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Old business

Earlier this month, our hard-working civil servants in the Department of Education released an “issue paper” on “Frequently Asked Questions about College Costs.” The .pdf, should you want to consult it, is available for your perusal hyar, and the accompanying Inside Higher Ed story is thar.  And the paper’s argument, should you dare to believe it, is that college costs have risen so precipitously because of . . . tenure!

You heard that right, folks:  tuition has been going up 10 percent a year for the past 15 years, faculty raises have averaged 3 percent a year during that time, therefore faculty are to blame for rising college costs.

The time-honored practice of tenure is costly.  Tenure was originally conceived as a means to protect “academic freedom.” It has evolved into a system to protect job security.

What a travesty!  Everyone agrees that professors should have academic freedom.  But now, it appears, they want to keep their jobs when they say unpopular things, as well!  This needs to stop, because it costs too much money:

A combination of institutional practice and emerging case law has resulted in a situation where institutional flexibility is reduced in two key ways.  First, if student demand for academic programs shifts, faculty capacity to deliver it cannot.  Tenured faculty members are not interchangeable parts (a physics professor can’t usually teach journalism, and vice versa).  Second, it has become increasingly difficult for college administrators to remove a tenured faculty member who is no longer effective.  Thus, the decision to tenure has an accompanying long-term price tag that easily exceeds $1 million per person.

You gotta love that free-floating “thus.” I only hope that Robert Dickeson, the author of this little gem, raised his pinky to his pursed lips when he trotted out the figure of one million dollars.

As for those unpopular academic programs: yes, it’s true, tenure prevents universities from firing entire departments of physicists, classicists, art historians, and philosophers whenever there’s a student stampede to the Accounting department.  That’s just one of the reasons that universities are not Engines of Dynamism®! 

Indeed, Dickeson names the problem in so many words, under a separate heading on page 2: “Colleges are not managed with efficiency as the primary value”:

Colleges maintain large physical infrastructures that often include libraries, computing centers, academic and student-oriented buildings, power plants, research facilities, theatres and stadiums.  This infrastructure is rarely used to capacity.  Typically facilities are used only eight-to-twelve hours a day, five days a week, for less than 52 weeks per year.

Well, that’s easily remedied.  Close the unpopular libraries and research facilities, and schedule the student production of “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” for the 4-6 am slot at the Student Union 24-Hour Theatre.  I imagine that the 2-3:30 am section of Introduction to Metallurgy will be a big hit, too.

There’s much more in this vein: the very next paragraph complains about “the unique culture and extraordinary power of the faculty,” who seem to believe that “they are the university” and that they “‘own’ all curricular decisions.” And, of course, there are plenty of useful suggestions for how to fix all this:  hire more part-time instructors, offer more on-line instruction, and, most of all, take your cue from the private sector:

Proprietary, for-profit schools, sometimes called “career colleges,” are gaining in popularity, particularly among adult learners.  For-profit schools use a business model to deliver higher education.  Almost all faculty are part-time, thus lowering costs.  Only programs for which there is demonstrated demand are offered, and they are offered at times and places convenient to the students.  There is little capital outlay for high-expense items, such as libraries or football stadiums.  There is no research function or public service function.  The curriculum is fixed, the outcomes are measurable, and teachers are held responsible for results.  The reward structure for these institutions is directly related to student success.  There is a fundamental model shift in organizational expectations to “What’s it going to take to satisfy students?” from the traditional, “What’s it going to take to satisfy faculty?”

But the problem with this “issue paper,” in my humble opinion, is not that it reads as if it were written by a 19-year-old who can quote Atlas Shrugged by heart.  The problem is much more severe.

This entire paper is plagiarized.

It’s a serious charge, and I do not make it lightly.  But I happen to know who wrote the original version of which this is a cut-and-paste copy: I did.

Just over six years ago, I wrote a parody essay for the Chronicle of Higher Education about how universities could become more like businesses.  Here are some of my most controversial suggestions:

It will be objected (rightly, I must admit) that, even now, students are not getting enough for their money.  That is why tuition deregulation must be accompanied by curriculum re-regulation.  On many campuses, entire departments do little or nothing to prepare students for employment, enhance the university’s portfolio, or develop new products for corporate underwriters.

I refer, of course, to the arts and humanities.  According to one conservative estimate from a former higher-education leader, 50 percent of the research currently being conducted there is nonsense.  Departments of history, for instance, often focus obsessively on the past, while our children need to be prepared for the future. . . .

But when it comes to the long-overdue task of initiating mass firings of faculty members, we run into the biggest problem of all: tenure.  The institution of tenure is profoundly antibusiness and, consequently, profoundly wrong.  As James F. Carlin, businessman and former chairman of the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education, perceptively wrote in these pages on November 5, “lifetime job guarantees border on being immoral.”

Moral law, in other words, clearly mandates termination-at-will forms of employment, not merely because all healthy growth requires regular pruning, but also because American society ought not to support anyone who has become unproductive.  Nor, as Mr. Carlin noted, will dismantling tenure jeopardize academic freedom, for “state and federal statutes, commissions against discrimination, and the vigilant news media protect anyone—in or out of academe—who wants to expound unorthodox beliefs.” Surely faculty members are aware that the American mass media will stand firm in defense of controversial scholars, as they have done so often in recent memory.

More to the point, tenure prevents university presidents and trustees from engaging in what may be the hallmark of American business today: the use of efficiency experts and external consultants to fire middle-aged account executives, nurses, editors, and secretaries, after having made them run a humiliating gantlet of pointless self-assessment trials.  That ritual is vividly (and, I confess, entertainingly) depicted in contemporary films like American Beauty and Office Space.

