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The Academic Future

[ 86 ] March 16, 2013 |

With MOOCs, the future is clearly what happened to the French Department at Southeastern Louisiana University. Fire all the tenure track professors, replace them with adjuncts, and continue offering the minor (or major as the case may be). Dare the professors to do something about it.

Of course SELU did this without MOOCs, but technology just facilitates the elimination of faculty.

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  1. John Protevi says:

    It’s always a temptation to say “Forget it, Jake. It’s Louisiana.” But in this case we shouldn’t. Please do follow the link and donate to the legal fund on the front page.

    And thanks, Erik!

    • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

      And if you’re an academic and aren’t already an AAUP member, please join up. They really are the last line of defense in cases like this!

  2. Davis X. Machina says:

    I’m guessing they still offer a business degree.

    In 20 years you won’t be able to get a BA first degree from a land-grant college, save a few showy fossils like Austin and Ann Arbor — maybe.

    The taxpayers won’t stand for it. Better the young people should take degrees in theology business. Salvation, solvency, and service to the prince, in one tidy package

    • John says:

      The flagships generally have large enough endowments, and little enough support from the state, that they should be able to weather this kind of crisis. It’s the second tier public schools that are in real trouble.

      • Erik Loomis says:

        Though the administrations of these schools are perfectly happy to enact these changes on their own.

        • Ed K says:

          Right. This has nothing to do with being able to ‘afford’ these faculty or departments. It’s all about a management ideology that resists the idea of paying faculty or having departments that aren’t major revenue generators in existence at all, regardless of their profitability.

      • Warren Terra says:

        What Erik said. See the University of Virginia.

        • John says:

          Right, I thought of this right after I posted. But certainly it has little to do with “the taxpayer.”

          • Ed K says:

            Even in the case of second-tier publics, more than you think. I can think of an example of one of those that was sitting pretty until its now-former president got the bright idea to try to use a big windfall of cash to buy most of the land in the town it was sitting in as a hedge against ‘future growth,’ thinking he could repurpose all of it to commercial use in the mean time and make it a revenue generator instead of ballooning the university’s debt service.

            Anyone wanna guess how *that* worked out? Oh, and the faculty senate and the unions went right along for the ride.

            (I hate to say this, but the current generation of senior faculty who allowed all this shit to happen and still seem to be largely clueless about what’s going on bear a not-inconsiderable share of the blame for this whole fucking fiasco, not that any of them will suffer any of the pain. And yes, as a junior academic who has no idea how I’m going to make all of this work, I’m fucking pissed.)

    • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

      [EducationalHistoryNazi]Ann Arbor and Austin are not homes to land grant institutions. The land grant institutions in Michigan and Texas are in East Lansing and College Station, respectively.[/EducationalHistoryNazi]

      • Davis X. Machina says:

        The intent is clear — MIT’s a land-grant college and a state school… on paper.

        • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

          MIT was, in a sense, a land-grant school (in that it got some Morrill Act funding when it was founded); it has never been a state school (compare and contrast with Cornell, which really is a land-grant school that is semi-public).

  3. Ed K says:

    You don’t need MOOCs, just adjunctification of the professoriate. Too bad faculty unions have mostly been willing to throw junior people under the bus for the past few decades. Things might be a lot better if they hadn’t.

    • Snarki, child of Loki says:

      What are these “faculty unions” of which you speak?

      • Ed K says:

        The ones that are helping to fight this, among other things.

        That’s a good thing, and it’s great that they *are* helping to fight this. It’s also great that Erik connects MOOCs, these sorts of firings, and the larger employment situation. That connection needs to be made more.

        What worries me is that faculty at all levels are in a very weak situation institutionally and that where there are unions, contracts have mostly been structured to protect the positions of those who are tenured at the expense of allowing the expansion of non-tenured people and often ensuring that folks hired into those positions have *no* claims to security / promotion or advancement. That’s been going on for a long time, and it’s contributed materially to the weakening of the faculty’s bargaining position overall. To some extent, if the development of technologies like MOOCs or other new forms of distance learning presents a huge threat, it’s because we’ve lost so much already that we’re very poorly prepared to fight the most neo-liberalizing possible use of those technologies.

