unduly appreciative of us just doing our job. (I find that small classes take much more time than large classes mainly because I find it easier to make the students talk to me out of class than in large classes, thus yielding more obligations to write letters etc — but 9 out of 10 people asking me for letter do so as if they are asking the moon, rather than asking me to do my job).

42

harry b 06.09.15 at 1:18 am

PS, I went to US News, and (very roughly, against a background of extremely loud piano music) counted the students in the institutions I think we are talking about — somewhere between 1.2 and 1.7 million, including the privates which seem to account for about 25%.

43

JW Mason 06.09.15 at 2:01 am

This is bullshit.

44

Eli Rabett 06.09.15 at 2:03 am

FWIW if the legislators have their way, graduate student mentoring will get redefined as teaching a course or two or three. Bet on it.

45

Alan White 06.09.15 at 2:17 am

As peer, Matt_L @ 27 speaks mostly to and for me. I’ve taught 4/4 for over three decades, and was expected to excel in teaching and publish as well to earn tenure. Well I did that, and continue to do that. The problem is that no one really cares that I do both: I’m judged by orchestrated political judgments of my flagship Madison.

I’m a nobody in the bottom-feeding institution of the UW System that currently is under the most viscous political attack in the US other than perhaps NC. Here conservatives have effectively employed the politics of resentment to justify ignoring the needs of the middle class by diverting attention to the supposed “haves” in public employ who don’t work enough, are too privileged, have too many benefits, etc. Just yesterday one of the most powerful voices in the state stated flatly ” I don’t really support tenure, period” characterizing it as a “job for life.” Such oversimplifications and distortions have strong political legs, and though they are directed at Madison “haves,” everyone in UW is painted with the same brush. So though I only earn about half of many colleagues at my Full rank at Madison, I’m as much a “have” as they. Not that I’m ungrateful for my career–I am truly blessed to have had what I’ve had–or that my colleagues at Madison deserve less than they earn–they earn every penny. It’s this damn effective job of oversimplification, diversion, and distortion that maddens me. All the while legislatures underfund public institutions, freeze tuitions, and complain about the high cost of education while cutting taxes for corporations.

But this isn’t about costs, or privilege, tenure, or the “haves”. This is about a comprehensive long-term strategy to move education from K-PhD public resources to private ones. Why? Because private ones will share at least one of two staunch conservative values: devotion to matters of property/money (and servitude to holders of such) and Western Christianity (politically skewed toward conservative Protestantism of course). And the hoped-for result is to hold on to a large-scale political base generationally, and in part by blunting the effect of demographic changes away from presently-conservative Caucasian male voters through “proper” indoctrination of everyone they can channel through private education (Did you hear what Texas did with history texts today? Moses made a Founding Father in effect.). Can you say “private-school vouchers,” which are set to expand indefinitely in my state? Is there any other legit reason for these (what I think are wildly unconstitutional) diversions of taxes to private schools?

46

Clay Shirky 06.09.15 at 3:17 am

I realize, reading the comments, that the core point of the original post is the one that T #12, Harry #13, and Matt #27 focused on, which is that the social compact has changed without the public being aware of it.

I have also, in classic blog-style, conflated two issues into one post, when I should have separated them. A shift away from teaching to research (issue #1) is only a problem when the resulting shortfall is filled with adjuncts (issue #2) — CalTech will remain unperturbed. Meanwhile, the use of adjuncts to fill teaching loads for any other reason is also a problem, because it leaves the same gap between who is getting paid and who is doing the teaching.

And it is that shift (issue #2, in all its forms) I think the public does not understand.

This is something about college that ‘everybody knows’, which is to say that the insiders know it and the outsiders (students, parents, voters, taxpayers) do not. Since time immemorial (aka. since at least Bologna in 1088), the logic of organized payments from students has been to support teaching. (I mean, we don’t call it ‘researchition.’) Once tuition started supporting the institution that supports the teaching (a medieval innovation), it became possible to create both faculty salaries and administrative superstructure, but even in that model, tuition was still legitimated by its support of teaching.

In the U.S., we have, in the 40 years since the end of our Golden Age, reversed that millenium-old rationale. (It’s not often that you get to write ‘millenium-old’ and mean it, but straight up.) Adjunctification has created a system where in some semesters, a single student can pay in more than the fees received by all her teachers that semester, if those teachers are contingent faculty. There has always been overhead, but I will submit that that is an extreme the public does not understand. (Expressed in this chart http://www.aaup.org/sites/default/files/files/2015salarysurvey/Fig4.pdf, roughly.)

The most cogent criticism of my speculation about scandal is, of course, “N’unh uh!”, a counter-argument to which I admit I do not have a good response, so let me lay out, in the manner of a lawyer’s brief rather than a philosophical argument, why this might turn into a scandal, despite the fact that this transition has been going on for decades without a peep.

1. The public no longer regards us as secular priests

The continue decoupling from ‘classes taught’ to ‘compensation received’ is coming at a time when we are also being de-churched, to use Gaye Tuchman’s phrase. If the question of why we are to be given public dollars then left to self-regulate becomes general (a big, question-begging If, I grant you), it will be hard for our response not to sound like special pleading, since few academics would advocate self-regulation as a model for e.g. lawyers, doctors, politicians, or banks.

This, I think, is the point I took from Daniel’s post. One thing we learned from the financial crisis is that over time, self-regulating systems aren’t. After Fr. John Geoghan, LIBOR, and the NSA’s ‘Pokemon for phone calls’ program, the public’s faith in “We will control our own misbehavior” has been…somewhat reduced.

2. The public thinks we owe their children effective teaching

The sense that senior faculty is unaccountable for the one task the public expects of us is not, I think, wrong. The average citizen could offer a basic account of what would get a lawyer disbarred or a doctor stripped of their licence. Ask how a Professor who is bad at teaching could get fired, however, and they’ll be stumped. (It is, of course, a trick question.) At NYU, I am ashamed to say, if a course is both required and only offered by a single professor, students aren’t even _allowed_ to read their peers’ assessments of his or her teaching abilities.

3. We run job training programs, even when we don’t admit it

The connection between getting a degree and getting a good job has always been far more direct in the public’s view than in ours. Between the end of WWII and the end of the 20th century, this was not much of a problem. In those bountiful years, both faculty and students could pretend the salary boost we reliably delivered was merely a happy side-effect of everyone’s interest in learning the best that has been thought and said.

I was a student in the 1980s, and had faculty demanded we drop and give them five, any one of us could have produced a handful genuflections to the life of the mind without breaking a sweat. And then, after graduation, a good chunk of my classmates went to work at banks and ad agencies anyway. We all knew that college was a precursor to work, or to grad school then work, but we also knew we were expected to deny this if asked.

The difference between us then and students today is not that we were noble and todays’ students are not. I teach undergraduates, and I’m struck by how much more serious many of them are than I was at their age. They work harder, but fewer of them have been socialized into the organized hypocrisy that my cohort took for granted. They are less willing to pretend that college is somehow disconnected from the real world, as are their parents.

Since 2000, the lifetime value of a BA from a state school (the sweet light crude of US education, our benchmark product) has fallen, even as costs continue to rise. This is new — the relative value of a basic college education has continued to rise only because people with only high school educations are now more fucked than ever, not because the absolute returns to a college education are rising.

This fall in value is not our doing, of course, but neither was the rise in value in the post-war period. So long as the link was never too explicit, we were happy to take a kind of indirect credit for the awesome engine of the American economy, but now those economics have turned against us. The public wants us to go back to doing what we used to do — offer cheap, valuable credentials — and we don’t know how.

4. We have become essential

Separate from their understanding of tuition and teaching, public opinion is moving against us. At the turn of the century, only around a third of Americans thought a college education was necessary to make it into the middle class, while nearly half though that anyone who wanted to attend college could do so. College was thought of, as in most of American history, as an attainable option. Less than ten years later, those numbers have reversed, with over half the public saying that college is necessary, but only a third or so saying that anyone who wants to can go.

The public now regards college as an unattainable necessity. In working democracies (another big If), these circumstances don’t last.

5. The peasants are revolting

Non-tenured faculty are complaining — quite rightly — that they are doing a majority of the job parents and taxpayers are paying for. Their demands, mild by activist standards, are that they should be paid a living wage and given a say in institutional governance. Such changes would be both sensible and transformative; a campus where non-tenured faculty can make a living and have a say in governance will destroy the consulting firm model (well-paid senior people re-sell the services of cheap junior staff) we have latterly adopted.

This puts tenured faculty and senior administrators in a bind. We don’t have very good explanations for why contingent faculty should accept a system more arbitrary in hiring than Hollywood casting and more abusive to junior employees than a law firm, but we have gone so long exploiting adjunct labor that a non-exploitative system will amount to a transformation, not merely an adjustment.

47

js. 06.09.15 at 3:20 am

As “scandals” in academia go, “professors don’t spend enough time teaching” is the one with basically zero merit. So yeah, it’s probably the one that’ll catch fire.

48

mdc 06.09.15 at 3:33 am

“Such changes would be both sensible and transformative; a campus where non-tenured faculty can make a living and have a say in governance will destroy the consulting firm model (well-paid senior people re-sell the services of cheap junior staff) we have latterly adopted.

This puts tenured faculty and senior administrators in a bind.”

Maybe some see this as a bind, but not any faculty I know. Sounds like a transformation all to the good. (Of course, there are already institutions without adjuncts. The rest will have to look to them as models, presumably.) Was it even tenured faculty that urged adjunctification in the first place? Part of the “transformation” might require stronger faculty governance across the board.

49

js. 06.09.15 at 3:34 am

Actually, I think this analysis makes a mistake similar to the kind of mistake made in general analyses of the modern economy where people said things like, the top quintile’s doing great, the rest, not so much. And then it turned out that really the 1% or 0.1% were the ones doing great, and even the bottom half of the top quintile was flatlining.

Similarly, I think there’s a genuine “1% problem” (“star faculty”) problem in academia. There is really no problem at all as regards tenured faculty not doing enough teaching. (And just to be clear, I say this as someone who (a) is not an academic, tho was trained to be one, (b) barely makes a middle class income.)

50

LFC 06.09.15 at 3:44 am

Clay Shirky @46, point #3:

I was a student in the 1980s, and had faculty demanded we drop and give them five, any one of us could have produced a handful [of] genuflections to the life of the mind without breaking a sweat. And then, after graduation, a good chunk of my classmates went to work at banks and ad agencies anyway. We all knew that college was a precursor to work, or to grad school then work, but we also knew we were expected to deny this if asked.

The difference between us then and students today is not that we were noble and todays’ students are not. I teach undergraduates, and I’m struck by how much more serious many of them are than I was at their age. They work harder, but fewer of them have been socialized into the organized hypocrisy that my cohort took for granted. They are less willing to pretend that college is somehow disconnected from the real world, as are their parents.

I was an undergraduate in the late 1970s and I recall no such “organized hypocrisy” as that described by Clay Shirky. A lot of us were interested, I suppose, in getting some kind of liberal education and reading some good stuff, but most of us (I mean me and my classmates) were all conscious of the looming job market after graduation, which contrary to Clay Shirky’s implication, was not very good in those years, and competition for places in the ‘top’ professional schools was at that time (as it still is, only more so) quite fierce, even for graduates of ‘elite’ universities. (In my case, for example, I did not get into a prestigious law school, even though I had graduated from a prestigious college. One’s “numbers” mattered, not just where one had gone for one’s BA.) And to get back to the main point, everyone knew that college, for the majority, was a precursor to work or to professional schools whose credentials furnished entry into a particular career (e.g., law, medicine, business, etc.). And no one, if asked by a professor or instructor (which we never were, but if we had been), would have been, contrary to Clay Shirky’s statement, “expected to deny this.” (If anything, there was concern in at least a few quarters that college was too tightly connected to subsequent employment and careers and “success,” and this was already true in the 1970s and 1980s.)

