Why Waste a Good Crisis?

In a nutshell, here’s how we got to the point where most faculty members are non-tenure track or adjunct… One year, at any-university-you-choose, say, in 1980, there’s a student enrollment spike and the administration decides that it’s fine to expand the student body just a bit. Out goes the call to a handful of department chairs: you are hereby authorized to hire one or two adjunct teachers to handle the temporary influx of new students.

Now the department has the capacity to handle more students, or to cut down class sizes. So if the population spike goes away, no chair will willingly fire the new adjuncts. Fast forward a few decades. Over time these population spikes– or professors on extended sick leave or sabbatical or…– have happened more than a few times. Now the department has more adjunct faculty teaching so-called service courses than full-time professors. It’s established practice.

It’s almost impossible to imagine a dean, or a provost, much less a faculty chair, announcing that the (now) long-established practice of using adjuncts to teach many if not most undergraduate general education courses will be rolled back. That would mean that the university, always in dire straits financially, would have to hire lots of full-time faculty. There are plenty of people with Ph.D.’s who would love to have a job, of course (the university keeps churning out Ph.D.’s), but never mind.

Adjuncts, of course, can be great teachers, given training and support. But the slow, steady erosion of a university education system founded in tenured, full-time faculty has all sorts of ill effects. If you are an adjunct, can you keep up with your field? Can you conduct research or write? If you keep this background in mind, you’ll have the right historical context in mind when you read, “Universities Turn to Graduate Instructors to Clear Course Bottlenecks.”

About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn't want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so. I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and Smarthinking.com. I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol] writinginthewild.com

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