Some call them "road scholars" or "freeway flyers" for their
shuttling between teaching gigs - a class in Chaucer at one
university, then on to basic writing at a college across town.
More-polite labels for the fast-growing ranks of part-time
college professors are "adjunct faculty" or "contingent faculty."
Whatever the moniker, many in these ranks do not have an office
or even a phone number at colleges where they teach. What most do
have in common is that, despite their lofty educations - master's
degrees or PhDs - they have little more job security than janitors,
and often earn about as much.
Colleges' reliance on these professors is a phenomenon most
administrators would rather not talk about, says Richard Moser, a
union organizer at the American Association of University Professors
(AAUP) in Washington. But part-timers are demanding more attention:
They're organizing on a growing number of campuses, and they're
taking to the streets. For the first time in more than a century,
faculty lecturers at the University of California decided to strike
earlier this year.
Nearly half of campus faculty are now part time, according to a
report released last week by the American Council on Education
(ACE). According to the analysis of federal data for all types of
higher-education institutions, the number of part-time faculty has
grown 79 percent over the past two decades, to more than 400,000 out
of 1 million faculty. Add to those ranks the faculty who are full
time but not on a tenure track and you have nearly two-thirds of all
faculty, the report says.
Not surprisingly, the majority of part-time professors (64
percent) work at public, two-year schools. And many people prefer
working part-time, the report says. But critics of this shift to
nontraditional faculty say that many people are stuck with jobs that
offer low pay and few benefits, and that the quality of teaching and
academic freedom are being undermined.
"Teacher working conditions are student learning conditions,"
says Gary Zabel, a part-time professor of philosophy at the
University of Massachusetts, Boston. And part-timers, who typically
have no vote in how a university is run and may be clinging to a
job, are unlikely to challenge school policies, he says.
Invisible no longer
The move toward hiring part-time faculty began in the 1980s when
there was a mass of retirements. Between 1994 and 1998, about two-
thirds of those hired were part time, a much higher level than
Despite their large numbers, part-timers' woes have been
relatively invisible. Indeed, one book about adjuncts' trials is
titled "Ghosts in the Classroom." But a movement to unionize has
been building steadily since 1998. That's when part-timers formed
unions at Roosevelt University and Columbia College in Chicago, the
first to do so after a 1980 Supreme Court ruling halted unionization
by full-time tenured faculty and cast a chill over other efforts.
In Boston, a college town with an estimated 10,000 adjunct
faculty, there are union glimmers, too. Last year, part-time faculty
at Emerson College voted to unionize - the first such move in New
England since the high court's decision.
This summer, New York University adjuncts voted to join the
United Auto Workers union. And part-timers are organizing unions on
at least a half dozen campuses - including Illinois State University
in Normal, and others where the movement is still secret, Mr. Moser
Among the groups coordinating efforts nationally are the
Coalition of Contingent Academic Labor, the American Federation of
Teachers, and the AAUP.
The nine-campus University of California (UC) system has seen
three faculty strikes so far this year. Last month, part-time
faculty, known as lecturers, hit the picket line on five UC
campuses, demanding better pay, benefits, and, most of all, job