One difference now, of course, is that the costs of college in many cases have risen significantly, which has put an additional layer of pressure on students. But the organized hypocrisy that Shirky thinks existed, the idea that college-as-a-prerequisite-to-career was a hush-hush thing that everyone knew but “was expected to deny,” does not resonate at all with my own, I hazard to say not atypical (for a particular slice of U.S. higher education), experience. I think this particular point of Shirky’s is just wrong.

51

christian_h 06.09.15 at 3:55 am

I have to say I am now really having trouble following the argument. If the reason people allegedly will storm the ivory tower is that tuition is now more than teaching labor is paid then my research 1 school (UCLA) for example is out of the argument at least for CA students, and the whole post applies to private schools with high tuition and a lot of adjunct teaching – that is, it applies only to NYU. Or is the argument that state funds (such as they are now) as well should be appropriated for teaching only? In this case I will register my very strong disagreement – on what planet is research not in the public interest? I agree of course that contingent faculty receive a raw deal from both administrations and tenured colleagues. But I don’t see how that will bring out the pitchforks. Quite the opposite in fact – the politicians very much want a system where research is separate from instruction, andconcentrated at elite institutions, it seems to me.

52

js. 06.09.15 at 3:58 am

Sorry, I’m finding this surprisingly annoying. So one more comment. At the kinds of institutions you’re talking about, and even at some where the standard teaching load is higher than 2-2, faculty are hired on a 40/40/20 (teaching/research/service) basis. Remember, this is their job description. This isn’t, oh everyone does it and we know everyone does it. This is: these are the terms you were hired on. Two classes (per semester) equals 5 instruction hours/wk, give or take. On the very minimal standard of 2-1 outside-class time/instruction hours, that’s 15 hr/wk. Assuming a 40-hr week, that works out to just about 40%. Now, other than a few exceptional lazy fucks, I’ve known basically no one who spends as little as 15 hours/wk on teaching with a 2-2 load. Perhaps your experience has been different.

But look, you want to change the job description, change the terms of tenure evaluation? Great! I’m all for it. But until that happens, the idea that “faculty don’t teach enough” is kinda like “oh, of course we use public funds to buy ourselves mansions”, and “oh, of course we tap everyone’s phone, how else we gonna get the latest scoop!?” is nonsense.

53

LFC 06.09.15 at 4:00 am

christian_h @51
the whole post applies to private schools with high tuition and a lot of adjunct teaching – that is, it applies only to NYU

well, probably not *only* NYU. I think I can name at least one other private school with relatively high tuition and a fair amount of reliance on adjuncts (certainly relative to some of its peers). But the universe to which this aspect of the argument applies may be a pretty restricted one.

54

geo 06.09.15 at 4:29 am

@46: We all knew that college was a precursor to work

I think you mean “prelude” rather than “precursor.”A precursor is a herald or forerunner; something that announces what is to come. It has an intrinsic relation to what follows. If the above sentence were true, it would mean that everyone regarded the purpose of college as primarily vocational. That’s not true even now, though of course it’s been getting closer to true as the prosperity and liberal social policies of the postwar decades have waned.

At least some people have always gone to college for the pleasure of learning, rather than for “cheap, valuable credentials.” Learning is a pleasure, one of life’s keenest, and a decent society ought to afford it to people who want it — whether in or outside of college — for a good deal longer than merely through mid-adolescence (ie., high school). Training people for employment should be delayed as late as the society can afford to, just as the retirement age ought to be as early as the society can afford. (And even then, businesses ought to supply most of the training, since it’s pretty well known that most useful skills are learned on the job.)

You’ve heard this from me before, Clay: one shouldn’t simply accept that our society can’t afford to finance a good deal more liberal education than it does; nor, for that matter, that employment must be as scarce, insecure, and drudging as it increasingly is. The pressures on students and faculty do not result from the eternal nature of things but from neoliberal priorities — for privatizing education, for tolerating high unemployment, for discouraging labor unions, for minimal and regressive taxation. Unless those are obstinately challenged and ultimately reversed, we won’t get the “transformation” you (we) hope for.

55

Clay Shirky 06.09.15 at 5:00 am

LFC at 50 and 53, I certainly accept that different schools had and have different attitudes towards professional vs. academic bias among the students. I’ll retract the point.

To the larger issue, however, “the universe to which this aspect of the argument applies may be a pretty restricted one” I don’t think is the case. The shift to contingent faculty, and the public’s incomprehension of same, is pretty broad-based in 4 year colleges, both public and private. (See the AAUP chart I posted in the earlier comment.)

And I’m not saying that there is some obvious solution here. In fact, I think the lack of a solution is part of what may make this into a scandal, in Daniel’s original sense. The public is retracting their previous sense of “We don’t care how you do what you do”, because the process is neither as cheap nor as beneficial as this used to be, but we don’t know any way to go back to offering cheap degrees that generate rising market outcomes for their holders.

This is related to Christian #51: “Or is the argument that state funds (such as they are now) as well should be appropriated for teaching only? In this case I will register my very strong disagreement – on what planet is research not in the public interest?”

My answer to that is neither “Yes, research is in the public interest” nor “No, it is not”, because as faculty, my opinion on the issue doesn’t pertain to the likelihood of public upset. Instead, my answer is we don’t know what the public thinks about the issue, because the shift to research as an expectation for an increasing number of faculty is historically recent, and was not the subject of much public conversation as it was happening.

And dc #48, the change would only be all to the good if a) it were easy to get funds for paying adjuncts a living wage without reconfiguring other aspects of institutional life and b) tenured faculty were willing to treat their adjunct colleagues as colleagues. Neither of those requirements seems to me to be in the bag.

56

Bruce Webb 06.09.15 at 5:44 am

Well I see a problem right here

“Since time immemorial (aka. since at least Bologna in 1088), the logic of organized payments from students has been to support teaching. (I mean, we don’t call it ‘researchition.’) Once tuition started supporting the institution that supports the teaching (a medieval innovation), it became possible to create both faculty salaries and administrative superstructure, but even in that model, tuition was still legitimated by its support of teaching.”

Because between Bologna in 1088 and R1 US Universities in 2015 came about 800 years of OxBridge. And until a few decades ago Oxford and Cambridge were not organized along the same lines as their Continental counterparts Bologna and the University of Paris, indeed it is hard to say they were tuition based at all. What you had is a whole complex of Colleges with different levels of endowment and different teaching missions that hired Fellows, Lecturers and Tutors in an uneasy relation with a University that hired Professors. Almost all of whom (or maybe all) also were housed in Colleges. Well the OxBridge system is complex and changed over time but cast its shadow on the U.S. system that initially tried to mirror it. Which maybe worked somewhat when American academia meant Harvard and Yale but became a little twisted when premier research universities incorporated institutions like the University of Wisconsin and UC Berkeley. A Professor at Cambridge 100 years ago generally had an obligation to deliver a big L ‘Lecture’ and was expected to do research but IIRC mostly only had teaching duties in conjunction with his (and it was all ‘his’ then) concurent position in his College. But in the U.S. (and I suppose OxBridge in the last 60 years) this bifurcation between University and College, between Professor and Fellow or Lecturer or Tutor has collapsed. To the point that at the Community College I just returned to at an advanced age (twenty five years after graduate studies at Berkeley) it was common to call every teacher ‘Professor’. Which in my day would have caused any given member of the Berkeley Academic Senate to have a stroke.

I don’t suppose there is any way out of this trap. The fact is that UW Madison 2015 is not Cambridge 1888 and still less are the other UW campuses. Yet is seems that all these institutions are ensnared in a model that had OxBridge Professors tout court soaring above the fray of College level teaching. Except and unless they had what were in effect dual appointments with University and College. Which of course is where all U.S. tenured ‘Professors’ are today.

If it was as easy as students paying tuition to Professors at the University of Paris in 1216. There it was a nice simple exchange of money for teaching value.

57

Harold 06.09.15 at 6:01 am

There are several issues here. The hierarchical attitude of academia is deplorable. Leet me suggest that not only should faculty treat adjuncts as colleagues but they should also treat community college and high school teachers as colleagues. And as a start, they could begin by treating each other as colleagues. As a student I vividly remember occasions when professors in certain departments snubbed each other in the halls and there was backbiting and bitter complaining about each other in the classroom, and the resultant atmosphere was horrible, and I have heard horrible stories of conflict and craziness from relatives who were either administrators or professors. Perhaps this is the seamy underside of every profession, who knows? Nevertheless, I never personally came across a professor who did not give his or her all and more to the students as well as doing administrative and committee work. It is remarkable, really.

The problem lies in the reluctance of legislators to pay for the cost of educating the citizenry combined with the desire of politicians to seize control these institutions for their own purposes.

http://m.thenation.com/article/209289-how-right-wing-political-machine-dismantling-higher-education-north-carolina

58

Chris Bertram 06.09.15 at 6:40 am

@Tom Hurka “Chris @ 29 may be right that selective universities should offer “research-led teaching,” “

Chris put things in conditional terms.

59

T 06.09.15 at 11:02 am

Clay @46
I would add that the change in the social compact is being spearheaded by right-wing politicians as mentioned by Harold in 57. These folks took away tenure from secondary teachers and gutted the union in Wisconsin and now they’re going after the public university. They view the professoriate as liberal Democrats as they did the unionized primary and secondary teachers. They don’t want state money or state-conferred benefits like tenure bestowed upon the enemy. In many states, the target is also the humanities and certain social sciences which they consider basically leftist propaganda and not scholarship at all (unlike the good old days.) This view is particularly strongly held by the TP types and some of the evangelicals. When everything is viewed through the lens of power, cutting tenure is just taking power away from your enemy. And when state money is short, it is time to pounce. The leadership of these groups have been very successful at moving the Overton window.

As an aside, I’d like to hear from faculty at public institutions located in rural areas. My impression is that rural communities are more hostile to teachers/professors in their midst because a tenured job, whether at the U or or in elementary and secondary ed, is a really good job. And there is pent-up resentment of public employees who they think get the summer off, don’t spend a lot of time in class teaching, and have incredible job security. The right-wing media seems fully on board with is view. Do I have this right?

60

kidneystones 06.09.15 at 12:05 pm

@59 “When everything is viewed through the lens of power…” A very large number of academics I know are absolutely tribal in their disdain for any idea, or individual, tainted by conservatism. One of my best recent memories is of an oxbridge poli-sci grad shrieking that I was the ‘very first person he’d heard slagging President Drone-strike.’ Bubble-heads doesn’t quite cover it. The recent CT discussion of Kipnis devolved, in part, into a debate over whether Kipnis was providing the right-wing with ammo.

Much of the current problems in academia are of ‘our’ own making, at least in the humanities. Many teachers do see themselves as secular priests and priestesses and given the fact many happen to be public employees, many taxpayers who happen to hold beliefs quite different from those of their ‘moral superiors’ in the teachers’ unions, are understandably unhappy paying to have their children taught nonsense, and worse, in their view. Creation science is a case in point. I do teach religious and cultural values in my classes on history and culture, and not one student has come away from a discussion of the biblical creation myth saying ‘so… that’s what happened.’

We too often run away from ideas we don’t like and recast ideas we don’t support, or that threaten our sacred values, in the worst possible light. There are large numbers of CT readers who never read the modern conservative press, or do so only to find evidence of their own moral superiority. How can we possibly explain to our students ‘this is what conservatives think’ when we have no idea ourselves?

Elite institutions will survive on pedigree power alone. MOOCs and high-quality competition from the ‘third world’ will likely take over the rest. Students paying to be on campus can then concentrate on hook-ups, getting high, online gaming, and athletics.

