How to Think Like an Administrator (Part Deux)

Scrooge McDuck, PhD. Art: Tom Simpson, via Flickr.
Scrooge McDuck, PhD. Art: Tom Simpson, via Flickr.


Once again I want to stress that my intention is not to undermine experienced organizers, who know a lot more than I do, or to talk down to my colleagues. I was inspired to write these posts because (a) I’ve been seeing a lot of distracting discussion about rhetoric and (b) in my experience a lot of professorial types don’t understand how to think like an administrator. (Cliquez ici for Part the First.)

The Goals

In Part 1, we established that the only thing that higher ed admins care about is money. This does not make them bad people. What makes some (many? most?) administrators bad people is that they don’t give a flying fuck about students or adjuncts.

So let’s not lose sight of the real goal here. If our goal is to get the world to recognize that administrators are bad people, how does that get us decent jobs? If someone says to you, “You suck and I hate your Weltanschauung,” will you be inclined to negotiate with her or him?

The goals are simple: multi-year contracts with decent salaries and insurance. That is how adjuncts will get dignity. If they spruce up the adjunct offices and give you nice professional development opportunities a couple of times a year, it’s because those concessions are cheaper than paying you a liveable salary.

Remember: whenever you ask for money, you are being a pain in the ass. And nobody likes a pain in the ass. Editors, landlords and real estate agents across this great nation hate my stinking guts because I had the temerity to demand money or services. Do I want some editor to tell me that I am a valuable contributor or do I want them to pay me? Do I want a landlord to treat me with deference or to fix my water heater? Similarly, do you think think an administrator wants to be liked more than he or she wants to keep costs down?

If your dean or department head or TT colleagues are indifferent or snide, forget about that for now. The best measure of dignity in a business environment is a good salary and benefits. 

Why There’s No Money

Administrators will tell you that there’s no money. And there isn’t. Because they spend it all.

There’s no money for labor at for-profit institutions because the administrators keep overheads as low as possible so that the owners (or stockholders) can extract as much money from the business as possible. Successful businesspeople are super-cheap with their businesses so that they can be generous with themselves.

Nonprofit universities aren’t all that different. They can’t give themselves bonuses, but they sure will pay themselves as much as humanly possible without raising eyebrows.

As businesspeople, they don’t see labor as the heart of an institution, but a cost to be considered like the water bill. As businesspeople, they will never consider your interests more important than those of the institution–or their own.

And that’s why there’s no money. Tuition has never been more expensive, labor costs (from adjuncts to custodial staff) cheaper. So where’s the money going? According to a recent report, to administrators! So, as I’ve said in another context, when they say that there’s no money, what they’re really saying is that there’s no money for you.

(I’ve heard of situations wherein administrators took salary cuts around the time of the 2008 crisis. But if you take a 10% pay cut on a $150k salary you’re now earning $135k. Not exactly hardship wages. If you’re an adjunct and you take a 10% pay cut–or, as it more often happens, you don’t get a raise for five years–you’re fucked. So when a particular dean used to brag to me about his self-sacrifice, I’d throw up in my mouth a little.)

How to Get Money Anyway

Here are some ways in which adjuncts may be able to gain concessions before resorting to protests or strikes:

1. Find the decision makers. The dean of a particular department controls the budget. But who controls the budget that controls his budget? Or is there anyone on the board who can be convinced to help adjuncts? Any trustees? It’s always nice to have TT folks on your side. Cultivate them. But ultimately they don’t have the power to help you get a decent salary with benefits. Who does? Can you convince that person that adjuncts at your college play a unique and valuable role? If you have nothing to lose–your job sucks and you can’t pay your bills and you have a horrible itchy blotch on your face that you can’t afford to get checked out–go as high as you can. Write the trustees, the local press, your representatives, or how about this: the donors. Why not see if you can find a sympathetic donor to put pressure on the president?

2. Check the numbers. Recently Quinnipiac University announced that it will be cutting 15 full-time positions, mostly in liberal arts. They claim that there’s a $6 million deficit. They also claim that they’ll be adding 12 positions in the fall. With a net loss of 3 positions, how does that save $6 million? How did they even lose $6 million when their 990s show a surplus for the last few years? And if money is tight, why did Quinnipiac pay $3.8 million to an architecture firm in 2011? But you can’t march into the provost’s office with these numbers and say, “You lying bastards! We demand you fire some useless administrators instead!” But you can show those numbers to the press or to a sympathetic trustee or donor. And remember the point here is not to get the world to recognize your superior moral standing but to get adjuncts decent jobs.

3. Look for best practices. Yes, I know, business-speak, blah blah fuckety blah. Still, are there any colleges at all, anywhere, where the adjunct situation is more congenial? Can you find even one or two ideas that you might bring to your institution? A lot of people are doing great work in soliciting information about pay and working conditions for adjuncts. But has anybody asked, What’s working where you are? Because you have a better chance of success with management types if you can present solutions as well as demands.

In conclusion (as we’ve read in 7000 student essays), you will likely have an easier time getting concessions if you can think about it from the other guy’s point of view. I welcome your criticism or further suggestions, just please no more discussions about whether it’s okay to refer to adjuncts as slaves, because (a) it isn’t and (b) arguing about such things is a waste of time.

And now I’d better get back to my novel so that I can sell it and bring in some money, because sales of Adjunctivitis are slowing and I’ve burned bridges at nearly every college I’ve ever taught, as I find it nearly impossible to follow my own advice.

1 thought on “How to Think Like an Administrator (Part Deux)

  1. When we pay teachers half the rate of coaaprmble professionals, we’re asking for the second best. I could not agree more. Teachers should not have to accept exploitation as a condition for employment. Just like every other profession where the best and the brightest are expected and required, PAY means a lot. Not just merit pay, but PAY. We don’t pay doctors, engineers or lawyers on merit. Because teaching for so long was just woman’s work (still is to a large degree) it was seen okay to pay a pittance and let passion make up for the rest. That’s a bunch of BS. Teachers are just as important as lawyers or doctors. They train lawyers and doctors! Our kids are with them for 12 freaking years. A good teacher can really inspire a kid and a bad one can break a kid’s spirit and affect their whole future.

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