Like business, academe is rife with anxiety, territorialism, and ill will.  But what academe lacks is a mature culture of abjection and groveling.  Fiftysomething faculty members with 30 or more years of service to their colleges simply do not live in terror that they may be terminated without reason.  That constitutes a major reason why most Americans do not understand the institution of tenure.

Dissatisfaction with tenure is all the more rampant now that new technology has the potential to make faculty members as obsolete as telephone operators.  With the judicious use of the Internet and your ordinary household touch-tone phone, in fact, most college courses could be conducted for $4.95 a minute: “Press 1 and the pound key for a lecture on the Italian Renaissance, press 2 for a lecture on the French Revolution.  For seminar credit, just log on with a password and a credit-card number.” If not for tenure, such systems would already be in place—and colleges and universities would be richer places of learning for it.

Finally, academic institutions have stubbornly refused to engage in the single-most-important activity of American business in the 1980’s and 90’s: namely, mergers and acquisitions.  Think of how a powerful conglomerate like Harvard/ M.I.T./ Tufts/ Boston University/ Boston College could revolutionize education delivery in the greater Boston area. And why shouldn’t a lean, sleek enterprise like Adelphi University attempt a hostile takeover of the entire bloated, mismanaged State University of New York system? Not only would that force SUNY to cut personnel costs and close outlying plants in Geneseo, Plattsburgh, and New Paltz, it would drive up the value of both SUNY and Adelphi, to the benefit of stockholders.

Of course, for mergers and acquisitions to work, academic institutions would have to issue stock. It has long been a truism of academe that a free society requires a free marketplace of ideas. It’s about time the products of that marketplace were made available to the ordinary investor. Indeed, this is perhaps the most critical item of all: If American colleges and universities truly want to reconnect with the American public, they will have to go public. It worked for Martha Stewart. It can work for Sarah Lawrence.

I know, I know, you can’t parody the libertarian loons, whether they’re in the Star Trek wing of the blogosphere or writing “issue papers” for the Department of Education.  All I’m saying is that I want the credit for saying it all first, and for saying it so clearly.

Posted by on 04/25 at 10:35 AM
  1. Well, you can probably tear down the libraries and save money, but I don’t know what this guy means when he lumps the sports stadiums in with the other academic waste. Everybody knows the college sports industry is what rakes in the bucks for people like Berube.

    Maybe colleges would be better off if they built more sports stadiums. You could keep tenure, but the tenured faculty would have to do research, write papers/books, and teach classes that all have as their focus the need for the students to be properly devoted to their campuses sports teams and activities.

    Posted by Bulworth  on  04/25  at  12:01 PM
  2. That the DOE says this seems to me more significant than the (in)accuracies the “issue paper” articulates. In part, it has to do with the way that the issues around tenure are reoriented to issues of access to educational opportunity. But it also seems of a piece with other moves by the DOE to reorient educational delivery towards the private sector like the recent elimination of the fifty percent rule. Unless the democrats can get their acts together and regain control of congress and the White House, the future for higher education implied by just these two points seems bleak at best. Cary Nelson’s election to the AAUP presidency is a hopeful, and helpful, move in these times. But I seriously wonder about the ability of AAUP to project the kind of public presence necessary to resist this trend when it has so much work to do simply to make itself relevant again.

    Posted by  on  04/25  at  12:22 PM
  3. "Everybody knows the college sports industry is what rakes in the bucks for people like Berube.”

    This is one of those “everyone knows” things that happen to be false.  “According to NCAA reports, costs for college sports programs are on the rise, and most athletic departments spend more than they take in.”


    A very small number of schools earn profits on TV contracts, but their success depends on the failure of the vast majority of schools competing for those dollars.

    And., according to the same study, college athletics has “little if any effect on a college’s alumni donations or on the academic quality of its applicants.”

    Posted by  on  04/25  at  12:24 PM
  4. I’m getting so confused.  Maybe it’s because I’m a biologist, but the distinction between the libertarian loons and parodies of libertarian lunacy is getting blurrier and blurrier.  First of all, are these parodies examples of Batesian or Müllerian mimicry?  Secondly, what if, like yours, the parody precedes the target?  What does that make it, Novikovian mimicry?Finally, can someone come up with a Turing-like test that can distinguish between libertarian lunacy and parodies?

    Posted by corndog  on  04/25  at  12:33 PM
  5. Corndog,

    I propose the following distinction, derived from Novikov-Horse Theory:

    -if it has no effect on policy, then it is a parody.

    -if it has an effect on policy, then it is extremely funny.

    The world cries out for a yes/whatever type of blog.

    Posted by  on  04/25  at  12:41 PM
  6. ”...most athletic departments spend more than they take in.”

    That’s the beauty of the free market model, JR, those programs that consistantly lose money will go the way of buggy whip makers. This will mean schools will pour more money into big-time football and basketball, their bread and butter, and ruthlessly cut loose such things as swimming, track, etc. Of course women’s sports must go also.

    As has been proved in such areas as gasoline and electricity, the free market can do so much for American Higher Education.

    captcha word, I fear, is future.

    Posted by  on  04/25  at  12:54 PM
  7. It’s so ridiculously easy to write libertarian-style because their belief system proceeds from a few basic assumptions without regard to destination.  Therefore “parody” really is a questionable concept with regard to libertarian tracts, as is “satire”; if Irish parents had property rights in their babies (and who else is going to own a baby? it is too young to own itself) then *of course* it would’ve been all right to eat them, assuming that the contract by which the starving parents turn them over is freely agreed to.

