Magazine article The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education

Adjuncts: Walmart in Academia?

Magazine article The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education

Adjuncts: Walmart in Academia?

Article excerpt

College administrators nationwide have already created plans and procedures for the new academic year. Budgets are not only "in bed" but are already being Implemented. Significant portions of operating funds have been allocated for adjuncts - part-time instructors nomenclature went by the boards years ago. But not the activity which Is an enormous cash cow at most colleges.

I recall as a young dean in the mid-1960s being appointed to a Middle States Accreditation Committee. I religiously read their manuals, underwent a rigorous day-long training session and later carefully studied the university's selfstudy.

What I remember vividly about the visit was the heavyvoiced committee chairman excoriating the university's hapless president and his deans. Why? Was it because of poor academic standards, sloppy report, Insufficient funding, or lack of a clear vision?

No, none of those reasons. Instead the visiting team had discovered that 15 percent of the classes were taught by "part timers" - a term in vogue then. The team as forcefully expressed through its chair was aghast and ever so critical at that high number of part timers. In fact, although the university was easily reaccredited, they had to undergo another visit in two years so Middle States could gauge what progress had been made to correct the disparity between full-time faculty and the part-timers. How times change!

Fast forward to the 1990s, another accreditation visit in another state. There the president boasted that 75 percent of their classes were taught by adjuncts. Not a whimper from anyone on the team. In fact, there were some smiles and nodding of heads.

What happened in 30 years? Tightening budgets, shrinking state appropriations, a virtually defenseless and large adjunct pool and accrediting bodies looking the other way changed the college hiring landscape - perhaps forever.

Many Institutions discovered that a quick solution during difficult financial times was not to fill full-time vacancies. Instead simply hire more adjuncts. In a number of cases the president and deans vigorously affirmed that the hiring practice de jour was a temporary makeshift solution. Once finances improved they would stopped cannibalizing fulltime positions and, in fact, reinstate them.

Many I am sure were sincere. But few returned to hiring the high percent of full-time faculty members they had before.

The financial savings are simply enormous. In most cases adjuncts do not receive sick leave or vacation fringe benefits and receive much lower salaries In non-tenure track positions. Administrators enjoy massive flexibility in scheduling adjuncts and usually assign them different schedules every semester since a court ruling decades ago stated that if an adjunct has the same schedule year after year they have earned a degree of ownership of employment and that particular class schedule. Further, adjuncts are usually not hired In the summer terms since those opportunities are reserved for full-time faculty members. Given this flexibility and significant financial benefits many Institutions hire as many adjuncts as they can get away with.

The beat continues.

In February, Sean Patrick Hill wrote an insightful article for the Chronicle of Higher Education. He titled it: "Assignment: Research Your Adjunct Teachers" Hill holds an MFA In poetry, a terminal degree, but unable find a full-time faculty position he taught composition courses as an adjunct for eight semesters at a number of institutions in two states. To teach his five courses, he travelled 30 miles on a freeway still under construction.

At one institution he taught two morning classes twice a week, and provided four office hours as contractually obligated. After the passage of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), staff was told that "hourly employees" which included "contingent faculty" would not be eligible for health care. That was predicated on the fact that ACA defines fulltime employees as those who work at least 30 hours a week. …

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