July 14, 2003

When Full-Time Faculty Support Adjunctification

The change since 1975 is striking. Part-time faculty have grown four-times (103%) more than full-time (27%). The number of non-tenure-track faculty has increased by 92% while the number of probationary (tenure-track) faculty has actually declined by 12%. Consequently, where there were 50% more probationary than non-tenure- track faculty in 1975, by 1993 non-tenure-track appointments exceeded probationary by 33%.

Adjunct appointments went from 22% in 1970 to 32 percent in 1982, to 42% in 1993, to a current level of about 46 percent of all faculty. The change in the proportion changed at about one percent a year. The most recent findings show that this trend continues unabated. The issue of contingent work has finally gained so much attention because the numbers of contingent faculty are approaching a majority, a situation already existing in the community colleges where almost one half of all students are now enrolled in higher education. There is nothing in the historical record to suggest that these trends will stop without policy intervention and our activism.

Richard Moser, "The New Academic Labor System, Corporatization And The Renewal of Academic Citizenship"


Among the responses by full-time faculty to the problem of adjuntification is a line of argument that I find rather curious. It goes something like this: grant that the abuse of adjuncts is unfortunate (which concession is often accompanied by the disclaimer that there is nothing we can do about the low pay and lack of benefits), the system is a meritocracy and those who are truly worthy do end up on the tenure track. Now, given the growing reliance on adjunct faculty, what this position entails is a belief in an overall decline in the merit of college instructors. If the system is a meritocracy which assigns candidates to the tenure track or the adjunct track according to various measures of worthiness, then we are led to the inescapable conclusion that there has been a quite dramatic diminution in the quality of academics over the past thirty years: while only 22 percent of those teaching in 1970 were unworthy of the tenure track, today that percentage has risen to 46.

Though I find it highly unlikely, I will concede that such a dramatic decline in merit is within the realm of the possible. Nevertheless, I think it is very strange to find the members of a profession arguing in support of the deprofessionalization of their own profession.

Can you think of another profession or guild or union the members of which would claim that a significant proportion of their membership were so lacking in merit as to deserve substandard wages and no benefits? I confess I cannot, though admittedly this may stem either from ignorance or from a failure of imagination. They might, certainly, allow for degrees and gradations of merit, as measured according to their various and particular criteria, and acknowledge that some lawyers/police officers/chartered accountants are excellent, some very good and so on down the line -- but they would be inclined to stop well short of acknowledging that some members of the profession/guild/union were incompetent or unworthy enough not to warrant even a minimum wage with modest benefits. Or, what they would say is that they had various forms of certification and governance and overseeing to ensure that the incompetent and unworthy were drummed out of their profession. Now, I'm not saying that this would in fact be the case, and for all I know there are legions of incompetent lawyers/police officers/chartered accountants who practice with impunity and who manage to earn at least a half-decent living. My point is that it is highly unusual (I believe it may well be unprecedented) for the members of a profession to actually and positively argue that those who have been duly certified as members of their own profession do not deserve even a half-decent living.

Well, but perhaps it is true that those of us who teach as adjuncts really are unworthy enough to deserve no more than what we currently earn. If this is the case, then I suppose the faculty who lend support to adjunctification must be commended for their truthfulness. While the spokespersons of every other profession/guild/union that we can think of would not make such an admission even if it were true, these faculty can be seen to put honesty and integrity before the narrow interests of the profession/guild/union. And of course it is very much against the interests of a profession to have its members and spokespersons argue that some (indeed, many, and the numbers increase as adjunctification continues apace) of its members are this unworthy. Indeed, if we think in terms of the reproduction and continuation of the profession as a profession, an admission like this would seem to express some sort of impulse toward professional suicide.

To reiterate: when faculty support the use of adjuncts on the grounds of meritocracy, they are not arguing that this meritocracy ensures that the unworthy and the incompetent are drummed out of the profession. They are arguing, rather, that while a significant (and increasing) percentage of the members of their own profession are not worthy enough to warrant a decent living, those who are not worthy enough to warrant a decent living can nevertheless be entrusted with the teaching of a significant (and increasing) percentage of college courses. Or, to put this another way, when faculty support adjunctification, what they are supporting is the idea that college teaching is of so little value that those who practice it needn't be anything special, or even anything half-decent, and needn't meet a standard that would entitle them to a living wage plus health insurance. And if those within the academy place so little value on the practice of teaching, and view a substantial (and increasing) percentage of the members of their own profession with such contempt, can we really be surprised if those outside the academy follow suit?

