But What Can I Do?

UPDATE: before you let me have it in the comments, please skip to the end where I recognize that this is a preposterous solution. Please understand that I am being deliberately provocative, to demonstrate the level of “we can’t do anything” rhetoric that absolutely pervades the academy. Can you do as much as I want you to? No. Can you do more than you are? Maybe. Will it be a risk? Yes. But adjuncts like me risk our asses every day. Every day. That is all. Without much more ado…


Are you a tenured or tenure-track professor at a Research-1 university? Are you (more likely) a tenured or tenure-track professor at a normal-person university or college? Want to do something to help “the adjunct situation,” and aren’t sure what you can do? IF there’s anything you can do, in the face of defunding, and anti-intellectualism, and corporatization, and harumph? Fear not!

Here is a partial list of things off the top of my head that I just thought of whilst shoving down vegetable sushi on the beach just now.  None of them involves buying an adjunct lunch, or acknowledging their existence, or being an “ally” in any other much-discussed way. These are unemotional, concrete solutions–but you might not like them.

1. Stop using adjuncts in your department. Need some courses taught, but don’t have the staff to teach them? Hooray! Now hire someone full fucking time, with a salary–not a stipend!–and benefits. Give them a 4-4 teaching load. If there aren’t four courses for them to teach in a semester, give them service, governance or curriculum planning. Pay them whatever a respectable middle-class starting salary is in your area. One that supports children, and possibly, given the labor opportunities in college towns, an errant spouse.

2. Stop using adjuncts in your department. Need some courses taught, don’t have the staff to teach them, but can’t afford to pay anyone a full-time salary? TOUGH TITTIES. You don’t get to offer the courses. If you can’t afford to pay an employee a living wage, you should not get an employee. 

3. Stop using adjuncts in your department. “But Rebecca,” you say, “do you mean that if given a choice between an adjunct and nobody, we should choose nobody?” If it comes down to that, yes, I do. But let’s backtrack: Senior Full Professor, let’s see your schedule next semester. Oh, I see you’re teaching an upper-level seminar in your pet subject. I see five people are signed up for it. “Oh, but it’s a major requirement!” …that you invented, so that everyone would have to take your pet subject. Exigent circumstances, motherfucker: how about instead of hiring someone at a rate you would (I hope!) be ashamed to pay a domestic employee (being, of course, the pinko commie supporter of immigration reform and a minimum wage hike that you are), you cancel your pet seminar, woman up, and teach some motherfucking Composition? Some German 101?

4. Stop using adjuncts in your department. Do not pay anyone in your department a salary you yourself would never consider taking. Make palpable, real sacrifices.

5. Stop using adjuncts in your department. Wait, am I sounding redundant?

Nobody ever suggests this as a solution because, of course, it would cause massive, palpable disruption to everyone and everything in the university. I realize it is completely preposterous to suggest. And yet–you asked: What can I do?

123 thoughts on “But What Can I Do?

  1. Rebecca —

    Let me give you some background about myself first. I teach a 4-4 load at a non-tenure granting institution. I have a book out, articles, many conferences, several major conferences. But, no chance of tenure. I do have a full time teaching job with health insurance, though, so for that I’m grateful. My field is English.

    During my time at my current institution I have served as Program Chair in a couple of different roles (Master’s program and undergrad humanities). I have complained repeatedly about our lack of full time hires and have complained about how we do pay some full time college instructors less than local high school teachers make. Repeatedly. I have argued for more full time hires on the basis of student benefit and on the basis of following non-exploitative practices. My reward for principled argument has been to be removed as chair. My efforts have made no difference in hiring practices in my current institution and have just hurt me.

    So within that context, I can say in an informed way that I am generally supportive of what you’re doing here, but this is by far the dumbest post you’ve ever written.

    Tenure and TT faculty do not make hiring and budgetary decision. They Do Not. Period. Not in their job description. Nothing they can do. Nada. NOTHING. You need to get that. THERE IS NOTHING THEY CAN DO.

    Not, at least, in the way you’re writing about it here — as if it were just a matter of simple choice to hire everyone full time, but they just choose not to. We could band together and go on strike, but that’s about it. But we’d have to unionize first.

    Chairs generally can’t do much either. They are given so many full time lines, so many sections to cover, and they either cover the rest of their sections with adjuncts, or refuse to do so and get fired and replaced by someone else who will do so.

    Deans have more power still, usually, but they too have a fixed budget and a fixed number of sections to cover. That means at some point before all sections are covered full time lines will run out and the rest will be filled by adjuncts.

    There are two people, bottom line, who have the power to change things:

    1. College Presidents and Boards, who can choose to invest less money in sports and admin. and more in actual teachers. One $200,000 VP displaces the total cost of three full time faculty members (including benefits) who could cover 24 sections a year between them.

    2. Adjuncts, who can simply refuse to take part time work. They have more power if they can act as a group: if colleges can’t fill their sections with part timers, then they will have to hire full time, or will have to face student and parent complaints about sections not being filled.

    3. Parents, who can care more about their children’s actual education than about their children’s school’s sports teams. College presidents don’t give a damn about the quality of education because they know they don’t have to. Parents and students don’t either. They just want pretty buildings and a good football team.

    4. Alumni.

    5. State legislatures.

    6. Accrediting bodies.

    Attacking full time faculty as a group for decisions they don’t and can’t make is a waste of time, especially since so many of us are advocating for adjuncts. The problem is ultimately budgetary, political, and requires advocacy and aggressive lobbying to address.

    Now you can complain about me “mansplaining” you or you can pull your head out and address the real problems, which I have and will continue to do.

    You actually have a much bigger platform to do so than I do. Be aware of that and use it wisely.


    • I am not saying, “You must hire FT faculty,” when obviously you can’t. I am saying: you refuse to hire adjuncts. You wo/man up and say: no, we don’t have any extra courses adjuncts need to teach. We teach all our courses. Sorry we now offer fewer courses–you made us a small department! What is dumb about that? Really?


    • I just said this on Twitter, and I’ll say it again. Every department has the choice to offer only the number of courses its full-time faculty can cover. Any department that chooses to offer more courses than it can cover is creating an adjunct position on purpose.


      • I can’t tell anymore which parts of this are supposed to be hyperbolic and rhetorical and which parts are supposed to be fact-based, but despite the merits of the overall don’t-hire-adjuncts goal, this is not true. Departments do not have absolute autonomy over their curricula and course offerings, and they don’t set workloads or salaries. All of this has to be go through higher-level admin, which really is the real cause of all the things you and I are both angry about.


