Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Thursday, October 26, 2006

CNN's Populism

OK, there's been a lot of Bush bashing lately and rightly so. But there are other people out there who are corrupting our society. Chicken Noodle News!

CNN has been running a number of brief stories that show that the populism of Lou Dobbs is becoming the editorial identity of CNN.

Lou Dobb's attacks on free trade are well known. The most absurd situation I saw was when Dobbs tried to debate former Labor Secretary Reich about the benefits of free trade. Reich was pro-trade and Dobbs was anti. Dobbs looked a fool with have informed rhetoric etc.

But the other day I heard CNN report that the reason the cost of college education, especially in public institutions, is rising faster than inflation is "rising professor salaries." The commentator even went so far as to say directly that "some say professors are overpaid, other disagree but we're talking about 6 figure salaries here." This is not only absurd, it's offensive. Salaries for professors are actually flat or dropping in real terms and have been for decades. Why are costs going up? Take a look at precious Johnny or Joan's dorm rooms - free cable, free DSL, free parking, movie nights, etc! Take a look at the growing number of non-education related perks that incoming students seem to demand. At the same time, their parents insist on endless tax cuts and refuse to budge on their own pet programs (understandable and rational). The result is massive cuts in public support for education. The universities have no choice but to raise tuition.
In a story today, they said that the average salary for someone with a four year degree is $51,000. Now, that's almost what I make and I'm a professor with a B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. The average salary for someone with "some graduate school" is $78,000. That's considerably more than I make and I have A LOT of graduate school - and a lot of student loans to pay back. For this amount, I work 60 hours a week 50-52 weeks a year. My students are getting a lot more financial compensation for what I teach them than I get for teaching it to them. Am I overpaid? I could nearly double my salary by moving to the private sector. Don't get me wrong, I'm not bitter about my job. I love it. I am upset that my career is portrayed as some sort of parasitic dodge. I'm in academia because I want to be not because of the glamorous life style and big money.

Today CNN ran a story with the tag line "Is College Worth it?" with mysterious music in the background and the tone of the commentator obviously hinting that it is not. Guess what. It is worth it, but stating the obvious isn't "sexy" so they made a big show in the lead up about how controversial their findings would be.

But CNN is all about whipping up a populist, anti-intellectual frenzy.


Anonymous said...

I have to agree with RBR about teaching and the reason for high tuition. I head a similar set of figures on salary on NPR. I have less graduate education that RBR, but plenty in my own right and I am not making $78K a year. I think all those MBAs are driving up the average salary. I would be interested to see their data and if they took representative samples from across the fields of study.

I will also point out that professors at one of our local community colleges have been on strike for two days- the first such strike in 20 years. They have been working without a contract for 2 years. They finally went on strike and right away the mediators came in to resolve it. Where were the mediators 2 years ago? The administrators got big salary hikes, then said that state funds were insufficient to give professors more than a 3% bump in salary.

Now, the professors will have a contract and will get a long over due 16% bump with improvements to benefits. Suddenly, the money has appeared to give to the professors.

But here is the dirty secret . . . community colleges tend to hire adjuncts that don't qualify for benefits. I taught for a year and a half at community college. I had 150 students in 3 classes, no assistance, no over time pay, and no benefits. I had 3 classes back to back. Then, to make ends meet, I had to hold a 40 hour a week job. By the time you figured in time to grade papers, plan lessons, and keep up with current events (I was teaching American government and reading 3 news papers a day), I am sure that I was putting in over 80 hours a week. I had no life. Then, you do all that, and your students come in and tell you they can’t turn their work in on time because their 2 year old was sick and their husband got arrested last night and they had to post bail. Whoever thinks teaching is easy is completely ignorant of the realities.  

// posted by USwest

Anonymous said...

RBR, I think you'll find that the cost of johnny's dorm room is borne entirely by johnny's parents, and is separate and apart from tuition. Tuition does not subsidize dormitories. The reason dorms are getting nicer is that the cost is increasing dramatically. Most colleges charge relatively close to actual market rates for dorms, rather than actual cost, so the are overflowing with dough to build fancier digs. Graduate student housing is a rare exception where the space needs of a graduate student (his or her own apartment, or at least own bedroom) is much greater than a college student, but they tend not to be relying on their parents to shell out the big bucks for apartments.

The reason for the skyrocketing tuition is, as RBR correctly indicates, largely the fault of the decline in state support. Also, the administrative bite is growing by leaps and bounds.

I do wonder, though, if all professors work the sort of hours that RBR describes. A 60 hour workweek means starting work at 9am and working straight through to 8pm (assuming one hour for lunch) six days a week. As a lawyer, I am accustomed to hearing my colleagues complain of 60 hour workweeks, often as a boast (I don't ascribe such motives to RBR, who - I suspect - would be likely to underestimate his working hours). In truth, that pace would come to 3000 hours/year of billed time, and they don't do that. Moreover, a professor is required to put in very little 'face time' - meaning that the pace and schedule of work is much more flexible. This is a reason the work is considered attractive enough to appeal to great minds without large salaries that their counterparts (with lesser minds, perhaps, but also much education) demand in other, far less pleasant fields.

Of course, I'm sort of off topic now. Just returning from a "law firm retreat" this weekend where I have had time to reflect on the nature of a profession that is more justly painted as parasitic. 

// posted by LTG

Anonymous said...

As for dorm rooms. To clarify, the story about "costs" of a college education so whether they call it tuition, fees or room-and-board.

I'd say 60 hours a week is about average for faculty. My father put in more I'm sure.

The real costs are being driven up by non-academic things like extra "student life" staff, facilities and activities etc. The occaisional star professor's big salary is nominal compared to the costs of wiring every dorm room campus wide for DSL and cable and then including the "free" cable into the housing costs.

What bugs me is when CNN and others complain about it and suggest that the solution to cut back on the funding for the academic mission of the univesrity even more. 

// posted by RBR

Anonymous said...

You know, walk around any faculty office block before 9am or after 5pm or on weekends. If they're working 60 hours/week, it's not at an office. Sorry about my touchiness, but in my profession people are always exaggerating the hours they work as a badge of honor, and it really bugs me.  

// posted by LTG

Anonymous said...

Many do work at home. It also depends on the department (and even how the offices are arranged in the floor plan). At one department I know of, faculty offices are very exposed to undergraduate traffic and to avoid constant interruptions for directions to the bathroom or requests to use their phone (really happened to me several times!!), faculty work from home whenever possible. Traffic and commuting problems further reinforce that tendency.

Where I am now, the offices are both nicer and just enough removed from the usual foot traffic that we don't get bothered unless someone is seeking us out personally. The result is most people here work in their offices. Non-tenured faculty tend to be in their offices from around 8am to 6pm on average (not counting work they take home with them at night and on weekends). Some of very senior (near retirement) tenured faculty are around less but most have similar hours.

FYI: I worked from 7:30am to 10:30pm yesterday with a 20 minute lunch at my desk. 

// posted by RBR

Anonymous said...

Shame on CNN. Today, CNN ran a piece about Florida state legislator Ralph Arza, who quit after people went public with his threats to "bitches" and use of the word nigger. Very unfortunate.

The piece lasted two and a half minutes. You can see the video at

But CNN never mentioned his party. Not once! Wanna guess? Of course he is a Republican! And a "rising star in the Republican majority" according to Florida today. 


// posted by LTG