A look at my to-do list

Scott Walker has succeeded among all those who hate universities and professors with his shots at the UW system, which is unfortunate. If he really succeeds, he’ll damage one of the few reasons anybody with an education might move to Wisconsin. Milwaukee isn’t exactly setting any records, and if you would like your state to become a haven for impoverished whites who do not have the economic productivity to move elsewhere, well, in about 50 years or so wages for low-skill manufacturing work will even out at the global scale and the state will probably once again be competitive in the global market.

The villains in all this are, of course, the tenure track faculty. They don’t work enough. They should teach more classes. They are also living a life of gravy and pie while adjuncts do all the teaching, according to the media which likes to set up the “poor, sad adjunct” against the “high-living, do nothing tenured” prof. Only professors’ salaries haven’t moved up either; if faculty were the all-powerful people we are portrayed to be, we’d be able to affect our salaries. We’re not. We can’t affect our own salaries. Why not? Because there is an army of cheap teachers out there known as adjuncts, and the premium faculty become premium faculty branding themselves based on ideas, not teaching.

My teaching evals, even for classes that everybody hates, are really, really high. My administrators do not care. I teach a full load. They do not care. They care about what I am publishing. I am truly sorry about this, but again…this is the incentive system I am in.

So here is my list of things to do today. While adjuncts have more of the class-related stuff to do, they don’t have some of the other crap that I do that also supports the institution. The institution is very selective about what it rewards me for:

1. Grading PPD 628. No I do not have a graduate student slave to do it for me. (nice, but not a high priority for my administrators; won’t make or break promotion or merit increase)
2. Get class ready for 628 (nice, but not a high priority for my administrators; won’t make or break promotion or merit increase)
3. Edit manuscript for special issue of journal coming up–other authors (can’t get promoted without broader visibility)
4. Code interview transcripts for manuscript (Can’t get promoted without more papers)
5. Take notes for chapter 5 of the book manuscript (can’t get promoted without this book)
6. Teleconference with NYU about new research project (Can’t get promoted without more papers)
7. Presentation for MRED students on Thursday (do it because I care about the real estate students; extra work for me, not one thin dime in my wallet or any progress towards promotion.)
8. Letter of recommendation for student (do it because I care; the institution seems to not care one bit)
9. Help graduate student revise a fellowship application so that she can support herself in her last year of research (do it because I care; the institution seems to not care one bit.)
10. And yeah, write blog posts and engage in public relations to remain salient. (the institution loves this.)

This is just the top 10. Which do I cut? Which do I do first, Governor Walker? Which one is unnecessary? Because if it’s the research, then you should probably get that memo to the people who decide my raises and promotions. Because if I don’t do that part, I suffer–a lot.

9 thoughts on “A look at my to-do list

  1. So is it Scott Walker’s fault that Universities don’t value what they should? How should politicians who bemoan the horrible inefficiency of universities (and they are horribly inefficient) make universities more accountable? And when politicians do ask for more accountability (and transparency), the tenured faculty and administrators howl to the high heavens. What to do?

    • So is it faculty’s fault that they do what they are rewarded for institutionally? So he wants them to teach more classes. There is an answer to that, and that is to reward teaching. As it is, they emphasize PUHLENTY of accountability: they count the lines on your cv.

      It is Scott Walker’s fault that he’s hoping to damage one of the major employers in his state to score cheap campaign points.

      • I was referring to accountability from universities to the public. For the record, I don’t think that it’s Scott Walker’s fault, or the faculty’s fault (at least not most faculty). I think if state legislatures and the parents of college students really knew what went on at universities, though, heads would roll. There are a number of administrators and faculty that solely seek to line their pockets with as much money as possible. Ironically, these are usually the same faculty that think capitalism and market economies are terrible, as well as unethical. However, they make me, an economist, blush at how hard they pursue their own economic self-interest.

        Just like any other profession, there are good faculty and bad faculty. You’re a good one. But that doesn’t mean you are the norm.

        Education is a public good, so not delivered well, or in appropriate quantities, through the market. However, the present system doesn’t fare very well either. I’m not arguing that we take it to the free market, but I argue that universities need some free market discipline. Education is about the only product (sorry to offend some, but it’s a product), where the price has been going up astronomically, while the quality is declining. I think many faculty, and many universities, have forgotten why they exist. It’s not to create their own little research kingdom to rake in lots of money for themselves and their cronies. It’s to educate. Much like the practice of law, academia is not the noble profession it once was (or at least pretended to be).

        As far as politicians (Democrats, Republicans, Liberals, Conservatives) doing ANYTHING to score cheap campaign points is neither surprising nor extraordinary. They all do it- every day. Maybe there is an exception for professions that have both good and bad- if you want to call politics a profession.

