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On the Problem of “Value”

Where to begin? How to begin? How about sit down in your thinking chair with your handy-dandy notebook and, well, think and talk and dream aloud about your work, your expectations, your struggles, and your hopes for yourself, your students, and those who will pick up this banner after your time has come to pass.

Jean-Luc Nancy famously asked his students and readers to consider Lenin’s question “What is to be done?” as an opportunity to make decisions grounded in the present conditions rather than as an accumulation of past choices or a series of steps taken toward a projected goal. In other words, direct action, mindful action, some kind of focused attention paid to the situation as it is rather than as you “thought it was” or “hope it to be someday”:

…we know one thing at least: ‘What is to be done?’ means for us: how to make a world for which all is not already done (played out, finished, enshrined in a destiny), nor still entirely to do (in the future for always future tomorrows).” (

All the Soviet allusions aside, it is important that we focus on how we evaluate effectiveness; we have spent too much time playing a numbers game that lends itself to statistical alienation from the college and university. I watched and participated in an alignment process that revealed radical imbalances in FT and PT duties, a gross negligence regarding how (and if) students were advised, and, more importantly, a growing rift between faculty and administration.

What do we value? How does that expression of inherent and qualified “worth” help us to build the case that without adjunct support, most colleges and universities would need to close their doorts? We can also look at the value conversation as a way to combate the market driven numbers game — oftentimes what we value, we cannot price or price fix. A great example of this problematic is located in the SUNY Humanities debate from 2010:

We haven’t played all the angles yet. We certainly haven’t even begun to resist actively and with the best direct action progressive and conservatives have demonstrated for us over the last few decades. It will be important to define narrow and broad values as we move forward in addressing gross inequity. Simply saying “pay us more for the work we do” has fallen on death [sic.] ears and crossed-eyes. Adding to that easily ignored demand “this isn’t right” also smacks of ignorance on the part of the organized, the marginalized.

From here I would suggest making up rubrics to evaluate whole colleges, whole departments, colleagues, etc. — all in the name of assessment driven “service-oriented” pedagogy. By staying a negative value (“The administration does not value consistency” or “The college no longer values transparency” or “the Full Time faculty do not value the labor of their part time colleagues” — then **show** what a “valued relationship” looks like.

Shaming? Maybe.

I’ll never tell.

No one quite knows what to do with the facts re: adjunct life. Truthfully, most adjuncts do not know what to do about their working conditions. Many will say, walk away. This is too complicated; there are too many x-factors involved.  Some will advocate for more meetings, more committees, more “investigations.” Have you considered teaching for more colleges so you can make more money?

How about a value test around this question? Do you get paid for all of your labor? If the answer is no, then your employer does not value your labor. They can celebrate it all they want; they can thank you with key chain holders or mugs or teddy bears. But, if you said no to the question, then you are already aware of how best to make your conditions better

Organize. Share stories. Do this in the open; do this as part of a lunch meeting. Gather together on or off campus. Use social media. Sure, to revolutionize the adjuncts — to give them their memory, to serve as their witness, and the help them achieve equity in pay and, well, we all saw this coming — value.

About Dean RCB

Dean of Academics Lebanon College Philosophy and Integrated Liberal Arts Writer & Producer (theatre, television, film) Composer & Producer RCB lives in the Upper Valley with his wife and four boys.

7 responses to “On the Problem of “Value”

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  4. ewcollins ⋅

    “Billable hours” are how much a law firm charges their clients. If a client is charged $400 per hour, that does not mean that the lawyer who did all of the work gets paid anything close to that amount. The rest goes to overhead or to the senior partners

    A university who hires a professor to teach a class of 30 – 300 students actually bills these “clients” a total of far more than $400 per hour. The professor gets paid only a fraction of that amount. The rest goes to overhead or to the administrators.

    I know a part-time lecturer who works as a lawyer to pay his bills. He seems to enjoy both of his jobs.

    I also know of unemployed JD’s who cannot find a job or else do not want to work for a law firm, and end up becoming per diem substitute teachers in public high schools.

    • I guess my larger point was to say that $400 was charged or percentage. In fact, the gross discrepancy I and others are attempting to highlight may in fact be worse.