      • I’ve never known a curriculum committee who actually tried to restrict the number of courses to fit with the number of full-time staff, so I don’t think anyone knows whether this would work or not. Like I said in the post, I realize it’s preposterous. But it would be what you “can do.” Tell the administration you’d like to only offer courses your current roster of FT faculty can teach. See what happens.


      • Yikes! Wish that were so! My dept was just informed we had to offer 4 more sections of a course because the President decided to start a new program! Without asking us. Without seeing if we have staffing. Without offering us a new line. Without consultation. Without any sense of what is best for our majors. Sure we’re going to say no, sorry Pres, no special program for you, and by the way where are our new lines? Sorry, but I agree with Johannes; let’s remove the onus from depts & chairs here bec that’s not the source of the real problem. I get your point about collaboration (and the academic class system) and I agree with it, but most of us are not fancypants R1 grad seminar folks but are working at 4/4 places with absolutely no voice on budgets and are subject to whims of administrators who have no interest in our fussy concerns about educational quality.


      • Yes, you are to say, Mr. President, I’m sorry, we do not have the staff for these four classes. Or: Mr. President, we will be canceling four of our other classes or teaching these classes as overloads. The immediate “answer” is not to hire an adjunct. It’s not. You ask what you can do, and I say: stand up to the administration. You say: we can’t, and then you blame the administration for everything.


  2. I’m extremely sympathetic to the plight of adjuncts and overworked teaching professors, but I’m not sure that this is the right answer. There’s a certain demand for courses to be taught and a certain supply of people willing to teach them. The law of supply and demand says that a price will emerge that equalizes quantity demanded and quantity supplied. Refusing to hire adjuncts lowers demand. Raising the wage you offer unilaterally does assure you get the best people (see also: Henry Ford during the Great Depression), but the pool of unemployed humanities PhDs is extraordinarily talented and deep; in short, you can get amazing teachers for cheap.

    I don’t pretend to know everything about this problem, but from what little I do know, the systemic answer is to increase demand or decrease supply. Demand for humanities majors is down somewhat, AFAIK, but there’s still solid demand for liberal arts training in writing, logic, history, etc. as more people go to college. So to me, the answer would seem to be: cut supply. That means making it more difficult for PhD programs who can’t place their students to recruit those students by providing more information, or (if you’re in a position to do so) eliminating a PhD program that can’t place.

    Again, I’m not an expert on this problem and I could be wrong. But that’s what I think we should be thinking about.


  3. A way that tt people can support this effort is to support unionization efforts and to fight for non-tt faculty in the negotiations process. This is more and less feasible/ possible depending on the type of university and the laws of the state where it is located, but unions can be a great help in negotiating fair labor conditions across the institution.


    • Another thing, Lanie, is that we need to force departments/programs to provide a REAL number of hours involved in teaching a semester-long intro course. If you have 30-50 students in an intro course, and you’re not planning to use ScanTron tests, and you really want that course to be worthwhile for the students? That’s at least 15 hours/week of work — three contact hours and twelve prep/grading hours. As it stands, a university can hire a person to teach three courses and call that 20 hours/week. They just call it whatever they want.


      • Yes, I definitely agree. I am not sure how our union calculates it, because in my particular dept, the large gateway courses are actually taught by tt faculty with TAs. But students taught and assignments graded definitely need to be included in the calculation. I wonder if anyone knows of anywhere where unions or other organization measures have been effective in dealing with this situation? I may be remembering incorrectly, but I believe there were some reports in the Chronicle or Inside Higher Ed this fall of universities that simply cut adjuncts’ hours when boards or unions mandated that “real hours” be calculated, to avoid paying benefits.


    • I’m as pro-union as they come, Lanie, but I teach in a right-to-work state. We have a union that combines all university employees (faculty, staff, grounds crew, etc., as it should be – one big union!) and I pay dues to it because I believe in unions and have benefitted from what they can do, but the university has no incentive, legal or otherwise, to negotiate with us.


      • Yes, my grad university was in a similar situation; grad students could join the union but faculty could not, and there was little bargaining power (but it did get us health care). I know unions are not an immediate solution for many of us, but for some of us they can help- at my current institution, for example, all faculty can join, tt as well as non-tt, and there is a separate union for staff. Both have contracts negotiated with the university, so the union is a logical place in this situation to advocate for humane working conditions. Ours have negotiated on behalf of non-tt faculty, for example, proper notification of dismissal, implied contract renewal, salary floors, etc., and for increased job protections awarded for longevity. I don’t know if limits on adjuncts were part of the deal, or even discussed. Since, as many people are arguing, department heads and individual faculty have limited power in enacting the proposal Rebecca makes here, I’d like to know what measures develop/ in right-to-work states–if any–that help with the explotation of adjuncts and other non-tt faculty. Is there anything short of a general strike?


  4. My heroine is a tenured senior professor (2/2 teaching load) who, when asked whether she wanted to hire an adjunct or take a course overload, said: “WTF? Overload, of course!” I asked her why she would say something like that. Her responses were similar to what you’ve written here, but she also said:

    “If you have 20 students spread across your two upper-level courses, your effective teaching workload is about 1/3 of that of the adjunct down the hall teaching a 3/3 load for half-time pay with no benefits. Take on an intro course! We should *all* be keeping our fingers on the pulse of the program, and that means playing an active role in ‘feeder courses’ which will make or break us as an [undergraduate] program. We need to know what’s going on in the trenches.”

    It also tells the administration that adjuncts deserve higher pay because course overloads for senior faculty cost a lot more than an adjunct salary.

    I think the problem is that many senior faculty don’t want to set the precedent of taking course overloads. Because, well, they might actually be able to pull it off … which will lead the administration to believe that a 3/3 load instead of a 2/2 or 2/3 load is feasible. God[dess] forbid these people have a more structured semester where they have to be present at least three days a week (MY ACADEMIC FREEDOM!!!) … UGH.

    I did a 3/3 load as an adjunct (90 students per semester) — considered half-time and with no benefits — while writing a dissertation, attending conferences, sitting on committees, maintaining a social life, you name it. And it was doable. It was miserable since I could barely keep my head above water, but it was doable. For $60-80k/year with benefits and research funding? DEFINITELY doable, since there’s no financial stress and there’s some semblance of job security.


    • But all of this is at a fancy institution. We don’t have faculty on 2/2 and they can make you teach up to 4 if you are research faculty; a 5th course is an overload but it is for adjunct pay, not a percentage of your salary; we have benefits but not research funding; we make $44-55K not $60-80K and that is tighter than you think if you are paying for all your own research expenses and in some cases, even computers.


