Saturday, January 28, 2012

Obama clueless about community colleges

So Friday I heard that President Obama said the following at a speech at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

You can’t assume you’ll just jack up tuition every single year.  If you can’t stop tuition going up, your funding from taxpayers will go down. We should push colleges to do better; we should hold them accountable if they don’t.”

As a New York State community college professor, all I can say, with all due respect, is "Fuck you, Mr. President!"

Let me edumacate you...

We've ALREADY had our funding go down asshole!  Over the past few years, public education funding has gone down by double-digit percentages!  That's why tuition has increased.  No wonder our economy is in shambles since the supposed leader of the free world fails to understand this simple fact.

This is from the New York State Faculty Council of Community Colleges Resolution #G1-2011-12 that our faculty recently vote unanimously to support.

"The State's base aid rate per FTE at the start of the 2009 - 2010 was $2675 and now currently stands at $2122, representing a 21% decrease in the State's support of community colleges, and ... this decrease places the State's contribution below what it was in 2009 - 2010 so that it now represents only 26.5% of operating costs, far short of the State's 40% statutory obligation..."

In other words, the State of New York is supposedly required, by LAW to provide 40% of our operating costs (the resolution, by the way, is an attempt to get the State to meet its funding obligations).  It actually provides 26.5%.  Where does the rest of our funding come from?  It comes from the County and student tuition.  County funding for New York State's community colleges have either decreased or remained flat.  Ulster County, where I reside, is flat broke and doesn't meet its statutory funding obligations either.

So what does that leave?  Tuition.  If the citizens of New York want community colleges to exist, they have to realize that student tuition HAS TO GO UP because State and County funding has GONE DOWN SIGNIFICANTLY.  We can't magically summon money from thin air (if you learn that trick, let me know!).

Wait, you may argue, can't community colleges cut costs?  Of course costs can be cut.  And they have been cut.  Year and year of funding cuts have resulted in significant and deep cost cuts at our institution (call our Dean of Administration - I'm sure he'd be happy to give you a list).  But, at some point, the cost cuts have real negative effects.  Maintenance is deferred.  Libraries don't buy books.  Computer equipment is not updated.  Labs work with out-of-date decrepit equipment.  Full-time faculty retire and they're not replaced.  That has happened in my department.  We have to staff the classes with part-time (adjunct) instructors who are paid per course with no benefits.  Over two-thirds of our faculty members are adjunct instructors.

If your child is at our community college, odds are that most of their classes are taught by part-time adjunct instructors.  We're not unique.

What's the problem with adjunct instructors?  We do try to get qualified people with appropriate degrees and experience after all.  There are drawbacks, however.  Ever try to get someone with the appropriate background to teach, for example, a lecture section on General Chemistry from 11 am - 12 pm on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for four months for $2,175 - $2,460 (our adjunct salary pay range before taxes)?  While it's 45 hours of contact time (3 hours/week for 15 weeks), keep in mind that the instructor also has to prepare about 40 hour-long lectures (for non-teachers reading this, imagine putting together ONE hour-long lecture on a topic you're familiar with and then multiply that prep time by 40).  Doesn't include writing quizzes, homework problems, and exams.  Doesn't include time GRADING quizzes, homework problems, and exams.  Doesn't include time coordinating with whomever is teaching the chemistry lab sections to make sure lecture and lab relate to each other.  Doesn't include time meeting with students who "don't get it".

Adjunct instructors come in, teach a class, and leave.  In the middle of the day, when a student wanders into our department office looking for their teacher, we often have to tell them their instructor is only on campus Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10:30 - 1:00.  Send them an email.  Is that good for the student and their success in that particular course?

Adjunct instructors are not necessarily committed to the mission of the college.  Many of them teach at numerous other colleges - they're only allowed to teach up to 3 classes at our school and that earns them less than $7500 a semester (before taxes).  To make ends meet, many of them teach far more classes than they would as a full-time faculty member and also spend many hours in a car driving from one place to another throughout the day.  How committed can you be to any one of those classes and institutions?

Adjunct instructors have no protections and can be non-renewed without any reasons given.  How likely are they to enforce academic standards in their classroom when they live in fear of not being renewed.  The temptation is to make your students all happy so no one complains and you get good student evaluations.  The temptation is to have a high "success" rate where everyone passes with a good grade.  A good department chair sees through that (but we're overloaded with work too and simply don't have time to keep a close eye on things most of the time) but it does happen and it's bad for the institution.

Adjunct instructors do not take part in administrative tasks necessary to run a college.  Full-time faculty serve on numerous committees (some essential to the operation of the college, some a waste of time); periodically review and revise course syllabi (we're currently revising 70 different course syllabi in our department right now); assess student learning in classes (the latest MANDATE from our accrediting agency!); periodically review and revise programs; meet with and advise students; register students for classes; periodically evaluate adjunct and full-time faculty; provide endless bits of information to financial aide, the registrar's office, the dean's office, and others; maintain classrooms and labs; order lab equipment and supplies; develop class schedules (even though it's January, we're currently working on developing the fall course schedule); meet with reps and select textbooks; write common final exams; grade placement tests; oversee programs in local high schools; recruit students and participate in open houses; engage in professional development trainings, webinars, and conferences; do research; write papers; etc. etc. etc.

When the ratio of adjunct to full-time faculty goes up, all of those tasks are spread out among fewer and fewer faculty.  In other words, we get to do FAR more work with no increase in compensation.  How's that for morale?

By the way, at our institution, there have been NO salary increases for two years now (we don't even have a contract in place).  I certainly don't see an increase next September either.  Cost of living keeps rising dramatically here in the mid-Hudson Valley as well (my school and property taxes have both gone up, fuel costs are up, grocery costs are up - I have effectively been given a significant pay CUT these past few years).  Our faculty make tens of thousands of dollars less than less-well educated teachers at the local high schools.

Community colleges are THE best value in education and we're getting fucked by county, state, and federal funding cuts.  Community colleges contribute far, far more to the community than they cost in public funding.  If you support the mission of community colleges, a chance for everyone to be educated, share your concerns with the president, your senators and congressional representative, your governor, and state and local elected officials.

If any one of those "public servants" wants to come and visit our community college, not just for a photo op with the college president and board of trustees, I'd be happy to show them around, introduce them to department chairs, full-time faculty, adjuncts, staff members, maintenance workers, and students.  I dare you to ask them how things are going.  Never happen, though, they prefer to legislate from a position of ignorance.

1 comment:

  1. I hear you. The US has been on a path of destruction, regarding its education system, for decades. That's the Republicans' declared aim (and I understand why they want it: education is the worst enemy of religious indoctrination, and literate, informed people are less likely to vote for radical demagogues), and the Democrats' don't give a sh*t.

    But hey, keep doing this and our miserable university funding in Germany soon won't matter anymore: the UK has already starting ruining its unis, the US will soon lack people qualified to attend a university. In the end, even Germany's meager education and science spendings will finally give us world dominance [evil laugh] - unless the Chinese keep messing with our plans!