Adjunct Faculty: Academic Apartheid

Adjunct Faculty Cheated

Faculty protest at the University of Oregon

Equity and Dignity for Adjunct Professors

In choosing the academic life, most teachers expect to be part of a community committed to freedom, fairness, and justice. It’s the rare academic who does not take pride in belonging to an honorable profession.

I was a young college president during the turmoil of the sixties and early seventies. Within a few years, students, faculty, and administrators at virtually all our institutions of higher learning were serving on committees charged with aligning institutional policy with emergent values of racial diversity and gender equality.

By century’s end, most colleges and universities had taken steps to disallow discrimination based on race, gender, age, disability, and sexual orientation.

I need not belabor the immorality of paying adjuncts a fraction of what other faculty earn, and of denying them benefits, office space, parking rights, and a voice in departmental and institutional policy.

Once again, we find ourselves in a moral predicament. In educational institutions of every kind, adjunct faculty are being subjected to de facto discrimination and exploitation. They know it, tenure-track faculty know it, administrators know it. The awful secret is out, and we can no longer avert our eyes. We’ll have to deal with this injustice as we did with those that came to a head in the sixties, because if we do not close the gap between our principles and our practice, the profession will forfeit its honor.

I need not belabor the immorality of paying adjuncts a fraction of what other faculty earn, and of denying them benefits, office space, parking rights, and a voice in departmental and institutional policy. These insults and humiliations are reminiscent of the degradation and injustice that roused academics to act against racial, gender, and other indignities.

Of course, there’s a reason that things are as they are. There is always a reason, one which seems cogent enough until suddenly it does not. What began as part-time teaching to meet a temporary need or plug a gap in the curriculum has evolved into systemic institutional injustice.

No one takes exception to cost-cutting, but forcing one group to subsidize another that’s doing comparable work, while maintaining working conditions that signal second-class status, is what the world now rejects as Apartheid.

robert fullerThat Academia has fallen into a practice that warrants the ignoble label “apartheid” is inconsistent with both academic and American values. By working for a pittance, adjunct faculty are serving as involuntary benefactors of other faculty, administrators, and students. That administrators and tenured faculty are themselves the beneficiaries of such victimization only strengthens the case for righting this wrong.

Honor requires that colleges and universities examine this practice and take steps to grant equal status and equitable compensation to those who, for whatever reason, are classified as adjunct faculty.

How might this be done? Coming up with a plan to end exploitation is never easy, and no doubt will require that we do what we did forty years ago: charge college and university committees—that include representatives of all stakeholders—with devising equitable solutions. Everything must be on the table, even the sensitive issue of tenure.

robert-fuller-headshotAs anyone acquainted with adjunct professors knows, they are, on average, as conscientious and committed, and as capable of carrying out research and of inspiring students, as the tenure-track faculty they subsidize.

Let me suggest a goal to guide the deliberations of what I hope we will soon see on every campus: a “Committee on the Status and Compensation of Adjunct Faculty.” That goal is: Part-Time, Full Status, Equal Dignity.

If colleges and universities tackle this threat with the same commitment and determination they brought to the issues of civil and women’s rights, they will find a way to end the exploitation of those now relegated to the back of the bus.

Robert Fuller

Republished with the author’s permission from Common Dreams.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Comments

  1. Diana says

    Another problem: In the past if one wanted full-time work and did a good job as an adjunct, the chance for full-time eventually presented itself. That is no longer the case. Now, if a full-time position comes open, those four or five classes will probably be covered by two to five adjuncts.

  2. Gary Corseri says

    I didn’t mean to omit my name above! So eager to express myself, the name became a niggling point!

  3. Gary Corseri says

    A good article, and a good beginning to address a very thorny problem–one of many issues undermining American education today. There is certainly no quibbling with Dr. Fuller’s statement here:

    “Let me suggest a goal to guide the deliberations of what I hope we will soon see on every campus: a “Committee on the Status and Compensation of Adjunct Faculty.” That goal is: Part-Time, Full Status, Equal Dignity.”

    Oh, sweet dignity! During a 13-year academic “career,” I was full-time half the time and part-time the other half. That includes full-time work: in a Junior High School in San Francisco; at an upper-class high school in a suburb of Boston; a year at the University of Florida; a year at Georgia Southwestern University; and 3 years at a small college in Sapporo, Japan, and about a year of part-time work in prisons in Florida. I would have gladly traded the uneasy life of a part-timer for the more secure, prestigious world of the full-timers except for one factor Dr. Fuller does not take appreciable notice of above: the politics of it all! An un-posed question in the article is this: Why are some faculty tenure-tracked, and others not? I think books can be written on that subject, and such books would have to address the question of… how the game is played!

    The present system, too long abiding and suffered, is about vetting; or, more accurately, weeding out dissident voices, boat-rockers–precisely the types who opened up the System for the better decades ago! While salaries and perks for college presidents have skyrocketed since the 60s/70s, and upper-echelon administrators and tenured faculty have done quite well, thank you, we have seen too much ossification at the top, while the blood and gristle lower-ranked workers have toiled for the betterment of all… wondering, of course, how much longer can this go on?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *