In what may qualify as the non-event of the year, the Coalition on the Academic Workforce (CAW) released its report on Adjunct working conditions yesterday. The data paints a picture similar to that of Josh Boldt’s earlier crowdsourced study the Adjunct Project. Non-tenure track faculty are working long hours for little pay, and they would gladly accept a full-time career track position if one were made available. The more interesting statistic from the CAW study that gets lost in the overwhelming focus on pay is that a significant majority of those working off the tenure track are women who teach in humanities disciplines.
Reading through the CAW’s study, I couldn’t help but feel that the time spent on this project would have been better used somewhere else. The trends in Adjunct labor have not dramatically changed since the CAW was founded in 1997. What has changed is that each year conditions in Higher Education have become steadily worse. Studies don’t change society, men and women possessing moral courage who are mobilized for action do. What makes this study even more useless (in my opinion) is the small number of non-academics who will ever see it. They are the ones who need to see the data. I would wager they are the only ones who would be surprised by the content of the CAW’s study.
So it’s official, the dead horse has been beaten once again.
More promising but still cringe-inducing is the plan endorsed by Middle Tennessee State University to create a four phase plan for non-tenure track faculty that would recognize their integral role in departmental life. It would allow those teaching on semester-to-semester contracts (Adjuncts in the truest sense of the word) a path to becoming full-time lecturers and (eventually) senior lecturers.
That path is severely flawed, as the Homeless Adjunct points out. Moreover, it’s not even that inventive. My employer already has such a system in place and has for at least as long as I’ve worked there (2000).
Yet in spite of these flaws, talk of a phased system of Adjunct employment moves us beyond the statistical study of “the Adjunct Question” and the tiresome stories of victimization to actually doing something about the problem. Let’s hope that more talk about solutions comes into vogue so that better plans than Middle Tennessee’s might emerge.
If nothing else, the CAW study and the “four-phase” plan adopted by Middle Tennessee and endorsed by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) demonstrates the epistemological gap between the tenure track and the non-tenure track in Higher Education. It also demonstrates that Academic Professional Organizations are paper tigers. I guess that explains why union membership on college campuses is up while professional groups struggle to maintain their ranks.