Home > Chicago, Rant, Uncategorized > College for Profit: Poised to Break the Tenure System

College for Profit: Poised to Break the Tenure System

Something that really has me disgusted is the degree to which colleges have been corporatized in the past ten years. The costs of tuition have increased tremendously and the product is not essentially different or better in any way. The expensive, private, for-profit art and media college I attended was years to decades behind current technology and best practices in the various programs. The cinema program literally has kids still running around with 16mm film cameras because the school won’t buy digital equipment! That was how that program was in the 1990s. The ongoing economic recession or depression gives colleges and universities further excuses to corporatize, especially downsizing staff and faculty, and the college I graduated has taken this a step further by figuring out how to eliminate tenured staff.

Getting rid of tenured staff is simple: they just are not going to hire them anymore.  From the 1990s to present they shifted tenured instructors in favor of adjunct instructors. The last published number I had for Columbia College placed adjunct faculty at 77% for the whole campus. That is 77% of a college workforce for instruction that is part-time, has no insurance, no vacation time, no sick leave, no retirement or investment benefits, can be eliminated at any time and is paid substantially less than the tenured professors. The adjunct instructors are unionized but the college was able to roll them for three years without a contract and little improvement in their current employment contract. They probably should have gone on strike yet the same time there was “prioritization” downsizing of staff and faculty. (SAIC took downsizing a step further and just outright broke tenure and fired a bunch of tenured professors to get them off their payroll.) No one at Columbia wanted to strike when the college was eliminating positions and everyone was at risk of losing their jobs. For many, their adjunct teaching job became their only or their primary source of income. The reason why a lot of people were and are willing to bite the bullet on being an adjunct professor was under the belief of paying one’s dues and proving one’s worth in hopes of getting hired into a tenure track position. Also, white collar, professional jobs are few and far between in Chicago and especially in this ongoing downturn economy. Now that the college administration appears to have firm dominance, the word is the administration is going to now open full-time positions but things will be different. With other schools following this pattern, it is not like people can shift to jobs elsewhere.

The new word invented for tenure dodging is “lectureship”.  Adjunct professors, who can find themselves out of a job from semester to semester, will have an opportunity to apply for lectureship positions instead of tenure track professor positions. A lectureship is basically a one year contract for employment and some full-time benefits but without the full benefits of tenure track or tenured professors. I had my share of lazy, do-nothing and unaccountable tenured professors but I also had my share of good ones. This system maybe would help to oust under-performing professors but I see it as holding more power in union breaking by undermining and ultimately eliminating the tenure system for profit. Maybe the school will try to spin lectureship jobs as an innovation or an improvement but for me the bottom line is that administration has figured out that the highly educated sector of the workforce is as desperate for employment as the workforce in general.

College for profit is demonstrably in existence in all colleges, even “non-profit” colleges. Illinois States Attorney Lisa Madigan looked at the books for UIC and Northwestern and asked how they can be non-profit when UIC had over $300 Million in trust and Northwestern had over $800 Million in trust. These non-profit schools with their massive resources, having legal programs and medical programs with hospitals are not in the business of handing out free educations to the children of the poor, legal aid or medical help to those in need. On top of that, they hold billions of dollars in prime real estate and buildings, none of which is taxed. Lisa Madigan advised that both universities should consider “doing more for the community” or be taxed. I wish more investigation and pressure to change would come from this line of thinking. Just because college and universities have non-profit status does not mean they have justifiable reasons for having that status when in fact they are highly profitable operations.

Colleges and universities also love to “cry poor” as much as they can, stating loss of government funding and lower student enrollment as proof they are in financial hardship. Mathematically, about three or four students in a class pays for the class itself, especially if taught by an adjunct professor as per some of the numbers I have learned about. The schools hide how many people in a class actually make the class break even. Colleges and universities are not in the business to be self-sustaining; they are in the education business for profit.  Schools have been packing in twenty to thirty students a class and getting side money on online classes. Columbia owns at least 17 high rise buildings in downtown’s South Loop area and a mansion for the school President, but the school claims poverty from lower enrollment.

Part of my concerns is that these changes in higher academia are coming out of the greater culture of Chicago which has been systematically dismantling public education on the grammar school level and shifting the tax dollar resources into private enterprises. The city did that with recycling and our street parking meters and a thousand other things I don’t know enough about recent history and politics to name. This is the city of expert corruption, the buddy system and the income based kick-back through contracts. Trying to understand all of it is numbing. This is the city that since The Rahmfather has shut down 50% of mental health services closing two of the four available facilities, took 49 schools in poorer neighborhoods and shut them down (originally slated to be 54) and has the highest sales tax in the nation. If tax money can be gift-wrapped and handed to private industry, Chicago knows how to best tie the bow on top. Colleges and universities in my city are suspect because they are in the business of learning and have a great seat to watch just how much people will put up with and how far profit motivation can go unchecked. It seems the game is won by those who will be boldest in their greed at the expense of the public good, their own students and their own faculty.

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Categories: Chicago, Rant, Uncategorized
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