In The New York Times yesterday, there’s an article by Rachel Swarns called “Crowded Out of Ivory Tower, Adjuncts See a Life Less Lofty.” In it is this line:
Adjuncts say that much more is needed.
It shouldn’t just be adjuncts. It should be all of us, from the newest student to the full professor getting ready to retire.
The comment is in regard to what CUNY is doing relating to adjuncts–and there has been a little bit of progress, an attempt (that now seems stalled) to turn more adjunct lines into lecturer (and even tenure-track) full-time ones and improved medical benefits–but little more. The union, the Professional Staff Congress, wants better job security for adjuncts as part of the next contract (which has been in negotiation for close to eight years, I think it is, since the last one expired).
None of this, though, is going to solve the problem. With over half of faculty either part-time or contingent, we have a crisis in higher education. Band-aids won’t help it.
Rather than constantly seeking the cheap way to instruction, we need to start looking for the best way. Colleges and universities can afford first-rate instruction in every classroom, but that means being creative in budgeting and means seeing instruction as the heart of the institution. Fund it first, then see what you can do with the money left over. The way we treat adjuncts, we not only put them into a ‘lesser’ pool as opposed to the dwindling ‘tenure class’ but we make it extremely difficult for them to provide what their students need. They have inadequate office space; are given no encouragement to be a presence on campus (other than in the classroom)–in fact, the incentive is to be on any one campus as little as possible, so that other courses can be taken on elsewhere; are not invited (or paid) to work on curriculum development, so often know very little about the goals of the institution; and they have no incentive to develop bonds with students that can last over the course of the students’ time at the college–for they might not even be teaching on the campus the following term. The problems are even greater: Look at these articles appearing recently in Academe for just starters: “Of Brahmins and Dalits,” “The Ethics of a Tenuous Faculty,” and “Change Requires Disciple.”
By relying on part-time teachers while also making it impossible for them to do their jobs as well as they could, we are compromising the education we are offering. This is true on every campus where adjuncts (to say nothing of other contingent hires) make up a substantial portion of the teaching staff.
We, as college and university communities, need to insist that the number of adjuncts be limited, the number of contingent hires, too. We need to insist that adjunct lines be consolidated into full-time ones, with current adjuncts first in line for the jobs.
That will do for a start… but it requires that we get up from our desks and begin to actually do something.
Otherwise, the crisis will just get worse, and our colleges and universities will find their instructional staffs all contingent and part time, all service done by a new cadre of administrators–much as is already the case in for-profit colleges.