Thursday, April 23, 2015

On life at the academy...

Four years ago, I became what's known in academia as the "trailing spouse." My husband had decided to enter academia; he was hired for a tenure-track position at a public university; we packed our bags and moved into a whole new universe. He moved onto the tenure track; I became a contingent laborer - a lecturer teaching a 4/4 load.

We are not from academia. We both have terminal degrees for our areas (though mine is not recognized as a terminal degree in my department - it considers only the Ph.D. to be terminal - though my degree is recognized as terminal in similar departments in other universities, including the flagship university.) We have spent our professional lives engaged in the work our students wish to pursue. As a freelancer, I've worked with numerous clients, including Fortune 500 companies, tech firms, lawyers and more.

Thus,  I have been more than a bit surprised to learn that my professional experience, my degree and my enthusiasm for teaching are essentially worthless in the eyes of academia. It's taken me a while to figure this out - but I've finally realized the truth - contingent faculty have no future in academia.

I've had one tenured professor wonder why I was not aware that people like me (contingent faculty) were not supposed to speak in meetings. (I spoke in a meeting - apparently, contingent faculty are supposed to attend, but remain silent.) I've had other tenured professors sit in my office and tell me that I needed to know that lecturers (such as myself) were unimportant, temporary and that those without the Ph.D. (such as myself) REALLY needed to understand their lack of value and future in the department. I've had an assistant chair inform me that those on the tenure-track are in a "career" - contingent faculty, on the other hand, have "jobs." And I've dealt with other tenured professors who pretend I do not even exist - not even worth the breath needed for a greeting.

I have worked with difficult people in my career, but I've never worked with people with such a monumental sense of entitlement and privilege as those who are tenured. Certainly, not all on the tenure-track are like this - but even one is too many.

In academia, contingent faculty such as myself have no prospects for career advancement - which is a remarkable thing to realize - all the work I'm doing is essentially wasted effort, if I'm interested in a "career" and not just a "job." Working as contingent labor within a university has been unpredictable in ways that are more nerve-wracking than working as a freelancer - with freelance, the goal is to spread the work among a variety of clients; with contingent faculty work, a 4/4 load does not allow time for other clients. I do not know my work load for next year - I will not know if I'm 3/4, 4/4 or adjunct until mid-summer. I've done eight new course preps in eight semesters. I've been placed into a course the week before the semester started. I've gotten textbooks (ordered weeks prior to the start of the semester) a week after the semester began. I never really get to engage in a course long enough to get a groove going - after a couple of semesters, I find myself placed into new courses, with no regard for my own wishes. I am, I now realize, a hole-filler. 

According to AAUP, more than half of the teachers in higher ed are part-time - and "non-tenure-track positions of all types now account for 76 percent of all instructional staff appointments in American higher education."

This means that most - if not all - students at the university will be taught by someone who is provided with few resources for professional development, dealing with erratic schedules that can leave little time for curriculum development and employed by an institution that refuses to commit to them in any way. (Just prior to my arrival on campus, our tenured and tenure-track faculty in the faculty senate voted to abolish multi-year contracts for contingent labor. Every lecturer and adjunct gets the privilege of a two-semester contract. I am fascinated that tenured professors used the arguments against tenure to argue against multi-year contracts for contingent faculty; they wanted it to be easier to fire their contingent pool of teachers.)

As a contingent laborer at the academy, I am frustrated with the situation. As a parent saving money to send my children to college, I am outraged. I had no idea how absurd the situation was until I became part of the vast pool of contingent intelligentsia. I will be asking a great many questions of colleges prior to sending my children to them.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

I cannot believe this man was elected NC senator

Freshman Senator Thom Tillis, straight off of the most expensive senate race in US history, is in the news. Sadly, he's in the news as an advocate of deregulating hand-washing in restaurants.

I guess we all now know, thanks to the brilliance of Tillis, that hand-washing regulations are crippling the restaurant business (and FYI, low-wage restaurant jobs are growing in NC - as are other low-wage jobs. Jobs that provide middle-class incomes are harder to find in this "right-to-work" state.)

Here's the quote:
“I was having a discussion with someone, and we were at a Starbucks in my district, and we were talking about certain regulations where I felt like ‘maybe you should allow businesses to opt out,’” he said, “as long as they indicate through proper disclosure, through advertising, through employment literature, or whatever else.” Tillis was, at the time, the minority whip of the North Carolina House of Representatives.