  5. Those of us who aren’t administrators, even if we’re tenured full professors, may not have any say in these matters. In the education schools i’ve taught in, adjuncts are typically current or former classroom teachers or K-12 administrators, many with just a master’s degree, so it’s a different situation. But we should still have more FT, TT faculty. However, universities are very stingy with opening up new or even replacement tenure lines. At my current university, we have some very strong adjuncts, but I was told that we shouldn’t involve them in curriculum development, they should just be told what to do. Ironically, the department gives them no mentoring and many of them are way off track in what they’re teaching, not even really their fault.


    • I’m not talking about tenure lines at all. I’m talking about FT lectureships. And I’m also talking about only offering the number of courses your FT faculty can teach, and simply refusing to create a “necessity” for adjuncts. If departments were serious about this, instead of about preserving their own asses, they would not think this idea dumb, and rather think it obvious, which I do.


      • I think this might constitute grounds for removal for cause. A chair who refused to cover the number of courses the dean wants covered would be removed. And you can’t ask faculty to teach more than their contract allows for (a 3 hour course is defined as 12 hours of work per week) because of the accreditation boards. It would be nice to see whether a whole department could be convinced to stand firm on refusing. But my bet is, a dean would step in, hire the adjuncts, and set them to giving the courses.


      • I think that a department Chair who actually gave a fuck about academic labor would be willing to be removed for cause. What I do puts me at risk for getting fired every single day, and I do it anyway. I haven’t made this public, but I actually *did* get fired at UMSL (not returning in the fall) for my Essay Essay, and I accept that. Why shouldn’t I expect other people to risk their asses when I risk my own ass all day, every day? And have paid dearly? And still fight?


      • No, just removed as chair. The way this is usually done is, they step down. I can’t do this, so I can’t be chair. I will not serve as chair unless I can have x number of FTEs. So the administration gets someone else to do it. This is quite common.


  6. “course overloads for senior faculty cost a lot more than an adjunct salary.”

    What sort of institution are you discussing here? I haven’t experienced this thing they call overtime pay, but I’m at a private college.

    One semester we forgot to hire adjuncts (don’t ask) and I had to teach a 65-student class. We scheduled it right next door to the room where the trustees were meeting, and by the end of the semester we had a new full-timer.


    • It’s a public 4-year with a union contract. Yep, those are a great idea. The contract stipulates dollar amounts for course overloads on a per-course basis. I believe it’s $4,500 for a course overload. Adjuncts get about half that per course.


    • Here a course overload for anyone would be at adjunct salary, and would be easiest to force for free onto senior faculty (someone with course release for research, just take it away citing financial or program needs).


  7. We don’t have adjuncts, and do have f/t lectureships, but it is very problematic. For one, it means MAs outnumber PhDs 2 to 1, because we can’t get PhDs to fill those lectureships, they want, and can get tenure track jobs that are (much) more interesting. Lack of research faculty impoverishes the program in a lot of ways. I say agitate for all tenure track.


  8. On department chairs heroically refusing to hire adjuncts and getting removed, that’s quixotic. Rather than that, the one who got us to quit using adjuncts did it, 20 years ago, by just contining to push. I’m serious, a whole department could refuse but it would just mean the administration would step in, and it wouldn’t create a useful situation unless the whole university were well orgnanized behind the no adjunct effort.


    • Agreed. At my university, TT lines are almost non -existant, and FT lecturerships are the new TT. For a Chair refusing to hire adjuncts to have any worth, you should assume the whole department is behind him/her.
      Highly unlikely. In most cases (certainly my dept), there is somebody more than willing to get that position when the principled Chair is forced to step down. Personally, the argument I keep making to the Provost (I’m on Faculty Committee) is how an increase in adjuncts at my institution seems to correlate with a decrease in retention rate, and how that affects the budget. I am also studying accreditation rules, to see if there is an argument to be made there. In the meantime, I teach 2 language classes each semester, like all of my colleagues


    • Johannes: whether they care or not varies by institution. That’s why I think strategies are different depending where you are. I work at a religious liberal arts university. The administration started caring about adjuncts when too many freshmen transferred to another university because they did not have close access to their professors (because they were overworked adjuncts), so they didn’t see the point of paying $40K a year to feel like a number.


  9. The situation is actually far more insidious than you realize. At the normal person universities and colleges (especially community), where half of the faculty are adjuncts, or anything approaching half, the adjuncts are subsidizing the tenured faculty. Let me repeat that, the adjuncts are not only subsidizing the proliferating administrators and facilities, they are subsidizing the tenured faculty. If you are an adjunct, simply compare your meager salary to the amount of tuition revenue alone the college takes in from your course. Colleges have made so much money off of adjuncts for so many years that their budgets have become totally dependent on that revenue. That includes the minority of tenured faculty, particularly the senior faculty with high salaries who do not bring in as much revenue as they take out.

    In order to hire all full time faculty, the tenured faculty pay scale would have to be cut. And they know it.

    The only way to overcome this in favor of a more equitable system is for the junior non-tenure, and tenure track faculty to side with the adjuncts, to organize, and to out vote the new faculty minority.


    • They are also subsidizing TT and tenured lines, but in a more complicated way. 1) Adjunct budget is a different budget and adjunct hires don’t have to be authorized at state level. 2) Adjuncts in another college, not just in other departments in your same college, can be the ones who are subsidizing a part of your line. So a department, like mine, that doesn’t have adjuncts is still not “not guilty” or not complicit.


      • Let’s not get sucked into thinking the current salary pool is the only money an institution has.

        A Facebook acquaintance posted the story of TT faculty who advocated for higher adjunct salaries and were told ‘it will come out of your salaries’ as if all the other college expenditures — for administrators, coaches, toilet paper, whatever — were both untouchable and more important than the people who stand in front of the customers delivering the service that was paid for.

        It’s awfully convenient to have faculty accept that there is only so much money to pay them and none of the other school money is available. Especially when it pits groups of faculty against one another. Let’s be smarter than to fall for that.


      • @Pat. Translation: tenured faculty will support full time tenure track jobs for adjuncts only to the extent that they do not have to make any personal sacrifices.

        My natural inclination is to include all faculty as workers who should act in solidarity, and the most effective faculty organizations are the wall to wall unionized bargaining units that include all instructional personnel. However, the current reality that some tenured faculty are acting as de facto bosses and representing only their own selfish narrow interests rather than the interests of the profession needs to be pointed out and examined. How many are striking to get administration money redirected to tenure lines, or to get more funding from the legislature?


