Adjuncts + part-timers, part II (WAS: Relevance?)

Mike Salovesh (t20mxs1@CORN.CSO.NIU.EDU)
Fri, 9 Feb 1996 07:09:38 -0600

Part I of this overlong composition dealt with part of the history of
academic anthropology as I've watched it unfold since my first grad
courses back in the 50's. I turn now to what's being done to us today as
the world flies into headlong retreat from supporting postsecondary
education. Reports from the U.K., from Mexico, from Argentina, from
Japan, from Australia, from the former Soviet Union all confirm this
worldwide trend. I will continue to talk about the U.S. system of higher
ed, rather than about the whole world, simply because that's where I am.

One obvious demonstration of the fact that there are lots of people in
anthropology, but declining numbers of jobs for us in academia, is the
geewhizz we've been saying to each other for several years: fewer than
50% of employed anthropologists work in academia nowadays. I suppose
that should lead us to expect that what we teach in academia would point
toward careers in applied anthro more than anything else.

Nonetheless, those of us who TEACH anthropology know very little about any
other kind of employment. We don't know how to prepare our students for
anything but the career path we followed ourselves. In general, we still
act as if the only job that counts for a "real" anthropologist is a
professorship. It's no wonder that we imbue our students with the same
attitude. But the kinds of jobs we have aren't out there in any great
numbers. What do you do, then, if you have a fresh-minted Ph.D.?

You don't become an adjunct. "Adjunct" is pretty much a term of the past.
Margaret Mead was an Adjunct Professor at Columbia, which is to say that
they gave her an academic address, but no regular salary or benefits or
tenure. She wasn't the only distinguished anthropologist to hold such an
adjunct appointment, either. Not surprisingly, adjuncts in Mead's day
were almost all women. Today, the title is generally given to somebody
who teaches no courses and gets no salary and has no office at the
university that grants the title. Many bearers of the title are men.
What the title seems to be about is guaranteeing the title-holder space
in a departmental listing in the AAA Guide to Anthropologists, while
making a living someplace that doesn't take out such a listing.

What you do is scramble instead of seeking an adjunct listing. While you
hang on by your fingernails, you take on one course at this community
college, another at some other community college, and perhaps a night
course at a nearby multiversity. You get no insurance, no medical
coverage, no assistance in traveling to professional meetings, no
computer, and, usually, neither an office nor even a desk to call your
own. What little pay you get comes in dribbles of perhaps $2000 per
course, or (when you're lucky) as much as $3000.

Your professors taught you that the only way to be a real anthropologist
is to teach anthro, so you stick with it. Somebody makes a "grand"
offer of a fulltime, temporary position off the tenure track. That gives
you a regular salary -- considerably less than anything paid to somebody
who is on the tenure track, of course. But you get an office, and maybe
a telephone, and the right to use departmental stationery. Your teaching
load lightens considerably when you go on salary rather than getting paid
by the course. Best of all, you actually get some fringe benefits. You
may even be cut into the department travel budget pool, or come in at the
end of the line for a hand-me-down computer as somebody on tenure-track
gets a new one. (You don't notice, at first, that as a mere temp not on
tenure track you don't accumulate retirement benefits at most places.)

As a temp, you're a second class citizen. You're probably not eligible
to sit on university committees; you may not even be eligible to direct
theses and dissertations. In many departments, you have no voice at all
in the personnel process -- even, or perhaps especially, when it comes to
participating in the process of hiring other faculty members. To rub it
in, as a mere temp you can expect that your annual raises will be much
smaller than those of tenure-track people. That is, if you're lucky
enough to get any raises at all.

Just as you're getting used to having a job without having to scramble
for courses each semester, you hit the tenure wall. The accepted rules
about tenure seem to average out to the expectation that if your first
fulltime appointment stretches out to seven years, even if you weren't on
tenure track, you are given de facto tenure rights if kept on into the
eighth year. "Non-tenure track", therefore, almost always means a
maximum of seven years' employment. Then you're out the door.

It's even worse on your *second* full-time job as a temp. AAUP rules,
which set the standard for much of academia, call for a probationary
period of not more than three years on a new job once you have put in a
total of seven years elsewhere. You're not on tenure track, of course,
so this time you're out the door after three years. By now, you may have
put in a total of ten years teaching, you're pushing 40 years old, and
you have not built up any pension rights beyond Social Security. Given
your low pay all those years, you don't have much in savings, either.

By this time, if you have any sense at all you finally say to hell with
that ideal of staying in academia your professors instilled in you.

And who replaces you? Bad as your salary and benefits were, academia
hires one of this year's crop of newly-minted Ph.D.'s at considerably
less pay than they were giving you.

Now let's switch viewpoints. It was not too long ago that many, many
universities had faculties that were more than 80% tenured. Not tenure
track, mind you, but holding tenure. Fully tenured departments were
common -- that is, departments where every single faculty member already
held tenure. It was usually not possible to dump those tenured faculty
members in order to replace them with cheaper beginners: that's what
tenure was taken to mean. (When you read the fine print, that's not what
it means at all. All that tenure gives to a professor is the right to
due process on the way to being fired. Well, compared to non-tenured
profs and temps who aren't on the tenure track, that's something. Those
other people can be fired with no due process at all. But tenure is NOT
a guarantee of continued employment, despite popular misconceptions. It
certainly is not a life contract, anywhere.)

