College Guide

Blog

July 06, 2010 10:00 AM Lesser Professors

By Daniel Luzer

With all of the discussions about student debt and the trouble recent graduates have finding a job, it’s easy to miss what may be the people struggling most in the American university system: adjunct professors. As Pablo Eisenberg, a senior fellow at the Georgetown Public Policy Institute, writes in the Huffington Post:

American universities and colleges are riddled with a caste system that violates our societal sense of fairness, justice, and decency.
Adjunct or contingent faculty, who are neither tenured nor on a tenure track, comprise nearly 80% of all college teachers. The 540,000 adjuncts who work part-time receive low wages, no benefits, no administrative support and no academic rights. While another 240,000 adjuncts are full-time, they too get low pay, fewer benefits —in many cases none at all—than tenured faculty, little or no administrative support and no right to academic freedom. Contingent teachers, as adjuncts are officially called, are the “untouchables” of our college system.

Just because a system is objectively unfair doesn’t mean there’s much incentive to fix it, however. It’s unlikely anyone is going to work to seriously address this problem. Adjunct professors seem like such an easy way for schools to save money and, because the adjuncts are well educated, if struggling, it’s hard to muster extensive public sympathy for this group of American professors.

It’s true that the American Association of University Professors has complained that,

The abuse and overuse of adjunct and non-tenure track faculty is the most prominent characteristic of a new employment strategy sometimes referred to as the two or multi tiered labor system.

But it doesn’t look like anyone’s come up with a strong strategy to address adjuncts systemically. The best plan so far just looks like adjunct unionizing, incredibly slowly, one school at a time.

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer