National day of recognition of the majority of faculty

majorityfacultyHappy(?) 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?

0 thoughts on “National day of recognition of the majority of faculty

  1. Dear Ann,

    Thanks for highlighting this here. I hadn’t seen Mr. Bosquet’s latest. I think he’s right about 85-90 percent of the time, which is certainly good enough for me on the issues about which he’s most concerned.

    – TL


  2. Hi Historiann–

    I’m currently a non-tenure track “Teaching Assistant Professor,” as I know you know, teaching a 4/4 load. Not represented by a union; also on a contract that specifically identifies scholarship as no part of my job responsibilites (thus implicitly invalidating any institutional claims for a link between research and teaching).

    My understanding of the logic for the higher teaching load for positions like mine is that it is exactly the _lack_ of research expectations that justifies the higher course load; the smaller per-course salary is also a bonus to the institution. But the two together suggest a double efficiency, if all we are counting is dollars per course offered.

    I find little time to do much research during the period of my contract, but during the summer, when I am not on contract, I still have time to revise book manuscripts, write essays and articles, and the like (at least I did both last summer). At my institution, research I do during my non-contract (summer) period is not evaluated as part of my contract–but the opposite is regularly true for T/TT folks: they produce scholarship in the summer, when they are not under contract, and it is regularly counted as if it had been part of their contract.

    Oh, and those tenure track and tenured folks have more job security, and they get first choice of courses, generally leaving adjuncts to teach less valued courses, such as ones directed at non-majors (which are, of course, an audience harder to please in relation to student evaluations). My qualifications and expertise suggest I can handle upper level and graduate courses, but my position pretty much defines my course load as sophomore level gen ed instruction.

    To sum up: I make less per course, teach more courses, teach courses to a tougher audience, have less job security, and am (in my opinion, inequitably) subject to a differential institutional valuation of work performed when not under contract.

    I will say this: If I ever return to the tenure track, I will be much more likely to fight against such systematic asymmetries, but for now, as I say as often as I can, “I’m just happy to be employed!”


  3. Thanks for the post Historiann,

    I teach 4/4 at Woebegone State. I am tenure track now, but I spent my first three years here as a non-TT fixed term instructor. My colleagues were generous in terms of advice and allocating work loads. Unlike Tom, I had a chance to teach an upper-division class to history majors almost every semester. The faculty is represented by a union, but our contract is strictly based on seniority and steps. There is no additional pay for publishing, bringing in grants or other manifestations of scholarship.

    When I was fixed term, I spent most of my time applying for every job under the sun instead of publishing. Unfortunately I did not have much luck with the job market, so that was time and effort wasted that could have been better spent on scholarship. But fortunately my department renewed my contract twice and eventually hired me when a tenure track slot came open. Now I am anxious about publishing my first article and making tenure, but its certainly better than being anxious about the job market.

    Every year we hire several fixed term and adjunct instructors to teach either the freshmen/sophomore level surveys and specialized classes for our paralegal program. Some of them only teach one class a year and have a regular job elsewhere either as CC instructors or legal professionals. But other colleagues rely on their positions as contingent faculty for their whole paycheck.

    When the budget cuts came down, the first people to get the ax were the contingent faculty. This is a grotesque injustice. Looking at the numbers, they are our department’s most effective teachers per dollar spent. Worse still, they are part of the union, but they received no job protection. So they were fed to the wolves by both management and the union.

    Right now the TT faculty still does the bulk of the teaching (77% of all classes in the department 79% of the intro courses). But I fear that with coming retirements, those full time lines will be converted into pools of money, held at the college level, for hiring adjuncts and full-time fixed term faculty. The cycle of hiring and firing contingent faculty will speed up in the next ten years. The adjuncts will end up doing the bulk of the teaching with a few TT faculty for window dressing.


  4. I am currently employed part-time at two different institutions. Both pay more than the average for adjunct instructors, but yes, I depend on my spouse’s salary and health insurance coverage. I spent last year teaching as a sabbatical replacement, and the previous couple of years in a visting professorship. Only in that job was I represented by a union: in that job I also had health and retirement benefits.

