Happy(?) New Faculty Majority Day! (Why not May Day–you know, the red one and not the fake Elizabethan one with Morris Dancers and Maypoles?) Anyhoo–Marc Bosquet offers up a reminder of what the use of adjunct faculty is all about:
The logic of the HMO increasingly rules higher education. Management closely rations professor time. Thirty-five years ago, nearly 75% of all college teachers were tenurable. Only a quarter worked on an adjunct, part-time or nontenurable basis.
Today, those proportions are reversed.
If you’re enrolled in four college classes right now, you have a pretty good chance that one of the four will be taught by someone who has earned a doctorate, and whose teaching, scholarship and service to the profession has undergone the intensive peer scrutiny associated with the tenure system.
In your other three classes, you are likely to be taught by someone who has started a degree but not finished it, was hired by a manager not professional peers, may never publish in the field he is teaching, or who got into the pool of persons being considered for the job because they were willing to work for wages around the official poverty line.
In almost all courses in most disciplines using nontenurable or adjunct faculty, a person with a recently-earned Ph.D. was available, and would gladly have taught your other three courses. But they could not afford to pay their loans and house themselves on the wage being offered.
Higher education employers can only pay those wages in the knowledge that their employees are subsidized in a variety of ways. In the case of student employees, the massive debt load subsidizes the wage. For poorly paid contingent faculty, who are women by a substantial majority*, the strategies vary, but include consumer debt, reliance on another job or the income from a domestic partner.
Like Walmart employees, the majority female contingent academic workforce relies on a patchwork of other sources of income, including such forms of public assistance as food stamps and unemployment compensation.
It is perfectly common for contingent university faculty to work as grocery clerks and restaurant servers, earning higher salaries at those positions, or to have been retired from such former occupations as bus driving, steelwork, and auto assembly, enjoying from those better-compensated professions a sufficient pension to enable them to serve a “second career” as college faculty.
The system of cheap teaching doesn’t sort for the best teachers. It sorts for persons who are in a financial position to accept compensation below the living wage. As a result of management’s irresponsible staffing practices, more students drop out, take longer to graduate, and fail to acquire essential literacies, often spending tens of thousands of dollars on a credential that has little merit in the eyes of employers.
The real “Profscam” isn’t the imaginary one depicted in Charles Sykes’ fanciful 1988 book, which concocted the image of a lazy tenured faculty voluntarily absenting themselves from teaching.
Instead the “prof scam” turns out to be a shell game conducted by management, who keep a tenurable stratum around for marketing purposes and to generate funded research, but who are spread so thin with respect to undergraduate teaching that even the most privileged undergraduates spend most of their education with para faculty working in increasingly unprofessional circumstances.
My only quibble with Marc’s analysis here is that we tenured and tenure-track faculty absolutely benefit from the exploitation of adjunct labor, in that it’s instrumental in keeping our teaching loads down. (Yes–provosts and deans should fork over the money to make more tenure lines in departments–but in the absence of said money, regular faculty do what needs to be done, and that means collaborating in the exploitation of adjunct and “special” faculty.) Tenured and tenure-track faculty in my department teach a 2-2 load, while “special” faculty teach a 4-4 load, and adjunct faculty teach whatever they can get. Now, this work distribution is reflected in how we’re evaluated–special faculty are 100% teaching, while tenured and tenure-track faculty are 50% teaching, 35% research, 15% service–but this formula sets up other perverse incentives. For example, one of our “special” faculty is finishing a book manuscript–but she’s been told that she will get zero credit for having written a book while teaching a 4-4 load (plus summer sessions!) because she’s on a 100% teaching contract.
Oh, well–institutions have to find ways of keeping up that persistent wage gap and uphold patriarchal equilibrium somehow, don’t they? (By the way, Tuesday April 28 was Equal Pay Day.) How many of you are adjuncting or working in non-tenure lines now? Are you represented by a union or by an Adjunct Council of some kind? How many of you did that but managed to jump to a tenure-track job? How many of you are still trying, or have given up hope?