Better you today to better us all tomorrow

One of the more rewarding exercises we did in class was our stream of consciousness assignment in which we wrote whatever came to our minds for 10 minutes. We had a simple rubric that asked us how student debt affects our life? Now in my final reflection of our time together I will ask myself a simple question and attempt to find some higher meaning behind my flow of thoughts. The question I ask myself today is, how has this class affected my life? From this point on I will not stop writing until I reach my culminating lesson this class has taught me (currently don’t know what that is…)

Before I took WFTP I didn’t think too much about the system of higher education and more focused on how to get through it like most young adults do in college. I was worried about what classes to take to get on track for my major, what research I should be doing and with who, and where to volunteer. While juggling all these aspects of my college career I seldom stop to look around at the system that surrounds me but this class has for sure slowed me down. Now walking through campus I question what everyone is doing here. You are a student. You, an administrator for sure. And her, she must be a professor. It got pretty easy once I started looking around to see what everyone was starting to be brought to my attention through this class. There were a ton of administrators everywhere I looked and went, and these people previously held a “miscellaneous” label under occupational title in my eyes. This attributed to my further interest in student debt because of how much administration positions have risen and how the number of tenure track professor positions has stayed almost stagnant. While I can’t change the way this is and how it affects my university I feel by being more informed I am taking steps to change this negative trend. Similarly to student debt I gained an interest to adjunct teaching after asking several of my previous professors and graduate students here at University of Pittsburgh about their experiences with adjuncts and their working conditions. Getting first-hand accounts like this although not used in my writing helped me gain insight into this issue and I believe made me a better writer on this topic. Interestingly our school has many differences between conditions of adjuncts to their benefits however wages are similar to the rest of the country and leave most who choose adjuncting as a profession to make on average a yearly salary below the poverty line. At Pitt adjunct receive healthcare through UPMC and this is because of our association with them however most adjuncts across the nation do not have this benefit. Pitt also has different types of non-tenure track positions based on department that are not adjuncts and make enough more to push their yearly salaries above the poverty line. Through our discussions and projects I feel much more informed on overall student debt and how it is plaguing our generation. Ah! I think I’ve reached the end. My final thoughts on this course reside in concept taken from a reading by Williams, in which he talks about social hope. If higher education took on a mantra of bettering the nation based on potential and not income, then we might return to the real reason higher education was created in the first place…to better the young so when they grow up they will better society for everyone.


A Gradual Shift

“A shift in the idea of higher education…

…from a public entitlement to a private service…

…from a social good to an individual good…

…from youthful exemption to market conscription…

…a shift in our vision of the future and social hope for our young.” (Williams)

Williams subtly convey the illustration of a “shift” occurring in the world centered on the idea of higher education. He shows how gradually humanity succumbed to itself turning an institution originally started for the greater good of a nation into an atomized corporate machine. This change in ideology over the course of 50 years has led to the outrageous student debt facing most Americans today. As outlined in “The Pedagogy of Debt” the conditions and mentality Americans have been attending higher education with have drastically changed. From the “post-war build-a-better-country” craze that saw it fit to educate the best and brightest regardless of class we got swept up in the fantasy of a “state” college that was affordable. Now with welfare being swept away most of university funding is being privatized and this leads every man and women to pay “more directly for public services.” This is where Williams starts; however he moves into the individual to develop the overall issue of student debt crippling Americans. It intrigues me how once university was thought of as a claim a young person had as a member of a forward-thinking society. It really showed an overall advancement in the way humanity thought about itself, changing the I to a we. This development occurred after WWII which begs me to wonder, was it the scholars of the time realizing how many humans were killed as a result of war and how much knowledge and potential went with them that sparked this renaissance system of higher education for the masses? This brings me to the last aspect of Williams writing, the change in the idea of social hope. It’s a interesting idea that Williams introduces “social hope,” a pay-it-forward mentality applied to a society for future development. It’s arguably too simple to work, especially based on modern day academia, a system where society educates its younger members and allows them to explore any avenue of work or query they so choose, “all in the belief that society will benefit in the future.” How could such a pure idea be so corrupted? Some of it was out of our control, like inflation, however some of it, like the privatization of higher education keeps this dream of social hope far from our grasp.

** Williams, Jeffrey J. “The Pedagogy of Debt.”How to Be an Intellectual: Essays on Criticism, Culture, & the University. New York: Fordham University Press, 2014. 121–133. Print

Shooting for the Moon

After reading Colleen Flaherty’s article “15K Per Course?” on Inside Higher Ed, I learned of some people fighting the good fight for better adjunct wages. Now after reading about this issue for a few weeks a few things are clear; adjunct teachers are paid next to nothing for teaching, they have been increasing in numbers of the past decade, and they have been taken advantage of for years. The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) in an effort to stir the nation proposed that adjunct professors should be paid $15,000 per course. By this logic, a teacher who teaches 3 courses in the fall and spring would be making around $90,000 a year. Compare this to an assistant professor that makes around $60,000-75,000 a year and associate professors that makes around $75,000-91,000. This raise was less of physical goal but rather acted for many as a “boldness” that illuminated the key issues facing adjuncts daily. These issues include “equal pay for equal work, the inappropriateness of poverty-level wages for work that is so important, and the connection between faculty working conditions and student learning conditions.”

This increase in wages for adjuncts leads full-time faculty to question their wages as well. With this proposal of 15K a course it would place an adjunct professors pay right in between assistant and associate professors salaries. When full-time faculty ask those adjunct activists about why they think they should get paid more than them, they say, “adjuncts catch the worst of it, but there are tenure-track faculty who are getting paid pretty rotten wages, too. This could be part of a larger conversation about all faculty.”

Later in the article they discuss the actual changes seen in the adjunct community, the first of which happened at Tufts University. Their adjunct professors won contracts as part of Adjunct Action, which brought significant raises to adjunct professors. They at least received $7300 per course and those professors who have eight years or more of experience are paid at least $8760 per course. Now while this is a significant raise it must be thought of in the right light. Tufts is a top private university who may have had the extra funds in order to give their adjunct professors raises but this questions large public schools or small rural private schools who may have less funds to distribute raises.

As this issue unfolds nationally, it comes to my attention that as a whole, adjunct haven’t united and defined their goals. These goals have been roughly described but as far as something for all adjuncts, from the biggest university to the smallest community college, to stand behind they are too broad. In the coming months SEIU is going to play without rules because what do they have to lose? As one adjunct professor puts it, “We are the base…its an ugly secret, and it’s got to get out. There’s got to be an ideological shift and we’ve got to get some of this power back.”