Ask the Grumpies: The Ideal University

SP asks

Thoughts how an ideal university would function, use of adjuncts, what is the purpose of a university? Is it to educate students and conduct research, and what is the weight of these functions.

I read occasional news media about these topics, and they hit similar themes that sometimes don’t ring true. Most recent example article (posted in my FB news feed by a former adjunct English professor at a university): http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2015/09/higher-education-college-adjunct-professor-salary/404461/

^ ok, a note on the above paragraph.  I must have written it [#2 does not have and has never had FB] but I have no memory at all of doing it.  I just read the article and don’t remember ever seeing it before.  Apparently I have lost all my memorial faculties, but I’ll comment on it now.

I have no memory of it whatsoever.But here’s a thought: Tuition is high not because there are too many administrators. It’s because states have disinvested and the feds have made unfunded mandates [#2 says, yes, this is what the research says as well]. Also, the cost of health insurance has skyrocketed, which is one of the biggest expenses for a university, aside from salary [#2 isn’t as sure about this, but maybe?].

It’s true that adjuncts are treated poorly, yes!But there are whole *systems* that need to be fixed because people voted for legislators that didn’t fund education and because health insurance companies are for-profit (among other reasons).  But yes, adjuncts don’t get paid enough. I agree there.  Adjuncts should also not be required to mentor students nor write rec letters, unless they are full-time actual faculty (even if not TT).

(I see that this doesn’t answer your question, SP, but please forgive my wool-gathering.)

There are many purposes to a university and many ways to have an ideal university.

On the subject of adjunct pay and working conditions, #2 is kind of like… that’s where supply and demand hit.  Getting a humanities PhD needs to be less attractive so it isn’t so easy to find a phd willing to work a crap job at minimum wage.  (Note:  we pay our adjuncts 10K/class and many of our lecturers make ~100K/year on top of their day jobs.)

This paper discusses compensation of faculty members.  It seems to be optimal for some definitions of optimal, but I only really read the abstract.

I don’t know what the purpose of a university is or what the ideal balance between teaching and research is.  We need research because it provides positive spillovers to society and is unlikely to be privately funded.  We need to teach students so they will become productive members of society.  I don’t know if we should move to SLACS and think-tanks or if we should keep on with our continuum of community colleges/SLACS/R3/R2/R1/think tanks.  I mean, I guess if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.  Though I do think we need more government funding to decrease the cost of education, particularly for those who are credit constrained because it is the only way we know of to productively reduce income inequality in an increasingly automated society.

So that’s not much of an answer either.  Maybe Grumpy Nation has better opinions.

Opine for us, Grumpy Nation!  What is the ideal university?

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What is balance?: a metaphor

Imagine you’re standing in the middle of a see-saw, trying to keep either end from hitting the ground.

There’s a huge range of places to stand.  Not just one.  You don’t have to be at some mythical unstable sweetspot where the seats are perfectly even.

It’s the same way with balance in life.  There’s a large continuum of places to stand, ways to be.  There’s not just one optimal sweet-spot.  There’s a lot of room for doing things differently and for trying things out.