The adjunct crisis – an infographic

Described as a ‘crisis’, but likely a deliberate structural adjustment in North American higher education.

Un-Hired Ed: The Growing Adjunct Crisis

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34 Responses to The adjunct crisis – an infographic

  1. Veg Nik says:

    This reflects what going on in the for-profit world, but here applied to the non-business, non-profit world as well: contingent labor that is cheaper, often with benefits, lower status, and more expendable.

    That said, more people get a chance to teach and a recent study shows that adjunct lecturers tend to be better teachers than tenured or tenure-track professors, probably because we prioritize teaching, even for our lower pay and lack of respect.

    • Michael says:

      The notion that “adjunct lecturers tend to be better teachers than tenured or tenure-track professors” is completely bogus. An idea promoted by adjuncts that feel they deserve the tenure-track position over those that have them. Personally, as a tenured faculty member, I can say without doubt that I (and my colleagues in the Department) care tremendously about the success of our students, programs, department, and University. The quality of work and level of commitment exhibited by our students greatly exceeds the quality and output of the adjuncts that teach for us in the department. We also work (as part of our job) to remain active in our field of study and keep up on new research at the local, national, and international level (which the majority of adjuncts do not – one reason, among many, that they remain adjuncts). I spent five years teaching as an adjunct. I was jealous of those that were landing tenured positions, and felt myself and abilities superior to many of the tenured members in the department where I taught. The reality is, I was clueless, jealous, and fearful – and had limited to no insight in to the commitment of those I felt less deserving.

      • James says:

        Michael… As someone without a horse in this race, I feel like I’m reading someone say, “When I was a sparrow… I had no idea how wonderful robins really were, until I became a robin.” I read the comments here to gain a little insight into this crisis, but your words just seem to say, “The grass is greener, and the people are better, on whatever side of the fence I can make it to.” Not that Veg Nik’s comments are without bias… but yours seem to go a lot further.

        It really wouldn’t take much to convince me that the quality of teachers/professors/lecturers actually depends on the individual, rather than the category to which they belong, or on which side of these fences they stand.

        The REAL question here seems to be, “Why are tuitions increasing, and funding decreasing”, rather than adjuncts and tenured professors preening, posturing, and pointing fingers at one another. When educational institutions CLOSE, all educators end up in the same boat.

      • “Commitment and work product of the students….” I’m sure that has nothing to do with the fact that adjuncts are frequently stuck with elective courses for non-majors taught at 8pm, vs full time students showing up bright eyed and bushy tailed for your 10am MWF.

        Full time professors “keeping up on research.” Right. That explains why, when I come into class after one, I’m picking up VHS tapes (hahahaha!!!!), copies of (since discredited) studies from the 1980s, and entire courses taught in Powerpoint.

        There are dedicated educators on all sides of the fence. I don’t doubt that full time professors care – after all, even tenure track professorship isn’t a road to riches.

        If you felt like your teaching as an adjunct was “clueless, jealous, and fearful,” that’s on you.

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  4. sarso says:

    If you see that there are a lack of jobs in a certain industry, then perhaps you should consider another?

    • natedumas says:

      Sarso, I understand your comment and many do. However, you have to look at the fact that most PhD advisees are trained by people who have had one kind of career path from grad school to a tenure track position and so they have no idea how to advise their students yet in this new market. This is why I am working with others on programs about how to change mentoring practices in academia so that their students do not have this kind of existence to look forward to, which includes learning how to write references for their students for non-academic positions. It’s hard, though, because academia for a lot of us is more than a job but a passion, and because of the level of personal investment in training a student, many people who leave academia often feel like this is a betrayal to many people who have helped them as well as the communities that they sought to represent in the new diverse academia. So I understand your question, but it really is much more complex than that. You sort of have to see academics like you would artists who love their craft so much that to not do it is a difficult process to let go of.

    • George says:

      Exactly. Either that or not complain when you can’t get a job, and when you knew the risks and took them anyway.

  5. mikuláš says:

    sarso’s comment sadly misses the point. This is not an infographic about an individual or individual decisions. This is about a class of laborers in our society and a structural devaluation of skill, talent, and ability. Please focus on the issue at hand in your comments.

    • T S says:

      Any skill will find itself devalued by the harsh realities of the free market if it has many more aspirants than stable careers. People still don’t think it’s worthless, it’s considered a noble calling, but when there are many more aspirants for a glamorous, desirable job than there are positions, everybody winds up getting screwed.

    • Teach4Free says:

      Actually, that is part of the issue at hand. Like professional dancers, actors, artists, musicians, and professional athletes, the professoriate requires an incredible amount of expensive preparation for the chance of getting a small portion of the coveted positions. That we continue to encourage people into this path without warning them of the lack of job opportunities is simply wrong. At the same time, a large number are following a “passion” just like those artists and athletes above. That this info-graphic is brought to us by online PhD programs dot com is a just an irony given that the proliferation of PhD’s is partly brought on by the proliferation of programs offered both online and face to face to people who will likely never see a tenure track job. Teaching has been devalued and no one wants to pay for it. Government wants cheap degrees, parents want low cost or free college, students want high end facilities and engaged teachers at a low cost. Education is not free, and it is not cheap. You want to pay teachers better, someone has to foot the bill. The other option is to stop funneling everyone through the higher ed system just to be a bank teller.

      • Jenna Cody says:

        Somehow, some way, universities managed to have tenured professors as the great majority of their teaching staff (with a few classes taught by grad fellows) way back when, *and* tuition costs were lower. So please let’s not start with the BS that to hire more tenured professors means tuition must increase. Undergrad tuition has increased at a rate far higher than inflation overall for years with a decline in the % of tenured professors, even with increased demand and high matriculation.

        How is this possible?

