Would You Like Fries With That Midterm?

Burt Likko

Pseudonymous Portlander. Homebrewer. Atheist. Recovering Republican. Recovering Catholic. Recovering divorcé. Editor-in-Chief Emeritus of Ordinary Times. Relapsed Lawyer, admitted to practice law (under his real name) in California and Oregon. On Twitter, to his frequent regret, at @burtlikko. House Likko's Words: Scite Verum. Colite Iusticia. Vivere Con Gaudium.

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161 Responses

  1. Jaybird says:

    If colleges just charged their customers a little more, maybe they could pay their employees a living wage.Report

    • Saul Degraw in reply to Jaybird says:

      Once again, you are being too clever by half.

      I suspect that colleges could lower their tuition and pay professors a living wage. Admin and Sport Coach salaries would probably have to go down though. So would amenities. When I went to undergrad, it was a relatively spartan place. Now it seems to compete with luxury resorts.Report

    • Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird says:

      Or Michigan could put some of that $48 million they just offered Jim Harbaugh towards raises for non-football-related employees.Report

      • @saul-degraw @mike-schilling According to Forbes, Michigan Football has expenses of $23.6 million a year. It has revenues of $85.2. In fact, most of the 25 schools with the biggest football expense budgets bring in significantly more than twice those same expenses in revenue. And they all make a significant profit.

        So even though it feels good to say that gutting the football programs would allow more money to go to academics, I’m not sure it actually pencils out that way.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Mike Schilling says:

        Good thing they don’t have to pay the players!Report

      • Morat20 in reply to Mike Schilling says:


        I’d take those numbers with a HUGE grain of salt. I’ve seen a number of reviews — from outside auditors — that all boil down to “when you take into account all the money, only a handful of schools even break even on college sports”. Lots of hidden transfers are built in, that generally aren’t accounted for. (Like, saying, a 400 million dollars stadium allocated against the construction budget, NOT the athletics program).

        Fudging the numbers in the sports program has a LONG history. (My local community college, for instance, got nailed on three separate audits and finally had the entire sports program disbanded for over a decade for failure to comply after finding they used tuition money to pump up the athletics program to lower apparent costs — and then when caught, laundered tuition money through the grounds keeping funds to do the same darn thing.).

        I’d be highly skeptical of Forbe’s numbers there. I’d like to see exactly how they’re counting expenses and revenue.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Mike Schilling says:

        The Forbes piece says that there are no guidelines for what goes into these numbers, and then goes ahead and draws conclusions from them anyway. Not exactly incisive reporting.Report

      • I’ve seen a number of reviews — from outside auditors — that all boil down to “when you take into account all the money, only a handful of schools even break even on college sports”.

        I think Tod was referring to football, not “college sports” as a whole. So, college sports only breaking even could be compatible with football making a profit.Report

      • Michigan almost certainly makes money on its football program and even its athletics program as a whole.

        Michigan is not representative of a typical University. They’re one of the handful.

        FWIW, last time I saw numbers, some 25 athletics departments made money. Football specifically was something like 70. This is out of hundreds, it should be noted.Report

      • Morat20 in reply to Mike Schilling says:

        I think Tod was referring to football, not “college sports” as a whole. So, college sports only breaking even could be compatible with football making a profit.

        Football is probably worse. The softball team, for instance, rarely demands giant stadiums.

        Basketball is probably almost as bad — a friend of mine happened to tour the Texas A&M basketball facilities and wept afterward. I think it was the very expensive wood paneling and other little decorative touches. Probably upwards of a million or more in extravagant ornamentation, for one team’s locker room. That doesn’t count all the really expensive facilities like the huge rehabilitation tubs and whatnot that at least have a vague connection to the sport.Report

      • Football brings in a lot of revenue. Other than men’s basketball, the sports are all expenses and roughly no revenue. Even though the expenses are lighter, it’s almost all sunk costs.Report

      • FWIW, last time I saw numbers, some 25 athletics departments made money.

        I think the relevant question is: On a sport-by-sport basis, are there programs that have million-dollar coaches or administrators that also lose money.

        For example, if Alabama is paying it’s football coach $5 million/year, I hope the football program is making money. If NJIT doesn’t make money off its football team (assuming it has one), hopefully it isn’t paying their coach a million per year.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Mike Schilling says:

        Wait… NJIT has a football team?!?!Report

      • It looks like they do.

        Edit: Scratch that. It looks like they did up until a couple years ago.

        The Great West Conference was formerly a football-only league but has expanded into an all-sports league with the addition of NJIT, University of Texas–Pan American, Utah Valley, Houston Baptist University, University of North Dakota and University of South Dakota. Chicago State University joined the conference in October 2008 making the total full-sports members to 7.

        During the 2012-13 basketball season, the NCAA underwent major changes in conference realignment. The Western Athletic Conference lost all but two members… With only NJIT left, the conference folded.


      • ScarletNumbers in reply to Mike Schilling says:

        @vikram-bath @kazzy

        NJIT has never had a football team.Report

    • LWA in reply to Jaybird says:

      I like that idea.
      But then, I am assuming that every citizen is a customer of the university, so charging us all more to improve education strikes me as a perfectly reasonable proposal.Report

    • Rufus F. in reply to Jaybird says:

      Ah, Jay, you took the line right out of my mouth. I was going to write: “Yes, they don’t pay adjuncts well, but that’s why American universities charge so little for tuition.”Report

  2. Saul Degraw says:

    What do you teach?

    I think professional schools can get away with some adjuncting because the students could benefit from being taught by people in the field. My antitrust professor argued antitrust cases in front of the Supreme Court multiple times. He didn’t need the money for teaching but he was a semi-retired of counsel.

    The real shame is in undergrad programs. There the professors should be full time and not adjunct professors. Interestingly it seems that elite liberal arts colleges and universities are the ones that still mainly have full-time positions because their brand names would be ruined by too much adjuncting.Report

    • zic in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      Seriously, more than 50% of professors are ‘contingent faculty,’ meaning they’re not on tenure track or are adjunct.


    • Burt Likko in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      I teach employment law for laypeople and business ethics. The university I teach for, a real not-for-profit university with a real bricks-and-mortar campus and a good-enough reputation academically, has about twenty satellite campuses as part of an agreement with the military to provide higher education opportunities for servicemembers and contractor employees. The bulk of my students are supervisory-level employees looking for a graduate degree to jump up into management, or USAF NCOs looking for a graduate degree (or at least progress towards one) to burnish an application for OCS. I like the idea that the degrees I’m helping these folks earn will have immediate and tangible benefits to their already-established careers, and while the money wouldn’t be nearly enough to live on if it were my only course of income, as I indicate in the OP, it usually pays for the extra somethings nice that ornament my lifestyle from time to time. This year, the money was principally used to fund a week off of work used to visit family back east.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Burt Likko says:

        I largely suspect that you are not part of the problem facing the UNLV instructor and other adjunct professors based on the practical nature of your courses.

        It seems that most of the adjunct issue is in more academic courses in the arts, humanities, and sciences. My friends in adjunct hell tend to be English, History, Theatre types.Report

      • Francis in reply to Burt Likko says:

        “I teach employment law for laypeople and business ethics.”

        A. Those business ethics really need the class, but I suspect that their attendance is terrible.


        B. There’s such a thing as business ethics? I thought the Volokh types and whats-his-name at UCLA were all about CSR being a waste of shareholder money.


        C. Can I get a copy of the course materials? Between workers’ comp and disability issues and pregnancy issues and hiring issues and disciplinary issues (all of which are brand-new to me), I’m spending a tremendous amount of time trying to navigate California employment law.


      • Burt Likko in reply to Burt Likko says:

        I’m spending a tremendous amount of time trying to navigate California employment law.

        Perhaps unsurprisingly, me too!Report

      • Alan Scott in reply to Burt Likko says:

        I rather suspect, based on that description, that you teach at the university through which I’m getting my teaching credential.Report

  3. zic says:

    Adjunct professors are really, really at Big U’s mercy. They’re supposedly represented by a union that doesn’t seem to do much for them; and yet they seem to have more direct contact with students than actual faculty. And like barista/retail hours, scheduling often gives them not-quite-enough hours and an unpredictable work load from semester to semester. And of course, benefits are not.

    Adjuncts work the gig economy. They should be forthright with students. And parents who’re paying the big bucks? I don’t get why they’re not up in arms over this.