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AcademicLurker 06.09.15 at 12:18 pm

Good lord, “secular priesthood” is an old standby from the Science Wars of the 90s. New empty pejoratives, please.

62

casmilus 06.09.15 at 12:35 pm

Guys, guys, Rod Dreher has just hit on the same topic:

http://www.theamericanconservative.com/dreher/valorizing-deadbeats-student-loans/

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casmilus 06.09.15 at 12:38 pm

Is Rod simply plagiarising CT now?

“I am reminded of the Goldman Sachs executive testifying in 2010 before the Senate, trying to explain to Sen. Carl Levin why he and his team sold to unsuspecting clients a financial product that they all knew was a “shitty deal” (this was the phrase the man used in his e-mail to other Goldman execs). They didn’t care. They were rich, and their wealth was in part built on defrauding those suckers who didn’t have as much information or power as they did. And we all know how Goldman Sachs and its ilk suffered for their sins after the crash, and were held to account for their behavior. (Heavy sarcasm.)

When it comes to higher education today and student loans, who are the people within the systems — financial, governmental, educational — pushing deals they know are “shitty” onto students and their families?”

64

mdc 06.09.15 at 1:17 pm

“…if a) it were easy to get funds for paying adjuncts a living wage without reconfiguring other aspects of institutional life and b) tenured faculty were willing to treat their adjunct colleagues as colleagues.”

It sure won’t be easy, mostly because quality education is just damn expensive, even when you take out ‘administrative bloat’ and climbing walls. But some places really have resisted adjunctification. Why did they do it, and how?

65

Marc 06.09.15 at 2:01 pm

@60: There is a basic problem with MOOCs: they don’t actually work, and they could only replace a small fraction of the typical undergraduate curriculum in any case. The upper division courses for majors aren’t profitable enough and they have too much overhead (e.g. you actually have to write and read essays on non-mechanical topics, grade complex problem sets, and so forth.) Online education has a terrible reputation for cause – note that this is different from adult enrichment, which is a very promising area.

More to the point, we’re seeing in both health care and education that things which can’t continue don’t. The escalating tuition in state universities was driven largely by defunding, which has now run its course. That’s why tuition rose so much more in them than in private schools, and it’s why they’re used as poster children for out of control tuition raises. In my state the tuition has been frozen at state schools since 2011 and is up less than 10% since 2006 – well below inflation. The headline numbers also don’t include scholarships – a large fraction of the sticker price from wealthy families is used to fund them for median earners. (Out of state and international tuition is on an escalator to fund in-state…but that’s a different story.) Something similar is occurring in health care spending.

So the idea that we can’t afford a traditional college education just isn’t so; universities can educate students at around the current spending levels without gutting the system.

66

Barry 06.09.15 at 2:17 pm

This might be a side note, but ‘the peasants are revolting’ (meaning adjuncts) is IMHO very wrong. The ‘golden age’ of Ph.D. to tenure-track job was over in the 1970’s, which means about 40 years ago. The Ph.D. system is quite deliberately set up to generate a very large excess of Ph.D. students for the sole purpose of cheap labor. It has been successful for decades, and is still drawing in a lot of ‘fresh meat’.

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Donald A. Coffin 06.09.15 at 2:43 pm

I thought I’d answer Ingrid’s questions, based on my life at a second (or third) tier public institution. This is, of course, anecdote, not evidence:

if you have a 2/2 teaching load, I take it (from Harry’s comment) that this is for the length of a semester. Is this 15 weeks, or less?

Fifteen weeks.

How many hours per week do you give class, and how many hours do you have tutorials etc.?

A standard 3-credit-hour course meets for 150 minutes per week. At my institution, the standard load for tenure-track/tenured faculty is 3 courses per semester (we also had research obligations and significant service obligations; failure to meet the research obligations leads to termination for tenure-track faculty and to an increased teaching load–4-4–for tenured); full-time, continuing lecturers (with no research obligations and minimal service obligations) is 4 courses per semester.

How many students in one class?

In my case, I averaged about 120 students per semester.

How many assignments for each student to grade per course?

Contingent on the course. In introductory economics, 3 tests and daily quizzes. In upper-division courses, three tests, 5-8 assignment, In MBA courses, 8-10 assignments plus a major team project.

Do you have teaching assistants to help you with the grading or with the tutorials?

TAs? Never in my life.

How does the supervision of PhD students fit in – is this all on top of the 2/2 (or 4/4) and how many PhD students do professors on average supervise?

Not part of my job.

What’s missing here is consideration of time spent preparing the course. I know that many people think we prepare the course once, and teach it forever. For me, anyway, it did not work that way (I’m retired). Over the 25 years I spent at my final institution, I taught at least 18 different courses, including developing and teaching a new, required (for business majors) course in my last two years. Teaching macro economics really does require on-going revisions in the course, because things change. (The same is true, to a lesser extent, in micro. But the developments in game theory and in auction theory really led to major revisions in my managerial econ class.) One needs to write new test questions and new assignments. Even on a commuter campus, as mine was, things are available. So, for the 7.5 hours a week I spent in the classroom each week, I spent something upward of (an average of) 20 hours per week on preparation and grading.

The remaining time–roughly another 20 hours per week–was spent on internal “service” activities (committee meetings, etc.), external service (talks to business groups, interviews with local media–I did almost no consulting, etc.) or on research.

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eric titus 06.09.15 at 2:45 pm

Is it just me, or are you dramatically overthinking the attack on the educational system. In most parts of the country, this attack is driven by (1) skepticism of public institutions and (2) belief that colleges represent bastions of liberalism. When critics of colleges call for more teaching, it’s usually to defend spending cuts–not to improve the educational system! If anything, many profs have been quiet in the face of these attacks (perhaps cynically assuming that their tenured positions are secure).

The various “crises” in academia shouldn’t lead us to valorize attempts to cut educational funding. And there are serious crises! The growth of adjuncts is certainly one of them. I’d say an even bigger issue is the echo chamber effect of research for other academics. This would be all well and good if academics were a “secular priesthood,” that was actually turned to for advice and opinion. But since we generally aren’t (at least in the social sciences and humanities) it’s worth thinking about how to actively make our research relatable outside academia. And that also means recognizing (geo@54) that college is not just about training for jobs, it imparts leisure habits and perspectives that students will use outside of work. This side of college is just as important, but has been marginalized even while “democratizing” higher education.

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bianca steele 06.09.15 at 2:56 pm

It also seems to me this (particular bill) is a sized-up version of the politics of local school bond issues. There are a small number of questions that are usually at issue, and hours worked is one of them–and could conceivably lead to actual change. What the education prepares the students for is not, except in the crudest way–it’s not at all obvious how a scandal involving that could get going.

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T 06.09.15 at 3:32 pm

@ 61 Academic Lurker

TP folks think “people like you” hate them. They’ve told me exactly that. And they have no problem taking power and money from people who hate them. Zero. And yes, the problem is most profound in the humanities. Many legislatures are now TP dominated. You either have to change the legislatures or convince them you don’t hate them. The general dynamics outlined by Clay @46 may generate a coalition with more moderate voters to go after tenure on a broader scale as the Overton window slides right on this issue.

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Salem 06.09.15 at 4:51 pm

T @ 70:

But Tea Party folks aren’t exactly wrong to think academics hate them. Oh, maybe you can quibble with “hate,” but a more exact description (contempt?) isn’t going to placate either.

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T 06.09.15 at 5:05 pm

Salem @71

Some do but a lot don’t. You even see exceptions for STEM departments in some the legislatures when discussing funding cuts. But is certainly the impression the TPers have. And that’s not a good thing for the future of funding and tenure if they continue to control legislatures.

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TSH 06.09.15 at 6:49 pm

As a consumer of the college output, an education, for me and my 3 children, I find stumbling on this article and thread rather interesting. My observations are:
1. It is interesting to see the “teachers” (people employed to educate by the universities) respond to analyze and/or challenge the workload figures in this piece.
2. I do not believe that was the theme of the piece and as others have pointed out, perpetuates what I believe to be the inevitable
3. I believe the “inevitable” is the consumers of the colleges/universities output will no longer find the cost v. value compelling and will cease to purchase the goods being peddled
4. I speak of this as one who is of the age where my oldest will be making college visits this summer and many of my peers are about to send their first off to college and the conversation inevitably turns to, ” Do you remember when that $2500 Pell Grant got you through almost an entire semester of school?”
The “public” as is so quaintly referred to here IS starting to notice and is evaluating the cost v. return on education. “Education” and learning have been profoundly affected by technology just like most other areas of life.

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Blain 06.09.15 at 6:52 pm

Harry said (#13): “The tone-deafness of the [UW] faculty response is embarrassing.”

What is ‘tone-deaf’ about worrying about the end of tenure and shared governance – and hence academic freedom? Is the response ‘tone-deaf’ simply because most people outside of academia don’t care about academic freedom?
(What is happening in UW right now is not about teaching loads, it’s about political power.)

Also, great post from Alan White (#45) – thanks!

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SG 06.09.15 at 7:29 pm

@Blain: You’re right that what’s happening in Wisconsin is about political power. That’s why the faculty response has been so lame. Even if you write off the governor and some elements of the legislature as ideologically opposed, arguments for financial support and employment protections that are based on values that public doesn’t share aren’t going to be *politically* effective.

It’s difficult to express how little anyone outside the academy cares about shared governance, tenure, institutional prestige, or non-STEM research. Maybe they’re misguided, but their votes count anyway. Any successful defense of public higher ed has to appeal to goals that ordinary people do care about: undergraduate teaching, affordability, and career preparation.

And not only in words. It might help if universities and departments would do more to show that they take these things seriously. It’s true that most faculty are not TT and more universities are not R1. But symbolism matters–the sweet deals for that elite enjoy at the flagships damages the credibility of everyone down the line.

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Scott P. 06.09.15 at 7:46 pm

“Now imagine that Jorge had showed up, brandishing that magazine, to a Faculty Senate meeting. He would have been thrown out. Tenured faculty won’t let adjuncts play in any reindeer games, but our institutions won’t tell the public which teachers are and aren’t ‘real’ faculty either. “

I don’t know about your institution, but our Academic Senate voted last year to allow contingent faculty representation on the Senate.

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harry b 06.09.15 at 7:49 pm

Examples of tone-deafeness:
1) An essay by a colleague I read last night saying that she was taking solace by working in her garden all day, but also implying that she was doing so instead of going to a faculty meeting (ie, that it was a workday).

http://www.damemagazine.com/2015/06/07/can-university-wisconsin-survive-governor-walker

2) This faculty statement:

https://docs.google.com/viewerng/viewer?url=http://profs.wisc.edu/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/faculty_statement3.pdf&hl=en

manages to make no mention at all of the benefits tenure and academic freedom might have for the the public, or to the residents of Wisconsin, or even for the undergraduate students (except, very indirectly, by enabling us to remove the speech code, but of course it also enabled us to impose the speech code). Its all about “our” academic freedom, and not about what we are thereby enabled to contribute to the public good. It makes us seem like we live in a world apart, and we sound entitled.

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Blain 06.09.15 at 8:01 pm

So more emphasis should be placed on stressing the importance of academic freedom for effective teaching? I certainly would agree with that!

But my impression is that many faculty and other (sympathetic outside) commenters are stressing the “economic benefits” to Wisconsin of UW research and teaching, and that academic freedom is important for realizing *those* benefits.

Maybe those arguments are tone-deaf vis-a-vis the general public, but it’s not obvious to me why.

(This is in reply to #74 and #76.)

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Blain 06.09.15 at 8:02 pm

Er, my reply (#78) was to #75 and #77 (SG and harry b).