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at July 14, 2003 11:40 AM
Comments
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Another interpretation is possible: that tenured faculty care most about the condition of tenured faculty. If their goal is to maximize their own income over their working life, while minimizing their labor, then they would behave just as they are. Extending tenure to more teachers cuts into their share of the university's resources, and makes the whole institution of tenure vulnerable in the event of a decline in overall university revenue. Thus adjuncts reduce the labor of the tenured, while making the tenured faculty a smaller burden on the unversity as a whole, thus making their own tenure more secure.

Nor is the meritocracy argument inconsistent. The tenured favor meritocracy among adjuncts, in order to bring about high quality teaching that maximizes the university's revenue and thereby making the tenured faculty's income larger and more secure. The argument is reversed for the tenured -- there should not be meritocracy among the tenured, because competition would threaten the income of the tenured.

Posted by: pj at July 14, 2003 12:29 PM
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As PJ points out, Posner is perhaps overly optimistic in his calling to arms and celebration of a united activism amongst the tenured and tenure-track proffesoriate. As we have seen on this blog, many in the tenured and tenure track ranks exhibit a thinly veield disdain for us, even as they celebrate, in the guise of noblese oblige, their willingness to place us on their (hectic and time constrained) radar screens -- lord knows there's quilting and baking to get done, too, you know.

Nevertheless, Posner's (potentially) mis-conceived optimism aside, I think readers of this blog should read the article in its entirety, and then click on the link to the upcoming Campus Equity Week (CEW) listed towards the end of the article. This seems, if not promissing, at least like ... something.

Posted by: Chris at July 14, 2003 12:56 PM
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Why did I malaprop Moser as Posner? Who knows? Sorry for that.

Posted by: Chris at July 14, 2003 01:37 PM
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Thank you, IA, for showing, let's hope for the last time, that the meritocracy argument is bullshit. It is nothing more than yet another myth perpetuated by the guilty to justify what is an indefensible position. We all know that there are adjuncts, graduate students, and one-year appointees who are far better teachers and researchers than many who hold tenured or tenure-track positions. Full-time faculty don't necessarily "deserve" those jobs more than anyone else, and they tolerate and even encourage adjunctification for one simple reason: they benefit from it.

I am glad Moser raises the issue of community colleges where the problem is significant and I think often gets ignored in the discussion here at IA. In the CC system, the number of adjuncts really is skyrocketing, and full-time faculty aren't uncomfortable with the trend since it saves them having to perform the hardest work of their colleges.
Unfortunately, until they see the increasing use of adjuncts as somehow harming their own positions, livelihoods, working conditions, etc., they will continue to ignore or contribute to the problem.

Posted by: cindy at July 14, 2003 01:47 PM
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The tenured favor meritocracy among adjuncts, in order to bring about high quality teaching that maximizes the university's revenue and thereby making the tenured faculty's income larger and more secure.

While this point itself makes sense, I do find myself wondering why, then, that merit at the adjunct level is so poorly rewarded -- if not by tenure (since that position seems to assume that adjuncthood is a separate category) then by pay, benefits, reduced teaching load, etc.

In other words, for the tenure-line hires, the carrot is pretty clear: tenure. What is the carrot for adjuncts? Mere employment, with no hope for advancement or benefits? Sounds like a pretty meager "reward" to me, especially since tenure-line faculty start out with the things many adjuncts do not receive -- benefits and a greater than living wage -- long before they are approved for tenure.

Posted by: Rana at July 14, 2003 01:56 PM
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Rana: I cannot speak for all adjuncts, or even other adjuncts, but in my case I continue to adjunct because 1. I am unqualified for anything else; 2. I am too old to be able to afford (or deal with) entry level work; 3. and I am also too old to re-credential myself for something better. The upshot is that if I can string together (over the course of an academic year) 8 to 10 classes, paying me between $2500 and $6000 per class, I can make in any given year between $30k and $50k, which sadly (even at the low end) is far more than I could make working at the kinds of non-academic jobs I am eligible for: i.e., Borders, Tower Records, or Kinkos. (tending bar is a lucrative option, but bar tending gigs are hard to come by.)

So, what's left?

Posted by: Chris at July 14, 2003 02:09 PM
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The whole thing about two-tier hiring is that you change the future system without hurting anyone in the system already. Tenured faculty actually gain, since the adjuncts take over the boring, tedious courses. The purpose of two-tier systems is to neutralize the most organized potential opponents.

