Yesterday Inside Higher Ed published a brief item entitled “Skeptical Reception for New Book on Becoming Adjunct.” The article reported on a new 51-page book, available for free via the Internet, with the remarkable title Become a Part-Time Professor: live and teach anywhere you like. Needless to say, more than a few “part-time professors” have taken umbrage, with Inside Higher Ed reporting a veritable storm of outrage — and more than a little sarcasm and satire — on Twitter.
The book, by Lesa Hammond, an administrator at Alliant University, suggests that adjuncts often do their work on laptops, from the beach, and that they work few hours and reap great rewards, albeit largely immaterial ones. The tone of the book, however, is best captured by an associated YouTube video:
Hammond told Inside Higher Ed: “For the right person, a part-time faculty position is a way to help them promote themselves as an expert in their field and it can provide flexibility to live where they want or continue working full-time.” To be sure, there are still adjunct faculty who teach a course or two now and then to supplement their incomes, build their resumes, gain teaching experience, or simply achieve personal fulfillment. My wife, for example, a criminal defense attorney, for many years taught criminal trial practice at a prominent law school. But to suggest that such positions are the norm in higher education today is beyond ridiculous. And the claim that such work offers people “prestige” — well, perhaps on some other planet somewhere far, far away.
“What’s the worst part of being a part-time professor?” the book’s FAQ section asks. The answer: “Most adjuncts complain about having to grade papers and say that is the worst part of the job. It is certainly one of the most time consuming parts of the job.”
One reader comment on the Inside Higher Ed site offered a somewhat different, and certainly more realistic view of the job’s downsides:
We have no tenure and even when we have seniority over tenure and tenure-track instructors, we are always vulnerable to being robbed of our classes–in effect–fired, and the reasons reflect a form of bigotry–or a dual standard against academic freedom for non-tenured, contingent faculty. I have been teaching and tutoring (professional tutoring with specialization for writing across the curriculum. A tutor within our Writing Lab program must have at least a bachelor’s degree and many also have master’s degrees). After 17 years of teaching and tutoring, I was threatened, abused, and finally robbed of teaching my classes. I’m still tutoring and I could sue, and well, the union has been pretty good to me, but I’m still trying to overcome post-traumatic stress from the three years I was all of sudden shot down from exceptional to incompetent. I have never had a sabbatical in 17 years and I have had several hospitalizations in that time period from multiple strokes, pneumonia I caught at the college (our ventilation system is ineffectual), and this past December, I nearly bled to death from an expected ulcer.
Here’s what another commenter wrote:
This book trivializes the adjunct faculty issue. As the head academic administrator of a start-up campus of a polytechnic sort, I was–in the early days–a great exploiter of adjunct faculty. And because of the orientation of the campus, we were often able to find educationally qualified people working in non-academic jobs who could ably teach a course for us once or twice a year. . . . The important point is that these folks were not teaching for a living. I imagine that this accounts for maybe 5% of adjunct faculty. (That’s simply a guess, but I can’t find a accurate figure. This is how many of my adjuncts were of this sort.) . . . In the earlier part of my career I ran a huge freshman writing program where all of the negative and destructive aspects of working as an adjunct were painfully present. I think this is more typical of adjunct experience, and anyone who tries to make it seem otherwise does not have good intentions.
And one more comment concluded:
Let’s keep in mind that adjunct teaching positions, especially in traditional academic subjects, are nothing but labor exploitation. Yes, university budgets are tight and have been for nearly two generations, but the use of adjunct (sweated) labor has allowed governments and universities to evade their social responsibility to explain to their citizens the importance of education and have resulted in higher education’s emergence as upmarket producers of “factory fodder” for exploitative end stage consumer capitalism.
Adjunct work is a symptom and cause of social ills. We may want to point to its “benefits” but let’s not lose sight of the reality.
Perhaps Hammond might have benefited from reading a study released in 2012 by the Campaign for the Future of Higher Education entitled “Who is Professor ‘Staff” and how can this person teach so many classes?” which reports the results of a survey of contingent faculty in the United States, focusing on the working conditions imposed upon contingent faculty and the ways those conditions impact students and the quality of the education they receive. The picture offered there is quite different from the idyllic life portrayed in her book and video.
Another Inside Higher Ed commenter got it right, I think: “Given the reported suffering and gross negligence perpetuated on adjuncts across the last decade especially, this book and the supporting trailer display the cognitive dissonance one would expect to find in a CIA manual titled: So, You Want To Be An Enhanced Interrogator!”