Thursday, January 03, 2013

Field of Broken Dreams – Part I

Field of Broken Dreams – Part I

Those of us with Idealist temperaments (ENFP here) often tend to think out loud in working through our problems. We need to verbalize our thoughts, to put them into some form of expression, and, for us extraverted types, to interact with others, On New Year’s Eve, I sat down to work through the crisis I am facing in my career. It comes at the end of a long year of disappointments, reflection, talks with trusted others and hours of research and reading. This is a work in progress. But I share with you where I am this day. And I am grateful for your indulgence in this process and any feedback you would afford me.

An Endurance Test on a Good Day

“Choose a job you love, and you will never
have to work a day in your life.” Confucius

Over the past year, I have devoted the majority of my waking life energies to a job I once loved. Today I increasingly see my job as it has devolved over the past several years as an endurance test on a good day. On bad days, I experience it as a psychic black hole draining more and more of my very soul into an abyss. And then there are the rare days when I have a lively lunch discussion with a fine student or colleague or when students suddenly emerge from their zombie states without notice, coming to life in class. On those rare days I remember how much joy teaching used to bring me.

In the past 12 months, I have taught nine college courses at the university. Four of them were taught completely online including two summer courses. One was taught at the honors college. Four were sections of introductory humanities courses by which students meet general education requirements. Of the nine courses, all but one required four intensive research or writing assignments.

In these nine classes I taught 236 students, an average of 26 students per class. Subtracting the 19 students from the single course with no required writing, that comes out to 856 research and/or writing assignments minimum graded over the past year.

In no semester did I teach the same course twice thus relieving me of additional planning (and keeping up with the different material and assignments in each class). In Spring semester, I had three different plannings for three different courses, in Fall semester I had four. Over the past year I have taught in two of the four disciplines which the department offers, Humanities and Philosophy. Most years I teach in Religious Studies as well.

In addition to my classroom duties, both virtual and actual, I served as the pre-law advisor for the College of Arts and Humanities and offered students considering a career in law offering 43 sessions of at least one half hour over the spring semester. In the fall, I became the advisor for the Humanities program. I average about 1.5 advising sessions of one half hour or more during my days on campus. My advising sessions regularly exceed my designated office hours but they also allow me one class release per year.

I currently serve as faculty advisor for two campus organizations and agreed to sponsor a third organization devoted to international justice issues which formed this fall. I became the student at the three day winter faculty development conference on campus between fall and spring semesters last Christmas. And I continue to operate an assessment program (of highly questionable pedagogical utility) of the humanities introductory courses, a program dictated by state bureaucrats under the rubric of “accountability.”

Over the past 12 months I have written 65 letters of recommendations for students for everything from jobs to law schools to seminaries. Two out of three actually said thank you.

Just before Christmas I discovered two of my students had plagiarized big chunks of an easy, open-book and note final exam. One appeared to have been a case of thoughtless neglect and, upon confrontation, was profusely apologetic. The zero on the exam brought that student’s grade down to a C for the term. The other student engaged in a blatant copy and paste of web materials with no attribution which constituted half of the final exam. The student then failed to make the appointment to talk with me about the incident after agreeing to do so. That student will be attending the academic integrity course as a condition of graduation.

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

Little wonder I have spent a good part of this Christmas break in bed. In all honesty, I feel tired just reading this work history. But when I consider the monetary compensation I will receive for this effort expended and the declining moral rewards this job has come to embody, it becomes decidedly painful.

I need to preface the following data with the recognition that much of what I am going to discuss here is already public record. Governor Rick Scott, one of the glazed over Teapot ideologues swept into office in the 2010 elections, has conducted a campaign against public employees, particularly in education, since his inauguration in 2011. This is the same private enterprise crusader who was more than happy to defraud the Medicare program of millions of dollars until forced to repay the overbilling under threat of criminal prosecution. While his crusade to destroy the social sciences and humanities has been injurious to the field of higher education where I work, it was the posting of our salaries under the rubric of overpaid public employees that added the insult to the many injuries inflicted by this myopic zealot. Seems the guv thinks folks like me are being overcompensated.

So most of what I’m about to tell you is already online at If you feel compelled to go to that site you can marvel over the generous administrative salaries (minus any data for the athletics staff which somehow failed to be included) and the slave labor wages for most everyone else that make those generous administrative salaries possible. You’ll find my base salary listed at 2639 (out of 6282 total employees listed). For all of the services I list above and, no doubt, some I simply am too tired to remember, I am guaranteed a grand total of $43,759 per year base salary. That ranks me just below the tech who works in the computer services division responsible for the PIN numbers on campus computer accounts. I rank just ahead of a senior superintendent of payroll for housekeeping services on campus.

What these mere numbers don’t tell you is the rest of the story. My guess is that the employee in charge of PINs on campus and the employee responsible for payroll in housekeeping were not required to hold graduate degrees as a condition of employment, much less three. They have also likely not had to repay the graduate student loans that made those degrees possible. (I graduated in 2000 with $60,000 outstanding principle and will make my last payment next year thanks to some generous help from my Dad). This is hardly to devalue the work these folks do without which the university could probably not function, just to try to place it in some kind of perspective. 