I haven't seen it stated as such, but it should be one of the laws of history: any group which has a privilege or advantage of any kind feels that it deserves it, regardless of the reason. Individuals may feel uncomfortable, but the voluntary renunciation of privilege by large groups is unheard of. Or maybe I'm wrong.

Allowing adjuncts and new hires to compete with the tenured would be meritocracy. Especially if price competition were allowed.

Posted by: zizka at July 14, 2003 03:14 PM
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Reading this site, at lunch hour, during a day in business. You have no idea what a pleasure it is to read such intelligent conversation, even among those of you who are so full of personal anguish. When you think there is no life for an intelligent person outside academics, that is much too defeatest, and humble.

You have a "culture gap" in getting understood by business. But the skills you bring are in very short supply outside the hallowed halls.

No, you should not be tending bar, selling books, or doing busy work. How much would a corporation have to pay to create a site as lively as this one? To hire the talent? To build the community?

I know an ex-adjunct PhD who did newsletters then went into web design and "content creation." He is now a VP in a Fortune 100 firm with a salary, I would guess, of $150,000 + including bonus.

Getting intelligent, flexible, fast-learning people, who are willing to accept new assignments, and do creative things, is very difficult.

You do have a challenge in presenting yourself, since you do not yet know your audience, but once inside a corporate environment, you are still the smartest on the floor, and in a crunch, the leaders of that org will turn to you for a simple reason -- you can get things done, when others can't.

Posted by: The Happy Tutor at July 14, 2003 03:29 PM
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I'm going to put in a quick plug for a book I just read called _Working Identity_ by Herminia Ibarra.

It addresses Chris and HT at once, by making the point that someone like Chris can't possibly see the opportunities that HT *knows* are out there right off the bat. The world is big, and none of us knows more than a little of it.

The answer, per the book, is to go out and experiment with some possibles. While I acknowledge Chris's point about the practicality thereof -- it *is* possible to be Golden Handcuffed into one's current course, as I'm sure HT will happily admit -- I do think the approach has merit.

It comes a lot closer to my ongoing process of career-reinvention than any other career book I've read.

Posted by: Dorothea Salo at July 14, 2003 03:44 PM
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Oh Chris, Happy Tutor is so right. I'll tell you my story, because I think once you see some details it will be easier to imagine what we mean.

I have a BA and MA in philosophy. After my MA, I wanted to move to be with my girlfriend and decided to take any non-secretarial job I could find. I was hired by an investment firm to manage their quarterly reports to clients. Why? Because I was able to convince them I was careful with documents, that I had the necessary computer skills and that I could learn whatever they wanted me to learn. It was obvious to them (and will be obvious to anyone who interviews you) that I was smarter than the other people they'd been interviewing. I worked hard, I was eager to please and eager to learn. I took the job not even knowing what it meant to short a stock, but now if someone is out or leaves, I can do trade settlement, proxy voting, tender offer letters or whatever else the firm needs. Iíve participated in hiring decisions, supervised summer temps and interviewed job applicants. Suddenly, I have a financial services resume.

But, and Happy Tutor has made this point before, I havenít needed that resume, because things happen that one doesn't expect. Our IT person quit without notice. In the ensuing panic, I told my manager, "you know, I think I can handle IT." That was a lie. I had no idea if I could handle it, but I was willing to chance it and they had faith in me. That was three years ago and there's been a lot of learning on the job, but now my resume says that Iíve been in charge of IT for three years at a firm that manages $700 million.

You have skills that are in demand. The fact that youíve found this blog and posted a comment makes you more qualified than 95% of the applicants for any job you may try to get. Iím serious. Once you get in, youíll shine.

Posted by: ogged at July 14, 2003 04:23 PM
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Leave it to me to take the fun out of everything.

Suppose--just suppose-- that the happy advice to Chris is right: it's not hard for someone with Chris' qualifications to find fairly interesting, stable, and well-paid work outside adjuncting.

How ought this change my attitude toward the job market and the profession? I've heard this said before: "look, exploitation is when the mining company pays you in credit at the company store, and you can't do anything about it because you're expendable and you have no other options. People capable of getting PhDs from decent departments are smart enough, and have skills enough, to pursue other work, and they knew or should have known about the odds of employment in the field before they started a dissertation. So they have other options, and they took a considered risk. There's no notion of *desert* at work in the market; the supply-and-demand is what it is. So to hell with you."