    Posted by  on  04/25  at  12:56 PM
  8. The reason tuition rises faster than inflation is simple: education is not a field in which there have been significant productivity gains.  The amount of teacher effort it takes to produce a unit of student education has remained fairly constant and is likely to remain so (at least until university administrators finally decided to videotape one professor in each department and eliminate the need for any more faculty ever).

    Since inflation (on the whole) is held somewhat in check by productivity increases, an endeavor with below-average productivity gains will have above-average inflation.

    This is just as much of a problem in primary and secondary education as it is in universities.  Perhaps even more so, since the connection between teacher-hours and students taught is less complicated in the grades where the kids are treated as a herd.

    Posted by  on  04/25  at  01:14 PM
  9. ----It’s so ridiculously easy to write libertarian-style because their belief system proceeds from a few basic assumptions without regard to destination.

    True enough, Rich, but you have to admit, the reggae-samba bit from Tyler Cowen’s shantytown shtick was a special extra added bonus, as is Dickeson’s complaint that we’re not using our buildings 24/7/365.  It’s the little touches that give these items their distinctive flavor.

    Posted by  on  04/25  at  01:25 PM
  10. When you wrote that “Departments of history, for instance, often focus obsessively on the past, while our children need to be prepared for the future. . .” I finally saw the light.

    I’m writing off to University of Phoenix for my mail order doctorates in Futuronomy AND Futurology!

    Posted by Ancarett  on  04/25  at  01:42 PM
  11. Isn’t that what schools like Patrick Henry are for?  Business oriented, telling evangelical Young Republicans what they already believe, but allowing them to punch their ticket to some cushy admin job putting scare quotes around “Big Bang” and the like? 

    Once everyone realizes that one has to go to a school like that to make hay in our coming Theocracy, of course a certain percentage of the population will “when in Rome” leading to my all time fave: the argument from popularity.

    Excuse me while a contact venture capitalists to fund my expedition to uncover Noah’s Ark.

    Posted by Pinko Punko  on  04/25  at  02:01 PM
  12. Cool, Ancarett!  Professors Gilder and Gingrich will be in touch with you via email.

    Posted by  on  04/25  at  02:01 PM
  13. Wait, wait, wait! I’m all confused! I thought rising prices can only be explained in terms of supply and demand, meaning the colleges must be supplying something which is in great demand. If Mr. Dickeson wants to reverse the trend, perhaps he can convince consumers to stop spending their money at colleges that offer tenure to faculty. Let the market work its magic is all I’m saying.

    captcha word: march

    Posted by  on  04/25  at  02:11 PM
  14. After reading the issue paper, I’m just about as speechless as I’ve ever been.  WTF!!

    I can’t find a full Bio on Dickeson online, but he’s a former B-school president, so I guess shouldn’t come as too much of a shock that he’s complaining about tenure and ignoring the fact that admin salaries are rising faster than faculty’s (cited from Inside Higher Ed article).  What about all that overhead that’s taken off our grants?  (for protection, I understand) It would also explain his unhealthy obsession with accounting, giving it a free pass for a 5 year program (5 years for an accounting major?  Are you kidding me?), and the fact that the only other demanding field he seems to be aware of is engineering.

    If he wants more community colleges and greater access for students to them, then right on, but what kind of intellectual vacuity is necessary to put forth a stepping stone as the model for the destination?  If universities were more like high schools, I suppose that would keep costs down too.

    Most telling is his criticism that universities are not run with the primary goal of efficiency.  Do I really even need to say it?

    Posted by  on  04/25  at  02:35 PM
  15. When I wrote my comment above, I wasn’t *really* thinking that A Modest Proposal wouldn’t sound odd if phrased in libertarian-speak.  But then I remembered this, which I saw on The Exceptional Funny and Interesting Libertarian’s site.  It’s sadly now behind the Times Select wall, but the article involved libertarians who wanted to vote themselves into office in a barely populated county in order to permit “victimless acts among consenting adults such as dueling, gambling, incest, price-gouging, cannibalism and drug handling”.  To quote myself, it would have been quite a victory party.

    But I agree, Michael, it’s those few touches that are the last distinguishing element between parody and pure original.  Who would have thought of cannibalism *and* price-gouging?  Dueling plus cannibalism is a natural, of course; you eat what you kill… but overcharging, well.

    Posted by  on  04/25  at  05:38 PM
  16. Would it be too much of a cliche to cite Marx in this context?

    Quincy Adams Wagstaff, new president of Huxley College, questions the faculty in ‘Horsefeathers’:

    Wagstaff: Do we have a stadium?
    Professors: Yes.
    Wagstaff: Do we have a college?
    Professors: Yes.
    Wagstaff: Well, we can’t afford both. Tomorrow we start tearing down the college.
    Professors: But Professor! Where will the students sleep?
    Wagstaff: Where they always sleep, in the classrooms!

    Captcha word: “hospital,” as in, “where I’m heading for a little rest until the world calms down a bit.”

    Posted by John Protevi  on  04/25  at  05:45 PM
  17. You know why Libertarians seem to want to abolish the humanities when they are discussing universities? Because Libertarianism is an ideology designed for a world without human beings.

    Posted by  on  04/25  at  06:35 PM
  18. Universities, like much of the public sector, are public precisely BECAUSE they’re inefficient.  Economists refer to this as “cost disease.” If you look at how quickly it takes to deliver a text message now as opposed to, say in 1852, you’d find that we’ve become far more efficient.

    On the other hand, if you look at how many people it takes to teach a Shakespeare class at the local U, it takes about the same manpower.  Try as we might, we just can’t make teaching more efficient.

    That has very little to do with tenure.

    Posted by Jeff  on  04/25  at  07:16 PM
  19. Thanks to Jeff at #18 and Davey at #8. I’d seen that argument elsewhere, but you both express it well.

    No surprise that Dickeson is B-School. I can’t imagine that a (decent) economist would make such a grotesque post (dum) hoc ergo propter hoc mess of this, unless of course they were opining about lil’ girls and toy trucks.

    Now, it strikes me that college costs have been rising quickly (if indeed they’ve been rising at a higher rate than usual) coincident with a decrease in the percentage of tenured faculty at every American institution of higher larnin’. Thus, by Dickenson’s logic, if U’s and C’s and CC’s start hiring tenured faculty again, promoting those poor adjuncts into real positions, then costs should go down, baring the inevitable increase in price that comes about with the fact that teaching just can’t be made more efficient. My logic can’t be any worse than his here.

    And if Dickeson were anything other than a hack, he’d look at the correlation between decreasing public funding of higher education and the increased shift of the direct costs onto its consumers and workers and the concomitant difficult to measure but not immaterial damage to our society.

    This country could easily make higher education free and pay its teachers well. That it doesn’t and insteads a lot of money killing and imprisoning people is a sign of sickness.

    Posted by  on  04/25  at  07:53 PM
  20. I disagree, Jeff. University teaching is ineffecient simply because it has yet to make enough wasteful use of expensive technology.

    Ever since I started throwing Ipods in lieu of chalk at the typical sleeping student, productivity has shot well past infinity and into the beyond, which is neat.

    Posted by  on  04/25  at  08:31 PM
  21. --"This entire paper is plagiarized.”

    So what?  What you fail to understand is that plagiarism is the most efficient use of ideas available to the writer of position papers today.  Thinking takes time, and time is money.  Thus, the cost of doing one’s own thinking easily exceeds the cost of merely stealing the ideas of others.  For a more detailed explanation of the value of plagiarism, consult Ben Domenech, an expert in the field.

    Posted by  on  04/25  at  09:01 PM
  22. As JR points out, athetics may be a loss leader like libraries, “academic freedom” and “public service” are, but I’d be surprised if research weren’t a profit center. 

    I believe I made my soul a little dirtier by writing that.

    Posted by  on  04/25  at  10:26 PM
  23. I especially love that argument about infrastructure. We use our classrooms from 6:30 or 7:00 in the morning till 9:00 or 10:00 at night. We schedule classes on Saturdays and even Sundays. Oh, if only we were as efficient as those businesses who keep their facilities open 24/7--like, you know, banks and corporate offices. Yeah.

    Posted by Zeno  on  04/25  at  11:15 PM
  24. “Colleges maintain large physical infrastructures that often include libraries...”

    The state of our nation’s university libraries is a disgrace.  I’m a graduate student at a large state university, and the library has perhaps a dozen copies of The Faerie Queene.  Do you know how many of them I’ve had occasion to consult in my three years there?  Zero, that’s how many.  I suspect that the million-plus volumes in the university’s various libraries could quite comfortably be pared down to the low hundreds without incoveniencing me in the slightest.  Accordingly, as a libertarian, I cannot imagine that it would inconvenience anyone else, either.

    Posted by  on  04/25  at  11:39 PM
  25. Zeno, I think the “infrastructure” argument is really all about the libraries.  Sean’s right—those old buildings waste billions of cubic yards of space storing moldy books that nobody even reads anymore.  You don’t see the University of Phoenix indulging in nanny-state book-hoarding like that.

    Posted by  on  04/25  at  11:52 PM
  26. The corporate model would also fix the whole grading headache. Students could acquire different levels of “membership,” and their transcripts would then reflect their true value as customers, rather than our subjective whims. No more “cum laude” nonsense: I graduated platinum. Plain English. And really, who among us actually enjoys grading? It’s win-win.

    Posted by  on  04/26  at  12:19 AM
  27. The University of Phoenix deserves some credit for its model of delivering education to people for whom the usual public school system does not work, but there are real problems with the for-profit approach. One of my friends found that out when he taught a critical thinking class at a local “tech” institute for working people who were taking classes after work hours. He discovered from his supervisors that he could not penalize students for missing classes, which they did chronically, and he could not flunk students who failed to turn in their work. You pays your money and you gets your degree. I don’t assume that’s a universal problem with the for-profit academies, but there is an inevitable impulse in that direction when your students are clients who are paying for product.

    Posted by Zeno  on  04/26  at  01:10 AM
  28. It should be noted that the author, Robert Dickeson, went to one of those public schools, mooching off the good taxpayers.  He earned bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees in political science from the University of Missouri at Columbia.

    Of course, this was back in olden times, when no professors had tenure, and they were thus sure to get instant results.

    That’s your private-school-learnt Googling skills at work.

    Posted by  on  04/26  at  02:21 AM
  29. Customer service times in universities are disgusting, sometimes four years or longer.

    Posted by  on  04/26  at  03:05 AM
  30. I think I detect a trend.  The problem at universities is tenure of professors.  Other articles in newspapers and blogs have identified teachers as the the problem in public grade and high schools.  The solution is clear - get rid of teachers, and schools at all levels will become efficient.  For maximum efficiency, perhaps students or their parents should simply pay a fee for a “diploma” or “degree” and eliminate the time wasted in “classes” and “studying” altogether.

    Posted by  on  04/26  at  03:57 AM
  31. Don’t stop with teachers. Let’s get rid of students, too. Then you’d see real efficiency!
    Michael Bérubé, you are quite the guy. I have been lurking for a while but can’t resist posting now. Horowitz must be so envious of you.

    Posted by Hattie  on  04/26  at  04:40 AM
  32. "If Irish parents had property rights in their babies (and who else is going to own a baby? it is too young to own itself)”

    The baby’s shareholders, obviously.

