Colleges are facing a perfect storm that could shutter hundreds of them and leave many more wondering how to survive. Yet much of higher education’s leadership is in denial that anything is amiss.
The College Board just concluded its annual Higher Ed Colloquium of college presidents, admissions deans, and financial aid directors. I was invited to address the group about whether there is an irreconcilable gap between college costs and the stressed middle class. There is. And my message was about as popular as a hurricane forecast.
The perfect storm will be the culmination of soaring tuitions, technological disruption, and parent dissatisfaction.
Out-of-control tuition increases have been the stuff of parents’ nightmares and media headlines for years. The Bureau of Labor Statistics pegs it at a 1200% increase since 1978, far higher than health care’s 634% rise, or the Consumer Price Index’s 279% increase over the same period.
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Adjunct labor in Nevada is a large but unacknowledged community of college teachers needed by Governor Sandoval to build his “New Nevada.” (Link is “broken.” See why below.) Unless adjunct labor receives the state’s support to perform its educational role well, his vision of a “New Nevada” will not become reality.
An “adjunct” is an instructor hired to teach college courses on a semester-by-semester contractual basis, but without receiving any of the same benefits, pay, or return rights for teaching the same courses as those taught by “full-time” instructors. Nevada adjuncts teach the majority of total classes taught in Nevada’s community colleges and universities (For 2014, almost 60% of undergraduate instruction in Nevada was performed by adjuncts). Even so, adjunct labor’s crucial role in the creation of “New Nevada” and the resources this labor needs to do so, are not acknowledged and thus not specified by the Governor—nor by Nevada’s System of Higher Education (NSHE). Rather, it seems that the Governor and NSHE will assume their status quo treatment of Nevada’s adjuncts for at least the next two academic years.
However, the assumption that Nevada’s status quo treatment of its adjunct labor will provide this labor with what it needs to create the “New Nevada” is an untenable assumption. If the “New Nevada” is to be a technologically competitive and skilled state attractive to out of state businesses that look to invest in Nevada’s burgeoning economy, then the state will need a college-educated workforce. And if Nevada needs a college-educated workforce, then it will need adjunct labor to teach those vocational and critical thinking skills that will enable “New Nevada’s” high-tech economy to flourish.
The Governor and NSHE continue to use an “efficiency” and “austerity” informed approach in providing adjunct labor with the resources it needs to educate Nevada’s college students. This approach requires that adjuncts meet the goals proposed by NSHE in its 2015 Strategic Plan to help the Governor build “New Nevada,” but with no political support from the Governor and no institutional support from NSHE.
To improve Nevada’s poor educational rating, the Governor wants to diminish collective bargaining rights for Nevada’s state workers. Hence, adjuncts, as a large number of state workers, must be a voting block whose employment interests are contrary to the Governor’s overall political interests. Hence, the Governor will most likely not be an advocate for adjunct labor. Moreover, NSHE does not act on behalf of the interests of its adjunct labor. The crucial role of adjunct labor is not stated in NSHE’s proposed 2015 Strategic Plan to assist the Governor in achieving his vision of the “New Nevada.” Nor does NSHE provide in its recent Adjunct Faculty Task Force recommendations any specific, clear, and universal rules for how to include adjuncts in the “shared governance” of its institutions.
In order for adjuncts to be able to make the Governor’s vision of a “New Nevada” a reality, he must invest in adjunct labor and give it those resources needed to best educate Nevada’s college students. This means that the Governor and NSHE can no longer employ an “austere” and “efficiency-oriented” mindset toward its adjunct labor and still believe that this labor can best meet the educational goals specified to create the “New Nevada.”
Like friendship or the process of democracy itself, teaching college well and receiving a quality college education are not processes whose primary value are translatable into a set of administrative friendly, cost-effective “best practices.” Instead, the excellence of adjunct teaching is directly proportionate to the amount of money and administrative help it receives from the state. If the Governor and NSHE aren’t willing to give the majority of the state’s academic labor force what it needs in order to flourish and to perfect its teaching for Nevada’s college students, then there will be no high-tech, innovative workforce to fuel “New Nevada’s” economy.
I have taught as an adjunct for NSHE since 2003. For the past five years, each year without exception, I have taught the maximum amount of classes that NSHE will allow me to teach under the title of “adjunct.” (Some years I have taught more courses than my title allows.) Sometimes I create a course from scratch, teach it once, only to never teach it again. Sometimes I do not know what courses I will be teaching until the week before the semester begins. Sometimes administrators remember me in their effort to find a teacher who can serve as “staff” to teach an open class—other times they do not. I am not paid for holding office hours. I never have had an office of my own to meet with students.
