The Skinny on CUNY Professors

Rate My Professors and the Course websites are bookmarked on every QC student's computer the week prior to registration. (I personally keep it on my toolbar I value these resources so much.)

Rate My Professors and the Course websites are bookmarked on every QC student’s computer the week prior to registration. (I personally keep it on my toolbar I value these resources so much.)

As every college student knows, there is a science behind crafting the perfect semester schedule. Of course, you must first consider the subjects, the total number of credits, and when the classes meet. No decision, however, is complete without consulting the courses website to see the grade distribution, as well as Rate My Professors for the reviews written by students. (Warning-the ratings are often extremely skewed; people who post reviews either have terrific experiences with the teacher and shower him/her with praise, or do horribly in the class and consequently trash the professor.) Thus, while the topic is important to note, the choice of professor can effectively deter or encourage a student from enrolling in a particular class. And by this point in the semester, you should be able to tell whether the descriptions you saw beforehand accurately reflect your instructors’ dispositions. What you might not be able to tell, though, is whether they are full time or adjunct professors. At Queens College, there are 1,070 adjunct professors teaching, a whopping 59% of the total teaching staff (far greater than the national average of 47%). As someone who has had numerous adjuncts as teachers, I was curious as to how adjuncts affect the college, as both an institution and as a center of education.

In the eyes of the students, an adjunct bears a tremendous stigma. It is important, though, to understand what exactly adjunct professors are and what they do. By definition, they are part time instructors hired per class on a contractual basis. This in contrast to regular professors, who have the possibility of gaining tenure. With no contract locking them to the job, adjuncts are often PhD candidates or individuals with another job, who plan to keep the position temporarily. From a positive point of view, adjuncts can provide real world experience to students; on a negative note, they are gone within a short time, thereby preventing a student from easily reaching out to them for a letter of recommendation.

blog 2.4 poverty rate chart

Despite the fact that the Quality of Life in America has allegedly improved over the years, the number of people living in poverty has recently skyrocketed. Who would have thought that an adjunct professor could potentially contribute to this statistic?

Of course, Queens College financially benefits by hiring adjuncts. Not only are they cheaper to hire, at an average of $24,000 a year, but they also receive no healthcare benefits. To put that figure in perspective, the poverty line for a family of four is just shy of that salary, at $23,550. That means that any adjunct raising a family must supplement their income by working a second job.

Adjuncts and their abysmal monetary compensation came to light recently during the Petraeus scandal. No, I am not talking about the one where he had an affair with his biographer, only for the story to balloon into a huge federal investigation, and lead to his ultimate resignation as director of the CIA. Once Petraeus resigned, he was inundated with teaching offers from various colleges; such a widely recognized, well-educated man is a hot commodity in academia. Despite having the possibility to teach at Ivy League schools, he chose to accept the offer to teach a seminar at the Macaulay Honors College, a CUNY honors program.

blog 2.6 petraous macaulay letter

This is the letter that was leaked to the public, showing that CUNY was willing to pay General Petraeus $200,000. This letter was signed by the former Chancellor of CUNY, Matthew Goldstein.

Word slowly leaked that for the 3-hour, once a week course, Petraeus would receive $200,000. Put in perspective, that amount is nearly tenfold what the average full time adjunct professor makes. In order to further entice him to teach, CUNY promised him that graduate students would form the curriculum and grade the assignments. Essentially, his job would be to teach 16 students for three hours; he would not have to deal with any of the other classic components of teaching. When I heard this, I was irate. CUNY complains incessantly about being in debt and lacking funds (Remember the printing money for filling out course evaluations?). And yet, they were willing to fork over an amount that could cover ten new adjuncts, or split and distributed among the salaries of existing adjuncts! The salary was consequently reduced to $150,000, a lesser, but still exorbitant, sum; soon thereafter, he ultimately accepted a token sum, and more acceptable amount, of $1 to teach the course.

blog 2.7 harvard

blog 2.8 qc logo

The scandal reflected a bigger, broader issue within academia, that of paying for a name. Elite schools bear intrinsic values in their names, and can therefore charge more. As the saying goes, “you get what you pay for”. In microeconomics, there is a concept known as the Signaling Theory, in which one party conveys information about itself to another. That theory manifests itself, often unfairly, in labels individuals receive based on the college they attend. When looking at two candidates for an internship, one from Harvard and the other from Queens College, the hirer will likely choose the former. The rationale, of course, is that a student from Harvard is more qualified because his college signals more ability than Queens College. CUNY knows its students are faced with this problem, and therefore thought that acquiring such a renowned figure to teach a course for the Macaulay Honors College would elevate the CUNY system’s prestige.

Some of the students from General Petraeus' seminar: "Are We on the Threshold of the (North) American Decade?"

Some of the students from General Petraeus’ seminar “Are We on the Threshold of the (North) American Decade?”

I asked a friend of mine who took the class to describe the experience. While he thought the course material was stimulating and he gleaned a great deal from the professor, he nonetheless believed that the $200,00 salary would have been excessive and inappropriate, considering the salaries of normal adjunct professors as well as the fact that the students were not even paying for the course, as they were on a full ride scholarship.

Professors, and especially adjuncts, are notoriously underpaid. However, students are struggling, now more than ever, with rising tuition costs. In fact, the total amount of student loan debt is $1.2 trillion. On the one hand, having well paid teachers will encourage better performance and will entice people to teach. On the other hand is that the higher the tuition, the more debt that students will rack up; having a generation drowning in debt is not beneficial to an economy already marked by sluggishness and instability. Education is first and foremost an investment; nowadays, however, institutions have transformed it into a business.

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Published in: on February 3, 2014 at 11:17 pm Comments (1)

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  1. on June 5, 2014 at 4:22 pm No Cost Income System Said:

    What’s up, just wanted to tell you, I liked this
    post. It was funny. Keep on posting!

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