      My courses were sold out and multiple sections potentially opened. I watched year after year as administrators – really, glorified bureaucrats with no teaching experience or even business acumen — make decisions that made no sense . . . at multiple colleges.

      Here’s my favorite — showing there’s something more insidious than money involved here. . . .

      20 students signed up for a humanities course
      6 person waiting list

      Department mandates 13 person cap for seminar styled courses; compromised for 20 to “play ball” with the state

      Chair and myself will not budge on the 6 person waiting list; across the first two class weeks, between 4 and 6 students state how they’re not intersted in a larger course but a smal seminar ***as advertised***.

      26 students want the course as advertised
      2 sections of 13 not only meets expectations and recommendations, but returns the numbers to a more reasonable seminar format.

      No. They don’t want to pay me for two sections when they can pay me for one.

      Fuck that. Seriously.

      Then, in this scenario, they dragged their asses and lost the five of the six identified as “unsatisfied.”
      So, six students drop, the six on the wait list go about their lives; that’s a net loss of twelve, one below the thirteen recommendation.

      Each students pays $700 in tuition x 26 = $18,200 – $4000 in salary = $14,200.
      Overhead is $2800 (four students) — the minimum to run is seven which roughly pays the highest paid adjunct.

      This semester, SPring 2012, the administrators were up in arms about how we fought them last Fall and cancelled three sections all with twenty to twenty six students = $700 x 20 x 3 = $42,000 – $6K salary – $8400 overhead = $33,594

      Answer to the students: We couldn’t find instructors for the three courses.

      THis is a miserable profession because it is run by incompetent bureaucrats who may as well be characters from a Kafka novel. If any of it made sense, at least we could disagree; right now, we’re dealing with cold blooded sociopathy and fascistic absurdity. There are very limited was to combat this.

  5. My lawyer colleagues bill their clients $400/hr and above for their services. Short email reply that takes fifteen minutes? $100 billed. Half hour phone conversation? Half our dictation? Half hour of directly working with legal staff in the library? That’s $200 for a half hour’s work.

    Four hours in reading, grading, prep, for class = unpaid
    Three hours in class = paid (3.0 credits = 3.0 contact hrs)
    Half hour strategy/programming meeting = unpaid
    Website management for online courses = unpaid
    mediation of conflicts = unpaid
    faculty meetings = unpaid

    Let’s say I make $2000 per course for a total of $41.67 per hour (3 contact hours x 16 weeks / contracted salary).

    Jurist Doctor first of all gets paid about nine times more than a Ph.D or MA. JDs do not have to complete exit exams or theses for their degrees. Yes. They have the bar to contend with. But, many of my colleagues holding MAs and PhDs, especially in the social sciences, sciences, and medical fields also go through rigorous testing (and sometimes every three to five years). But, I don’t know anyone making $400 an hour as a nurse.

    In the JD scenario, the money owed by the college would break down as follows:

    Four hours in reading, grading, prep, for class = $166.67/week x sixteen weeks = $2666.67

    Three hours in class = paid (3.0 credits = 3.0 contact hrs) =$2000

    Half hour strategy/programming meeting (8hrs across 16 weeks) = $333.36

    Website management for online courses (1.5hr/course x 16weeks) = $333.36

    mediation of conflicts (1.5hr/course x 16) = $333.36

    faculty meetings (8hrs/term) = $333.36



    6001.35 per class

    In a 3/3 scenario for the whole academic year, the total part time cost to the college is $36,000.08

    It seems like a crazy good amount of money in the micro analysis — to actually get paid for the work you do. But, even in this scenario, the salary of a 3/3 load is still roughly half of what FT faculty get paid to do the same tasks. Sure. They have research and tenure-track needs to address. But, during a time of supersaturated academic publishing markets, isn’t it about time we pushed administrations to directly acknowledge teaching and pedagogy as a direct and added “Value” of all professorial work.

    The assistant manager at your video store makes more. Sure. He has a very annoying job and oftentimes wants to drive his or her car into a ravine given the corporate tediousness of daily life at America’s number one choice for video rentals. Whatever.

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