Sunday, February 28, 2010

Bureaukleptocrats make me cranky...

Especially when they're in charge of "educational" institutions, which is becoming increasingly common these days as the corporatization of universities turns them into crypto-fascist safehouses for a managerial elite that is probably too incompetent to be successful out in the real business world but that has somehow wormed its way into the structure of higher education. Anyway, here's the story...

I have a friend who's been teaching anthropology at a fairly large state university in the deep south of the United States for over 20 years. Every now and then, like many universities, they offer a special short course that students can complete between semesters. So during the last winter break, my friend was scheduled to teach a short introduction to cultural anthropology. As the class start date approached there were only two students registered, a fact that at most places would trigger a cancellation of the class. However, nothing happened: no memo, no email, nothing. The fact that the class missed being included in the posted listing of courses might have caused the low number, but it was on the registrar's web site and the students were still shown as registered. Just to be sure, my friend called the Dean's office, but got no response as everyone was away on Christmas break.

So, my friend did the only responsible thing he could have done. He gave the two students an introduction to cultural anthropology. After all, they had paid for it. They met for the required number of hours, took a final exam, and when it came time to give them their grades my friend was able to do so, because the class final grade report was available online. So far, so good.

But then, my friend waited to be paid for this extra course, which was over and above his normal teaching schedule, and nothing happened. When he inquired about it, he was told that the course only had two students and therefore "should have been canceled." He should not have taught the course, and so he should not be paid for actually teaching it.

Now, here's the thing. At my university, and I'm pretty sure at most, individual faculty members can neither schedule or cancel classes. At North Florida, this is done in the Dean's Office, and if the start of a class is approaching and too few students are enrolled, we get a memo telling us that the course either may be or is being canceled, possibly with a request to justify teaching it with such a small number of students. And yet, at my friend's school they seem to be insisting that he should have taken care of it. It's not clear what mechanism he could have employed to accomplish this, but I know that where I am, there is none available to me. They even suggested that the "paperwork" for the course had not been approved "on time," but if that was the case how is it that those two students were allowed to register for it?

My friend has met with his Dean and Provost in an attempt to extract the money owed him, but so far the best he can get is a promise to examine the situation further with a view toward maybe paying him a fraction of what he should have received if the class had enrolled the minimum number of students.

And this brings us to the sad part of all this: this particular university pays a Scrooge McDuck-worthy $1200 to have a full-time faculty member teach an extra course. At my place, we get 1/8 of our regular salary, which in my case would be about $7,000. Why the difference?  My university has a faculty union, part of a state-wide organization that in turn is part of the National Education Association. Our collective bargaining agreement includes a grievance procedure through which my friend would almost certainly win his case in a slam-dunk.

In fact, at a functional university managed by rational, thoughtful human beings, even without a faculty union, this would be a slam-dunk. Imagine a contractor who hires someone to dig a hole. The hole-digger goes off and digs the hole, and then returns to be paid only to be told that, after the hole was dug, the contractor decided that a hole shouldn't be dug after all, and thus no pay would be forthcoming.

This, however, is clearly not a functional university, and the people who run it are not rational, thoughtful human beings. They are viciously self-indulgent kleptocrats living in a part of the country where mean-spirited social irresponsibility, a result of hyper-independence training, is the accepted norm. Not just accepted, but lauded, as if it were a virtue, while social responsibility is punished.

One wonders whether my friend's $1200 is being shared by the Dean and Provost as a sort of Christmas bonus...  oh, if only I could tell you where this place is!

Update: March 1, 2010...

I forgot to add that after talking with some other faculty members about his predicament, my friend discovered that his university had done this same thing to at least two others. Serial kleptocracy!

Another update: March 5, 2010:

My friend still doesn't have his pay, and he has discovered another faculty member whose labor has been stolen in this way.


  1. That's an outrage, Dr. Kephart. I see your point about "hyper-independence training." I work with a lot of new parents and always take the opportunity to stump for the kinds of values that are often referred to as "attachment parenting" (a retronym if I ever heard one). I do think the pendulum is starting to swing back, but I think you're right that the South is behind the curve.

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  3. It sounds like your friend needs a lawyer. Did the college also refund the money the students paid for the class? That would fit the college's logic, although I doubt that happened. Pretty good gig for the administration: get students to pay for a class, give them a grade, and don't pay the instructors. That saves SO much!

    And here I thought my adjunct salary was sad...

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