Saturday, November 28, 2009

Universities staffed by part-timers

Victor Davis Hanson has a post up at the Corner noting how much of the teaching at University of California schools is now being done by part-time teachers instead of the highly paid professors.
Instead the dirty secret in California is that at JC, CSU, and UC campuses, nearly half of the instruction offered—whether calibrated in the total number of students in classes, or by the number of courses listed or by the number of those employed—is taught by non-tenure-track lecturers, TAs, and part-time faculty.

If one were to compare that cost per unit with instruction by regular tenured faculty for often essentially the same work, the exploitation makes any in the private sector mild in comparison. Wal-Mart is saintly in employment practices in comparison with CSU.

An English 1A class taught by a TA or part-timer might service 30 students at a cost of $4,000 to 5,000 in instructional fees; an upper-division required course for the major, with 10 students, like “The Construction of Manhood in Blake” taught by a full professor might run the university $25,000. Part-timers might make $35,000 without benefits for juggling together 5-7 classes at different campuses, while tenured professors might make well over $100,000 for teaching 4-6 courses with full facilities, benefits, and support.
I suspect that these statistics would hold up for a lot of universities. As Hanson points out, many of these part-timers are themselves PhD's who just can't get a job these days in the hardscrabble market for professors, particularly humanities professors. The part-timers do the bulk of the work while the tenured professors work on their research which is often about the most obscure of subjects and is only of interest to a handful of their colleagues.

While UC students riot over cost increases, they might take a moment to ponder what it is they are actually paying for.
So next time students nearly riot at UCLA, the angst should be on behalf of a near majority of their faculty who are paid a pittance of what an elite makes for nearly the same sort of work.

The fact is that the students are subsidized by the bankrupt state. The governing administrative elite and cohort of tenured professors are, in turn, subsidized by tens of thousands of mostly unknown, exploited part-timers. The latter each day in California teach hundreds of thousands of college students at JC, CSU, and UC at a fraction of the wage that a tiny priesthood receives for essentially the same job.

So on Thanksgiving Day, give thanks to the part-timers and temps who keeps the liberal system of higher education running by the very illiberal treatment they receive.
That ratio of part-timer to tenured-track teaching should become one of the main factors that colleges are evaluated on both by future students, alumni donors, and outside evaluations such as US News. That is the only way to change the situation.