How can American academia’s adjunct situation be improved? What’s the best way to address this humanitarian crisis? Can we fix this labor disaster?
hard to change attitude but is it impossible? what would it take?
This is a great question. Indeed, it should be one of the leading questions for academia to answer today.
How, then, can we improve the situation of adjuncts?
Let’s brainstorm. And let’s seed the storm with some ideas:
1. State governments could be the hero here. One common suggestion (one I’ve made) is that we need to reverse the decline in state support for public higher education. Simply put, if states stopped cutting their subsidies but, instead, increased their support for colleges and universities, we could expand the ranks of tenure-track faculty back to Baby Boomer levels.
Naturally this isn’t happening, except for rare exceptions, like oil-rich North Dakota. State budgets are being squeezed by all kinds of forces, economic, ideological, and political. Moreover, the politics simply aren’t there to reverse the course of defunding. Additionally, private institutions wouldn’t be directly affected, although the overall market could pull them along.
But maybe, just maybe this adjunct reform could occur if the US economy started growing at a serious level and/or if we see a change of political climate.
[I]t is possible
1. to maintain a TT majority-
2. to insure that NTT is a viable career option w salary, promotion—and job security, and
3. pro-rate PT salary on FT salary. It can be done.
I appreciate Hayes’ engagement on this topic, but am not sure I follow it. By “TT majority” does she mean a political majority of tenure-track faculty, devoted to reform? Or does she mean preserving a campus population where the majority of teaching positions are t-track (not the case, generally)? Either way, Hayes seems to call for improving the status of adjuncts short of offering them tenure: better compensation, some advancement, security. Perhaps adjuncts will evolve into lecturers, or full-time instructors will multi-year term contracts.
EDITED TO ADD Accidental Academic asks us to consider “pro-rated PT against FT salaries.” In the comments section to this post Jack Longmate describes a situation where “all faculty, whether full-time or part-time, whether permanent or probationary, are paid according to the same 11-step salary schedule; that is, there’s equal pay for equal work”.
Is this adjunct 2.0 model possible? I imagine adjuncts organizing into unions is one way forward, assuming said organization works, and that campuses accept collective negotiation. Brave groups like the New Faculty Majority can help here. Maybe the AAUP could step up.
3. Imagine if PhD production drops. That would eventually reduce the flood of well-credentialed grads, taking instructor supply down. If supply and demand laws maintain, we should expect compensation to rise. Maybe tenure will return as an extra later of compensation.
How could this happen? We know research-1 universities are apparently pleased to keep on churning out graduated into a horrible market. We know professional organizations, like the MLA, don’t want to stop this flow. But perhaps these institutions will have a change of heart, once the optics become too unbearable. Maybe another federal administration will encourage them to do so. Alternatively, the number of students applying to grad programs might shrink, as the future of adjuncthood presents too appalling a specter.
One economist thinks this PhD production drop might well occur once enough would-be professors make a rational economic decision.
4. Could a change in campus rankings drive administrations to improve the adjunct lot? Rebecca Schuman raises this approach, asking US News and World Report to draw more attention to an institution’s faculty adjunct proportion.
If a college or university’s ranking—and concurrently, as others are calling for, even its accreditation—could be openly and seriously damaged by the overuse of contingent faculty, then and only then would students and parents actually begin to care, and they’d vote with their tuition. And then and only then would administrations actually begin to … well, “care” isn’t the right word. Let’s say they’d finally find something about contingent faculty to be concerned about, other than the union.
EDITED TO ADD – 5. What about cutting administrative expenses and diverting funds to better compensate adjuncts? One way of doing this involves, as Accidental Academic suggests, “outsourc[ing] senior admin”.
Those are five ideas. Which one or ones appeals to you? Do you have another idea to offer?