Archive for October, 2013

Economists behaving badly—When Adjuncts aren’t Adjuncts and Good is Bad.




The pseudoacademic press has been all aflutter about a supposed study by a bunch of economists, one of whom happens to be the President of Northwestern University, claiming to show that adjuncts do a better job of teaching, measured by subsequent grades in future courses (I refuse to subscribe to the right wing “foundation” that archives the not published in a peer-reviewed journal paper). Wow, this must mean that professors suck and aren’t doing their job. So, we should eliminate tenure and then have these really awesome adjuncts teach all of the classes for $750 per course—like they do at Northwestern, right? Only, unlike untenured adjuncts at community colleges and minor state universities, the “adjuncts” at Northwestern (and any other top private) earn quite decent wages—comparable to what a tenure tracked person at a more humble PhD granting institution would earn—or even more. And, they often will make these jobs infinitely renewable if you are really awesome in the classroom and get along well with the “real” faculty. Throw in a little advising and departmental promotion, and you’re set for a life at the bottom of the top. What does that mean? Teaching 2-3 or so or even 2-2 for a salary that is comparable to tenure tracked associate professors at most state supported institutions. But, you gotta be good in the classroom to get that gig—REALLY GOOD. Indeed, even top tier state universities have started doing this, and one of my good friends staked his career in that direction. No shame in that. He’s at a top b-school teaching nothing but statistics. I’m sure if any of the tenure tracked b-school faculty tried to teach his courses, they would do worse.

The same is true for the vast majority of top-“adjuncts”—they are awesome teachers and that’s why they landed a lucrative multi-year/permanent teaching gig at a top university. I looked back over my old haunts at Vanderbilt a few times and saw that my former students Rosie Noble and Mary Karpos were both “adjuncts.” I’m sure both of them are awesome. Mary was one of maybe four students who I ever let grade my papers when she was my TA. Rosie was one of my undergrads who finished his BA in three years while playing football. He completed his PHD four or five years later. And, he’s a competitive body builder-male model type! What’s not to love! Who do you want to learn criminology from? A model who got his PhD with Gary Jensen and Walt Gove and played football in the SEC, or some sniveling egomaniac who just got its PhD and is totally freaking about about having to teach the horribly demanding students at Vanderbilt? Increasingly at top universities, that is your choice. Introductory courses are either taught by very experienced non tenure-tracked lecturers or by brand new baby PhD’s who may have never even taught a course in their lives, At top institutions, the top graduate students don’t tend to teach, and at private Universities, they never do. I never taught a course before walking into the classroom at Vanderbilt.

But, it’s the backstory I don’t agree with. The sniveling egomaniac who just got her PhD is not a comfortable top scholar in her field. Top scholars are almost uniformly excellent teachers.  But, top scholars tend not to teach intro, but instead teach grad classes or upper division classes. We need people like Rosie and Mary at top universities because we don’t have enough of the more highly paid tenured faculty who can teach those courses—and at top private universities they can’t use grad students, since that would impact empirical rankings. In my experience, most of the best teachers are also top scholars. Peggy Thoits, Jack Gibbs, Larry Griffin, Tom DiPrete, Burke Rochford, Tony Oberschall, Ken Land, Rob Benford….those are just people I know who I’ve worked with as a student or colleague.

The real motivation behind the Northwestern paper is to advocate for a two-tiered system—top scholars who do research and only teach graduate students, and “adjuncts” who teach the children. They are making the argument that this doesn’t harm the children, and they are wrong. They are making a case for not replacing expensive top scholars, and reducing the size of the tenure tracked faculty—while increasing the numbers of “teaching faculty.” But, If I’m a parent sending my kid to Northwestern for $60k a year, I’m wondering if my kid is gonna have a chance to take courses from top scholars. That is, after all, what gets you somewhere and justifies going to Northwestern instead of to Illinois Wesleyan….or SIU. Do you think you might learn something from Aldon Morris that you might not learn from Adjunct X? You think if maybe Morris wrote you a brief letter or rec it might mean something, perhaps something more than the same coming from Pat Doe Adjunct?

