The adjunct crisis: a good update, a scary visualization, and a classic error

The Campaign for the Future of Higher Education has an update on and summary of the adjunct situation.  If you need to get up to speed on this shameful issue, or need for someone else to become more knowledgeable, this is a fine text.

It includes this very useful visualization of academic labor, i.e., who’s what in the world of American higher education instruction.  The key column is on the right:
faculty: tenture track, grad students, and adjuncts in 2013_CFHE

That’s right, almost one half of American instructors are part-time, non-tenure-track folks.  Add to that the 14%+ number who are full-time, but not on the tenure track, and you get a clear picture of the mainline college and university professor.  (Has the number of grad students teaching increased?)  Compare that to the 26% or so – just one quarter! –  who are tenure track, and you’ll grasp the transformation of academia and academic labor in the United States.  This is the New Normal: a minority of faculty wearing tenure’s shield, and a majority of contingent workers.  American campuses, largely taught by temps and people lacking our sector’s celebrated mechanism for protecting academic freedom.

The CFHE paper supports this point by providing brief and welcome case studies from the California State University system.  (George Station et al, does the working paper do right by you?)

However, when the paper identifies a cause for this mutation, it falls into the classic administration category error trap.

The authors focus on administration.  Or “administration”, really.  They do start with the correct, general view of admin as nearly all non-faculty campus staff:

As a study by the Delta Cost Project shows, the relative weight of investments in colleges and universities has shifted with instruction and related spending actually declining in recent years.

What has risen as a priority is spending on administration and related activities. [emphases added]

That’s true.  Spending on  the whole panoply of people not engaged in direct instruction and /or research has risen.  This means staff like custodians, IT professionals, librarians, student life coordinators, coaches, diversity officers, vice presidents, deans, presidents, teaching center staff, writing center staff, counselors, instructional designers, et very cetera.

However, the CFHE paper then narrows its sense of administration to “administration”: C-suite folks and presidents.  It targets “those individuals at the top of college and university hierarchies”, and repeatedly hits on presidents.  The rest of “admin”, all of those staff, fall away.  Also absent are the reasons for growing their numbers, such as complying with new state and federal regulations, managing the amenities arms race, supporting new needs (IT) and expanding demands (mental health, student life), while trying to support students who might need additional help (veterans, first-generation college students, poor folk underserved by K-12).

It’s the kind of error I wrote about earlier this year, and it’s still pretty commonplace.

And yet I don’t want to scare readers away from the working paper.  CFHE otherwise does an important service for higher education and the public, and their effort deserves a large audience.

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One Response to The adjunct crisis: a good update, a scary visualization, and a classic error

  1. Pingback: Trends to watch in 2016: education contexts | Bryan Alexander

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