Tag Archives: adjunct

Iowa and the Groupthink Academy

That certain quarters of the academy–humanities
departments, most social sciences departments, and many graduate programs
(social work, education, and to a lesser extent law)–are ideologically
imbalanced is not news. A decision in an Iowa court, however, exposed the
difficulty in addressing the problem.

The case, which received extensive coverage in the Des Moines Register and attracted some
notice in the national press, involved Teresa Wagner, who in 2006 applied for a
vacancy at the University of Iowa Law School. (She then applied for adjunct jobs
between 2007 and 2009.) Wagner had served as a part-time instructor before that
time, was invited for an interview for the tenure-track job but didn’t receive
it, and then didn’t get any of the adjunct positions, either. (It’s odd indeed
for a candidate considered qualified enough to be a finalist for a tenure-track
job to, in turn, be deemed unqualified for an adjunct’s position.) Wagner
believed that her outspoken activism on social issues and her affiliation with
some very conservative groups, notably the Family Research Council, motivated
the opposition to her candidacy. Wagner then sued the dean of the law school.

Winning a lawsuit for an adverse hiring decision is all
but impossible. (The contrast here is to an adverse tenure decision, where the
odds are long but not insurmountable.) The university can always claim that,
whatever the apparent strengths of the plaintiff, there simply was another,
more qualified, candidate for the position, and that privacy/personnel rules
prevent a thorough airing of the matter. Given the inherently subjective nature
of the hiring process, that line of argument almost always carries the day, to
such an extent that few lawsuits alleging bias in the hiring process even make
it to trial.

The Wagner case, however, was unusual, in that she was
able to present an e-mail from the law school’s associate dean–dubbed a
“smoking gun” document by her attorney–in which the associate dean wrote, “Frankly,
one thing that worries me is that some people may be opposed to Teresa serving in
any role in part at least because they so despise her politics (and especially
her activism about it). I hate to think that is the case, and I don’t actually
think that, but I’m worried that I may be missing something.”

The law school dean unsurprisingly denied Wagner’s claim
of ideological bias, and instead rested on an assertion that Wagner had flubbed
an interview question by saying she’d refuse to teach a course required for the
position. But the law school’s position was weakened by its inability to
produce any contemporaneous references to this alleged flubbing (the notes from
other faculty seemed to praise, not disparage, Wagner’s performance). And a
videotape of Wagner’s interview that Wagner’s critics promised would prove their
case was conveniently erased.

Continue reading Iowa and the Groupthink Academy

Wake Us Gently–We’re Students

nap pod.jpg

It probably had to happen. The conversion of campuses into luxurious spa-like retreats started at elite and well-heeled institutions and has now spread to smaller, lesser-known colleges.

The newest student residence at Saint Leo University in Florida houses nap pods, an electronic gaming area with four flat-screen televisions, a workout area and an arcade complete with skee-ball, pinball machines, and air hockey tables. (This is a residence hall, not a student center.) Any student, not just those living there, can drop by to take a nap in one of the nap pods, which–according to Inside Higher Ed–feature an ergonomic design, a shield to block light, soothing sounds, and a gradual wake-up system so nappers can awaken as gently as possible.

The building houses 154 students in suite-style rooms – each suite with four single bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a common room with a television. Another residence hall, set to open next fall, has a multipurpose room that can be used as a theater or a classroom, and a 2,100-gallon saltwater aquarium that is home to 25 lion fish, chosen because of the university’s mascot, the Saint Leo Lion.

One commenter on the Inside Higher Ed site said, “Meanwhile tigher Ed site sad he numerous adjunct instructors have not a single room available in which to meet their students.” Another said the students may enjoy their nap pods but after graduating, the nappers could be back in their parents’ home, sleeping on the sofa.

How to Save Tenure–Cut It Way Back

lipsman tenure.jpg

Professors with tenure have lifetime appointments that can only be revoked after some egregious transgression, summarized by such formal labels as moral turpitude, gross negligence or dereliction of duty. In effect, the only tenured professors who get the sack are those who have robbed a bank, raped a co-ed or pistol-whipped a colleague.

