Another element of the broader issues addressed in Aaron’s post is the disparity in the nature of adjuncting–of teaching part-time–in different disciplines and in covering different levels of courses.
The adjunct faculty in professional schools very likely have full-time employment outside of the university. The same is true for the great majority of adjunct faculty who teach upper-level or graduate courses in disciplines such as business, engineering, and education, in particular educational leadership.
But the majority of the adjunct faculty who teach part-time in the humanities and the social sciences and who cover sections of core or general-education courses have no employment outside of the university and are trying to cobble together incomes from two to four part-time positions. The average number of institutions at which they teach has clearly edged upward as most institutions have limited the number of courses available to individual adjuncts in order to avoid providing health insurance to them. These faculty are trying to decide whether they may still have any sort of realistic shot at securing a full-time position within academia or they ought to give up on academia and look elsewhere for some sort of sustainable employment.
At my own university, we have just over 400 tenured and tenure-track faculty, just under 200 non-tenure-eligible full-time faculty, and although the number varies more considerably from year to year, somewhere between 475 and 600 adjunct faculty per year. That means that somewhere between 30% and 40% of our faculty are tenured or tenure-track; about 15%-20% are full-time non-tenure-eligible; and 40%-50% are adjunct or part-time faculty. In other words, somewhere between 60%-70% of our faculty are full- or part-time contingent faculty. These totals are not out of line with the numbers that I have seen commonly reported: 28%-30% tenured or tenure-track faculty; 18%-20% full-time contingent faculty; and 50%-52% part-time contingent faculty.
Moreover, I have been compiling spreadsheets of the e-mail addresses of faculty at all types of institutions across Ohio, and I can tell you that although my university is open-enrollment and generally classified as third- or fourth-tier, it is doing much better than many other institutions in terms of these percentages. At many of the smaller private colleges and universities, the proportion of part-time to full-time faculty is much higher than at Ohio’s public universities, and, at the community colleges in Ohio, 75%-90% of the faculty are part-time. Indeed, at many of the community colleges, the full-time faculty, who already have very high standard teaching loads, routinely supplement their low incomes by teaching overloads. So, if they were not teaching all of those overloads, the numbers would be even worse than they now are.
The newspapers cited by Phil Magness reported the totals for all full- and part-time contingent faculty as if they were the totals for just part-time or adjunct faculty. Newspapers make these kinds of errors all the time, and it is also not at all unusual for the errors to be repeated from one source to the next.
But something else that occurs all of the time is that when a set of numbers becomes widely reported, someone eventually focuses on the places in which the numbers have been distorted or misreported in order to make the entire set of numbers seem dubious, if not completely erroneous.
I have seen articles similar to Phil Magness’s that very determinedly and self-assuredly dispute the existence, never mind the escalation, of administrative bloat or of student debt as serious problems that need to be addressed. So how is one to answer such a claim, especially when the evidence seems very plainly manifested everywhere one turns in one’s own institution and in the institutions at which one’s close acquaintances work as faculty and staff? How does one contest what is so clearly a problem that “proving” its existence seems tantamount to “proving” the obvious?
A broader equivalent is having to “prove” that there are large numbers of deeply impoverished people in this country who would do just about anything not to be impoverished but who simply cannot find a way out of poverty. If pushed to provide “proof,” I have the great urge to say that one simply has to drive through the poorer sections of almost any community, urban or rural, and ask yourself whether it seems possible that the majority of people living in such very sub-standard housing and wholly degraded neighborhoods are very content to live out their lives in such oppressively bleak surroundings?
When a problem is so plainly manifested to anyone in almost any college or university, arguing over the numbers and the trends in the numbers often seems more an exercise in deflecting meaningful argument than in engaging in such an argument.
Indeed, as I pointed out in a recent post in order to make a similar point on another topic, we live in an era in which data collection is so prevalent that it often seems almost omnipresent—and overwhelmingly so. Therefore, when there is incomplete or otherwise insufficient data on almost anything—but especially on an issue that has been publicly discussed for some time—there is some reason why the data has not been collected.
Most data on faculty employment is provided by institutions. Yet, to this point, the closest thing that we have to a survey of adjunct or part-time faculty salaries is the Chronicle of Higher Education‘s Adjunct Project [http://adjunct.chronicle.com/]. It provides information on adjunct compensation by institution and by discipline, and it now includes quite a bit of data. But that data is unevenly reported and illustrative, rather than systematically gathered and averaged.
If we are serious about understanding the challenges being faced by new Ph.D.’s (or those with Ph.D.’s who are quickly becoming “old”) who are finding it very difficult to find full-time, never mind tenure-track, positions, we need to survey and to track those prospective faculty as they take on work as adjunct faculty in order to start paying off their student loans. When I was on the job market more than a quarter of a century ago, I found the job search very challenging, but I get the sense that those were truly halcyon times compared to what new Ph.D.’s are confronting now.
To close, if things really have not changed very much—either in terms of faculty hiring, administrative bloat, or student debt—why is there so little evidence, anecdotal or statistical, that faculty and students are content with the current state of higher education? Despite any ideological stereotypes to the contrary, we are not so uniformly a bunch of malcontents actively seeking out reasons for discontent. It is very paradoxical–indeed almost maddeningly so–that the “reformers” and “innovators” keep telling us that things are in such a sorry state that higher education needs a massive infusion of new ideas, if not a complete overhaul, but when we point to any of the problems in higher education that are of most concern to us and to our students, the same people who are all for “reform” and “innovation” seem determined to tell us that the problems are either of our own making or of our own imagining.
Here is a chart published in the Kansas City Star from more up-to-date AAUP data:
Another bar graph:
Here is a graph that includes graduate teaching fellows with part-time faculty:
Here are some pie and bar graphs from universities on the distribution of their faculty.
University of Colorado at Boulder:
Two graphs for all 46 colleges and universities in New Hampshire:
And a graph for Massachusetts’ community colleges: