The Campaign for the Future of Higher Education just released its Policy Report #2, which focuses on adjunct teaching-and it contains nothing that surprises and much that disheartens. The report is pointedly titled “Who is ‘Professor Staff’ And How Can This Person Teach So Many Classes?” and was written by three adjunct faculty members along with Gary Rhoades, the director of the Campaign for the Future of Higher Education (CFHE). The Campaign is affiliated with the New Faculty Majority, a movement to push for equity among all faculty members regardless of employment status. From the contents of the report, it’s clear that equity is far from present and that much needs to change in order for our colleges and universities to offer quality instruction taught by valued and respected faculty.
The report is based on a survey of 500 adjunct and contingent faculty in the fall of 2011, and it reaffirms everything we fear about the working conditions and treatment of adjunct faculty at most institutions: part-time faculty suffer in three major areas of concern: employment uncertainty and insecurity, and lack of institutional support. There are two main causes of these problems:
- “Just-in-Time” management practices, in which contingent faculty are hired at the last minute and expected to prepare for and produce a quality course with little time and without compensation for that time-and then are held accountable and not hired again if predictable problems created by this dynamic draw complaints from students. Survey results show that at least 38% of adjunct faculty had less than two weeks to prepare for courses, and that their courses were often “bumped” by the need to fill the courses of full-time faculty. According to the report, “this [hiring] practice is also related to an erroneous administrative notion that instruction takes place solely in the classroom, a mistaken view that overlooks important instructional activities and interactions that take place before classes start and outside the classroom.”
- Lack of available resources and/or inadequate resources provided to adjunct faculty. The overwhelming majority of adjunct, contingent and part-time faculty surveyed did not receive any curriculum guides, library access, office space, copying services, and other necessary tools until two weeks before the semester started, and some never received some of these things at all. In my experience as an adjunct, I occasionally had access to office space for meetings with students, but only once did the office have a computer, printer, or phone. Survey respondents also noted that for adjunct faculty who teach at night, there is little contact with administrators such as department chairs, and no one to turn to for help when classroom technology fails. As noted by those surveyed, this hampers attempts to communicate with students, teach effectively, and provide students with resources, negatively affecting retention efforts.
Shared Problems between Adjunct and Full-Time Faculty
Having been both an adjunct professor and a full-time faculty member over the past 23 years, I have seen all of this and more. It’s wrong and needs to be fixed; the report suggests greater transparency at all colleges and universities, focusing on data collection that will be used to “reform their employment practices.” I differ somewhat on this. While I think that schools do need to reform their employment practices, I think that data collection is less necessary. We already know what the problems are. It’s time to do something about it. Colleges and universities primarily need to
- hire more of their excellent part-time instructors as full-time faculty.
- pay all instructors adequately and provide benefits such as health insurance.
- spend more on technology and resources for all faculty.
- encourage greater communication and respect between all parties.
This last bit about communication is essential, because as much as I agree that adjunct and contingent faculty must be more valued and incorporated more fairly and thoroughly into the collegiate administration process, this singular focus on the unfair problems adjunct and contingent faculty face does not recognize the reality that full-time faculty often deal with the exact same issues, especially now that tenured positions are disappearing from the higher education employment landscape. In the push for higher enrollment and graduation numbers while undergoing draconian budget cuts, many faculty members across the country are pressured to:
- pass students whose work does not meet academic standards.
- take on extra course loads or last-minute course assignments.
- censor themselves and their course content according to the latest political trends.
- participate in additional committee and college activities.
In addition to these responsibilities, many (if not most) full-time faculty members are also expected to share office space and limited resources, produce research, and earn grants for their departments. In addition, and contrary to popular opinion, many full-time faculty members are not paid all that well when you figure all of this into the workload in addition to the actual classroom teaching. All of this hurts the quality of our classroom work and our ability to teach effectively. In short: many faculty members are currently suffering from overwork and are not adequately compensated, not just adjunct and contingent faculty due to the underfunding and undervaluation of our higher education system.
This means that all faculty need to work together to address these issues and ensure that we are all respected, valued, and able to instruct our students in the most effective ways possible. The long-standing competitive tension between adjunct and full-time faculty needs to be addressed and ended before this can happen, though. Hopefully, reports like this will open the eyes of both faculty and administrators so that we can all work together to end the exploitation that changing economics has created of all faculty. The problems that adjunct faculty face hurt all of us.
For assistance dealing with challenges related to adjunct positions, check out the web pages of the New Faculty Majority and the Campaign for the Future of Higher Education. Share your adjunct stories here!