    Posted by  on  04/26  at  08:49 AM
  33. "I’m writing off to University of Phoenix for my mail order doctorates in Futuronomy AND Futurology! “

    Oh come on!  Everyone knows futurology is bunk!

    Posted by  on  04/26  at  09:10 AM
  34. uh, maybe too much free time, but PPHWH&OPPHWHW is up.
    (no html?)

    Posted by the watcher  on  04/26  at  10:09 AM
  35. Hey, Michael, couldn’t help but ask if you’ve been following the Media Matters - D. Ho. back and forth (any day now I expect he whose name I should not have abbreviated to say “I can still spit").  What does it say when even Colmes is pointing out your problems.  (Actually my favorite part of the MMFA fact check is when they say that although the book is called the 101 most dangerous professors, it really only covers 100).

    Loyally awaiting a hockey playoff-Horowitz update....

    Posted by  on  04/26  at  11:02 AM
  36. some moron wrote:

    Tenured faculty members are not interchangeable parts (a physics professor can’t usually teach journalism, and vice versa).

    I certainly could teach journalism, and a damn sight better than those journalists, too! The students, however, would probably object strenuously to having to insert the appropriate equations (with correct solutions, dammit!) in their writing assignments....

    Let me give my own perspective on the articles under discussion…

    If you transform the original opinion (call it ’xwink by making a parody, we can write this as:

    x’ = P x

    where ’P‘ is the “parody” operation. Now from all possible opinions, one can construct linear combinations that are eigenstates of the operator P (the proof is trivial, and left as an exercise for the student).  That is, x’ = a x, where a is a constant. And since a parody of a parody gets one back to the original state, PP = 1, and thus allowable values for a are +1 or -1.

    Most sensible opinions have a=-1: when you parody them, you invert their sense.

    There must exist, however, sets of opinions that have a=+1; that is, they are ‘invariant under the parody operation’.  When subjected to parody, the parodied opinions are indistinguishable from the original opinion.

    Opinions that are invariant under the parody transformation are entirely contained within the larger set of opinions S that are generally termed “stupid”. 

    And here I would like to end by congratulating Michael for identifying yet another member of S.

    Posted by  on  04/26  at  12:48 PM
  37. Many thanks, GP, both for the congratulations and for showing your work.  We need more equations for bad arguments, that’s for sure.  Especially since that set S appears to be infinite, as my next post will demonstrate.

    Posted by Michael  on  04/26  at  01:58 PM
  38. Both I and my father have worked for different for-profit “career colleges”.  What quickly became obvious to us was that these colleges are really just a way to scam the government out of the money they provide for educational loans.  Basically, these places hard sell (it’s really gross what they do) the students into signing up for loans, promising them high-paying jobs, industry contacts, etc.  The places then string the students along their program track for as long as possible; first by ignoring absences and performance as long as possible, then by providing many ways for lapsed students to sign back up (obviously while retaking courses and reapplying for loans).  When eventually the students graduate (or drop out), they have no better career prospects than when they came in, but they do have $50K in personal debt.  As far as the college is concerned, they already have what they were after (money), and it’s backed up by government guarantees!  You could call the scheme brilliant if it weren’t so perverse.

    Posted by  on  04/26  at  02:22 PM
  39. Michael,

    I’m not an academic, so I’m going to ask a possibly-ignorant question.  Faculty salaries haven’t gone up--have teaching loads changed?  It’s my impression that “college professor” is a much more desirable job than it was 25 years ago (it’s very hard to be hired, which seems not to have beenthe case in 1980)--why?

    Posted by  on  04/26  at  02:40 PM
  40. GP,

    I must object to your claim that Parody has order two.

    My colleague Matthew Blake (Grinnell ‘04, if we’re keeping score) has written extensively on the subject of ‘triple irony,’ which entails the existence of irony and ‘double irony,’ naturally; all three are distinct.

    Although I refuse to provide a link (as I do not wish to be held responsible for my righteous misstatements), I think we can all agree that P has order at least three, at the very least.

    Posted by  on  04/26  at  02:49 PM
  41. this, of course, involves pretending that parody=irony, which, while false (I guess; this isn’t my bag), makes everything work. This is called applied mathematics.

    Posted by  on  04/26  at  02:51 PM
  42. Gee. Maybe a parody isn’t needed, if we look at one of the most successful of those business models for higher education; one that garners a disproportionate share of its funding from the government through student loan programs, especially VA benefits and GI service credit loans and grants.  It certainly pays to be the CEO.

    Today, Apollo Group, Inc., through its subsidiaries, the University of Phoenix (including University of Phoenix Online-which comprises nearly 77% of the course work teaching load of UofPh), the Institute for Professional Development, the College for Financial Planning, and Western International University, has established itself as a leading provider of higher education programs for working adults by focusing on servicing the needs of the working adult.

    John G. Sperling CEO/founder of Apollo Group had a
    total compensation w/ benefits and exercized stock option of $6,232,988 for 2005.  Sperling’s the 153rd richest man in the US, on the board of several of the country’s largest financial corporations including Chairman of BankOne, also on the board of international corporations particularly w/ companies operating as outsource providers (US corps who have cut US jobs) in India, etc.  It seems that the model Dickeson proposes is incredibly profitable for those that control it.  I wonder how many of the Univ of Phoenix online courses are managed and taught by poorly paid employees in India??

    Posted by  on  04/26  at  02:59 PM
  43. It’s my impression that “college professor” is a much more desirable job than it was 25 years ago (it’s very hard to be hired, which seems not to have been the case in 1980)--why?

