29 August 2008

Copy to the Check

Okay, I said I was going to write about my being summarily dismissed for speaking my mind, if a little adamantly, and have been dragging my feet.

Perhaps, in part, because I just lost my steam. Perhaps, in part, because I think getting fired for speaking my mind is a feather in my cap. Perhaps, in part, because there are so many other interesting things in this world. But I suppose that what I want to say is important, and I need to say it.

So allow me to start with an easy one (in terms of not going on a tirade for the next few hours) and make a truly controversial statement regarding education:

Most faculty who say they are not compensated for developing course content on their own time are, to put it simply, lying.

I know, an amazing thing for a professor to profess. But it is, alas, true.

Are they knowingly lying? Probably not. They probably firmly believe this to be true. But firmly believing something to be true doesn't make it so. More commonly it means one is deceived, deluded, or lying to one's self. To put it more gently, it is a self serving argument with no foundation in reality.

Here is how people's mind's work on this topic:

I am getting paid $nn thousand dollars a year to teach. However, this is a salary and is not earmarked out between class time, grading time, and development time. Since this is not being spelled out, and there is nothing elsewhere in my contract specifically saying that part of my compensation relates to developing course content for course, I am therefore not getting compensated for my course development work.

Does anyone see the problem with this line of reasoning?

I hope so.

If you don't, let me give a concrete example. Note that the numbers are intentionally altered to protect the innocent, but they are close enough for rock and roll.

Let's take a woefully underpaid adjunct faculty member, like I almost was.

Let's say I earn $875 per credit hour for each course I teach. That is 15 weeks of a one hour class commitment, but the external supporting work. A meager sum for the amount of work involved, which is usually at least two hours of desk work for every hour of class time, or a minimum of 45 hours divided into 850, means it is under $20 an hour. Not a terrible salary, but certainly low for a professional field inhabited by people whose student loans debts are second only to doctors.

Now, at the same school, as a full-time faculty member, if I am asked to sit in on a class for another faculty member, I will get $25 for that hour, on top of my normal salary. Now, if we multiply that by the same 15 hours, we get $375. So that is $375 for 15 hours of class time, versus $875 for, ummm, 15 hours of class time. So what is that other $500 for again? Said it above, work outside of class, including course development and grading. And that is for lowly adjuncts. The faculty earn anywhere from a little more to significantly more than that.

Undercompensated perhaps, but not uncompensated. A critical difference. It is the difference between doing something for less than you think it is worth versus doing something for free. Being undercompensated may make us feel like we are uncompensated, but that doesn't make it so.

Why is this relevant? Well, when I asked if I could borrow course materials from another faculty member, they lectured me on how I should be doing my own work because they weren't getting paid for developing the course materials, so why should they share them?

Well, ignoring the fact that the course was originally mine before I left said school ...

In any event, all schools should always require as terms of their faculty being hired that

  • course development is part of the work they are expected to do and is included in the determination of their salary, and
  • while acknowledging that faculty own the content they create, in paying them to create it, the school has the right to chose to share it with other faculty to ensure course consistency between sections.

Though some schools do exactly this already, those are, almost unbelievably, heretical assertions for many faculty at schools that don't. But there is a very good reason for them, and I don't mean because that way the school covers its legal butt. To put it simply, sharing is important to education, in fact it is critical. Hiding your work under a rock and hoarding it to yourself is not an effective way to educate, to learn, or to grow. We will start to address that next time, because, well, that is the entire point of this.

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