    Next fall I’ll actually be on the tenure track. I’m delighted, especially since I had just about decided to give up on academia.


  5. Two years ago I had a renewable contract position teaching six quarter-length courses per year in a heavily unionized university for 30,000-35,000/year plus health insurance in a town with a reasonable cost of living. I ‘moved up’ to a tenure-track job teaching eight or nine semester-length courses per year, plus a very heavy service load and an entirely unreasonable publication requirement, for about 10,000 a year more in a town with a much higher cost of living. Here we’re not unionized, and by state law we’re not allowed to unionize. I’m glad to be tenure-track rather than contract because I have a share in faculty governance and some job stability (if I don’t get denied tenure…), but my hourly wage and standard of living have both gone down rather than up. I know this is an unusual situation, but it does make me think that a powerful union might have some advantages over the tenure process.


  6. Hi Historiann–

    Bousquet is right about a lot of things, but I have to rebut the suggestion that adjunct and other nontenurable faculty are unqualified teachers and/or scholars. The idea–made in passing not only here but by lots of folks arguing against the use of contingent labor–that adjuncts are folks without PhDs or who otherwise don’t cut it as scholars is not supported by the people I met in my years as an adjunct. Sure there are folks teaching out there without their PhDs, but we usually recognize them by their more usual title of “graduate students.” The rest of the non-standing faculty were folks with their degrees, and often with ongonig research projects, but who had not landed the ever-rare tenure-track job.

    I fully believe that students lose out when their classes are not taught by standing faculty. But it isn’t because they are taught by teachers who don’t know their stuff. It’s because they’re taught by teachers who too often will not be around as mentors and teachers in subsequent years. It’s bad for the students and it’s bad for the contingent faculty. It’s one of the things I hated about being an adjunct–I didn’t get a sustained relationship with my students. One of the other things I hated? Being ignored by the standing faculty.

    As for your questions, I taught as an adjunct at 3 different schools over 3 years, following grad school, a full-time non-standing faculty job, and an off-again-on-again life as an “independent scholar.” I was not represented by a union, and I was lucky to have a spouse whose salary and health insurance smoothed my way. Some of those schools now have representation for their p/t faculty, but I’m off that wagon now. My life is as an administrator and teacher at an independent research library. I don’t plan on going back to adjuncting.


  7. Wynken de Worde wrote, “I fully believe that students lose out when their classes are not taught by standing faculty. But it isn’t because they are taught by teachers who don’t know their stuff. It’s because they’re taught by teachers who too often will not be around as mentors and teachers in subsequent years. It’s bad for the students and it’s bad for the contingent faculty. It’s one of the things I hated about being an adjunct–I didn’t get a sustained relationship with my students. One of the other things I hated? Being ignored by the standing faculty.”

    I agree with you–Bosquet painted with too broad a brush in the passage you point to. Some departments may run that way–I think English departments frequently use even M.A. students to cover comp sections–but not all of them. If I recall correctly, we in History at Baa Ram U. have only one adjunct who doesn’t have a Ph.D., and all of our “special” (full-time, non-tenure track) faculty have Ph.D.s.

    I would add to your list of why students are shortchanged by adjunct faculty: people with heavy teaching loads don’t have as much of an opportunity to read new books and revise their courses; and adjuncts may or may not have time for the students at all (especially since, as Clio’s Disciple’s experience suggests, they may spend half of their days driving from one institution to another). Tom’s point above about “institutional claims for a link between research and teaching” is a good one, I think. If it’s good for the regular faculty, why wouldn’t it be good for all of the faculty?

    Thanks, everyone, for writing in with your experiences. I am heartened to hear that everyone here–Matt L, Clio’s Disciple, Deborah, and Wynken de Worde made the leap to the tenure track (or to a job at a premier research library! As Tom’s comment suggests, he left a tenured position for the one he has now because of family considerations.) I think it’s great–but I think it’s also clear that the system sorts out a lot of people who can’t make a go of it financially. Deborah Judge’s comment about the price she has paid in time and money moving to the tenure track is sobering.