80

SG 06.09.15 at 8:14 pm

Well, consider the letter Harry B. linked. How effectively do you think it links governance and employment issues with public concerns? Or look at this op-ed:

http://www.jsonline.com/news/opinion/threats-to-shared-governance-and-tenure-put-mission-of-uw-at-risk-b99514236z1-306342391.html

It seems to me that teaching and students are mentioned only as boilerplate. The emphasis is on research and faculty interests.

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Blain 06.09.15 at 8:25 pm

SG, I do not deny that there may be many ‘tone-deaf’ statements out there. And perhaps I’m not ‘hearing’ them as such because I’m naturally sympathetic to academic freedom for a variety of different reasons.

But I also have read many comments that try to appeal to the interests of the public at large. E.g.: http://host.madison.com/news/opinion/column/article_4bf9c282-e58c-5d85-a77f-324bcb95b5ed.html#.VXczu96hhAx.twitter

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Sebastian H 06.09.15 at 9:26 pm

I think that craziness over school loans is likely to be the trigger of a major academic scandal, but Clay may be right that it ends up centering on the fact that lots of professors don’t teach as much as the general public imagines. TSH has a big portion of the focus right: that the increasing costs and declining utility of a degree are making people re-evaluate the hallowed halls of a university (perhaps seeing them as a necessary evil rather than a positive good.) Essentially it is true that college still puts you in a better position than people who don’t have a degree (mostly because they are totally screwed, rather than that college graduates are doing better). But the interesting frame is: the university and the federal government are capturing a huge portion of that money through loans.

Imagine what the Tea Party could do with that lens: the government not only gets increased tax revenue from your college degree, it also captures a huge portion of the college education premium through loans.

Hmmmmm.

83

christian_h 06.09.15 at 9:40 pm

Well maybe if the American people in their majority do not see that research is important they deserve the world they make for themselves. If they equally think that education is not for the patriots they believe they are let them be uneducated (preferably of course take their nukes away first). On some level arguing in a way that engages such people’s prejudices is both useless (since they are in fact driven by a peculiarly American anti-intellectualism) and worse, counterproductive – since it concedes the terrain without a battle.

This is not to say that we as faculty aren’t doing a terrible job connecting our struggle to those of other workers. Or that we as academia generally don’t all too often see education in its real meaning (not measurable by course credits) as a sideshow to stroking our individual and institutional ego by accumulating research prestige. All true. But also not likely to convince the Walker supporters of this world, who are fundamentally opposed to educating the whole human being in the first place.

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christian_h 06.09.15 at 9:46 pm

My last comment sounds cranky because I am depressed when I see on a lefty-ish academic blog an argument play out where the basic ideological battle has been surrendered without a fight. We are arguing about whether customers purchasing through tuition and taxes certain goods and services receive their money’s worth. And how we could convince them that they do in fact get what they paid for. No thanks.

85

Michael Cain 06.09.15 at 11:44 pm

Barry @66
The ratio of PhD students to faculty is, in at least some fields, as important in research as it is in teaching. I clearly recall my days as a near-minimum-wage no-benefits research assistant, hired because “all research has a certain amount of scut work” but in practice expected to provide (in one case in particular) not only data entry but skilled analysis and sophisticated programming as well. I have occasionally wondered how long academic research would survive, and in what form, if the lead researchers were required to pay the same prices as corporate research does for the support staff.

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Nick 06.09.15 at 11:46 pm

In answer to #63 above, here is one example — any graduate program that admits large numbers of students, has minimal practical applications, in a field where TT jobs are rare and obscenely competetive, and does not fully fund PhD students. That’s a shitty deal, because it encourages magical thinking in students who think that they will, if they pursue their dream, win the lottery.

87

T 06.10.15 at 12:13 am

harry b @77

Exactly.

Your natural allies are the alumni. The have the most at stake since their personal/professional reputation is tied to the school’s reputation and once they graduate they can’t switch their alma mater like faculty switch jobs. Also, the emotional attachment. They really would hate to see the school’s reputation go to shit for both reasons. There should be a bunch of good will there. If you’ve already lost the alumni, you’re screwed. Anyway, my two sense.

88

kidneystones 06.10.15 at 12:35 am

@ 61 Re: ‘secular priests’ and empty [dated] perjoratives. Here’s a friendly comment from one CT commenter to another on another active thread:

‘The scandal is that World Cup stadiums are being built in dangerous conditions by what is essentially slave labour. Whether 1200 people died or whether it was only 800 isn’t really the essential point. People with morals understand that. People without pose as contrarians in internet comment threads. I guess we know which one you are.’

The author:
a/ explicitly claims to be one of the people possessing morals
b/ identifies another group who have none
c/ sets up a ‘we’ community value to isolate and shun the ‘non-moral’

Your reading of the secular priests as a perjorative clearly confirms your hostilities and biases, biases identified by T in @70, and some of the problems your hostility creates.

My own view is that conservatives and liberals have much more in common than either group normally allows. Education seems to me important enough to set aside tribal politics and work towards common positive outcomes. But that’s just me.

89

Dave 06.10.15 at 1:52 am

I think it’s absolutely correct that the public is beginning to understand that the social compact between universities and themselves changed without their consent. You can quibble with the particulars of this understanding, but it’s a fool’s errand.

Seems like the faculty in this thread don’t really want to hear this kind of thing. But it’s true, when people learn about the teaching setup in higher ed, they know it smells bad. And they know that profs with tenure are the villains in this story. Don’t kid yourselves about that.

Maybe shifting public attitudes won’t lead to scandal and pitchforks, but it could lead to more SB 593s. It would be better to reform the system yourselves than to have state Republican politicians do it for you. But in the end it will probably be Republican politicians setting terms.

90

Kurt Schuler 06.10.15 at 2:04 am

The Center for College Affordability and Productivity is a useful source of information and ideas that nobody in the thread so far has mentioned:
http://centerforcollegeaffordability.org
Besides faculty salaries and teaching loads, college tuition is also influenced by facilities and administrative staff. Tuition can rise at 8-10% a year while faculty salaries rise at 1-2%, as #34 complains, if much of the money is going to facilities and administration. There are, however, colleges that have held tuition down by continuing to emphasize teaching and by using facilities efficiently and avoiding administrative bloat. Two examples are Grove City College and York College in Pennsylvania. Both are private, yet charge less for tuition + fees + room + board than the main campus of the public Pennsylvania State University. Grove City famously accepts no government funding, not even from student loans. York College’s former president Robert Iosue has written for decades about how to contain costs, but most college administrators seem to prefer to continue on their current course until the money runs out.

91

Lisa 06.10.15 at 2:57 am

I’m a bit late to the game but does it bother anyone that Clay Shirky makes these very broad sweeping claims without any data. Can he not find data? For example, is there data that–aside from the global economic collapse we had 7 years ago–the value of education is genuinely falling?

I’d love to see data and I’d love to see a cross comparison.

And “the public” speaks. The public speaks all with one mind, did you guys know? “The public.” It’s not any particular segment of the public speaking, there is no disagreement–just this ‘public.’

All these academics in this thread. There are social scientists here. There must be some *information* someone can bring to bear on this topic.

I talked to the public–you know, they said something *totally different* to me. They are so two faced.

92

Fuzzy Dunlop 06.10.15 at 3:09 am

How about this as a response to the proposed scandal (and what Republicans plans to have UNC and UW profs all teach 4-4 loads): [b]Do you want to not have scientists anymore? Because that’s what they’re trying to do.[/b] Not that someone teaching a 4-4 load can’t still be a scientist, but obviously it cuts into your available time to do science. (And Coca Cola and Google and Elon Musk are not going to take over for the universities in funding & organizing basic science research.) Not having scientists anymore will be just great for the economy, our ability to compete with China, etc. (While STEM fields might be the easiest sell, I don’t think non-STEM fields are a lost cause.)

I think people overestimate how anti-intellectual the public is, and I notice nobody is providing any polling data or similar to show that the public in fact wants to stop having scientists, or even historians and philosophers. Is this self-pity, snobbery, or what? I’d expect that the Tea Party is about as close to representing Americans’ views on this issue as they are on, say, abortion, which of course doesn’t mean they can’t accomplish legislative goals sometimes.

As a potentially serious response to the tuition & admin bloat crisis, I wonder (I think someone up-thread suggested this too…) if there won’t start to be universities advertising their lack of a climbing wall, etc.? ‘Just the basics for a reasonable price’ is a good motto if you really are trying to run the university like a business (I don’t think Tea Party Republicans want to run universities like a good business, though, they just want to wreck them; but there are probably a sad sacks out there who take ‘run it like a business’ seriously).

93

Fuzzy Dunlop 06.10.15 at 3:10 am

…and I see Lisa beat me to it, on the ‘where is the data?’ point.

94

Dave 06.10.15 at 3:17 am

LOL at everyone clamoring for “data.”

The original post accuses universities of lying to the public. Of perpetrating a systemic scam.

No one has a serious response to these accusations in this whole thread.

95

Lisa 06.10.15 at 3:29 am

My point exactly, Dave. Thanks.

96

Dave 06.10.15 at 3:41 am

idk Lisa, just wondering if anyone is willing to say no, we haven’t been misleading the public. All I see are people asking for some data to quibble over or whatever. Clay makes a political case, you want to harrumph about spreadsheets. Good luck and all, but it doesn’t seem wise.

97

Lisa 06.10.15 at 4:10 am

I am not afraid, Dave. If the data is good and it is unwise somehow for students to go to college then I’d like to know.

For example: “Since 2000, the lifetime value of a BA from a state school (the sweet light crude of US education, our benchmark product) has fallen, even as costs continue to rise”

Now isn’t that an interesting statement? Let’s see–what are the options otherwise and are they better? You’d think that would be relevant.

Let the truth come to light. Let us now be afraid of the truth. I’d rather cast aside all this ‘the public says’ and the ‘was thought of’ and let’s see if the job is getting done–are students better off and do their prospects rise after attending these ‘state schools’ Mr. Shirky claims have become some useless product like laser discs? Would they be better off with high school diplomas?

He seems to have his finger on the veritable pulse of the public, their parents and the students–whose world view has changed from the ’80s. He’s been talking to them and appears to have deeply absorbed their perspective. In fact, all perspectives. It’s not from reading the NY Times but from some other method.

Yet, amazingly we have methods for obtaining information about the world that do not involve absorbing the zeitgeist through one’s pores and I am curious about how these methods fare against his claims.

(Granted, someone may try to develop a particular imaginary schema whereby professors are licensed somewhat like nail stylists or lawyers and could lose their license for….something. And then they all work for very low wages. But yet–the ‘state schools’ which have been an engine of social mobility manage to not become deeply compromised for students trying to use them as stepping stones to a middle class life. I’d like to maintain focus on the world as it exists today and not on the futuristic world Mr. Shirky envisions for us. Are students being economically rational to put their money into UNC or University of Wisconsin on their quest to a better life? Or could they just opt for some other, less costly path? To be fair we should control for the recent economic collapse in assessing this data.)

The facts don’t scare me in the least, Dave.

98

LFC 06.10.15 at 4:23 am

Lisa @91
There must be some *information* someone can bring to bear on this topic.

Clay S. @46, about the 5th paragraph down, linked to an AAUP survey on the extent of use of adjunct/contingent faculty. (I confess I haven’t yet clicked on it, but it is there.) As for rising tuitions over the past several decades far outstripping inflation, that is well known and doesn’t really need a specific citation. (On the falling ec. value of degrees, I don’t know, that might be a bit more contested.)

As Dave observes, the OP does charge active deceit (e.g., “The distinction between ‘people we trust to teach’ and ‘people we allow to be professors’ is not just something the public doesn’t understand; it’s something we actively hide”), and there’s likely a certain amount of evidence, at least of accumulated individual stories, to support that charge.

But since, although I like data as much as the next person, I’m not someone who spends his days immersed in data, and since, unlike e.g. Kieran Healy, I don’t know how to create those cool online graphical representations of data that seem to be one of his specialties — and since, moreover, I have no particular or pressing interest in learning how to create them — I’m probably not the person who should be responding to you.

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LFC 06.10.15 at 4:26 am

Lisa @97
are students better off and do their prospects rise after attending these ‘state schools’ Mr. Shirky claims have become some useless product like laser discs? Would they be better off with high school diplomas?

for the record, he didn’t say they are “useless products”, he specifically said you’re better off in terms of ec. prospects w a college degree than w/ a h.s. diploma.

100

js. 06.10.15 at 4:37 am

the OP does charge active deceit (e.g., “The distinction between ‘people we trust to teach’ and ‘people we allow to be professors’ is not just something the public doesn’t understand; it’s something we actively hide”)

True, but (a) the evidence is weak—I recall one anecdote, perhaps there were more, and (b) the “we” is a little slippery.

101

cwalken 06.10.15 at 5:16 am

I’d actually argue that professors do far more teaching than the public imagines.

My in laws are public school teachers and don’t understand why I don’t take summers off, what office hours are, what letters of rec say, what it means to advise, how to supervise a senior thesis, and any number of other things that occur outside of reading your lecture from the same state approved textbook year after year.

I finally got frustrated enough to point out to them that someone has to write that textbook.

102

Garrulous 06.10.15 at 8:24 am

The OP said it himself @46. There is more than one issue here. And more than one possible scandal. There is the debatable maybe-scandal of “universities lying to the public/faculty who don’t teach enough/faculty not making a make a case for themselves/academia not giving ‘value for money’” etc.

Then there is the undeniable ongoing scandal of mass structural unemployment and underemployment in higher education, and the scams and lies that perpetuate it and cover it up.

Almost no one has attempted to refute that here. Instead of denial, there is a kind of shallow rueful recognition. Whether speaking of graduate students suckered into five-to-seven-year dead ends, contingent faculty dumped on from above, or adjuncts failing to make a living, there is a kind of sympathetic nod… terrible, that thing with adjuncts, awful really, I don’t think we do that sort of thing round here, not really. But from what I gather… Terrible really. Dreadful.

The working conditions of contingent faculty are only one part of it. The broader problem of unemployment is disguised because swathes of those who work in higher education – or who have trained many years to work in higher education – are expelled every year as waste. Academic disciplines are increasingly reliant on what are effectively long-term Gastarbeiter, imported for about a decade or so, useful until used up, expected to remove themselves when no longer required.

It is not limited to unfunded graduate students, without a hope on the job market. Everyone in the more comfortable parts of the system is at least vaguely aware of the vast numbers of graduating PhDs, itinerant VAPs, unsuccessful job candidates, all those one- and two- and three-year post-docs. A population tacitly expected to give up in despair, making room for the next batch of soon-no-longer-to-be-fresh meat. In effect, flushed out to keep the system flowing,

Underlying it all, as geo @54 suggests, are neo-liberal priorities and political decisions. But I see few tenured faculty paying serious, concrete attention to the crisis of the labor market, and their role in it. Still less doing anything about it. (Marc Bousquet at Emory is a shining exception. There are others, including the OP here.)

Quite simply, it is not a crisis for them. I suspect that deep down, rather than recognize a crushingly wasteful system, many still somehow convince themselves – and convince their credulous, dependent graduate students – that there are jobs out there for the best people and if you work hard enough you’ll be rewarded… etc.

In other words, they behave like employed people everywhere in areas of high unemployment: convinced they deserve their structural position, and that those left out in the cold are likely themselves at fault for their plight.

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T 06.10.15 at 8:55 am

Lisa @97
Some good questions.
Has the real income of college grads and holders of advance degrees fallen?
Yes, real Income for those with a bachelor’s degree or more peaked in the 1999/2000
http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/income/data/historical/people/
See table P-16

What’s happened to the cost of public 4-year college education?
It’s tripled in real terms since 1984. That’s huge and much higher than the private 4-year increase.

Has the income gap increased between a high school graduate and a college graduate?
Yes. However, Clay doesn’t deny the value of a college education, just the opposite (It’s essential @46)

Is it worth it?
Yes. But the returns to education vary heavily by major and the up front cost is rising way faster than inflation. https://cew.georgetown.edu/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/whatsitworth-complete.pdf And unless you find your way into the top 10%, college grads as a whole won’t see positive real income growth on average unless the 15-year trend in falling median income for those with a college degree is broken. The relative value of a degree is up but the absolute value down. I think that makes people very unhappy about the fee increases.

All this data does miss the politics that’s driving a lot of this. A lot of states are simply refusing to fund public goods with Kansas and Wisconsin leading the charge — tax cuts are just more important. And Us are a big target for balancing the budget after the big tax cuts for the 1%. The TPers are very conscious to try and not raise fees on what has become an essential service. Rock. Hard place. So what will the public do? It seems to vary state by state. But unless the citizens come to rescue in WI and KS, Clay has some pretty good circumstantial evidence that, in some states at least, the old contract is broken.

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kidneystones 06.10.15 at 11:25 am

@102 Many thanks. “I see few tenured faculty paying serious, concrete attention to the crisis of the labor market, and their role in it.” With respect, I disagree. I think a great many tenured faculty are well aware of the need to keep slaughter-house running, especially those doing committee work, writing reference letters, inter-acting with the administration, and the other sundry non-teaching and non-research activities that are part and parcel of raising funds for process. The banks, of course, work hand in glove with university administrations to screw the students. Textbook suppliers, computer resellers, furniture designers and manufacturers are all profiting from the way things are, at a time when most students can pack a decent library into their cell phones. There is a pervasive sense of helplessness and fear in many faculty lounges for those closest to the axe. I see only one solution – raise standards, outsource 90 percent of the admin work to India and Viet Nam, hire far more non-tenure track full-time instructors at decent wage, and raise university admission to those 21 and older, that way we might be able to expect adult behavior from the adolescents flooding campuses.

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anon 06.10.15 at 3:03 pm

Some here make the unstated assumption that only Universities do Research.

Those who work at the various US National Labs will be surprised to find that out.
As will those working for Big Pharma. And Google. And Apple.

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sanbikinoraion 06.10.15 at 4:53 pm

A scandal requires some identifiable bad guys making out with (1) money, (2) power or (3) sex, and for those bad guys to a) be somewhat unexpected and b) relatively close to hand and c) to be topple-able by public shaming.

That’s why the Qatar workers’ deaths don’t rate a scandal. There’s a (1) but no (a), no (b) and no (c). That’s why FIFA got away with it for so long: they got (1) and (2), but (c) didn’t seem plausible until the FBI showed up.

With academia, it sounds like the biggest villains are the banks offering loans, simply because they get some (1) and are vulnerable to (b) and (c), but there doesn’t seem to be a clear-cut demonstration of mass fraud perpetrated by the banks here.

Academics might get a bit of (3) but I don’t think it’s in a systemic way. I just don’t see what there is to be scandalized about.

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TSH 06.10.15 at 7:45 pm

Lisa, et al,
Again, you are missing the point. It has nothing to do with “data” other than the “data” of perception! In my line of work, IT/business process consulting, I can bring data to show how valuable my services are, but if the client no longer perceives that value it is for naught. I am not suggesting by the way that only professors/classroom educators escalate the cost of a college education, many times it is chasing that $10mil donation that then requires a facility be built that costs $100mil over the next 10 years to maintain, but the fact of the matter is, your customers are starting to question the value and/or cost of the education. It was even discussed this morning on a radio sports program. Until colleges/universities, public or private, start to view students, in many cases their parents more likely, as customers and deliver what they want, arguing “data” will argue many out of jobs!

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Lisa 06.10.15 at 8:04 pm

Garrulous–I agree there is a general scandal here. The real scandals are that students are being priced out and adjunct faculty are being exploited. To distract from these, a lot of smoke gets thrown about how maybe college isn’t so great after all for the working and middle class. But I think there are some elements you fail to disambiguate.

“Quite simply, it is not a crisis for them. I suspect that deep down, rather than recognize a crushingly wasteful system, many still somehow convince themselves – and convince their credulous, dependent graduate students – that there are jobs out there for the best people and if you work hard enough you’ll be rewarded… etc.”

I was told I would never, ever get a job in academia. I am sad if some people lie to their prospective students but the truth is some do get jobs and as long as that’s true, you are going to have these ever-hopeful people think they’ll be the ones. The information about their dismal prospect is out there and often students know it chapter and verse and still they apply in droves to PhD programs.

And there are jobs teaching college students. There are people doing this work. There is a high demand for this work. However, there is an oversupply of people willing to do the work and the work has been modified in such a way to create huge flexibility for those that use labor and little for those supplying labor. There are many angles to this and it seems a strategic mistake to individualize it to ‘the privileged’ (tenured) and the ‘unprivileged’ (those who teach off the tenure track).

The backstory shows it is systematic. E.g., Professors don’t determine the number of courses their university teaches. Nor do they determine salaries or hires. But there is demand for the courses, and often there is an increasing number of people entering the university. Disciplines also require certain areas to be taught for the students to get an adequate breadth. The students want to take the classes. But suppose a department can’t get any OK on hiring because of budget cuts and they are told ‘teach x number of sections.’ They are permitted to hire adjuncts in those positions–people who clamor for the jobs they are offering.

Now it has become clear that the ‘temporary hires’ which were supposed to be of graduate students finishing dissertations whose funding ran out or whatever have turned into full time super exploited faculty.

A problem has become clear–abundantly clear. What do we do now?

It looks like a systematic problem and you won’t be able to get individuals on board easily no matter what their position is in the system.

Individual adjuncts’ interests are more in conflict with many direct systematic solutions than tenured faculty. If you asked adjuncts: Should tenured faculty refuse to hire adjuncts at this wage under these economic circumstances? Should they boycott these kinds of hires?’ I feel confident adjuncts would object vociferously.

Suppose you say: ‘Perhaps the graduate program that gave you a PhD should be shuttered.’ They wouldn’t go for this either, I’ll bet

So those very same faculty that are being super exploited may object to some changes in the conditions that led to their exploitation. That’s not to say that those changes shouldn’t be made–it’s just to point out that when we get into a system, the system runs us. We don’t run it. The real power is elsewhere but in some ways not sufficiently in the hands of particular individuals.

A PhD in physics or history is not going to make you a born labor organizer or whatever you’d need to be to get around this issue. All of the ‘concerned’ tenured department chairs are mainly trying to hire the same adjuncts year after year because the adjuncts now depend on their work as adjuncts. The concern of tenured faculty will also take an individualist form, probably contributing to the ongoing problem.

It’s not going to matter if tenured faculty ‘care’ and even if they pontificate with outrage on every possible blog, all the time.

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TM 06.10.15 at 10:46 pm

mdc 11: “Does anyone have an idea for a fair and intuitive statistic that would capture an institution’s investment in instruction? There are great differences between different schools in this regard. Maybe something like ‘proportion of spending on full-time teaching faculty compensation.’”

I don’t think what you are looking for exists but IPEDS does give the total amount spent on salaries for instructional faculty. It does not however tell you how much each “instructional faculty” actually teaches.

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Mdc 06.10.15 at 11:18 pm

Thinking about it, I suppose ‘percentage of class hours compensated at adjunct-level,’ alongside ‘maximum class size’ might capture most of what I’m looking for.

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Chris G 06.11.15 at 1:27 am

A core mission of research universities is to educate graduate students. If a professor has a research grant then educating grad students is part of his/her job. A modest fraction of grad student education takes place in the classroom but at a research university the vast majority of it happens via conducting research. Having professors engage with their grad students while they (students+professor) conduct research is central to the educational process. If the will of the people is that professors at public universities should spend more time lecturing undergraduates then so be it but there are a finite number of hours in the day. If professors spend more time lecturing undergraduates then the active engagement component of educating grad students will suffer.

