May 05, 2003

Where the Adjuncts Have Equal Status

"Kathy Sole, who teaches English on the Seattle, Washington campus is happy at Phoenix. Everywhere else she taught, Sole felt like an 'outsider.' As an adjunct she was at the bottom of the hierarchy, far below administrators and tenured faculty. Professors would hold parties without thinking of inviting adjuncts, or convene meetings without seeking the advice of their part-time colleagues. Sole always felt 'her status as an adjunct to be inferior to that of the full-time faculty.' But Phoenix is different. Nearly everyone teaches part-time. No one has tenure, and, aside from a few administrators, no one has rank. The result, Sole believes, is an egalitarian university where 'all faculty members have equal status.'”

-- Chris Cumo, "Phoenix Rising"

The other day I asked the following question in the comments section to the entry "What Ever Happened to Scholarly Conversation?"

"The democratization of higher education (the enormous expansion, the opening up of the university to women and minorities both as students and, to a lesser extent, as faculty members) pretty much coincides with the trend toward corporatization. Is the commodification of education the price we must pay for its democratization? I don't think there is a necessary and inevitable link, and yet I can't help wondering whether there isn't some sort of link? This puzzles and troubles me."

(Wow! Talk about a me-zine. Yes, this is a "vanity site." I'm just going to keep linking back and forth to my own entries and comments.)

Anyway, here's one answer to my question. Behold the University of Phoenix, an egalitarian university where all faculty are treated equally, which is to say, all faculty are treated equally badly. Chris Cumo reports that of the 12,000 faculty members that the university employs, all but 250 are adjuncts.

There's been a lot of talk lately about the two-tier academic labor system and what to do about it: policy statements have been issued, proposals put forth and debated, and so on. But the University of Phoenix is way ahead of the game: they have discovered an easy solution through the elimination of the top tier.

Interested in learning more? Give them a call at 1-800-MY-SUCCESS. (Dear God. For this I went to graduate school?)

The adjuncts don't make much money, but the university is turning profits:

"Phoenix 'makes one hell of a lot of money,' says Director of Academic Affairs Jonathan Edelman of the Western Michigan campus in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The Apollo Group, which owns the for-profit university, earned $1.1 billion in 2002, according to T.D. Waterhouse. During that same year, its stock rose 6.71 percent to $43.58 per share at year’s end. The Apollo Group expects to earn between $1.31 billion and $1.315 billion in 2003, and projects earnings between $510 million and $515 million for the University of Phoenix."

Well, now that I've got a handle on this blogging thing, I think I'm finally ready to get with the programme. I've had done with such old-fashioned notions as the history profession as guild, academic work as quasi-sacred calling, the university as a protected space offering an alternative to the values of the market. It's high time I signed on with the forces of corporate innovation. But I don't want to teach for $1000 a course. No, I'm starting to think big: I want to start my own online university.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at May 5, 2003 06:26 PM

I'd suggest using this blog to build name-recognition for your new venture, but there's a slight hitch...

Posted by: Cosma at May 5, 2003 06:52 PM

Hardly a hitch: An online university taught by invisible adjuncts sounds like an investor's fever-dream. (Or simply as a literalization of the metaphor: The adjuncts would be etherealized, dispersed into the routers of the network.)

Posted by: Jason at May 5, 2003 07:14 PM

Well it might be a hitch. But once I've assembled a top-notch team of market researchers, I'm sure we'll come up with a solution.

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at May 5, 2003 07:34 PM

I'm there! Is it time to think about the IPO yet?

Posted by: Alex Halavais at May 5, 2003 08:20 PM

"Is it time to think about the IPO yet?"

Not yet. This venture needs capital. We need to figure out a way to lure some investors into this educational scam, er, I mean scheme. Make it sound high-tech but well-grounded: edgy and innovative, yet financially risk-free (I think it's important to allay fears of disaster). The "etherealized adjunct" notion might be worked up into something useful: it suggests the latest in internet technology, along with the tried-and-true profit-maximizing methods of the sweatshop.

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at May 6, 2003 12:03 AM

Students! At IA University you can take all your courses with the click of a mouse! Just fill out our handy online form and you will be connected to the IA in the specialty you desire! Online security ensures that you can use your credit card safely, and no one will see your "grades" -- only $xxx per credit hour! If you don't learn what you need, your money will be refunded. Click now!

Posted by: Rana at May 6, 2003 01:44 PM

The logic that online courses offer more "freedom" for the adjunct reminds me of the common assertion that women are now "liberated" with the increase of work-at-home labor. This kind of laborer is often more isolated, even lower paid than before, with few protections from exploitation.

Posted by: Cat at May 8, 2003 02:49 PM

Before you proceed with your business plans, please learn the distinction between Revenue and Profit. The Apollo Group had Revenues of just over $1.00 billion in fiscal year 2002 (ended 8/31/02) and had Net Income of $161mm. All revenues appear to come from educational divisions. What's interesting is that the Apollo Group appears to have very little debt and took very little capital to get up and running. The stock price is astronomically expensive. The equity value of the firm is $9bb, which is 9x (!) Revenues. To take a comparison, the broad index of US stocks (the S&P500) trades at around 2.2 Revenues.

Posted by: JT at May 9, 2003 01:13 PM

"Before you proceed with your business plans, please learn the distinction between Revenue and Profit."

Hey, before I proceed with my business plans, I need to hire a team of experts who can proceed with my business plans.

So you're saying the profit was $161 million? And very little capital to start up? Hmm...that's not bad...

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at May 9, 2003 08:56 PM

That presumably qualified people are willing to work for $1000 per course is the data point that puts the period to the sentence of serfdom. It is a mark of the social distance between the rhetoric of higher education & the economic reality of the marketplace, in which a highschool basketball player who will never go to college is hired by Nike as a spokesperson for 90 million over ten years. If you really want to go into business, you'll have to get LeBron James as your first student.

Posted by: Joseph Duemer at May 25, 2003 11:57 PM

It amazes me that educated, presumambly intelligent people would take such low paying positions. I understand the desire to work in the field you have chosen. However,unles these professors are taking incredible work loads they are making next to nothing. In turn if they are making enough to survive then there students are suffering because the professor is overloaded as bad or worse then the students are. The result is a losing proposition for everyone but the Apollo Group. I have a BA in History and have been wrestling with the notion of grad school for about 3 years, while attempting to pay down my student loan debt. I have a decent job that has nothing to do with my degree, but it pays the bills. As long as people are willing to take adjunct positions, then the universities will continue to move in the direction of Pheonix. I just wonder if and when the higher education system will rise from the ashes of its onrushing self immolation.

Posted by: Lance S. Edwards at October 17, 2003 09:25 AM

Well, having known some people who went the UoP route, some comments:

First, most of them are moonlighting from day jobs. They are teaching formatted classes to students with more than the usual amount of discipline in order to do something they love on the side.

Second, like many adjuncts, they think this is a door into teaching, a credential that will help them either stay in the game or get in the game.

Third, there is nothing that says you couldn't do the same thing, nothing that says you couldn't clone the operation. About now the market is probably ripe for a clone.

Posted by: Steve at February 11, 2004 03:25 AM