Confessions of a grade inflater

Rebecca Schuman will give A’s or A-minuses to 20 of her 33 college students. Her lowest grade, except for total screw-ups, is  B+. Professors inflate grades to avoid whining — and bad course evaluations — from their students, she writes.

If I graded truly fairly—as in, a C means actual average work—the “customers” would do their level best to ruin my life. Granted, there exist professors whose will to power out-powers grade-gripers. There are stalwarts who remain impervious to students’ tenacious complaints, which can be so single-minded that one wonders what would happen if they had applied one-fifteenth of that focus to their coursework.

Increasingly, college faculty are adjuncts with zero job security, she writes. “Precarious faculty” are “rehired based almost solely on student evaluations—which, alas, are themselves often based on how “well” the student is doing in class.”

Adjuncts like me regularly admit to grade inflating, simply as a survival measure, but the consistency of nationwide trends means that even tenured and tenure-track faculty must be inflating grades, too. After all, a pissed-off student who goes all the way to the dean can impact their careers as well.

A return to a real grading system is impossible, Schuman writes. All those “parents of co-valedictorians” wouldn’t stand for it. On her Pan Kisses Kafka blog, she quotes some incredibly obnoxious advice on how to bully professors from Tim Ferris’ Four-Hour Work Week.

If I received anything less than an A on the first paper or non-multiple-choice in a given class, I would bring 2-3 hours of questions to the grader’s office hours and not leave until the other had answered them all or stopped out of exhaustion.

“The grader would think long and hard about ever giving me less than an A,” the bully brags.

Adjuncts lack training, support

Part-time faculty teach 58 percent of community college courses — and rising — yet adjuncts get little training or support. Some complain nobody told them how to make copies or find their departmental mail slot.

States eye free community college tuition

Tennessee, Mississippi and Oregon may offer two free years at a community or technical college to high school graduates. “College is not for everybody, but it has to be for a lot more people than it’s been in the past if we’re going to have a competitive work force,” said Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam.

Colleges and universities are hiring more part-time faculty and hiring fewer instructors relative to enrollment since 2000, but spending continues to rise, reports the Delta Cost Project. There are more non-teaching staff, including counselors and health providers, and benefits costs are rising.

Adjuncts demand equality

Three-quarters of college instructors are part-time adjuncts who earn much less than tenure-track faculty. Adjuncts are getting attention, if not action.

Teaching was a calling when she had a shot at a permanent job, writes an instructor. Now that she’s “disposable,” she sees “calling” as a way to underpay teachers.

The ivy sweat shop

Young PhDs are scrambling for a few tenure-track jobs, working as poorly paid adjuncts for years on end and getting very, very angry, writes Megan McArdle on Bloomberg.

Rebecca Schuman’s “naming and shaming” of UC Riverside’s interviewing process set off an angry online debate, including Job Market Rage Redux and How the Tenured Are to the Job Market as White People Are to Racism.

“Academia is now one of the most exploitative labor markets in the world,” writes McArdle.

It’s not quite up there with Hollywood and Broadway in taking kids with a dream and encouraging them to waste the formative decade(s) of their work life chasing after a brass ring that they’re vanishingly unlikely to get, then dumping them on the job market with fewer employment prospects than they had at 22. But it certainly seems to be trying to catch up.

. . .  it’s not surprising that so many academics believe that the American workplace is a desperately oppressive and exploitative environment in which employers can endlessly abuse workers without fear of reprisal, or of losing the workers. That’s a pretty accurate description of the job market for academic labor … until you have tenure.

The academic job market won’t improve until graduate programs admit fewer students, she writes. “A lot fewer.” Some PhD programs should “go out of existence.”

But of course, this is saying that universities, and tenured professors, should do something that is radically against their own self-interest. That constant flow of grad students allows professors to teach interesting graduate seminars while pushing the grunt work of grading and tutoring and teaching intro classes to students and adjuncts. It provides a massive oversupply of adjunct professors who can be induced to teach the lower-level classes for very little, thus freeing up tenured professors for research.

Only a third of university professors are tenured or on the tenure track and only 19 percent of non-tenure-track teaching jobs are full time.

Winter is coming to academia, writes Walter Russell Mead.

Adjuncts: ‘We’re constantly in fear’

Adjunct professors live in fear. Low pay comes with zero job security.

An adjunct at a California community college reported two employees having sex in his classroom. He thinks one retaliated with a false accusation, causing him to be fired in mid-semester for not being a “good fit.”

Flexibility, low pay for online adjuncts

Job satisfaction is high for online adjunct instructors at Arizona’s Rio Salado College, despite low pay and no benefits, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education. Flexible work hours and effective training in online teaching are the key.

Online courses provided the flexibility Richard Bradbury needed to complete the first two years of college while working in Afghanistan as a contractor. Once he was “seven or eight questions” in to a timed test in macroeconomics when a rocket attack began. He grabbed his computer, ran to the bunker and finished the test.

Colleges cut work hours to duck Obamacare

More colleges are limiting adjuncts’ work hours to avoid Obamacare’s insurance mandates. Some colleges now require adjuncts to report the hours they spend preparing for lessons and grading papers. Those who go over the 29-hour weekly limit risk losing their jobs.

Colleges turn to low-paid adjuncts

Colleges and universities are hiring part-time instructors for an average of $2,987 for a three-credit course. Adjuncts at rural community colleges average $1,808. Part-timers can be hired and fired as needed; few receive health insurance or other benefits.

About half of all college and university faculty — more than 70 percent at community colleges — are part-timers, estimates the American Federation of Teachers.

College cuts work hours to duck Obamacare

To avoid paying for health insurance, a Pittsburgh community college will cut the work hours of 400 adjunct instructors and support staff. Under Obamacare, employers don’t have to provide insurance for employees working less than 30 hours a week. Community College of Allegheny County will save $6 million.

“It’s kind of a double whammy for us because we are facing a legal requirement [under the new law] to get health care and if the college is reducing our hours, we don’t have the money to pay for it,” said adjunct biology professor Adam Davis.