“She said, ‘I can’t believe that,’” he continued in retelling the story. “And at that time we were sitting back at a table that was near the restrooms and one of the employees just came out. She said: ‘For example, don’t you believe that this regulation that requires this gentleman to wash his hands before he serves your food is important and should be on the books?’”

“I said: ‘As a matter of fact, I think it’s one that I can [use to] illustrate the point,’” he remarked. “I said: ‘I don’t have any problem with Starbucks if they choose to opt out of this policy as long as they post a sign that says “We don’t require our employees to wash their hands after leaving the restroom,”’” he recalled, as the audience chuckled. “The market will take care of that.’”

“That’s the sort of mentality that we need to have to reduce the regulatory burden on this country,” he added. “We’re one of the most regulated nations in the history of the planet.” 
Who knew hand-washing rules were such a regulatory burden? I guess that's why Starbucks is struggling?

I have to think that posting a sign that says "we do not require employees to wash their hands" would induce customers to head elsewhere. Or perhaps all food businesses would gleefully abandon hand-washing rules, if allowed. Or perhaps we could wait until an outbreak of hepatitis or e. coli or salmonella infects the paying customers of a food business and let the market determine whether or not the business remains open. Sounds like a plan adored by NCGOP officials!

The deregulatory stance Tillis advocates is dangerous to consumers, but so what? The reliance on "the market" is the sort of mentality that allows highly profitable Fortune 500 businesses to pollute the Dan River (major source of water for NC residents.) That's the kind of mentality that allows frackers to claim mineral rights over property owners. That's the kind of mentality that makes it illegal to disclose the chemicals used in fracking (thank you NCGOP!)

As NC's freshman senator, Tillis represents the will of the NC voters. In November, he beat Kay Hagan - it wasn't even close - he was the clear choice of NC voters. I don't even know what to say about that. I still can't believe he's now in DC, bringing the NCGOP madness to the nation's capital. Salmonella for everyone! It's the NCGOP way....

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Rebellion in the ranks!!

I teach one of the most essential classes offered to students at my university. It's not popular - not at all. It's filled because it's required, not because people want to take it. I never had to take a course like this when I was an undergrad - and I paid dearly for that in the workplace. It's one of the most stressful courses a student can take. If it had been mandatory when I was in college, I would have done everything in my power to get out of it. But back then, in my liberal arts college, it was not even offered.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

On the religious values of Hobby Lobby

Sometimes I feel like the nation has moved into some weird alternative universe. Hard as it may seem, SCOTUS has me thinking about the IUD. Yes, the IUD, the intra-uterine device. There are two types, one made of copper and one that uses hormones in someway to prevent pregnancy.

Until the Hobby Lobby decision, I had no idea that the IUD was viewed by some in America as a murder weapon. I thought it was birth control, plain and simple. Here's what the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has to say about how the IUD works:
Both types of IUDs work mainly by preventing fertilization of the egg by the sperm. The hormonal IUD also thickens cervical mucus, which makes it harder for sperm to enter the uterus and fertilize the egg, and keeps the lining of the uterus thin, which makes it less likely that a fertilized egg will attach to it.
ACOG also views the IUD, along with the birth control implant, as "the most effective forms of reversible birth control available."

SCOTUS says otherwise. In the Hobby Lobby ruling, SCOTUS codifies the idea that the IUD is a device used to murder fertilized eggs. And the Hobby Lobby ruling codifies the idea that a fertilized egg is a person and that life begins at conception. And the Hobby Lobby ruling also codifies the idea that a corporation is a person who has devout, religious beliefs that must be protected from egregious governmental interference as per the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

So who is Hobby Lobby? Hobby Lobby is a company owned by the David Green family, whose religion is Pentecostal Christian. David Green once characterized himself as the black sheep of the family, as everyone else was engaged in church work. And now, David Green is also involved in church work.

According to Forbes, he/she (it is insulting to call a "person" an "it" and I don't want to get in trouble with SCOTUS!) is one of the largest privately held corporations in America. He/she employs 23,000 people, has 578 stores throughout the country, and had sales of $3.3 billion in 2012.

