[Marxism] Financial crisis impacts adjunct professors
lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Apr 2 11:25:12 MDT 2009
Higher Education Takes a Hit
By Gabriel Arana
When Jeremy Nienow started a Ph.D. program in anthropology at the
University of Minnesota in 2003, he thought being a professor would
offer him more time with his family than his travel-heavy job as an
archaeologist. But academia turned out to be not as Nienow had imagined.
Now graduated, Nienow teaches six courses as a part-time instructor at
three different institutions. He spends much of his time on weekends
grading papers instead of with his daughter. He jumps from one campus to
another, has no office and does not receive either health or retirement
"I take work wherever I can get it, in any form I can get it," he said.
Nienow is among 391,000 part-time or "adjunct" faculty at community
colleges and public universities, positions that have increasingly
replaced full-time, tenure-track jobs. Despite being the source of most
of the teaching at colleges, these short-term appointments pay only
about a fourth as much, per course, as tenure-track positions, seldom
come with benefits and offer little job security or possibility of
advancement. Like Nienow, many adjuncts and part-timers are obliged to
travel between campuses to scrape together a living, unable to pursue
the types of research questions that first attracted them to academia.
"I have absolutely no time for research," Nienow said.
The percentage of "contingent faculty"--a term that includes part-timers
and full-time, non-tenure-track lecturers--on university payrolls has
risen from around 43 percent thirty years ago to 70 percent in 2005. The
rate of these hires at many colleges has only accelerated amid the
economic downturn. To cash-strapped educational institutions
increasingly run like corporations, adjuncts and part-timers are cheap
labor--stopgaps in university budgets.
"We're the flex faculty," said Niame Adele, a sociologist and part-time
instructor at the University of New Mexico.
Call them flexible or fungible, it is precisely this vulnerability that
makes part-timers and adjuncts an expedient solution to budget shortfalls.
"The big picture is that all institutions are employing more and more
'casual' employees," said Marc Bousquet, author of How the University
Works: Higher Education and the Low-Wage Nation. "The crisis legitimates
the option of bringing on more nontenured faculty."
Hard numbers are not yet available, but experts say the recent trend
cuts across public universities and community colleges. Two-year
institutions across the country--long at the forefront of the
"perma-temp" trend in higher education--are replacing full-time faculty
with part-timers or adjuncts to meet budget goals. The University of
Connecticut, facing a 10 percent cut in state funding and a 22 percent
drop in its endowment, is looking at hiring adjunct faculty to shore up
course offerings and keep student-faculty ratios low. In Tennessee,
Charles Manning, chancellor of the Tennessee Board of Regents, proposed
what he called an expansive "new business model" for state colleges: in
addition to hiring more adjunct professors and putting full-time staff
in "advisory roles," he suggested that students get tuition breaks for
taking courses online and that advanced students take on some of the
"Higher education has become a corrupt institution facing financial
crisis," said Cary Nelson, president of the National Council of the
American Association of University Professors. Nelson explains that amid
steep cuts, schools have the choice of hiring adjuncts, eliminating
faculty positions altogether or--a less likely outcome--"look[ing] in
the mirror" at larger structural problems with how they are run.
Over the past twenty years, colleges have become "multi-tiered
workplaces" in which a select cadre of older, tenured academics enjoy
job security and benefits while undercompensated adjuncts, teaching
assistants and-- increasingly--undergraduates do the majority of
But this change has not come about because of the increased cost of
educating students: over the past 15 years, tuition at public
institutions has risen 2 to 3 percent above inflation, per year; yet the
amount of money spent on educational services has remained stagnant.
This is due in part to a decline in state support, but also to a shift
in priorities. The money, Bousquet says--and the savings reaped by
hiring adjunct faculty--has gone toward ballooning administrative costs,
positions and salaries; venture partnerships with corporations; and the
construction of costly, extravagant facilities that critics say have
more show value than instructional utility.
"There is a race to market campuses to yuppies with expensive building
projects, to increase the leisure value of [a] campus," Nelson said.
Buoyed by endowment growth and income from tuition hikes, before the
recession, private universities across the country undertook massive
expansion plans, adding state-of-the-art stadiums, chemical labs and
community spaces. Now that these sources of income are strained,
administrators say they must trim back elsewhere to proceed with
scheduled construction. Many colleges, however, are stopping short of
reducing salaries for top-paid administrators, which have risen 35.6
percent in the last five years. Ohio, which announced it would cut
overall spending on public higher education by $25 million, is sparing
any cuts in salaries of its 154 top administrators, among them the
highest-paid university president in the nation, Ohio State's Gordon
Gee, who makes $775,008 per year (before bonus). The median salary for
public university presidents in Ohio is $355,000. On top of rising
administrator salaries, the number of administrators at many colleges
has risen as well, according to the Associated Press.
Faced with unfair employment practices and deprived of any
representation on administrative boards, part-time and adjunct faculty
at institutions across the country have begun to unionize. Adjuncts at
Mongomery College in Maryland, who teach 42 percent of the instructional
hours, unionized this past year under the aegis of the SEIU. The NYU
adjunct union, under the umbrella of the United Auto Workers, won health
coverage--and some of the highest salaries for adjuncts--after
unionizing in 2002. Similar unionization efforts have been successful at
Pace University, Suffolk University, George Washington University, Rhode
Island College, and many others. Despite these organizing successes,
some adjuncts say that under the sponsorship of some national
organizations, like the National Education Association and the American
Federation of Teachers, which also represent full-time faculty, they
often get short shrift.
That may soon change, if fourteen adjunct activists from across the
country succeed in forming the New Faculty Majority: The National
Coalition for Adjunct and Contingent Equity. The group, whose organizers
first connected on a list-serv, is still in the planning stages. But
co-chairs of the organizing committee Deborah Louis and Maria Maisto
said they have already received membership requests.
Previous efforts to sustain a national advocacy organization--namely,
the National Adjunct Faculty Guild, which existed between 1994 and 2002
--have fizzled; but Louis and Maisto said a number of factors led them
to believe that this latest effort will have more success.
"Now, with all the Internet potential, it becomes a whole different
ballgame," Louis said.
The economic climate, Maisto added, has also made adjunct faculty "more
vulnerable than usual," making participation more likely.
"In this economy, who are the first on the line?" Maisto said. "It's the
adjuncts, because we don't have a lot of protections."
The New Faculty Majority, which is slated to launch by the start of the
next academic year, will not be a national union, though organizers said
it will support local adjunct unionization efforts. Organizers said that
adjunct faculty on some campuses are disinclined to consider unionizing
and that national advocacy thus requires flexibility in their approach.
"We've got to take really different approaches [in different areas],"
In addition to pushing public policy that benefits adjuncts, part of the
organization's goal is simply to shed light on the plight of contingent
"It's about an academic class system that exists, that the general
public doesn't know about," Maisto said.
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