I don't have a solution but I have ideas: The Adjunct Issue, part 3

I do not think that any one action or group can solve “The Adjunct Issue.” I wrote this week that full-time faculty had to be a part of it. People have written to say, “The adjuncts have to do it alone.” In fact, I think there is a role for everyone: full-time faculty, adjunct faculty, administrators, unions and professional organizations,and  parents and students. Below are some ideas of how each group might be a part of making the situation better. I don't present them as well-formulated plans, just lists of possiblities I have been thinking about all my academic life as well as recently when readers have posted comments and emailed responses to the problem.

Full-time faculty

If they haven’t already, they need to speak out on the issue at faculty meetings, get it on the agenda at every meeting, faculty and union and meetings with administrators and talk about not only salary (a primary concern) but also travel money, office space, and collegiality. And they should let their adjunct colleagues know how they feel about the issue. They should include adjunct faculty in as many meetings and social events as possible but not require them to come. They should know adjunct faculty’s salary per course as well as they know their own. They should stand with the adjunct faculty if those members choose to demonstrate. I know many full-time faculty do all this. Others think that adjunct faculty just aren't as smart, well-educated, or deserving as they are. I am not speaking to them. Here. Maybe anywhere.

Adjunct faculty

Adjunct faculty need to be professional, by which I mean they should not just be excellent teachers but they should be aware of professional standards in their own field and to be as professionally and locally active insofar as they can be. If they do not care about benefits or salary because they already have them, they should put their carelessness away and get out or get on with helping their adjunct colleagues who cannot be that cavalier about basic work conditions.

Upper-level adminstrators, such as vice-presidents, need to get right with God, or whatever they are out of touch with that is enabling them to enforce such egregious practices. Unless they are actually proposing more humane alternatives, in which case please tell us about it.  
Administrators at the department level need to behave insofar as possible as concerned faculty members and to bring the adjunct concerns up to their superiors at every opportunity, suggesting innovative alternatives to unfair practices that they are having to oversee. That may mean seeing that full-time faculty actually teach first year courses, for example, or seeing that adjunct faculty get a laptop in the university computer initiative, or harangue for full-time lecturer appointments to replace adjunct positions. I have to say that most of the departmental-level and program-level chairs I have known have done yeo(wo)men’s duty trying to make inroads, often without anyone knowing and often without getting far if anywhere. Some of them have taken real hits, even losing their positions and often the adjuncts don't even know. Find out. Thank them.

Professional Organizations, including Unions
So far, most of these groups have done a good job at making statements. College Composition and Communication has an excellent list of standards for best teaching practice, and I quote it back often at administrators who would like me to teach outside those standards. MLA and AAUP have articulated standards and practices. However, we need to get beyond statements.

I have been reminded this week by my friend Brian (a union organizer) how difficult it is for unions to make inroads on this issue. He told me that in Ohio, it is illegal for  professional unions to help adjunct faculty organize. Fortunately, it isn’t illegal in Vermont, where an adjunct agreement has been reached recently. So let's hear it for Vermont, find out what they did, and talk it up. The recent demonstration at Akron U was worth the effort if just for the fact that it raised the issue in the local media and among students. Now if the national media would pick up photos of faculty demonstrations as readily as they did the sign-wielding McDonald’s workers....

Parents and Students

Recently, the “Adjunct Issue” came up in my dentist waiting room with a woman who asked me where I worked. She basically got my 10-second version of “My Resignation Letter.” I mentioned that while part-time faculty could be excellent instructors, students were just getting short-shrift when the majority of their teachers (especially for courses their first two years) were part-time professors. One of the places I saw them getting short shrift, for example, is in the area of academic advising.

Whew! I didn’t have to tell her. First, she articulated how she had seen it with her daughter's profs.  She trotted off and away at the total lack of faculty advising one of her daughters experienced at the mother’s alma mater, compared to the total faculty engagement her other daughter experienced in academic advising by faculty at another college. She could see the difference in the difficulty her daughters had wending their way through their academic course of study, though both were excellent students. (Certainly academic advising—or the lack of it—is one area I have seen really decimated by the lack of faculty advising on many college campuses. Student academic advising is not academic advising: it’s just in-person “Rate My Professor,” an amusing and unreliable site.)
And so, as the 17 and 18-year olds I know are heading off for their college visits this year, I have suggested the parents ask administrators (and not just the student tour guide) what percentage of their courses are taught by adjuncts. AND what percentage of first-year courses are taught by adjuncts. They might even ask how much adjuncts get paid. For years, parents and their students asked about better dorms, and they have definitely gotten them—along with lavish athletic workout centers, greatly expanded food choices, and more and more technology. Maybe it’s time to ask about the faculty beyond the student to teacher ratio promoted by the collegiate rating systems and inflated by teeny faculty wages.

And most of the students I have had, verily even the very business-focused Bentley students I taught 2003-20011, have a strong sense of money and injustice. Akron U students who were interviewed during the recent Akron U demonstrations were quoted by the media as being shocked and disappointed to learn of the adjunct faculty’s wages. I think they need to know if their campus is following the ethical employment practices, given that the students are taught about ethics in academic honesty lectures and in their own fields of study.

In conclusion...for now

Ignore any of these ideas you think  are bad. Suggest better ones. Tell me what you are doing. You can remain anonymous.


  1. Good plan...sharing stories and bearing witness is important and should continue (especially judging responses to it), but we also need to take our game outside our corner of the Ivory Silo™ (which bears more than a passing resemblance to Harry Potter's closet in the space under the stairs)

  2. Yes, it's why I felt my most important conversation to date was with the mother at the dentist office. Also, my high school classmates here in Canton who read my blog have been emailing me about the issue. another way to say "sharing stories and bearing witness" is "Having this conversation everywhere." Thanks, Vanessa!