    But at the end of the day, it doesn’t surprise me, either. Think of the millions of children who hear about crap schools, lazy teachers, incompetent teachers, etc.; why should those kids value education if they’re constantly hearing what crap it is? And why should they carry any higher respect for the people who teach them in higher education? Perhaps, they ought to expect to see their teachers waiting tables, washing cars, etc.; because there’s not much value on the majority of people working to teach at the college level.Report

    • dhex in reply to zic says:

      “I don’t get why they’re not up in arms over this.”

      you really don’t?

      what do parents in the search process care about, by and large?

      child goes to expensive school, spends money for four years, ends up back on couch in basement. child doesn’t have particularly good skillset. child isn’t cared for, generally speaking, in the context of the expansion of what “cared for” means from a general american parental viewpoint in 2014.

      what do parents care about? they care about career centers, and internships, and job training and (at least the more saavy ones) the general degree of “hands on stuff” they can get. stem-oriented concerns are a bit different in terms of interest in facilities, etc, but generally match up on down the line.

      what do parents care about? they care about rankings, name brands, word of mouth and other proxies for quality required in a country where there are so very, very many colleges and only so many kids. and they care about wheeling and dealing with financial aid, as they should, but not always to the degree to which outsiders would think sensible – i’m still shocked at how low, how ultimately pointless, the threshold on that choice can be.

      i work to address a lot of parental concerns. none of these concerns are about full versus part-time faculty. maybe they should be, some will no doubt argue. but they most certainly are not.Report

      • zic in reply to dhex says:

        Hipster disdain. Sigh.

        I am not defending tenure. But much of contingent teaching is far from tenure track, it is so lacking in job security, fair compensation, ability for the teacher to have any input into the department or course development, etc., that considering many schools this is over half the teaching staff, in some, move than 70%, it might be wondered if there is some impact on student outcomes.

        There is some research on the topic, and this summery seems to suggest there’s a connection between the part-time (and poorly reimbursed) professors and student outcomes.Report

      • zic in reply to dhex says:

        For some reason, I couldn’t copy that link; I’ll try again:

      • Kolohe in reply to dhex says:

        Zic, you know dhex works in (basically) the admissions department at a small east coast liberal arts college, right? He’s not speaking from a position of ignorance.Report

      • zic in reply to dhex says:

        Small Liberal Arts colleges are not the ground-zero of adjunct heaven; large colleges (often public) and community colleges are; also highly-specialized courses. So I wouldn’t expect someone working in admissions at a small east-coast college to hear those kinds of questions; I’d expect, rather, that the applicants are self-selecting, often with these kinds of issues in mind.

        But my point was the opposite; universities that do depend on large contingent-professor pools don’t advertise it; they advertise their tenured faculty. The University of Maine just eliminated dozens of permanent faculty positions. I doubt that most of those classes are going away, they’re just shifting from full-time jobs with benefits to part-time without.

        I’m always sort of amazed at these discussions; they focus on the ivy and elite; but most kids don’t go to those schools.Report

      • dhex in reply to dhex says:

        “I’d expect, rather, that the applicants are self-selecting, often with these kinds of issues in mind.”

        but that’s just it, they don’t care. neither do the big u. parents, honestly, but you’d especially expect the people paying more money to care very deeply about this question. and they don’t.

        some privates are closer to 50/50 than the 80/20 tenured to non you still see in many slacs, and they don’t field those kinds of questions. student/faculty ratio, definitely. but what kind of faculty contract is involved is far, far less interesting than class size or small group and 1/1 instructional opportunities.

        gettsyburg college, to pick a fairly high-ranked example, is close to 55/45. they charge 49k a year for tuition – with a discount rate of about 40%, so the average student pays around 28k a year, not counting room board and all that fun stuff, so it’s closer to 40k a year – and i guarantee they talk about their full time faculty having doctorates/highest degrees in their field.

        their employment status is not of interest to parents, and certainly not to students. were it, we’d be catering to it. but even when surveyed directly on the topic it’s simply not on their radar, whether or not it should be.

        one of the interesting tensions here is that you have the balance of “teaching college is a calling that cares not about financial reward” (a strongly held belief within and without higher education) versus “teaching quality is proportional to the contract the teacher holds” (a strongly held belief within and without the humanities, as seen in this thread). this does not thread up into the tenured faculty (or even full time visiting faculty), where you might have an english dept chair making 120-180k a year but starting tenure track faculty working closer to 55-65 a year. but no one is going to suggest that the chair is two to three times the instructor the chair is. administration workloads, etc, would be cited as justification for the difference, but no one would point to core instructional skill and related intangibles as being directly pegged to their compensation.

        interestingly, undergrad business programs tend not to have these tensions, despite being heavily adjunct taught at many different kinds of institutions. also not an issue at many design schools where a similar dynamic often holds. i’m presuming this is due more to the “real world” experience pipelines involved as a positive point for prospects and their families. and of course many in the humanities would consider neither a “true” liberal art, despite the usefulness of a broad based educational background to both fields.Report

  4. Patrick says:

    I don’t mind the idea of adjunct faculty any more than I mind the idea of grad students teaching classes instead of professors*

    (* tip, I sometimes mind this)

    A credentialed cap-U university should have a tiered instruction setup.

    The core, basic and remedial classes need to be taught by folks who have sufficient domain experience to teach the class (this can be a LOT of people) and the pedagogical skills not to suck at it (this can be a much smaller set of people and it’s usually not the folks who also have the best domain experience). Tenure track faculty can probably teach these classes. Grad students may not have the teaching skills even if they have the domain knowledge. Tenure track faculty are wasted here. Adjuncts are fine, provided they actually have sufficient domain experience.

    The advanced classes, such as major requirements, need to be taught by people with better domain experience and they can often have fewer pedagogical skills. You need to be a good (broad) educator to teach Calculus to folks who are taking basic level college math who aren’t going to be mathematicians or scientists. You probably don’t need as broad of a skillset to teach Number Theory II because only a certain level of student gets that far, so you don’t need the ability to haul up kids who are overwhelmed. Adjunct faculty teaching this level of course had better be really goddamn good. The fact that folks out there with unrelated Master’s degrees can teach these courses is messed up.

    Finally, the very advanced classes, such as grad-level work, need to be taught by folks with the most domain experience (tenure-track faculty) who are not only familiar with the problem domain but are also familiar with the research community and can bring in the new, cutting edge stuff.Report

  5. David Ryan says:

    ” I reckon the job pays about as well or better than adjunct professor at a state college, or an associate editor at a smarty-pants magazine (not a strong statement), and with a similar level of job security, which is to say – none.

    Mon Tiki’s CIO requires that she have a appropriately credentialed master (50 ton, near-coastal, sailing endorsement, random drug tested) and a deckhand (16yo+, randomly drug tested). Without the deckhand she is restricted to 6 paying guests, and without the master she can’t sail with paying passengers at all. Last summer my deckhand made somewhere north of 5 figures, which is a lot of money for 10 weeks of sailing around on a nice boat with mostly nice people, many of whom are attractive women in bathing suits. (There’s also boat maintenance and cleaning the head, but nothing’s perfect, right?) Why does my deckhand make so much money? Because without a deckhand Mon Tiki doesn’t make money, and in Montauk in the summer, that’s the amount of money it takes to keep a good person at your beck and call.

    The above is for a winter job offer on the East End. When I put an ad in the local paper and Craig’s list I got about 100 inquiries. The highest paid member of the build team, and experienced and expert carpenter made about 1/2 of what a kid can make as Mon Tiki’s deckhand in the summer; and in the summer, expert carpenters can make even more.

    In the course of my education I went three different schools: a small state college, a private art school, and finally a large state university. My very favorite and most influential professor was an adjunct. At the time I didn’t know that that meant, and I don’t know how much or how little money he made. I do know that in the summer he worked on archeological digs because he had an almost supernatural talent for knowing where to dig.Report

  6. Will H. says:

    There is a terrible misappropriation of value in our society.

    Here are a few excerpts from longer pieces I’ve written recently to help me explain:

    There are two formative experiences which shape my character; neither of which is particularly complimentary….

