• Just Visiting

    A blog by John Warner, author of the story collection Tough Day for the Army, and a novel, The Funny Man, on teaching, writing and never knowing when you're going to be asked to leave.


ASU English by the Numbers: It Ain't Pretty

Trying to figure out how ASU justifies their PhD program. Hint: $$$$

December 18, 2014

Following up on my thoughts regarding Arizona State’s move to load their composition faculty with 125 students per semester, a number that is incompatible with anything resembling quality writing instruction,[1] while increasing the teaching load of their tenure track and tenured faculty by absolutely nothing, I decided to dig a little deeper into the institutional numbers and see what’s happening in ASU English.

While my accounting is not exhaustive, of the 620 sections of undergraduate courses offered by the ASU English Department for Spring 2015, it appears that over 85% of them are staffed by graduate assistants, faculty associates (adjuncts), or lecturers.

Meanwhile, as culled from the department’s own website, here’s the post-graduate placements for the 60 PhD graduates from 2012-14, the people for whom the tenured must maintain their limited teaching loads:

Tenure track at four-year institution: 6 (2 at research universities)

Tenure track foreign institution: 4

Tenure track at two-year college: 2

Alt-academic positions: 4

Non-tenure-track teaching or no job listed: 24

Non-tenure-track faculty at ASU: 20

Yes, twice as many graduates teach in non-tenurable positions inside the ASU system as found tenure track employment in four-year institutions.

In light of these numbers, I’m looking for a good reason for the Arizona State PhD program in English to exist, other than to create a continuous supply of low-paid non-tenure-track faculty and graduate assistants to teach the general education undergraduate courses in English at Arizona State, 50% of which are staffed by their own alumni.

Of course, there is no need for an additional reason to justify this state of things in the world of the corporate university, and there is no university more corporate than ASU.

General education and online courses are where ASU makes its nut. To increase the size of this nut, under their “transformative” president, Michael Crow, they’ve systematically squeezed as much productivity out of labor as humanly (or inhumanly as the case may be) possible.

Some of this has come through replacing people with software, as with general education math courses, many of which have 1 to 100 faculty to student ratios.

The rest is done by forcing the powerless to teach more for less. Questions of equity or educational quality are irrelevant. This is a factory of credentialing. If faculty are the guardians of curriculum and learning, they've been sleeping on the job for years.

All of those lecturers, adjuncts, and GA’s making 3-4k per course allows the tenure track and tenured to claim their $60,000 - $160,000 salaries for teaching a couple of graduate seminars a little thesis and dissertation work and their service assignments.

I only minored in history, but a word I’ve seen used regarding this situation is feudalism, which seems accurate, except that didn’t the serfs at least get a little military protection in the deal?

I labeled the tenured faculty’s failure to address these issues cowardice, but it may be something else, blindness, or hypocrisy.

I understand that doing something substantive wouldn’t be easy, and who knows what kind of retribution may come down from above, but what good is tenure if you never use it[2]?

Maybe it’s too much to expect an uprising, and maybe the tenured faculty are largely powerless, but there’s an easy response that doesn’t even require anyone to stand up to the administration: have the tenured teach one additional course of first year writing per semester for no extra pay, the exact same deal being forced on the non-tenurable.

These instructors were good enough to be their students. Do the tenured faculty have the integrity to treat them as colleagues?

[1] Their previous load of 100 students, also incompatible, but nevermind.

[2] That’s an honest question. I’ve never had it to use.


The person in charge of the ASU Twitter account pointed me to this weak sauce response to the uproar.



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