Obviously, the President of Northwestern is trying to marshal bullshit evidence in support of his plan to reduce TT faculty sizes so that he can turn Northwestern into something more of a finishing academy than a University. Just hire some people to teach the children. But, for $60k a year, those kids deserve better. They deserve top flight research faculty who are given the freedom and conditions where top scholars will say “hey, I think I’d like to teach intro next year.” Remember, we’re still reading Harrison White’s undergraduate notes…..

Jury Duty


I’ve never actually served on a jury until this week. I’ve been selected to pools before, but never even had to go to jury selection. It was an interesting experience, and one that was both heartening, in the end, and depressing. My fellow Americans are hurting. The jury of our peers are, even at best, people living on the edge of bankruptcy and death. In our group, we had five people who had solid jobs with insurance and decent pay. The other nine panelists worked at fast food, retail, or were unemployed. The young people were the worst off. We had four wonderful young people on the jury, and none of them had jobs that paid more than minimum wage. The only African American on the jury was a grandfather (who I knew from kid stuff) who has custody of his three grandkids. He’s the same age as I am, and he works at KFC, and his wife of almost 30 years works at McDonald’s. I gave him a ride back to Carbondale the last couple of days. He’s a good man.

The selection of the jury pools was very interesting. I was sitting about 9th on the first round, and six of the first potential jurors were either convicted felons, mentally ill, or both. As the Judge was doing inquiries, the old white guy  two down from me admitted to having been convicted of “burglary, kidnapping, aggravated assault, and attempted murder.” The young woman from a small town sitting next to me–and him—became quite rigid for the remainder of the selection process. She wound up being on the jury, and he did not. Not surprising, since one of his statements was “I hate cops, I don’t trust them.” He would have had his biases confirmed by the evidence in the trial. Given that one of the questions was whether or not you’d been a victim of a crime, I figured I was heading home. After all, I’ve been shot! This was a felon with a gun case! I figured I’d be riding my bike and working on some departmental shit that was due by noon. Nah. By 11am I was sequestered.

The Judge was amping it up to get things done, no complaints there, and we started the trial a bit after 2pm. That’s when things got disturbing. A group of cops and bouncers had an agenda to nail some poor kid on a very serious felony, and they didn’t give a fuck that they were lying–and assumed we would simply take their word—after all, they’re the cops (and rent a cop). The state trooper who beat up the defendant and then railroaded a “confession” out of him without documentation or having Mirandized the kid sat there and lied to our faces about specific details. He could remember the serial number on the gun which was found 50 yards from the “arrest”, but he didn’t remember what the Miranda mantra was. Wow! Nobody ever saw the kid with a gun, except some fat kid who was a bouncer and was 50 yards away (at 1am)  and claimed he saw “something shiny” even though the trooper who threw the defendant to the pavement didn’t see shit. I’m fairly certain that if the kid actually had a gun, the skinhead trooper would have shot him. The other cop on the scene also saw no gun, and was 5 feet away. The gun was found in the parking lot of the organized-crime-owned bars on a night when they had a “polar bear” party which started at 10am. Gee, is it a surprise that one might find a cheap-ass gun in the parking lot come closing time? It was kind of funny, a mostly white, mostly racist jury (a fellow juror said to me, “you know, those niggers are always pulling shit like this”) unanimously agreed that the state had no case against this poor kid.

I drove back to Carbondale with my new friend and we talked about how hard young people have it these days. But, also about how young African Americans have it worse. He was much more conservative than I am. He’s never been arrested or convicted of anything, and he doesn’t have much sympathy for felons like the defendant in this case. But, we both could see the weight of racist oppression bearing down on this case.  Obviously, the State’s attorney had decided that he was quite comfortable going to a jury trial with no evidence save the flimsy and vague testimony of a bouncer and a forced un-Mirandized “confession” (which was total bullshit from a drunk kid). I almost felt sorry for the young State’s attorney who had to try the case, as she was completely blown out of the water by the defense counsel. Maybe they’d hoped that he’d have less effective defense, and a more racist jury.