And now Hobby Lobby is as religious as the pope! And as opposed to abortion as the pope himself. Thus, Hobby Lobby does not have to include methods of birth control his/her owners find objectionable.

Here's a bit from the majority opinon of SCOTUS:

According to HHS and the dissent, these corporations are not protected by RFRA because they cannot exercise religion. Neither HHS nor the dissent, however, provides any persuasive explanation for this conclusion.
 It may seem obvious to some that a corporation cannot exercise religion, but apparently, because non-profit religious entities are religious, so too are for-profit companies that sell a load of Chinese junk to American hobbyists.

Here's some more from the five pro-Christian white men on the Supreme Court:

The Hahns and Greens believe that providing the coverage demanded by the HHS regulations is connected to the destruction of an embryo in a way that is sufficient to make it immoral for them to provide the coverage. This belief implicates a difficult and important question of religion and moral philosophy, namely, the circumstances under which it is wrong for a person to perform an act that is innocent in itself but that has the effect of enabling or facilitating the commission of an immoral act by another.
This is terrible language and reasoning from the five conservative justices of the Supreme Court. Abortion is a legally sanctioned medical procedure under today's laws. It is considered immoral among some religious people. But that does not make it immoral.

As a legal, medical procedure, abortion is not deemed immoral by the laws of the United States. (I have a feeling it won't be long until SCOTUS changes this - to avoid offending some citizens of the United States whose religion deems this legal medical procedure "immoral.")

And so what I don't understand - how the Greens' religion must supersede the law of the land. How are the Greens' morals thwarted when Hobby Lobby's health insurance plan covers IUDs and morning-after pills? How is including the IUD in the Hobby Lobby insurance plan "a substantial burden" on the exercise of religion? The Greens are not obligated to use these products. Hobby Lobby employees are not obligated to use these products. Yet SCOTUS has decided that this corporate entity gets to impose its religion on its employees.

It may make sense to the five justices who made this decision, but it makes no sense to me. And the Hobby Lobby decision has opened up a Pandora's box of new court cases from corporations who don't want to lose their religion just because of ACA.

Time for some REM!

Monday, June 9, 2014

On the mythology of the "student-athlete"

Do universities provide "student-athletes" with a proper education in exchange for their athletic performance on the field?

I suppose it depends on the sport. But for the high-profile, high-profit sports, it is not clear that athletes are getting what they deserve from the university. Football and basketball athletes who participate on high-profile teams, the ones we watch on TV, are engaged in a highly profitable activity (Final Four rakes in more advertising dollars than the NFL playoffs) - but due to NCAA rules, the profits do not trickle down to the athletes - they require college profit centers student-athletes to remain "amateurs."

Scholarships are provided to these student athletes, of course - many of these highly skilled athletes are provided full-ride scholarships to excellent universities.

But are student-athletes getting a good deal?

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The unbearable insanity of being in the state of North Carolina

So three years ago, I moved away from a state that half of the residents want to leave. We left Illinois to settle (for now) in the Tar Heel state.

And I have to say - coming from a state everyone wants to leave, a state that has nothing in the coffers but a lot of IOUs to state employees looking for their pensions, a state with political corruption famous throughout the nation - nothing I witnessed in the Land of Lincoln has prepared me for politics in the Tea Party Tar Heel state. Nothing in Illinois - not a series of governors on the path to jail, not Blago and his big mouth (and fondness for Kipling), not RM Daley and his crony capitalism that helped the Loop grow pretty flower boxes and a very expensive Bean as the neighborhoods withered, not the epic failures of privatization set into play by Daley before he retired - none of this prepared me for politics in North Carolina.

That's how crazy it is in this state today.

When we moved to North Carolina from up north, it was in part because North Carolina had a reputation for being a moderate Southern state - purple, not blue or red. This is a Southern state that even went for Obama in 2008 (!!!)

Everything changed in 2010 when the GOP took over the state senate and house. And then it became one of the angriest red states in the country in 2012 when the GOP won all three branches of state government.

Since achieving super party status, the NCGOP has ripped up everything in the social contract - the NCGOP refused Medicaid expansion, initiated some of the worst voter suppression legislation in the country, looked the other way when a big donor started polluting the Dan River, shrank unemployment compensation (which shrank the labor force participation rate), slashed a huge amount of money from the UNC-system budget (no raises for professors either, under NCGOP rule), etc. and so on.

