Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Likely Outcomes?

From an article on the Adjunct Advocate:
"Ms. Lesko thinks that the best way to win beneficial restrictions on the use of adjuncts in academe is simply to focus on data that show, for instance, that an adjunct teaching seven classes cannot teach as well as an adjunct teaching two or three classes. Do that, she says, and the parents and students who pay tuition will pressure institutions to change because the current regime of part-time employment in higher education will be seen as delivering a lousy product. In other words, when playing to people in Peoria, aim for their wallets, not their class solidarity — and forget the rhetoric of abuse."

In a market in which the supply of potential adjuncts was roughly equivalent to the demand, Lesko might have a point, but what's the most likely outcome when looking at, as Mr. Cheney might say, the job market we have rather than the market we want?

1) Parents will surely place this issue at the top of their radar screen and demand that adjuncts be limited to two or three classes, thus ensuring better wages for all.

2) In the event that parents notice, and care, and make an issue of this, administrators will respond to this data, slap their foreheads, and immediately provide better wages with all of the unlimited funds at their disposal.

3) The data will be used to cut the number of sections given to individual adjuncts and spread among a greater number of the ever-increasing pool. This will have the effect of denying some adjuncts health benefits, since a certain number of courses taught is usually required to receive benefits, and will also ensure that those who have been squeezing out an existence teaching 7 courses will not be able to survive without getting a job at Wal-mart.


P.D. Lesko said...


Your point is well-taken. Of course college's don't have unlimited budgets and to be sure the faculty salary portion of any instittution's budget is significant. However, college administrators allocate funds for a wide variety of line items. Money to increase adjunct salaries--even triple per course pay--is there.

I know my argument may seem draconian in that fewer courses given to individuals would certainly impact their lives drmatically. However, these are not store stockers; they are women and men with graduate degrees who have other employment options. Next, it would push those patching together a full-time living from multiple part-time appointments away from this kind of employment. Adjunct would mean adjunct, as it did in the 70s.

Finally, no administrator would hire an adjunct who admitted to teaching seven courses, and few adjuncts would admit to such in a job interview. Given those two truths, shouldn't the reality be that part-time faculty teach part-time and full-time faculty teach full-time?

Best wishes,

P.D. Lesko, Publisher
Adjunct Advocate

undine said...

Hi, Ms. Lesko, and thanks for stopping by. I admire what you're trying to do, and you're absolutely right about encouraging a system in which "part-time faculty teach part-time and full-time faculty teach full-time." I'm just not optimistic that the system can be restored to a state in which adjuncts would truly be adjuncts again--lawyers or businesspeople teaching to give the benefit of their real-world expertise to students.

In the long term, it'd be beneficial to nudge people away from making a living by piecing together multiple adjuncting positions. In the short term, though, a lot of people would suffer financially, and some would refuse to be nudged. What happens to those who, because they've heeded the "follow your bliss" mantra or simply believe that teaching is their calling, end up like a late 60ish adjunct I once knew who was still eking out a living this way decades after she might have pursued other opportunities?
Some universities seem to be taking the resolutions of the MLA, ASA, CCC, and other organizations on this matter seriously and are working to convert more positions to full time ones. But there are two very tough sets of market forces working against this solution:

1. College administrators will hire adjuncts cheaply as long as they can do so, and unless the institution is very rich, it isn't likely to make an issue of the ethical or even learning issues involved in keeping adjuncts who are teaching "too many" courses. They might have the funds, but as businesspeople they would not see it as a priority to spend them on adjunct salaries. If parents and students protest, they might, for example, suggest that financial aid or some popular program will be cut in order to finance the adjuncts' salaries--the academic equivalent of threatening to shut down Yellowstone when the National Parks Service gets its budget cut.

2. The oversupply of Ph.D.'s in the humanities allows institutions to behave in this way; that's no secret. Besides discouraging students from pursuing this degree in the humanities, the solutions usually boil down a proposal for unilateral disarmament:

Academic institution 1: "We're producing too many Ph.D.'s and need to cut back on the number of grad students we admit."

Academic institution 2: "That's a great idea. How about if you start?"

I guess the short version is that I hope that conditions improve and am glad that you're working toward a solution.

P.D. Lesko said...


I agree thst there are plenty of people who wouldn't want to be "nudged." Unfortunately, these are the same people who would probably suffer the most. On the other hand, if "their bliss" is teaching an ungodly number of undergraduate courses (such that the quality of teaching suffers) nudging is not really the solution. A hard shove would be called for.

A final point I want to make is this: the number of part-time faculty in higher education has very, very little to do with the over-production of Ph.D.s in any discipline. Part-time faculty, typically, do not hold Ph.D.s; they are Master's degrees. Knowing this, the discussion becomes more complicated, because there are, literally, exponentially more people who hold a Master's than who hold a Ph.D.

best wishes,

P.D. Lesko

undine said...

Thanks for the information. I hadn't realized that most part-time faculty members were Master's instead of Ph.D. level people. What usually gets publicized is the plight of the Ph.D. who can't get a t-t job but must teach as an adjunct year after year. That alters the situation substantially.

Thanks and best wishes,