      • Scott P. says:

        We have a union here in Michigan although the passage of Right to Work legislation means its future is in doubt.

      • J. Otto Pohl says:

        Here in Legon we call our faculty union UTAG (University Teachers Association of Ghana). I am sure that there are similar organizations in Ibadan (Nigeria), Cape Town, and Dar Es Salam.

      • MAJeff says:

        Our campus is affiliated with AFT.

  4. Bijan Parsia says:

    Fire all the tenure track professors, replace them with adjuncts, and continue offering the minor (or major as the case may be).

    Actually is seems that they fired the tenured profs, not “merely” the tenure track. Supposedly, this should only happen with a winding down of the dept when in fact the dept continues. I hope tenured folks everywhere wake up and realize that tenure is a thin protection and that solidarity is essential.

    • Snarki, child of Loki says:

      So, a straightforward case of “breach of contract”

      Sue the fuckers blind.

      • Eli Rabett says:

        No. What they did is close the department and the major, that meant that if the professor’s had tenure in the department they lost their tenure. That courses in the area are still being taught is not the point.

        If you are a tenured or tenure track person you KNOW whether you have tenure in your program, department or university. The last is the only one where you are safe assuming the uni doesn’t go broke. That happens too.

        • Bijan Parsia says:

          Isn’t the question whether they have truly closed the department or not and whether their moves are truly due to financial constraint? E.g., as the AAUP puts it:

          Termination of a continuous appointment because of financial exigency should be demonstrably bona fide.

          Of course, that should apply to tenure track as well, I’d guess.

          • Bijan Parsia says:

            From Prof. Marshall’s statement:

            In the history of this university, no tenured professor has ever been fired for Program Discontinuance. We are the first. When degree programs in horticulture and economics were discontinued, the tenured faculty members were relocated. In French, despite the fact that there are twelve courses to be offered in the fall 2011 and despite the fact that we are able to teach other subjects, no attempt was made to keep us at our current rank and salary and/or relocate us within the university.

            … When the facts were brought before the Faculty Grievance Committee, the committee unanimously agreed that the university administration had violated procedures for Program Discontinuance and denied the French faculty members due process.

            • Bijan Parsia says:

              I will say that this is a bit unfortunate:

              3. Program Discontinuance Policy Rule: “Unless there is a compelling academic reason to do otherwise, no appointment of a faculty member with tenure will be considered for termination until the appointment of faculty members in the unit without tenure have been considered for termination.” The Faculty Grievance Committee states: The intent, we believe, of this clause is to preserve tenure if at all possible. …there would be courses for Dr. Marshall & Dr. Bornier to teach, and the Faculty Grievance Committee sees no valid or “compelling academic reason” for depriving Dr. Marshall and Dr. Bornier of their tenure and to rehire one of them to teach the same courses, but as an instructor at a considerable loss of salary. I would like to add: This demeaning and professionally insulting gesture clearly illustrates that the instructors are being protected and the tenured faculty members have lost their rights. The present instructor of French is keeping her office and keys and will presumably be rehired in the fall. This is why the tenured professors are only being offered one position for the twelve classes that will need to be covered.

              “Fire the underclass worker before me!!!” is not the happiest of battlecries.

              • John says:

                “Last hired, first fired,” of which this principle is a modification, is an important protection against scabbery.

                • Bijan Parsia says:

                  Well, adjuncts might be “last hired” only in the sense that they have yearly contracts. (And this don’t even need to be fired per se. )

                  But that’s awful. And divisive. I fully support the rights of tenured professors but I think we also need to do more for the non tenured underclass.

                  It’s much better in the UK afaict. We don’t have tenure per se anymore (which is bad) otoh, an RA on fixed term contracts eventually graduates to “permenant” employment. They still need to have funding, but the uni does a number of thinks to try to keep them employed (first crack a new jobs, for example, ie redeployment).