Why would a university agree to make an appointment that so severely restricts its ability to terminate an underperforming or incompetent employee?  We all know the historic reason: faculty need to be free to pursue controversial theories, novel ideas and unexplored terrain. Then why is the tenure system under attack? Here are some reasons:

Continue reading How to Save Tenure–Cut It Way Back

Unionize All Those Adjuncts?–Let’s Not

adjunct union protests.jpgSome two-thirds of America’s college students are taught by adjuncts, and now the battle is on over whether these low-paid, low-status workers should be unionized. Adjuncts, also called contingent faculty, are teachers hired without tenure, paid a small fraction of those on tenure-track positions, (typically $2700 per course, with minimal benefits). All three college faculty unions–the AAUP, American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association–have recently ramped up unionization campaigns while non-academic unions like the United Auto Workers have likewise entered the battle. The stakes are high both for institutions and for individuals.

One does not have to be a Marxist to yell, “Exploitation!” Endless tales of “Gypsy Scholars” abound–young men and women struggling with no job security to teach as many as six courses per semester, occasionally at multiple schools, lacking any health or pension plan at a salary comparable to working at McDonalds. Meanwhile tenure-track colleagues, some of whom may be brain dead, enjoy a princely wage (with generous benefits) for teaching identical courses. So, what better way to eliminate this blatant unfairness than unionization?

Continue reading Unionize All Those Adjuncts?–Let’s Not

An Academy Made Up of Adjuncts?

The Chronicle recently featured an article
about the Adjunct Project, a program put together by a University of Georgia
adjunct named Joshua Boldt “asking fellow adjuncts to enter information about
their pay and working conditions.” Adjuncts are often underpaid. They also
generally do not have research or service expectations, and they are almost
never hired through competitive searches. The position is a useful one for
graduate students needing experience.

Continue reading An Academy Made Up of Adjuncts?

Why Not Hire Your Own Adjunct? They Are Very Inexpensive

The cheeky blog Edububble offers a modest proposal: Since
college tuition is so high, why not skip the campus middleman and “hire
your own professor” as a private tutor?

You think you can’t afford that? You’re wrong. While it’s
true that hiring a $300,000-a-year academic superstar from Harvard would break
the bank for most students and their parents, the vast majority of college
instructors, many of whom boast doctoral degrees from prominent universities
just like the guy from Harvard, are willing to teach for as little as
$1,600-$3,000 per three-credit-hour semester-long course. They already do.

Continue reading Why Not Hire Your Own Adjunct? They Are Very Inexpensive

The Outrage of the Adjuncts

higher-ed-hand.jpgEver heard of the New Faculty Majority? That’s a euphemism of sorts, but an accurate one, for adjuncts and other non-tenure-track teachers who now account for 70 percent of all college instructors. The group is three years old and met for a premiere “summit” in Washington, DC. on January 28th in conjunction with the annual meeting of the Association of American Colleges and Universities.

From the tenor of most of the summit’s presentations, the group seems to have decided that the villain behind their failure to obtain respectable academic jobs is capitalism. Neo-Marxist phrases filled the air: “wage theft,” “neoliberal agenda,” “corporate America,” “under assault from the right,” “privatization of the production of knowledge,” and “marketization of the university.” I thought: if I had a dollar for each such phrase, I could endow a tenured chair for myself in the Ivy League, plus another chair with a dollar for every Dickensian plaint about minimum-wage-paid non-tenured instructors going on welfare, living out of their vans, limping to their classes with holes in their shoes, and committing suicide.

Still, this self-described academic proletariat had a point–although it was a point that took me a while to ford my way through the “Grapes of Wrath” logorrhea to see. (It helped that the NFM’s sole Republican board member, Matthew Williams, was able to advocate for the non-tenured without invoking Karl Marx, the Occupy movement, or anti-globalization guru Naomi Klein.)

Dreaming of a Professor, but Getting an Adjunct

The point–and it is a powerful one–was this: Undergraduate students, their parents, and the taxpayers who subsidize public education spend large sums of money on what they imagine to be a high-quality academic experience for young people. They imagine the distinguished tenured professors whose achievements grace the university’s website forming intimate and memorable mentoring relationships with their undergraduate students via small classes and one-on-one discussions. Instead, what those students often get, at least for the first two years and sometimes for all four, are behemoth classes taught, sometimes indifferently, by poorly paid, minimally supervised, time-harassed, and even burned-out “contingent” faculty whose connections with university life are so tenuous that students complain they never see their teachers outside of the classroom.