    The other is that I began high school at 14 years of age. All the other kids were 16. I scored really high on this IQ test (154), but it was a really bad idea. There was no support network there.
    At the time, my mother was addicted to painkillers, going back to some dental work she had in the mid-70’s. I knew something wasn’t right about my mom, but no one would listen to me, because by then, I was the “troubled teen,” and everyone knows that troubled teens like to shift responsibility. I would try to explain, and all the well-educated people around seemed to expect a full diagnosis before I could gain any manner of credibility.
    “You think you’re so smart, dontcha?” I would hear over and over again. That was what they kept telling me— and now I am somehow to blame for the test results that someone else had read? Imagine that coming at you in a thicker and thicker drawl, and maybe you will get the idea. Or imagine it in a Yosemite Sam voice once, and that might do it.
    I suppose different people react differently growing up around an addiction…. I came to fear painkillers, and I have taken them maybe five or six times in my life. Even when I was in Council Bluffs with a pulled hamstring and the pain was excruciating, I refused to take the painkillers prescribed. Better an excruciating pain than an addiction.
    From this, I learned to disregard the opinions of others wholesale when I found their position to be invalid. It was a survival mechanism that has lasted way long past its need.

    Intelligence is way over-rated.
    Like excess of anything else, excess of intelligence causes problems.
    (I have the luxury of being able to say that.)

    To be quite clear: I come from a union background, having spent nine years as a journeyman, and as a well-respected inspector in those latter days, taking home just a little over $3000 a week. There is extensive documentation as to my experience as a trained professional. I am qualified to speak regarding professionalism.

    The note of money is, from a union perspective, a statement of rank; and it is to be seen as little other than that.
    But again, I have the luxury of being able to say that, “Money isn’t everything,” having been there, and done that.

    At the time, I was enrolled in a certificate program. 32 hours. I completed half of the program. Over the course of the next 11 years, I turned that into a job taking home $3000/wk (now that time, it’s about the cash).
    We were all working toward a job in a service truck starting at $16/hr.
    I don’t know how the other students in the program did.
    But I think I made more of my education than most, if not all, of the others in the class.

    Money, intelligence, education.
    It’s better to have some than not have any.
    But there is such a thing as too much.

    Essentially, these three are tools.
    There value is derived not from some internal aspect, but from the end to which they are applied.

    A lot of times, some really smart/rich/educated people lose sight of that.Report

    • Kimmi in reply to Will H. says:

      We’re rapidly reaching the point where college is fairly useless, and you’re better off teaching your kid how to run a multinational corporation. ($120,000 is a fairly large stake, ain’t it?)Report

  7. Stillwater says:

    I think the whole episode points to a single conclusion: if actually working for a living (waiting tables) manifests as the destruction of prestige upon which an education rests, then f*** that education. It’s all a sham anyway. Just pretense.Report

    • Stillwater in reply to Stillwater says:

      To follow up on that, there is no culture I’ve personally experienced that defines success by absolute trivialities more than academia. And that culture does not exist in a vacuum: academic culture is just the terminal end of a widely accepted branch of pop culture regarding academics and education.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Stillwater says:

        Bitter much?

        I don’t see why learning about the world, discovery (including historical discovery), and teaching is seen as trivial. Knowledge sometimes increases in small steps.Report

      • Stillwater in reply to Stillwater says:

        You might be right Saul. But that has nothing to do with the content of my comment. 🙂Report

      • aaron david in reply to Stillwater says:

        I don’t care what anyone says about you, you are OK in my book.Report

      • Murali in reply to Stillwater says:

        You might be right Saul. But that has nothing to do with the content of my comment. 🙂
        Since I actually want to become an academic, I want to know what you are talking about. People who disdain academia and talk about the things academics care about as pointless trivialities almost always (and in my experience, always) refer to the particular research problem as trivial. Why should we care whether eternalism or presentism is the right view to have about time? Why should we care whether the Veil of Ignorance really is necessary in order to prevent some parties from having a bargaining advantage? Saul’s reply seems relevant (at least if you are talking about the same things that others who say similar things are saying) because it points out that it is part of the nature of breaking things up into more specialised tasks that someone might look at work on any specific task as trivial. Seemingly trivial academic goals are important, but small steps in solving more important problems.

        If his reply doesn’t address the content of your comment, what is the content of your comment?Report

    • David Ryan in reply to Stillwater says:

      Yes. Was discussing this post with my wife over dinner and what I kept coming back to was that old joke, “What? And leave show business?”Report

    • Chris in reply to Stillwater says:

      Damn straight.Report

    • zic in reply to Stillwater says:

      It’s not all like that Stillwater.

      In my husband’s department not one of the tenured or full time faculty knows a smidgen of code; they know how to use some software. It’s the adjuncts who know the stuff that students actually need to get jobs in the industry. But they’re still adjuncts, and in the eyes of the system, lowly worm.

      Education is conservative in that way; happy to teach the analog synthesizers to kids who grew up with garage band.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Stillwater says:

      I agree 100%.

      I’ve learned to see my degree as being given at the tail end of signaling being worth half a darn.Report

    • LeeEsq in reply to Stillwater says:

      If you hired an architect to design your house but later saw the same architect working in Starbucks, would you still respect your architect? Seeing an architect, an alleged expert in a particular field, having to moonlight as a barista to make ends meet would cause many people to not respect the architect. People would wonder why he or she needs to work a side job to get by. The assumption would be that the architect isn’t a good one because he or she has to do a side gig. The same is true for teachers, which carry the same professional connotations.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to LeeEsq says:

        I would not respect the architect any less for working as a barista. While it is possible that he is doing so because he is a bad architect who can’t get enough business to pay the bills, there are a number of other reasonable explanations as well, none of which have to do with the quality of his architectural work.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to LeeEsq says:

        @kazzy, your unique in that but most people would assume that a professional that can’t earn a full time living from his or her work in his or her area of expertise isn’t exactly that great. This perception might be changing these days because more people are having to resort to the gig economy but it still exist.Report

      • aaron david in reply to LeeEsq says:

        That would solely depend on weather or not he designed a good house/building for me. The world has many ups and downs, and people often change their minds regarding what they want to do with themselves over the course of a 40-50 year career.

        After my father received his PHd, no one was hiring science doctorates. And as he had a wife and two kids to feed, he went out into the winter of eastern WA and swung a hammer. Outside construction in subzero temps. At a certain level, you have to decide what is more important, pride or food.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to LeeEsq says:


        I’m just not sure that is as widespread a belief as you make it out to be. More importantly, it shouldn’t be a widespread belief. People take second jobs for all sorts of different reasons. My wife — who is gainfully employed in healthcare IT — took a seasonal job at Pottery Barn because she wanted to outfit our new home in their products and take advantage of their ridiculous employee discount. I tutor and teach afterschool classes for extra spending cash. I have friends who have side jobs to pay for travel or because they are young and childless and in good position to leverage their time and energy to bolster their financial situation.Report

  8. Brandon Berg says:

    Or is this just a matter of supply and demand; the market at work?

    Is there any reason at all to believe that it’s not? This is what happens when a market with limited demand is flooded with people who are willing to do the job for the intangibles: They end up doing the job mostly for the intangibles, because that’s where the market clears. The academic job market is screaming at low-paid adjuncts to go away and find a job where the marginal value of their labor will be higher, but they keep on coming.

    We can talk about the problems that led to a glut of PhDs, but let’s be clear: That’s the root of the issue here.Report

    • LeeEsq in reply to Brandon Berg says:

      You can also argue that its a result in changes in the university business. Sometime in the 1980s, people decided that university administration is a good way to get rich because universities have a nearly unlimited supply of money aimed at them. If you can get into the right position, your in a position to give yourself a high salary and gifts to yourself, family, and friends. This really took off after 2002. NYU’s President is a particularly egregious example of this. Like many corrupt people in business and government, corrupt administrations need to get their money from somewhere and decided that skimping on faculty pay was one way to do this.Report

      • North in reply to LeeEsq says:

        It’s not just administrators either Lee, a lot of politicians stick their fingers into the university administration honeypot. University administration is a favored place to stick a favored grandchild or nephew of a well placed state/provincial level politician.Report

  9. James Hanley says:

    We’re all experts in industries we’re not in.Report

    • Alan Scott in reply to James Hanley says:

      Do you have a take, given that you’re in the industry?Report

      • James Hanley in reply to Alan Scott says:


        I’ve been on vacation, hence the delay. I could write a long essay. It’s partly the cost of growing administration, but that happens for more reasons than normally understood. It’s partly cost of amenities, which are part of recruiting students in a time of fierce competition. It’s partly profs who don’t want to be stuck teaching the least intellectually interesting and (often) most energy draining courses. It’s partly that high-paid profs aren’t necessarily at their highest valued use in classes most students take only through obligation and in which they’re trying to minimize their effort. And it’s partly that there’s a legion of cheap labor out there because too many adjuncts don’t know when to quit and move on with their lives. (If you’re doing it for fun or extra cash, or both, that’s fine. If you’re doing it to build teaching experience in search of a tenure track job, and you haven’t found one after 3 or 4 years, it’s time to move on, or maybe learn how to interview.)Report

    • Will H. in reply to James Hanley says:

      That’s why I’ve decided to take up prostitution.Report

  10. Rufus F. says:

    It’s hard to tell from the article though what her students think of blue-collar work. She says that “society” cordons it off from intelligent work and then really only talks about her opinions and those of her academic colleagues. When I was teaching, it was at a very blue-collar university where the students probably wouldn’t have thought much about that sort of situation, although indeed the academics might have.Report

    • Roger in reply to Rufus F. says:

      This reminds me of an actuary who used to work for me. We all went out for dinner at Christmas with families. She and her husband were East Coast liberal snobs with all the right connections, right educational credentials, skiing at all the proper resorts and such. Her kids started talking down about their uncle who was in the auto repair business. The disgust and disdain in the kid’s voices for his chosen profession was shocking to me.

