Thanks to the Forgotten Part-time Teacher

by Victor Davis Hanson

NRO’s The Corner

Last week within about an hour, I got a form email from a UC administrator deploring California’s cuts to higher education, asking for money, and pleading for support for the university — even as YouTube was airing the UCLA student protests over tuition hikes.

…which got me to thinking. The students, of course, have no answers to the problems of California that sees some 3,500 professionals and the well-paid leaving the state each week, since our officials cannot explain why — with the nation’s highest state income, gasoline, and sales taxes — we have among the nation’s worst infrastructure, schools, and educated populaces.

If the students were really worried about injustice in the CSU and UC systems, they would not be protesting tuition hikes that will still not result in their educations even approaching the costs at private colleges. Nor would UC administrators be swarming the internet and emails systems warning that cuts will hurt their tenured faculty and research.

Instead the dirty secret in California is that at JC, CSU, and UC campuses, nearly half of the instruction offered — whether calibrated in the total number of students in classes, or by the number of courses listed or by the number of those employed — is taught by non-tenure-track lecturers, TAs, and part-time faculty.

If one were to compare that cost per unit with instruction by regular tenured faculty for often essentially the same work, the exploitation makes any in the private sector mild in comparison. Even Wal-Mart is saintly in employment practices in comparison with CSU.

An English 1A class taught by a TA or part-timer might service 30 students at a cost of $4,000 to 5,000 in instructional fees; an upper-division required course for the major, with 10 students, like “The Construction of Manhood in Blake” taught by a full professor might run the university $25,000. Part-timers might make $35,000 without benefits for juggling together 5-7 classes at different campuses, while tenured professors might make well over $100,000 for teaching 4-6 courses with full facilities, benefits, and support.

The problem is that all the old justifications for such wide imbalances — tenured faculty advising, publication, intangible college governance — don’t wash any more, at least in the case of the humanities and social sciences — not when TAs, lecturers and part-timers often have PhDs, and are as good or better teachers than full professors, while the scholarship of the affluently tenured, especially in the humanities and social sciences, is either irrelevant or unreadable, while their teaching is not subject to the same scrutiny or consequences as part-time evaluations.

So next time students nearly riot at UCLA, the angst should be on behalf of a near majority of their faculty who are paid a pittance of what an elite makes for nearly the same sort of work.

The fact is that the students are subsidized by the bankrupt state. The governing administrative elite and cohort of tenured professors are, in turn, subsidized by tens of thousands of mostly unknown, exploited part-timers. The latter each day in California teach hundreds of thousands of college students at JC, CSU, and UC at a fraction of the wage that a tiny priesthood receives for essentially the same job.

So on Thanksgiving Weekend, give thanks to the part-timers and temps who keeps the liberal system of higher education running by the very illiberal treatment they receive.

©2009 Victor Davis Hanson

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