NSHE has kept me in these working conditions for twelve years. Consequently, I do not believe Nevada’s college administrators view me as a teacher (i.e., one who has devoted one’s life to learning effective pedagogy in one’s discipline), but instead as a mere placeholder who performs an impersonal institutional function (i.e., one whose labor is only needed to the extent it serves the immediate cost and flexibility concerns of administrators). Since 2003, NSHE’s institutions have not provided me with mentorship (with the exception of the faculty of UNR’s Philosophy Department), not promoted and ensured collegiality, not offered me return rights, not offered me a pay scale commensurate with my education and teaching experience, nor provided me and my family with health benefits (even though some semesters I have qualified for health benefits).
Providing Nevada’s adjuncts with these things will make them better teachers. Sparing these expenses is something Nevada can no longer afford to do if it is to become a “New Nevada.”
Yet there is one more thing adjuncts need in order to help the Governor make his “New Nevada” a reality.
Nevada’s adjunct labor must also be allowed the right to vote on whether to form its own, distinct faculty union. Otherwise, the idea of adjunct labor having a real role in the “shared governance” of Nevada’s colleges is merely NSHE’s use of ideological, public relations language to create the illusion of adjunct inclusion in its operations. Moreover, without allowing adjuncts a real political means through which they can express their employment concerns to elected officials, the “New Nevada” will be the same old Nevada for its adjuncts. Put simply, Nevada will remain a state in which the majority of its college instructors teach for far less than a living wage, with no employment security, with no administrative help, and with no real political voice.
This piece is written in support of National Adjunct Walkout Day (#NAWD) and in support of Nevada’s adjunct workforce.
Below is the Las Vegas Review Journal Op-Ed from Governor Sandoval that inspired me to write the above piece. It has since been removed, at the Governor’s request, from the ReviewJournal.com website. (I’m not sure of the exact date of this piece, but it had to be posted online within the last four weeks.) ______________________________________________________________
“RJ – SANDOVAL: Gov. Sandoval on building the new Nevada
The 78th session of the Nevada Legislature is underway. Your representatives have convened in Carson City to adopt a budget and set the priorities for the Silver State in education, health care, transportation and many other areas that affect your daily life. More importantly, they gather with a generational opportunity to build a new Nevada that provides a strong future for you, your children and the generations to come.
This moment requires us to be responsible and bold. Leaders can no longer try to just get by for another two years and pass the buck to the next Legislature, governor or generation. It’s time to be honest with you and have a frank conversation about Nevada’s outdated revenue structure, our struggling schools and a plan for the future.
I presented my vision for a new Nevada in my State of the State address. I proposed unprecedented improvements and reforms to our education system, adjustments to our decades-old revenue structure, and a plan to prepare Nevada for a new economy based on technology and innovation, while also preserving our robust gaming, mining and agricultural industries.
It came as no surprise that my plan has drawn criticism. Some people are unhappy with my support of reform and accountability measures to adjust collective bargaining and construction defect litigation. However, I want to ensure that your taxpayer dollars are well-spent and that our justice system is fair.
Others don’t like my proposals to modernize our tax system and ask for new revenue from the business community. However, the realities of our budget situation are squarely before us. Unlike the federal government, Nevada must balance its budget.
Budgeting for the past four years has, to say the least, been difficult. Because of dire economic conditions, we cut state employee pay and benefits, closed state museums and parks, drained the state’s “rainy day” fund, reduced the state workforce, consolidated state agencies, swept local government accounts, decreased funding to our schools and universities, reduced payments to medical providers, relied on credit facilities and received prepayment of mining taxes.
Even now, the current budget proposal reduced state agency requests by $700 million. Also, in the last year, revenue collections are $150 million below what was projected because mining and gaming revenue is significantly less than expected and school enrollment is far beyond expectations.
Throughout all of this, we have endured, diversified and improved. However, we still must come to grips with the fact that our current revenue structure does not keep pace with growth and is rooted in the Nevada economy of 50 years ago. That is why I have proposed a new graduated business license fee that is broad, fair and simple.
Some have said that my proposal is the same as Question 3, “The Education Initiative,” which was rejected by voters last year. It is not. My proposal sets a rate that is much lower, it differentiates between businesses and it raises about $250 million per year, while Question 3 would have raised triple that amount or more.
These new funds will modernize our revenue system. More importantly, it will strengthen our schools by improving our worst-in-the-nation graduation rates, ensure that young students read at grade level by third grade and provide new resources for gifted and talented students.
We know that the status quo will not improve student achievement or prepare our children for the jobs and economy of the future. Reliance on old and obsolete education systems will also discourage new companies from expanding to Nevada and inhibit our ability to diversify our economy.
There is good news. Nevada is on the move again. We’ve added almost 100,000 new jobs in four years, we are the second-fastest growing state in the nation and we are attracting new, cutting edge companies that are leaders in new innovations in technology, aviation and advanced manufacturing. In other words, we are ready to lead.
But to lead, we must improve our education system and universities, modernize our revenue structure and prepare ourselves and the next generation of Nevadans for the future. This requires courage, sacrifice and tough decisions — from all of us.