  8. In my department, we’ve avoided the rush to “adjunctify” our teaching. The same can’t be said of our former colleges several hours east and west who have both relied heavily on adjuncts to make their teaching hours.

    This past year, in a department of seventeen, we had one part-time adjunct (a doctoral student who’s finishing her dissertation in franco-Ontarien history and teaching in that specific field) along with two full-time, salaried limited term appointments. Next year, however, we’re losing one of the LTA (and instead of it being a three-year appointment, it will be a one-year position).

    Tenured faculty, here, is having to pick up the burden with larger enrollments in our regularly scheduled classes and more unpaid graduate teaching. And our administrative releases are disappearing.

    However, our friends in English and Sociology, who’ve built entire teaching ecosystems on terminal M.A.s are finding their adjunct money drying up fast as faculty are told to get back in the classroom in some cases or drop their enrollment caps in others.

    In any case, as you highlight, it’s not only students who suffer from all the cuts, cost-shifting and crazy strategies to save money but also the highly qualified contingent faculty that really suffer. At least I have a full-time, tenured job with benefits and a decent salary so I can’t complain.


  9. I think Wynken took issue with this passage of Bousquet’s:

    _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._

    Bousquet is not anti-grad student or anti-terminal MA. I suspect his point, not fully expressed in this passage, is that those sorts of potential instructors should be the one-fourth, not the three-fourths currently teaching college courses.

    Speaking as someone who taught with just an MA who couldn’t afford to finish my PhD because of the low pay of adjuncting, I agree with that sentiment. Too many of my professors failed to grasp that their adjuncting for pin money in the 1980s and 1990s was better paying than my web of courses taught between 2 campuses in the 2000s. Actually, I bet the pay was EXACTLY THE SAME [I’m only half-joking], which is the problem since things like rent and insurance and tuition all skyrocketed.


  10. I am an adjunct!

    (well technically I have been hired for a “postdoctoral fellowship” that only requires teaching, but has been defined in such a way that I am not a member of the adjunct union _or_ the postdoc researchers union here.)

    And who knows what I will be teaching next year, if at all? The UC has decided to just not offer classes that are covered by adjuncts next year because it has no obligations to us, unlike the contracts with tenured faculty or offers to grad students. So I don’t know how students will get their classes when so fewer are offered.

    At my MA institution I taught either 2 or 3 composition classes a semester as instructor of record, straight out of undergrad, _while_ getting my MA and taking my pedagogy class. Most of my students had me, and then had 3 other large lectures with other grad students leading discussion sections —- meaning that students usually didn’t have any classes from PhD holders (or at least tenured ones) until they were upperclassmen. I think _that_ is what Bousquet is attacking when he points out that students are paying through the nose but the majority of their teachers are not even holders of the terminal degree. Not that I was stupid or a crap teacher, but I was 22 and had a week of training before they threw me into a comp class that I never had to take myself. And yes, there were plenty of recent graduates around desperately trying to get work as lecturers, who held the PhD and had 8 or 9 years of classroom experience.


  11. Ah, Historiann, another excellent post (it’s nice to be nice to the nice, don’t you all agree?). And connected in no small way to the utterly absurd (so many adjectives apply, but who wants to waste the time or text) op-ed by Mark Taylor in Monday’s NYT that you discussed earlier this week. My favorite comment on that piece, recommended by 472 discerning NYT readers, was from a mathematician, Dev Sinha. Just the last bit here: “Our University system is the envy of the world, drawing talent from across the globe (I don’t think the same has been said of GM for a while). I think your calls for restructuring are a bit presumptive. In short, go abolish your own department.”