    Actually, Sam, it was almost impossible to be hired in 1980—in the humanities and social sciences, anyway.  The bottom dropped out of the higher ed market quite suddenly in 1970, thanks to the fact that the incredible expansion of colleges and universities from 1945 to 1970 finally came to an end.  Since then, the number of Ph.D.s produced per year has consistently outrun the number of jobs available—which is why Cary Nelson and I began to argue for smaller graduate programs in the humanities.

    These days, the nature of the jobs themselves is actually part of the problem.  Despite what certain Department of Education issue papers might suggest, universities have been creating three new nontenured positions for every tenure-track job for the past 15 years.  As a result, only 30-32 percent of the people now teaching in American colleges are doing so with tenure.  The rest are part-timers, full-time non-tenure-trackers, per-course adjuncts, and graduate students.

    Courseloads have gone down at some institutions during all this (usually at the institutions that require research), and in some fields, tenured faculty have little responsibility for introductory instruction.  And, of course, courseloads differ from discipline to discipline; faculty who buy themselves out of courses with large research grants tend not to come from the arts, humanities, and social sciences.  But the biggest change in the professoriate from 1970 to the present lies in the ratio of untenured to tenured faculty, which has grown substantially and shows no signs of returning to the level of a generation ago.

    Posted by Michael  on  04/26  at  03:19 PM
  44. Thank-you Michael--that makes a lot of sense.  If more and more jobs are non-tenure, people stay in the candidate pool for tenure-track jobs--that would partly explain the “hard-to-be-hired” phenomenon.  (I used 25 years ago because that was about when the undergrad professors I knew best were hired, and most of them seemed to think it was easier to be hired then--but they were math and econ people.)

    (In other words--if every year, there are 100 new job candidates--PhD’s--and 90 get jobs, it matters a lot whether the 100 who didn’t get jobs over the last 10 years are in the candidate pool or not.)

    Posted by  on  04/26  at  03:57 PM
  45. "Oh come on!  Everyone knows futurology is bunk!”

    Hey, I’m sure there are some futurology fans out there. That’s why I’m covering both bases with my mail order doctorates! And maybe I’ll see if I can get a Master’s in Futuronomics—I hear it’s the next big thing!

    Posted by Ancarett  on  04/26  at  04:08 PM
  46. Re: post 42

    spyder: U of Phoenix, DeVry University Online, et al do not need to go to India for cheap labor. Because of the hiring practices Michael describes above, the McUs have their lackeys right here. I know the horrors well.... I taught for U of P a few years ago and teach for DVUO now. Before my foray into “Would you like some fries with that degree?” I was adjunct at one small private and one large state university for eleven years. The pay’s better online. And I prevent my students from doing their annotated bibliographies (the school dropped research papers last session as “too time-consuming") on The DaVinci Code or anything by Stephen King, so I sleep at night. Mostly.

    Posted by  on  04/26  at  04:41 PM
  47. Hey, I’m sure there are some futurology fans out there. That’s why I’m covering both bases with my mail order doctorates!

    There’s something I’ve always wondered about those programs: How do they deal with plagiarism? You know, if you copy something that has yet to be written, who’s the cheat?

    Posted by  on  04/26  at  04:50 PM
  48. Hi Michael, re: 43, we might be able to maintain the size of, or at least, slow the proposed rate of shrinkage in, graduate humanities programs, if we could find some way to create or foster or become aware of or help to prepare students for interesting, fulfilling, challenging, etc. jobs outside of academia. Someone I know with a French PhD, for instance, has a good job with the State Department doing cultural attache stuff around the globe. Or at least that’s what she *says* she does. I know you and Cary Nelson know this, but I still wanted to mention it.

    Posted by John Protevi  on  04/26  at  05:00 PM
  49. SamChevre, good question re courseloads—I’d be interested in a really detailed answer, and I might go looking for one.

    One important thing to keep in mind is that courseload is not the same as workload. Why? Two reasons: 1) class size, and 2) individual course planning.

    I’d hypothesize that the average number of students-per-instructor has been going up since . . . always. It’s perfectly possible for administrators to decree that a particular course that used to be capped at 15 students is now capped at 20—and the instructor doesn’t get a dime more in pay, often, even though the number of papers to grade and hands to hold and excuses to process and minds to indoctrinate has now increased.

    Savvy instructors will then pare the amount of work they assign to the bare minimum, regardless of whether or not that’s educationally optimal for the students. Suckers don’t. They die early. They are buried in the unconsecrated ground reserved for the untenured. Optimists convince themselves that they can reduce the work load and improve their students’ learning at the same time, which, pace comments 8, 18, and 19, is the attitude I try to take. I think it’s actually quite possible, within reason, just as it’s possible to edit a piece of writing so that it’s not only shorter but better.

    But that doesn’t mean that “money talks” actually is a reasonable substitute for the Grundrisse.

    When I was in grad school for English (at UVa, circa 1995, post-Michael) one nice trick they pulled on us was this: discussion sections of the large lecture courses for English majors had been meeting twice a week with about 20 students. They decreed that the students need only meet with the TA once per week. To wit:

    20students x 2meetings = 40sm

    (20students x 1meeting) + (20students x 1meeting) = 40sm

    Hey, that works, right? What are you TAs griping about? You’re still in the classroom only 2.5 hours per week. Sheesh. Some people have it easy.

    Sane people realized that this move doubled the TA’s workload, even though it made the department’s books balance. The department did give the TAs more money, although not double, and protests were thereby defused to grumbling.

    This kind of thing is why unionization of college teachers is important. And why applied math can be used for evil.

