Thursday, April 11, 2013

Universities Are Worse Than Wal-Mart

Another blog post courtesy of an article sent ot me by my girlfriend; she even offered an angle on comparing Universities to Wal-Mart. The article, which is really just a sob story piece, covers how adjunct professors are poorly paid and can barely make ends meet.  I wasn't exactly a hundred percent sympathetic to their plight on being unable to get tenure, I think tenure is an absolutely terrible idea, and I even laughed at loud at this particular gem:
“are not being given the quality their money is paying for, e.g. a well-rested professor who isn't a walking zombie from holding numerous teaching jobs to barely make the rent each month.”
My response to that particular individual is welcome to the 99% of Americans who hold jobs outside of academia.  Now, I have relatives who work in academia, some as teachers and some as professors, so it isn't like I hold my views in a vacuum or that I have a complete and utter disdain for highly degreed individuals; I don't, but I've learned to take a larger look at the various issues which has inundate me to sob story rhetoric the prevails in news media today.  For far too long individuals and groups have used our emotions and propensity towards charity to take our money. The cries of it's for the needy, education the enviroment only serve as shields with which they deflect warranted criticism. Question the veracity of their claims that increased spending on education will solve our problems when education spending increased by around 200% from 1970 to 2006 with no increase in test scores? Well obviously your simpleton who hates chidlren. Suggest that the problem isn't a lack of money but a severely structually unsound educational system and you might as well be a vampire to most academics. But back to the subject at hand.

While it may be unfortunate for adjunct professors of theology, literature, history or some other liberal arts field that their pay is so low the fact is that this is how the market works.  We live in an age of near ubiquitous information, meaning information is cheap. Why would you pay a university for a history degree specializing in ancient history when you can listen to top notch podcasts like the history of rome for free, or s small donation? What we now pay for is the instructor, his reputation, and ability to teach. Would all the professors making $ 800 a month teaching a course earn more if, rather than work as an employee of the university, set out and created their own programs and tried to draw in their own students on the merits of their ability? Most individuals would say of course they would earn money. But that just begs the question: why aren't you then? And the fact is that there are some individuals out there who would earn more money because they are phenomenal teachers. Conversely, there are many who probably are earning more than what they would ordinarily earn because they get to use the reputation of the university.

But lets look at the numbers, do they have a case for their complaints?

The tuition of a major state school in my city, the University of Washington is $ 12,950 a year. This doesn't include housing, books or any of the other myriad of college expenses that a student will incur during their tenure, this is tuition and tuition only.  The University of Washington has a quarter system, meaning that a student will acquire 45 credits each year.  This means that every credit costs around $ 287, and since most classes are worth 5 credits, each class can reasonably be priced around $ 1,438 quarter or $ 479 a month.  Quick recap:

University of Washington tuition: $ 12,950
A year of study: 45 credits
Per credit cost: $ 287.78
Cost per class a quarter: $ 1,438
Cost of class per month $ 479.63

Digging around, I found varying numbers for the University of Washington average class sizes.  The largest average class sizes were lectures, with 46 students, and the smallest were seminars, with 17 students. Using the cost per month this means that a class, depending on the class size, nets anywhere from $ 7,253 to $ 21,162 a month for the university.  The monthly pay for an adjunct, according to the article, is $ 900 a month. That leaves anywhere from $ 21,162 to $ 7,253 a month left over after paying for the instructor.  Another recap:

Average lecture class size in number of students: 46
Average lecture class size for a seminar: 17
Amount class earns a month for a lecture: $ 22,062
Amount class earns a month for a seminar: $ 8,153
Median pay for adjuncts a quarter: $ 2,700
Monthly pay: $ 900
Funds left for lecture classes: $ 21,162
Funds left over for seminar classes: $ 7,253

Running a university must be the greatest racket of all time. As a college you get to charge exorbitant sums, because of the public blind faith in institutionalize education, and short change your employees due to cost constraints, real or imagined. There very well may be cost constraints as universities have ratchet up their bills due to the addition of nice new buildings, machinery, departments, athletic centers and art pieces that are completely absolutely unnecessary if a university wants to become a first tier institution. Never mind that the university of eastern nowhersville in podunk USA has no hope of ever rivalling a top tier institution, the money must be spent!  It's the university version of accreditation, another ill of progressivism.

This is something that most professors don't understand about progressivism in its current incarnation. It's part because many don't hold very strong political viewpoints, though they do reliably vote progressively, due to greater interest in esoteric knowledge and a predisposition towards believing the technocratic fallacy. And part because some professors are simply politically zealots fanatics that hold ideology more important than empirical reality.

The fact is that universities are, not only the perfect breeding ground for statist progressives, but also the perfect example of what happens in a truly progressive society.  Universities, socially, are incredibly hierarchical and feudal. I would wager that this has always been the case but would also claim that progressivism exacerbates this issue.  The pecking order is very harsh, and department heads can run their departments like despots if they so choose. Ultimately both educator and educatee suffer for it, as real education and debate is stifled so that the university may impart its ideological worldview. The efforts, and ill-gotten results of progressivism to eradicate 'inequality' has been well documented, so I won't waste your time rehashing it. So I will just say that the end result is exactly the opposite of what is desired by the ardent believers; instead of an egalitarian society you get a very stratified one.  In the end, any ideological system that adheres to collectivism versus individualism will fall prey to the unscrupulous, and unlike in an individualistic society, little recourse is available. This is what has happened to the university.

The universities have become cash cows, and in the truest nature of progressivism, the most equal get first dibs. The presidents and administrators stick their hand in the trough, then it goes on to department heads and notable academics, and by the time you get down to the individuals teaching the students, there's nothing left. Individuals may protest my claim, but this is exactly how Soviet Russia worked then, and how China works now. In either nation the goal wasn't to be productive, innovative or an entrepreneur but to have connections. Most millionaires and business owners from China started out as bureaucrats or highly connected family members and because of that they have insider information which enabled them to build their wealth. But I digress, the ultimate point is that in a progressivism, or should I say the modern fuedal system, the lowest on the totem pole are screwed.

And ultimately this brings me to my point. Many leftists will argue about how horrible Wal-Mart is and how it is exploiting their workers. Frankly, I am not a fan of Wal-Mart and their Chinese made garbage, but Wal-Mart is only responding to what we the consumer demand. At the very least with Wal-Mart you benefit from cheaper goods. So the employees are screwed over, but you aren't.This isn't the case with the University. You pay more for a product that is fundamentally little changed from decades ago and should be cheaper due to technological innovation and your professor is paid very little relative to what they could be paid. So if an institution is like Wal-Mart, in the respect that it pays it's employees little, but unlike Wal-Mart, charges it's customers more for a product that should be cheaper, doesn't that make them demonstrably worse than Wal-Mart?


  1. Do you mind if I link to your commentary from the Education Bubble and Scam Report blog that I write for? It's excellent.


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Seattle resident whose real name is Kevin Daniels. This blog covers the following topics, libertarian philosophy, realpolitik, western culture, history and the pursuit of truth from the perspective of a libertarian traditionalist.