Indeed, I am hardly the most miserly compensated instructor in our own department. That dubious honor goes to my next door neighbor in the department who brings a Ph.D., several years of teaching experience and several publications to his full-time teaching and duties as assessment coordinator for a whopping sum of $30,000 a year. Not surprisingly, he has recently found a new job with a starting salary nearly twice that amount at a private college in Alabama. We are uncertain if the university will allow us to refill his position.

To put this into perspective, beginning teachers here in Orange County with just a bachelor’s degree and no experience make $36,000 annually. And they have no graduate education loans to repay. My base salary of $43,759 is about what I could expect from the local public schools with one of my graduate degrees and no experience. My current UCF salary is based upon nearly 10 years of full-time service at UCF alone, (I have 25 years of experience teaching at six different colleges altogether) the last eight of which have included small raises each year based upon outstanding annual evaluations by my chair.

In years past, I have been able to supplement my base income by teaching up to two summer courses which have provided up to ¼ of my base salary, a provision which only came into being three years ago through the insistence of the faculty union of which I am a member. Such a provision is certainly fair in that the base salary is based upon a 9 month contract thus a full summer’s work amounts to the remaining ¼ of the year.

When I have had two summer classes (and thus taught all summer), my university salary has been as high as the $55,050 I earned this past year, my highest income ever from the university. But from that total is deducted involuntary “contributions” such as the $1627 I was required to pay into my own retirement fund last year, the $600 deducted to pay for my health insurance and the $323.31 I must pay to park at my place of employment.

Except for the parking rip-off which I have endured since beginning at UCF along with everyone else, the other two deductions from gross income are little more than pay cuts imposed by the state legislature over the past two sessions.  This would be the same legislature that has cut funding at our university 49% over the past six years even as enrollment has increased 30% over the same period.

But, wait! There’s more…..

It is frequently at the point where one might imagine things could not get much worse that they do. Just before Christmas we were informed that the regional campus budgets which had funded our summer teaching have been cut from 14 sections offered to 5. Undoubtedly that means that those of us who have depended upon summer teaching to even begin to approximate salaries commensurate with our qualifications and the work we do are going to lose at least half if not all of that salary supplement.

I had hoped to make up for some of that loss this year by being the Humanities instructor in a team taught program focused on the culture of Brasil, the last two weeks of which would have been taught on-site in Sao Paulo this summer. The program is largely funded by an international satellite communications company which wants to test new equipment in the field so the university’s share of the cost was negligible.

The catch was that the two UCF instructors (Psychology would provide the other) would have to have their salaries paid by the university (in my case, about $5500 for Summer A). Two days before Christmas I was informed that the university would not pay our salaries, this in retribution for the union’s grievance of the university’s failure to pay a number of salaries of faculty in study abroad programs over the past several years. Somehow actually paying faculty for their instructional services in overseas settings is seen as unreasonable by our university.

What may not be apparent here immediately is the long range impacts such decisions can have on individual employees. As my dissatisfaction with my work at UCF had grown over the past year, I had begun to look at the possibilities of early retirement. The state retirement system bases final pensions on the top five years of an employee’s salary.

Should I continue in state employment until I am 62, my monthly payment from the FRS would be a modest $1500/month ($18,000/year). Of course, that calculation is based upon ongoing salaries at the current level with a presumption of a 2% annual increase. If I lose my summer employment, my salary will plunge back down to my base salary level. And my five years base will shrink as a result. Retirement services at the university informed me today that if I no longer include my summer salaries, my monthly benefits will decrease to $1388/month.

In short, I will actually lose money by remaining at the university in my current status.

I have attempted to supplement my income from the university through a number of outside activities. The Florida Humanities Council has paid me to produce several public scholarship events around the state as well as ongoing involvement with the Prime Time Literacy program with low income families in Orange County. I also attempted to compensate for my second denial of the Teaching Incentive Program award at UCF (on some very arbitrary and political grounds) by teaching as an adjunct at my previous place of employment, Valencia College. That brought in an additional $1800 for the fall semester but no guarantee of ongoing adjunct opportunities. My class this semester at Valencia did not make. 

Truth be told, I engage in these outside activities as more for the joy they provide me as for the modest income I gain there. It’s such a nice change to work in situations where your efforts are appreciated, where you are respected as a professional and as a human being. Sadly, none of these things are consistently a part of my experience of UCF anymore. But even with all of these part-time gigs plus my full-time work at UCF, I have yet to hit the $60,000 I made my last year of practicing law in 1990. And as things stand, that record will probably go unshattered before I retire.


The Rev. Harry Scott Coverston, J.D., Ph.D.
Member, Florida Bar (inactive status)
Priest, Episcopal Church (Dio. of El Camino Real, CA)
Instructor: Humanities, Religion, Philosophy of Law
University of Central Florida, Orlando

If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding.

Most things of value do not lend themselves to production in sound bytes. ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

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