  10. In answer to all the exculpatory hogwash about “TT faculty don’t do the hiring” all I can do is refer you back to Rebecca’s twitter point: then TT faculty have to put their ass on the line and fight the hire ups. Change is NOT going to come only from people on the outside, like Rebecca and Sarah Kendzior putting their ass and persona on the line. If these cushioned TT folks really are, to quote Rebecca, “the pinko commies in favor of immigration reform and a living wage” then either LIVE UP to your glorified self image as progressives. If not, AT LEAST ADMIT THAT YOUR VOLVO FAMILY STATION WAGON is more important and that your snuggly feel-good faux liberal persona is an act. You don’t get to have your cake and eat it, too.


    • This is actually one of the reasons my dept. was able to get FT lines: couldn’t get adjuncts. Of course we were also pushing for FT/permanent, but with an MA (in my field and region PhDs do not need to adjunct) you can get a nice prep school job or a good stable gig at a community college. So if we want a non TT person we have to offer a real job, unless we want to hire the people the high schools and community college reject for good reason.


  11. And, BTW, your getting fired over the Essay essay has me somewhat numb. My gosh. I’m sorry to hear that. What “official” reason were you given?

    Will you write about your being fired? Man, that’s some bona fide putting your ass on the line. Talk about walking the talk. I’m humbled and awed by you. As if you did not know that already.


    • You did not realize the point of tenure is academic freedom? Sure it is dangerous to publish that kind of thing when you are untenured.


      • Z: not sure what you’re asking me, lmk. I believe tenure is vital– but frankly, I see such tepid cowardice and conformity (umm…reluctance might be a benign way of saying it) in so much scholarship by tenured folks that I frankly feel tenure gets wasted. I also think adjunct–ing is not viable and that full-paying long term lectureships (albeit fewer) should exist alongside TT lines. Yes, of course this is connected to the need to admit fewer Phd students…yet that in turn worries me because existing biases are going to make PoC and non-upper middle class white people even more of a rarity in “the production of knowledge.”


      • I mean, everyone to the tenure track. It is what gives academic freedom. Yes, people don’t use that enough. But this is not a reason to give it up.

        Why long term lectureships — why not tenure track?

        How many “excess” PhDs would there be if all jobs were converted to tenure track?

        I am also for tenure reviews being sooner. Make that 3d or 4th year review a tenure review — you know by then whether they’re making it, so just do it. Then people will not be so exhausted by the time they get tenure.


  12. The adjuncts at my university were terribly exploited and their pay was an absolute fucking crime (approx. $1600 for a 3-credit course), but the university can do little about it as salaries are set by the state regents who are appointed and controlled by the right-wing wingnuts that run my state (who have cut already-slim education budgets by an additional 60% since 2008). That ended when the regents cut our adjunct budget to $0 and every single adjunct across the entire university (except their cronies at the business school) did not have their contracts renewed for next term.

    At the same time, in the few years I’ve been here, 4 faculty retired, 1 died, and 1 left for another institution, and we’ve only been able to replace 2 of the 6, all while enrollments have gone up. We’ve hired 2 full-time lecturers (complete with decent pay, full benefits, offices, research budgets, and voting rights on most dept. matters) as a stopgap measure out of our own discretionary funds. Senior faculty have volunteered to take additional sections to keep the burden off juniors like myself, but come the fall semester we’ll have to take overloads *and* reduce our offerings and students will not be able to take classes they need. I wish I was optimistic that this would change the minds of the higher ups, but I’m not. I think it’s exactly what they want.


    • Yes — this is a much more accurate portrait of the situation than DM’s fantasy about Volvos (the Volvos are in the student parking lots of the private schools, not in faculty lots, DM is confused).


      • I’m in a conundrum as I agree with Rebecca’s point – the only way to stop adjunctification is stop adjunctification – while also being cognizant of the fact that I don’t have to make the difficult decisions necessary to keep the department or the college running. Our new chair’s hair is greying as quickly as Obama’s did after 2008.


      • It’s a question of how. My department DID decide not to use adjuncts, and doesn’t. I suppose we could strike and say we refuse to come back to work until the university as a whole quits using adjuncts, but really, it is something that to actually happen, would have to be done more collectively than that.


  13. I completely agree with one of your points: all TT faculty should teach classes on all levels, and not just tiny upper-level seminars.

    None of the other things you list have any basis in reality, for the many reasons others have given. Here’s one more: say a particular department banded together and unanimously backed a chair’s decision to only offer the number of courses that could be covered by permanent faculty. Let’s say the dean in charge would simply shrug her shoulders and sign off on that department’s program for the next year. What would be the result? Presumably that department already has a number of majors with requirements to fulfill enrolled. Some will still get into classes, others won’t. Some will protest, more will drop the major or even leave the university. The department’s retention rates plummet. Its enrolment figures collapse. Its uptake of new majors drops. Eventually, you might get to a point where some sort of shrinking down to size takes place — where the department only has the students left that it can actually teach. It will have lost visibility on campus, because of its size it will likely have lost access to research and pedagogy initiative funds, retirements will likely not be replaced (leading to a further drop in the number of courses offered), and eventually the department either dwindles to insignificance or is shuttered altogether — but (and I agree that’s an important but) it will now be operating in a more ethical manner.

    The other point I’d make is that at many places the kinds of action you want individual departments and faculty members to take would simply not be permissible. Union regulations very often make it impossible for an entire department to increase faculty teaching load, even if every faculty member agrees (that’s the point of collective bargaining — individuals can’t just change the rules). Salaries are not normally set by departments — an individual chair can’t just decide to pay an adjunct more, nor can individual faculty members decide to take pay cuts in order to establish new lines from the saved funds. (I don’t drive a Volvo, but even if I did, and decided to get rid of it, the money saved would not lead to the hire of more permanent faculty.) And there is no difference between tenure lines and lecturer positions at most institutions I know: both are given to a department by a dean. A chair can’t just decide to hire a full-time lecturer. Where would the funds for such a decision come from?


    • What I didn’t say explicitly in that second paragraph: the people screwed most immediately if your proposals were put into action would be currently enrolled undergrads. That may be a price you’re willing to pay. But I don’t see how any of this leads to more permanent jobs.


      • It would just lead to “program reduction.” Administration would decide faculty was irresponsible to students and cut the program. AAUP would work to make sure as much faculty from it as possible were absorbed into other units and/or given decent severance packages. And by-bye… I have seen it happen, right before my eyes. Other strategies are needed.


      • I hear what you’re saying, but I think that the department would likely re-structure the major requirements to fit the courses now available. There would be much less “choice” for students in upper level courses, and tenured faculty would teach more widely across the departmental curriculum. Any students caught in that transition would be grandfathered/given a waiver to have some other course meet the major requirements. I don’t think the answer is that the department would absolutely be targeted for reduction as Z says below (although I agree that it does happen). However, I do think it’s much more likely in the case of smaller and more recent departments (think American Civilization at UPenn being absorbed back into History several years ago) than larger/more “traditional” departments.


    • “It will have lost visibility on campus, because of its size it will likely have lost access to research and pedagogy initiative funds, retirements will likely not be replaced (leading to a further drop in the number of courses offered), and eventually the department either dwindles to insignificance or is shuttered altogether — but (and I agree that’s an important but) it will now be operating in a more ethical manner.”

      Then let it burn.

      I’m in English, where we use adjuncts by the truckload to teach the freshman comp no tenured professor would touch with a ten-foot pole. I think all the English departments should give this shit a try and see if universities would be willing to shut them down. Wouldn’t accreditation boards have something to say about the lack of an English department? Some departments have the power – they just choose not to use it for the benefit of their adjuncts.


      • How many adjuncts does UC Berkeley use for comp? There, comp isn’t taught just by English but by many departments — Comp Lit, Rhe toric, Dramatic Art, Ethnic Studies, on and on … and the TAs (when I was one) taught one section capped at 17. There were a few adjuncts but they were dissertation finishers who had run out of TA time. Now I have the impression there are MORE adjuncts.

        But I think of this because it was originally done so as to relieve the comp burden. I understand it seems or is “elitist” not to want to teach comp or beginning foreign languages or algebra or calculus endlessly but I think there is a burnout factor, at least in the way those programs are structured at many or most schools.


  14. Like many, I’m very sympathetic to the points made here. But I am also, like many others, struck by the nature of the advice you’re giving. I know that you spent a few years at Ohio State, and then moved onto to UMSL in both cases as NTT faculty, but that is a fairly narrow slice of experience, no matter of how thoughtful and insightful you are. Likewise, being in a language program further constricts your field of view, since the modern university you are describing does not match up with many – if not most – humanities units.

    Here, where I am, we don’t need to hire adjuncts, because we have enough faculty to teach and we have few required courses. But we do sometimes hire them anyhow, because we have money to make such appointments in our budget, and we can either spend it to hire someone or just simply not spend it at all. So we pay them a decent wage – $8K per class – give them an office of their own and at least two classes. We include them in the life of the university – but only to the extent they want such inclusion, since most of them are still working to find a TT job. We also don’t think of them as “them” – they are names, individuals with whom we have deep history, many of them doing other things and picking up a course here or there to supplement their include, or to augment a fellowship stipend. I’m not sure that *not* hiring these people is humane.

    With the exception of language programs, at all three of my jobs – all R1s, at various locales, and two publics, and in all cases in an interdisciplinary unit – we’ve seen the # of TT faculty lines slip, but no corresponding growth in adjunct or NTT positions. Instead, what we’ve seen is the deregulated growth of massive lecture classes, aimed to increase our student credit hours. Chairs can either tap the spigot or lose more lines.

    So, anyhow, a friendly rejoinder from a fellow traveller.


  15. For those seeking other strategies, may I suggest once again approaching accreditors. The handy table of necessary resources remains available at http://raosyth.com/blog/?p=1056.
    Compared to just not hiring adjuncts, writing a third-party comment seems less daunting!
    (This is the last time I’ll apologize for being a bore about this topic. From now on I will just be an unapologetic bore about it — because new people keep joining the conversation, and they may not have read old comments. So for folks who are tired of my making this point, please consider yourselves blanket-apologized to for the foreseeable future.)


  16. Another option that might work better than heroic faculty falling on their swords is to make adjunct use part of the accreditation process. Get regional accreditors to establish a standard–say, 10-15% of total sections taught by adjuncts or grad students–and make them call to account any institution that hires more.


  17. One other problem caused by adjuncts and even FT non-TT hires is the lack of proper hiring and other HR procedures. Rarely a search or even a job announcement in my experience, more common to just hire someone somebody knows or someone who shows up with a resume. I know of one department chair who hired her daughter’s boyfriend’s mother and rehired an adjunct she’d started dating. Another who hired full-time a guy she was romantically involved with. The people were qualified, but neither department chair disclosed or recused. ZERO effort ever to hire from a pool with some hope of including people of color or even the best qualified people around. My previous university hired FT non-tt people by word of mouth, never even a local search. Many of them stayed on for 20+ years with only cursory annual reviews, no expectation of scholarship (many with only master’s degrees anyway), but unhappy to have heavier teaching loads than TT.
    At my current university, adjuncts can’t be required to attend ANY meetings because of their union contracts, which I agree with, plus why should they with so little pay? But then program quality suffers because they’re so out of the loop.
    I was involved with a case where an adjunct was falsely accused of sexual harrassment. He was a nice but unsophisticated middle-aged guy who had done something like touch a young female student’s arm and make a mild flirtatious comment. The student made a big fuss and he didn’t get rehired. The department chair in this case took months to fire a male secretary who’d been sexually harrassing students, even though it had been reported to HR by multiple people including me. Another adjunct, retired teacher, told a student who really was being sexually harrassed in a school where she was student teaching to not speak up about it. The adjunct had never been told about sexual harrassment policies.
    My point? The state of affairs is deeply fucked in many ways, and so entrenched that a few outraged tenured faculty are unlikely to make a dent in it. Administrators don’t even try to make the use of adjuncts more ethical and professional. Most tenured faculty, sadly, see this as not an issue but just part of academia as it is. Rebecca, I’m so glad to see you out there screaming about this. I’ve been so marginalized for my views over the years that the only thing I can influence at my own institution is my own work, so I lie low and post under a pseudonym on blogs.


  18. You’re far too dismissive of seminars. Seminars are the one place in the research-teaching university where research and teaching do actually intersect. You seem to think that reducing the number of seminars would force tenured professors to teach more lecture courses, which would in turn force administration to create more tenure lines. Instead what would happen is, academia would become even more segregated between instructors and researchers. This in turn would entail a reduction of the size of the academic research sector. Likely, academic research would only happen in the Ivy League, and everyone else would teach out of textbooks or do MOOC delivery. Seminars are among the few institutional bulwarks preventing this outcome.


  19. Our university has something called Full time Adjunct. These are full time non tenure track teaching positions. The people who get them are restricted to this position for 2 years. If they did it a third year they would lose their seniority as part time instructors. The reason for this is that the part time union wants these Full time Adjunct positions to become tenure track positions. But they never do. So someone who wants to teach full time for three years can not or else they would get fewer courses as a part time instructor.

    My point is that things are more complicated even when there are unions in the part time instructor area.

    In this situation (a fully unionized envirionment) If we refused to offer sections unless a full time person was available to teach them, the problem is not solved.

