Sunday, May 05, 2013

Special Adjuncts?

Ariel Kaminer has an article in the New York Times, "The Last Refuge from Scandal?  Professorships," about high profile political and military men (at least I think they're all men) who get hired as adjuncts to teach one class (a year?  a semester?) for some colleges.

I knew some famous folks got hired to teach classes, but I guess I thought they'd be making a whole lot more money than this article suggests.  It says, for example,
for Mr. Spitzer’s weekly seminar, which he taught from fall 2009 to spring 2012, he was paid slightly less than $5,000 a semester, which he donated to the school after other professors said it was on the high side of what adjuncts earn. Mr. Spitzer, who said he sought to make his students “both enjoy and learn how to think about questions at several different levels,” described the experience as a “huge joy, every week.”
That's high for an adjunct, certainly, but a drop in the bucket compared to what he's used to earning or earns if he takes a high level law firm job, no?

I was interested in how students found the teaching.  Here's what one student had to say about Spitzer:
One of his students, Melissa Lynch, said he was one of her best teachers and he encouraged the class to call him on his cellphone if they had questions about readings. When it came to the mechanics of running a class, however, “he didn’t really seem to know what he was doing.” The class required one writing assignment, “but he didn’t know if it should be 2 pages or 30 pages,” she said, adding, “He kept asking us, ‘What do other professors do?’ ”

I think it's telling that he didn't have a clue about how to run a class.  It's one thing to talk or lead a discussion about something you know well (and I'm guessing all these folks know their old business well, even if they made stupid mistakes to cause whatever scandal).  It's amusing that he invited them to call him on his cellphone.  I'm guessing he's not doing a 200 person lecture, eh?  Or teaching four classes at a time.

The schools inviting these folks to teach make sense; they're mostly in or near New York or some other big city, which is where these folks are likely to be living anyway.  (Yeah, it would be fun to see the Compass Point State in the Upper Midwest convince one of them to come as an adjuct.)

David Petraeus will be teaching in both New York and LA.  I'm guessing that his adjuct salary wouldn't even cover the semester's airfare in economy, and I'm guessing he doesn't fly economy.  Special arrangements?

I'm sure students are pretty excited to be taught by famous instructors.  And I'm willing to bet in some cases they're getting a really great experience.  I'm not sure that's always the case, though, and I wonder how the grades these instructors assign compare with grades in similar classes at these schools?   I'm guessing even without terminal degrees (and some of them certainly seem to have terminal degrees), their experience makes them qualified to teach within their specific areas.

It would be weird beyond belief to be in a faculty meeting with someone like that, though, wouldn't it?  I mean, we have a few sleeze cases, but they aren't sleeze cases whose sleeze has been publicized widely.


  1. I saw this article, too, and wondered if the students these famous dude taught would even know who they were or why they were famous. Then, the scandal is just a google away...

    This is incentive to be neither famous nor terribly scandalous. :)

  2. I bet those guys - and they were all guys, if I remember correctly - don't bother with faculty meetings. But I too was surprised that they were paid the normal per course rate, or something close to it. Which, btw, is less than I was paid for one course at an ivy 15 years ago...

  3. It's a prestige thing, and it benefits everyone. The men (and yes, it's almost always men; my alma mater seems to hire a couple of these dudes a year) get to play at being a college professor, and molding young minds, and then they get bragging rights. They also can use the experience in speeches or books or whatever ("When I taught at Columbia, I learned that the generation of tomorrow values..."). They don't need the money. The kids and the college get the glamor and the brush with greatness--and occasionally some actually useful connections.

    And yes, the kids in the class always know who the guy is. Usually it's something like a 15-person seminar, and they have to apply to get in.

  4. Anonymous2:07 PM

    We pay ours a LOT. But we're also just a state flagship, and we're far away from DC.

  5. Oh, they don't even get invited to faculty meetings--in that sense, they're treated like any other adjuncts, right? :)

    $5K is about what the private universities pay any adjunct in NYC, but for the CUNY system it sounds kind of high.

  6. Ianqui, Sometimes I think I live in a different world; we're happy to have adjuncts at our faculty meetings (though, of course, we can't include such things in our evaluations and such, since they're not required in the contracts), and they participate fully when they come. There are few meetings where they're not invited, but those are personnel issue meetings.

  7. Anonymous6:00 AM

    I wonder how much actual teaching they do and how much of it is just telling anecdotes and pontificating about their experience.