      I was raised where a hard and honest days work was honorable. The embarrassment of the professor at serving other people says it all. Classic class snob. As BB explains above it also explains why there are too many people in these fields and how that leads to shit wages.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Roger says:


        This sounds like a cartoon strawman version of liberals again…Also like you are Abe Simpson…Report

      • Kimmi in reply to Roger says:

        I’m pretty sure if the instructor had been a plumber or some other skilled “hard working” job, it would have been much, much less humiliating.Report

      • Chris in reply to Roger says:

        Roger is not in the best position to criticize looking down on working people, to be sure, but that doesn’t sound like a straw man. If it is, there are people here made of very similar straw.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Roger says:

        @chris @roger

        Most of the hardest working people I know are upper-middle class liberal bourgeois who are income wealthy instead of capital wealthy. These are people who generally place a large amount of emphasis on their children doing well in school and teach their children how to work for long-term goals instead of short-term gain. These are the people who work hard to get into a good college, work hard in college to get into a good graduate school, and then work long and hard through out their professional careers. They need to do this because their lifestyle comes from income and not from capital. You don’t get to be a doctor without putting in a lot of work and sacrifice. Same with other professions. Their children are not lazy and do not sneer at work. The people I know who sneer at work generally come from enough wealth that they don’t ever need to work.

        You have both expressed variants of “liberals suck” (but for very different reasons) and I think you are both wrong in your reasoning and your thought process.Report

      • j r in reply to Roger says:

        Most of the hardest working people I know are upper-middle class liberal bourgeois …

        You don’t say.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Roger says:


        Yeah I saw and notice I didn’t say anything else about working class people being lazy. I thinking working class people are also really hard working.

        I am pushing back against the idea that:

        1. Upper-middle class people sneer against work.

        2. Intellectual/Professional work is somehow less than noble or less than hard.

        3. Liberals suck attitudes from both Roger’s right-wing libertarianism and Chris’s left-wing radicalism.Report

      • Chris in reply to Roger says:

        J R beat me to it.

        Seriously, no.one’s circle of acquaintances is representative of the population as a whole, but yours is, from what you’ve said, both extremely and intentionally unrepresentative.Report

      • Kimmi in reply to Roger says:

        and… how many people do you know who aren’t upper-class liberal bourgeoisie? (sorry, but from where I sit, your upper-middle is upper class).

        I maintain that many of your so-called intelligent people could work a blue-collar job WHILE thinking about their more intellectual pursuits.

        Why do I think this? Because I know someone who has done it.

        You say that upper-middle class people don’t sneer at bluecollar work. Yes, but they do have a tendency to want to keep their kids away from it. Now, I’m the last person to say that parents wanting to keep their kids from lifelong scarring is a bad thing…

        But if you want to gauge hardworking over the course of a lifetime… there are other people you can look at. The kid who was working from the age of 7 on up, every day after school. The kids who worked their way through the military, while doing college coursework on the side. Hell, even the kid in prison, lifting weights while reading about physics.Report

      • Chris in reply to Roger says:

        I know some very hard working white collar folks. You know, 10+ hour days, 6 or 7 days a week kinda folk. I don’t think anyone denies they exist. They can still be liberal and snobs. Snobbery has little to do with work ethic, on either side.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Roger says:


        No one is arguing that it is impossible to have a blue-collar job while also pursuing intellectual pursuits. Many people do it.

        What you seem to be arguing or implying is that it is more moral to work a blue-collar job or that upper-middle class professionals should encourage their children to work blue-collar jobs instead of joining the ranks of the professions.

        This doesn’t happen for a variety of reasons including lifestyle and income and a capitalist like Roger shouldn’t have a problem with that and yet he does if it involves liberals. This is strange no?Report

      • Roger in reply to Roger says:

        I was sharing a story of a snob. Don’t pretend this type of person doesn’t exist. We all know them.Report

      • Roger in reply to Roger says:

        What problem am I having with it? I am not following you.Report

      • Kimmi in reply to Roger says:

        in the event that both people who work as kids, and people who don’t, manage to join the professions, I find that it is more moral for the kids to work. Should they be able to work by publishing works of fancy and fiction, well, so be it. Should they be better suited for doing their schoolwork while working as a sysadmin… so be it.

        I am suggesting that it is more moral — or at least more hard-working, to complete two jobs at once, and collect the salaries of both.Report

      • Kimmi in reply to Roger says:

        Roger and Saul,
        Allow me to engage Partisan Filter: Rose.
        Simply replace “liberal snob” with “Lucille Bluth”
        (Yes, Lucille is based off a real dame).Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Roger says:


        I’m fighting for a world of “8 hour for work, 8 hours for rest, 8 hours for what we will….” I am not fighting for a world where everyone works multiple jobs and no one can make ends meet. I can work full-time as a lawyer and be a good lawyer or I can work two or more jobs and do either well.Report

      • Vikram Bath in reply to Roger says:

        For what it’s worth, we had dinner with a pleasant, educated couple last night of unknown political affiliation who spoke disparagingly of their daughter’s suggestion that she wanted to become an interior designer.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Roger says:


        Did they give their reasons? Was it because it was seen as unintellectual? Interior Design/Event Planning are interesting careers because there is some evidence that you need a lot of connections along with “good” aesthetic tastes to succeed in the profession.

        This was covered in Paying for the Party: How College Promotes Inequality. The authors felt that the really rich students did not need to go to college because their family connections would get them jobs at top interior design and event planning firms. Meanwhile they saw poorer students pick those majors and suffer because the poorer students did not have the “taste” required for said jobs or the connections. The poorer students picked the event planning majors because they were easier and seemed fun and the rich kids picked them.

        The kids who went for the harder majors and pre-professional degrees tended to come from the upper-middle class. One poorer student did very well in her classics major but was unable to get into a good grad school for the subject because Indiana could not compete against people from Stanford. She ended up going to law school.Report

      • Vikram Bath in reply to Roger says:

        They saw it as both unintellectual and unlikely to provide a comfortable or stable living.Report

      • j r in reply to Roger says:


        I am pushing back against the idea that…

        That is fine; however, as far as I can tell no one here is seriously advocating for any of those three things.

        There is a fundamental conflict in a lot of your comments. On the one hand, you are continually advocating for the value of so-called intellectual and professional work, as both intrinsically valuable and as a way into the upper middle class and to a certain degree of income security. And you have indicated that you do not value the kind of work that teenagers do as after-school/summer work. Or at least that you have implied that this sort of work is a distraction for kids on the track to intellectual/professional futures, so that kids on that track would do just as well to skip it if they have parents who can afford to bankroll them. And instead, they should focus on getting better at doing schoolwork, skipping low-skilled part-time work in favor of the sort of resume-building activities that schools like, and getting credentials from the sorts of top-tier schools that employers seem to like.

        On the other hand, you often talk about certain difficulties regarding your own path. That is to say, that you had parents who instilled in you the value of intellectual/professional work, that you were a good enough student to get into a well-regarded liberal arts college, and that sensing the difficulty in pursuing a career in the arts you were able to secure the law degree credential. Despite all that, you often report your difficulties in obtaining full-time employment on a secure career track. And you have lamented the idea that you may have to abandon that search altogether and try your hand at working for yourself.

