The American Dream is predicated on the notion that hard work and professionalism, over time, will be rewarded. Ironically enough, this dictum is most often thwarted in the arena of higher education. Adjunct College Instructors are an overlooked and under-appreciated labor group in the American economic landscape.
Most people think colleges employ tweedy full-time professors who earn up to triple digits, and have a cushy nest egg awaiting their retirement. Not so. The majority of college instructors teaching in America’s institutions of higher learning are called “adjunct instructors, or Contingent Faculty, or Part-Time instructors.” Indeed, the difficulty to aptly name this labor group is endemic to its existence in the shadowy margins of higher education.
Up until the 1970’s college faculty comprised almost 100 percent full-time instructors teaching at least four courses per term. If enrollment surged and more courses were added, Colleges hired “adjuncts” (means “in addition to”) to teach those classes. That trend began to slide south in the 1990’s when colleges began to replace Full-Time Faculty with two or more Adjunct Faculty to fill the course load.
Today, those figures are exactly opposite: most colleges employ 80 percent Adjunct Faculty, and 20 percent Full-Time Faculty.
Most disturbing is adjuncts earn one third of what their full-time colleagues earn, are prohibited from collecting unemployment, rarely get health insurance, and as one adjunct colleague put it when it came to accruing retirement benefits, “My retirement plan is the gun I have in my desk drawer.”
Many of Adjunct Educators such as myself teach at more than one college, located in different parts of town, thus the nickname “Road’s Scholar.”
Working condition are also not equitable since the majority of adjuncts do not have an office, nor in some cases, have access to Colleges’ software and hardware, except when on campus. This is particularly difficult when teaching a distance learning course and students have access to a more current software than the adjunct instructor.
Moreover, there is sometimes an unspoken culture of disrespect toward adjuncts. More often than not, we are viewed as not being up to snuff when it comes to meeting the academic high bar. It’s easy to see the double standard here: adjuncts are qualified to teach the same course, but are not qualified to earn the same respect as their full-timer colleagues.
While there are adjunct faculty who advocate for equity, there are far more who are silenced by a culture of fear over recriminations.
The good news is as this issue moves further into the light of mainstream, conditions will improve, but progress is slow and costly, not only for our students, and our communities, but for our nation.