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Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Wednesday, October 30, 2019
Each of the fifty states supports a public research university of some kind, and yet many legislators act as though they don't know what research is or that the state needs to help pay for it.  Or so UC officials are saying again about California's legislature. We are supposedly a world leading knowledge economy and yet, UC leaders claim, the legislature doesn't want to hear about funding UC research.  "Most of them graduated from Cal State," it is explained, though of course Cal State faculty also do research.  I first heard this statement from UC's longtime VP for Budget Larry Hershman, a Sacramento veteran if we ever had one.  That was 2002.  We seem to have made little progress in the intervening 17 years.

Research is a joint product of faculty, staff, and (mostly doctoral) students.  But for various reasons, it has to be designed and led, and in non-STEM fields, largely performed by, tenure-track (TT) faculty.  Contingent faculty teach too many courses, don't have research facilities or funding, and don't get paid enough to do more than the most basic self-funding of scholarship.  Research universities need high shares of TT faculty or they can't conduct research.

In its 2018 Accountability Report, UCOP reported that 76 percent of faculty are tenure-track, which is a proportion that academia overall hasn't seen since the 1970s (Indicator 5.1.1).  That's a good thing.

Another is that most of the campus's non-tenure track (NTT) faculty are Lecturers, and a share of those have Security of Employment (SOE).  Lecturers without SOE are represented employees at UC, and have contracts along with a complement of health and retirement benefits.  They have high teaching loads (around 8 quarter-courses per year in fields where  TT (what UC calls "ladder") faculty teach 4-5 per year). They are not expected to conduct research (though in my experience most do).  (There are issues with UC personnel counts that may hide many adjuncts in the lecturer figures, and represented lecturers are in protracted negotiations with the University--please write if I have missed a leaden lining in this partially sunlit cloud.)

You can see that UC did pretty well at limiting adjunct hiring through the 2002-05 budget cuts.  That's partly because it can use graduate students as contingent instructors (another feature of the research university). Also, with 5 going on 6 medical centers, it has many other series of NTT faculty. The chart below was last seen in the 2010 Accountability Report.

That turquoise band of adjunct faculty grows, and yet stays fairly small, particularly in comparison with lecturers.

Here's another expression of the same trends, from 2014

Again, I don't swear by UCOP's definition of "Ladder Rank and Equivalent," but even taken with a large grain of salt it's a relatively good number.

Arts and Humanities faculty numbers have also held up fairly well.  There's a reason for this. While the number of majors has declined (see Ben Schmidt's gory details), the number of enrollments (or Student Credit Hours) has been stable.  (STEM field enrollments have grown, however, so the humanities enrollment share has also declined).   This chart, also from 2014, covers two multi-year cuts cycles (2002-05 and 2008-2012).  The main change across these 15 years seems to be that some Arts and Humanities faculty shifted into Social Sciences and Psychology.

Why, then, is the humanities job market so terrible?  Why do we have an entire "death of the humanities" genre like Eva Cherniavsky's valuable "Brave New STEM University?"

The first and most important reason is that the University of California, in spite of significant labor problems, is a kind of best-case scenario for low percentages of contingent faculty. It is completely atypical. 

Another issue becomes visible when UCOP started to express Faculty by Discipline somewhat differently in 2017.

Ignore the middle pair of bars, which are mostly med center employees, and also the jarring change of color scheme.  The right-hand pair are shares of Lecturers by field (I assume, very crudely, true adjuncts are excluded here).  Not only has Arts and Humanities Lecturer hiring held up during this decade of cuts and only partial recovery: these fields dominate Lecturer hiring (1404 of 3683 total positions).

But here's a final chart, this from 2019.  It shows Arts and Humanities to be unlike any other set of UC disciplines.
Adjunct numbers are still small.  But Arts and Humanities is the only set of UC non-medical disciplines that is about half non-ladder faculty.   In other words, though UC is a kind of best-case public university in terms of its high share of faculty that are on the tenure track, it has a two-tier faculty in Arts and Humanities.  It has had these two tiers for a long time.

The Accountability Report states that this is because these fields do so much teaching in small groups, by which they must mean writing, acting, music, and studio art courses.  That is indeed the historical rationale, and also one that continues to circulate.  Given their budgets, administrators at public universities don't see any other way of staffing small scale courses in anything, including arts, language, music, or writing classes. Also, there are coherent uses of expert "professors of the practice," like an experienced theater director or insurance actuary who teaches a course or two on campus to bring practical experience into the classroom.  Novelists and poets are often hired in this way, and many want to teach only part time.

At the same time, private universities are always boasting of the high share of senior tenured faculty in small courses. Small courses support active learning and are generally more intense intellectually. They are good at speeding up the academic development of all students.  Any small course, whether fourth-year Persian or advanced flute or programming for artists, would benefit from being taught as a "research learning" course, by someone who is an active researcher in the field.  I see budgetary rationales to use NTT faculty in small courses, but not educational ones. 

I'm concerned in this post with how Arts and Humanities' unusually high share of non-ladder faculty  affects research.  US academic research funding is hurting, and its Arts and Humanities fields get about 1 percent of national research funding.  This on its face assigns third-class status to history, philosophy, the various studies of human expression, and most of the study of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and other determinant aspects of socio-cultural life.  However, research universities use salaries to support research, so that a 4-5 course teaching rotation leaves a third of the working week for their research.  (This assumes a 60+ hour workweek, but I leave that aside.)  Here's the problem: if half of UC's Arts and Humanities faculty are actually lecturers, then this major research university is not paying half this faculty to do any research at all.

This employment structure obviously reinforces the job market crisis.  Leaving aside the parallel crisis in STEM, the employment of Arts and Humanities research faculty cannot recover if only half are hired to do research at one of the country's leading and largest research university systems.  I'll briefly extrapolate from Jonathan Kramnick's useful analysis in the Chronicle of Higher Education not long ago. Kramnick compared 1995-1998 to 2015-18, and found that tenure-track jobs have fallen from 2/3rds to just under 1/2 of those advertised.   (Still less overall literature and language hiring TT, since so much NTT hiring is local and thus not in the MLA's national job list.)  Nearly half of the list's hiring is in writing (composition and creative writing came to 44% of 2015-18 jobs).   This means that nearly half of the nationally advertised hiring in literature and languages occurs in the areas that our best-case public university assigns largely to lecturers, who are paid to teach rather than to do research.

UC has largely avoided the worst of the adjuncting crisis.  But it has done this by making its numerically largest faculty only 1/2 research-intensive.  This certainly could be fixed, but not without a funding model that supports lower student:faculty ratios and more research faculty.  The current model created a two-tier Arts and Humanities teaching force, which suppresses research output while encouraging rampant adjuncting in less prosperous and less unionized institutions.  If we want to expand research in the Arts and Humanities, senior managers, arts and humanities deans, directors of humanities centers, and above all numbers of TT faculty will need to push, as we never have before, for a budget model that fully funds research.