Ohio Higher Ed

A Monthly Blog

Compiled By Marty Kich

AAUP-WSU home page

AAUP-WSU blog page

January 2012

[Click the links to pdf’s of the full articles.]

Let’s open this month with several items from the University of Toledo chapter. The first is an editorial from the Toledo Blade, reprinted in a chapter communication, about the difficulties of improving retention at an open-enrollment university. As state funding for higher education continues to fall in Ohio and as the state funding model increasingly shifts toward the “production” of more graduates, open-enrollment institutions, such as the University of Toledo and Wright State University, confront this funding conundrum most acutely.

A second item from UT-AAUP is a statement by President Lloyd A. Jacobs on faculty hiring. On the surface, it may simply articulate a strategy for insuring that the most expensive faculty hires, to tenure-track positions, are considered with greater care given the funding constraints in this period of economic austerity. But President Jacobs has a “history” that must color the reading of any position that he expresses. Recall that at the beginning of this economic recession, he proposed furloughing tenure-track faculty because of economic exigency—while he was giving almost $700,000 in “performance bonuses” to his top 14 subordinates. So, in that context, his statement on faculty hiring seems an announcement of a formal shift toward an increasing reliance on non-tenure-track full-time faculty and adjuncts—a shift that, in the longer term, will very likely only exacerbate the institutional issues addressed in the Toledo Blade editorial.

A third item from UT-AAUP describes the “Administrative Hypocrisy” in the university’s having “fired Crystal Dixon, Associate Vice President of Human Resources at UT, for publicly stating her adherence to her fundamentalist religious beliefs” and its continuing to encourage—and pay for—administrators’ attendance at a “Global Leadership Summit” provided by a fundamentalist church in Illinois. Having attended this seminar, which is “organized around the conviction that "that the maximum influence and impact of the Church is felt when all of its Christ-centered leaders are at the forefront of establishing and growing well led local churches, companies, schools, governments and social enterprises," let me suggest that the university’s administrators may be ready to reserve spots on the “Cruise of a Lifetime.” [You need to click on this link before continuing to read the blog.]

I will admit that this cruise is close to my idea of hell—that being trapped on a ship with all of these “Conservative All-Stars” would constitute, for me, a circle of hell that Dante never envisioned. But before I am accused of some rampant anti-Christian or anti-conservative bias, I would ask what the public and political responses would be if a public university in Ohio were sending its administrators to a leadership seminar at a mosque run by a “radical” Imam—or if my follow-up joke involved a post-election cruise sponsored by The Nation instead of The National Review.

In “Crowdsourcing a Compilation of Adjunct Working Conditions,” Josh Boldt applauds the attention being given by major academic associations to the exploitation of adjunct faculty. But, with an exasperation mitigated only somewhat by irony, Boldt points out that the solutions proposed by even the most sympathetic tenured faculty reflect a profound lack of awareness of just how little most adjunct faculty are being paid. Boldt spells out the simple arithmetic of adjunct exploitation: that at $2,000 per course, a 5-5 load on a semester calendar amounts to an annual income of $20,000. (As I was finishing my doctorate, I adjuncted at four local colleges and universities. The compensation per course ranged from $1450 at a very small liberal arts college to $2500 at a large community college to $3500 at a fairly large and highly regarded private university. Considering the numbers on which Boldt is drawing and knowing what Wright State pays its adjuncts, I think that it is fair to say that adjunct compensation has, at best, remained flat over the last quarter of a century—which means, in light on inflation, that it has actually declined in actual buying power, and declined quite dramatically.) In the end, I suspect that the hand-wringing by professional organizations will do less for adjunct faculty than their own activism. Increasingly, adjunct faculty are forming their own bargaining units—as the adjunct faculty at American University have very recently done. Although reliance on adjunct faculty and non-tenure-track full-time faculty has become a deeply entrenched practice, pressure within institutions to increase their compensation is the only strategy that may eventually stall, if not reverse, the decline in tenure-track opportunities.

Let me note that in Ohio, there is a substantial legal obstacle to the unionization of adjunct faculty. Specifically, Ohio Revised Code 4117– the chapter in state law that authorizes collective bargaining for public employees and protects public employees who choose to work toward or participate in such collective bargaining--explicitly excludes “Part-time faculty members of an institution of higher education.” [See ORC 4417.01 (C) (14).]

Critics of tenure will immediately counter that “privileged” faculty exist at the expense of exploited colleagues and that, in the interests of “fairness,” tenure ought to be eliminated. But I do not believe that the elimination of tenure would provide any consolation to most of our exploited colleagues. In fact, I think that the elimination of tenure would spell the end of the pool of adjunct faculty that primarily earn their livings as adjunct faculty. The hope of a tenure-track position, or any full-time position, is what keeps most of those adjunct faculty in the classroom. However slim that hope may be in the current environment, any degree of hope is more sustaining than no hope at all. Departments may talk about promoting alternative career options for their graduate students, but the promise of careers in academia sustains graduate enrollments. And it remains very true that a career in academia is equated with tenure. So, in that sense and others, the tenure system ultimately sustains graduate enrollments, which sustain research programs, much undergraduate education, and more of the structure of higher education that is commonly admitted.

