[Marxism] Financial crisis impacts adjunct professors

Louis Proyect 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 
teaching load.

"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 
instructional work.

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]," 
Louis said.

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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