    The second issue is that we cannot get full time lines unless those full time lines are for research purposes (and we are not an R1), so any new faculty aren’t even focused on teaching.


  20. I do think we need to distinguish between tenured and tenure-track faculty. Tenured faculty have the means and indeed the obligation to fight these fights. Tenure-track faculty, however, are themselves in highly precarious positions. Not so precarious as adjuncts in the near-term, but tenure denial most often means career death. Tenure-track faculty are thus equally precarious as adjuncts in the long-term.

    Deans and tenure committees now view tenure cases from the view of seeking to deny. Give them any excuse to do so and they will. Especially in the humanities tenure denials often lead to the loss of that line. To ask tenure-track, junior faculty to commit career suicide by acting as gadflies when they are, in fact, potential long-term allies to contingent faculty is short-sighted. Those of us who have come up through the academic labor system over the last five years or so really do recognize how broken it is, and surely many of us, once tenured, will be stronger advocates and allies than most of those who were granted tenure before us.

    In any case, I do think focusing on adjuncts to the exclusion of almost all else is dangerous. The adjunctification of higher-ed is simply a symptom of much larger structural issues that need to be confronted openly. Contingent labor is the logical outcome of a system in which individual and group incentives are completely and utterly out of whack. I have much more to say about this, but will shut up here as I simply wanted to remind everybody that “TT” is much too broad a category to be used as Rebecca and many commenters have used it here.


  21. My department currently does 1,2,3,4, and 5 of your suggestions. We have no adjuncts. In fact I have never actually seen an adjunct anywhere. I suspect that they only exist in the US. But, reading blogs like this gives me great hope that African universities like mine might overcome some US ones in terms of international prestige before I die. Currently international rankings have every single African university ranked below just about every single US university. University of Cape Town is ranked number one in Africa and 200 in the world. The faster the US institutions collapse the sooner University of Ghana can break that top 200 in the world. 😉


  22. Here’s what I see, as an alt-ac academic advisor and adjunct. If your department offers enough adjunct-taught courses to fill a FT instructor’s teaching load, y’all need to hire a full-time person. End of sentence. One person making a living wage and getting benefits is probably doing more good than five people each scratching out a few thousand dollars on contingency.

    Yes, I know the money isn’t there. I know administration doesn’t approve more FT lines. I know state support is down for every public institution. Doesn’t change the fact that y’all need to hire a full-time person. Nobody’s seriously arguing that “need to” has magically become “can and should right now.” But unless and until you start thinking of it that way, you’ll never get that full-time person you need.

    Even simpler: YOU HAVE TO MAKE UNREALISTIC DEMANDS RIGHT NOW. This isn’t the time for measured discussions at the glacial academic pace.


  23. I guess where I disagree with this post globally is that it first insists that this is a departmental issue and then says it is impossible not to hire adjuncts. Of course it is possible, and-but it is much more than a departmental issue or something that can be addressed by a few faculty falling on their swords.

    My own department did what Uncle Matt suggests and many work that way. In my state, the only place that has a lot of overqualified adjuncts is the one granting two kinds of PhD in my field, and that is in a great town.

    So I guess it is from that kind of place that a lot of the rage comes from. Yet, the adjuncts at that place would rather stay where they are than come over here in better official conditions.


  24. Sorry to half-hijacked this thread, but does anybody know what “Resposibility-Centered Budgeting” is? It sort of relates to the issue of this post (budgeting, funding, and financial incentives to departments). Anyway, I posted the same question on my blog, if you don’t want to hijack this thread


  25. A responsibility center is a budgetary unit. Unlike, say, a revenue sharing model, RCB or RCM allocates university $ to each “center” (which could be a school or a college or even a department) based on its student credit hours, grant income, etc. The more you bring in to the university as a whole, the more your center gets. As such it provides a rationale and a mechanism for the reallocation of $ away from a center that is losing market share and towards another that is gaining. Like, for instance, the struggling humanities and the ascendant business schools.


    • Ugh…the interesting part in my university is that the business school is losing money at the MBA level (most prestigious in the area, but also the most expensive by tens of thousands of dollars. And it is not so prestigious as to justify the expense). So maybe they will be unusual allies. I am in Spanish, and we’ll lose because of lower caps in our courses for obvious pedagogical reasons.
      This semester is going to give me an ulcer, I fear


  26. Thanks, all, for your contributions to R’s post, which do illuminate the difficulties if not impossibilities of the situation in which we find ourselves. Part of my contribution to this thread is to agree with Karen Kelskey that the least we tenured who enjoy 2-2 loads (regardless of the inequities of our other perks–Northwestern vs. Nevada, Las Vegas, say) can do is to acknowledge that we benefit from the constitution of graduate study and of the teaching of lower division courses “at this point in history.” Another part is to suggest that in English and in language departments, adjuncts will continue to be employed and thus exploited as tenure and tenure-track professors continue to enjoy the benefits of their position and status; at the same time, tenure lines will continue to disappear. It seems to me that near universal access to higher ed and a prestige-driven research culture both require cheap labor; graduate students and adjuncts and even full-time 4-4 instructors provide that labor; hence Kelskey’s comment. About 10 years ago, the sociologist Randall Collins observed that teaching “non-intellectual” and even uninterested students is the “price we pay” for being on the research frontier. He observed further that there are/were two ways to pay that price, either shouldering the burden equally or tossing off the cost to a lower class of colleagues. And further that the choice is/was an ethical one. We chose the latter path, at the same time as we promoted our disciplines as committed to social justice, etc. And this puts us as a profession in an ethically compromised position. If Collins (and I) are right, the ways to right our ship are to restrict access or research. Access, I submit, is not going to restricted in meaningful ways. Is it possible that the research done by most of us (myself included) isn’t worth the ethical cost of colleagues in penury? Is it possible that what society is willing to pay for the teaching of undergraduates at 95% of four-year institutions is something closer to the pay for Instructors than of tenure-track Assistant Professors? Thank you all. And good luck to us all. We need it.


    • Thank you for this. It’s a tangent to the adjunct-hiring point, but I think that American universities need to have a stern internal conversation about the value of research vs. the value of teaching. The pressure to publish (or the disciplinary equivalent) forces professors to spend less time teaching and opens the door for adjunct labor. Is research worth it? Is the cosmos better served by another tweedy monograph? Perhaps. But it’s become an unquestioned “Yes” and it shouldn’t be.


      • At my university, in my college, salary of new asst prof (PhD minimum) is $44K, 3-3 load, benefits but no research-travel funding to speak of. Conferences cost $1K each, books cost money (library has not acquired significantly since 20th century), dues to professional associations eat away at things, and when we take job candidates out to eat we pay our part, etc. — that is, you are expected to act as though you had a good salary, otherwise you are not collegial. And yes you do need a book for tenure, etc.

