In reality, instructors off the tenure track account for more than four-fifths of the faculties of two-year public colleges, more than two-thirds of the faculties at private four-year colleges, and more than half of the faculties at public four-year colleges.
“Accreditation Is Eyed as a Means to Aid Adjuncts,” Peter Schmidt
This ought to be a shocking statistic for anyone who works for a living. Academia used to be the cutting edge of employment standards in many ways; it didn’t always pay well to be a teacher but you did have some job security and benefits. One problem is that the language is so obtuse; “off the tenure track,” means, by and large, part-time workers who can be fired at will. Imagine we could say this of doctors: “Part time and temporarily employed doctors and nurses now account for more than four-fifths of medical personal in clinics, and more that two-thirds in hospitals…” Would anyone say that their lack of full-time salaries and job security has no impact on the quality of care?
It has to have an impact on the quality of care, just as it has an impact on the quality of teaching now. Teaching is self-selective. In most cases, if you are want to be a teacher– even more than a doctor– it’s because you like helping people. That’s not to be sentimental about teaching; there are plenty of ego-maniacs and lots of greed in academia and I doubt there’s any more or less incompetence than in any other field. As the numbers show, though, teachers will pursue their vocations even knowing that their work won’t be well compensated and even when conditions are bad. As a profession, teaching serves goals larger than the person. That’s what’s satisfying.
I think, then, that the real question is why we seem to have to resort to this argument about the quality of education when we ought to be able to simply talk about the quality of work. We should be able to say that, in any profession, the majority of people ought to be employed full-time, have some say in their working lives, health care, and the tools they need to do the work they need to do. We believe these things because we want that sort of world. We don’t need to pursue silly, obvious arguments that suggest that people can, if pressed, do almost any sort of work well even when they have no health benefits, or job security, or say in their jobs. That should be our assumption.