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Lisa 06.11.15 at 2:49 am

TSH: The places they all want to go have prestige because of the way the universities are structured. There is tenure, there is research, the university is a respected institution of higher learning because of research output.

And these families most definitely want their children to go to college.

People gift many millions to their universities. They are happy to donate.

What am I not understanding? What is the ‘customer’ (here we are talking about millions of people, all intending to go to college) lacking?

The customer is clamoring for what is being sold and the more you get into the research hub, the more desirable the product becomes. Consider the absolute rage and disappointment of the student who does not get into the flagship because of the affirmative action ‘crisis’ of the past. Why did they want to go to the flagship? What’s there that cannot be had elsewhere? Why don’t they seek a MOOC instead? What’s wrong with the 4/4 teaching load at some other state school that emphasizes teaching?

You seem to suggest that IT gives us knowledge that perceptions are everything. Are they now? Do people not have any real economic or social interests? It’s true that if I give them McDonald’s and that’s all they can get, they will eat that. So you are right in a sense. But wrong in the sense that they could lose something of actual economic and social value to their state and to their children. If they only have terrible things to eat, they will eat it but they won’t do as well however much they perceive what they get as being tasty enough. UWM graduates will finish and then want to go to Harvard law or excel in medical school or be hired by Time Magazine and if they are not given a high quality education, then they will have a much tougher time. The wealthier families sending their kids to Harvard will be fine and there will be a bigger gap between the haves and have nots. That’s all that will happen. There will be less for the people of Wisconsin. They’ll ‘consume’ it if that’s all that’s on the table but that doesn’t mean they are getting a good deal.

Some people stand to benefit from whatever damage can be done to public higher ed. They will benefit economically and politically. Those who will benefit are an extremely small group of people. Other people stand to lose–this is a much larger group of people. True, people will be swayed by the attempt to create various perceptions in various directions but there are some facts on the ground about how much people actually benefit from an education at a research university and they are all on the side of the universities continuing to exist, with political autonomy and public funds. They can go on even without public funds actually–it just becomes more difficult for the middle class to access them. The rest of the world is happy to put up the money to send their children to US universities. I wonder what they know that Scott Walker doesn’t know?

The place the ‘customer’ wants to go has faculty with the most tenure security and with the greatest research output. You could say correlation is not causation but I think your idea needs some work.

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Clay Shirky 06.11.15 at 3:49 am

Shanghai time has me reading comments in great gulps, and I suspect this thread is winding down, alas, but while I read, I just want to add another piece by Kelly Baker that makes a related point about adjunctification, at great length.

It’s called “It’s gonna be forever or it’s gonna go down in flames”: Tenure and (In)justice, and I’ll quote a relevant chunk here:

The link between teaching and tenure here is crucial. The AAUP statement on tenure focuses on teachers and only adds researchers who don’t teach as a concern in 1970. The university is the place where students come to gain education; this happens inside and outside of classrooms. Higher Ed needed professors to have both academic freedom and economic security to pursue research and, most importantly, to teach students. The AAUP describes teaching as the main work of the university, and tenure became the mechanism to protect teachers from the whims of political leaders, the larger public, and their own institutions. Education was a common good that must be safeguarded. The centrality of teaching to academia in this statement makes me cheer and lament simultaneously. I cannot help but wonder what went wrong. The work of the university is about educating students, but sometimes it doesn’t seem so.

Even some insiders in the system wonder what went wrong with the centrality of teaching.

(Interestingly, and unlike writers on adjunctification like Rebecca Shuman and Jonathan Rees, Baker goes much further in saying that we tenured faculty are complicit in the injustices in the academic system.)

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Clay Shirky 06.11.15 at 3:59 am

…and quickly, to Lisa #108 who says “Individual adjuncts’ interests are more in conflict with many direct systematic solutions than tenured faculty. … Suppose you say: ‘Perhaps the graduate program that gave you a PhD should be shuttered.’ They wouldn’t go for this either, I’ll bet.”

Not only is your bet absolutely correct, we know that grad students will object not just to shuttering but to mere downsizing, even if that downsizing nets each of them more resources, and we know this because it happened at Johns Hopkins in 2013. http://www.slate.com/articles/life/education/2013/12/johns_hopkins_plans_to_lower_ph_d_enrollment_and_raise_grad_student_stipends.html

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Garrulous 06.11.15 at 5:08 am

@112 The place the ‘customer’ wants to go has faculty with the most tenure security and with the greatest research output. You could say correlation is not causation but I think your idea needs some work.

The two phenomena (popularity of prestige schools; best research conditions at prestige schools) are not directly related to each other, but each independently related to the obvious third term: prestige schools are nexuses of money, power, opportunity.

Students at Harvard or Yale or Stanford are there less for “the education” than the credential; as much to have gone there as to go there. The academics have to be pretty good, or complaints will be made. Just like the food has to be pretty good, or complaints will be made. But no one goes to Yale for the food.

@113 thanks for the Baker link, it is a great piece.

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T 06.11.15 at 1:15 pm

Clay, in future posts you might like to check comments that go into moderation. The system does this randomly it seems and this complaint rises periodically. Anyway, excellent OP. btw — see http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/whats-left-after-higher-education-is-dismantled-20150528

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kidneystones 06.11.15 at 1:20 pm

Students in the humanities and many social sciences do not read assigned texts, don’t care that much about the course work, are quite cynical about the system, and just want to be able to land a good enough job to pay off their loans. Credentials and connections are where its at with elite schools, Harvard MBA, offering a fast track to a lucrative job in finance. Things scale down from there. A colleague (adjunct) looking to relocate to Canada announced he’d seen one adjunct position open at 35 to 45 bucks per hour for a Phd, or equivalent, willing to work irregular hours, and a university HR person open at 100k per annum, university degree and appropriate HR certification (can’t recall the acronym).

I know a number of good teachers who have seen the writing on the wall and traded in teaching for HR, particularly good teachers with Asian language skills and ‘international’ experience. Asian students paying full freight international student fees are the cash-cow for universities in a number of countries. I noted in another threat an article from Higher Ed, or another journal, that 1 in 5 students in Australia is visiting from an Asian country and that real questions have been raised about admission standards, progressions, and grade inflation.

The Baker link is excellent, as is the Slate article re: John Hopkins. I stand by my earlier comments – reduce the number of admissions (shutter some programs) and stop exploiting adjuncts. Won’t happen, of course.

I predict more of the same, only much worse!

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T 06.11.15 at 1:22 pm

oops. I saw it got through.

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Clay Shirky 06.11.15 at 2:42 pm

Lisa #112 says The place the ‘customer’ wants to go has faculty with the most tenure security and with the greatest research output.

This is only true for a minority of ‘customers’. Students make decisions based on reputation, and for some schools, reputation correlates with tenured faculty, but for some it doesn’t. Bennington abolished tenure and is still comfortably in the Top 100 of the US News list, and happily advertising a $46K sticker price.

Students make decisions based on reputation, and for some schools, reputation correlates with research output, but for some it doesn’t. Schools as various as Deep Springs, St. John’s College, and Hampshire attract students particularly passionate about their mission, but that is not mostly about research.

Students make decisions based on reputation, but reputation includes many non-academic interests. Is the weather nice? Does the football team do well? Is the Greek scene lively? And so on. These are reputational choices, and strong ones, but do not mean what I think you mean by reputation.

Only the most coddled and precocious of students in any given year give much thought, even by proxy, to tenure and research output. This group includes me and doubtless you, and most readers of CT, but we are ohmygosh such a minority of the ‘customers’, past or present, of American higher education.

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Clay Shirky 06.11.15 at 2:48 pm

Chris #111 says If the will of the people is that professors at public universities should spend more time lecturing undergraduates then so be it but there are a finite number of hours in the day. If professors spend more time lecturing undergraduates then the active engagement component of educating grad students will suffer.

The ‘LIBOR crisis’ I am imagining would include just this outcome I think taxpayers, faced with what academics imagine would be an agonizing choice in allocating subsidy to either undergraduate or graduate education, would actually not find the choice too difficult.

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T 06.11.15 at 2:57 pm

Clay @119
That’s why the alumni are the allies. Anything that negatively affects the school’s reputation will diminish their degree. It might not be the loss of tenure that matters to outsiders, but the alumni will sure as hell care if the school’s ranking going down.

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T 06.11.15 at 2:58 pm

Clay @119
That’s why the alumni are the allies. Anything that negatively affects the school’s reputation will diminish their degree. It might not be the loss of tenure that matters to outsiders, but the alumni will sure as hell care if the school’s ranking going down.

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Clay Shirky 06.11.15 at 3:20 pm

T #116: I saw that Rolling Stone article, and reading it, I had the same sense I get reading much of Konzcal’s stuff, which is simultaneously nodding in agreement and thinking ‘Oh Mike, come off it.”

The problem I have with that piece, and the entire literature that follows that line of thought, is that people continue to act as if we are in some sort of recent crisis, and that a jeremiad from a strong poet (or whatever we’re calling prophets these days) will turn the Chosen People back onto The Righteous Path of you can fill in the rest as well as I can.

And I am done with that narrative. Done, done, bored to tears. We have been explaining to the feckless legislators that our special interest group is special, and that they simply must give us more money, for decades now, and nothing has changed. And yet every year, scratch that, every week, someone writes the blog post saying “The states don’t understand that they have to give us more money! This is a crisis!”

There was a brief period where the states did give us more money, reams of the stuff, every year. It started with Sputnik and lasted a decade and a half, ending when the Vietnam war did. In the space of 15 years, the student body quadrupled, while the number of faculty and institutions tripled. It was an expansion of fortune so enormous and rapid that it was unheard of in the history of academic funding, and indeed in the commercial footing of any industry outside of national defense. And rather than treat this like the improbable windfall it was, we decided that this was merely just recompense from a grateful society.

The states started reducing the proportion of tax revenues we received in 1975. Over the last 40 years, there have only been two kinds of year: years where the proportion of our funding fell sharply, and years where it didn’t. This is not a result of culture warriors, or the Great Recession. The proportion of income we command has fallen under Republicans and Democrats, in recessions and booms. And after 40 years of that, our proportion ot state tax revenues is still 50% higher than it was in 1960.

So Konzcal is right. He’s always been right. The system is being dismantled, if by dismantled you mean “Reverting to the mean after a crazy run-up in Cold War funding.” But this is not a crisis, because unlike a crisis, it has been the predictable, stable state for 40 years. The reduction in funding has now lasted almost three times as long as the boom years. No one in charge today has lived under any other system other than reduction. And yet every year, we are gobsmacked that nobody gave us a lot of money.

So while I think Konzcal has the right normative values, and a clear grasp of what’s happening, he is far too likely to reach for the narrative of crisis when describing business as usual, and is thus unable to pose his observations, not as a jeremiad, but rather as a description, and therefore to ask the only question I think someone with his grasp of the circumstance should be asking: “Since we don’t seem to be able to revive the generous but atypical spending of 1967, what do we do now?”

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Clay Shirky 06.11.15 at 3:31 pm

T #121, that is true, but at the largest schools in the country, the ranking whose putative down-going alumni care about is the W-L ratio of the football team.

Even to posit that there is a large group of students who are sensitive to the upper reaches of academic rank mistakes the peak of the edifice for the bulk. The entire undergraduate population of all Ivies put together wouldn’t fill the Home Team side of a Big 10 stadium.

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geo 06.11.15 at 4:24 pm

@122: The system is being dismantled, if by dismantled you mean “Reverting to the mean after a crazy run-up in Cold War funding.”