At community colleges, for example, only 19 percent of faculty are on the tenure track; the rest are drop-ins. One of the most crucial college courses, freshman composition, designed to prepare students to hone research skills and present cogent scholarly arguments, is on nearly every campus the sole domain of non-tenured part-timers making a couple thousand dollars a class–if they’re lucky. Tenured professors typically eschew freshman comp, stay away from large lecture courses unless they can buffer themselves with armies of graduate assistants, and in general try to teach as little as they can get away with, preferably in small graduate seminars. Universities prefer to spend their money on campus amenities and armies of administrators rather than on faculty salaries, particularly at the lower level. So students can essentially be cheated out of critical years of education that they, their parents, or state taxpayers are paying large sums for.

“No one is monitoring what’s happening in the classrooms,” said Williams, who holds a Master’s in Public Administration and who taught communications part time for three years at the University of Akron. “I was never evaluated. My syllabus was never read by anyone except my students.”

As the NFM presenters were eager to point out, the vast majority of non-tenured instructors, despite the doctoral degrees that most of them hold, are part-time “adjuncts” working for as little as $1,400 per three-credit-hour course taught (do the math and you’ll see that even if they manage to cram five classes per semester into their schedules–an unusually high teaching load for an adjunct–$14,000 a year doesn’t buy a lot of groceries). On top of their wretched pay, adjuncts lack the most rudimentary job security, because most are hired on an as-needed basis a few days before the semester begins. And on top of that, because college administrators want to keep adjunct faculty at arm’s length as part-timers–and thus get out of paying for their health insurance and other full-time employee benefits–few institutions permit adjuncts to teach more than two classes per semester. In order to earn something resembling a living wage, many adjuncts cobble together two or three teaching gigs on multiple campuses and spend much of their working day driving from part-time job to part-time job in the kind of car that you can afford when your income is $14,000 a year. Few campuses provide offices for adjunct faculty–or even parking spaces, computer access, or cubbies for storing their books. Adjuncts almost never get invited to departmental social events. Indeed, it’s common for the tenure-track professors in a given department not even to know the adjuncts’ names. As Betsy Smith, who teaches English as a second language part time at Cape Cod Community College, put it: “It’s matter of respect. They never refer to me as ‘my colleague.'”

Still, as I sat through the NFM summit in an audience of about a hundred of the angry untenured, I couldn’t help thinking: Isn’t all this misery self-inflicted? No one is holding a gun to the heads of these underemployed folks with their hyper-developed brains, strings of advanced degrees, and 20-year-old automobiles. Colleges pay adjuncts $1,400 a class (on the wealthier campuses the rate is more like $3,500 or $4,000 a class, still way under the average $55,000 annual starting salary for a brand-new assistant professor on the tenure track teaching three classes a semester)…because they can. In today’s academic market, at least in the humanities, there are at least two, and sometimes four holders of brand-new doctorates for every tenure-track opening. So there seems to be no end to the line of the over-educated who are willing to endure any indignity in order to keep a toehold in college teaching, even of the most marginal kind. “I put 10 years of my life into getting my Ph.D., and I don’t want to give it up” was a response I heard more than once when I asked several adjuncts at the summit why they didn’t just stop adjuncting and do something that would afford them a decent lifestyle.

Many of the summit panels consisted essentially of consciousness-raising, 1960s style. Clare Goldstene, a lecturer in the history department at American University, complained that lack of tenure made leftist faculty timid about expressing their views. “It dims the potent voice of progressive exchange,” she said. Deepak Bhargava, executive director of the Center for Community Change, a Washington-based advocacy group for “communities of color,” declared that there was a right-wing “effort afoot to roll back the 20th century: the New Deal, civil rights, voting rights, welcoming to immigrants.” He urged non-tenured instructors to form coalitions with day laborers, domestic workers, “demonized” public-school teachers’ unions, and a bunch of foreign students who entered the U.S. last summer on work-study visas and found themselves shuttled off by a labor contractor into night-shift work packing chocolate for a Hershey business partner. “Those were slave-like conditions, not unlike the conditions you work under,” Bhargava told the adjuncts.