It has been more than half a decade since K-12 teachers were given a substantive raise. A couple years ago, they got a 1.2% raise - but that's not a raise - that didn't even cover cost-of-living increases since the last raise. It was PR that could be spun as a raise, but really, the "raise" probably wouldn't even cover a state politician's Starbucks budget.

Last week, the Republican governor proposed a modest pay raise for many (not all) teachers, and to do so, he had to pull money from the UNC system budget to cover the raises.

Today, after years of starving K-12 teachers (their pay rank dropped from middle of the pack in 2008 to 46th in 2014), the NCGOP-led state Sentate magnanimously announced generous raises for all teachers - raises that would bring NC back up into the middle of the national pack on the teacher pay scale.

Of course there is a catch... teachers must give up tenure if they want the raise. Those who do not want to give up tenure do not get a raise.

Now I may not be the biggest fan of tenure, but this is not the way to get rid of it. To get a long-delayed, much deserved raise in North Carolina, a teacher must first align with NCGOP ideology that tenure has no purpose and no reason for being. In NC, K-12 "tenure" is the right of due process before being dismissed. With that protection removed, I can see a future where teachers who do not teach what the NCGOP deems ideologically appropriate will get fired.

This is a state that made it illegal in 2012 to discuss global warming trends. This is a state that today wants to make it a felony to discuss chemicals used in fracking. This is a state that passed legislation allowing guns in bars and in parks and on college campuses, but arrests citizens for exercising their right to peaceably assemble at the state capitol.

So it is not far-fetched to think that this is a state where untenured teachers who do not teach creationism will get fired.

And that is part of the unbearable insanity that comes with being and living and paying taxes and sending one's children to school in the state of North Carolina.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Geithner gets an F on his stress test.

I have not read Tim Geithner's memoir of the crash, Stress Test. [I did read Hank Paulson's memoir of the crash - and discovered that we shared three things in common - birding, residence in Barrington IL (I lived there once, a long time ago) and a love of the boundary waters near Ely MN. Otherwise, Paulson and I do not see eye-to-eye on much, particularly on his handling of the bailout.]

I don't know if I will read Geithner's book. It is well-written, says Michael Lewis (author of Liar's Poker) in a NY Times review. But as I read Lewis's review, I wanted to throw the book at a wall - and I don't even own the book. Lewis quotes Geithner as saying:
"We did save the economy, but we lost the country doing it..." 
(My God! Is the economy "saved"? Not in my neck of the woods! But the country was indeed lost as a result of the crash.)

Lewis goes on to say:

"Geithner seems genuinely to believe that the details of the behavior inside the financial industry are largely irrelevant — that investors who bought subprime mortgage bonds simply suffered from the same misconceptions as everyone else. But he doesn’t begin to explain why, if investors were so numb to risk, Wall Street went to such lengths to disguise that risk. Why did our financiers stuff so many bad loans into incomprehensibly complex securities that even sophisticated investors were unlikely to understand, and then pressure deeply conflicted ratings agencies to declare them risk-free?"
I can only imagine why the banks hid the risk of their activites, and it was not out of ignorance or stupidity. They knew what they were doing, and they were blessed by a US government seemingly uninterested in holding them accountable for egregious failures. For Geithner, holding bankers accountable is apparently some kind of "Old Testament vengeance" rather than the normal course of action when people screw up as spectacularly as bankers did.

Apparently Repo 105 and over-leveraging one's business and betting against the US housing market (there's no place like home if you're a Goldman Sachs banker looking to pad the bonus) are standard business practices we should continue to encourage. And funneling billions and billions and billions of dollars to bankers was the ONLY way to solve the issues of the financial sector (Geithner seems unaware that there was an economy outside of Wall Street, an economy that has ramped up to putter-speed right now, more than a half decade after the crash.)

Geithner spent time on the Daily Show this week, listening to Jon Stewart talk about the book. Stewart devoted quite a bit of time to talking about the book to Geithner - here's part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4 and part 5 of the interview. You'll see if you watch the segments, that Geithner, former Treasury Secretary, could barely get a word in edgewise.

And that's the problem with Geithner.