The “higher education is dying” magnum opus of the week.

16 05 2011

I know it’s only Monday, but I strongly suspect that this week’s “higher education is dying” magnum opus will turn out to be this article in IHE. While there is (as usual) much material here, I want to focus on the words of the noted “higher education is dying” talking head Richard Vedder:

“It is appalling to me. We have a two-class system in the American university,” said Richard Vedder, distinguished professor of economics at Ohio University. “We have an aristocratic elite — the tenured class and those who have a reasonable probability of being tenured. On the other hand, we have these adjuncts.”

This reliance on adjuncts, said Vedder, is in some cases an outgrowth of the increased institutional emphasis on research — part of the arms race to boost rankings and prestige. Research output is relatively easy to measure, he said (far more than teaching). More critically, he added, research creates revenue for the institution. “In their zeal to get all this money — research money — they’re paying more and more to full-time professors and giving them lower teaching loads,” he said. “That’s one dirty little secret we don’t want revealed: as teaching loads have fallen over the last half-century, we faced the little nagging problem that someone needs to teach the students.” (Vedder’s critique on teaching loads largely applies to more elite institutions — and wouldn’t make much sense to faculty at community colleges and access-oriented four-year institutions where 5-5 schedules are quite common.)

Wow, you know you’re in bad shape when the journal that interviews you feels the need to correct your ridiculous assertions immediately after quoting you. Nevertheless, I still don’t think that coda is enough to compensate for the gross stupidity of those remarks.

In most labor markets that I’m familiar with, the unwillingness of existing workers to accept speed-up conditions results in the employer hiring additional workers. Who gets to determine whether those additional workers will be adjunct or tenure track? Administrators. Who agreed to those cushy contracts in the first place? Administrators. Who (mostly) is shedding crocodile tears about a situation that they themselves created? Administrators.

No wonder most college presidents want to end tenure. They need a scapegoat to blame for the mess that they collectively created.




One response

16 05 2011
Middle Seaman

The guy from Ohio University has very limited knowledge and even more limited understanding of universities that emphasize both research and teaching.

Teaching both graduate and undergraduate classes is not a cake walk. With doctoral students to direct, a 2-2 load is plenty. In elite schools teach less.

Sure, top universities need the research money. The big guys, Berkeley, MIT and Stanford, get money because they have the best faculty. Many others fight as hard as they can and it takes a lot of time and intellect. Money that I get pays for undergraduate stipends; it’s a worthy target. It pays for other things too.

In the marketplace, an employee’s cost is 2.5 times her/his salary. Thus, a $100,000 salary costs actually $250,000. Business, law and medical schools salaries are way higher than $100K. It all requires a lot of money.

University administrations are corrupt the same way that the managers everywhere are. It is a contagious disease. Administrators are not the only culprit. Researchers started to serve more than one master, teachers didn’t want to change anything for decades, society’s money grubbing culture couldn’t be avoided.

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