Pick One

You can’t be simultaneously for “free college” and against a dramatic increase in contingent workers in a academia. You’ve got to pick one and stick to it.

There is no way of justifying tenure of people who teach nothing but 10 remedial courses a year, which is increasingly what is being taught in the first 3 years of what used to be known as college.


15 thoughts on “Pick One”

  1. Do not know about Norway (it is ridiculously rich, so not representative anyway), but in Germany only a minority go to University. There are two streams that are separated relatively early during the secondary school years and most kids are guided into vocational training (and it is pretty good, I’ve seen people from vocational schools doing internships at research labs in the university). The system is working for the Germans, but probably will be unacceptable in the US on psychological/cultural grounds, as it contradicts the idea that one is in charge if one’s destiny..
    Pretty much everywhere where education is free of charge it is compensated by high admission standards.
    I am not sure why anyone thinks that if, hypothetically, free education will be introduced in the States, it will be free for all in terms of standards. The budget of any education system will be limited anyway, so the universities will not be able to accept unlimited numbers of “free” students of questionable background and hire profs to teach them, even if these profs will be adjuncts without much rights.


    1. Yeah, I know exactly which schools will be getting these students. We just managed to raise the AP admission standards at my school, and what a relief. It will all go out the window once we try to attract those who weren’t considering college but will once it’s free.


    2. Pretty much everywhere where education is free of charge it is compensated by high admission standards.

      This is exactly as it should be, although it does not need to be as draconian as Germany’s system. If I remember correctly, Poland in the 1970’s had a similar system, but with a second-chance option for people who did not gain university admission the first time around. I think it kicked in at about age 25. Few people took advantage of it, but the option existed.


      1. Then the people rejected by the “free but impossible to get into” colleges will pay for-profit diploma mills who will take them and their money. And the capital triumphs yet again.

        Quod erat demonstrandum.


  2. It was free and nearly free in California for many decades. My grandmother (UC Berkeley, class of 1912 may have paid nothing). My parents, $25.00 a year in the forties and fifties, me, $600 a year in the seventies and eighties, and it was changes in the state tax structure and policy changes that made it go up and turned the universities into a different kind of entity, i.e. it was a chosen and not forced change. In those days the U of C took the top 12.5% of high school graduates, the Cal States, a different kind of institution, took the top 35%, and the community colleges, at almost no cost at all, took everyone else and had good technical programs as well as good transfer credit; you could transfer among all these institutions if you had the right grades and prereqs, etc.

    The tenure track existed at all the institutions and there were people with PhDs at the community colleges, which were not just doing remedial things. At the U of C there was a different tenure track for lecturers, people who taught lower level and didn’t do as much visible research. That meant that they, too, had stability and raises and had to do professional development, and weren’t treated as casual labor / service workers.

    I don’t see why you so look down on people who teach lower level courses. They, too, are doing valuable work; they, too, deserve to live decently; they, too, should be required and also supported to keep to certain standards and to keep up in field / do professional development / not be fossils driven totally by the popularity contest of student evaluations and satisfaction surveys. “We never know how many sections we’ll need” — that’s poor planning. Sure, there may always be room for the odd part-timer, or some type of visiting / contingent person, but there is NO good reason (except shoot-yourself-in-the-foot cost cutting) to force as many to contingency as has been done today.


    1. When did I say that anybody didn’t deserve to live decently or that I look down on anybody? I’m simply pointing to a clear outcome of the “free college” idea and asking if people knowingly accept its consequences.

      Most of the courses I teach are lower-level courses, by the way. Next year I’m scheduled to teach nothing above the 100 level, for instance.


    2. For context in 2018 dollars:

      $25 in
      194o : $450.07
      1950 is $261.45
      1955 is $235.11
      1965 is $200.03

      $600 in
      1975 :$2,810.83
      1985 : $1,405.42
      1997: $942.20
      2003 : $821.86
      2008: $702.37

      Do you know what this looks like to me as a super young GenXer (old Millennial)? And I’m thinking of what it cost to attend community college or the local good public university. Everybody I knew filled out a FAFSA, and/or took out loans and/or had parents who saved for decades to help them out. The kids I knew who got a full scholarship spent more on books than some of these tuition costs and they were getting them from the library/savvy shoppers/fucking geniuses.


      1. What it looks like is, still mega cheap compared to what people pay today. And yes, some people had FA, but it was better FA, and loans didn’t even come in until the 80s and were much more favorable ones, and yes parents saved for college and people worked but it just didn’t take as much as it does now. And books were a lot less expensive, and you could get them used and from the library. What people are now put through is totally unfair. We’ve spent the last nearly 5 decades, because the undermining started in the 70s, allowing or trying to understand this undermining, trying to figure out how to fight it, adjust to it, grock it, have not fought hard enough or have fought and lost, and this is what we have now. It’s awful.


  3. Why not separate between pre-academic remedial learning and real academia which you refer to by this word and in which you do research? Real academics will have tenure, while other workers won’t like they do not in all other jobs on the job market.

    As for the horribleness of “a dramatic increase in contingent workers in a academia,” where are those people working now? As school teachers? Somewhere else? Being contingent workers in academia may be not a bad possibility for them, considering other options. It is not like somebody will force them to accept this position in lieu of a better one.


    1. We are absolutely moving towards a model where a tiny minority of super scholars will have tenure and the vast majority of grunts will teach 8 sections of Calc 101 on a contingent basis.

      I’m not offering a moral judgment of such a system. I’m only asking if people fully realize that this is what they are advocating with their “free college” model. If they do, then that’s fine. Of course, it would also be nice to hear if actual contingent people are excited about this plan. But I have a feeling they are too busy preparing their 5 courses for the semester that starts tomorrow.


    2. It’s not “free college” that would create this system — this system is already here and it has been created while tuition was rising, has not kept tuition low.

      Re pre-university level learning, well, that did used to happen in high schools and so on. And K-12 teachers were treated like professionals, had a tenure system, sabbaticals, there really is a trick to teaching at that level, too.

      The contingent faculty, it is more complicated than that. They have been lured into the idea that they must be academics and that they will have a tenure track job next year. They could go and teach in a good high school, and would be appreciated, but it is a real career change; university level faculty when they change careers tend to do other things like other liberal professions (business, medicine, law, etc.).


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