Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Flying Standby

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Flying Standby

Article excerpt


The plight of graduate assistants in the academy has repeatedly made headlines in recent years. Just last month, the union representing New York University graduate teaching assistants said it had authorized a strike over the university's refusal to negotiate a second contract.

Low pay, long hours, numerous teaching responsibilities and few if any health benefits have led these students to strategize, and in some cases unionize, to improve their working conditions.

But many of these teaching assistants have discovered that graduation is not the end of their struggle. Masses of newly minted Ph.D.s searching for increasingly elusive tenure-track positions are discovering that they have become part of a growing contingent on campuses across the country-the adjunct professor.

Shifting conditions in the academy account for the increasing number of doctorates teaching in adjunct roles rather than in full-time, tenure-track positions, and much of it has to do with economics.

"Adjuncts require less of a commitment from an institution," says Gwen Bradley, a member of the American Association of University Professors' Committee on Contingent Faculty and the Profession. "These are pure teaching positions, so institutions don't have to pay for research. It's more cost effective for universities," she says.

She notes that in limited studies, women are unquestion-ably at the lower end of the spectrum for tenure-track positions. Consequently, overwhelmingly more women than men fall back into adjunct roles. Furthermore, she explains that while it varies by institution, overall it appears that there are more adjuncts in community colleges and non-research institutions and fewer at the more expensive schools. "It partly correlates with budgets," she says.

Bradley adds that it is not uncommon for adjuncts to work at several institutions simultaneously, to "cobble together a bunch of part-time positions," she says. "It's a difficult market, not like some careers."

Dr. Rebecca Wood, a 2004 graduate of Indiana University's department of English, now holds a visiting lecturer position at her alma mater, where she says the adjunct role is like flying standby. "You are at the mercy of the department you are working for, and there are no benefits."

Last year Wood worked as an adjunct at IU during her search for a full-time, tenure-track position and says she was assured one course to teach each semester. The first semester went well, but come spring, Wood was without a job. …

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