College administrators rend their garments and wail about student retention. Turns out, though, fretting over that issue is much like fretting about fried food: No matter your depth of concern, at the end of the day no one wants to believe that gorging on French fries is unhealthy.
I just finished reading the ubiquitous piece from the ubiquitous adjunct on how to teach 10 classes a semester. The author, a blogger, uses the moniker “Piss Poor Prof.” A few years ago, the ubiquitous adjunct was Jill Carroll. She wrote “How to Survive as an Adjunct Lecturer: An Entrepreneurial Strategy Manual.” Jill, who holds a Ph.D. from Rice University, also wrote for The Chronicle’s monthly column called “The Adjunct Track": columns like “Avoiding Adjunct Burnout,” “Don’t go the Extra Mile, Except ...,” and, my favorite, “Being a Professional in an Unprofessional Climate.” Interestingly, unlike Piss Poor Prof, Jill Carroll encouraged her adjunct readers to use the time saved by following her handy tips to squeeze in time to research and write.
Carroll wrote that one could make a living wage as an adjunct by teaching a large number of courses each semester; Piss Poor Prof suggests the same thing. The latter adds the twist of making use of technology, such as online grading programs and course Web sites, in order to be able to burn through, say, 250 assignments that need grading.
I actually think the organizational suggestions made by Piss Poor Prof and Jill Carroll border on the brilliant. For instance, Piss Poor Prof suggests accepting papers only in electronic format and then grading them in electronic format, as well. It’s a new world, Goldie. The days of sitting down over a mountain of essays with your favorite fountain pen has gone the way of arranged marriages.
Much as I like and admire their moxie, however, I am stopped by the issue of student retention. I can’t get past my belief that it’s impossible to do as good a job teaching 10 courses in a single semester as you can teaching only two or three. Put another way, simply because someone devises a strategy to squeeze in 10 courses in a semester doesn’t mean it should be done. In fact, I am of the opinion that college administrators’ blithe ignorance about the teaching loads of non-tenure-track faculty members borders on the criminal. Shouldn’t colleges be required to vouch for faculty readiness?
Losing a student is serious business. That’s why oodles of college administrators get paid six-figure salaries to fret about student retention at higher-education conferences held in winter in such dismal locales as San Diego and Phoenix. Is there a way we can fret a little less about how to retain low-income and minority students, whom studies tell us need mentoring and individual attention from faculty members in order to thrive? Should we do another study? Get a grant for a mentoring program? Give tenured faculty members release time to advise?
Sure. And while we’re at it, we might think also staff courses with non-tenure-track faculty members whose total teaching loads are (gasp) equal to that of the tenure-track professors on the campus, and we might pay them (gasp) pro-rata salaries and benefits so that they’re not forced to be “entrepreneurs” or piss poor adjuncts.