I'm not endorsing that line of reasoning exactly, but it'd be nice to see a non-vitriolic discussion of it, preferably without too much academic jargon.

I will now leave the stage to a chorus of boos.

Posted by: Fontana Labs at July 14, 2003 05:25 PM
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Fontana Labs - *which* job market? I don't see that the news that you could get a much better job outside academia should make you feel better about academia. Should feel more angry, logically: now there's evidence that you're more competent than they thought, and had choices they worked hard to slander.

On the other hand, getting a decent job is very likely to make you feel better about the job market in general. You might have to rely on your scholarly training to keep those feelings from blurring what you know is true of the market in general.

Posted by: clew at July 14, 2003 05:41 PM
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I could learn whatever they wanted me to learn.

This statement of ogged's should be engraved in gold above all discussions here. This is the single most important thing you need to convince yourself of, so that you can then convince potential employers. What sensible people want in an employee is not so much experience as ability to handle the job (and if they're not sensible you don't want to work for them if you can help it). You're used to being with other academics, people who have honed their native intelligence; you'd be amazed at the Moron Factor (as my wife calls it) out there in the real world -- by which I don't mean that "ordinary people" are dumb, which I don't at all believe, but that daily existence tends to force native intelligence into a rut, so that people trying to do anything they're not accustomed to doing frequently act like morons. You, on the other hand, assuming you're taking part in these discussions, have a keen and flexible intelligence and can pick up any necessary skills in short order once you apply yourself. With a modicum of self-presentation this will be evident to employers, and they will want you on their staff. Do not ever let yourself believe "I am unqualified for anything else"!

Posted by: language hat at July 14, 2003 06:40 PM
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IA: but doesn't the article you linked to actually forward the arguments of the meritocrats, rather than undermine them? In terms of its rhetoric, it seemed to be suggesting not that adjuncts are eo ipso "worse" than t-t faculty, but rather, that the demands of the position make them that way--that is, less responsive, less likely to prep, less intellectually engaged, and so forth. That is, in order to argue that it's in everybody's interest to improve the position of adjuncts, it doesn't subvert (OK, I hate that word) the meritocratic paradigm (you didn't get a job because you're less competent, poor dears) but simply turns it around (you didn't start off less competent, but now you are, poor dears). Such an approach plays right into the hands of people like these conservatives from the National Association of Scholars (and hopefully even Chris will agree that I'm not this godawful; I found this essay and its companion piece to be absolutely astounding, in the worst possible sense). I think your point is terrific, IA, since it renders "merit" rhetorically moot, but how does one get an administration off "self-interest" and onto justice and equity--or should one just appeal to enlightened self-interest? (Most of the adjunct advocacy on my own campus has been in the "look, nobody wants to work here" mode instead of the "it's wrong" mode.)

Posted by: Miriam at July 14, 2003 07:28 PM
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"daily existence tends to force native intelligence into a rut"

In my experience, the academy does a pretty good job of this, too ;-)

Posted by: cindy at July 14, 2003 08:49 PM
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cindy: That's why people who want to stay flexible should get out before it's too late!

Posted by: language hat at July 14, 2003 09:24 PM
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Miriam, that statement is too awful. I can't even deal with it at the moment, it just gives me a headache. Let me just say that I read it as an expression of a pretty serious status anxiety: ie, we have so little status and prestige that we need to set ourselves against an underpaid underclass.

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at July 14, 2003 09:28 PM
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http://members.aol.com/vlorbik/tenpage/calling.html

--"calling things by their names" (1997).

Posted by: at July 14, 2003 09:29 PM
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Actually, IA, as I read the statement that Miriam linked to, it was a call for the end to adjunctification. Adjuncts to be hired only in certain fairly specific circumstances, and all other teaching to be done by tenure-track people. (lots of new hires!)I assume it will never happen, but isn't that the type of statement you would like to get out of "real" disciplinary groups? Making adjunct jobs slightly better paid just perpetuates the system. The strongest arguement to administrator/trustee self-interest you can make is to say that adjuncts are not providing as good an education as non-adjuncts, and since education is what they place sells they need to protect its quality.

Just to be annoying some more, I would say that most adjuncts are not as "good" as tenure track people, whatever that means. They are not the same jobs. When looking for a full-time person departments look for a lot of things, including the ability to supervise a really good thesis and defend the department in university committiees. Oh, and publish. For an adjunct it is enough that they are minimally competent and can start on Tuesday. Some adjuncts are very, very good, and some tenured people are atrocious, but they are very different jobs. The best (most likely to create change) arguement against adjunctification -as a trend- is that schools are doing a bait and switch. They promise that classes are taught by the best people they could find, but in fact they are taught by whoever they could get.

Posted by: Ssuma at July 14, 2003 11:10 PM
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Excellent point, IA. I think the self-undercutting effect of the arguments you cite is already operating in the commodification of undergraduate education. Subtle shifts in perceived value can have huge long term impact.

Also, this idea of "meritocracy", which comes up so often, is used loosely and improperly to damaging effect. The basic problem is the Prosecutor's fallacy: the confusion between the likelihood of being "good", whatever that means, given success and the likelihood of being successful given that one is "good". Without the base rates, the two are not comparable. I blog on this argument in more detail here in response to your posts on academic celebrification.

Posted by: Christopher Genovese at July 15, 2003 12:22 AM
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Incidentally, on the subject of commodification, the LA Times just reviewed this book by Eric Gould, which sounds immediately relevant to the discussion; the review made it sound much more upbeat than the Amazon synopsis does, however.

Posted by: Miriam at July 15, 2003 12:37 AM
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I haven't seen it spelled out in so many words in this thread, so I'll just say it here: the reason tenure-track academics practically defend adjunctification--even as they technically deplore it--is that adjuncts keep the teaching load of those on the tenure track light. Take away the adjuncts, and people swimming along in a two-two would have to assume a three-three or more. Those already teaching three or four courses per semester would also have to teach more courses. Though going this route is to my mind the surest way of convincing administrators that they must hire more tenure-track faculty (because the quality of teaching by the tenure-track faculty will certainly go down as the volume of teaching skyrockets), the people who are positioned to make such a point (which would, incidentally, put adjuncts definitively out of work) are more interested in keeping their current teaching schedules as light as possible than in restoring their disciplines to a respectable and honorable shape. All the arguments about meritocracy and so on are just mere covers for basic selfishness.

My own personal feeling is that there is very, very little legitimate and original "research" going on in the academic humanities in particular, and that the best way for humanities faculty to regain their credibility and earn their bread would be to acknowledge this by making teaching a much more important component of the job (where I work, getting a teaching award as an assistant professor actually harms your chances of getting tenure). But individual faculty cannot unilaterally increase their teaching loads. Whole departments have to decide to do it together. In the immortal words of Dana Carvey, Na ga happen.

Posted by: Erin O'Connor at July 15, 2003 02:21 AM
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Suma,
It's not so much that statement as their other statement (which they link to): Parity for Adjuncts: The New Threat to Academic Standards. If they said, 'We need to get rid of adjuncts in order to maintain/raise standards,' that would at least be consistent. But they don't want to get rid of adjuncts: they want to keep a reserve army of contingent labor, and continue paying them substandard wages -- to give adjuncts a decent salary would threaten to eliminate the distinction between adjunct and tenurable faculty. "There is a big difference," they insist, "between a faculty immersed in scholarship and instructors who merely transmit what is found in a textbook." Many people outside the academy think anyone can teach ("those who can, do; those who can't, teach"). It seems that academics themselves are increasingly inclined to agree, and even to actively contribute to the devaluation/degradation of teaching. If teaching involves the "mere transmission" of what is found in textbooks, why have warm bodies in the classroom at all? Just hire one instructor to give a series of lectures that would be videotaped and used over and over again -- think of the savings!

"Just to be annoying some more, I would say that most adjuncts are not as 'good' as tenure track people, whatever that means."
Either this means something, or it means nothing at all. What do you mean by this statement? You go on to describe the differences between the jobs. But this tells us nothing about the qualifications and potential of the jobholders. On the basis of what evidence do you make this statement?

I agree with Erin on making teaching a priority. Yes, this would put adjuncts out of work. But it would also open up more full-time positions. And in the long run, it's probably the only way for the humanities to regain credibility.

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at July 15, 2003 06:45 AM
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"I agree with Erin on making teaching a priority. Yes, this would put adjuncts out of work. But it would also open up more full-time positions. And in the long run, it's probably the only way for the humanities to regain credibility."