        New instructor (MA minimum requirement) $38K, 5-5 load, no research responsibilities and thus no out of pocket cost for this, possibility of teaching night class for another $5K per year, and summer classes for another $5K, again this can be done due to no research requirement. Benefits, merit raises, yes; not as rigorous reviews as asst prof, getting hired on as an instructor is de facto sort of like getting hired on with tenure; service requirements also less.

        Adjunct (MA minimum requirement) at full load (same as instructor), $35K but no benefits, no merit raises.

        My department does not do the adjunct thing, does instructor instead. But can you not see that that asst prof, although they are teaching fewer courses, is not really the exploiter of those instructors? And note that, with us not having had any raises at all since 2008, that asst prof is soon to be a tenured assoc prof and will still not be very far ahead of that instructor financially.

        Why is it that they, not coaches and administrators, have to be the ones considered the oppressor or privileged class, whose existence is ruining that of the adjuncts?


  27. Sorry to join the party so late, but I’m a bit disappointed by the “blame the adjunct” mentality in many of the comments. When I was in grad school, the support staff went on strike. None of the TT folks said, “If you don’t like your job, get a different one.” Instead, they rearranged their schedules and moved their classes off campus to avoid crossing the picket line. I wonder how many of them would show the same solidarity if it had been adjuncts instead of administrative assistants on that line.

    Finally, it’s not as though the alt-ac career switch is a simple one either, especially considering the economy. If the U.S. wasn’t mired in a recession and saddled with a government that seems to have no interest in helping ordinary people improve their lives, financially speaking, I could understand where telling adjuncts to stop taking classes *might* be appropriate. As it is, I don’t see people in my geographic area, at least, clamoring to hire all of these adjuncts outside of academia.


  28. Do not believe theses excuses. Think of the savvy it takes to get a job. Now use that same savvy to get the dean/president to hire only full-time instructors. I had a chair who was awesome at “creative accounting” when it came to dealing with deans all too willing to turn a retiring professor’s job into a string of adjunct positions. Somehow he made it seem way more expensive. Some colleges have rules in the faculty handbook that an adjunct can only teach one course so that teaching two courses makes them “officially” part-time and four courses full-time workers. HR offices at colleges are shaking in their boots that Obamacare will force them to offer adjuncts healthcare. Here’s my take if your department relies on more adjuncts than full-time faculty, then the school is not a real college and it’s time to SHUT IT DOWN. There are plenty of seats available at the nearby colleges to absorb your students. It’s the students we care about, right? If a dean came by and said we are reducing faculty courseload to 3-2 courses a year if faculty restructure major requirements, you’d see how fast profs would abandon courses they claim are crucial to the major.


  29. You keep hitting on the basic problem that many of these thoughtful comments keep skipping over: your principles should extend to being willing to get fired over them. Absent that assumption, yeah, you’re an idiot. With that assumption . . . you win.


    • You mean obligated to refuse, right? (I note that one of the reasons it is possible for us to not have adjuncts is that we would not be able to get them if we tried. We have to offer at least instructor to get anyone, and even then it is hard. The argument I am currently using to get asst prof is that that way we would at least be able to hire, and this would have improvement of program quality as a side effect.)


  30. Something else departments can do.

    In the Chicana/o studies department where I teach (Loyola Marymount University), the department made a commitment to have all of their introductory classes taught by tenure line faculty. They do use adjuncts (I’m one of them) but only to teach upper division courses on the adjunct’s speciality. As a small department, they do this so the majors get a variety of new research perspectives. The department chair mentors us in planning course topics and creating syllabi.

    From my point of view, as someone looking to move into a tenure track job, it means I’ve gotten invaluable experience planning and teaching upper division courses in my field. Maybe if more departments committed to having adjuncts teach upper division courses, the treatment of adjuncts would improve.


  31. Rebecca,
    I am late to this party, too, and will go back and read the entire thread but before people abandon this post altogether as exhausted, I want to risk saying something *before* having read the entire thread: THANK YOU, Rebecca. This is exactly what we all must do. We must wo/man up and say that we won’t be complicit with a system so exploitative. I did catch a few comments up top in which TTF said, “Oh goodness, if only, but *we* aren’t in control of this. Administrators are.” Bullshit. Administrators can’t find the people and they don’t write the contracts. Chairs do. A group of us tried to do exactly this — stop exploiting — at PSU and it worked. We got TT jobs from the Dean when it became clear we wouldn’t hire for less. But we became so reviled within our own dept. — What, you are mad b/c I won’t hire an adjunct so you can have a course release? What, you are mad because I won’t hire your girlfriend to teach an adjunct course? — that we ended up giving up from the grief. Kind of wish we hadn’t. The full-time, tenure-track jobs we got were worth all the grief we got. But, really, the grief was something fierce. I know that my grief doesn’t compare to being on the freeway but we also were reaching the end of what we could do, given how much animosity our strategy had stirred up. It was hard to believe that everybody didn’t understand what was at stake — a lot more than a TTF’s course release.


  32. Me again, still possibly not having read enough of the thread to do so confidently but gotta say something to this up top: “Chairs generally can’t do much either. They are given so many full time lines, so many sections to cover, and they either cover the rest of their sections with adjuncts, or refuse to do so and get fired and replaced by someone else who will do so.” Also saw something about how chairs don’t set budgets or determine faculty lines and would get fired if they didn’t do what the admin tell them to do and replaced. Also saw something about how all places are run differently and we need to be aware of that.

    That last is certainly true and yet also not persuasive. There’s a reason why a provost with a PhD in engineering has to defer to peer reviews in tenure cases of Renaissance scholars: he’s not competent himself in the field to judge. If we have any understanding of what academic freedom means and what it’s for, we don’t let people outside our own departments do our hiring. A Dean could never have told me that I *had* to hire anyone on any particular contract. It was my signature before his on the paper. If the Dean “fired” me as chair over policy differences, so what? I’d still have a job teaching & researching & servicing, since I have tenure, and I’d still have my self-respect. I maintain that tenured faculty should hold firm to our professional standards. We know that our jobs have to come with a living wage, the recognition that comes from the sheer process alone of being hired competitively and then reviewed by peers, access to academic freedom, involvement in governance, etc. We know we’re giving our students, our colleagues, and our disciplines something much less when we don’t insist on this.

    I maintain that the people who are responsible for this are not the adjuncts for signing their own contracts — that’s crazy — but those TTF who won’t take this on because it’s more convenient for all kinds of reasons to have a supply of cheap adjuncts and those full-time, non-tenure-track faculty who also fight taking this on because any change is threatening even if it might make things better for more people in the long run.

