So far, I’ve not met anyone who is excited by the growing number of adjunct professors currently teaching in higher ed. The adjuncts themselves are certainly not pleased with the situation. Full-time faculty can only whisper, “There but for the grace of God go I.” And administrators, who would much prefer to hire full-time faculty, mutter "But, oh, the budget..."
And yet, the number of adjuncts continues to grow, and the issues involved with hiring part-time contract instructors are coming to a head. Board members and seminary trustees will have to address many of these issues in coming years. (Interestingly, I am not sure what board members think of hiring adjuncts. By the nature of their employment, these instructors have little interaction with the board.)
One adjunct professor, Cliffton Price, recently posted on Inside Higher Ed about his experience after his classes have been taught. And the essay raises interesting points, revealing how the adjunct system can fail both students and the instructor. Price is hired by semester to teach a number of classes. When the semester is over, his employment is officially terminated until he signs that next contract.
What happens when students complain that they received unfair grades or want an explanation of their grades? Does this non-employee have an obligation to deal with these kinds of problems when he’s not an employee of the school? (He’s already getting paid a fraction of what tenure-track instructors receive.) Will his next contract be at risk if he refuses to work pro bono over the summer? What if he’s a fair but firm grader who receives more complaints than the lazy adjunct next door? Will he not be re-hired because the department administrators feel he’s “high maintenance”?
There are other issues from a leadership perspective that are not brought up in the piece. Most are pretty obvious to anyone thinking about these things. How does a school maintain its mission and educational integrity when its faculty come and go like the wind? Is it morally acceptable to pay someone starvation wages for the job of educating the next generation of Christian leaders? Is the adjunct model sustainable? How can a school feel that it's OK to recruit students for a Ph.D. program when the school itself doesn’t value the degree in the instructors it hires (or only values the degree up to the amount of $1,200 per class per semester)? Or more to the point, as a colleague here at In Trust asked, Doesn't such practice devalue the very degree the school is trying to provide?
Another article on the Inside Higher Ed website, “Outsourced in Michigan,” talks about the changing landscape of hiring adjuncts in that state. Six community colleges in Michigan have signed on with a company called EDUStaff that will be responsible for recruiting and paying these schools’ adjunct faculty. While it seems seminaries may not be large enough to enjoy savings through this kind of contracting-out of services, people once said that of seminary bookstores. So can mission be met when the very hiring of faculty is farmed out to a contractor?
Read the articles in Inside Higher Ed here and here.
In Trust will continue to cover issues surrounding adjunct professors. In the meantime, I would love to hear from school leaders, faculty members, and adjuncts. What works? What’s not fair? If you regularly hire adjuncts, how do you maintain consistency? How do you assure people are being treated right?
Let's hear from you!
Image credit: Matt Forster