--Respectfully, I disagree with this view. Yes, the logic of cause and effect, along with the numbers suggest its truth, but I remain unconvinced that re-prioritizing teaching within the academic culture will lead to a bump in the number of t-t positions in all but the top tier of small colleges and research universities. My suspicion, no, my expectation, is that the effect of jettisoning adjunct labor will be a shifting and re-deployment of existing faculty to fill the gap left open by the departed adjuncts.

Here's a scenario. The adjuncts are gone, and what remains is a t-t faculty of, say, between 12 and 20. Now, let's say it's the Fall Semester, amd there are 14 sections of Freshamn Comp. that have to run; the Chair says 'we also have to offer our 200-level survey of Brit. Romanticism and the Victorian Poetry survey because we haven't offered either of these for a full year'. The Adminsitration counters by saying 'offer the Brit. Romantics survey in the Spring and hold off on the Victorian survey until next Fall, and if you agree to this we'll consider filling the open line the year after'. Or, alternative scenario: agree to this apportionment of courses, and we'll give the Victorianist, who is now going to teach an extra Comp. section instead of the Victorian survey, course relief next Fall, and a semester off the following Fall'.

It's a kind of borrowing from Peter to pay Paul formula, ad infinitum. Through various slight appeals to self-interest, over time it just becomes standard practice and slowly but surely certain courses, while still technically on the books, simply fall out of the rotation. The Chair will protest, the faculty will grumble a bit, but self-interest -- in the form(s) of course relief, and/or a semester's leave -- will win out in the end.

I'm sure I have certain details wrong, but I'm willing to argue that in substance the scenarios I paint are fairly accurate. Now, I grant that it doesn't happen at Havard, or for that matter at Univeristy of Indiana, or U of T.-Austin, but it will happen, and probably already does happen at Penn State-Arlington, Cal. State Wherever, and at SUNY Small.

Never underestimate the resolve or treacherous creativity of administrators.

(and if some think I'm just being paranoid, I have already seen similar strategies proposed and put into place)

Posted by: Chris at July 15, 2003 11:15 AM
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For a small campus, it's always seemed to me that the most likely solution would be to, in effect, take comp away from the English department and turn it into writing across the curriculum--so that instead of English doing 30-odd comp sections, English does, say, 6 or 7, history does 5, poli sci does 5...

Posted by: Miriam at July 15, 2003 11:50 AM
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Miriam: That's exactly what my institution did. And guess what? They fired the adjuncts and haven't made, and will not make, a single t-t hire as a result.

Posted by: Chris at July 15, 2003 11:58 AM
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One thing that hasn't been stressed much so far except by Miriam is that a lot of tenured faculty aren't too happy either. Either I've wandered into an alternative Griping Universe (not for the first time in my life)or the system is messed from top to bottom.

Posted by: zizka at July 15, 2003 03:28 PM
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Chris: yup, I see there is empirical confirmation for my hypothesis. When I was Googling around the other day looking for "adjunct salaries increase," I noticed that "successfully reducing the number of part-timers" really means "firing them." Or, as one of my colleagues dryly observed in a department meeting, "reform" means "remove."

Posted by: Miriam at July 15, 2003 03:33 PM
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I see Chris's point, but I think the opposite is also true. The administration can also argue--and this is my fear at my campus--why do you need more tenure-track lines when you obviously get by just fine without them (i.e. because adjuncts are carrying so much of the department's load)?

I've got to side with Erin on this one. I still believe it all comes down to full-timers enjoying their cushy deal.

Posted by: cindy at July 15, 2003 04:03 PM
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Cindy and Erin, et. al: The knit I am picking, and admitedly I've been picking at it since 1997, has to do with the loophole left wide open by some of our (meaning adjuncts) more outspoken and powerful advocates -- e.g., Michael Berube, Carry Nelson and the GSC, to name three. (btw, the specific loophole is what I outlined above.) My problem is that when Nelson and others lobby for departments to cease relying upon adjunct labor, they never say anything about the loophole I described. Do they not see it? I have a hard time believing they don't, and that leaves me in a quandary over whether they are or are not my ally.

Posted by: Chris at July 15, 2003 05:28 PM
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This article complicates the question of adjunctification & faculty workload a bit; as the author points out, the people with the cushiest jobs are most likely to be at the places with the fewest adjuncts. Adjunctification increases as selectivity decreases. In fact, the "minimizing faculty labor" argument only seems to function within a specific ratio of adjuncts to faculty. Obviously, a CC composed 100% of adjuncts isn't saving the t-t faculty any labor, 'cause there are no t-t faculty, but it's not clear if faculty labor is really being minimized either when the dept. hits a critical mass of adjuncts (60-75%). Below 50%, the department could easily absorb the classes by either rearranging the schedule or upping the load; over 50%, even doubling the load wouldn't help.

