Me pretending to be a writer for Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.
And finally tonight: College. We've previously covered the monumental problem of student loan debt and predatory for-profit colleges, oh and also collegiate athletics and how they're bullshit, but we've still barely scratched the congealed surface of the pile of bullshit that is college education.
We all know that a college education is now very expensive, in fact over the last 30 years the price has tripled. College is supposed to be an investment in your future, which is perhaps why we don't look all that closely at where the money goes. After all, it's probably going to your professors so that they can buy Priuses and humus and corduroy pants.
But a study done last year found that 76% of instructors across all colleges and universities in America are adjuncts and not professors. Unlike professors, adjuncts are part-time employees with little to no benefits who are employed on a per-course basis.
In the 1960s, about 4 out of 5 college instructors were full-time professors, and only 1 in 5 was an adjunct. Today, 3 out of 4 college instructors are adjuncts, and 40% of adjuncts claim to work more than 40 hours per week despite their part-time classification. You might be thinking, “get to your thesis already John, this is a very muddled introduction lacking in action verbs.”
So here's the point: these so-called “part-time” adjunct professors are drastically under-paid. Just how under-paid? 31% of adjunct faculty in the United States are near or below the federal poverty level. 16% are paid less than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, and 43% are paid less than $15/hour, which is the minimum wage in Seattle.
The result of this low-pay is that many adjuncts work multiple jobs, often at more than one college, with no benefits, but it actually gets much worse than that, as one adjunct professor explains:
Interview 1: “I have a Phd, I teach four courses a semester, plus two in the summer, that's ten courses a year. A full-time professor usually doesn't teach more than 7 or 8 courses a year. Yet last year I made $16,000 before taxes. At this rate, I won't pay off my student loans until I'm 185 years old. The worst part is that they can fire me at any moment, for any reason, and I will get no benefits, I wouldn't even qualify for unemployment.”
That's right, adjuncts are contract employees, just like the seasonal workers at Wal-Mart. So when the semester ends, so does their contract, therefore they aren't eligible for unemployment benefits, and the university can terminate them for any reason they please because they aren't firing them, merely allowing their contract to expire. It's a lot like how John Travolta doesn't date, instead he uses month long sex-contracts that he allows to expire.
But in most cases, adjuncts aren't short-term employees:
Interview 1: “I've been doing this for eleven years, and I have no hope of ever being promoted to a full-time position. This is my reward for getting a bachelors, a masters, and a PhD, and then working full time as a college professor: I make $10/hour.”
And the problems go further than just the low wages. Because they are paid per course, there is no clock to punch, which leads to something that many fast food workers will find familiar: wage theft.
Interview 2: “Since the colleges want to keep you technically part-time, they'll have 4 part-timers instead of 2 full-timers, and that means that I work part-time at three different universities. Not only do I have to commute to multiple jobs and all the time that takes, but it also means I have to go to three-times as many meetings and training sessions and seminars, usually on Saturdays, that are mandatory, and un-paid. The most insulting part is that these administrators stand up there and mumble while standing in front of a poorly constructed power-point. It just shows how little they appreciate teaching when they incompetently do it at you.”
If you work at an office job and you have to sit through a three-hour meeting, you at least are getting paid your salary to be there. If you work at Wal-Mart and they want to put you through training, they have to pay you minimum wage. Adjuncts are just paid a flat fee per course, and anything else like meetings or advising students is considered part of that fee. Which makes perfect sense, because professors would go to meetings anyway if they weren't paid, that's basically what they do for fun.
Adjunct pay has gotten so bad, well, just listen to this:
Interview 2: “I honestly don't know why I'm doing this anymore. The other day I was looking at starting salaries at other jobs and I discovered that I would make more money as a janitor at the high school just up the street. And I would get benefits. About 100 students a year call me professor, and yet none of them would suspect that the high school janitor down the street makes more and gets more benefits than I do.”
Holy shit. I told you college was bullshit, and now you see, it pays more, to literally clean up shit than it does to teach at many universities. And this is not an isolated incident. The average adjunct pay nationally is $3,000 per course. An adjunct teaching 10 courses a year, more than what's considered full-time, would make $30,000. The median salary for garbage collectors in the U.S. is $32,000 a year.
If the average adjunct college instructor with at least a master's degree is making less than the average garbage collector, what's the value of a masters degree? Why are students paying universities all that money for an education in the first place if even the universities themselves don't value that diploma?
At this point universities are in the same business as Hallmark. They sell extremely over-priced pieces of cardboard that you show to other people as proof that you are willing to waste your money to impress them.
Maybe universities don't have the money, after all there are frequent cuts to education. In just the last decade, the cost of college has gone up about 40%. However, during that same time, the cut of college revenue that actually ended up in the pockets of teachers has dropped 24%. In other words, the money is there, they are just choosing to give less of it to teachers.
Interview 3: “When I teach a full course, there are 16 students each paying around $4000. So the University is taking in about $64k. They turn around and pay me $4k. That's less than 7% of the revenue. In other words, each student is paying $4000, and only $250 goes to me. My students are required spend more than $150 on books for my class.”
So when it's all said and done, a student is paying almost as much to the textbook company as they are to their actual teacher, meanwhile this university is collecting 93% of the tuition to spend elsewhere. It's no wonder the universities have shifted so much of the teaching load to adjuncts, they are payed about as well as subway buskers.
Instead of picturing teachers with an apple on their desk, we should replace the apple with a fucking tip jar. If the adjunct we just showed had a tip jar and each student gave on average a 6% tip, that would double her pay.
A. Students shouldn't have to tip, because they're already paying triple for tuition as students a few decades ago, and B. Fuck you universities, what the fuck are you doing with that money?
