by Michael John Rollins (New York)
Colleges live and die by their USNews rankings. Traditionally, the rankings have looked at well-known measures such as student-to-faculty ratio, percent of faculty holding a terminal degree, and average class sizes. However, a crucial metric is missing – what percent of classes are being taught by adjunct faculty at an institution?
While most adjuncts I know are incredible teachers and dedicated mentors to their students, our non-permanent status quite often prohibits us from establishing secure, long-term relationships with our students. How many of us have had to say to a student – “Sorry, I can’t be your advisor – they don’t let me do that, since I may or may not be here next year”? Or “That’s great you want to take another class with me – but I can’t really tell you what or when I’ll be teaching here next”? There are real costs to all involved when these words must be uttered.
So, why don’t we push to illuminate this problem by cutting straight to the heart of the “business” of higher education? By putting “% classes taught by adjunct faculty” next to average class size, endowment, retention rate, etc., we are providing another data point for educational “consumers” to use to make an informed decision about the educational experience they are “buying” into. In turn, institutions that have a (shamefully) high percent of adjunct labor will have a strong and legitimate incentive to set their priorities accordingly if they wish to remain competitive to their comparison groups.
The goal of this push is not to stigmatize or devalue the work or status of adjunct faculty – rather, the goal is to create an incentive that will get colleges to re-invest in their workforce (and their students), and provide us all with better chances at stable and sustainable employment doing what we already do so very well.
So how do we do this? Probably the best way is to continue to expose the dark secrets of “disposable professors” in higher education – the world has begun to listen. However, we also need to repeat one simple message – instead of saying “colleges need to treat adjuncts better”, we must instead say “we need USNews to collect and report from every college and university the percent of their classes that are taught by adjuncts”. Universities can hem and haw endlessly about how hard it is to pay their faculty; however, it’s difficult for colleges and universities to find a convincing PR spin as to why they would not share this basic information.
There are many great initiatives underway to improve working conditions for adjuncts; however, in order for contingent faculty to truly have a chance at moving forward in our careers, we need to develop the right external incentives for universities to invest sufficiently in our work.
Tags: Adjunct Professors