Posted by: Miriam at July 16, 2003 01:04 AM
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Miriam, true. But even at the over 50% level, the adjuncts are useful to the tenured faculty. The adjuncts can teach all of the courses which the tenured faculty don't want to teach. The tenured faculty can stick to 300-level or greater (i.e., pretty much courses for majors, and grad students).

Posted by: Barry at July 16, 2003 09:33 AM
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Don't the high-prestige places have their own little trick of hiring people for tenure track but never giving them tenure?

Posted by: zizka at July 16, 2003 11:05 AM
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Zizka: definitely! And in a somehwat round-about way, I think this practice ultiamtely links up with IA's post a while back about celebrification. I'm not sure the impact of celebrification on adjunctification is as direct as IA proposed. I think that celebrification slowly and subtley transforms the status of the t and t-t faculty so that in the supposedly imposing shadow cast by the celebrified academic, the t and t-t faculty become lessers, in the extreme they become adjuncts. Or, at least, they are given a nudge in that direction.

If the trend of celebrification continues, the two tiers we speak of will become transformed, and we will be speaking of a top tier of celebrity academics and a large second tier of everyone else. As to how the renumeration etc. will play out in this 'brave new world', well, that's anyone's guess.

Posted by: Chris at July 16, 2003 11:54 AM
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Barry: except that, as the article pointed out, the more adjuncts you have, the less likely it is that the faculty have it that easy. Again, speaking with only anecdotal evidence on my part, having a lot of adjuncts seems to correlate with the faculty already doing comp and intro courses, whereas having just a few full-time temps around seems to correlate with the temps doing all the intro and the faculty doing all the advanced courses. (The key exceptions to this anecdotal rule would be big research-oriented state schools, where comp and intro surveys get shoved off onto the grad students and adjuncts.) It's counterintuitive, but in my experience it looks to be true.

Zizka: they call those "collapsing chairs" at Harvard...

Posted by: Miriam at July 16, 2003 11:58 AM
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Zizka, yes at several of the high-prestige universities there is an unwritten policy of (almost) never granting tenure. These schools then hire high-prestige senior faculty away from other schools. Often at such places, the administration's are proud of this policy: I know several people who have attended talks from deans who say "the vast majority of you won't be here in six years, and we like it that way." Needless to say, this does not give the junior faculty any incentive to be team players.

I would also like to point out a trend in the sciences that may have some bearing on the adjunct issue. Many schools are introducing a "research scientist" category for non-tenure track faculty. This has various ranks that parallel the tenure track and have all of the same rights and privleges except tenure itself. The positions work on a sequence of rolling contracts that lengthen as one gets more senior. This kind of track can support anything from temporary post-doc positions to long-term employment. I know many examples across the continuum.

The reason I say this may have bearing on the adjunct situation is that once this system is put in place it becomes more and more clear that a comparable "lecturer" track would also work. At least one school I know which has had a research scientist track for some time is beginning to experiment with the lecturer track with success, opening a path for adjuncts to get better benefits and more respect. There's a long way to go, of course, but it's a start.

Posted by: Christopher Genovese at July 16, 2003 12:36 PM
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Miriam: on my campus, having a high number of adjuncts allows the full-time faculty to teach only one or two sections of composition per semester and take a semester off when they feel they need to. In fact, this past semester, only about 30 percent of the sections of freshman composition were taught were taught by full-time, tenured or tenure track faculty. The more adjuncts, the more t-t's can spend their time teaching what they really want to be teaching: higher level (and less work intensive) literature courses.

Posted by: cindy at July 16, 2003 02:04 PM
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It's worth noting, concerning the elite universities that almost never tenure their junior faculty, that those faculty almost always get very good tenured offers elsewhere when their 6 years are up. The scam isn't that junior faculty are exploited there -- I don't think they are -- but that these tippy-top universities can treat the rest of the academy as their farm league.

Posted by: JW at July 16, 2003 04:09 PM
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Good point, JW. Not to mention that during those six years at Elite University, the junior faculty member makes a pretty nice salary and enjoys lots of perks and benefits.

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at July 16, 2003 04:56 PM