Contracting Temperament

A couple approached the front door of our house this evening. Ding-dong! I
opened the door. "Oh, you’re moving?" Uh, yeah. I
explained: The place is listed. Call the realtor on the sign. Then
they said they weren’t interested in buying. They planned to call our LaLo
about renting it. ORLY? That’s right. Come to find out, the
same LaLo who slammed us with an imperative to move back in April has posted
this very house for "sale or rent" at
. The rent he’s asking is $100 bucks more per month
than we’re paying now, but it looks like the lackluster real estate market has
motivated him to rent again. The prospective renters who stopped by this
evening weren’t especially won over by my look of surprise (a genuine look…come
). I showed them around and explained that we were happy enough
with the place, that we would have stayed longer had we not been, in effect,
forced out to appease some impulse of greed. *sigh*

Yesterday I called the *new* AT&T to check on upping the minutes on our
cellular plan. We’re land-line free and using a few more minutes than our
current plan can bear. I climbed and swung through the number tree and
arrived, much to my misfortunate I would later learn, on a "Sales" branch of the
tree talking with someone called Betty. I told Betty I needed more
minutes. Can I switch to a plan with more minutes? She answered
back: "It says here you would have to upgrade your account and pay an upgrade
fee of $18. If you upgrade, you would be voiding your current contract, so
you would have to pay market value for new phones. You would also have to agree
to a two-year contract." What the? Say, Betty, I like the
phones we already have, and I just need more minutes. Betty and I talked past
each other for several more minutes. Having gone through something like this
before, I was fairly certain there was a way to do what I wanted without handing
over an upgrade fee and shelling out for new phones. In the afternoon, I
tried again. Talked someone called Lance who took care of everything in
only a couple of minutes.

Here’s the most striking irritant by far: a bitter pill from P.U. regarding
the course development and upkeep work I’ve done over the past few years.
Received word a couple of weeks ago that the existing royalty structure is being
scrapped in the new contracts that have been foisted on existing developers.
Developers of high-enrolling (mulitple-section) courses stand to lose a fair
amount of money. The new development/maintenance contracts pay out $150
per term for courses with just one section and a flat-rate of $200 per term for
courses with two or more sections. I got involved initially because the royalty
structure at the time scaled according to the number of total sections of a
given course. At the time (right after 9-11), everyone was in a clamor about
deployed enrollments (an exodus of on-site students who would be TDY to
Afghanistan or elsewhere). There was a rush to attract developers of
high-enrolling courses, and this was done with the snake oil of two-year
contracts which paid royalties of $3 per student (also, there were evil grins
and promises to make decent pay for the work involved). Once the
high-enrolling courses were developed and in place (all work-for-hire), there
was a change in program leadership and a new contract. This one, around
2004, paid $60 per section to developers for ongoing maintenance (answering
emails, writing new course materials, responding to inquiries from instructors,
and so on). Again, two-year contracts. Only with these, because I
knew I would be enrolling in a PhD program where the stipend, generous though it
is, wouldn’t be enough to do much more than pay rent, I met with then-director
of the distance learning program and was given verbal reassurance that
the contracts would be renewable, that I could count on that income provided P.U.
thought highly of the design of those courses (this has never been raised as a
question, for what it’s worth). The new contracts depart radically from
the former system. I talked to the new interim director by phone today and was
told plainly that the contracts were a strictly legal matter, that the new
contracts were all that was available, and that they understood some developers
would lose out. Unfortunately, I happen to be one of them. If I don’t want
to continue as a developer, I was told, I have the right of first refusal.

They’re making a lot of loot on the online courses. What’s happened, as
I see it, is that demand for the courses has shifted into the long tail of the
curriculum–those courses that need to be developed even though there will only
be one section. Redistributing the royalty structure gives the U. ways
improve incentives for developers of low-enrolling courses. Another
factor: the U. has brought "instructional designers" on staff who will
collaborate with the less tech-savvy among the faculty. I could go on and
on about this, but I’ll stop. Nothing I can do about it, given that my
energy must be directed elsewhere. What irks me the most? An
institution stands to gain from these [adjective] employment practices that thrive when
institutional memory is short (use of part-timers, work-for-hire,
contingent staff and instructors, and also high turnover in administrative posts
related to the online program). Part-timers, those whose contracts, like
light bulbs, are good for about two years, have no union, no bargaining unit, no
collective voice, and, in effect, not an ounce of leverage in decisions that position them as
expendable labor. The contracts were never negotiable, not even up for
discussion (difficult, even, to get a phone conversation in which I could ask