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2017 November 29 - 08:57 am

Starving Adjuncts and Overstuffed Administrations

 The penultimate month of the first full year of a new American presidency is about to end, and a new year is chomping at the temporal bit. The President has given thanks to God for our freedom and offered hope for this freedom to continue its reign timelessly. In Orange County, California, where I live full-time and work part-time at half a dozen schools, a university president is about to step down to take another job, excited with clear awareness that time and tide await no one.

And as I sit in the smothering heat of southern California, surrounded by semester-end work to finish, I wonder once again about leaders' sense of time and freedom in a world where more and more of us seem to be being led more and more places with our lives parceled out part-time.

Although some optimistic  financial advisors  may believe that the American trend is toward full-timery, with us part-timers making up one-sixth of the nation's economy, a  Forbes report stated a couple of years ago that in 30 years, the percentage of part-timers teaching at America's institutions of higher education leapt from 30%—already a high figure—to 75%. It costs less as Chron writes, to hire two or three part-time instructors than to hire a single full-time professor..(with) health insurance and other benefits, as well as higher salaries.

As the Forbes article pointed out, the increase in part-timer hirings has come alongside an increase in tuition demanded of students and a decrease in job security and in pay for the part-timers, many of whom are way beyond simply “over-qualified” for their appointed tasks. Indeed, Forbes reports, “...(in) most branches of the humanities, the oversupply of PhDs enables universities to hire very competent people for starvation wages.”

But in the meantime, universities and community colleges seem to be fattening their top lines. The number of administrators and the increase in their salaries can be seen by the numbers to comprise what publications from The Chronicle and Inside Higher Ed to the Washington Post and the New York Times have called “administrative bloat.” The number of jobs in administration grew by more than 60% in ten years, according to one study. Notably, in one of the public universities where I have worked irregularly, we part-timers often wondered if there might even have been as many “vice-chancellors of X, Y, Z....” in our School of Humanities as there were adjunct professors in any given department within the Humanities, and in a community college where I am now working part-time, two new administrators have been freshly hired to do the job that was once done by a single full-time faculty member as part of his ordinary “load.” The new administrators will each be paid about nine times what a part-timer is allowed to earn as a maximal “load.” And the part-timers typically have more academic background, more student awareness, and usually more college degrees than do the administrators above them.

As far back as 2011, students were noticing the problem of administrative bloat and writing about it. In the Washington Monthly, Benjamin Ginsberg suggested “cutting the overgrown management ranks.” A short list of what Ginsberg called “the armies of functionaries” includes “...vice presidents, associate vice presidents, assistant vice presidents, provosts, associate provosts, vice provosts, assistant provosts, deans, deanlets, and deanlings, all of whom command staffers and assistants—who, more and more, direct operations...”at schools of all kinds.

I would never suggest that all administrators must go, or that schools can do without them, although I do recall having heard my father say more than once that “most institutions would probably sail along fine and not even notice anything was amiss” without a President to guide them. My father was a college president, a chancellor, a chancellor for the state and one for the nation, but he never imagined himself to be invaluable. When the armies of functionaries began to hire themselves, he said, “the rats are no longer running from the sinking ship; they are eating all the cheese on board.” He recommended to me that I seek other more dependable employment: “The ship will indeed sink, and the question is just when it will.”

The college president whom I cited at the beginning of this blog entry is not leaving academe; no, a new administrative post is calling. This person cites “a strong immune system and a strong penchant for working” as personal attributes. I would like presidents and their functionary armies to know that for those of us who work part-time, immune systems are not often mentioned, since we must work sick or well; taking time off means losing pay. And the penchant for working is not so much that as it is an instinct for self-preservation.

Fortunately for us, we can look to the community of students around us and, particularly in the community college, we can teach them to run faster than the rats, to eat the best cheese, and to swim with the tide.

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