Friday, July 15, 2016

The State of Higher Education . . .

So, about a year ago, TBR (the Tennessee Board of Regents) mandated that all schools -- including my dearly beloved university -- must give a 2% across-the-board pay increase. This, of course, is a much needed gesture, since my school chronically under-salaries its employees, at least in relation to comparable institutions. This alleged "across-the-board" pay increase, however, did not apply apply to contingent faculty, a group which includes grad students (me), adjuncts (who haven't had a pay increase since 1999), and I believe full-time temps.** So, "across-the-board" did not apply to the most heavily exploited group at the modern university -- people who are barely making minimum wage.

I bring this up because, apparently, our dearly beloved university has just finished a study comparing our faculty salaries with comparable institutions. The study discovered what we already knew: we are way behind. The e-mail announcing this news, sadly enough, also stated that, given the perpetual lack of funding by the state, there's no way we can fix the problem. (The e-mail also reference the lack of corresponding state funding meant to go along with that 2% across-the-board pay increase from a year ago.) Also, interestingly, 35 faculty were identified by the study as being so far below minimal compensation levels that their situation has to be rectified immediately.

On one hand, you have to feel for the situation our admin are in. They clearly know they're not doing right by their workers, and I really believe they'd like to do something about it -- but what is there to be done?  Student tuitions have already been raised, and the state just doesn't provide enough funding. States across the country have been cutting funding ever since the Great Recession. But it's also hard to sympathize when, thanks to some bureaucratic legerdemain, the worth of the teaching assistantships gets cut by 25%, not to mention the plight of our MA students (which is unconscionable), and the even worse plight of the adjuncts. who are the only sweatshop workers in the world with advanced degrees. (Again, thats a nation-wide trend.) And of course there's always the salary of the football coach in our completely useless sports program -- which, btw, just erected a giant statue to the old coach that completely dwarfs the teeny tiny plaque dedicated to our two Noble Prize Winners in Economics.

No real solution to these problems, of course. There is a newly developing field called Critical University Studies, which is dedicated to issues such as this, as well as the increasing neo-liberalization of the higher education market. Unless you want to try that route, though, maybe the best advice is: "Stay in school kids!"  Wait, no, that's not what I mean. What I meant to say was, "Get our of school as soon as you can. Never, ever go back for a degree in the humanities, not if any other option remains."

**They assured us, of course, that our contributions were still greatly appreciated.

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