Tuesday, November 12, 2013

It's All in the Way it's Framed

Contingent Framed
Framed  by me
Recently, I have been thinking about the way colleges and universities market themselves to prospective students and their parents.  It seems that it should be getting difficult to hide the ever-growing number of poorly compensated adjuncts from enquiring minds who want to know what their money will be purchasing for their student.  If we are indeed 75% of faculty nationwide, why has this recent upsurge in publicity regarding the adjunct crisis come as such a shock to the general public?

It seems that, despite our numbers, we are easy to hide.  Adjunct: a veritable palimpsest scraped out and carefully penned over by slick phrases such as, "95% of our courses are taught by PhDs," which obscures that many adjuncts also hold terminal degrees.  "Classes led by instructors with real world experience in their fields," which is a polite way of saying there are some people who teach and perhaps also were successful in a business world not this school.  That particular slogan conjures business and technical fields for me more so than humanities or even the arts.  It gives a school a nice corporate shellacking fit for consumption!  "Our student to faculty ratio is 15 to 1," which is a superb classroom situation if one can find it, but it does not say anything about the status of the one at all.  Indeed it is quite easy to lie while telling the truth when it comes to adjuncts.

I advise anyone going into post-secondary education, whether as a student or the parent/guardian of one, to ask some difficult questions at orientations and recruitment functions.  Without direct examination, the plight of adjuncts and the quality of the education they are able to produce--sometimes against great odds--will remain hidden in plain sight.  What if a room full of prospective students at every event asked
    1.  What percentage of first year and introductory courses are taught by contingent faculty?
    2.  Are those adjuncts full time with benefits?
    3.  What is the salary per class for adjuncts?
    4.  How much do the top three administrators make each year?
    5.  How much of my tuition goes to paying my professors, who directly control my education?

Would this change the visibility and status of adjuncts on campuses nationwide?  I think so.  Money talks in the form of decreased enrollments for schools unwilling to provide disclosure and a living wage for their faculty.  With higher education costs rising, students may look elsewhere for a school that values adjuncts, and thus their education more dearly than the salaries of the burgeoning administrative class.

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