Adjunct Positions and Student Learning

A new report out today from the Campaign for the Future of Higher Education (of which the AAUP is a member) focuses on problems faced by contingent faculty–and, by extension, their students–at the start of term. The report, based on a survey by the New Faculty Majority of 500 adjuncts, find that many have “at best, inadequate access to sample course syllabi, curriculum guidelines, library resources, clerical support, and the like. They often have only limited, if any, access to personal offices, telephones, computers, and associated software, and technological tools and training.”

Key findings of the report (titled “Who Is Professor ‘Staff’ and how can this person teach so many classes?”) include:

1. “Just in time” hiring is prevalent and problematic for both teachers and students. Approximately two-thirds of the faculty surveyed were hired within three weeks of the start of a course, giving them little time in which to plan the course, order books, and prepare materials.

2. Contingent faculty, particularly part-time faculty, get late and limited access to key instructional resources. These include copying services, library privileges, private office space, sample syllabi, or access to computer and software information systems.

Both of these factors limit the ability of contingent faculty to perform up to their ability and diminish the experience of students who pay for these classes, the report says, and it includes quotes from faculty that explain how:

The lack of adequate office space (my office has three desks, two computers, and eleven people assigned to it) means that it is difficult to meet with students in my office, even though we are required to have some conversations with students (e.g., academic integrity issues) ‘in private.’

It certainly does not benefit my students that I have no information on the department’s curriculum guidelines.

I’m on a new campus and know very little about it in spite of the two-hour orientation, so I can’t answer students’ questions. I’ve also never met any of the
other instructors teaching this course. This means it will be impossible for me to do collaborative activities with colleagues.

The report’s emphasis on the student experience strikes me as useful.  While the rallying cry “faculty working conditions are student learning conditions” has been around for a long time, and many of us working in higher ed consider the connection obvious, I’m not sure this is true of the general public, and it may not even be true of many administrators.  It seems especially important in this era of budget cuts and curriculum speedup, wherein many administrations and politicians are keen to devise ways to get more students through college faster, at a lower cost, to point out what quality education is and what it resources requires. Of course, the negative effects of contingency on the quality of higher education are caused by a systemic lack of support and not by the personal failings of faculty in contingent positions, and this also needs to be pointed out.

Do you have examples of ways that contingency and the working conditions of adjunct faculty affect student learning on your campus? Thoughts on the usefulness of explaining this connection?

One thought on “Adjunct Positions and Student Learning

  1. This article and the report which it discusses underscores the fact that however good the teaching skills of an adjunct may be, the limitations in student-teacher interaction and access caused by adjunctification cannot be ignored by anyone who truly cares about student success.

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