I don’t think that’s what he means. For one thing, the expansion did not begin with Sputnik. It began with the GI Bill. For another, it didn’t end because the Vietnam War ended or the Cold War ended. It ended because US economic primacy ended in the mid-1970s — hence the end of Bretton Woods, the international New Deal. The domestic New Deal started to unravel shortly thereafter. Both New Deals were attempts to buy social peace with a percentage of the profits. When profits came under pressure, the compacts were torn up. The age of neoliberalism began.

Neoliberalism means privatization, deregulation, high unemployment, an assault on labor unions, minimal and regressive taxation, and draconian investor-rights (i.e., “free trade”) agreements: in a word, the shrinking of the state, and in particular of its revenues. This is where the “crisis in higher education” comes from. Konczal understands that. I can’t tell whether you don’t understand it or do understand it but are simply “bored to tears” with hearing it. Sorry you’re bored, but I don’t think you’ll make much headway ignoring the fundamental causes and diddling around on the surface.

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Dave 06.11.15 at 4:27 pm

Well this is timely: Goodbye, Madison.

Scott Walker’s after tenure. But hey, some prominent Wisconsin faculty have signed a petition, and a dozen faculty members attended a Board of Regents meeting with tape over their mouths. So who knows what the outcome will be! Good luck, profs!

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Corey Robin 06.11.15 at 4:51 pm

On “bored to tears”…

Robert Paul Wolff: “Now, there are many ways to speak falsehood and only one way to speak truth. It follows, as Kierkegaard pointed out, that the truth is likely to become boring. “

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Mike Konczal 06.11.15 at 4:52 pm

Clay,

“But this is not a crisis, because unlike a crisis, it has been the predictable, stable state for 40 years.”

I don’t think this is right. Part of the issue is that the public system simply educates a larger proportion of students than it did 40 years ago, so it’s not the same comparison across time. The cuts, bloat and cost shifting has accelerated greatly in the past 15 years, as judged by student loan balances, which simply didn’t exist like now in the early 1990s.

The public dismantling is far beyond state funding though. It’s in more out-of-state students, less internal mobility (e.g. state colleges to flagships after a few years), a serious consistent defunding since 2000 of community colleges and state colleges (via Delta Cost Project), flagships aimed away from public resources.

Also the issue I try to bring up is that the money is getting spent; in the short-term the case of for-profits, which have used the resources to expand rapidly in times of state austerity.

“the only question I think someone with [my] grasp of the circumstance should be asking: Since we don’t seem to be able to revive the generous but atypical spending of 1967, what do we do now?”

Like most places, live with it. I think we simply get an indentured generation, students delaying marriage, businesses, durable investments and housing, careers, devoting more of their first two adult decades to managing this bill, than we did before. Experiences from Brazil and other countries which have mostly lent government resources to private hands to provide education say that this can go on a long time. All the tech saviors haven’t panned out, nor have the for-profit “innovators.”

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r.dunn 06.11.15 at 5:58 pm

Concern about what the general public ‘thinks’ may tend to be a sort of reification?
The general public doesn’t think, but reacts, and is swayed. Only individuals can think.
Perhaps one individual, an Alexander von Humboldt was thinking something when, in the throws of the Age of Enlightenment, he came up with the idea for the research-intensive University, and started it in Berlin in 1810, attracting some of the greatest minds of the time?
This became the present University model, not to shirk teaching, but to better give students something to be taught; that’s not outdated, and mired in mere scholasticism.

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r.dunn 06.11.15 at 6:02 pm

moderator: please edit last sentence in above comment: “but to better give students…” Thanks.

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Sebastian H 06.11.15 at 6:57 pm

The proportion of income analysis is misguided and seems tone-deaf to nearly anyone outside of the ivory tower. U.S. governments at all levels have taken on many other responsibilities than they had in the 1960s, and transfer payments are way up since the 1960s. That alone would drop the ‘proportion of income’ commanded by universities.

In the 70s, 80s, 90s and early ’00s you saw a real (inflation adjusted) increase in government spending for education almost every single year. In the last of the bubble years you saw enormous increases. This leveled off in the aftermath of the crash, and there has been some decline from the peak, but in most systems it has been tiny. (Wisconsin may be one of the few outliers where it was not tiny). More importantly for perception, per student government spending is through the roof since the 60s.

The indentured undergraduate problem is NOT because governments have failed to keep up with their spending per student. Quite the contrary, as government spending went up, the tuition went up MORE. Every single year. For decades.

The government spending has not gone to make college more affordable for students. That money has gone to something else. I’m not sure we have a good understanding of where that money has gone. (It hasn’t largely gone to teach salaries for example). But THAT is the crux of what I suspect will be the scandal. Either it will come to light where all that money has gone, or the disconnect between spending and student indebtedness will become to obvious.

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krippendorf 06.11.15 at 8:48 pm

Sebastian: it’s not clear where you are getting your figures, but it sounds like it could be the same erroneous source as Paul Campos.

As for “where has the money gone,” it’s gone into STEM infrastructure (way overbuilt, at my university), administrative bloat and mission creep, health care and related benefits (which have risen faster than tuition), and feeding the for-profits’ um, profits.

On for-profits. Tenure-line faculty tend to think of this as still being a fairly trivial segment of US higher education. It’s not. Currently, about 14% of all US students who are enrolled in a 4-year program are enrolled at a for-profit, 4 times what it was 10 years ago. (By contrast, enrollments at publics increased by 22% in the same period.) There’s heterogeneity in the sector, of course, but graduation rates at the for-profits average about 9%.

A quarter of all Pell Grants and federally subsidized loans go to for-profits. For some of the large for-profits, 80% of their revenues come from these loans. Most of these loans will never be repaid because (a) the students who go to for-profits tend to come from poorer families than the students who go to non-selective publics (and much poorer families than the students in selective colleges), so they don’t have a buffer of resources to fall back on if and when they drop out; and (b) the 81% of students who drop out of for-profits don’t earn any more than the average high school graduate who had the same high school test scores, etc.

This strikes me as the true scandal of higher education. But, it’s not in the best interests of the lawmakers who get donations from the for-profit lobby to make a big stink out of this waste of taxpayer money (not to mention student lives), nor does a “for-profit higher education is a failure” narrative fit with the pro-privatization, anti-government, Tea Party / Libertarian ideology.

133

T 06.11.15 at 9:19 pm

Clay @124
I don’t think that’s true at the University of Wisconsin or University of North Carolina (or UVA or Berkeley.) The faculty should try and team w/alumni. Typically, key state legislators went to the flagship school and alumni leaders are pretty prominent business folks in the state. As I suggested in another thread, if the alumni won’t step forward — the closest natural ally — you’re screwed.

As Harry B wrote in the earlier thread, the response by faculty has been all about them and that’s not the best strategy.

134

krippendorf 06.11.15 at 10:13 pm

@130. arggh, typo: 91% who drop out.

135

T 06.11.15 at 10:22 pm

The real cost (inflation adjusted) of list-price tuition at 4-year public institutions has increased by 325% from 1984/5 to 2014/5. The cost after grants not nearly as much.
See p.16
https://secure-media.collegeboard.org/digitalServices/misc/trends/2014-trends-college-pricing-report-final.pdf

The report has a wealth of data.

When the 0.1% run the country, the only true public goods are the military/police and courts — the two institutions that guard rent seeking. The 0.1% pay for the rest out of pocket. And they don’t want to fund the rest for non-0.1%ers with their taxes. There is also an extraordinary hate for the current state of humanities among the TP. Forget the fact that only 8% or so of students are humanities majors. They’ll burn the whole thing to the ground rather than support what they consider “a playground for the left.” And in the states where they have control, that is just what they’re doing.

136

Sebastian H 06.11.15 at 10:41 pm

T, thank you for the link. Figure 16B illustrates what I was talking about. The spending per full time equivalent student has been in the $80,000-$100,000 band throughout the whole period of ’83-’09 with the only precipitous drop happening after that. But all through that period you had tuition increasing by on average 5% per year ABOVE INFLATION.

The playground of the left thing may be a way that the problem is playing out, but a big part of that is because no one is addressing the underlying problem. For around 4 decades with fairly constant per-student spending, tuition has doubled (after adjusting for inflation) almost 3 times.

That is a problem.

137

Sebastian H 06.11.15 at 10:43 pm

Clay is probably right at locating the disconnect as “per student spending”. For the general public, that will intuitively seem like the right metric. Linking spending to students seems silly to many universities….

138

T 06.11.15 at 11:59 pm

@133
Make that a 225% increase. doh.

139

Clay Shirky 06.12.15 at 12:57 am

Something of an omnibus reply.

As general throat-clearing, I think most of us here will agree the for-profits are awful, given that their business model is asset-stripping student loans without facing a sub-prime crisis because of the legal undischargeability of those loans. (And we can hope that Corinthian’s reversal of fortune is the first of many.)

I think the one lesson we can take from them is the one Mike draws, which is that the for-profits demonstrated that state money could be used “to expand rapidly in times of state austerity.”

To Corey #127, just to be clear, I am not questioning Mike’s assessment. I will repeat what I said earlier: “Konzcal is right. He’s always been right.”

The narrative I was referring to is the one that says we must make our case clearly, so that states fund us more generously. What astonishes and depresses me is the broad conviction that this imagined future infusion of state dollars has enough chance of working that we should all put all our energies into that.

Just once, I’d like to see someone writing about state subsidy say “On present evidence, this doesn’t have a very good chance of working, so we should look at orderly cost-cutting, rather than shifting revenue sources to e.g. out-of-state tuition or letting the for-profits pick up the slack.” It’s almost as if people discussing higher education are comfortable with having a bad case of cost disease, but not with admitting or planning for same.

Here’s a general response to questions of proportional state funding, and on the timing of our late lamented windfall: I think revenue per thousand of citizen income is the best metric, because unlike constant dollars, which can fluctuate with the economy, or dollars per student, which makes cost-saving growth look problematic, appropriations of citizen income is the closest thing to expressing legislative intent.

I can’t embed it here, but this is a figure from Archibald and Cox’s ‘Why Does College Cost So Much?’: https://goo.gl/2KnDIS

This is the national average of state appropriations 1960-2010, taken from Illinois’ Grapevine project. There are many stories embedded in the chart, some about college, some about state governance, but taken together they represent a brief but massive inflation 1960-1975, followed by 35 years of deflation of college as a priority.

Individual institutions focus on dollars, of course, because dollars are what we spend, but state expenditures are almost all zero-sum. Ignoring that fact leads to people writing, with outrage, that the states reduced our funding during the recession! (which: What did you think they were going to do? Print money?) By focussing on dollars, which can rise if the state is having a good year, rather than priorities, which have been on the decline through good times and bad, we have over-focused on the economic rollercoaster 1975 to present, and missed the underlying message send from state after state, year after year.

This is also why I am not focussing on the GI Bill — the increase in college attendance 1945 to 1960 took US colleges from one million students to 3 million. 1960-1975 took us from 3 million to 11. In that same brief period, we hired twice as many faculty as were employed nationwide in 1959. In that same year, there were two thousand colleges and universities in the U.S., which had accumulated over three centuries. The next thousand appeared over between then and 1975, one new institution, on average, every five days, for fifteen years straight.

In the academy, we had the same first half of the Trente Glorieuses everyone else had. Dentists and car dealers and factory workers also got a boost. And then, for the next fifteen, college got weaponized, our funding went through the roof, even relative to the beneficence of the rest of the economy. State funding from 1960 to 1975 was so uncharacteristically generous, it ended up being unlike not just of all pre-war state funding, but unlike our own early post-war period as well.

And that period, of constantly rising income and hiring lines, is the source of most of the nostalgia in writing about higher education today. Those spending priorities were unsustainable and, to the astonishment of a surprising number of my peers, they were not sustained.