    Posted by  on  04/26  at  05:14 PM
  50. One thing driving the situations described by Amanda and Michael are changes in the way budgeting is done at many schools. The corporate service model often times dictates that budgets are allocated to departments on the basis of the number of majors they have/bodies they put into seats. Huge graduate classes are often times necessary to meet the needs of departments that take on huge numbers of students just to keep money coming in. Such considerations similarly drive changes in the TA, and faculty, workload. While you’re right to want to reduce the size of graduate programs, and to emphasize unionization (always, always, always!), it’s only half the story without changes to the way budget decisions are made.

    Posted by  on  04/26  at  07:54 PM
  51. I’m gearing up for our most crucial union demonstration yet at NYU, about which I’m pretty nervous.  I’ve lost sight of my motivation something like 12 times this week, just to be reminded again when I read President John Sexton answering just about any question in just about any publication that my best interests, it turns out, are far removed from the black, smoking hearts of the powers that be.  (Even on issues as diverse as college sports, upon which I thought Sexton and I might agree.  Long story short, he hates big sports because they create community, you all.  John Sexton hates community.) So that’s edification in the negative.  Edification in the positive often happens while reading this blog, so thanks Michael, Amanda and others, for voicing my interests and my conscience with such precision and eloquence and applied math.

    Roy, future TA in English at NYU. 

    PS: My captcha security word for this post is “couldnt,” but I can! I so can!

    Posted by Roy  on  04/26  at  09:34 PM
  52. Interesting, Over Worked. I don’t think I quite knew that, at least not actively. Out of curiosity, how would you suggest funds be allocated?

    (Don’t say “by test scores.” Don’t say “from property taxes,” either.)

    Posted by  on  04/26  at  10:51 PM
  53. It’s not hyar, it’s hyeah. You pointy headed America hater, you.
    Do smart people really have pointy heads?
    I’ve been called a pointy headed smart ass more than once but my head is roundish.

    Posted by  on  04/27  at  08:21 AM
  54. "set S appears to be infinite, as my next post will demonstrate.”

    Cantor diagonal argument, right?
    If you posit a table of all rational statements, then the number of lines in the table will be infinite.

    For example:
    1) A sensible energy policy would have conservation at its heart, and would consider as many alternative sources of energy as exist…
    2) Horses are larger than ponies but smaller than the Chrysler Building…
    3) One should avoid courses of action likely to lead to the destruction of the entire Dallas/Fort Worth metropolitan area…

    Now, say you construct a silly statement by taking the first term from the first, the second statement from the second, and so on - and then altering each term. Thus we create a silly statement which differs in term 1 from 1), in term 2 from 2) and so on.

    In this example, we find our silly statement, S, to be:
    S My lunatic energy policy uses ponies to destroy the Dallas/Fort Worth metropolitan area…

    This is, prima facie, silly. It is provably silly because, as stated above, it cannot appear anywhere on the list of rational statements.

    Thus I have shown that:
    1) there exists a process for generating provably silly statements and
    2) the number of such statements existing is uncountably infinite.

    Posted by  on  04/27  at  10:17 AM
  55. The original paper’s cost analysis is silly and arbitrary.


    I don’t want to bury under a legitimate tide of mockery the real problems that the DOE document identifies (whether by happy accident or not).

    First, yes, universities and colleges are not able to quickly shift resources away from some areas and into others. That’s good inasmuch as knowledge doesn’t turn on a dime, and trying to chase the will o’ the wisp of changing job markets, world events, and so on, would be a recipe for disaster both pedagogically and in the production of scholarly knowledge.

    On the other hand, tenure locks a given institution into making 30-40 year decisions. When I was given tenure, my college was essentially deciding that it was a good idea to have African history represented in our curriculum for the next 35 years. Given the distribution of resources, that means we were also deciding, in all likelihood, that it was NOT worth having South Asian history, history of science, Middle Eastern history, and so on for at least the next 15 years (the likely time of the next retirements from the date where I was given tenure).

    That’s a serious issue to consider. Tenure does have intellectual and institutional costs in the way it inhibits flexible responses to changing intellectual priorities and opportunities. We’ve just been debating this year whether it’s worth shifting resources from languages we current teach that have lower enrollments to languages that are now in high demand among students (Japanese, Arabic). Tenure enters into that debate as a serious constraint.

    It isn’t the only constraint: faculty tend to have an institutionally conservative sensibility, to assume that what we are studying is what we should continue to study. Reallocating resources even when retirements make it possible is a horribly painful, numbing affair and would be even without tenure, as long as faculty had a significant share of curricular governance (as they should).

    The other issue raised by the DOE is also significant, and it’s foolish for us to just whistle past the graveyard. When a tenured professor is doing a bad job of teaching, for example, it is basically impossible at most institutions to do anything about it save for capping the rate at which someone’s salary or benefits accrue. Now I think that’s a cost that’s worth paying, given what tenure protects. But it is a problem nevertheless. Tenure often leaves an administration with only two possible responses to infractions or misconduct below the level of molesting a student or not showing up to teach: ignoring it or demanding the equivalent of a professional death penalty.

    Posted by Timothy Burke  on  04/27  at  10:54 AM
  56. Amanda,
    I don’t think we can totally do away with quantitative methodologies in budget allocation. And I don’t think such is absolutely necessary either. My point rather was that such methodologies exacerbate the problems that you and Michael pointed out. When the major reason for the allocation of funds becomes the number of students a department ‘serves,’ there is no reason to reduce graduate program sizes or TA workload. Indeed, there is every reason to increase it. Hence the situation Michael outlines (in large part, a response to the inflexibility of tenure, which really became an issue for a lot of public schools when they began to lose state funding in the 80’s) where non-tenured job creation outpaces tenured jobs 3 to 1. Departments and faculty become complicit in the situation simply as a matter of survival. Or what they perceive as a matter of survival.