                  This seems good. Make it harder to abuse anyone, from janitors to grad students to full profs. While I don’t think having such requires eliminating tenure, I’d rather trade tenure for better treatment for all.

  5. Jim Lynch says:

    Tough shit, academia. Welcome to the real world. Your economic interests are no different than those of those Detroit auto workers who lived to see their lives turned inside up and upside down.

    • somethingblue says:

      Indeed, and they too deserved and deserve better.

      Also, please go fuck yourself. Thanks!

      • Jim Lynch says:

        I take that GF[Myself] insult in stride. It may even be righteous. But that academics are (apparently) unsettled with $ upheavals in their profession, when it’s been par for the course up and down the economic ladder for decades, surprises me. Did they believe they were immune to radical change, or somehow consider their livelihoods something special? Above it all?

        • MAJeff says:

          In other words: Stop critiquing, stop resisting, just roll over and take it.

        • Jordan says:

          But that academics are (apparently) unsettled with $ upheavals in their profession, when it’s been par for the course up and down the economic ladder for decades, surprises me.

          This makes absolutely no sense. Virtually everyone is unsettled with “$ upheaveals” in their own profession, even when its been par for the course up and down the economic ladder. Seriously, what possibly meaningful thing are you saying here?

          Presumably what you are doing is confusing “unsettled” with “surprised.” It would be strange smart academics like Loomis were surprised that this could happen. But Loomis isn’t surprised, indeed, he is saying this is exactly what we should expect to happen more and more.

        • John Protevi says:

          There are complex legal issues involved in the claim that tenured professors have a property interest in tenure due to their contracts.

    • Jordan says:

      Yeah, Loomis clearly doesn’t care about those people

      But, anyway, lets just keep on keeping on with the race to the bottom.

  6. max says:

    Of course SELU did this without MOOCs, but technology just facilitates the elimination of faculty.

    Quite. They’re obviously using the ‘implement first, see if it works second’ model. When they do that, the goal isn’t to create functional online education, it’s to eliminate profs while saying you’re creating functional online education. (And isn’t this a hilariously top-down Soviet-style method of doing things?)

    And then the admins get bonuses, the lege can cut the budget, the not wealthy kids (most of them) can get screwed, and they can say they’re moving into the future. What’s not to like for people with a plantation-owner mentality? And if it doesn’t work well, they can say it’s due to socialism.

    Pity about the profs, the tarring of OC with the brush of failure, not to mention the kids, but you have to break a few millions eggs to make a (1) libertarian omelet.

    max
    ['They have a Five Year Plan and they will over-fulfill their quotas every year.']

  7. Currants says:

    @incontinentia buttocks: do you by chance have a link to the MIT/Morrill Act bit? I’d heard that MIT was connected to it but … To oversimplify, the Ag Extension is at UMass Amherst, so I’ve been curious about the connection.

  8. Eli Rabett says:

    This has been happening to language and classics (and physics) departments everywhere, mostly because the number of majors in those departments is zero. They are left only with service courses. You can argue whether a department without majors should continue or not, but what is being talked about here needs to confront that reality.

    The Texas Consortium for Physics is an interesting approach to the problem, but whether it will be allowed to continue is an open question.

    • Ed K says:

      We don’t need departments without majors. Please, if you need experts in a field, presumably you need folks to manage those experts who know what the fuck they’re doing and whether the folks who are working there are competent or hacks? More to the point, if you can’t find a justification for the existence of departments without majors, then presumably you never intend to have a new major added to your university’s curriculum that’s not a sub-speciality in something that already exists.

      The department I have taught in for the past decade has only had a major for the past five of those years. It had a minor, but it survived and still does to a not inconsiderable extent survive on service courses. The main reason departments in languages and classics end up not being able to attract majors is that they get savagely defunded by short-termist, cost cutting administrators who are using them purely as cash cows for the revenue that their service courses generate (often a shit ton of money, and even more if they can staff them with adjuncts), and so come to the point where they can’t or aren’t allowed to offer anything *but* service courses and so can’t attract or service a major.