Perhaps the most incendiary of all was Joe Berry, author of “Reclaiming the Ivory Tower: Organizing Adjuncts to Change Higher Education” and also the American Association of University Professors representative at Rutgers (the AAUP, the American Federation of Teachers, and the National Education Association are all competing among the non-tenured for union members). “This is a rich country, there’s plenty of money,” Berry declared. “It’s just in the wrong pockets.” In order to pay adjuncts better, Berry suggested a variety of redistributive measures at the federal level: a more progressive tax structure, cutbacks on military spending, and curtailing America’s “barbarous rate of incarceration.” Debra Leigh Scott, an adjunct professor in English at Temple University and the Community College of Philadelphia, narrated lugubrious tales of adjuncts she knew who signed up for food stamps, sold their eggs, reused their teabags because they had to buy cat food that week, and attended faculty dinners at restaurants where they couldn’t afford the wine. One adjunct shot his wife, set fire to their house, and then shot himself because the two had lost their jobs, their house was in foreclosure, and his wife had cancer. (Scott’s blog, The Homeless Adjunct, contains many more such woeful stories.) “My daughter is a corporate attorney because she doesn’t want to live on the edge of poverty the way I do,” Scott said.

‘They Don’t Care about Their Students’

Scott’s daughter struck me as having the right idea. So did Stanley Katz, director of Princeton’s Center for Arts and Cultural policy Studies. Katz, who received his doctorate from Princeton in 1961 and has spent his entire career teaching at elite universities, including Princeton, warned the assembled non-tenured that it was “naïve” for them to think, for example, that they could ever be accepted as equals by the research-focused–and status-obsessed–tenured professors who teach at their institutions. (One of the AAUP’s goals is for adjuncts to have access to the tenure track based upon their teaching records.) “Most of my colleagues care only about research. Why should they care about you? They don’t care about their own students.”

Another reality check came from Valerie Hardcastle, dean of arts and sciences at the University of Cincinnati, a drop-in from the university administrators’ meeting. “There’s an 850-pound gorilla in this room that’s never been discussed and never mentioned: the overproduction of Ph.D.’s. I say: You’re a smart person with a Ph.D.–why are you doing this to yourself? I don’t hire adjunct faculty in math because they won’t work under those conditions. And I don’t hire adjunct faculty in Spanish because they won’t work under those conditions. But we have a plethora of English Ph.D.’s–and every year the English department comes to me and wants to expand the Ph.D. program.

Yes, it might have been provocative for the NFM summit to have focused, not on the immiseration of adjunct faculty, but on other factors: the faculty vanity, the desire to teach small classes of eager graduate students rather than large classes of disengaged undergrads, and the greed for cheap labor that has led English and departments to persist in operating doctoral programs whose chief yield is the impoverished and radicalized lifelong adjuncts. And while my advice to would-be adjunct professors is still “Just say no,” I emerged with a better understanding of why their perhaps futile quest for better working conditions has some merit: By systematically underpaying and mistreating the non-tenured faculty who bear the burden of basic education, colleges are systematically cheating their own students. As Maria Maisto, president of the NFM, told me in an interview after the conference, “It’s not just a market issue. The same entities control the supply and the demand.”

Who Wants to Be Evaluated by Students?

Student Evaluations.jpgMany in the academy, whether on the left or right, will agree that in the late 1960s, a fundamental change took place in the balance between student demands and faculty authority.  At about the same moment when many schools began eliminating comprehensive examinations to assess the competence of students in their major subjects, these same schools introduced what has become known as teaching evaluations. These evaluations have become the staple of administrations everywhere.  They are used to decide tenure and promotion decisions, and in some cases they are mandatory (e.g., a student cannot know her final grade for a course until she fills out an evaluation, provided conveniently online).  Such enforced democratic participation is pursued with the kind of determination once attributed to the enforcement practices of grade-school teachers.

It seems nearly impossible to imagine that once-upon-a-time, such institutions as Columbia University struggled over whether to promote to tenure someone whose politics were considered “radical”. The origins of the American Association of University Professors, founded in 1915, devoted itself for forty years to the protection of dissent and academic freedom. Students played no more than a whispering role in such disputes.

Continue reading Who Wants to Be Evaluated by Students?

The Incredible Shrinking Tenure

For a variety of reasons, but mainly because of cost, tenure has become a focus of debate in recent months. Given the trends in hiring and working conditions, though, one wonders why, for the fact is that tenure has been squeezed into an ever-smaller portion of the instructional employee population for years.

