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Past Valve Book Events

cover of the book Theory's Empire

Event Archive

cover of the book The Literary Wittgenstein

Event Archive

cover of the book Graphs, Maps, Trees

Event Archive

cover of the book How Novels Think

Event Archive

cover of the book The Trouble With Diversity

Event Archive

cover of the book What's Liberal About the Liberal Arts?

Event Archive

cover of the book The Novel of Purpose

Event Archive

The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Happy Trails to You

What’s an Encyclopedia These Days?

Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Intimate Enemies: What’s Opera, Doc?

Alphonso Lingis talks of various things, cameras and photos among them

Feynmann, John von Neumann, and Mental Models

Support Michael Sporn’s Film about Edgar Allen Poe

Philosophy, Ontics or Toothpaste for the Mind

Nazi Rules for Regulating Funk ‘n Freedom

The Early History of Modern Computing: A Brief Chronology

Computing Encounters Being, an Addendum

On the Origin of Objects (towards a philosophy of computation)

Symposium on Graeber’s Debt

The Nightmare of Digital Film Preservation

Richard Petti on Occupy Wall Street: America HAS a Ruling Class

Bill Benzon on Whatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhat?

Nick J. on The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Bill Benzon on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Norma on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Bill Benzon on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

john balwit on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on That Shakespeare Thing

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

JoseAngel on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on Objects and Graeber's Debt

Bill Benzon on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on Objects and Graeber's Debt

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Thursday, March 13, 2008

You Have No Job Security, But We’ll Tell the Goverment You Do

Posted by Marc Bousquet on 03/13/08 at 12:43 PM

Crossposted from howtheuniversityworks.com

In an essential new tract for the majority of faculty who serve contingently, Joe Berry explains how sleazeball administrations game the social-service system to vacuum every last dime from your pocket.

It takes a village to pay for the ultra-low wages that most contingent faculty are paid. The math is simple: since paying someone fifteen or eighteen grand a year for a full-time load is well below a living wage nearly everywhere in the country, especially when that person has massive student loan debt, someone is supplementing the wage so the teacher can live. It could be a spouse, parents, a retirement fund, or another employer. Sometimes it’s human services, in the form of welfare or food assistance.  The money “saved” by cheap faculty labor is actually paid in to the system by taxpayers, other employers, and family members.

Meanwhile, the funds that would otherwise be spent on faculty are spent on the plague of locusts called administrators: as the most recent data have it: full-time administrators now outnumber full-time faculty. That’s right: you read it correctly. More next week on the most recent NCES data and managerial cannibalization of the campus next week. (Cut to Charlton Heston behind his desk in the dean’s office, spitting out his canapes, belatedly having his epiphany: “I’m eating people!")

In California, the majority of faculty successfully sued to confirm their eligibility for unemployment compensation while they’re laid off from their employers. Joe Berry, chair of Chicago COCAL and the author of the essential book on self-organization for faculty serving contingently, Reclaiming the Ivory Tower, has produced an essential new tract to help faculty win their rights to unemployment compensation. Co-authored by Beverly Stewart and Helena Worthen, you can download it for free.

There are obstacles to faculty obtaining their rightful compensation. Because state policies vary, some will present more difficult hurdles than others. But Berry and his coauthors suggest that often the largest barrier is the emotional and intellectual barrier raised by faculty themselves, who find it very hard to accept the reality of their situation--that they are, literally, teaching for love, and being compensated far less than a Wal-mart employee or waitstaff at Denny’s.

The second largest barrier is Jane Provost, who will try to save the campus a few extra dimes (amounting to less than her own pay raise) by providing faculty with misinformation about benefits eligibility, and by outright lies, telling the unemployment office that contingent faculty can expect re-employment, while sending legally binding letters to the contrary to the faculty themselves.

Because unemployment insurance is funded by the employers themselves, and employers with a high rate of claims will be asked to pay more, employers have a financial incentive to reduce claims. Most higher education employers, the pamphlet explains, could avoid this exposure by reducing their excessive reliance on perma-temping and provide faculty with legally meaningful assurances of re-employment.  Instead most choose “to continue to employ the majority of their teaching staff on a contingent no-reasonable-assurance basis but argue in unemployment insurance appeals hearings that the employee does in fact have reasonable assurance, and thereby often block receipt of benefits.”

I’ve said before, and I’ll say it again: Why do administrators get paid more? Not to be smarter, work harder, or exercise leadership. The extra cash buys hot water to scrub this kind of dirt from their hands.

Jointly funded by AAUP, AFT, and NEA, the pamphlet includes information on individual states.

It also makes it clear that filing for unemployment insurance is more than a matter of individual compensation.