This is, I grant you, capitulating to the general shift in U.S. priorities on higher education, but everyone has a breaking point, a point past which you are willing to stop thinking of something as a problem and start thinking of it as a fact. For me, that point was around 2010, 35 years into the general downgrading of our hold on state revenues. It has surprised me, as a student of professors and a professor myself, to counsel despair, but that is what I am doing. We should despair of fixing the current system by reinflating it with state dollars.

I recognize that many people have not and do not want to give up on the idea of returning to generous state funding, so for the sake of argument, let me put my issue forward as a pair of hypotheticals:

1. Do you believe it is possible that Plan A, the increase in state subsidy, will fail?
2. If Yes, what’s Plan B?

140

js. 06.12.15 at 1:00 am

I’d just like to thank Mike Konczal for his intervention @128; and also geo @125. This thread was getting very depressing for all the wrong reasons.

141

Chris G 06.12.15 at 1:27 am

Clay @ 120

First, some background on my perspective:
1) I have a Ph.D. in Physical Chemistry from a “Tier 1” research university.
2) I’ve worked in industry for 17 of the 20 years since I received my degree. I have no direct connections with academia.
3) I’ve been Principal Investigator on multiple industry-university collaborations. Those collaborations were R&D projects involving research groups at Tier 1 and Tier 2 universities.
4) I can offer a reasonably informed opinion on the state of graduate education and funding of basic research in the physical sciences. In contrast, I cannot offer an informed opinion on the state of grad education or funding of basic research in the biological sciences, social sciences or other fields.

Clay wrote: ” The ‘LIBOR crisis’ I am imagining would include just this outcome I think taxpayers, faced with what academics imagine would be an agonizing choice in allocating subsidy to either undergraduate or graduate education, would actually not find the choice too difficult.”

And that would be a terrible decision. We should fight it tooth and nail not capitulate and move on.

There are multiple reasons not to accept a shift of resources from research, i.e., graduate education, to undergraduate education. Yes, we need to be much more generous with public funding of undergraduate education but don’t cut back on resources for graduate education/research. First off, underinvestment in scientific research undermines our ability to remain a First World country. (Michael Hiltzik had a useful summary of disinvestment in the LA TImes the other week [1].) The foundation which enables the high tech element of our economy was built with public investment; more specifically, public investment to build research labs, pay grad student tuition and provide many of them modest stipends. If that public investment goes away then eventually so will the infrastructure which enables the technically advanced elements of our economy. It won’t happen overnight. It will take decades. (In fairness, we’ve been undermining it for a while now so maybe only a couple more for it to completely collapse due to neglect.) If we allow it to decay for decades then it will take decades to rebuild.

Corporations reap the benefits of public investments in infrastructure. To the extent that they do invest in research it is not to develop infrastructure but to enable harvesting of “low-hanging fruit” produced by public investment. Present-day corporations do not invest in efforts to gain fundamental insights into how the world works. (Google does some interesting things but a contemporary version of Bell Labs they are not.) I’ll wager that government funding of university research accounts for >95% of financial support for organized creative inquiry. Research grants are the mechanism by which that inquiry is supported. If you’re committed to propagation of Enlightenment values then you need to support university research [2].

My perception is that undergraduate education is increasingly focused on vocational training, i.e., creating skilled technicians, over helping people develop as independent thinkers and problem solvers. There’s a need for skilled technicians but there also needs to be a mechanism for supporting creative inquiry – supporting it financially to the extent that one can do so professionally not just as a hobby. Funding basic research is fundamental to enabling professional inquiry.

Mike Konczal’s points about public disinvestment in higher education are spot on. If you didn’t read his piece last year “The UNC Coup and the Second Limit of Economic Liberalism” [3] then it’s worth doing so.

A few things in closing which don’t directly relate to the above but will bug me if I don’t mention:
1. As to what to do with adjunct faculty and other non-tenure-track faculty: Pay them fair wages and benefits. That’s it. Full stop.
2. Petitions and the like probably won’t do much for obtaining pay and benefit equity for adjuncts. 50,000 people camped out in the State House for a few months might do so.
3. University research primarily involves grad students but undergrads are frequently involved as well. I hire people with B.A. and B.S. degrees. Resumes which don’t include some undergraduate research experience usually go straight to the recycle bin. (If the candidate had an internship which gave them research experience that could keep their resume from the recycle bin.)
4. As Wolff noted, the truth may be boring. (Thank you, Corey. That’s a great quote.) That doesn’t justify abandoning its pursuit. With apologies to Postman, if we abandon pursuit of the truth then what are we left with but the freedom to amuse ourselves to death?

References:
1. http://www.latimes.com/business/hiltzik/la-fi-mh-the-funding-decline-in-basic-research-20150428-column.html
2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DdNAUJWJN08&feature=youtu.be
3. http://www.nextnewdeal.net/rortybomb/unc-coup-and-second-limit-economic-liberalism

142

LFC 06.12.15 at 1:36 am

C.S.:

the increase in college attendance 1945 to 1960 took US colleges from one million students to 3 million. 1960-1975 took us from 3 million to 11. In that same brief period, we hired twice as many faculty as were employed nationwide in 1959. In that same year, there were two thousand colleges and universities in the U.S., which had accumulated over three centuries. The next thousand appeared over between then and 1975, one new institution, on average, every five days, for fifteen years straight.

I knew the general story but not the specific figures. Remarkable.

143

Tom Hurka 06.12.15 at 1:57 am

I think Clay is speaking truth to lack of power.

144

Clay Shirky 06.12.15 at 3:52 am

Tom #143, that’s a pretty fair assessment.

At some point, when you cannot accomplish your goal, I think you should consider switching goals.

145

kidneystones 06.12.15 at 12:25 pm

@141, 143, and 144. Many thanks for the illuminating comment and the wit. Found this snippet regarding my own hobby horse – meaningless grades and the need to raise standards. via the Express (apologies to the faint of heart)

Professor Alan Smithers, Director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at the University of Buckingham, warned that students are being cheated by a relentless drive for ‘fairness’, which means it now matters more where you go to university than what results you achieve. He said: “In the name of fairness we’re making it all a lot less fair, because instead of it being about how well you’ve done it’s about where you went.
“There are forces at work leading to the dumbing down of degree classifications. It’s deliberate manipulation of the grades to feature as high as you can in the league tables.”

146

kidneystones 06.12.15 at 12:28 pm

147

joanblondelle 06.13.15 at 1:18 am

Thanks- appreciate the commentary and acknowledging that we contingent faculty do in fact do the bulk of the “dread” activity of provincial teaching! Not to mention grad students/ ta’s…

148

joanblondelle 06.13.15 at 1:52 am

I wonder if “the public” would be equally upset to learn about the tier upon tier of MBA- wielding administrators who are handsomely paid to ensure that their institutions run like a business. My suspicion is that they would not.

149

Sebastian H 06.13.15 at 4:11 pm

Clay I don’t understand why you think that proportion of total government budget is a good measure. While it is not mathematically impossible to maintain budget share since the 60s while the number of government things done increased and while the size of transfer benefits increased, it is astonishingly unlikely. If you fiddle around with the numbers it seems like doing so would make every increase in Medicaid, pension levels, road work, or anything cost many times more while forcing an even more than actually existed astonishingly high rate of growth in spending all through the seventies, eighties and nineties. The ageing of the baby boomers alone was going to automatically collapse the ratio of transfer spending to college spending without enormous growth in university spending.

Further, while the loan structure is horrific, it still represents a massive government subsidy–just one of the worst types of subsidies I can imagine–the universities capture nearly all the subsidy money and the student pays higher costs than ever before. So until about 2008 or so universities had an astonishing run of massively increasing their budgets for fifty years.

The problem is that taxpayers imagine universities having lots to do with teaching, while the proportion of money spent on teaching is down over that period. Actually that proportion would be fascinating to look at– much more so than ratio of total government budget. How has the proportion of university spending to spending on teaching activates changed? I have no idea where to get that statistic.

150

ajay 06.15.15 at 3:42 pm

That scrutiny of the hiring practices at selective schools is slowly going public, first as a source of conversation in the Chronicle, then Slate, and recently, in The New Yorker, as people who look back on their college days come to realize that many of their favorite professors weren’t actually professors… The distinction between ‘people we trust to teach’ and ‘people we allow to be professors’ is not just something the public doesn’t understand; it’s something we actively hide.

This does raise the question (which I think needs addressing) “how come they never noticed before?” Is the idea here really that most American undergraduates never notice that the guys doing most of the teaching were significantly younger, poorer and less well nourished than the guys with “Professor” in front of their names? Do they wear false beards or something? For this to be a scandal it surely has to involve some element of successful (until discovered) concealment.

151

Bloix 06.15.15 at 4:04 pm

#150 – “how come they never noticed before?”

Many universities use the word “professor” for their adjunct faculty. E.g.
https://faculty.umd.edu/policies/ntt_titles.html (defining “adjunct assistant professor”)

152

AcademicLurker 06.15.15 at 4:21 pm

“how come they never noticed before?”

It’s not just the false beards. It’s the combination of false beards and tweed jackets with elbow patches that makes the adjuncts hard to spot.

153

Rakesh 06.15.15 at 4:41 pm

Thank you for this, Clay Shirky!

154

ajay 06.15.15 at 4:49 pm

151: well, OK then, but then the real question is not “why haven’t they noticed that their teachers aren’t professors” – because they are, it says so on their job titles! – but “why haven’t they noticed that all their teachers are very junior ‘professors’ rather than the senior ‘professors’ who run departments and things”.
For this to be a scandal, I think, there surely has to be some point where you (the scandalised) discover something that you didn’t previously know. Otherwise it’s just a ‘bad thing’.
And does the average American undergraduate really not know that most of the people teaching her were very junior members of the faculty? Would she really be surprised and enraged when you told her?

155

Garrulous 06.16.15 at 1:42 am

@154 Junior doesn’t mean young. Many contingent faculty are well into their 30s and upwards. Many aren’t necessarily adjuncts, could be on year-to-year contracts, whatever. While not actively dissimulating, most wouldn’t advertize their low-caste status, departments certainly won’t either.

Most students have only the vaguest sense of the existence of departments, let alone faculty structures etc. Most genuinely wouldn’t notice. Can’t imagine many would give a shit if they did.

156

Deborah Lyons 06.16.15 at 2:06 am

Forgive me if someone said this already
and I missed it. Given that state contributions
to university budgets are in many instances
very low, shouldn’t we be interrogating the idea
that the public won’t continue to pay for professors
with low teaching loads or other supposed outrages?
It seems to me that in most cases they aren’t paying for this
or are paying very little. Perhaps we should be clearer about what
a small percentage of university budgets are actually covered by the
tax-payers?

157

ajay 06.16.15 at 9:43 am

Forgive me if someone said this already
and I missed it. Given that state contributions
to university budgets are in many instances
very low, shouldn’t we be interrogating the idea
that the public won’t continue to pay for professors
with low teaching loads or other supposed outrages?
It seems to me that in most cases they aren’t paying for this
or are paying very little

I think the idea is that the public are paying for them qua fee-paying students, rather than qua state taxpayers.

Most students have only the vaguest sense of the existence of departments, let alone faculty structures etc. Most genuinely wouldn’t notice. Can’t imagine many would give a shit if they did.

Well, quite. I would say that a scandal has to involve three elements: there has to be undesirable behaviour; it has to be concealed; and then it has to be revealed. So “the Catholic church won’t let women become priests!” is not a scandal even if you firmly believe that it’s wrong.

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Garrulous 06.16.15 at 2:25 pm

@159

It seems to depend on – and a lot of this thread seems to depend on – whether you are talking about something you genuinely believe to be wrong. (Children dying of hunger in this century continues to be a moral scandal.)

Or whether the determination of “a scandal” is about second-guessing what might be “a scandal” in the fluctuating index of public opinion or represented as such in cynical manipulations of it.

The disjuncture between the two made the arguments frustrating at times..

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