This article starts off this week's blogs in an unusual way, not because I'm long overdue for one of my rants about Amairkuhn edgykayshun, but because this article touches upon me personally. It's about the plight of America's adjunct professors:
Just in case you didn't know, it is more than likely that if you send your child off to an American quackademy for a college education, that he or she will receive the bulk of instruction from an adjunct professor. We'll get back to why that's not necessarily a good thing in a moment. But consider these two paragraphs from this article:
“Two half-time adjunct jobs do not make a full-time income. Far from it,” Ximena Barrientos says. “I’m lucky that I have my own apartment. I have no idea how people make it work if they have to pay rent.”
We are not sitting on a street corner, or in a welfare office, or in the break room of a fast food restaurant. We are sitting inside a brightly lit science classroom on the third floor of an MC Escher-esque concrete building, with an open breezeway letting in the muggy South Florida air, on the campus of Miami Dade College, one of the largest institutions of higher learning in the United States of America. Barrientos has been teaching here for 15 years. But this is not “her” classroom. She has a PhD, but she does not have a designated classroom. Nor does she have an office. Nor does she have a set schedule, nor tenure, nor healthcare benefits, nor anything that could be described as a decent living wage. She is a full-time adjunct professor: one of thousands of members of the extremely well-educated academic underclass, whose largely unknown sufferings have played just as big a role as student debt in enabling the entire swollen College Industrial Complex to exist.
The accepted story of what an “adjunct professor” is—the myth that has drawn so many hopefuls into the world of professional academia—is that adjuncting is not a full-time job at all. It is something that retirees do to keep themselves busy; something that working professionals do on the side to educate people in their field; something that, perhaps, a young PhD might do for a year or two while looking for a full-time professorship, but certainly nothing that would constitute an actual career in itself.
In fact, this is a big lie. The long term trend in higher education has been one of a shrinking number of full-time positions and an ever-growing number of adjunct positions. It is not hard to see why. University budgets are balanced on the backs of adjunct professors. In an adjunct, a school gets the same class taught for about half the salary of a full-time professor, and none of the benefits. The school also retains a god-like control over the schedules of adjuncts, who are literally laid off after every single semester, and then rehired as necessary for the following semester. In the decade since the financial crisis, state governments have slashed higher education funding, and Florida is no exception. That has had two primary consequences on campus: students have taken on ever-higher levels of debt to pay for school, and the college teaching profession has been gutted, as expensive full-time positions are steadily eliminated in favor of cheaper adjunct positions.
That's just the beginning. I not only experienced exactly what Dr. Barrientos in this article experienced, but thousands of others have too. And this article barely even begins to get into the problems adjuncts face, nor does it really address very deeply the consequences to declining academic standards the move towards adjuncts has wrought. On most college campuses, including in the state where I taught (Oklahoma), adjuncts are faced with the following problems:
1) Their classes are only offered if a minimum number of students enroll. Thus, adjuncts never know, until the very last moment, how many classes they will have. Since their income is dependent on how many classes they teach, it becomes extremely difficult to budget. Imagine not knowing if, for the next three to four months your income would be $4,000 or $8,000? (And yes, the pay is that bad.)
2) If an adjunct is known, however, to be a "tough professor," that is to say, if they take their job as a professor seriously and to profess a discipline rather than to "teach a subject", and thus if they take their responsibility as a professor seriously and attempt to maintain genuinely college level academic standards, students will tend not to enroll for their courses, opting instead to enroll in an "easier" professor's course for the same credit. As a consequence of this fact, academic standards have declined in direct proportion to the amount of instruction done by adjuncts. But wait, it gets worse.
3) If an adjunct does attempt to maintain genuinely college level standards - and remember, folks, those standards have declined so dramatically in Amairikuhn quackademia that many professors don't even know them any more - then invariably the student-snowflake will complain to the all-powerful administration to "tone it down," with the ever-present threat of "no longer being needed".