      If you let a small department run a few upper level courses that might be minimally or under-subscribed to keep its major alive, you can still have the vast bulk of that revenue and a perfectly profitable operation and keep something like the intellectual richness and diversity of university life alive. It’s really about whether you manage with sustainability in mind, or maximizing profitability to the bitter fucking end.

      But the moment you contemplate eliminating departments simply because they don’t at the moment have a major, you might as well give the fuck up entirely. At some point, the question is whether you want the university to have a future, or just maximize short term efficiency without producing anything new, or anyone to staff the next generation of these ‘service’ departments.

      • Chatham says:

        Well, no ones talking about eliminating departments, rather packing them full of adjuncts that are paid much less. It seems to me that the best way to have stopped this would have been demanding that adjuncts be paid comparable salaries and receive more stability years ago. Once the people upstairs fire all the floor workers and replace them with cheap non-union alternatives, the shift manager shouldn’t be terribly surprised that they’re next.

        Eliminating departments is another topic, and I think people who are against it need a better argument than saying that the departments contribute to the “intellectual richness and diversity of university life.” Offering such vague and intangible justification for courses while students are crippled by the debt they cause is part of a reason academia is facing the problems it is now.

        • John Protevi says:

          Chatham, rising tuition and rising student debt loads have nothing to do with eliminating low-major departments but with changes in state aid and the ability of university admins to slice into the federal student loan program. Before you start lecturing guys like Ed K you should learn the basics.

          • Chatham says:

            That statement wasn’t meant to say that the departments on their own were responsible for the debt, but that they cause it by nature of being a college course, like any other.

            It’s amusing that you say that I should learn the basics, and then blame rising tuition on changes in state aid. Because we all know that when we talk about student debt, we’re mainly talking about how expensive community colleges have become, and that there’s no problem with private institutions. Right?

            • John Protevi says:

              Departments cause debt by nature of being a college course? What does that even mean?

              As for the marginally more intelligible second graf, I mentioned two factors. As SLU is a public school, then the cuts to state aid are directly relevant:

              http://www.usnews.com/education/blogs/student-loan-ranger/2012/04/18/how-our-declining-investment-in-higher-education-hurts-students

              This report examines how state disinvestment in public higher education over the past two decades has shifted costs to students and their families. Such disinvestment has occurred alongside rapidly rising enrollments and demographic shifts that are yielding more economically, racially, and ethnically diverse student bodies. As a result students and their families now pay—or borrow—a lot more for a college degree or are getting priced out of an education that has become a requirement for getting a decent job and entering the middle class.

              As for private schools, then you can look at the ability to slice into federal student loans as a factor for rising tuition. You do know that students can get loans to attend private schools, don’t you?

              • John Protevi says:

                Oops. That blockquote is the abstract of this report, which is linked to in the USNews story:

                http://www.demos.org/publication/great-cost-shift-how-higher-education-cuts-undermine-future-middle-class

              • Chatham says:

                Departments cause debt by nature of being a college course? What does that even mean?

                People go into college to take courses to get a diploma. To take these courses people pay money. This payment of money leads to debt.

                Want me to draw you a diagram?

                Tuition at SLU? $36,090. Tuition at St. Louis community college? $5,970 (30 credits out of state rate). And community colleges often pay professors more.

                But I’m sure that the high tuition at SLU is merely a result of cuts in state aid, the fact that private school tuitions are also too high is merely coincidental, and the fact that community colleges are a fraction of the price is inconsequential.

                You do know that students can get loans to attend private schools, don’t you?

                Well, yes. And I wouldn’t be surprised if that allowed for schools to raise their tuition. In fact, I’d be surprised if it didn’t. So uh…we agree?

                • MAJeff says:

                  And community colleges often pay professors more.

                  Not on base salary. That’s due to teaching extra courses and getting paid for overages. In other words, getting paid less for a 5-5 load, but being able to build up to 7 or 8 classes per semester in order to earn more money. (And CCs also tend to make more use of adjuncts, and the per-class pay also tends to be lower at CCs than at 4-year schools.)