        Have you ever considered that these two things might be related? In other words, had you had to work as a teenager as well as keep up on your studies, then maybe you would be in better shape to deal with the realities of this present economy. And have you considered that this, along with more prosaic reasons like not wanting to fund each and everyone of their kids hobbies, interests and recreational activities, is one of the reasons that middle class folks like the idea of their kids working?Report

      • Roger in reply to Roger says:


        If you read my comment as liberals suck then I worded it poorly. My point was not that liberals suck or East Coast people suck. These were qualifiers of the key word… Snobs who look down on work and blue collar people suck. It applies to Southern Conservative snobs too. And I have some stories on these folks as well. Sorry for the confusion.Report

  11. LWA says:

    Once again, re: higher education, I find it odd that where once the State of California and others somehow made higher education virtually free for anyone who qualified, now that same education is priced beyond reach.

    Actually, it isn’t odd. The causes are of course complex like they are with any issue, but the primary one that overrides all others is very simple.

    We don’t want to.

    Its not like college was somehow magically cheap in the 1950’s-60s, that professors worked for free, or that it was cheap to build a dozen campuses up and down the state. It took money, lots of it, and all of it taken from the taxpayers.

    However, those taxpayers wanted to do this, and decided it was a higher priority than tax cuts or prisons.

    There always seems to be some effort to beguile us with tales of how it was different then, and gosh we would love to now except argle bargle look over there at the degrees in basket weaving.

    But it really is that simple- if we wanted to we could.Report

    • Will Truman in reply to LWA says:

      This would be a better argument if the cost difference in higher education between then and now could actually be explained by levels of state subsidy. Or if you could point to tax-averse states as having higher tuitions.

      You can scoff at the notion that college costs have increased independent of state subsidy, but that does not actually make it untrue.Report

      • LWA in reply to Will Truman says:

        Yes, I do understand how costs have increased; but costs to do anything- construct prisons for example- have increased as well; yet this hasn’t stopped the expansion of prisons.

        You make a very good point that budgets are about priorities; Some things are preserved and expanded, other things cut.
        Its not like there is some mysterious power that forces legislators to pay for this over that, other than they know what causes constituents to scream, and what doesn’t.

        In the end, it reminds me of the person who explains in crystal clear detail how they are too poor to afford to pay rent, in between puffs on a cigarette and swigs of beer.

        If, in 2001 I had suggested that we spend 4 Trillion dollars over the next decade on Liberal Program X, everyone (eventheliberalNewRepublic) would have insisted it was impossible, and only a madman or fool could suggest such a thing.

        And yet, here we are, having spent 4 Trillion (thats 4 thousand billion) dollars in the past decade for the wars.

        Its just priorities. We don’t want to do this, but we want to do that.Report

      • My understanding is that costs have risen farther and faster in education than “to do anything” (ie inflation) by a significant degree.

        Texas and Illinois spend more per student now (well, 2012) than they did in 1987. Do you believe tuition rates are even remotely comparable between now and then?Report

      • LWA in reply to Will Truman says:

        So what if college costs have risen by more than inflation-
        Are you suggesting that this ISN’T about priorities?

        That the public really does want tuition free universities, but there is some mysterious global structural force blocking us from that goal?
        Which somehow only blocks THAT goal; other goals somehow escape this fate.

        This is what I object to, this helplessness and passivity. We all agree X is a worthy and wonderful thing, but gosh, there simply is no possible way that America could accomplish it. Even though we did it a generation before, its just not possible now.

        I can’t help but notice how the conclusion is always assumed- that rising costs mean we must push those costs onto the students. Not higher taxes, not cuts elsewhere, not even a restructuring of the university program. No, the only possible conclusion is that students must shoulder the costs.Report

      • I am personally more interested in cost containment (among other things) and not very interested in blank checks. It’s hard when not only do universities have little incentive to do so, but actually have perverse incentives not to.Report

    • Michael Cain in reply to LWA says:

      I you go back and look at the typical state budget from the mid-60s, the budget for the typical state today, and the trajectory between those two, a few things jump out.

      State and local taxes combined have increased. However, a couple of decades ago they hit a political limit at about 10% of state GDP. With very few exceptions, state plus local taxes today fall into a narrow range of 9-12% of state GDP; rich states towards the higher end of that range, poor states towards the lower.

      In 1965, states paid nothing for Medicaid. Today, in the typical state, it’s the second-largest item for General Fund spending.

      In 1965, states paid very little for K-12 education, it was funded out of local taxes. Today, in the typical state, K-12 is the largest item for state GF spending.

      State spending for both Medicaid and K-12 have been growing faster than state revenues for decades. By the middle of the 1990s, it was clear that there was a slow-motion train wreck going on — Medicaid and K-12 will eventually push out all of the “traditional” state spending categories (given the effective limits on revenue growth).

      In most states, K-12 spending is protected. Medicaid costs have been cut to the point where it’s basically an all-or-nothing program now — states could withdraw, or states can pay the bill, but it’s become very hard for them to reduce the bill and still participate. In most states, withdrawing from Medicaid kills the nursing home industry and does serious damage to the hospital system.

      In comparison, the two major GF spending categories that have the least protection are higher ed and transportation. Unsurprisingly, they are the things that are getting cut.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Michael Cain says:

        You didn’t mention prisons, but certainly imprisoning more people must cost more money.Report

      • States have been creative in finding cheaper ways to house prisoners and assorted ways to increase non-GF revenues. Private prisons are less expensive for warehousing non-violent offenders, as are county lock-ups and home detention. How long has California been in court over its prison conditions? Fines and court fees have increased rapidly. Asset seizures. Yes, costs have increased; demands on the GF, not so much.

        It’s not absolute increases, it’s increases relative to GF revenue growth. Which by trend, is roughly population growth plus inflation plus a piece of productivity growth.Report

    • Saul Degraw in reply to LWA says:

      @lwa @will-truman

      What is unspoken here is that it is the culture war that brought tuition costs to the University of California. Specifically it was Reagan’s election in 1966 as Governor and the fact that he largely ran against what was happening at Berkeley at the time with the Free Speech movement.

      Reagan wasn’t anti-intellectual per se (source: The Invisible Bridge by Rick Perlstein) but he was very much against the kids at Berkeley thinking rebelling against their elders. I think a really unexplored (and very hot button) issue is how much the culture and political wars led to increased tuition at universities especially because states began cutting funding from their universities. There is a long history of secret fears of colleges and universities being merely breeding grounds for left-wing radicals. This goes back to the Cold War if not earlier. While there is probably a disproportionate percentage of liberals in the academic ranks, I don’t think universities are going to create radicals from one or two Judith Butler classes. IIRC there is research that shows conservative-leaning students tend to become more conservative in university and liberal-leaning students become more liberal.

      But there still seems to be a belief on the right that universities are the bases of the other side.Report

      • zic in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        @saul-degraw this is an excellent comment; worth a deep think.

        There’s another thing here, too, which I don’t see mentioned: employers have been shifting the cost of job training onto the employee (and the state) for at least a decade. A lot of the on-the-job training formerly done by companies is now done at colleges; particularly technigcal/votech schools.

        Those classrooms are expensive.Report

      • Except it’s not just the right that has pulled back its funding. It’s across the board, red state and blue. Red states may even be better in terms of collegiate affordability.Report

    • Roger in reply to LWA says:

      California public universities charge an entirely reasonable amount of around $6000 per academic year. Junior colleges for the first two years are a fraction of that.

      If memory serves, I was charged about $1200-1500 per year in the early eighties. This is faster than inflation, but not markedly problematic.

      It is private universities where the students’ parents are being taken to the cleaners.*

      The solutions are as easy to delineate as they are politically unlikely to occur.

      * or perhaps other states with less well subsidized public schools.Report

      • Roger in reply to Roger says:



        I think a better argument can be made that way too many lower IQ kids are going to college and wasting money, or that too many bright kids are wasting money on feel good degrees than that tuitions are too high in the public system.

        College should be the next logical step for those with substantially higher potential to take their talents to a higher level. To the extent this is in socially useful fields, it makes sense to subsidize it due to huge positive externalities. To the extent it is in some feel good waste of time area with a hundred times as many people in the field compared to demand by fellow humans, they should ask their parents to pay or get a job and pay for it themselves.

        Theater. Sociology. Psychology. Literature. Basket weaving. Puppetry. Minority grievance mongering. Education. Medieval history.

        Don’t get me wrong, I fully endorse anyone with a passion getting an education in these fields. Please don’t ask us to fund them though. I would rather donate money to a dog shelter.Report

      • Kimmi in reply to Roger says:

        PSU is $17,502 for in-state.
        State schools are in the ballpark of $5,000 a year.Report

      • Roger in reply to Roger says:


        Care to weigh in?Report

      • LWA in reply to Roger says:

        First, lets get our links right-
        California has 3 levels of colleges- the UC system, the CSU system, and the community colleges, from most expensive to least. You linked to the cheaper CSU system.
        Here is the cost of the UC system:
        Its about $13,300 tuition only.

        Second- Basket weaving , really? I didn’t know there was anyone bold enough to advance that foolishness, but it really makes you sound like Grandpa Simpson. It the higher ed version of Whats Wrong With These Kids Today, i.e. the trope that gets tossed around without a shred of truth.

        As Saul and I pointed out, prior to 1975 there was no tuition whatsoever at the UC system; and the introduction of them had as much to do with political calculations as finance.

        Are things worse at private universities? I’m sure they are, but that’s not the point I am making.

        I am just saying we could if we wanted to, provide a completely free higher education to every citizen of California.
        The citizens of the 50’s and 60’s were willing to pay for a free university system, along with the GI Bill.

        Today’s are not. People don’t like it when I say this, and try to wave distractions and anecdata, somehow making it the fault of mysterious cosmic forces, or silly spoiled children with droopy drawers.
        Its not even a red-blue thing; even most liberals allow themselves to believe it can’t be done.

        Its a failure of will, of consensus, a collapsed belief in the power of America to do anything larger than shovel 4 thousand billion dollars onto a gargantuan bonfire in the Mideast.Report

      • Kimmi in reply to Roger says:

        Lwa and Roger,
        Call your Basketweaving, and raise you one Bagpipe Major
        Now with scholarship.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Roger says:

        @roger @kimmi

        I will defend the appearance of basket-weaving and bagpipes in the academia. These things are arts and worthy of study. There are long traditions behind each and they involve a lot of work and skill to master. The bagpipe is not an easy instrument to play and proper basket making takes many hours to complete.

        Sneers against things as “basket-weaving” strike me as being merely anti-intellectual and anti-art.Report

      • Gaelen in reply to Roger says:

        Roger, is Education really supposed to be on your list of useless degrees that don’t deserve subsidy?

        I could make a strong case that the only degree that merits subsidy is education.Report

      • roger in reply to Roger says:


        My concern is with the degree itself as actually promoted in most colleges, not with the profession. And to expand, my comment isn’t really against any these professions in general. It is that too many people are taking courses in them beyond the demand of society. I am all for studying these things, but not for funding them on other people’s dime.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Roger says:

        I will defend the appearance of basket-weaving and bagpipes in the academia. These things are arts and worthy of study. There are long traditions behind each and they involve a lot of work and skill to master. The bagpipe is not an easy instrument to play and proper basket making takes many hours to complete.

        Sure. But a lot of folks have jobs because they find people who are willing to give them money to work. Bakers sell bread to people, basket weavers sell baskets, lawyers offer expertise on stuff like writing wills or filing patents or defending against public urination charges, and so on and so forth.

        Someone says “I will give you money to do this thing” and the other person says either “I will do this thing for that much money” or they say “that is not enough money for me to do this thing”.

        Sometimes that leads to a renegotiation. Sometimes that leads to the person leaving the table.

        Nobody has a problem with someone going $140,000 into debt to get a degree in Bagpipes.

        We have problems when they say “how come I can’t get a job that pays enough for me to keep up with my debt? This is unfair!”

        If what you’re looking for is an education, then, by all means!, get an education. If, however, what you’re looking for is a job that will help you pay off your loans, you need a healthy balance between small loans and skills that other people will give you money in order for you to exercise said skills on their behalf.

        And failure to apprehend that is a lesson best internalized before one spends $140,000 on a degree in bagpipery. (My suggestion: spend $50 on a bagpipe chanter and learn to play by watching youtube videos. You’re not any more likely to get hired, but at least you’re only out of $50!)Report

      • roger in reply to Roger says:


        I would respect anyone spending years of their life studying bagpipes or the urn-making art of Classic Greece. I would also respect you for volunteering to fund it on their behalf. I would not suggest widespread subsidization of these fields. It leads to bad results, even for those who really have a passion for the art (it crowds them out and makes their honorable profession worthless)Report

      • LWA in reply to Roger says:


        Comrade, this is why we don’t engage the counterrevolutionaries on their own terms.

        Now the argument over why we can or can’t provide state financed higher education has devolved into “Because too many people are studying the bagpipes!”Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to Roger says:

        Does anybody have any actual statistics on how many people are studying bagpipe waiving or basket-weaving at universities? How do we constitute to whats a useless degree in the first place? A lot of seemingly useful degrees like sports management or other business-light degrees end up being useless if your the wrong person and go to the wrong college. If you go to the right college and are the right person than even a seemingly useful degree in the classics isn’t a great hindering stone to a relatively profitable career.

        From what I can tell, who you are and where you go to school matter just as much as what you study. Maybe even more so in many cases. A kid from a working class background can study a nice STEM major at an affordable state university and go nowhere because everybody is going for the rich kids from MIT and CalTech. Meanwhile, a rich kid can study something like 19th century light fiction at Harvard and turn out all right. Matt Yglesias studies philosophy but because he went to the right school and had the right connections, he became one of the biggest names in blogging.Report

      • roger in reply to Roger says:

        So your comment is not that public education is getting unaffordable, it is that the elite tier of education with questionably proven increased cost effectiveness is getting unaffordable. Its not that we can’t afford table wear, it is that we can’t afford silver serving sets.

        Like I said earlier, I cannot imagine a bigger waste of money than having everyone go from high school into a socially funded feel good college program. Indeed, this is exactly why the costs are out of control.

        We need primary schools and high schools which provide all students a good education at a reasonable cost. Those institutions failing in this should face competition from those succeeding and be “creatively destroyed” (ala Shumpter)

        Those with interest and ability (IQs or scores or whatever in the top third or half) should be encouraged to go on to college. This should be funded at non elitist institutions meeting strict fiduciary challenges. No resort campuses. No exploitation by tenured staff and administrators. No nepotistic advantages for alumni. No ten million dollar glamour buildings. No income drains to televised semi professional sports teams. Extensive volunteer staffs using graduate students and retired people with passion and real world experience in the topic.

        To receive continued funding or subsidization, the colleges should meet standards on both graduation rates and placement/success of graduates. This would incentivize colleges to discourage or raise the bar themselves in a decentralized manner on how many people and of what quality enter each field of study. Invisible hand.

        Those interested in elite campus life at prestigious schools should feel free to spend their money or get loans. In addition, private parties and private grants can subsidize these students via a careful and deliberate practice with feedback.

        This would lead to better schools, less waste and inefficiency and better social outcomes (higher GDP, less unemployment, less underemployment, more people where we need them rather than what looked fun to study)Report

      • Will Truman in reply to Roger says:

        @leeesq You may find this post, one of my first at the League, to be interesting.

        The long and short of it is that “people are majoring in useless artsy things” is pretty inaccurate.Report

      • greginak in reply to Roger says:

        Yes there are stats on Bagpipe Piping and Basket Weaving. They are used in 100% of the discussions about the wrong people studying the wrong things in Uni. They have upwards of 99% believability as a wide spread and key factor about what is wrong “kids these days.” 92% of cranky old people who know a good days work when they see one can tell “those” kind of classes won’t get you anywhere. Four out three people know you go to school to get an education instead of learning South West Eastern European Pottery Metaphysics and Vulva Studies.Report

      • Chris in reply to Roger says:

        When I was at Kentucky, there was a music major who was learning to play the bagpipes. I know this because for an entire academic year, she was out playing the damn thing as I walked to my morning classes. It was cool for the first few days, and then it was really obnoxious.

        So, I say that if we can get rid of campus bagpipe players with public policy, we should do it.Report

      • greginak in reply to Roger says:

        Oh sure Chris. First they came for the Bagpipe players, next it was the unicyclists and the hacky sack players. Of course the HS players should be removed but other than that leave the wind bags alone.Report

      • Roger in reply to Roger says:

        @leeesq @will-truman

        Let me take a stab at answering your query.

        1). There is the waste and inefficiency of people going to college and spending the fist few semesters catching up on what they should have been required to learn in high school. Rumor has it this is a major undertaking at public schools nowadays.

