Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

April 5, 2017

Part-time adjunct instructors tend to bring “real-world” experience to their jobs but are poorly compensated and in many cases feel undervalued compared to full-time colleagues, according to a new report from Cengage, an educational content, technology and services company. Few of Cengage’s findings will surprise anyone following other research on adjuncts, but the new paper perhaps stands out for its truly third-party take on faculty issues. The study is based on 417 responses from adjuncts at two- and four-year institutions to a quantitative survey and 63 adjuncts’ participation in online focus groups. Adjuncts represented a range of disciplines.

Cengage asked questions about adjuncts’ goals and motivations, job search and hiring processes, workloads, choices regarding digital and other teaching materials, and engagement with colleagues. Respondents said their top priorities for teaching were sharing knowledge and making a difference in the lives of students. They’re also just as likely to use digital course materials as full-time faculty, according to Cengage: about half were interested. Two-thirds of respondents participate in professional development when it's offered, though many participants noted an interest in webinars since on-campus offerings don't always align with their schedules.

Some 42 percent of adjuncts said their primary “value add” in the classroom was their nonacademic professional experience, and 68 percent said they had a career outside of education before they started teaching. About half (55 percent) currently hold some other job than teaching. That’s the finding with which adjunct advocates are most likely to quibble, since many have argued that the traditional definition of an adjunct as someone who teaches “on the side” of some other career is dangerously outdated. A major 2012 report on adjuncts from the Coalition on Academic Workforce, for example, said that more than 75 percent of respondents in its own study “sought, are now seeking or will be seeking a full-time tenure-track position, and nearly three-quarters said they would definitely or probably accept a full-time tenure-track position at the institution at which they were currently teaching if such a position were offered.”

In Cengage’s study, some 80 percent of respondents had master’s degrees and 25 percent had Ph.D.s. About one-third of adjuncts said feeling “disrespected or less valued than full-time faculty” was one of their primary challenges, while “inadequate compensation” ranked even higher as a top challenge (54 percent). “Lack of office space, irregular assignments, limited opportunities to select class times or to expand their role, and lack of adequate communications and support from colleagues are other ways that adjuncts feel disrespected or unappreciated,” the study says. One adjunct at a four-year institution said, "The adjuncts are prohibited from participating in administrative activities. The college does not recognize that adjuncts exist. … We are not even listed as faculty on the departmental websites."

Getting a job can be tough, too, according to the study, with 72 percent of instructors reporting that they renew their contracts every semester. Interestingly, 19 percent of adjuncts at two-year institutions said they don’t even have a formal contract.

Adjuncts also have limited influence on which courses they teach, the study says. “Adjuncts have some input regarding course preferences and timing but must often work within certain syllabi and course material requirements. While two in three can request specific courses, only 25 percent usually receive the courses requested. One adjunct said, ‘I always teach the same courses. I cannot request courses -- they offer me courses that are available -- nor can I develop my own courses.’” For that reason, among others, few adjuncts strongly advocate for specific course materials.

April 5, 2017

The American Council on Education has named 46 academic leaders to the next class of the council's fellows program. In the program, midcareer academic leaders receive a placement at another college to work closely with a top administrator. The program is credited with launching many officials on the path to becoming a provost or president. Here is a list of the new fellows.

April 5, 2017

The Daily Tar Heel at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is, like many student newspapers, facing an existential crisis driven by the changes wrought by the digital revolution and changing consumer habits. In an interview with Poynter, the newspaper's general manager, Betsy O'Donovan, discusses the results of the first year of a two-year effort to reimagine the financially ailing publication. Among the experiments: much greater transparency (with employees and readers) about the publication's financial state, changes in the publication's print/digital mix, and new approaches to business and journalism.

April 5, 2017

Lynn Pasquerella, president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities, weighed in on the ongoing debate over campus free speech Tuesday in a statement called “Free Expression, Liberal Education and Inclusive Excellence.” While other statements on the issue have admonished student protesters who would limit free -- if controversial -- speech in the interest of diversity and inclusion, Pasquerella was more considerate of such students’ concerns.

“Like those who blocked recruiters from campuses during the Vietnam War, these protesters regard their actions as justified on the grounds of necessity and attempts to stop them as further silencing those representing the most vulnerable members of society,” she said. Noting that AAC&U has long supported academic freedom but also has expanded its mission to “recognize the inextricable link between equity and quality in liberal education,” Pasquerella asserted that “a commitment to inclusivity, as well as respect for others and free inquiry, must be paramount in maintaining an environment in which the free exchange of ideas can thrive and in guiding the determination of whether speech is protected under academic freedom.”

Institutions of higher learning have different missions but are all united by “the shared goals of educating students and advancing knowledge,” and there are “circumstances under which the achievement of both objectives entails restrictions on free expression,” the statements says. Too often, it continues, free speech and academic freedom are conflated in debates surrounding campus speech. “While all views have equal standing in the public square under the First Amendment, this is not the case in the classroom,” and professors at public and private college and universities “can mandate respectful dialogue by proscribing certain types of language and other forms of expression and can stipulate rules for being recognized in a discussion.”

Pasquerella said liberal education “is designed to develop students’ capacities to think critically and to make themselves vulnerable to criticism by welcoming dissenting voices.” And in preparing students for the future, she added, “faculty members should offer curricula that include a diversity of intellectual perspectives appropriate to their disciplines, and they must also be aware of the extent to which their positionality, framing of issues and syllabi, together with written policies, campus cultures and comments by other members of the community, can serve as inhibitors of speech.”