                • John Protevi says:

                  Well, I hope your diagram will note that SLU here = Southeastern Louisiana University, the school in question in this post.

                  Look I’m sorry I attacked you, but really, what you’re writing is a mess.

                  And yes, if you agree that the presence of fed-guaranteed loans is a driver of rising private costs, then we agree, as that was one of my original points.

                • Chatham says:

                  @MAJeff – So if adjuncts take over they’ll probably get a decent salary? Most of the adjuncts I’ve known get paid little, but maybe they just don’t get enough hours. Or schools have them do more things outside the classrooms than in community colleges. I don’t know.

                  @ SELU then? Yeah, the tuition is certainly more reasonable. But I invite you to look at the report you linked to, and pay close attention to the amount per student federal spending has decreased vs. the amount the tuition has increased. I don’t disagree that it’s had an impact on tuition, but I don’t think one can look at those numbers and assume it’s responsible for the entire increase.

                • Chatham says:

                  Ah, read dp’s post. SLU it is…

                • John Protevi says:

                  I don’t think one can look at those numbers and assume it’s responsible for the entire increase.

                  Good thing then that only the straw man in your mind has said anything about “responsibility for the entire increase.”

                • Chatham says:

                  I invite you to look up “straw man.” Since it seems to me that we agree here, I’m not really sure what basics you want me to learn.

              • Hogan says:

                Departments cause debt by nature of being a college course? What does that even mean?

                You know, the way builders cause debt by nature of being a house.

                • Chatham says:

                  “…for courses while students are crippled by the debt they cause…”

                  Actually, it’d be like saying that houses cause debt. And that would be, like, ridiculous, as anybody paying attention over the past few years knows.

          • Ed K says:

            Thanks, John.

            Just to clarify, any references I’ve made to debt here are debt belonging to the university, not student debt (though yes, the fact that much of the revenue that universities are drawing is comes in the form of federally guaranteed student loan money — and thus individual student debt– is a huge problem in its own right). The problem with a lot of current university finances is *partly* that they’re being defunded at the state level (where they have had significant funding in the past). But while that certainly affects some institutions, and often ones that are not rich in other ways, the broader systematic problem is that nearly every university in the US has been overspending on capital, equipment, administrative costs, and a large number of other things that have relatively little to do with instruction in many cases. Indeed, the ‘higher end’ the institution, the more there is an imperative to make it into a little mansion complex / club med, and to fund these ‘improvements’ by taking on debt. There has been, in other words, a shit ton of leveraged real estate speculation and other BS undertaken by university administrations in the past couple of decades, and between that and how much was lost in broader market crashes and to Madoff style schemes (a huge amount at some places), those debt obligations now represent a very substantial portion of the annual budget of many, if not most universities. The fact that all of this ‘corporate’ debt is getting serviced by revenue generated from student debt — so that it’s all being slowly externalized onto individual students — is one of the most obviously skin crawling aspects of the current situation; but if you want to understand how we got to the point where faculty salaries are a ‘problem’ for some institutions — when they should really be a fairly trivial part of their operating budgets if they’re at all well managed, and assuming that the ‘problem’ isn’t just rhetorical — then the answer is more likely than not some fucking astonishingly irresponsible financial management by people who used university endowments more like slush funds for development projects than like safety nets to ensure the stability and functionality of these institutions.

            The fact that it’s faculty and students that are the ones suffering for this mendacity is, unfortunately, par for the neo-liberal course.

  9. [...] under attack in Louisiana. Via LGM. Share this:EmailFacebookRedditTwitterTumblrGoogle +1MoreStumbleUponDiggPrintLinkedInLike this:Like [...]

  10. dp says:

    FWIW, it’s “SLU,” not “SELU.” It is my hometown college and the alma mater of numerous family members (but not me).

    And like higher education in the rest of Louisiana, it is under assault by both the politicians who refuse to adequately fund it and the overpaid administrators who run it for their own benefit.

  11. Data Tutashkhia says:

    In Southeastern Louisiana everybody is a French professor.

  12. Anonymous says:

    If MOOCs are neither necessary nor sufficient for the kinds of changes in academia you’re talking about… why being up MOOCs in this context at all?

    Oh right, because you’re a dyspeptic technophobe.

    • Bloix says:

      Anonymous, as a frequent and often critical commenter on this blog, I have no objection to attacks on Prof Loomis that have some substance to them. Yours has none. It’s annoying, and all it does is encourage him and other readers to ignore legitimately negative comments. This is one blog that actually encourages real debate – don’t screw it up for the rest of us.

    • Bijan Parsia says:

      They need not be either necessary or sufficient to be the pretex or one of the mechanisms (or more prominent mechanisms).

      • Ed K says:

        great minds…

      • Anonymous says:

        Shorter Loomis: “Adjunctification at SELU is just another example of why MOOCs are destroying education! Granted, it had nothing to do with MOOCs and would have happened even if they didn’t exist at all, but that is central to my point!”

        Even Shorter Loomis: “Here are two things that I think are both destroying higher education. I have nothing else to say.”

        • Ed K says:

          Are you really too stupid to grasp that Erik’s point is that MOOCs will only accelerate the underlying trend seen in these firings, or are you just being disingenuous so you can score points with other people who are that stupid? Let me know, I’m having difficulty deciding. Thanks.

    • Ed K says:

      Because there are other kinds of causal factor than necessary or sufficient ones. Enjoy elementary critical reasoning, when you get there.

  13. (the other) Davis says:

    Any bets on the number of new administrator positions they’ll “need” to create to support the new approach?

  14. zolltan says:

    Sorry if this sounds trollier than New Orleans, but Loomis makes it out like liberal arts departments are a job program for liberal arts professors which is not making me supportive. I know he’s had posts touting the value of a liberal arts education previously but they’ve not been particularly persuasive.

    If I agree with Campos’ law school scam stuff (which I do) why should it bother me that there are going to be fewer profs of French at SLU?

    I mean all of you professors might out of professorial solidarity and whatnot, but apart from that?

  15. agentX says:

    Being a graduate of that less-than-fine institution, I am quite disappointed in their treatment of the staff, yet wholly not surprised. To the French professors, especially the one who used to work at UM, I offer my sympathy, but I must say this: You had to know the school was run by scum when you took the job. Most of the state is run by scum; why would this place be any different?

    Many attendees and graduates of SLU have a visceral dislike of the institution and of Hammond city in general- though I must include that the people there were generally not bad in overall character (it wasn’t scumbag central like Philly is). There are all sorts of reasons for this, besides scummy administrators, that are not obvious to outsiders who have not stepped foot within the pretty new buildings. Basically, if Al-Qaeda attacked SLU, a vast majority of prior attendees would not shed a single tear, and a few of us would probably ‘join in and get in a few licks’ before the FBI shows up, or express fake sadness along the lines of ‘damn, I missed all the fun’. Because of such a vast array of negative feelings, the alumni department has had trouble raising money from graduates. Maybe if the school would improve the educational offerings, or be run in a more efficient manner, graduates would be able to match up better with graduates elsewhere in job competition, and thus have more money to spend on the institution. But hey, it’s located in the Deep/Dirty/Stupid belt of the South, where people DON’T change UNLESS you put a gun in their face and make them change (re: Civil War, desegregation).

    Reading up on the links provided by LGM’s Erik, I can see why professors should be cautious. However, second-tier unis like SLU have to be cautious as well. If their faculty leave and join degree-granting MOOC institutions (or create their own online learning environments- it’s not as hard as it looks), who (of academic quality) will attend SLU? Students won’t pay 36K for a degree when they can pay 15K (or less) for a degree that carries roughly the same ‘weight’.

    One amusing thing I remember from my college days there was that there were some scheduling tricks you could take advantage of if you knew how to work the scheduling system and if you had a less rigorous major. For instance, a sophomore could book some Mon-Wed classes, and some Tuesday only classes and still meet the full-time credit hour requirement. Basically you could be done on Wednesday afternoon and not have to be back on campus until Sunday evening (if that).

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