October 26, 2003

A "Poster Child" for the "Brave New World of Work"

'There no longer seemed to be anything standing in the way of Keith Hoeller's academic career. By 1982, when he netted his doctorate in philosophy, he had already contributed to ten academic publications, obtained a grant from the French government, and worked for a year as a visiting professor at Seattle University. He was even on the advisory board of a renowned specialist journal -- an honor usually accorded only to full professors. And yet the decisive breakthrough failed to come. Over the past sixteen years he has stumbled from one fixed-term appointment to the next. His latest stop is [the] community college [system] in Washington state, where he gives 12 lecture courses a year -- on a part-time basis. The job only brings in $26,000 a year. Now fifty, he suspects his dream of a Chair will never be fulfilled ... It's a great deal for the universities, but it splits the country's faculty into two classes.'

-- Ulrich Beck, The Brave New World of Work (Polity Press, 2000); cited in Keith Hoeller, "Equal Pay for Equal Work"

Keith Hoeller has spent the past twenty years working as a "part-time"
faculty member, often teaching more than a full load of courses in any given year. His academic career makes him a "poster child," he writes,

for what sociologist Ulrich Beck has called The Brave New World of Work (Polity Press, 2000), where 'fragmentation of the time and place of work is compounded by fragmentation of the normal labor contract. This contractual individualization, with the introduction of cheap-rate insecure jobs, is taking place not only at the bottom but right at the top of the skills hierarchy.'

Hoeller quite correctly views his own career path as "symptomatic of an ever-growing trend since America's colleges and universities initiated this two-tiered professorial track more than 20 years ago."

His column argues for equal pay for equal work, a position that can increasingly be found in the policy statements put forth by various academic professional organizations (including this statement by the AHA, which I blogged about here), but that has yet to be realized at any college or university in this country.

One major obstacle toward parity in pay is of course the current climate of state cutbacks to higher education and increased concern over rising tuition costs.

In these tough economic times, many colleges have increased tuition, without offering the students anything more for their money and without directing any of the revenues toward fairly compensating the part-timers. Spending more of the tuition dollars on the adjuncts would do the most good for students by giving them more access to faculty members who have time to spend with them.

Though I basically agree with Hoeller on this point, I'm not so sure that colleges have not offered students more for their money. I suspect many colleges have offered students more by way of extracurricular services and amenities, though at the expense of academic quality. Making the case for investing in faculty would require convincing students, parents and taxpayers that high quality higher education begins in the classroom.

The second major obstacle, I believe, is a resistance on the part of many full-time faculty members to the goal of employment reform. In the short term, this makes perfect sense: many tenurable faculty benefit materially from the existence of a reserve army of cheap teaching labor. In the longer term, however, indifference -- and in some cases outright hostility -- to the efforts of those who seek improvements in the pay and working conditions of a large and growing proportion of faculty is more self-destructive than self-serving. When professional organizations issue policy papers on the problems of adjunctification (which they are increasingly inclined to do), they do not do so because they have suddenly developed a case of the warm and fuzzies for adjunct faculty. Rather, they do so because they recognize the two-tier system as a threat to the status and pay of the profession as a whole.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at October 26, 2003 10:48 AM

"The second major obstacle, I believe, is a resistance on the part of many full-time faculty members to the goal of employment reform."

I wonder if it is so much faculty or the college admistration that is resistant.

But anyway, I wonder if anyone has thought about the flip side of adjunct teaching, namely that some people who teach adjunct are actually have alternate sources of income and just teach for enjoyment. By demanding equal pay for equal work means that the people who adjunct for a living and those that adjunct for fun have to be paid the same amount of money. Colleges will not be able to support as many people and students will not have as much experience as they would have.

Some people adjunct simply to share their knowledge in a particular special field or just to pass on experience. Colleges need them because it is impossible to have full time experts teaching every subfield. Anybody ever thought about these people?

Posted by: Passing_through at October 27, 2003 12:50 AM

"Keith Hoeller has spent the past twenty years working as a 'part-time' faculty member..."

Honestly, isn't there any point at which this man's dignity prompted him to consider finding a new career altogether, one with better pay and more humane working conditions? A couple of years is one thing, but two decades? That's an inexplicable level of masochism, but it's typical of the self-esteem issues that keep many people fixated on remaining "in the field" no matter the personal, financial, or professional cost.

Posted by: J.V.C. at October 28, 2003 05:54 PM