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Adjunct Issues Continuing to Infiltrate Mainstream Media



The Huffington Post has taken up the discussion of adjunct working conditions. Yesterday, HuffPost Live featured a discussion segment called Higher Ed, Lower Wages, which was a live video conference between some major adjunct voices in higher ed media.

The guests were documentary filmmaker and author of How the American University Was Killed, in Five Easy Steps, Debra Leigh Scott of JunctRebellion; Sarah Kendzior, writer of the hugely famous and widely-shared recent Al Jazeera piece, The Closing of American Academia; CUNY sociology professor and outspoken labor activist, Stanley Aronowitz; and Alex Welcome, a new PhD and adjunct.

I’ll warn you that

the nature of the webcam discussion brings with it

some technical difficulties with audio, but I highly recommend watching the piece. Scott and Kendzior make some solid points about the abuse of adjunct faculty, and Aronowitz does a nice job addressing the sometimes combative questions of the host, Marc Lamont Hill. I talked with Debra Leigh Scott about the piece and we agreed that this is a new step in the fight for adjunct parity. We’re entering the mainstream!


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7 thoughts on “Adjunct Issues Continuing to Infiltrate Mainstream Media

  1. These are encouraging steps. My rhetorical question is, “When will the root causes be discussed?” You may recall that one definition of insanity is doing the same thing, even when the outcome is negative.

    One of the first reports on the glut of postdocs was the 1969 National Academy of Sciences publication, “The Invisible University: Postdoctoral Education in The United States” by Richard B. Curtis. (Search for this publication by title. It is available to read via Google Books.)

    • Sometimes we have to do something over and over again before it sinks in. Anyone who has become great at something has practiced it. Any group that has achieved success against all odds has repeated its actions and its talking points again and again, even in the face of repeated failures. Each time we mount an offensive, we get stronger. Our latest seems to be the strongest yet. I definitely do agree that we need to address root causes, and I think many people are in fact doing that. I’m curious to hear your perspective. What root causes should we focus on and how?

  2. Further online research shows that a NASA document server offers the 1969 National Academy of Science report at no cost. The report addresses the fact that there were already Ph.D. talent gluts in STEM fields in 1969. Talent gluts are assured by the false claim that there is a “looming shortage” of scientists and engineers put forth by college and university administrators – who are in the unique position of setting their own salaries and benefits. The new twist that began in 1976 was the passage of the “Eilberg Amendment” which allowed colleges and universities to hire unlimited numbers of imported professors and researchers – and the universities set the wages and working conditions for those imported workers. (This legislation was passed at at time that talent gluts were already evident.)

    • Okay, so you’re suggesting that the root of the problem is we are producing too many PhD’s? Strictly from a supply and demand perspective, I would agree that an overproduction of PhD’s is a major factor in a college’s ability to underpay for competitive teaching positions. However, I do not believe that human capital should be subjected to the laws of neoclassical economics. People are not commodities, no matter how hard capitalism tries to make them so. The “market” is not the only determinant of value (or at least it shouldn’t be). I don’t blame the business leaders for applying supply and demand to university hiring–especially in light of recent budget cuts. Instead, I blame us for refusing to stand up to these practices.

      You’re definitely right in asserting that a “glut” of would-be professors allows us to be subjected to market demand, but we actually don’t have to accept those constraints. Resisting the urge to take these low paying jobs would swing the power back to the workers. This might be a dream scenario, but I believe it is the only way we will see change. Maybe this strategy includes opting not to pursue a PhD; maybe it simply means to demand what we are worth. I really appreciate you raising this important issue.

  3. I have been working on this problem since 1979 when I noted that recent graduates of my department (SUNY Buffalo Department of Biophysics) were having a difficult time finding employment that paid more than the starvation-level postdoc salaries. I worked hard and was able to convince the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) to include a session on developing employment opportunties for young scientists at the annual meetings in 1983, 1984, and 1985. I chaired and organized those sessions. With further hard work, I was able to locate a nonacademic position at a medical device manufacturer, Technicon Inc. in Tarrytown, NY a year before I successfully defended my Ph.D. thesis in 1984. (I worked a full-time job and commuted on most weekends back to Buffalo to work on my Ph.D.) Less than 2 years after starting that job, my position was cut in a mass termination of the advanced research department in advance of a leveraged buyout of the firm orchestrated by Michael Milken. I was thrown away like yesterday’s newspaper. This has been a recurring problem since 1985 for me and millions of other American technology workers.

    The situation for Ph.D.s is dire because employer interests have falsely alleged that there is a shortage as a means to lure impressionable and intelligent young people to pursue advanced education such as a Ph.D. in STEM fields. While I could write a book on this problem (I started that project about a decade ago) the fundamental problem is that the claim put forth in the movie “Field of Dreams” – “Build it and they will come!” – is demonstrably false. Supply-side claims that increasing supply yields increased demand are put forth to further enhance gluts, decreasing wages and worsening working conditions. Then, the dire situation is further exacerbated by making the same false claims to young people in the developing world. There have been over 37 million visa admissions in just five high-skill work visa programs between FY 1975-2010. It may be hard to believe, but the National Science Foundation has advocated policies to displace Americans with young people from the developing world from science and technology positions, even at the Ph.D. level, so that employers can get “more bang for their buck.”

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