Teaching at Louisiana Tech

This is a guest post from an instructor at Louisiana Tech, who writes anonymously for fear of retribution.

I see so many of my colleagues suffering, mostly in silence because what else can they do? They fear losing their job every day as it is. Their stories are painful to hear—increasing debt, depending upon parents to make ends meet, wishing they could meet the requirements for food stamps, all while trying to hold on to that calling to teach. We have good students here at Louisiana Tech. For the most part they are smart and polite, and, as many teachers through the years have seen and been touched by, there are those moments when a student “gets it.” You see the light bulb moment, or they come to you later and thank you for your class, for your help. That is what keeps many instructors going, and what makes them buy supplies from their own pockets so that their students are not shortchanged. But when the bills increase, when yet another year goes by with no pay raise, when you tape the broken window instead of replacing it …. well, you cannot feed your family on moving moments.

At Louisiana Tech, instructors and adjuncts (who outnumber the professors) carry most of the teaching load, and are paid poorly for it. Most professor pay is low as well. Tech professors and instructors are paid far below the national level. Over 90% of the professors and instructors in the U.S. are paid more than LA Tech professors and instructors. With only one small pay raise since 2008, our low pay has not kept up with inflation. We get poorer, even as our work load increases (some departments have seen a 30% decrease in faculty, while student enrollment has increased).

Some instructors survive by receiving money from their parents. Others are not so lucky, and see their credit card debt increase. A couple have told me they actually tried to apply for food stamps because at the end of the month they had no money, and were slowly going deeper in debt. Some have cancelled cable and stopped eating out to trim the budget. I sold our second car, and now my family of drivers shares the one used car left. We got rid of a cell phone as well, and share phones. We patch our clothes and sheets, and glue the splitting soles of our shoes. A few colleagues are growing food in their yards to save on grocery bills. We put off yet again having the house painted, a small (so far) roof leak fixed, or a cracked window replaced. Like others, I keep my home cold in the winter and quite warm in the summer, to save energy costs. I am halving some of my medicine. Our health coverage sucks, partly because our leaders would not accept the Medicaid expansion, which means the rest of us have to pay for those who are uninsured, or less insured. That’s how all insurances work.

Because of constant budget cuts, many departments face increasing enrollments with fewer instructors to teach (859 faculty lost across the state so far). Like many instructors, I spend most of my free time grading or making lesson preps (textbooks change, technology changes, plus I like to try to improve my teaching). Many of us are taking on extra work in “spare” time where we can. A family needs to pay the bills, and more of us are running out of corners to cut.

At work, we are buying, out of our own dwindling pockets, more of our own supplies as our departments run ever shorter of funds. Most of us have computers that are 8 to 12 years old. One colleague tells me of a computer lab where they use glue guns, staples, and rubber bands to repair the lab furniture. Morale is terrible. Instructors feel like they are on borrowed time. Instructors who have been teaching more than 10 years have to wait until September, right before the fall quarter starts, to see if they still have a job—every single year.  Newly hired faculty (a rarity now) make more than faculty who have dedicated many years to Tech. Many cracks are forming in the foundations—and they are getting worse.

4 thoughts on “Teaching at Louisiana Tech

  1. As a former student (graduate 2009), I appreciate the exceptional faculty at Tech. For a Tier 1 National Research University, the state of Louisiana does an absolute horrible job of funding Tech to the levels it should. The administration and faculty has “done more with less” for decades without reward or notice from S. La politicians or the board of regents. Tech gets the fewest percentage of its operating budget from the state general fund of all the state research universities, graduates students with little debt, and has a grad rate a fraction behind the “flagship.”

    It is a shame such a good university constantly loses quality professors to higher paying out of state universities.

    Louisiana higher ed salaries:
    http://as400.regents.state.la.us/pdfs/salaries/fs1415.pdf

    Louisiana operating budget distribution:
    http://regents.louisiana.gov/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/FY-2013-2014-Operating-Budget-Distribution.pdf

    Louisiana Tech graduate return on investment:
    http://news.latech.edu/2015/03/09/louisiana-tech-ranked-no-1-again-in-roi-for-both-in-state-and-out-of-state-students/

    With that being said, in my opinion, the article seems overly critical of direct administration without diving into the root of the problem. This state’s higher ed budget is in disarray. With so many “constitutionally protected programs, this state can cut higher ed and healthcare spending during a budget shortfall. Both sectors are cut heavily. Without change to the state constitution, Tech will always fight for the scraps (increasingly smaller) from the giant “flagship” lsu and other underperforming regional universities.

    However, your experience as a professor in Ruston, La can be compared to many professionals across poor / semi-rural North Louisiana. Jobs just do not pay as well across the board in this area.

    I urge everyone who feels angered or impassioned from the article to become engaged with our local law-makers, economic leaders, and community leaders to grow the economy of North Louisiana.

    • As someone who completed undergrad at Louisiana Tech and has worked there for sometime, I am sympathetic to the writer of this article. For myself, I know I am not being paid nearly what I’m worth remaining at Tech, or at any Louisiana university. A shift into the private sector six hours down I-20, and I could easily double what I make. I stay where I am because it is home, I like what I do and the people I work with, and I feel like too many people are giving up, packing up, and fleeing to other states.

      I think “La Tech Alum” is correct in that the poster is overly critical of the administration. On the one hand, adjunct pay is horrible across the board. This is true at just about every University in America. This issues is systemic, and not unique to Tech. On the other hand, I can say from first hand knowledge that administration is aware of this and many other issues that plague the University due to a lack of resources, and things aren’t necessarily where they are out of choice. The problem now, is that Louisiana universities are quite literally fighting just to keep their doors open.

      If you are looking for a place to lay blame, I would suggest looking squarely at Baton Rouge. No, I don’t mean LSU, who has also been affected by funding issues to the point of having to recently develop plans for financial exigency, when it seemed higher education would have to bear yet another huge cut to pay for fiscal mismanagement of the State.

      If you want the real source of the problem for higher education in Louisiana, look no further than our State government. Look at a legislature who insists on buying into the single-flagship model, and consistently votes down improvements in higher education in North Louisiana in order to maintain LSU’s flagship status. Look at a Constitution that makes it impossible to cut anything in the budget other than higher education or public health expenditures. Finally, look at a Governor, so deluded into thinking he has a chance at the White House, that he has been willing to trade the best interests of the Louisiana people as well as the sovereignty of the State of Louisiana for endorsements from people like Grover Norquist.

  2. I cannot thank the faculty at Louisiana Tech enough for the exceptional education I received in the Liberal Arts college (poli sci, history, and speech especially) at an affordable cost. I am constantly amazed at the quality of professors that taught at Tech during my time in both a bachelors and masters program (2007-2012). I received an education equal to many of my peers at top public and private universities.

    I am equally ashamed of my state for failing the university faculty and possible future alum so completely. I watched as some of my favorite professors made the hard decision to leave because the future at LA Tech is so bleak. I left Louisiana because I saw the same future.

    Louisiana, you are losing some of your best and brightest minds and it’s completely fixable. I can only hope the next administration will give some shred of a shit about higher education in Louisiana. Rather than playing games with the budget.

  3. Pingback: “Louisiana, Louisiana, Huey Long, Huey Long” | The Academe Blog

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