Comments on the Book Price Symposium held at Kennedy King on 2/27/2015

One week ago, I received the following forwarded email:


I hope all is well.  As the Provost stated below, Academic Governance Compliance Educational Quality will convene a symposium with Department Chairs, Faculty members and Administrators. The invited faculty member should be the faculty responsible for making book adoption selections.

The symposium will allow faculty to review data on textbook selections, purchases/cost, and opportunities for cost savings for City Colleges of Chicago students while at the same time maintaining educational quality.

The event will take place Friday, February 27th (8:30 am to 4:30 pm) at Kennedy-King College, U Building located at 6301 S. Halsted, Chicago, IL, 60621. Continental Breakfast will be served at 8:30 am and the session will be start at 9:15 am in the Theater.

 We would like to invite the Department Chairs/Faculty members in the following disciplines:

  • English 98, 100, 101, 102
  • Mathematics 98, 99, 125, 118
  • Computer Information Systems (CIS) 121
  • Biology 121, 126
  • Microbiology 233
  • Chemistry 121
  • Psychology 201
  • Reading 125
  • Speech 101

 Could you please help by sharing this email with your Department Chairs/Faculty members in the following disciplines?

To RSVP, please click here

Please let me know if you have any questions.

Best Regards,

Preston L. Harden

Associate Vice Chancellor

City Colleges of Chicago”



Suppose we promised our incoming students that if they put in the hard work to earn a degree, they might someday be making a grand total of $21,792 per year. Would many students think that was worth the effort?

Suppose there was a business hiring our students, and paid them $21,792 per year, without benefits, and without job security. Would we want our students to work there? Would we advertise that business as an ethical workplace? Would we encourage our students to work there? Would we recommend that place to those looking for a job?

Suppose that workplace that paid its college graduates $21,792 refused for years to increase pay. Suppose that, when on rare occasion the employers were confronted with that statistic, representatives of the workplace retorted that, “if that is what people are willing to work for, then that is the fair market value.” They are worth $21,792, they are commodities.

Suppose this salary is *not* the entry level salary, but rather the top salary for the most qualified and experienced workers. That one needs somewhere between eight and fourteen years of higher education and seven years of consecutive time with this employer to make $21,792 per year, without benefits, and without a permanent contract.

Suppose that the starting salary, which often requires 60 hours of work per week, and which requires significant education, was considerably less: suppose the starting salary were $16,584 per year.

Suppose this business promised a maximum raise of slightly over $5,000 over the course of seven years, and that could only be achieved if the employee spent an additional five to ten years in an often expensive and full-time graduate program.

Suppose these highly skilled workers not only perform work, but the central work of the institution? And that without them, the entire institution would find itself utterly impotent to perform its touted function? Not just crippled because it lost its support staff, or advisory staff, but utterly crippled because it lost its front-line employees.

How would you describe the employers? What straights would it take to be sympathetic to these employers?

Today is national adjunct walk-out day. The City Colleges is an educational institution. Its central goal is served by its instructors, and the great majority of its instructors are adjuncts. It advertises the importance of education for its student future careers. Education leads to financial success: this is the message.

Today, adjunct instructors at city colleges can teach a maximum of 12 credits per fall or spring semester, plus another 3 to 6 during the summer if there are classes available. To teach 12 credits in a single semester is a full-time job, in terms of hours of work per week: something on the order of 40 to 60 hours, depending on the time of the semester. They are paid per semester per credit hour taught. The highest bracket is held by those with seven or more years of service and who hold a PhD or equivalent, and this number is $908 per credit hour. $908 times 12 credits per semester times 2 semesters per year is $21,792. This number is bolstered some by teaching in the summer, but only by another $5,448. Adjuncts must either (a) work second jobs, (b) live in poverty, (c) be the beneficiaries of some other income, coming from financially supportive families or some other privileged conditions.

If you don’t believe me or my numbers, if you think my math is wrong, as a vice chancellor once proclaimed, here is a link to the contract, for your convenience. Go to page 37. Take the highest bracket, bottom right hand corner, and multiply that number by 12, then 2…or just 24 if you want to save some time. 21792.

But, you say, the contract I linked to is the old contract. It expired three years ago. What does the current contract say?

There is no current contract. Our adjuncts have been working under an expired contract for three years.

Adjuncts teach about half of our classes. But they make up more than half of our faculty.

Every one of the adjuncts in my department is passionate about what they do and are very well qualified. We have teaching veterans who are in the prime of their teaching and some fresh out of graduate school, but demonstrating great potential.

For years, to our knowledge, our chancellor has done little, if anything, to change this sad injustice. She and her vice chancellors tout the claim again and again that the city colleges will help students achieve a successful career. When confronted, in my experience, the City Colleges leadership evades, chases red herrings, claims innocence, resorts to personal attacks, or claims–for years now–that they are not permitted to speak about this because they are currently in contract negotiations.