Two charts in the Chronicle of Higher Education’s almanac this month display stark numbers against it.  In 2009, the rate of teachers in four-year colleges who were “full-time tenure” stood at 25 percent.  The rate of those on the tenure-track stood at 11 percent.  That means that nearly two-thirds of instructional personnel didn’t have tenure and didn’t expect to win it, either.  The breakdown was:

  • Non-tenure-track, full time                        15 percent
  • Part-time                                                 25 percent
  • Graduate assistants                                 25 percent

The other chart details what happened in the previous decade.  It shows the growth in numbers of teachers by tenure status.  Every category went up, including the number of tenured professors, as one would expect at a time when the full-time undergraduate population swelled by an extraordinary 45 percent.

Continue reading The Incredible Shrinking Tenure

Adjuncts and the Devalued PhD


If you are a college student today enrolled in four classes during any given semester, it is likely that only one of your teachers is employed by your school in a permanent position that comes with a middle-class salary, job security, and benefits. The other three are contingent faculty, often called “adjuncts”; they have job titles like “instructor” or “lecturer” rather than “professor” but their roles in the classroom are the same. According to the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), adjuncts at U.S. colleges and universities now comprise “more than 75 percent of the total instructional staff.”

But the vast majority of adjuncts–who typically either have Ph.D.s or are in the advanced stages of completing them–earn a fraction of what their tenure-track colleagues do. Their contracts are offered on a course-by-course, semester-by-semester basis and often come without benefits. Unlike most tenure-track faculty, few adjuncts even know until just a few weeks before the semester starts which classes they will teach, if any, and many take part-time jobs off campus–or at multiple institutions–to supplement low pay and forestall the crisis of a semester with too few classes to pay the rent.

Continue reading Adjuncts and the Devalued PhD

Let’s Push Trustees to Solve the Adjunct Problem


For years now, a sad, steady flow of articles, books, and studies has documented the rise of the “disposable academic,” the growing underclass of poorly paid, uninsured PhDs who do the bulk of college teaching but have no real chance of ever landing a secure academic job. This is a tragedy, the argument goes, not only for the young scholars who will never become professors, but also for undergraduates (whose educations suffer when they are taught by “disposable” teachers) and for progress itself (adjunct work is not conducive to original research, open debate, and knowledge production).

But despite the large body of work on the subject, the ratio of “securely-employed” to “disposable” has only gotten worse over the years. As Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa report in their recent study Academically Adrift, in 1970, 78 percent of college teachers at degree-granting institutions were full-time faculty; in 2005, only 52 percent were.  Fully three quarters of all faculty appointments today are non-tenure-track. “The professor”–as a job, a vocation, and an academic institution–seems to be disappearing. 
Moreover, warnings can only fall on deaf ears so many times before they sound absurd. People are still flocking to grad school. Grad schools are still admitting students–and, despite high attrition, they are still overproducing PhDs. In Higher Education?, Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus report that between 2005 and 2007, American universities awarded over 100,000 doctorates–while creating less than 16,000 tenure-track assistant professorships.  
“Don’t make fun of grad students,” Marge Simpson tells Bart after he taunts a group of PhDs working at the local bookstore. “They just made a terrible life choice.” It may be bad behavior, but mocking grad students’ “terrible life choice” is turning out to be a popular pastime for academia’s armchair humorists. In recent months, thanks to the DIY movie site Xtranormal.com, a number of grad students and professors have created short cartoons spoofing the hapless would-be professor. First there was “So You Want to Go To Law School,” which has been viewed over a million times since its launch in October 2010. Parodying the starry-eyed idealism of wannabe lawyers, the film had an obvious applicability to grad school, where starry eyes and poor employment prospects are in even greater supply. Short videos on the career suicide of pursuing a PhD in physics, economics, political science, the humanities, and more followed in quick succession.

Continue reading Let’s Push Trustees to Solve the Adjunct Problem

The Adjunct Problem, or the Adjunct Benefit?

What do we do about the adjunct problem?

Everybody knows it exists, and everybody agrees on its elements.  Well-qualified, talented, and conscientious people teach multiple courses, sometimes on different campuses, at a few thousand dollars per course.  Add up class prep and grading hours and their labor sometimes falls below minimum wage, and they don’t get benefits either.

The practice creates a two-tier system, with tenured and tenure-track folks on one, adjuncts on the other.  Adjuncts take up most of the undergraduate teaching, enabling the others to conduct their research and handle upper-division and graduate courses, thus maintaining a grating hierarchy that damages group morale.  Also, because of their tenuous status, adjuncts can’t give students the attention they deserve and they can’t apply the rigor they should.  (If an adjunct is a tough grader, the students complain and the adjunct loses the course next semester.)