    My feeling is that they are really less over the barrel than deans and provosts would like them to feel if only they would refuse to make decisions on the basis of some absolute calculus presented to them by administrations who rely on such in budgeting. In their failure to resist such pressure is, I think, evidence of a lack of commitment to fundamental principles, in part a result of graduate programs that construe professionalization far too narrowly, i.e. teaching students how to prepare a manuscript for publication without a concurrent discussion of the place of publication within the profession. There is very little awareness of the role of departments and faculty, to say nothing of society at large, in something larger beyond that made available in budgetary calculus and a very narrowly developed sense of their professions.

    Given all this, I believe that budgetary allocations should be decided as a result of more open and public discussion about the goals that a University is trying to meet and the mission it is trying to accomplish. It is foolish, and ultimately dangerous to the idea of freely available quality education, to think that budgeting can be reduced to some impartial formula devoted to a notion of equality that is simply supposed to inhere in that formula.

    Posted by  on  04/27  at  11:57 AM
  57. Damn.  Here I’ve been doing snark all week instead of substance, mostly because I’m busy with the day job, and Timothy Burke shows up with one of his judicious comments.  Well, OK, I suppose I can get serious for a moment.  As to point number one:  yes, tenure makes it harder for universities to reallocate intellectual resources, and at small liberal arts colleges especially, the decision to tenure a Timothy Burke might well mean that a department is effectively deciding that it is “NOT worth having South Asian history, history of science, Middle Eastern history, and so on for at least the next 15 years.” Why small liberal arts colleges especially?  Because they have small departments, natch, and (crucially) a very high percentage of the members of those departments are tenured.  Here at Large Research State U., by contrast, we have plenty of more (cough) “flexible” teachers off the tenure track, in the form of graduate students and NTT faculty.  So I don’t think tenure constitutes quite the same kind of drag on intellectual resource allocation at places where the majority of college teachers are employed in the United States.

    About point number two I simply agree.  That’s why, way back in 1994 when Cary Nelson and I wrote our first essay on the job crisis in academe, we made sure to include a proposal that “institutions should devise legally sound early-retirement packages for those faculty members who are neither effective teachers nor productive scholars. . . .  We are not suggesting that tenure be abolished, but we are recommending periodic reviews for all faculty members so that administrators have plausible data to show who is performing responsibly and who is not.  In any case, we need to confront the fact that we are driving talented new teachers and scholars out of the profession while retaining some incompetent faculty members with tenure.  Some marginal faculty, however, earn so little they cannot afford to retire.  Carefully negotiated retirement agreements could help to address all these problems at once.” Even though early retirement is hardly a death penalty, we took a lot of heat at the time for making this suggestion.  Still, I see no reason not to stand by it today—especially since Cary followed up on the final sentence in a later essay in which he explored early-retirement options for faculty at various universities.  Penn State, for the record, has five-year reviews for all tenured faculty; my own is coming up any day now.

    Posted by Michael  on  04/27  at  05:46 PM
  58. I repent any doubts I may have professed about Cary Nelson’s ability to wrestle the AAUP out of its slough of despond AND project the presence needed to resist the trend toward privatization. I humbly apologize for ever allowing such thoughts to inhabit the folds of my gray matter. His arrest yesterday in support of the striking NYU grad students is exactly the sort of action that shows he’s got what it takes and then some. I am moved beyond words by such an action and fervently desire that more should emulate him. For the striking NYU grads, the AAUP and higher education in general, there is hope.

    Posted by  on  04/28  at  10:44 AM
  59. Here’s the math, from a math-challenged state college writing program rat, I mean, adjunct:

    Average 25 students per section.
    $920 tuition per student for 3-hour class.
    $23000 total tuition paid per section.

    Adjunct “salary”: $1700 per section.
    No benefits. None. Nada. Finally the government forced them to pay FICA, so add in $150 for that.
    $1850 a section. (At the community college, it’s less than $1600 a section.) (Grad students get paid more, btw-- $2400 a section and tuition reimbursement… but there are only 4 of those.)

    Overhead? Well, deans, sure. And office space! Yes.  1 half of a cubicle for 3 hours a week. 1 file cabinet. 1 secretary for 120 adjuncts. Finally we don’t have to pay for our copies-- have 1 copy machine for those 120 adjuncts.

    200 sections a semester of freshman comp.

    You do the math. I don’t have time-- got to attend an 8-hour workshop on final grading. No, we don’t get paid for it, but it’s required.

    I have never bothered to figure out how much I get paid an hour. It would hurt too much to find out it’s less than minimum wage.

    Why do we do it? Because most of us are liberals who think we have a social obligation to help continue public education.  Trust me, not one of us is a libertarian who thinks we’re the answer to the rising cost of education, because:
    1) We know that we teach half the courses at the university, very cheaply, and yet tuition keeps rising.
    2) Libertarians and right-wingers would never work because they think they have a social obligation.

    I don’t know what the answer is. But there ain’t no more blood in the adjunt/part-time turnip. We’re exploited as much as it’s possible to exploit a group of nice liberals.

    And tuition keeps rising. I don’t think the faculty is the problem.  I’d look to those $35 million buildings being built on the edge of campus, each requiring a new parking garage.  You could exploit a lot of adjuncts for that money.

    Posted by  on  04/29  at  03:09 PM
  60. Adjunct “salary”: $1700 per section.
    No benefits. None. Nada. Finally the government forced them to pay FICA, so add in $150 for that.
    $1850 a section. (At the community college, it’s less than $1600 a section.) (Grad students get paid more, btw-- $2400 a section and tuition reimbursement… but there are only 4 of those.)

    Lucky duckies.

    Posted by  on  04/29  at  06:35 PM
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