Welcome to the world of budgetary politics. Up to 90% of a university's
budget can be tied up in salaries and benefits. When the state of West
Sylvania, say, adopts something as fiscally crazy as California's
Proposition 13, it doesn't take too long to hit absolute budget crunch.
The Universities of West Sylvania have very little flexibility in their
budgets -- and the state would be out to cut their budgets anyhow. The
solution, taken by many real states, is a funny political ploy: if a lot
of tenured, highly-paid profs get off the payroll, and only some of them
are replaced, and those few replacements get much lower salaries, that
takes off the immediate pressure.

How do you do that when you don't want to get into the hassle of firing
profs with tenure? You pull a political smoke and mirrors act, of course;
you make those profs an offer they can't refuse. Like, e.g., early
retirement at a much higher rate of retirement pay than will ever again be
available to them if they remain active. The beauty of this plan is that
it doesn't cost a cent extra during the *current* fiscal year. For the
next couple of years, it still doesn't cost anything out of the state's
general revenue: you pay those higher retirement benefits to the profs you
pushed out by stripping the retirement fund reserves. Never mind that
when the retirement funds are all gone those early retirees will still be
comoaratively young and demanding the benefits they were promised. That's
a problem for some other Governor and some other Legislature to solve at
some unknown future date.

Gee, the bottom line begins to look pretty good. Of course, you don't
want to get into that bind ever again. Hmm. How about filling those few
slots you must fill, after you've talked stacks of senior faculty members
into retiring, with people who never will get tenure? Gosh, that looks
even better. Well, if that makes the budget look so much better, why not
cut the salary lines even more by cutting benefits? Sure, you can't do
that to people with fulltime appointments -- but you can cover the empty
courses with part-timers, one course at a time. Extremely low salaries,
no fringe benefits, and no expenses, and your commitment to them only
lasts for a semester? Those are ideal employees!

If the scenario I've just presented sounds outrageous and you think
nobody would try to get away with it, you haven't been paying attention.
That's very close to what actually was done to the Universities of
California in the very recent past. The movement isn't limited to
California, by any means. How do you think we have arrived at a national
average of 40% part-time and/or temporary faculty?

Bottom-line logic explains it all. As the federal government goes
through wild budget-cutting in social programs (while still increasing
defense and star-wars expenditures!), in order to produce allegedly
balanced budgets at some unreachable future date, the needs that were
covered by those federal expenditures continue. Who picks them up? Who
else? The states. As national politicians up the ante by calling for
longer and longer prison sentences for more and more kinds of crimes, who
has to build and staff most of the prisons? Who else? The states. And
as the federal government cuts back taxes for those who are most able to
pay them, and revenues go down, who has to pick up the slack once paid by
federal revenue sharing? Who else? The states.

Just in case nobody noticed, the economy has not been that rosy as far as
state tax collections are concerned. The struggle over state budget
dollars gets bloodier every year. Where does the money go? Prisons are
an untouchable part of the budget; they're a growth industry, in fact. A
certain minimal investment in infrastructure is unavoidable -- the roads
must roll. There has to be a certain unavoidable minimum in state social
services, if only because federal law requires that states provide them.
Housekeeping expenses have to be paid, meaning the legislature and the
courts and the cops and the bureaucracy. States like Illinois have to
maintain some level of support for primary and secondary schools because
the only other source of support they have is local property taxes. Cut
state support to schools and local taxes have to go up, and then local
taxpayers blow up, and the legislature and the governor lose their jobs.

Ah, but the higher education budget has no strong voting constituency!
Besides, who is going to notice if the students get to take the same
courses whether they're taught by high-paid full professors or by part-
time folks working for peanuts?

Well, while we're at it, our cost accountants tell us that it costs lots
more to provide graduate education than to shove undergrads on through.
We really ought to emphasize undergraduate education, anyhow, and we all
know that those fancy-shmancy full professors are too interested in doing
expensive research instead of doing their job of teaching undergrads.
Why should this state pay for all that research, anyhow? Do you know how
much it costs? Wouldn't it be lots better to have a faculty that can
concentrate on doing what we hire them for, teaching the maximum number
of students for the minimum amount of cash? Well, figure it out. Those
tenured full profs spend so much time on research and so much time
inefficiently teaching grad students one-on-one that only a few cents on
their salary dollar goes to paying for mass undergrad courses. If we cut
out the graduate courses AND the research by getting the full profs to
retire, or by just cutting out the expensive graduate degree programs,
it really makes sense that we should pay the replacements no more than
the small share of their salaries the old full profs earned by teaching
undergrads. The whole place ends up costing pennies instead of dollars
and nobody will ever know the difference!

Excuse me for a second while I barf.

The "reasoning" I have just been describing is not my personal paranoid
nightmare. It is exactly the miracle snakeoil cure that's being peddled
here in Illinois and across the country.

In case you missed it, this is the real process of the dumbing down of
America -- and the world. It's a beautiful fit with the philosophy
underlying "neoliberal" economics. It's a perfect complement to the
pseudo-conservatism that rules the world nowadays.

Well, Mike Cahill, that's what you get for asking me to comment on the
complex reverberations of our current situation.

And, for those who keep asking this list to stick to things that are
obviously of concern to anthropology and anthropologists, that's exactly
what I'm talking about, folks.

Good night -- or rather, good morning.

mike salovesh, anthropology department <>
northern illinois university PEACE !