The system hurts everyone except the privileged profs and the university accountants (none of whom would ever criticize the system, however much they profit from it), but what do we do about it?

Continue reading The Adjunct Problem, or the Adjunct Benefit?

The Safe and Secure Professoriate

Here is what Andrew Hacker, co-author of Higher Education? How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids and What We Can Do About It , says about tenure in a recent interview in Atlantic Monthly:

Here’s what happens. Academics typically don’t get tenured until the age of 40. This means that from their years as graduate students and then assistant professors, from age 25 through 38 or 39, they have to toe the line. They have to do things in the accepted way that their elders and superiors require. They can’t be controversial and all the rest. So tenure is, in fact, the enemy of spontaneity, the enemy of intellectual freedom. We’ve seen this again and again. And even people who get tenure really don’t change. They keep on following the disciplinary mode they’ve been trained to follow.
What bothers us, too, is that over 300,000 professors have it. That’s a tremendous number. What that means is these people never leave. There’s hardly any turnover in the senior ranks—not just at Harvard, Yale, and Stanford but at small colleges in Kentucky, everywhere. You go to a campus and over two thirds of the faculty have been there at least 25 years. They begin to stagnate. In many ways, they become infantilized, embroiled in ideological issues like faculty parking.

Continue reading The Safe and Secure Professoriate

Tenure Is Fading–Is that Really So Bad?

The New York Times Room for Debate page hosted a forum last week entitled “What If College Tenure Dies?” As the preamble rightly notes, the question follows from an increasing shift in university personnel away tenure and tenure-track lines and toward adjuncts and lecturers hired on temporary contracts. The numbers are stark:

In 1975, 57 percent of all college professors had tenure or were on a tenure track. In 2007, that number had fallen to 31 percent, and a new federal report, to be released in the fall, is expected to show another decline for 2009 . . .

What will happen when the rate slides into a non-critical mass (less than 20 percent)?, the Times asks.

Continue reading Tenure Is Fading–Is that Really So Bad?

The End of Tenure and the Fate of Dissent

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a story this week by Robin Wilson entitled “Tenure, RIP: What the Vanishing Status Means for the Future of Education”. It announces a study by the U.S. Dept of Education due out in the fall covering employment in higher education. Its findings regarding tenure are dire:

Over just three decades, the proportion of college instructors who are tenured or on the tenure track plummeted: from 57 percent in 1975 to 31 percent in 2007. The new report is expected to show that that proportion fell even further in 2009. If you add graduate teaching assistants to the mix, those with some kind of tenure status represent a mere quarter of all instructors.

In fact, at many for-profit institutions and two-year colleges, tenure is “a completely foreign concept.” Generally, the decline of tenure hasn’t happened through direct edict, but rather through a slow process of personnel change. As tenured faculty members have retired, they haven’t been replaced. As schools and departments have grown, they have hired adjuncts and graduate students to handle crowded classrooms, not new tenure-track professors.

Continue reading The End of Tenure and the Fate of Dissent

Self-Parody At Emerson

Last December, I wrote in these pages about allegations of racial discrimination in tenure denial at Emerson College, which had prompted the school to set up a three-person commission charged with reviewing those allegations. The panel’s report has just been released, and the good news is that the panelists “noticed no overtly racist or prejudiced attitudes toward African Americans.” But, alas, there is also bad news: “There are to be found at Emerson unexamined and powerful assumptions and biases about the superiority, preferability, and normativeness of European-American culture, intellectual pursuits, academic discourse, leadership, and so on.” (Emphasis in original.) Left unexamined, these biases result in the “disproportionate undervaluing of African Americans and the disproportionate overvaluing of European Americans.” You can read the entire report here, and I urge you to do so, if you like self-parody.

Do What With The Adjuncts?