    Taylor points to the use of underpaid grad. student labor in higher ed as the “dirty little secret” which is of course the nefarious work of peer-review, faculty run institutions. (Ah, yes, faculty governance. And, um, what percentage of colleges and universities *have* grad. students to exploit? And how about those inflating administrations? Never mind, you shot all those fish on Tuesday, I think…) What’s no secret at all is the increasing reliance on adjuncts. The chair of the religion department at Columbia doesn’t even mention adjuncts? How can that be? Well, it doesn’t help his point about rationalizing the university. But several posters raised the question of why the NYT and other major media outlets are so attracted to these crackpot descriptions of academic labor, and so loathe to take up the big issues, including adjuncting. I’d love to see a more fully rounded take on this. Not that your envious journalists theory isn’t compelling, Historiann! My own sense is that: a) the ratio of people who are consumers of higher ed. versus people who have a clue about how it works is against us, people, b) even if I don’t know how to build a car, I like my car and use it every day. The users of my product don’t think of their education in the same way, I’ll wager.


  12. I’ve been on all sides of these fences, TA, wildly underpaid adjunct, research postdoc, tenured faculty, and this post is giving me combat flashbacks.

    I keep waiting for a huge Aha! moment to sweep the nation, when everyone realizes, “My God! Teaching is creative work. It needs time. Concentration. You can’t be sick to your stomach with worry and do it well. It’s so obvious! How come I never saw that before?”

    Don’t ask me why I keep waiting. I’m obviously not as smart as I think I am.

    Anyway, what I actually jumped in to say is that at least in California, the proportion of tenure-track faculty may assist in marketing, but that’s not its primary purpose. An institution that falls below a given level gets fined by the state board of something or other. The school I’m associated with suddenly hired a couple of dozen new fulltimers in one year. A beancounter pointed out that it would be cheaper to do that than pay the humongous fine which would be brought on by the next couple of retirements.


  13. It’s interesting that in the sciences, we have developed a rather different, but far from ideal, way of dealing with similar issues. In most science departments, there are few adjuncts. In my physics department, we have only one full-time permanent instructor, who runs our observational astronomy lab. In principle, we also do have adjuncts teaching courses, but all they are all retired tenured professors. Junior scholars can’t get jobs as adjuncts; rather, they are hired as post-doctoral researchers. The pay, at least starting out, stinks. (When I went from a senior post-doc–equivalent to a research assistant professor–to junior tenure-track professor, my pay more than doubled. However, post-docs do get benefits.) But you simply cannot get hired for a permanent faculty position without 2-6 years of post-doctoral experience.

    For the university, post-docs are essentially free; they are paid for out of research funds. And some people prefer taking several years to develop their research, without the interruption of any teaching duties. I think this is tied to the attitude that scientists need to be “in the lab,” where are humanities people can do their research in their spare time in their offices. But whichever side young scholars are shunted to, the disconnect between teaching and research remains problematic.

    Mathematics is unlike most of the sciences in this regard. Since math departments have to teach large numbers of service courses, and the faculty’s research rarely involves an laboratory or field work, there are few post-docs. Instead, new PhDs with an interest in an academic career end up as temporary instructors.


  14. Thanks for your thoughts, everyone. Buzz’s point about the sciences is interesting–I hadn’t factored post-docs into this, but that’s what adjuncting, VAPs, and other non-tenure track positions have become in the liberal arts colleges. It would be so much better and more glamorous if we could call those positions “postdocs,” wouldn’t it? (As Buzz notes, this has a great deal to do with the freedom that big science grants get science departments. Money is as money does, to borrow an expression from Forrest Gump.)

    kw, I think your analogy of cars (to return to Taylor’s NYT piece) is an apt one. Perversely, it’s not universities that have asked for federal bailouts or who have had to file for bankruptcy. (Well, we’ll see what happens with Brandeis thanks to Bernie Madoff, right?). But the thrust of many of these critiques of higher ed is that higher ed needs to become more market-based. Is this really the right moment in human history to argue that the Invisible Hand will serve us well? (kw suggests that the problem many of us see with universities is that they’ve too readily already adopted market-based approaches to dealing with labor, which is why adjunct labor exploded over the past 20 years.)