When I brought this up at two round-tables one year ago attended by the chancellor and vice chancellors, I was not met with sympathetic faces, but rather annoyance, boredom, dismissiveness, and mild hostility.

Not once have I heard the statement, or anything like it: “yes, we acknowledge this is a problem, and we are trying to fix it.”

We are told that we should work with district. That district supports and values its instructors. And then pays the majority of its hard working instructors no more than 22k per year.

We have a duty to remember these numbers: 16584 to 21792. The lower and upper ends. We have a responsibility to stand up for our adjuncts. We have a responsibility not to forget how they are valued by our “authorities.”

Tuesday Teaching Topic: Teaching Disobedience

Last week, TTT raised the question of the motivation for teaching soft skills, whether we should teach soft skills, and if we should teach them, then how do professors at HWC teach them. As promised, this TTT is a continuation of that. And this begins with a proposal for consideration: insofar as it is the purpose of education to prepare students for citizenship, as well as employment, and insofar as a democratic state with rights of free speech for its citizens depends upon citizens to insert their views in the local and national discourse, and insofar as those in positions of power may be blind to the conditions of those with less power, it becomes a duty for all citizens in such a state to effectively wield disobedience.

The final element of this proposal: if skills like “dressing professionally” are considered badge-worthy soft skills because it helps a student’s employability, then skills like “disobedience” be considered soft skills because it helps a student’s citizenship.

This weeks question is concerned with teaching disobedience. What would be the motivation for teaching disobedience? Should we teach disobedience? How do we, or how should we, teach disobedience? How do we teach our students to recognize situations where disobedience is the proper tool. 

At first, this may sound like an odd question. Isn’t disobedience a bad quality? This is especially true if CCC’s primary mission involves preparing students for the workforce: if we teach students how to be disobedient, are we not undermining our primary mission? However, it does not take long to find important cases in both history and in our own lives to find examples of disobedience that we not only find acceptable, but even heroic and revolutionary. Nearly every political, religious, social, and otherwise ideological movement is based on heroes of disobedience: Anne Hutchinson, Malcolm X, and Charles Darwin, to pull just the smallest smattering from a legion. But we can agree they are heroes while still demanding obedience–either in our voice or in our hearts–from the subordinates we see and speak to on a daily basis.

But is disobedience a skill, or is it simply a choice? We may say that disobedience is simply an action that bold or rebellious individuals or groups engage in once they recognize injustice or frustrated by their situation. On the other hand, we may argue that effective disobedience begins with the proper recognition that the current situation is unjust and requires disobedience. And, like courage, it is one think to say to one’s self, “now is the time for disobedience,” and something quite different to confront authority and engage in disobedience. Like courage, the exercise of confronting adversity enables one to more capably confront it subsequently. This combination of the enhancement of the cognitive recognition plus the enhancement of one’s abilities through practice is the very definition of “skill:” something that can be enhanced through practice and education.

According to a few now infamous psychology experiments, human beings can be notoriously obedient when commanded by authority, even if ordered to do something that strikes them as obviously immoral. The experiments I linked to, the Steven Milgram shock experiment and the Philip Zombardo Stanford prison experiment, are examples of obedience where otherwise normal individuals willingly engage in harming other people.

Last week, I ran into a couple articles about a new experiment (the journal article is unfortunately behind a pay wall) that looked at why some people are obedient and others disobedient. The researcher, Matthew Hollander, was interested in the Milgram experiment and what was the difference between those who obey and disobey. Hollander observed that all participants attempted to disobey: they made the choice. However, only a minority were capable of disobeying. Disobedience, it seems, is not merely a choice, or else nearly everyone would have disobeyed.

Furthermore, Hollander believes his research supports the notion that effective disobedience can be improved through training. As one article states,

“If people could be trained to tap practices for resistance like those outlined in Hollander’s analysis, they may be better equipped to stand up to an illegal, unethical or inappropriate order from a superior. And not just in extreme situations, according to Maynard.

“‘It doesn’t have to be the Nazis or torture at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq or in the CIA interrogations described in the recent U.S. Senate report,’ [Hollander] says. ‘Think of the pilot and copilot in a plane experiencing an emergency or a school principal telling a teacher to discipline a student, and the difference it could make if the subordinate could be respectfully, effectively resistive and even disobedient when ethically necessary or for purposes of social justice.'” (Source)

And if we tend to be obedient in such explicit situations, how much more often are we obedient to authority where their commands much less obviously lead to injustices and malpractices? If a student is disobedient in a classroom, how do you, as the authority, determine if it was a meritorious form of disobedience, or to we all too often believe that “disobedience is good, but there is no good reason for someone to be disobedient in my classroom.” What would a student need to say or do to effectively practice disobedience then?