4) In many states - including the one I taught as an adjunct in, Oklahoma - adjuncts are only paid at the end of the semester for their courses, and even then that can be iffy. On more than one occasion I, for example, came in to pick up my paycheck, only to be told, like all the other adjuncts, that a "glitch ex machina" had affected the machines that printed out the checks, and it would be two more weeks. Meanwhile, late fees pile up on bills, and you're losing money because of the institution's or state's incompetence (and it probably isn't incompetence, they're just using the system, and the adjunct's money, during that time period to make themselves more money). After several examples of the state being late with my paycheck, I had to insist that I be paid on a pro-rated monthly basis. Getting the over-paid administrators to (a) see that the pay schedule was simply immoral, and (b) that they should actually get off their butt, walk to the payroll office scriptorium and do something about it (like having the monks and nuns chisel a check), was like extracting teeth... from an elephant. Without anesthesia.
5) Finally - and let's be honest here - in many cases, as quality of instruction declines for all the above reasons, so does the quality of the adjuncts themselves. The goal is to fill classes, churn out degrees, and make money at the government trough from student loans. It is not to maintain academic standards in the disciplines. As a result, not much vetting of adjuncts occurs, and usually the people vetting adjuncts are themselves products of the decaying standards.
You might be asking where all your child's tuition money must be going? The answer is very simple: it's going to the overpaid left-wing lunatics in college administrations, who then see to it that their chums and buddies get the few remaining tenured positions open. As administration sucks up more and more of the tuition budget, the first thing to be cut are quality permanent faculty. Why pay a tenured professor a living wage plus benefits, if you can pay an adjunct to carry a full course load, and not provide him or her (1) an office, (2) a timely paycheck (3) or health and dental? Why pay an associate professor on a tenure track $40,000 when an adjunct will do it for $24,000? You can then pocket the rest as an "administrator". As administration bloats, faculties are trimmed, with all the above-enumerated consequences to falling standards. The fat, in other words, is not in faculties, it's in administrations, and I'm going to go so far as to say that there is not an administrator, be he dean or department chairman or university or college president, on a campus today, that is earning what they are being paid.
Yes, it's that bad. And the result is this:
Students at Florida’s enormous community colleges (Miami Dade College alone has more than 165,000 students) may not be conscious of this dynamic, but they sit at its center, and they pay the price—not only in their student loan bills, but by sitting in classes taught by teachers who are overworked, underpaid, given virtually no professional resources or continuity of scheduling, and who are often forced to rush from job to job in order to make ends meet, leaving little time for helping students outside of classroom hours, much less for publishing work in their fields to advance their careers. Now, Florida’s higher education system sits at the center of another trend as well: the unionization of those well educated but miserably compensated adjunct professors.(Emphasis added)
One might be thinking here that it cannot possibly be this bad. Well, speaking from personal experience with Oklahoma's miserific and unethical adjunct system, I can say it mirrors that of Florida recounted in the article. Most adjuncts have to carry what would be considered a full course load, and do so at a fraction of the salary of a full time professor. As the article also states, they are given "virtually no professional resources" nor even "continuity of scheduling." Your course in organic chemistry my be at 6:30 PM Tuesdays and Thursdays one semester, and at 10:30 AM Monday, Wednesday, Friday the next. And as an adjunct, oftentimes you will not have the choice of your own textbook, but rather have to use the text that full time professors have chosen for a particular course. And since the standards have already declined, these texts are often of dubious quality. When I taught Russian History, for example, the required text was so bad (it was a Barnes and Noble sort of "Cliff notes" text) that it actually referred to Josef Stalin as a "great statesman." And as adjuncts, another problem is that more often than not, one never even meets the other adjuncts in your field. After all, why have faculty meetings to coordinate, when you're not really faculty? And besides, you have little time anyway.
You're just a stand-in, a proctor for a text book company, doing a book report, trying to evade the "thought police" of the looney left, while the administrators take home handsome salaries, and produce idiotic screaming snowflakes who want their safe spaces.
I doff my hat to the real professors out there having to adjunct. I managed to escape the system. I know what you're going through, and I hope you escape it, too, because you know the numbers, even with unions, will never add up.
OK. I'm done. Rant over.
See you on the flip side...