    This is where I see envy at work: most journalists went into their line of work thinking that they were serving a noble role by working for an institution that is critical to democracy. But it turns out that they’re working for corporations whose eyes are on the bottom line after all, as they’ve seen their colleagues down-sized and right-sized right out of their jobs. But instead of turning their ire on the worship of the stock market andn of corporations that made it all possible, they’re turning their guns on two constituencies of workers who appear to have preserved some kind of job and economic security: unionized workers (especially auto workers, whose deferred compensation plans negotiated 30-40 years ago gave them fairly generous health benefits and pensions), and tenured faculty everywhere. No one ever wants to interrogate the price of becoming either a unionized auto worker (do you want to work on the line for 30 years?), or of becoming a tenured faculty member (5-10 years of postgraduate education, plus a likely period of 1-4 years in the temp wilderness before a tenure track job, then 6 years to tenure, maybe, for a total of 12-20 years!)

    I guess what I’m saying is that journalists should see themselves as workers, rather than adopting the viewpoint of their corporate masters. How’s that working out for the former staff of the Rocky Mountain News these days? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?


  15. The _Times_ is now using Associated Press copy to cover some Mets and Yankee (road) games, and I think some home games, which is pretty scary from the standpoint of will there continue to be a New York Times. (Maybe they pay $2,400 per seat per night in the press box for home games?). They have always done strangely boilerplate pieces on education. Back when most schools had “fall” semester final exams in late January, they would send a reporter to the NY Public Library main building every year between Christmas and New Years to get essentially the same quotations from students working on term papers and cramming for finals. Whenever a major academic convention meets anywhere near New York, they can be counted on to send a reporter to the main hotel lobby to get crazed quotations about the perpetually desperate job market. There’s so much academic talent around in NYC–both of the adjunct and the celebrity Columbia prof type–that I guess eccentric anthropology coverage of academe is just a predictable byproduct.

    Humanities postdocs can often provide opportunities to do “your own work,” albeit at the cost of continued contingency vis-a-vis permanent employment. A science post-doc more often means being in a liminal position on a research “team” between the Ph.D serfs and a harried, or imperious (or both) grant-driven principal investigator, trying to keep the fruit flies alive.


  16. Interesting news about the Mets & Yankees on the road. You know, Bob Somerby at The Daily Howler has been screaming for years about the brain-dead boilerplate reporting on education in general–specifically, how the same fixes-on-the-cheap keep cycling around and getting promoted by newspapers as the latest, greatest thing to fix schools. Perhaps there’s a connection there with the reporting on higher ed?


  17. Buzz- If that’s how it works in physics, I’m jealous. I’m a biologist, and our situation is very much what Historiann describes. (Research postdocs are essentially a freebie for everyone except the subsidizers: taxpayers and the underpaid postdocs themselves, and don’t change the exploitation equation.)

    Maybe it’s not a humanities – sciences dichotomy, but a more-service-courses vs. fewer-service courses thing. Biology students, at a conservative estimate, are 98% pre-med or pre-health-professions-of-some-kind at most universities.

    Although physics does have that first year basic course that’s equally packed with pre-meds.


  18. Late to the party…

    I teach as an adjunct, one night a week, with an MA. What I sorely regret is the lack of access I have for my students (it’s a night class; my office hour before class is often the only hour they’ll get that night with their families, or they’re coming, like me, right to class from work). The small private U. I teach at boasts of having about 35% of its teaching staff as adjuncts, with all the experience we bring from beyond the ivory tower. Horribly paid, I might add.

    I was recently scoping out a medium-sized public U. for a PhD program, and *they* boasted that they didn’t rely at all on adjunct faculty, that all instructors were TT PhDs.

    Talk about two sides of a coin.


  19. Digger, start digging. That school that has all TT Ph.D.s sounds like a fantasyland.

    Either they are lying, simply don’t know what other departments do, or they are the exception that proves the rule. It’d be nice if the 3rd was true, but I suspect it’s the second…and hope it’s not the first.


  20. I wonder if the department Digger referenced was boasting about who teaches their grad students–in that case, it’s believeable that all grad instructors/advisors would be TT Ph.D.s.


  21. Cassandra and Historiann, The reference was to the department (Anthro), not the school overall. And my impression was that they were referring to all classes in that department, undergrad and grad. There are no teaching opportunities for grad students, except for leading labs/grading.


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