        2). There is the waste and inefficiency of people going to college who have no business going there except they got snookered by society. This includes the wasted college classes they spent before dropping out. It includes the opportunity cost of them not working at more appropriate and noble professions like plumbing, driving, service industries, etc etc.

        3). Next there is the waste and efficiency of people getting publicly funded education in field which are not in demand. This leads to all the people with psychology and philosophy degrees driving cars or settling insurance claims or managing the afternoon shift at Toys r us.

        My comment above indicated how to approach it from a systemic and decentralized nature. Colleges getting subsidies need to be expected to have fiduciary responsibilities, to have graduation requirements and placement/ financial success of graduates. Public money should not be used for elite schools unless it is funding research or something else which is under supplied. Private money should be encouraged with all the strings attached.Report

      • LWA in reply to Roger says:

        Do you know anything at all about the history of the University of California system?
        Serious question, not snark.

        Because I’m really not gathering anything from your posts other than These Damn Kids Today are somehow morally/ intellectually deficient to the Those Of Us who carried our weight by cracky. And this somehow lead by argle bargle to it becoming more expensive.Report

      • Roger in reply to Roger says:

        Other than going there myself and having one of my kids go there? I would love to hear the perspective of an expert or insider on the system. Please do share.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Roger says:


        I think the big issue in all these STEM v. Business v. Arts & Humanities debates is part of the two cultures and part confusing today for tomorrow.

        The truth is that there are lots of arts and humanities majors and they will turn out okay. I went to a small liberal arts college where there was no such thing as a business major and most students majored in the arts and humanities (though I have plenty of scientist friends from undergrad) and we are mainly doing okay. We might have spent a few years kicking about but I can’t think of anyone from undergrad who is still underemployed, working retail, etc. One of my drama major friends earned her master’s in journalism and has a good career. Another switched to politics and works as the Chief of Staff for a member of the New York State Assembly. I know other people in business, law, medicine, admin, etc.

        Now I went to an elite undergrad but there are thousands of people who graduate with English and History and Anthropology Music majors every year and they don’t spend the rest of their lives destitute.

        However we seem to really dislike the idea of people kicking around for a few years before they get settled on a trajectory and road to middle-class or above life. I am personally not very worried about people in their early 20s work as baristas or bike-repairers or whatever for a few years and then figuring out what to do.

        The two cultures bit is that there seem to be kids who were born to be STEM majors and kids born to be arts and humanities majors and they can seemingly not figure each other out. I read the posts you put up. And this always appears to boil down to “Why would you want to study X?”Report

      • Will Truman in reply to Roger says:

        Less “Why do you want to study that?” and more “Why do you want to spend tens of thousands of dollars to study that?” (or if you prefer “Why should the government spend tens of thousands of dollars so that you can study that?”)

        My favorite classes in college were liberal arts ones. I get why people want to study that.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Roger says:


        Argh…I’ve wrote a lengthy response and it went out in smoke. Passion or interest is hard to explain and there are plenty of people who do think the arts and humanities are worthy of study including parents. This might be Jason K’s social signalling but it could also be a sincere respect and love for the arts and humanities. There is something way too utilitarian about saying that only something with a direct path to a job is worth the investment. I don’t want to live in such a harsh world.

        Re government subsidizing.

        This is something that I will probably never be able to convince naysayers of. I think that the world does benefit by giving arts and humanities broad access beyond the rich because it increases viewpoints. Also on a more real basis maybe a sudsidized filmmaker will become the next Speilberg? Or insert any other artist. Maybe the a Renaissance study major will change the way the entire renaissance is viewed or write the next Game of Thrones?

        People seem to think artists are born instead of trained despite a long history of examples to the contrary.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to Roger says:

        If your goal is to actually be an artist, and that goal is attainable, then going to college for an art degree may make sense. The important overriding thing is “What do you plan to do with this degree?”

        This is also where the total costs (student+family+state+scholarships) of college hurts. If college cost less, there’d be a lower threshold for justification.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Roger says:


        Determing what is and what is not obtainable or even probable is really hard. There are plenty of people who struggle for decades before receiving success in middle-life or older and this just isn’t artists. There are also things in science that seem doable until you try and it turns out we are not there yet. I once went out with a woman who had her ABD in physics. Her PhD thesis was trying to make the first table size version of a piece of scientific equipment that is currently about the size of a football field. She failed and no works in e-marketing.

        I agree with you on the cost angle.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to Roger says:

        Determing what is and what is not obtainable or even probable is really hard.

        Yes, it is. But given the long, long odds of making it as an artist, I tend to view such an investment as inherently risky.

        I have a good friend went to a great music school and majored in music. He is a brilliant musician, and music is central to his being. I mean, I know a lot of very talented artsy types, and I doubt any have close to the innate talent that he’s always had. He’s also twenty thousand dollars in debt and working on a kiosk for a cellco.

        Music is so central to his being, and he is so artistically talented, that there’s really no way that I would have suggested that he get a STEM degree. But what should have happened – in addition to avoiding private school – is an assessment of future career options, and different paths to get there.

        At some point after he graduated he was looking at vocational programs involving music. South tech and things like that. He never followed up on it because in part cost was a huge issue. Now, ordinarily, going to school for something music-related is something that would cock my brow. But like I said, he lives and breathes music and I believe he’s really good at it. And ultimately, I wish he’d gone for the two-year sound tech degree in the first place. I don’t know what the odds of success are there in comparison to a music composition degree, but I like the odds as well as the price tag a lot better.Report

      • Vikram Bath in reply to Roger says:

        If your goal is to actually be an artist, and that goal is attainable, then going to college for an art degree may make sense.

        I know a few artists. Some have degrees and some don’t. I haven’t asked them directly, but I get the impression they think art degrees may be enriching in and of themselves, but they aren’t helpful for surviving as an artist.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Roger says:


        Music Composition is a really difficult skill. You are talking about learning about harmony, melody, tone and atone, counterpoint, rhythm, counter, etc.

        I do have to admit that there is more prestige and social good in being known as a composer even if being a sound technician means working in music more. They could also be very different skills but I know someone who studied music performance/composition as an undergrad and then did a follow-up vocation for something more like the tech program.

        What I find interesting is whatever differences that occur that make me fully understand what causes someone to go for glory and what causes someone else to urge a more practical path.

        There was a section in Stefan Zweig’s memoir where he talks about how every Austrian lawyer had literary pretensions in their youth and I don’t see what is so wrong with this.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Roger says:

        Yes there are stats on Bagpipe Piping and Basket Weaving. They are used in 100% of the discussions about the wrong people studying the wrong things in Uni.

        Greg, my problem is not with what people study at University.

        My problem is with what people spend six figures on at University and then find out isn’t likely to make them a whole lot of money after they graduate.

        I graduated from a state school that was not prestigious at all. It’s a college that was mocked by others and, yeah, had you seen it when I went there, you’d see why most people who graduated from “real” schools might have mocked it too.

        That said: I was able to graduate without debt. Once I graduated, nobody cared that I got my degree from an unprestigious school. The first few jobs cared merely that I had the skills to type, the ones after that cared about how I had experience from the first few jobs, and those snowballed into more and more and more.

        I suggest that if a person wants to get a degree in a subject that you think I’m mocking, then they should go to a cheap school. If a person wants to not go to a cheap school, then they should get a degree in something that will have them pulling good numbers a couple of years out of college.

        The argument that people should be able to go to prestigious schools and get degrees in silly subjects and it should be cheap sounds a lot to me like the person explaining that we need a low-calorie dessert that is filling, delicious, and nutritious.

        Yeah. Sure. That’d be awesome. I’m not the person you want to complain to about that. God is over there.Report

      • Kimmi in reply to Roger says:

        Yeah, we have one college in America that has a bagpipe major, and three people majoring in it.
        The interesting part to me was that it actually had a scholarship attached.
        The chap seems to be making enough money off playing the bagpipes, and teaching the bagpipes.

        Saul and Everyone Else:
        The people getting math degrees and going to work for ILM needed those degrees. One can have art that pretty much does require a supercomputer (or months on a Silicon Graphics Workstation) — and you’re not going to be able to get access to one of those without a shiny degree.

        Roger, I think you’re a bit behind the times on your understanding of how much a degree grants you credentials or status to attain a job. For more like 90% of the kids in school right now, they’d have been better off not bothering — in terms of long term prospects. Let’s take one of the UC schools (LWA had it cited at around $90,000 of debt…and that’s I believe without room and board). That’s enough for a substantial downpayment on a house (prime mortgage!)… and because its due in monthly chunks, not lump sums at the end, you’re providing drag for someone’s future retirement/homeownership etc.

