Thursday, January 21, 2010

Blog XXXVII (37): The Plight of the Adjunct, Part II

The following article appeared in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on September 28, 2009 as a guest editorial on that paper's opinion section. The author is Eric Fox and the essay had the title: "Adjuncts Exploited on College Campuses." This essay raises some of the issues that I discussed on April 6, 2009 in Blog IV and that the Tim Norton editorial discussed in Blog XXXIV on November 30, 2009. Here is Fox's editorial:
For the past four years I was an adjunct instructor of English at a technical college in Georgia. I taught hundreds of classes, thousands of students, developed solid relationships with faculty and administrators, and received outstanding student evaluations and recommendations from colleagues.
And then, at the whim of administrators, my contract was canceled. The college was under no obligation to explain to me their reasons, nor did I have any legal recourse in finding out why I was let go. Being a temporary employee, I was "merely" expendable.
This is the life of the college adjunct, where job security, health benefits, administrative support and fair compensation are the rare exceptions in a field in which 68 percent of all new faculty appointments are now part-time or non-tenure-track positions.
Colleges and universities across America have been successfully exploiting this system for years because it saves them money--money they can spend on parking decks, buildings and football stadiums.
There's nothing wrong with maintaining infrastructure and keeping pace with expanding enrollments, but not when it's disproportionately placed on the backs of part-time faculty.
Then it becomes a social injustice. Temporary faculty rarely have the bargaining power or the collective representation of traditional unions, so their ability to negotiate a fair salary is thwarted. Administrators can safely offer lower salaries, knowing that enough teachers are willing to work for reduced wages.
Some adjuncts accept these conditions because they have a second job, or a working spouse, and the poor compensation is tolerated. Others, however, are not so fortunate.
To make ends meet many adjuncts commute long distances to two, sometimes three colleges a week. I know. I did it for years.
I'm now teaching four classes, a full load for a college professor, but my compensation barely covers my monthly expenses. And because my employment is temporary, I have little opportunity for advancement.
With little incentive to stay, many adjuncts leave, so turnover rates are high, depriving students and schools of the critical continuity needed for a healthy educational culture. Recently, I encountered a situation that powerfully emphasizes the inequity of part-time teaching.
My employer offers students and adjuncts a health clinic, where minor illnesses can be evaluated and treated. The clinic also provides counseling services. When I contacted the clinic to speak to a counselor, I was told that the clinic couldn't help me. They only help students.
If I have a cut, or a cold, or a nose bleed, then I am accorded respect and treated. But if I seek help for a common emotional condition, such as stress or anxiety, then I am shunned, and told to seek help elsewhere. Is not the emotional health of a teacher as important for the classroom environment as the effective treatment of a cold?
Further, my employer prides itself on its progressive institutions and humane attitudes in solving various problems of the human community. Am I not part of that human community?
This double standard is galling. It speaks to the absurdity of a system that wastes the talents of dedicated teachers, drives them from the classroom, and punishes the students who are promised an extraordinary education, but only at the price of an exploited faculty.
Without pressure on administrators to reform the system, contingent faculty will continue to face workplace discrimination on various levels, resulting in a further erosion of professionalism, collegiality and scholarship.
How is this good for America's students?


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  2. I adjunct at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida. We get paid $2,000 per class, are given no benefits, and have no offices. Student tuition is around $40,000 a year. Higher education is being gutted by the use of contingent faculty. We must preserve something like the tenure system (i.e. something that assures some job security, some benefits and some academic freedom). The only way to do that is for tenured and tenure-track professors to fight for "equal pay for equal work" for contingent faculty. When administrators realize that they can't pad their pockets by alienating the labor of adjuncts but actually have to pay them then they won't be so quick to close tenure lines.