About a month ago, Hank Reichman posted on Become a Part-Time Professor: Live and Teach Anywhere You Like by Lesa Hammond. At the end, Reichman suggested that Hammond might want to find out a little more about the real situations of adjuncts and suggested a study she might want to take a look at.
Today, Hammond responded. She left a comment stating:
I realize that there is an adjunct problem in higher education. I have read the various reports that have been written regarding the adjunct faculty situation. In part, I am attempting to help rectify the situation by bringing more adjuncts into the pipeline who are seeking only part-time jobs. Much of the problem today is that colleges and universities are hiring adjunct faculty who desire full-time tenured positions; many of whom do not have the scholarship to attain a tenured position, but can fill-in for less academically demanding courses. Because these part-time faculty are availability, they are asked to take on additional classes. When they are teaching the same number of classes, or in some cases more classes, as full-time core faculty they recognize the disparity.
Hiring all of these contingent faculty as tenured-faculty is neither a realistic nor sustainable model. The book is not written for people who are actively seeking full-time employment in higher education. It is specifically targeted to expats who want to supplement their income overseas, to retirees who like the idea of staying abreast of their field and giving back, and to professionals who can enhance their credentials by adding a university teaching position to their resume. The added benefit of this adjunct population is that they bring real world experience to the classroom.
What interests me about this response is that it posits a fictional universe of parameters and possibilities far removed from the realities of contemporary colleges and universities. That shouldn’t surprise me: Her book (which I downloaded) does much the same thing. Still, I am fascinated by fiction and have made a career of exploring its genesis so have listed a few of the fictions in her comment:
First of all, “bringing more adjuncts into the pipeline” is not going to “rectify the situation.” The problem isn’t that we don’t have enough adjuncts (or don’t have enough who want to work just part-time) but that universities have chosen to address a financial squeeze by limiting their full-time teaching staffs. This has forced many who would have been full-time a generation ago into precarious contingent positions. Many of them are every bit as qualified as scholars as their full-time colleagues. The situation is not a given, as Hammond seems to assume, but reflects a choice by administrations, one that has the added benefit (for administrations) of reducing faculty influence within the institution.
Second, there’s nothing unsustainable or unrealistic about converting adjunct lines to full-time ones. Doing so, in fact, would enhance the education we are offering for it would increase the number of faculty fully involved on their campuses. There are plenty of other ways to contain costs than by squeezing faculty. Hammond is buying into a myth created by top administrators who value themselves much more than they do their faculties or students.
Third, Hammond carries the assumption (also untrue) that anyone can teach. What a nice thing! I’m an expat living on American Social Security in a land where life is cheap, by American standards! Why don’t I teach a bit, as well? In her book, Hammond has a check-list of “what it takes” to be an adjunct. Nary a word is said about teaching experience or ability.
Fourth, Hammond seems to buy into the old “ivory tower” myth, assuming that we professors have no “real world” experience and that our classrooms exist in a realm far removed from quotidian life. She contradicts that, a bit, in the book itself but, when working with fiction, consistency is not necessity.
I am not sure what the real purpose is of Hammond’s project. There is little need to add to the adjunct pool anywhere and doing so only feeds into policies that have more than decimated our faculties already. Teaching, even part-time, is no activity for the dilettante, or for someone looking to add a little prestige to their existence. It is hard work, even online (another myth Hammond promotes: Teaching is easy), and the adjunct generally ends up spending many more hours working than are ever compensated. Whatever her goal, though, I hope it is as elusive as her presentation is fictional. People should not be fooled into thinking that teaching as an adjunct is anything other than hard labor. Making them think so is a disservice to them and, more to the point, to their potential students.