In testimony to how far out of touch the AAUP has become from the people who pay the salaries of college educators, the organization is now demanding that colleges and universities convert currently serving adjuncts into tenure-track professors. The plan would bypass the national searches that normally accompany creation of new, tenure-track positions.
There’s some disagreement within the AAUP hierarchy about exactly how this radical proposal would work. Marc Bousquet, co-chair of the committee that wrote the draft, told Inside Higher Ed that he favored a two-track tenure system, in which research would be expected only from candidates not from the unconverted adjunct lines. AAUP president Cary Nelson offered an even more extreme recommendation, arguing that the conversos should simply be treated as regular, tenure-track professors.
Why any state legislature would fund such a scheme is beyond me. As I told Inside Higher Ed, “adjuncts are not hired through competitive, national searches, nor (with very, very rare exceptions) does an adjunct position contain any expectation of scholarly production. Converting them en masse to tenure-track faculty status would send a message to graduate students entering the field—much less to state legislators, donors, and alumni—that institutions no longer have any interest in ensuring that tenure-track positions result in the hire of the best candidate, drawn from a national pool to include consideration of the candidate’s scholarly publications.”
In comments at Inside Higher Ed, Nelson dismissed my concerns. “Of course at many colleges contingent and tenure track faculty have comparable responsibilities and qualifications [emphasis added] . . . and throughout the country at many prestige institutions there are contingent teachers with distinguished publication records and wide professional experience.”

Continue reading Do What With The Adjuncts?

Treating Adjuncts Like Peons

Here’s a fun job: adjunct professor, as described by University of Akron adjunct Maria C. Maisto writing in a Sept. 10 manifesto in Inside Higher Education:

I teach English composition — one of the most labor-intensive teaching assignments out there. This semester I’ll have to respond to 85 students on two different campuses and almost 2,000 pages of writing, and I want to give them all my very best effort as a teacher. At home I’ve got three kids under the age of 12 — one with Asperger’s Syndrome, one a toddler — and a spouse who has to look for a new job in the worst economy in decades….
The [clicks of recognition]? When I faced the prospect of having to support my family on my adjunct’s salary alone ($20K over a year to teach the same number of courses as most full-time faculty members, and not even that when I don’t get summer work). When a colleague who — like me — was denied unemployment insurance over the summer because she supposedly has “reasonable assurance of employment” without a contract, at the same time couldn’t get a loan because she couldn’t show adequate proof of employment without a contract. When I heard about an actual single-parent adjunct who had to sell her plasma to buy groceries. When a friend who has taught “part time” for decades at one institution was turned down for a “full time” position at twice the salary plus benefits — to teach exactly the same courses and do all of the extra work that she had always done voluntarily — at that same institution.

Continue reading Treating Adjuncts Like Peons

The Ominous Rise Of The Adjuncts

By Maurice Black & Erin O’Connor

Review of John C. Cross and Edie Goldenberg’s Off-Track Profs: Nontenured Teachers in Higher Education. (Cambridge: MIT Press): 2009.

According to the AAUP, 48 percent of faculty are part-timers, and 68 percent of all faculty appointments take place off the tenure track. The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) cites comparable numbers, reporting that a mere 27 percent of postsecondary instructors hold fulltime, tenure-track positions. Such figures are the familiar touchstones of debates about the nature and future of academic work, undergraduate education, and academic freedom. They anchor official statements and form the basis of movements. Adjunct faculty are unionizing, and the AFT has launched a campaign to increase the proportion of undergraduate courses taught by fulltime and tenure-track professors to 75 percent.

Surrounded by statistics, activism, and commentary, the adjunct faculty member is never far from discussions about higher ed reform. “There is no subject so painful and so ubiquitous as the role of adjuncts in higher ed,” writes Louisiana State University English professor Emily Toth, the Chronicle of Higher Education’s “Ms Mentor.” Nor, perhaps, is there an academic subject so thoroughly stylized. The underpaid, uninsured, and underappreciated “freeway flyer” has become a tragic figure, a poster prof for the moral, economic, and ethical failings of modern-day academia. Hardly a month goes by without another scandal in which someone fires—or fails to renew—an “invisible adjunct” who has expressed controversial views. Such cases—and the anger they evoke—have become the standardized set pieces of an academia that has yet to reckon with the fact that its modes of employment have undergone a seismic shift.

The supporting casts in these set pieces are as stylized as their non-tenure-track stars. There is the bean-counting administrator, an anti-intellectual corporate drone who sees adjunct faculty as a handy way to reduce overhead. And there is the smug tenured professor who sits idly by while a corps of shamelessly exploited workers enables his light teaching load, his leisurely sabbaticals, and his inflated salary. Together, these characters facilitate two structures of blame. The first focuses on putatively deliberate actions, assuming that the rise of adjuncts is an intended consequence of a specific, crass economic plan; the second focuses on passive inaction, assuming that tenured professors have made a Faustian bargain to secure their own comfort at the expense of tenure and academic freedom for future generations.