For a long time, the opponents of unions have engaged in a similarly pernicious version of “class warfare,” depicting unionized workers as unnecessarily privileged and demonizing them as the primary cause of the decline in well-paid industrial employment. Given that wages for all working-class and middle-class Americans have, at best, remained flat over the last three decades, it is clear that those who had less have been presented as scapegoats to those who had even less. But there are many signs that this perverse variation on the “politics of envy” is fast running its course. A fair salary and decent benefits are less and less being seen as privileges and more and more as reasonable expectations. Although non-unionized workers may have taken for granted the upward pressure on wages and benefits exerted by unionized workers, they are increasingly recognizing the broad correlation between the erosion in workers’ rights and the erosion of the standard of living long associated with the American middle-class.

Stepping down from my soapbox, I’d like to recommend a recent post on the Chronicle of Higher Education’s blog 2-Year Track. The writer reflects of the film Moneyball and specifically on how the unconventional evaluation of talent employed by a small-market baseball executive might have a corollary in not just a greater appreciation of the contributions that adjunct faculty make to our institutions, but a greater awareness of the underutilized talents that they might be demonstrating to great effect within our institutions if given a fuller opportunity to do so.

Shifting from job prospects within academia, three recent articles have focused on the job prospects of our other baccalaureate graduates. The first two articles have been written by Peter Whoriskey for the Washington Post. After reviewing recent report from the Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the

Workforce, Whoriskey, in “New Study Shows Architecture, Arts Degrees Yield Highest Unemployment,” first considers current unemployment statistics as a measure of the efficacy of various academic degrees. Then, in “On Path to Riches, No Sign of Fluffy Majors,” he considers lifetime earnings. In both instances, the arts and humanities come up very short when compared to the hard sciences and engineering. Specifically, “Among recent college graduates, those with the highest rates of unemployment had undergraduate degrees in architecture (13.9 percent), the arts (11.1 percent) and the humanities (9.4 percent), according to the study. The recent college graduates with the lowest rates of unemployment had degrees in health (5.4 percent), education (5.4 percent), and agriculture and natural resources (7 percent).” Likewise, “the median annual earnings for someone with a bachelor’s degree in engineering was $75,000. The median wage was $47,000 in the humanities, $44,000 in the arts and $42,000 in education or in psychology. The individual major with the highest median earnings was petroleum engineering, at $120,000, followed by pharmaceutical sciences at $105,000, and math and computer sciences at $98,000. The lowest earnings median was for those majoring in counseling or psychology, at $29,000, and early childhood education, at $36,000.”

Whoriskey begins his second article with the following “joke”: “The scientist asks, ‘Why does it work?’ The engineer asks, ‘How does it work?’ The English major asks, ‘Would you like fries with that?’” Yet, as Whoriskey himself states later in the article, “Workers with a bachelor’s degree in English language and literature, the most popular major within the humanities, have median earnings of $48,000.” I admit that I have a self-interest in promoting the benefits of an English degree. But given the large number of graduates in the major and the broad variety of jobs in which they are employed, that average salary seems fairly substantial to me. It is certainly more than a fry-cook at a fast-food restaurant will earn. Along these same lines, in considering current levels of unemployment, Whoriskey does not acknowledge that architecture as a field has been hard hit during this recession because its central cause was the collapse of the housing market and the less noticed but only slightly less marked decline in the commercial real estate market.

Nonetheless, lest anyone question the overall value of any university degree, Whoriskey does state: “While unemployment among recent college graduates stood at 8.9 percent, the rates were much, much higher among job seekers with less education. Unemployment among those with a recent high school diploma was 22.9 percent, and 31.5 percent of recent high school dropouts were without a job.”

The third article in this group appeared as a post to the Economix blog of the New York Times. Written by Robert Geleloff and Shaila Dewan, the articles focuses on “What the Top 1% of Earners Majored In.” This chart offers much more of a mixed-bag of results, with the percentages of top earners who majored in some hard sciences ranking below those who majored in some humanities and social sciences. For instance, 5.9% of Art and Art History majors end up among the top 1% of earners, compared to 5.7% of chemistry majors and 5.6% of molecular biology majors. Likewise, 4.3% of the majors in philosophy and religious studies end up among the top 1% of earners, compared to 4.2% of microbiology majors, 4.1% of chemical engineering and physics majors, and 3.9% of pharmaceutical science, accounting, and mathematics majors. Personally, I am quite surprised that 3.8% of English majors end up among the top 1% of earners.

I’ll close this month’s blog with an article on college rankings. I recognize that college rankings have received a great deal of justified criticism even as the media and public attention to them has increased—and, undoubtedly, precisely because the media and public attention to them has increased. But the recent ranking of the top 400 universities in the world is not likely to antagonize anyone—except perhaps for those academic jingoists who believe that all 400 of the universities ought to be American. Actually, the survey is reassuring even on that count because 6 of the top 10, 13 of the top 20, 20 of the top 50, and 31 of the top 100 universities are American. Three Ohio universities have made the list. Ohio State ranks 111th; Case Western Reserve University, 145th; and the University of Cincinnati, 339th.