Educating for Democracy:Adjunctivitis

Educating for Democracy: Adjunctivitis

I recently attended a national conference of an organization which centers on the humanities. It attracts scholars from all over the world to present papers on various aspects of history and culture. At this most recent conference over 1300 attendees participated and 500 papers were presented. As interesting as many of these papers were, one that particularly stood out for me was a panel discussion centered on the difficulty of finding full-time college and university positions.
Among the panelists were academics from NYU, Duke and the University of Cincinatti. The substance of the initial presentations gave advice to young scholars who were almost all adjuncts on how to piece together their fragmented jobs like a patchwork quilt, especially those with young children. At that point there was little mention of salaries and I was about to dismiss the program as business as usual when the Q and A began. I had expected the follow up would focus on strategies for survival, which had consisted of advice to "publish, publish, publish" as if that wasn't especially difficult for stressed instructors who would be striving to be worthy of consideration for a non-tenured position. Instead the audience almost erupted into a litany of criticism on their mistreatment by tenured faculty and supervisors and the highly unlikely prospect of their getting a position in academe that would enable them to make a living wage.
This crisis in academe--in which one of the adjuncts advised that if no promising job prospects came up within three years, it was time to give up the dream of tenure and look for another vocation--has been an issue for decades and is increasingly becoming more acute. According to an on-going national study on compensation for adjuncts which is being conducted by the Chronicle of Higher Education:

The overall average pay reported by adjuncts is $2,987 per three-credit course. Adjuncts at 16 colleges reported earning less than $1,000. The highest pay reported is $12,575, in the anthropology department at Harvard University.
The data document how it pays, literally for adjuncts to teach at top research universities, where they report receiving an average of $4,750 per three-credit course. Yet even within that category, pay differs widely. The average per-course pay reported for adjuncts at Ohio State University is $4,853, compared with an average of $6,500 reported at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. Harvard pays adjuncts $11,037, on average, according to the data that adjuncts have submitted so far.
Meanwhile, adjuncts at rural, medium-sized, two-year institutions--where pay is the lowest, according to the data submitted so far--average $1,808 per three-credit course.

Additionally, the proportion of part-time faculty compared to full-time tenure-track faculty has continually increased over the past forty years:

Specifically, between 1975 and 2007, the representation of adjuncts on college faculties rose from 43.2 percent to 68.7 percent, while the representation of ladder faculty decreased from56.8 percent to 31.2 percent. Therefore, the use of part-time and full-time non-tenure track faculty has exceeded the use of full-time tenured and tenure-track faculty in both nominal and proportional terms

Given the continued reduction in state aid supporting public colleges and universities, especially in states that have fiscally conservative governors, and the increasingly common "corporate model" adopted by private institutions , the low-pay scale and declining full time opportunities for new graduates with humanities degrees and large student loans are creating a "perfect storm" in American higher education. If this trend continues, few students will have the experience of being mentored by full-time faculty whose influence and advice are a vital part of a college student's education.