        Right now, we are working on removing substantial portions of our labor economy, and turning them into portions of our capital economy. I can name about ten fields that I can pretty much guarantee will have decent job prospects in 20 years. Computer Science isn’t one of those fields.

        Music composition is a freaking hard field — but it’s not one that really requires formal training. It’s possible to create world-famous pieces of art without ever setting foot into a composition class.Report

      • Vikram Bath in reply to Roger says:

        The Wall Street Journal of all places wrote this positive article about art majors:

        A 2011 report from the center found that the unemployment rate in the first two years for those graduating with bachelor of fine arts degree is 7.8%, dropping to 4.5% for those out of school longer. The median income is $42,000.

        “Artists’ income is comparable to other liberal-arts majors,” he says. “They do a little better than psychology majors, since counseling and social work is a very low-wage occupation.”

        Additionally, they say artists are happier than the rest of the general population. Specifically,

        Of all arts professions, fine artists, writers and composers were found to be the happiest, because “the profession they have chosen gives them autonomy, and that makes them happy,” he says. “Actors and musicians, on the other hand, are less happy, because they are disciplined by various rules and have less autonomy.”


      • Kimmi in reply to Roger says:

        they must not have talked to many TV writers to come up with that assertion. GRRM has some great quotes about that,in fact.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to Roger says:

        I could make a strong case that the only degree that merits subsidy is education.

        While working on a Master’s in Library Science, which she found ridiculously easy after her Master’s in Linguistics, my sister had a classmate who groaned that the program was “so much harder” than her Master’s in Education.

        Until we dramatically increased minimum requirements for entry, the weakest students in my classes were regularly the Teacher Ed students (although of course I had some great ones, too).

        No field is as subject to fads masquerading as scholarship as education.

        It could be a good field–it’s a legitimate and important subject of study–but at present it is the laughingstock of academia.Report

      • Gaelen in reply to Roger says:

        Roger and James,

        My point wasn’t that education as currently taught is some incredibly useful degree that should be subsidized. Just that of all areas of study, training teachers to instruct and raise our children seems like the most socially beneficial (as opposed to basket weaving or history). And, that one way improve education is to increase the prestige, entrance standards, and (hopefully) the quality of the applicants–something that limited, subsidized programs may help.Report

      • Kimmi in reply to Roger says:

        Yeah, that’s because we’ve gotten… a bit confused on whether educators are supposed to teach people stuff, or just be entertainers.

        Also, because most of academia is pretty happy to sit in its own little boxes, and pretend that’s all to education there is.

        All that’s going to do is get better entertainers. As long as you’re mostly evaluating people by “how well can they get kids to remember stuff” — without giving the educators the ability to chuck kids out the door (or kill ’em, that is proven effective technique)… it’s all about being entertainment, rather than about teaching what kids might really need to know.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to Roger says:

        Subsidies rarely incentivize quality improvements.Report

      • Kimmi in reply to Roger says:


        Incentives are like many things, they operate with diminishing returns on investment.

        If you give a child food for his belly, at the beginning of the day, you not only incentivize attendance, but performance as well.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to Roger says:

        To add to that, I understand the urge to give support to something that is important. But financial support does not automatically translate into improvement. There has to be some mechanism that causes improvement as a function of the support. But it’s all too easy for subsidies to provide a cushion that reduces the incentive to improve.

        The only area I’d support more subsidies for education as a discipline would be for serious research on educational efficacy that would be subject to peer-review by scholars outside the discipline. Because currently the state of research is a bad joke, and the field is essentially fad-driven.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to Roger says:

        That’s not an incentive, Kim.Report

      • Kimmi in reply to Roger says:

        are we talking different languages here?

        incentive n: a thing that motivates or encourages one to do something.

        It would seem to me that a hungry child would be motivated to attend school in the morning in order to get free breakfast.

        Maybe you’re using a more technical definition, which is fine, but I’d really like to know what it is — I may borrow it.Report

      • Gaelen in reply to Roger says:

        James, the subsidy comment shouldn’t be taken as the solution to education’s problems as a discipline. It was just a response to Roger lumping it in with History (my major), basket weaving, and 16th Century English Literature.

        My only point was that training educators has social value in a way that those other’s do not, and that making education programs selective (and subsidized or semi-subsidized) may bring in a higher quality of applicant.

        Anyway, as I mentioned, it really was in response to grouping education with other ‘useless’ majors. I happen to think that if we are going to subsidize any major or degree because it is socially/economically useful then education should be at the top of the list. I imagine you know a great deal more about the academic problems in education and what needs to be done to improve those.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to Roger says:


        1. Breakfast provides fuel for kids’ brains so they can learn better–it’s fundamentally different than an incentive.

        2. Even if we called breakfast an incentive, when someone says X rarely does Y, it is not a meaningful response to point to one of those rare cases where X does, right?Report

      • Kimmi in reply to Roger says:

        I’m pretty sure that’s thousands of people in that study alone.

        Incentives for the children tend to make them learn a lot better than giving incentives to the teachers. Because then you’re just paying the teachers to be better entertainers (which is a worthy profession in of itself, just… not education).Report

      • j r in reply to Roger says:


        And, that one way improve education is to increase the prestige, entrance standards, and (hopefully) the quality of the applicants–something that limited, subsidized programs may help.

        We actually have a pretty good experiment in this very thing that has been running for about twenty-five years: Teach for America. TFA got to a point where it is recruiting grads from the top schools on par with the Goldman Sachs and McKinseys of the world. I’m not knocking TFA, but there is not much evidence that it has been some sort of transformational program that has drastically improved inner-city education.

        And more importantly, a lot Teach for Americans, after their two years, take the prestige that comes from being part of the program and parlay it into grad school and a more lucrative career. Again, nothing wrong with that, but it suggests that attempts to inflate the standing of teachers will not necessarily turn out the way that you want.Report

      • Kimmi in reply to Roger says:

        you sure that’s not just because no one else is hiring? Jobs are hard to come by, even for folks from top schools it seems…
        (links appreciated, if ya got ’em).Report

      • ScarletNumbers in reply to Roger says:


        I’m not knocking TFA

        You should be. It is one of the biggest scams going.

        a lot Teach for Americans, after their two years, take the prestige that comes from being part of the program and parlay it into grad school and a more lucrative career. Again, nothing wrong with that

        Actually, there is a lot wrong with it. TFA attracts vultures.Report

      • Gaelen in reply to Roger says:

        I don’t necessarily have time for a more substantive reply, but TFA is a good example of both the importance of prestige in attracting talent, and the shortcomings of that particular model for getting and training good teachers. These shortcomings include extremely limited training and sticking young people with little training in some of the most difficult environments in the country–among others. As an aside, I have a number of friends who did TFA, only one of whom is still a teacher.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Roger says:

        silly subjectsReport

      • Michael Drew in reply to Roger says:

        I suggest that if a person wants to get a degree in a subject that you think I’m mocking, then they should go to a cheap school. If a person wants to not go to a cheap school, then they should get a degree in something that will have them pulling good numbers a couple of years out of college.

        The other option is to commit 110% to ignoring anything Jaybird has to say on the subject of education, and especially one’s own education. And anything Roger says, and, and,… etc. as necessary.Report

  12. Notme says:

    This phenomenon is hardly new. My father left a career in academia bc he had to admit he couldn’t support a family with the lifestyle he wanted. Brittany has to decide what her priorities are and choose for herself.Report

  13. Will H. says:

    It seems to me (which is typically the phrase I use right before being a complete d!ck) that there are two issues improperly (?) conflated, which can be further sub-divided into others.

    The first is of education and its value.
    As stated above, I see education as a tool, and little else. How one commands that tool demonstrates the skill of the practitioner. Enter Mazlow, etc.

    The second is that of under-employment. Vegas is a great place to go to look at for that one.
    Granted, there are structural concerns with adjunct faculty in particular; but the issue is one of under-employment.

    How many people really thought someone with an English degree was going to make a lot of money?
    If blabbering inanely is the one thing a person is good at, advertising pays so much better.
    Become a pundit, or something.
    There are things that pay well, and things that don’t. Odd time to be taking such things into consideration, waiting until a student happens into the burger joint.
    If making money was what she was after, she could go to some Arabic nation and teach English. Supply and demand. Which is sort of funny to mention… Makes me wonder how many Econ profs are in the same boat.Report