What is An Adjunct? A Document to Prep Students for NAWD

Good Adjuncts

Please prep your students for NAWD, or whatever you want to call it by giving them  this (See below my sign out)  to read.

The document I have posted here deals specifically with California, but you could easily download it an edit it to fit your reality wherever you are at.

Make people, and especially students, understand what’s going on.

Geoff Johnson

A Good Adjunct


                                                       What is An Adjunct?

                                                     What You Should Know

What is an Adjunct?

The term “adjunct” which is often used interchangeably with “contingent” or “part time” is meant to refer to instructors who are limited in particular campus or district from teaching the same number of classes as a Full-time or “Contract” instructor.  California State Law defines these teachers as “temporary” employees, meaning that they were allegedly hired to teach, for a limited time, a number of classes, because the institution had to offer more classes than it has full-time employees to teach.

In other words, these were instructors originally to teach “extra” classes.

Today, on average, between 70-80% of college classes are taught by “adjunct” instructors, and at some institutions these “adjunct” instructors teach the majority of classes.  Many have done so for over 30 years or more.  It is more likely than not that the person teaching your classes right now is an adjunct.

This means they are not teaching extra, but in fact essential classes, and it’s also clear, they are not temporary workers.

So Then Adjuncts are Simply Less Qualified Teachers?

No.  Adjunct instructors, like their full-time counterparts, have advanced degrees like MA’s, MS’s, MFA’s, and Ph.D.’s.  Many may still be actively doing research or have written multiple books and articles.  Some have won national awards, and in fact, may at times be more “qualified” and “distinguished” than their full-time counterparts.

If These Teachers have Similar Qualifications, Why aren’t they Full-time, or Contract Instructors?

Well, first of all, there is a small minority of these teachers who choose to be part-time because they have another full-time job, may be a returning retiree, or are only interested in part-time work.  The vast majority of these adjuncts want to teach full-time, but the number of positions available is very small.  When a single full-time position becomes available, there may be as many as 200 applicants for a single position.

Why Are There so Few Positions Available?

Unlike an adjunct instructor, who is only generally paid for the hours he/she is teaching in the classroom, full-time instructors are given a salary which pays at a significantly higher proportional rate for a given class.  In addition, most institutions will provide full health insurance benefits to full-time instructors, and in some cases, their dependents as well.  There are other benefits as well offered to full-timers, such as sabbatical leave, which in the end means that full-time instructors cost more. Schools, which are either generally strapped for funding, or have other priorities simply choose to hire more adjuncts because they cost less and give administrators more flexibility.

What do You Mean By Flexibility?

To be blunt, it means to have the ability to hire and fire instructors at will.  Most full-time, or contract instructors have or can get “tenure”.  Tenure is essentially a promise made to full-time or contracted teachers after three or four years of satisfactory instruction that they will be guaranteed work for an additional three years, whereupon they will they will be re-evaluated for another three-year term. Usually, unless a full-time instructor’s teaching or professional behavior has become especially egregious, he or she will receive tenure again and again.

By contrast, though some adjuncts have “preferred” or “priority of assignments” clauses in their contract, they are not guaranteed work from one term to the next.  Even one bad semester of teaching can result in termination, which is simply, to not be rehired.  Yet the situation for adjuncts is far more precarious, for one may simply not be rehired because there aren’t enough classes, or because a full-time instructor had low enrollment in his/her class and now wants the adjunct’s class.  At other times, office politics may play a role and the administrator can simply choose to give classes to his/her favorites for whatever reason that administrator chooses.

“Flexibility” means that an adjunct can be fired even when he/she is doing a good job.

You Said Some Schools Are Strapped For Funding?  Why is this?

The answer to this question basically has two parts.  First, the proportion of money spent by state governments on education has been steadily declining for the last 40 years, and second, since the late 1970’s in particular, the political environment has been increasingly averse to government spending and taxation.

While politicians will talk of how they value education, the last forty years suggest that most politicians are interested in things like being “tough or crime,” or engaging in a “war on drugs” which has bloated prison populations.   Notably, there is a reciprocal relationship between the steady decrease in educational funding as a part of state budgets, and the increase in funding for prisons.  At the same time, there has been reduction in tax rates, primarily on upper-income earners.

Another factor affecting school funding has been the rise of technology.  40 years ago, there were no banks of PC labs or smart rooms on campus.  Technology costs money and it has to come from somewhere.  In addition, in order to improve the “efficiency” of the education process, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of people hired for administrative or non-instructional duties.  This again reduces the amount of monies available for instruction.

Why Should I Care?

Well, there are several reasons.

First, because adjuncts receive relative low pay and few if any benefits, many are compelled to take on teaching loads which exceed their full-time colleagues at multiple locations which reduces their availability to students as well as the time they have to grade student work or do prep.  According to Cornell Higher Education Research Institute scholars Ronald Ehrenberg and Liang Zhang increased reliance on part-time faculty has been found to negatively impact student retention and graduation rates.  This is fact is further supported by the work of  University of Washington researcher Daniel Jacoby, who finds that as the numbers of tenure and part-time (adjunct) faculty increase, retention and graduation rates fall.

Over just the last six years, the number of students either earning a two-year degree at a California community college, or transferring to a four-year institution has fallen by 2.6%.

Second, those who do not take on these teaching loads will live under financial duress, with some being compelled to get food stamps, or even be homeless.  While some teachers may hang on, others, who could have been a significant asset to a particular institution, will leave the profession altogether.

Third, the model for adjuntification is now expanding to other industries.  In the future one might see adjuntification happening even in supposedly solid STEM fields. Ultimately, the expansion of adjunctification would lead to the collapse of the middle class or clearly a society or “haves” and “have nots”.


2 thoughts on “What is An Adjunct? A Document to Prep Students for NAWD

  1. Pingback: What is An Adjunct? A Document to Prep Students for NAWD | Doxai.

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