April 5, 2017

From concerns about student debt to legislative attacks on tenure, some have suggested there’s a crisis of public confidence in U.S. colleges and universities. A new paper in The Journal of Higher Education examines how that confidence varies across social contexts, from political ideology to religion to parental career encouragement. Based on data from 2014’s nationally representative Religious Understandings of Science survey concerning some 10,000 Americans, the study finds that 14 percent of the American public report “a great deal” of confidence in higher education. Evangelical Protestants, Catholics, Jews, those who perceive a conflict between science and faith and "side" with religion, and political conservatives all are significantly less likely to report confidence in academe, while parents who are strong supporters of professional career paths for their children are much more likely to report confidence.

In general, Americans have more confidence in higher ed than they do in Congress, the press, corporations and religious institutions. But they have more trust in scientists and the military than they do in academe. One in five Americans has hardly any confidence in how colleges and universities are run. Those with higher education experience have more confidence in colleges and universities than those who don't, and African-Americans have less confidence relative to whites.

The study’s co-authors are David R. Johnson, an assistant professor of higher education leadership at the University of Nevada at Reno, and Jared L. Peifer, an assistant professor of management at Baruch College. Johnson said via email that public confidence in higher education “is rarely measured through survey research, despite the ‘crisis of confidence’ rhetoric that steadily percolates in the public sphere.” And when surveys have been done, he added, “they rarely examine how confidence varies by race, gender, religious background and other important demographic characteristics.”

“How Public Confidence in Higher Education Varies by Social Context” suggests that “contested legitimacy [of academe] occurs among some groups because universities do not actually know what is important to particular groups, they fail at communicating their legitimacy or they underperform in the eyes of some.” It's “equally possible that low confidence among some groups in the public is the result of a poor understanding of what universities, professors and students do,” it says, and the “content of these doubts is thus an important area for future research.”

April 5, 2017

Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences in Norway wants to become a full-fledged university, but if its pending application were to be approved, the institution does not yet know what it would be called.

Administrators have spent nearly $100,000 and about a year debating various names, according to the higher education publication Khrono (note: the article is in Norwegian). One option, Aker University, references the geographic region surrounding Oslo, while another, Nova University Oslo, emphasizes the newness of the institution.

Rector Curt Rice, the first non-Norwegian to lead an institution in the country, has suggested OsloMet, short for Oslo Metropolitan University. But the suggestion is facing resistance from the Language Council of Norway.

"All Norwegian government agencies are required to have Norwegian names," Åse Wetås, director general of the language council, told Khrono. "'Metropolitan' is not a Norwegian word, nor is the abbreviation 'Met,' so this won't do." (The council has approved both Aker and Nova.)

Rice, who holds a Ph.D. in general linguistics, on Tuesday fired back on Twitter. "The language council is speaking out of both sides of its mouth, because they know full well that 'metropol' is Norwegian," he wrote.

Rice, a reserve member of the board of the language council, is also drawing attention among Norwegian academics these days for an interview in the weekly newspaper Morgenbladet, in which he said researchers should publish in English, not Norwegian.

The university college is still working on the best Norwegian translation for Oslo Metropolitan University and plans to settle on a name in September.

April 5, 2017

Today on the Academic Minute, David Ward, associate professor of marriage and family therapy at Pacific Lutheran University, breaks down the components of hope and how individuals can foster their own. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

April 4, 2017

Five universities in Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education have notified their local chapters of the system's faculty union about possible layoffs by the end of the 2017-18 academic year.

California, Cheyney, Clarion, Edinboro and Mansfield Universities all told the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties about the possibility as part of the institutions' collective bargaining agreement. While faculty members may not lose their jobs, the news adds to an atmosphere of uncertainty, said Kenneth Mash, the union's president.

"We understand finances are tight, but cutting programs and faculty members is penny-wise and pound-foolish," Mash said in a written statement. "Limiting opportunities will not help universities heal or grow. It certainly does nothing to encourage potential students to enroll."

Enrollment at the system of 14 state institutions has declined by 12 percent since 2010. It is facing a projected $79 million funding shortfall for next year.

April 4, 2017

France A. Córdova (right), director of the National Science Foundation, on Monday spoke out against President Trump's proposed cuts in science spending, WGBH reported. "We just cannot afford to give up," Córdova said in a talk at Northeastern University celebrating the dedication of the university's Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Complex. She said that the cuts proposed by Trump would damage research efforts across the United States. "The discoveries that have made such a profound difference in the way we live and learn and work and communicate are all due to investments in basic research," Córdova said. "Half of our present GDP is due to investments in science and technology, and much of that investment has been by the federal government."

To date, the Trump administration has not made its proposal for the NSF budget for the next fiscal year, but the administration has proposed deep cuts to the National Institutes of Health and other agencies. It is unusual for those who lead federal agencies to speak out against cuts proposed by any administration. Córdova was nominated for her job by President Obama, and the Trump administration has kept her on.

UPDATE: The NSF disputes the WGBH account and says that Córdova's comments were about the importance of research generally and not about the Trump budget proposal.



April 4, 2017

Westech College, a for-profit college with three campuses in Southern California, shut down this week citing financial issues, the Los Angeles Times reported. The abrupt closure, which surprised students, was related to the U.S. Department of Education apparently sanctioning the college with its heightened cash monitoring penalty over concerns about a "lack of financial and administrative capability."

The trade college offered two-year degrees and certificates in computer systems, HVAC technology, veterinary assistance and other programs. It is accredited by the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges.


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