It’s a political act: as more faculty file--especially filing in co-ordinated campaigns--pressure is placed on both the employer and the state to acknowledge the hidden system of subsidies enabling the ultra-low wages paid to the faculty majority.

But like most political acts, it comes with the risk of retaliation. While this sort of retaliation is illegal, U.S. labor law is the corollary of its position on torture, and there are few real penalties to be paid for terrorizing a workforce with the threat of non-reappointment. Did I mention the dirty hands of administrators?


"Why do administrators get paid more? Not to be smarter, work harder, or exercise leadership. The extra cash buys hot water to scrub this kind of dirt from their hands.”

Interesting.  I’m familiar with the work-for-love phenomenon, having worked for activist non-profits since 1990 or so.  (The general rule there is that you should expect to make 2/3 of what you would otherwise make if you were not working for love, unless you have the misfortune to be working for an organization started by Ralph Nader, in which case you’ll probably do worse).  But the above adds the phenomenon of working for hate.

As societal productivity in general increases, I’d expect more and more of certain professions / areas to be supported by the general slosh-over.  John Kenneth Galbraith wrote something about how the economies of small New England towns were continually boosted by the people who came in wanting to run or start small hotels or restaurants or farms and spending money locally until they went out of business, at which time eager new people would come in.

By on 03/14/08 at 12:31 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Marc’s argument about the permatemping of university teaching remains spot-on.

But I do begin to wonder about the issue of choice and responsibility here.  When an adult decides to pursue a doctoral degree at, say, a second or third rate university, and then decides to remain for years on an academic job market we’ve known offers slim pickins for a few decades now, shouldn’t we begin to ask why?

We clearly need to expand the field of full-time faculty positions.  But we also need to cut down on a system that offers false hopes, that produces far more Ph.D.s than the fields themselves need.  This isn’t to say that students should not be able to pursue doctoral degrees if they simply want the degree or the experience.  But some realism seems necessary.

(Increasingly, the academic job market isn’t even a meritocracy, as many programs settle for lesser candidates who they think will settle down versus more qualified candidates who might leave in a few years for a better job.  This creates increasing and unrealistic demand for doctoral degrees that mean a lot in a regional way but cannot compete nationally.)

By on 03/14/08 at 02:17 PM | Permanent link to this comment

But we also need to cut down on a system that offers false hopes, that produces far more Ph.D.s than the fields themselves need.

And, you know, Luther, this issue was explicitly on the table when I was in graduate school, in the middle 70s. There wasn’t as much permatemping back then, but the handwriting was clearly on the wall, and the PhD-producing departments sat on their hands.

By Bill Benzon on 03/14/08 at 04:18 PM | Permanent link to this comment

One of the seductions is being in a world where your values are cherished (the value of knowing a lot about Elizabethan theatre), rather than considering a hobby among others, like canine agility training or playing World of Warcraft.  The senior faculty like graduate programs whether they’re genuinely equipped to train scholars or teachers because they can spend time talking to people who are also charmed by the same things.

And after a while, without some other experiences that can be transferred to a better paying job market (I’m now a technical writer and a big chunk comes from having once fluked into a Net Work Operations Center job and having run my own servers), the people are rather stuck.  I suspect that women are particularly stuck if their husbands were the first hired at a university (and that sort of adjunct has been with us since at least the fifties).

I’ve begun to wonder if education will be the next bubble.

One of the cannier people to move into academia without even an undergraduate degree said that these days without a book that’s a major contribution to ones field, one isn’t going to get tenure at any place good.

By Rebecca Ore on 03/15/08 at 12:06 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Rebecca, there was a period in between realizing that I didn’t want a research-oriented academic job and realizing I was better off teaching high school.  So I went a-lookin for teaching-centered college jobs.

The problem I found was that these institutions simply didn’t believe that I would stay.

Sadly, I’ve faced a similar issue with public high school jobs.  All the administrators, themselves working on doctoral degrees, hoping to get out of the public school system, cannot imagine that someone with a doctoral degree would want to stick with a high school gig.

By on 03/15/08 at 08:35 AM | Permanent link to this comment

[To delurk briefly with a side note: at least at the large midwestern university where I work (as a secretary, for the record) there is a move by the administration to reclassify previously union jobs as “administrative” in order to weaken the union. It would probably be possible for me to petition to be reclassified as an administrator myself; I met a woman during our recent strike who had done so. This wouldn’t mean a fat salary for me; it would mean a moderate increase in the long term coupled with less job security and no grievance process...and even that moderate increase is granted by the university in order to make it look like being in the union is a bad deal. The same exploitative cost-cutting measures that bedevil academics are used against all low-level university employees.]

By on 03/16/08 at 10:59 PM | Permanent link to this comment

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