Tuesday Teaching Topic: Election Day Eve Edition

The actual Tuesday Teaching Topic will be up on Tuesday. 

Tomorrow is election day for the city of Chicago. Do you speak to your students about voting and citizenship? Do you consider part of our goal to help students become better citizens?

At my alma mater, Bemidji State University in northern Minnesota, our mission statement included the development of citizenship at both the local, global, and environmental levels. Currently, the mission statement reads:

“As northern Minnesota’s university, we engage in new worlds of thought, embrace responsible citizenship, and educate for a future that can only be imagined.” (Source)

I have no record of it, but I remember the mission statement as much more robust, including global and environmental citizenship.

One of my philosophy professors there introduced me to some of Thomas Jefferson’s writings on the importance of education for a democratic citizenship. To paraphrase, if we are to include the opinions of citizens in any portion of our government, we must ensure that our citizens are properly educated. Otherwise, we fall prey to the same issues that overtook the ancient democracies of cities like Athens: a rule of the uneducated means a rule of appetite and ignorance that will surely lead to mismanagement and anarchy. In Jefferson’s letters to John Adams and in his Notes on the State of Virginia, he argued that we need to introduce a publicly funded education for the sake of citizenship.

I have always taken this to heart: American education has its roots in developing good citizens. There were few who discussed public education’s role in developing workers or its importance in employability.

The City College’s own mission statement includes nothing directly about citizenship. One could see citizenship implied by “community service,” though as stated the virtue of community service is ultimately for a student’s individual success in a new environment:

“Through our seven colleges, we deliver exceptional learning opportunities and educational services for diverse student populations in Chicago.

“We enhance knowledge, understanding, skills, collaboration, community service and life-long learning by providing a broad range of quality, affordable courses, programs, and services to prepare students for success in a technologically advanced and increasingly interdependent global society.

“We work to eliminate barriers to employment and to address and overcome inequality of access and graduation in higher education.” (Source)

I accept that the world’s economy has changed dramatically in the 238 years since the USA’s inception, and that supporting the development of students’ job skills is a critical goal in our city’s and nation’s success. But this does not mean the importance of developing citizens has been usurped.

So again, do you speak to your students about voting and citizenship? Do you consider part of our goal to help students become better citizens? If so, how do you see your class contributing toward the virtue of citizenship? What would you want to see in other classes and from the institution as a whole?

Adjunct Week?

So, just in case you don’t know, this Wednesday is National Adjunct Walkout Day. This particular movement and the related topic of equity for adjuncts been a topic in the Chronicle lately (as here in a piece encouraging schools to rethink their policy on adjuncts, and here, in a piece encouraging unions to step up) and elsewhere, and it is a HUGE issue for the City Colleges, even if it hardly ever gets discussed (perhaps because the adjuncts are so busy working other jobs to earn rent and food money that they can’t be around at meetings and State of the College addresses to voice their concerns.

In my days as an adjunct, I surely could not have afforded to walk out–every dollar counted, though there certainly weren’t many of them in my paycheck (amazingly, 15 years later there aren’t many more!)–and, to be honest, I’m more than a little ambivalent about this particular approach given their vulnerability (financial and professional) and the trickiness of the situation–I want them to have a (much) better contract, but better would be more full time jobs; it’s a small needle eye to thread). A colleague asked if I had any ideas for how we could support our adjuncts, this week and generally, and I didn’t have any answers. Wearing red is one option, I suppose, but it isn’t much of one, I’d say. I’d love to hear any other ideas that are out there.

I also hope that, given that it’s budget time over at the District Office, there will be some discussion of the City Colleges policy toward adjuncts and perhaps some bold, or at least interesting moves toward improving the working conditions for adjuncts, given that their working conditions ARE many (most?) of our students’ learning conditions. $1600 (or even $2000) a class is one thing if the person is teaching an extra class on the side while working professionally (the original model for adjunct faculty), and another thing altogether when the person is teaching a 4/4 load without benefits (next to colleagues teaching the same number of students or 20% more for six times the remuneration. It seems to me that if outcomes matter that we could expect more effects from stabilizing (or at least not aggravating) the economic lives of half of our faculty than we can from new phones, new furniture, new lobby gates, and the rest.

Adjuncts deserve some joy, too.

A (Cold Weather) Question

Weird teaching day or weirdest?

Change of the Guard in Springfield

Governor Bruce Rauner announced his proposed budget for Illinois today. In the name of fiscal responsibility, there are significant cuts to a number of public services. This includes a 30% reduction in higher education:

“•$400 million reduction system wide

•More than 30 percent cut to all public universities over 2015.

•Illinois Board of Higher Education general funds cut by 50 percent

•Illinois Board of Higher Ed grants eliminated.

•Illinois Math and Science Academy reduced by nearly 8 percent.”

(Source: Chicago Sun-Times)

What does this mean, specifically, for the City Colleges?