Class isn’t technically over yet….right?

Well it seems like I made a mistake…  Whoops!  I don’t know about you guys, but whenever I write anything, be it a blog post or a to-do list, I do it on a word document first.  I don’t know why I do this, but it’s a habit and sometimes it leads to me submitting things late because I write the thing, but just save it and forget to submit it.

(this was one of those times…..oops)

I think that this was probably my favorite elective I’ve taken to date.  (No, Noel, I’m not just saying that to get a good grade, it’s really heartfelt.) This comes from a multitude of things, first off I liked the material we were researching over the six weeks.  Before this class I didn’t even know the word adjunct existed, and over the weeks I came to realize that many of my friends did not either.  The reason that this is so interesting and exciting to me is that the situation that adjuncts face is something that could possibly be remediated by just raising awareness and getting past the general hum of everyday life that seems to cloud everyone from other people’s issues.

Another reason I enjoyed the class was because of the people that comprised it.  Being an engineering student who is almost never around non-engineers, it was refreshing to be around people who had a wider vocabulary that didn’t seem to revolve around mathematical and science terminology.  That being said, I also enjoyed hanging out with some Civvies and getting to know more people in my major.

We had a good group, and we had a lot more people participate in discussion that my usual classes (which tend to have around 3-4 people who will constantly answer just because no one else volunteers) I think that this is what made the class such a pleasure to attend, we constantly had new ideas being contributed from a bunch of people who had a bunch of different viewpoints on the issue at hand.

In my opinion, the class was well streamlined, and I don’t think there were any real sticking points or places where I felt we were being inefficient with the small amount of time we had.  I think that the class would have flowed a bit better if Noel had made it mandatory for people to bring in some sort of comments for workshop as sometimes conversation fell flat rather quickly.  I think that this was mostly because we were work shopping as one big group, and looking over a bunch of peoples stuff and giving quality feedback is something the teacher has more experience doing.  However, when we did workshop for the infographics (and split into groups) I feel like the quality of the workshop was much better as each person was able to focus their attention to less work and really workshop the fine details.

Coming out of this class I have garnered an appreciation for the work that adjunct professors do.  I had never known about them before this class, and it has made me want to tell anyone I can about their plight to help attempt to raise awareness that could bring about change.  It was a fun class, and I definitely had fun meeting everyone.

Student debt, Indentured servitude

Jeffrey Williams brought to light some interesting points in his articles that we read, the parallels between student debt and indentured servitude, amongst other things.  I think this was a good comparison, but its strength was slightly weakened by alluding to slavery.  I understand that it was meant to draw comparison to the ways in which the debt we accrue is chaining us and holding us back, but I feel like the slavery comparison (while not direct) was in poor taste.  Aside from this, I found his arguments (while lacking much in terms of providing solutions to the problem) were compelling and the statistics he used were interesting, I’d like to point out a few that caught my eye.

“During the 1960s, a student could work fifteen hours a week at minimum wage during school and forty during the summer and pay his or her public university education; at an Ivy League or kindred private school, the figure would have risen to about twenty hours a week during school.  Not ideal, but possible.  Now, one would have to work fifty-two hours a week all year long, even during school at an Ivy League college you would have to work 136 hours a week all year (there are 168 hours in a week).”

This is an apt, and rather succinct, description of the problem, but it also raises a question.  Instead of focusing on decreasing tuition, or making college free to attend across the board, why not focus on making the current public institutions free, and ignore the private ones?  Williams already stated that if education were free, public institutions would cost only a little more than how much is currently thrown at the student loan program.  If public universities were free, the choice of prestige vs debt for enrollment in private institutions would in turn drive down the cost of tuition of private universities out of sheer necessity to fill seats.
In any case, the plight of the consumer is a shared plight with the adjunct.  As businesses universities receive less and less funding from the government, they do what any respectable business would do, slash spending on things they can, and transfer the cost to the consumer.  As stated in Williams’s essays, tuition has risen at an alarming rate, but what he failed to mention is the other side of the coin, where universities are cutting costs.  I delved further into the cost of adjunct labor in my white paper, but The University of Pittsburgh could save $40,000,000 by replacing 40% of its professorial staff with adjuncts being employed at standard adjunct wages.  Adjuncts being a large pool that’s relatively unknown, the university can do good business by taking advantage of their predicament, but for us in this class, this is nothing new.

The Greatest Ever Infographic

This is deemed the greatest infographic of all time.  It even has an entire Numberphile video about it (as can be seen here)

I remember seeing this numberphile video a long time ago when it was first uploaded, and it completely blew my mind.  This infographic might be one of the most complex visual representation of a multitude of variables all neatly and compactly plotted, it’s not for the faint of heart.

“6 variables plotted: size of army, location on a 2d surface, direction of movement, temperature at various dates, etc.  Perhaps the best statistical graphic ever drawn”

(oh, and it was done by a civil engineer)

-Amedeo Hirata

Amedeo Hirata blog post

After researching more into the topic of adjunct professors and their seemingly abusive relationship with the universities that employ them, I am able to see the logic behind both sides.  I think a major problem between just calling for action and actually acting is the disconnect between opposing viewpoints.  Many of the articles I’ve read in support of better compensation for adjunct professors heavily rely on ethos and pathos much more than logos.  While I am not discounting the fact that articles do cite numbers and have hard data supporting the claims that many adjunct professors do in fact make less than minimum wage, I feel like the authors just don’t understand the point of view of the universities.

Imagine you are playing a computer game.  In this game you are assigned with building a business and making it grow to the best of your ability.  You do not need to concern yourself with anything other than how much profit you can make.  This is a very dangerous viewpoint, because it can lead you to exploit certain markets in ways that might be immoral and unethical; such as in the way universities employ adjunct professors or large scale shoe companies employ child labor in overseas factories.  This is what I imagine the viewpoint of a university’s administration is like.  Over time the ratio of administration to faculty or even students has skyrocketed.  An increase of administrative layers like this shows how universities have changed from institutions of learning to businesses, if you need to control people, you have to have an administrative force that does it.  This is also why universities are able to employ adjuncts at such a low cost, with an administration so large and layered, a single complaint (or even thousands, really) can get lost in the general hum of an administration machine.  A complaint can be filed and then passed around in administration for so long that it eventually gets lost within the other thousands of activities the administration does as a whole.

So why can’t things change for the better?  Imagine you’re one of the administrators, you sit at your office and do whatever work you have and then someone comes to you with a complaint that they aren’t getting paid enough.  First off, since they’re an adjunct professor, they likely don’t even know many other professors, let alone administrative staff, so they’re basically a stranger.  Secondly, why should you go about ruffling feathers to your higher ups about spending more money on some random person (and making more work for yourself) when you could basically just ignore the issue?  I’m not saying that an individual staff member of a university administration would be able to change the entirety of the situation, but if the issue were ever able to rise up to the level where actual change could be made, those in power most likely just view it in terms of economic benefit toward the university instead of the impact the compensation would have on the lives of the adjunct professors.

I really feel that the only way that large scale change will be enacted is if someone were able to get a story like Mary Margaret Vojtko’s trending or viral on some form of social media (as many have tried).  The one thing that will get a business to change their entrenched business practices is bad PR, and if adjuncts want to enact change, the issue needs to be seen on a national scale.

If all this talk has you bummed out, I suggest you take at probably the greatest blog of all time