I pledge to work with you, the business community and the Legislature to prepare us for the new global economy and a new Nevada where we give our children a world-class education, have a healthy citizenry, develop a sustainable and vibrant economy, provide safe and livable communities and build an efficient and responsive state government.
You deserve nothing less.”
Brian Sandoval, a Republican, is governor of Nevada.”
Today’s guest post is brought to you by two great tweeters and fellow freelancers, Elizabeth Keenan & Katie Rose Guest Pryal. Katie & Elizabeth are also running this piece on their own blogs, too, so pay them a visit if—or, ahem, when—you reread and share this fine conversation. They originally did this in June, but for a few reasons we’re finally running it now.
Katie first blogged about the “freelance academic” identity in the spring, and it’s even more relevant now as the post-ac and alt-ac ranks are increasing:
I’ve dumped my online academic identity and claimed one as a freelancer—even while very much maintaining a contingent post at a university. And, on the blog, I’ve stepped outside of the boundaries of acceptable academic discourse to engage in what one of my doctoral advisors called “fist-waving.” (He wasn’t using that phrase as a compliment.) In short, I’m creating distance.
Happy reading. Please…
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He’d also probably say something like the following about/to academic administrators…
1. “From me you will hear the whole truth, though not, by Zeus, gentlemen, expressed in embroidered and stylized phrases like theirs, but things spoken at random and expressed in the first words that come to mind, for I put my trust in the justice of what I say, and let none of you expect anything else.” (Apology 24, Grube)
(Adjuncts are educated and concerned with using language to communicate knowledge in order to teach students; administrators are educated and are concerned with using language in order to justify policies that serve their monetary interests to other administrators.)
2. “You say that you have discovered the one who corrupts them, namely me, and you bring me here and accuse me to the jury.” (Apology 30, Grube)
(Adjunct teaching is claimed to be–without an eye to the larger adjunct predicament–a reason for why students aren’t learning as much as they should be. Rather: it’s administrative policies and organizational values that have lost sight of student needs and the educator’s institutional primacy over the administrator. I’m all for “accountability”–both academic and administrative.)
1. Most “full-time” faculty have access to labor problem resolution through collective bargaining rights. Some adjuncts have no such access.
2. While using adjunct labor to meet institutional monetary goals, academic institutions in right to work states, at the same time, do not afford adjuncts any right to safe and regular employment. The “right” for an adjunct to back out of an employment agreement with an academic employer in a right to work is professional suicide. On the other hand, an academic institution can choose to not “reappoint” an adjunct according to its own policies and administrative judgments and justifications.
3. I just now remembered learning about a disturbing employment practice in hiring adjunct labor from a conversation with a full-time colleague. It will require further investigation (and a follow-up with X). Because X was in charge of scheduling classes, I asked X for a regular set of courses at max adjunct .FTE. X said that it wasn’t possible to provide me with a regular set of courses at max adjunct .FTE, and that there is an administrative movement to make adjuncts reapply each semester to regain employment teaching. What’s the administrative rational behind such an employment practice?
4. Commute time to several campuses in order to make a livable wage is also time away from family, preparation, and teaching, and also costs money that can be put to better ends. Commuting is also an additional sedentary element to a mostly sedentary profession.
5. Some academic institutions don’t allow adjuncts to choose their own texts when teaching a course. Yet, at the same time, full-time faculty are allowed to choose their own texts when teaching the very same course.
6. Some academic institutions do not have an accurate, reliable, and fair way of evaluating adjunct teaching to use as a factor in deciding whether to reappoint an adjunct to teach classes.
Getting to “know” other academics on Twitter is a very strange process. First you follow the ones you know. Then you follow the most interesting people who they “know,” and by then other folks who they follow who you don’t know have started following you.
One of the people I’ve gotten to “know” through this process is an MIT literature professor named Noel Jackson. Throughout this semester, me and about 3000 of his “friends” (to borrow a term from another social media platform) have been watching an absolutely horrifying story unfold on his Twitter feed. As far as I know, this story from today’s Daily Beast is the first time that anything about it has appeared in the mainstream media:
Turns out, someone was apparently paying attention to his tweets. The next day, Jackson fired off a tweet before 9 am: “I was roused from bed this morning by 4-6…
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1. Academic free speech in NV includes speech critical of NSHE employment practices or it does not. (T/F)
2. Any NSHE policy, regulation, or code that does not allow for the criticism of NSHE employment practices is not a coherent policy, regulation, or code concerning academic free speech. (T/F)
3. Academic speech critical of NSHE employment practices is protected by NSHE academic policies, regulations, or codes as academic free speech. (T/F)
Questions: What NSHE policies exist, and to what ends do they serve, regarding wrongful termination? What are NSHE’s policies regarding wrongful termination?