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Does Tenure Mean You Can’t Be Laid Off?

Two weeks ago a state district judge in Denver issued a ruling that makes it next to impossible for a college in the Colorado state system to revise its faculty handbook so as to make it easier to lay off tenured faculty members in the event of a reduction in employment force, even when state law and the previous version of the faculty handbook itself allow the college to make the revisions.
Denver District Judge Norman D. Haglund’s June 8 order, in the case of Saxe vs. Board of Trustees of Metropolitan State College of Denver, which has spent at least five years in the Colorado court system, including an appeal, stated that the “public interest” in the academic freedom of tenured faculty outweighs any public interest that a financially stretched public college might have in preserving flexibility in hiring and firing tenured professors so as to serve its student body more effectively. As Inside Higher Education reported, Haglund effectively said that “not only is tenure a good thing for the professors who enjoy it, it is valuable to the public.”
As Inside Higher Ed also reported, the Saxe case is “much more important” than the specific issues at play, which involved the efforts of the trustees of Metro State, a 21,500-student, heavily Hispanic four-year public college in one of Denver’s oldest urban neighborhoods, to put into effect a revised faculty handbook in 2003 that rescinded a provision in the previous handbook, issued in 1994, generally requiring that non-tenured faculty be laid off before the jobs of tenured faculty members be touched. The 1994 handbook also required that that college first attempt to place affected tenured professors in other campus jobs, a requirement that the trustees rescinded in 2003. Haglund ruled that the changes amounted to a deprivation of the “vested rights” of tenured Metro State professors.

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Is Tenure Doomed?

In early December, the Board of Regents of the Kentucky Community and Technical College system agreed to vote in a few months on a proposal that may have far-reaching effects on higher education. The proposal would end the practice of offering tenured or tenure-track posts to new faculty hires. Is this a crack in the tenure dam that will produce a cascade of other schools eradicating tenure from the ranks?

Whether other universities go that far or not, in fact, the tenure system has been deteriorating for years. Administrations haven’t directly taken it away. They simply let tenured professors retire and didn’t give departments tenured or tenure-track replacement lines. Or, in responding to rising enrollments, they hired more part-time faculty than full-time faculty to fill classrooms. Indeed, according to the U.S. Department of Education, the portions of tenured and tenure-track faculty in the American professorate nose-dived in the last 30 years.

And according to a recent report by the American Federation of Teachers, “contingent faculty members teach 49 percent” all undergraduate courses (Reversing Course: The Troubled State of Academic Staffing and a Path Forward, i). The proportion doesn’t include graduate student teachers, either, those doctoral candidates picking up courses as part of their training, which AFT estimates at 16-32 percent of the courses offered.

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The Sorry Plight Of The Adjunct Professor

How would you like to be a full-time adjunct professor? Here’s a snapshot of the life, excerpted from a Washington Post magazine profile, published in 2002, of Larissa Tracy, a 28-eight-year-old woman with a doctorate in English literature from Trinity University in Dublin teaching five or six courses a semester on a part-time, non-tenure basis at three different Washington, D.C.-area colleges:

“On this chilly October morning she’s merging onto Interstate 395, near her Shirlington [Va.] apartment, and heading south on her daily 50-mile trek to Fredericksburg [Va.]. It’s 7 o’clock as her black Mazda Protege slides into the fast lane at 80 mph. She pushes hard on the accelerator and begins eating her toast. She needs to pass her first marker, the Quantico Marine Base, by 7:30–otherwise, she’ll be late for her first English composition class at Mary Washington College. The clock doesn’t stop ticking after that: She’ll teach four classes at three different colleges today. And those are just some of the six classes she’s teaching this fall term, double the normal load of a college professor. Or what used to be normal.
Tracy’s itinerary today has the precision of a train schedule: English 101 at Mary Washington from 8 a.m. till 8:50 a.m. Office hours from 9 till 10 a.m. Another English class from 10 until 10:50 a.m. Back in the car by 11 a.m. Up I-95 to George Mason University [in Fairfax, Va.]. Another class from 12:30 p.m. till 1:20 p.m. Talk to students for a few minutes. Back in the car by 1:45 p.m. and race to Georgetown University. Grade papers and prepare for class while eating lunch. Class on Shakespeare and film from 3:15 p.m. to 4:05 p.m. Back in the car before the meter expires and head home. Then she grades more papers until midnight. Six hours later it all begins again.”

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