  2. “…there is an army of cheap teachers out there known as adjuncts…” sounds as though you are blaming adjuncts for this. It isn’t their fault, any more than it is the fault of tenure stream faculty. There are so many because colleges and universities are phasing out tenured positions even as they are cranking out more PhDs. Adjuncts are cheap because they don’t have bargaining leverage. And though adjuncts don’t have all of the responsibilities on your to-do list, they often have items on theirs that are not on those of a tenure stream faculty person, such as:

    1. Create a syllabus for a course I’ve never taught before nor am likely to ever teach again;
    2. Spend hours in transit between the three institutions at which I’m teaching this term;
    3. Submit presentation application for ACSP (to hopefully gain positive attention and improve my job prospects);
    4. Determine how to pay for ACSP, since I have no institutional support and am no longer eligible for student pricing; (but if I’m not there my chances of snagging one of those rare tenure stream positions drops even further);
    5. Talk to IT again to see if they have figured out how to give me access to the grading system from my laptop, since I don’t have an institution-provided computer;
    6. Find out how to be officially excused from the “mandatory all day faculty training” because as an adjunct virtually none of it applies, but they will hold my paychecks if I don’t show up;
    7. Try to figure out if any of the institutions at which I’m teaching will have courses for me to teach next term;
    8. Complete applications for longer term positions at other institutions (maybe tenured, maybe not);
    9. Work on revisions of article that was provisionally accepted, pending edits;
    10. Find out who can tell me where to get keys/codes for the bathroom and the photocopier, then find that person to get said keys/codes.

    And these are just at the top of the list. We’re still trying to do research and publish as well, because if we don’t we’ll never get tenure stream positions. I am not suggesting that this is more or less difficulty than your list, just that adjuncts are not the problem. Scott Walker and his brethren are.

    • No, I am not blaming adjuncts. You are reading that into the post. I am saying that a large pool of contingent laborers lowers wages and job security for everybody (basic labor economics), so the idea that tenure stream faculty “benefit” from the adjunctification of the academy is just the neoliberal dialogue: whatever the problem is, it’s labor’s fault.

  3. One last comment, then I’ll leave this alone. Scott Walker has absolutely no influence on universities in California (or any other state except for Wisconsin, and even in Wisconsin, the state legislature has to go along). So Jerry Brown is at fault? Just sayin’.

    • Walker is building on a platform that is anti-university and anti-tenure, and he’s throwing around comments about how professors might want to teach an additional class. HE is the one that put himself and his agenda in the middle of an industry.

      SO I’M JUST SAYING, Mr. Economist: Standards for tenure, merit increase, and promotion R1s are all pretty similar: USC is, last time I checked in, a private university, so none of this has ANYTHING to do with me. Only it does because it’s all part of the same labor market, and that labor market at UW looks exceedingly similar to that in California? Why? Because it’s the same labor market. That’s why.

      You promote yourself as an economist–you figure it out. If state research universities are doing ‘too much research’–whatever that is–then there are rather obvious ways to deal with that in the incentive structure of the institutions. If Professor Bob at Sarah Lawrence refuses to teach his 3rd class in a semester at Sarah Lawrence/Grinnel/whatever SLAC you want to name because he wants to work on his research, Professor Bob would be in trouble in a tenure time because Sarah Lawrence serves a different clientele than UW. That’s a different system and, for all practical purposes, a different labor market than the UW. Scottie CAN flounce around and appeal to his stump jumper voters all he wants to: the truth is that MOST of the faculty in UW are ALREADY adjuncts teaching loads and loads, for very little money (and nowhere is that MORE true than in the departments Walker loves to hate, and the ones he THINKS should be teaching more are doing EXACTLY what the institutions have told them they are supposed to do, and those institutions have done that for strategic market reasons–not self-indulgent reasons, and what they are supposed to do is: publish, publish, publish, publish and publish–throw as much spaghetti on the wall as you can because that’s how universities compete in rankings.

      His gripe is the product of a differentiated market: Universities sell brand-name researchers who become brand-name not through teaching but through the exact hat trick I pulled with that transit twitter study: they research, and that research is the fodder for promoting the university and the departments. Universities use brand-name researchers (who, like others in elite labor markets provide economies of scale) to boost rankings with marketing, and then when it time to deliver, colleges and universities swap in less expensive adjunct labor.

      A quick at the mostly privatized universities, such as those in Texas, basically shows that this is the market structure, period. It’s the market structure of your beloved Moocs. Walker can try to turn the UW into VCU if he wants to; he can try to turn the UW into a private B-School (which is what he wants)….but again, I guess I’m wondering how that is likely to work out for a state like Wisconsin.

      • AND ANOTHER THING: I was one of the hottest hires my fresh-out year. But I couldn’t get a Grinnell or a Sarah Lawrence to even INTERVIEW me. Interviews at MIT, sure, Penn, yep, but not at SLACs. Because they knew I didn’t belong in their part of the market. .

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