Colleges Should Pay Administrators Like They Pay Adjuncts: Short-Term Contracts, Competition for Jobs

Evan Rowe is a former professor of history at Broward College. He frequently writes critiques of higher education management.

Channel 6, the local NBC affiliate, last night ran this piece describing the pathetic pay rates for adjunct professors and featured yours truly: Spoiler alert: The mustache is back! Since I love to beat the drum about higher education abuses and mismanagement, I'm on the lookout for relevant items that cover all aspects of the neoliberal shift in higher education. And to top it off, this came across my feed earlier:

The Adjunct from Lauren on Vimeo.

It's a clever concept, complete with superprofane critical theory guy, out-of-touch full-time faculty, and other well-known tropes that are common in the adjunct struggle. And of course, it's a relevant part of the adjunct labor market in South Florida given that Miami-Dade College is the biggest brick-and-mortar college in the United States (measured by student population), while Broward College ranks 20th in the United States.

What the film doesn't cover is the implied nature of adjunct labor in the labor market as something that simply is, rather than something that has been crafted deliberately. For example, there is a tendency to imply that adjunct labor is cheaper because there of an overabundance of possible adjuncts willing to teach a given class. This of course, is entirely accurate, because the market has been rigged and managed to produce exactly this outcome. It isn't a reaction to labor markets; it is a consequence of deliberate collective action.

Furthermore, one's income -- be it from wages, salaries, or profits -- all derive from some calculus rooted in how much political power one has within the political-economic structure. It does not come from skill. The idea that skills produce higher earning power is pure public relations education fiction.

Skill does not produce greater earning potential. It is the leverage that allows an employee or employer to counter-extort, or extort the other party. As such, there are skills that at any point in time will produce great bargaining power, but the skill itself is a secondary component. If a skill provides you leverage (say, if your skill is having a 3 point shot like Steph Curry), then that leverage produces greater income. This makes incomes largely driven by political processes, when measured across the board, as there is always pressure to both increase one's counterextortionary income potential by gaining leverage as an employee in the labor market, as there is also constant pressure to drive down and reduce the leverage of employees in favor of the employer in the labor market. Since markets are measured collectively, not individually, and professional ballplayers are the exception, not the rule, it should be obvious that these processes are largely the result of political decisions, not random economic "trends in higher education".

So this is where the supply and demand fictions fall completely on their face. What is the process that determines an adjunct's monthly income to be so abysmally low? (Not to mention extremely unpredictable.) Political power, that's what. It isn't supply and demand. I mean, adjuncts would teach the classes at half the money, or double. Just as if the positions offered by private control over companies were offered at half of their current value (i.e. would you own microsoft at a 50% discount?). f we were to say, offer President Armstrong a 50 percent discount to making $225k per year, does anyone think he wouldn't take it? Does anyone think that the position -- playing small-time diplomat, flying around the world, visiting overseas having a house and car paid for -- wouldn't be able to attract the same caliber of job candidates at 225k per year that it can at 450k?

So it isn't a poor and oversupplied adjunct professor labor market that has determined wages. It is a deliberately debased labor market. It is not unique to higher ed, as this political program of upward redistribution of power has taken place in many sectors within the American-driven global economic system.

But as an experiment, if you took every administrative position and scaled back pay and benefits to absolute bare bones levels by introducing some of that right-wing market logic these jokers love to preach but rarely practice, we would actually get a sense of what the market may bear in terms of administrative pay. This could be introduced by constantly reducing pay and benefits until literally there was nobody with a bachelor's degree willing to apply and take any of the major provost, president, dean, deanlets, assistant to the deanlets, etc. positions.

But as it is with most selectively enforced right-wing principles, competition is something that the pwoerful impose onto others, not upon themselves. This isn't to say I think that competition is good (or bad), but that it is primarily a means to an ends. It serves the political function of grinding down the value of a given space. So for me, I think massive administrative competition -- four-month hiring contracts for all levels of administration above 50k per year -- would all serve the function of reducing the capacity and power of administrative control.

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Evan Rowe
Contact: Evan Rowe