Well, a lot of it is going to administrators, presidents, vice presidents, provosts, deans, and chancellors and whatever other bullshit job titles they can pull out of a thesaurus. You can call yourself a chancellor, but we all know you're just an over-paid principal that gives handjobs to donors.
Administrative bloat is a huge source of the increased expenses at universities. Twenty-five years ago, professors outnumbered administrators two-to-one. Now that's completely flipped. From 1975 to 2005, college administration staff grew by 135%, and spending on administrators has tripled. Yet during the same period the faculty-to-student ratio has remained constant. In fact, US schools have added more than 500,000 administration jobs in the last 25 years. Administrators constantly talk about improving efficiency and keeping down costs. But economist Richard Vedder is calling bullshit:
Interview: “It's a lie. It's a lie. It's a lie. . . They'll say we're making moves to cut costs, and mention something about energy-efficient lightbulbs, and ignore the new assistant to the assistant to the associate vice provost they just hired.”
At Rennselaer Polytechnic Institute, the president, Shirley Jackson, made over $7 million in 2012. And because it's so difficult to live on 7 million, the university also provides her with a mansion in the Adirondacks, a support staff of housekeepers and body guards, and a chauffered luxury car.
Well the free-market has spoken, she must be doing a great job if she earns that much. Under Jackson's leadership, RPI has seen its debt go up by more than 600%, and they have seen their credit rating downgraded twice. Meanwhile, an adjunct at RPI, Elizabeth Gordon, was making $4000 per course, which she calculated to be equal to $10/hour. In order for Gordon to make as much money as President Jackson makes in one year, she would have to teach 1,750 courses, which would take more than 200 years. In other words, RPI pays the president as though she is worth as much as 200 teachers. They only have 440 teachers. If you cut just Jackson's pay from 7 million to poverty wages of only 1 million per year, you could give every teacher at a RPI a $13,000-per-year raise. And that's without considering any other administrators and their bloated salaries.
So why does the board think Jackson is worth such a high salary? What has she done to make RPI a great university? Well, in 2006 the faculty senate nearly passed a vote of no-confidence in her. So she responded by dissolving the faculty senate, taking a page directly from Grand Moff Tarkin's textbook on business management. She has also been accused of using union-busting intimidation tactics, for example, firing a janitor who joined a union organizing committee.
But it gets worse. President Jackson has a set of rules, and these are all true:
-She is always to be introduced as “The Honorable Shirley Ann Jackson.” - because nothing says honorable like dictating to others that they call you honorable.
-Cabinet members must rise when she enters the room.
-Only she is allowed to set the temperature in conference rooms. - presumably because she's a cold-blooded velociraptor that's very sensitive to temperature.
-If food is served at a meeting, vice presidents must clear her plate.
Wow. That's some Saddam Hussein level shit. I bet George W. Bush is wishing he'd thought of that while he was president. Imagine Dick Cheney being forced to scrape half-eaten tuna salad off W's plate, or wiping off the desk in the oval office. It will warm your heart a little bit, if it doesn't, you're a robot and a jaded one at that.
While Darth Jackson is an extreme example, universities all over have seen both the size of the administration increase as well as administrator pay increase drastically, while teacher pay has stagnated or even fallen.
You've got to pay administrators a massive salary otherwise they'd go elsewhere, I mean who would be willing to do all the hard work of being chauffered to meetings where you get to piss on people for only a few hundred thousand dollars?
At the University of Alberta, four professors combined themselves Captain-Planet style into a single entity and applied for a single job as Vice-Chancellor that paid $400,000 per year. The four professors offered to each take a quarter of the pay and a quarter of the duties. You'd think that four professors could do the job better than one person, but the administration disagrees, and would rather pay one person all that money. That's because these four professors put together aren't qualified to do the job because they clearly don't understand the purpose of being an administrator is to make lots of money while shitting on teachers. Teachers shitting on themselves would be a clear conflict of interest.
And this brings us to an important point: college professors are smart people. So why do they work for such low wages? Well, adjunct positions are often seen as stepping stones to jobs as full-fledged professors. Most adjuncts are qualified to be professors and so they take these jobs in the hope that it will allow them to make connections, add to their resumes, and soon lead to a full-time job. But remember that now 3 out of 4 college teachers are adjuncts, and that trend is only getting worse. Basically adjuncts are full-time professors but university Grand Moffs are pretending they aren't really professors and they pay them like they're garbage collectors.
But college professors are smart, and so they are realizing that they are being exploited and that the adjunct job is a stepping stone that just ends at a cliff where there used to a bridge that took you to a now mythical professor-land.
Basically we can go one of two ways: the smart, talented, passionate teachers that are professors in all-but-title will quit and find work in other fields, leaving the universities to hire less and less skilled people to fill their McJobs, and like McDonald's food, it will cause higher-education itself to urgently need a toilet. OR, adjuncts can band together, unionize, and demand fair wages, which has been happening at some universities recently, so there's some hope.
But in the mean-time, I have a solution. (Pull out a tip-jar and put it on the desk). Tip your teachers. They work way harder for you little shits than that barista did on your iced mochaspressachino vanilla bullshit you needed so you could stay up late to write that non-sense about how Buffy the Vampire Slayer is an example of formalism, and you tipped for that, remember? Meanwhile, that teacher has to read your bullshit paper for $7/hour and no tips.
(Enter an announcer): Presenting the Honorable Shirley Jackson.
(John stands at attention as a velociraptor enters)
That's our show for this week, thanks so much for watching.
(John feeds the velociraptor by hand, and wipes its mouth).