The Atlantic on the Adjuncts With a Correction

Laura McKenna has written an excellent article for The Atlantic, titled “The Cost of an Adjunct.” I include the paragraph that references the AAUP’s analysis of the contingent component of the professoriate. Ms McKenna, however, is somewhat confused about the estimated percentages of tenured, tenure track, full-time “term” appointments, and part-time faculty. The AAUP summary states that about 50% of the instructors in post-secondary education are part-time adjunct faculty. It further states that 76% of total instructional staff in higher ed are off-the-tenure-stream. That encompasses both part-time and full-time “renewable” appointments. Roughly twenty-five per cent of professors are either tenured or tenure-track faculty. That is significant because less than 25% of post-secondary educators are tenured; probationary faculty are not tenured and not all will receive tenure. A tenure line may well remain nontenured for an extended period of time due to a multiplicity of probationary faculty.

From the Atlantic:

Currently, half of all professors in the country are adjuncts or contingent faculty, according to the American Association of University Professors. They teach all levels within the higher-education system, from remedial writing classes to graduate seminars. Unlike graduate teaching assistants, or TAs, they have the same instructional responsibilities as tenured faculty, including assembling syllabi, ordering textbooks, writing lectures, and grading exams. (The remaining quarter or so of American faculty are professors on temporary contracts who have more regular job arrangements than adjuncts, but are not eligible for tenure.)

It is a frequent definitional mistake when “contingent faculty” is used to delimit its application to part-time instructors, even though there is a rapidly growing instructor class of full-time non-tenure track faculty. We are finding here in Illinois, ground zero in the academic freedom struggle, that full-time “term” appointments have become in some ways the forgotten faculty: those that are full-time yet subject to some, not all, of the same proletarian variables of exploitation that part-time faculty endure: No career track, total absence of academic freedom, frequently excluded from collective bargaining agreements, a petite bourgeoisie stuck between tenure track and adjunct faculty.

I think AAUP and the nation at large, that purportedly cares about our teachers, should focus as well on this component of class oppression, that is undermining the pleasure and joy of teaching for so many tens of thousands in the United States.

One thought on “The Atlantic on the Adjuncts With a Correction

  1. It seems to me a mistake to separate full and part-time contingent faculty in discussions about the American professoriate. In many cases, those who have part-time contracts, also hold them at multiple institutions and at the same time are doing research/writing/non-profit work as independent scholars–in other words, they are working far more than full-time. At my institution, some departments are precluded from offering full-time non-tenure-track contracts, but can offer several part-time contracts to the same person, again amounting to far more than full-time.

    In an ideal world, all faculty, tenure-line and contingent, would be organized together. We are ALL struggling, although contingent faculty more so. Whether or not “AAUP and the nation at large” care about our teachers, contingent and tenure-line, we have to stand up for each other and for our vocation.

Your comments are welcome. They must be relevant to the topic at hand and must not contain advertisements, degrade others, or violate laws or considerations of privacy. We encourage the use of your real name, but do not prohibit pseudonyms as long as you don’t impersonate a real person.