        I suggest asking the universities. But it’s clearly not “impossible” to have a system of affordable tuition and to hire actual tenure track professors to provide the education. We’ve done it before.

  6. natedumas says:

    Sarso it really is more complicated than that, although I understand the sincere curiosity behind your question. First, most faculty who trained PhDs actually have never worked outside of academia after getting their doctorates, and so they do not know how to mentor students to navigate this difficult market (including getting them to pursue non-academic positions). Second, there is a stigma that many searches have towards adjuncts when it comes to full-time tenure track positions, so many of them remain structurally trapped because of biases for a supposedly non-tainted candidate (great teacher, no research). Third, there’s not many resources specific for adjuncts to continue their research or attend conferences, although this is changing. As a result, because their visibility and research productivity in the industry goes down, so does their competitiveness. Remember that tenure track candidates are hired primarily on research productivity, primarily measured in publications in influential journals. It’s difficult to be considered for these positions when your time is limited when teaching at 2 or more institutions to make ends meet, which cuts into writing time. Fourth, also keep in mind that getting a PhD and academia is more than just a job in the industry for many of us–it is a passion, like an artist. To ask a writer to just change jobs would be like asking her or him to not breathe. To walk away from that is a very painful decision and many of us fear leaving academia because of the difficulty of re-entry.

  7. I appreciate the graphics. Except for the one that pits adjuncts against secretaries. I doubt the creator intended it that way. Yet it can easily be read as, “I have a Ph.D. I deserve so much more compensation for my labor than a lowly secretary.”

  8. Kathleen W. says:

    “Secretary?” Try administrative assistant. You don’t know if they are in debt (maybe the “secretaries” went to college). Job security is about as “great” as it is everywhere else these days: if there’s someone who can do the job for less, or for fewer or no benefits, then the more experienced, more expensive employee is expendable. These days, it’s hit and miss whether someone has benefits they don’t pay anything for, even in a university setting…and I don’t know too many office workers who put in just a 40-hour week these days. That part of it is really sexist, classist & misinformed. Adjuncts have a hard row to hoe, but vilifying other working Americans (rather the the people who run the system) is a stupid illustration.

    • Jenna says:

      I agree. To get an admin assistant job these days you often need a college degree. Let’s not assume that admins have no debt. Let’s also not assume their jobs are safe – admins are usually the first ones to go when there are layoffs.

      • Deb Vozniak says:

        Exactly right Jenna. In some places now they are saying “Masters preferred” for senior admins or Executive Assistants (used to be Executive Secretaries). It is not a job you can get with no education. And you are right, there are fewer admins in every company I know of and they are expected to do more and more work without any corresponding raise in pay.

  9. chosenrebel says:

    This is not new. I remember reading an article in the 1980;s about the the coming “vagabond adjunct faculty class”. The economics of how we populate our academic universities simply isn’t sustainable. New strategies need to be imagined and constructed.

  10. A.P. says:

    I worked in the nonprofit social justice sector for over 8 years after undergrad, got a terminal degree at night, and continued working in nonprofit. I quit my full time job to adjunct for more experience and the foot-in-the-door myth. It’s clear it’s a dead end job but that isn’t the issue. It’s a structural issue that at its heart is about American profit before people. Where is the additional tuition that my students are getting buried under (in a city system) going? There are a handful of individuals and companies (vendors and contractors) whose pockets are getting fat at the cost of my students education and my basic human needs, i.e. food, transportation, housing, health insurance and a living wage. We don’t have chalk, we barely have enough seats, my dept. is constantly in threat of extinction, there is no regulation, professional development or support. Sure I can try to get another job, but that will be my individual choice and doesn’t do anything for the future of American education. We gotta organize (at least those of us who aren’t completely and totally burned out from 3 classes w/ 30 students each and my 3 other jobs!)

  11. hutch says:

    They’re not vilifying secretaries, they’re simply stating that an adjunct professor works just as hard as a secretary and deserves at least the same benefits, compensation and job security as an administrative assistant gets. The fact that full-time jobs are rapidly disappearing in every almost sector, whether you’re a professor or an administrative assistant, is of huge concern. The real issue is that states across the board are cutting funding to higher education which raises tuition, and puts schools between a rock and a hard place in order to figure out how to keep everything going, throwing money at sports isn’t helping the situation either.

  12. Secretary says:

    As a “secretary” who is also an advocate for contingent faculty concerns – even serving on a committee with tenured and part-time faculty at my university – I find the comparison between adjunct salaries, education, etc. and secretaries insulting and demeaning.

  13. stuartelden says:

    thanks for all the comments and interest. While I am very happy for the discussion to take place here, any complaints really should be voiced to the creators of the info graphic – I just posted it.

  14. dm says:

    People interested in this should check the citations. Some don’t say what the graphic claims they say. E.g. the only way you get to 140k “doctorates” a year is by including MD, DDS, and JD degrees. The census table cited lists just under 50k in 2009. The “average salary” is for FULL professors, not “tenure track professors.” I stopped after that, but come on, that’s really sloppy work.

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  18. xfwayne says:

    I’ve been an adjunct for 7 years now. At one point, I was teaching 6 classes between 5 campuses in one semester, getting paid a lot less than half of what full-timers get. Even with all my dedication, I was dispensable. I’m still adjucting but tenure is no where in site for me.

  19. Bill says:

    My experience is that there are good, bad , and indifferent teachers in both communities. That sad, the tenure track people aren’t rewarded for teaching, only for research.

  20. Dave says:

    I have taught as an adjunct at two schools and both touted their adjuncts as teaching what they “do” — the more practical side of academia. One is a law school nationally ranked in intellectual property law and they’ve been doing it for nearly 70 years. Being an adjunct at either school wasn’t intended to provide a living wage, it was a way for professionals to reach out beyond their “day jobs.”

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