    Rebecca, what you say is not provocative and preposterous but simply common sense. Here’s something I wrote about our experiences doing precisely what you recommended above —


    We all need to fight to create more tenure-line jobs through fair, meritorious, open searches (not spousal hires or hiring friends and neighbors) by, first, stopping the practice of accumulating student credit hours for the university cheaply by hiring people into substandard jobs. If administrators won’t give $$ for real lines, then the university will get less SCH (student credit hours).


    • I’d like to loudly echo JC’s comments here and throughout. As a tenure-stream History professor at an elite institution, and former Burker King employee, let me draw an analogy. Almost thirty years ago I “adjuncted” at BK to the tune of 10 hours/week at $3.35/hour. I wanted more hours, many more hours. I *needed* many more hours. I was also holding down two other minimum wage jobs at a pizza place and a car wash. Bicycling and taking the bus all over my big-ass, sprawling Western city to get to work sucked.

      There were about 30 other people in my position at that Burger King. There were, maybe, 10 total “full time” workers, who’d been at that BK for a few years. They earned much more per hour (~$6), clocked in 35-40 hours/week, got benefits, more free meals, and got first dibs on the schedule. I resented them (foolishly), but I was wrong to do so. The main person responsible for my “adjunct” position was the general manager, who was making, at the time, around $40K/year. He seemed like a rich man to me (and in comparison to most of us he was). There were also a couple of assistant managers making around $30K each. Then of course there was the franchise owner. Never met him.

      It wouldn’t have mattered a whit if all of the full-time employees had pressured the managers to convert four or five of us part-timers to full-timers. That wasn’t going to happen. We were cheaper in terms of hourly wage, much cheaper in terms of not having benefits eligibility, and were easily dispensable. I learned this the hard way when I was fired on the spot for spilling fryer grease one time. It was an accident, and annoying, but shouldn’t have meant me losing my job. But firing me was less about me and more about teaching everybody else in the place to toe the line. Precarity is nothing new to me, and nothing new to most Americans in this day and age.

      It was, and is, in the interests of the managers and franchise owner (Provost and President and Trustees) to keep the work-force as “flexible” as possible, as cheap as possible, subject to petty disciplinary procedures, and thoroughly fearful. At Burger King, having a small core of full-time, benefits eligible employees, who could be counted on to cover shifts, paint the holiday signs, smile broadly, and perform any number of non-compensated pieces of labor (=service!) was crucial. But the trick was, and is, to have as few of them as possible.

      Now, following JCs example, I am going to shout. Excuse me ahead of time for doing so.


      The converse holds true: It is entirely in the interests of management (Deans and Provosts and Presidents and Trustees) that there be AS MANY ADJUNCTS AS POSSIBLE!! So long as their presence doesn’t hurt the USNW ranking, there is no downside from a management standpoint.

      Who decides how many adjuncts there are in any given institution? The full-time workers? The tenure-stream faculty? No! The management does. It may be shocking to some that I analogize Burger King to Ohio State University, or McDonalds to the University of Pennsylvania, but I think doing so is important. We faculty, all of us, are merely employees. The hiring of adjuncts is hollowing out the professoriat. Nobody has a greater stake in halting this than full-time, and aspiring full-time, professors. Nobody. So blaming us for this trend is worse than insulting, it’s just downright dumb.

      Now, I do agree that we need to change our model of what it means to be a full-time tenure-stream or tenured faculty member. I think it means giving up cushy 2/2 loads, lots of “research” support, and the ability to offer whatever narrowly-focused, poorly-enrolled class we choose. The 19th c. German/Johns Hopkins model of a research university is not sustainable in this new era. But that is OK. I have a 2/2 load, and access to lots of travel and computing funds. While my institution doesn’t employ many adjuncts, we do have a growing number of full-time “Lecturers” and “Instructors.” I see these positions as the first steps towards the dismantling of tenure here, and to adjunctification. In order to stop this process I would happily teach a 3/3 or 4/4 and limit my research funding. Happily. But only if this resulted in a policy of hiring only full-time, tenure-stream faculty dedicated to paying more attention to what our students need. I’d rather sacrifice individual benefits and be a part of a stronger faculty overall than know that I am the last of the Mohicans.

      Is that a trade-off most other faculty would be willing to make? I don’t know. But if we don’t make it then we are going to lose the war. Because as we retire, or are denied tenure, management is going to replace us with part-timers, or, in the case of wealthier institutions, is going to replace humanities faculty with science and popular pseudo-science (I’m looking at you, Economists) faculty who pretend to offer “practical” and “job-ready” majors and courses.

      So, my fellow tenure-stream faculty, let’s give up some of our costly benefits now in order to negotiate a new order of things with management, or wait and lose it all. We in higher education are on the road to Burger King, but too few tenured or tenure-stream faculty have the experience I have had in order to recognize it for what it is.


    • Z’s observation above, showing how in some places the non-tenure-stream position is a much better one than the tenure-stream position, is a crucial one. Ask somebody who knows how hard (and maddeningly arbitrary!) it is to publish a book and articles for tenure whether they’d take (A) the higher teaching load with no research expectations or (B) the lower teaching load with considerable research expectations. 8 times out of 10 they’d choose B, and wisely so. As research expectations skyrocket, and tenure denials lead to the loss of FTEs, it is understandable that more and more people would opt for the teaching-focused, full-time and benefits eligible lecturer position. If people don’t understand that these positions pose dire threats to tenure then they are fools.


  33. Johannes,

    Thanks for taking the time. I know you had to repeat stuff you said earlier. Let me just reinforce my message here that the strategy of not hiring adjuncts did work and it was not the administrators or the board or the legislature that got in our way, it was our own colleagues. You acknowledge that this is a good strategy where enough faculty still have some protection with tenure. Where that’s the case, people should do it. I agree and I also think that even where the TTF are in the minority, they should do this.

    What makes it extraordinarily hard is not fear for our own jobs (yes, I know about cases of fired tenured faculty but nonetheless, what’s our academic freedom for if we don’t test it when our principles — and graduate students who can’t get jobs and colleagues paid peanuts– are on the line?) but the fact that real people are involved and friendships/relationships. People don’t want to try this because it puts our adjunct colleagues at risk.

    What made it extremely painful in my case is that a few tenured faculty had a particularly strong investment — in the form of relationships — in continuing longstanding practices of hiring spouses/lovers in contingent positions. In other situations, faculty knew of excellent people who would adjunct for us and it just seemed churlish of us, from their viewpoint, not to hire them and give our students access to them. In other cases, people sincerely wanted to hire their best graduate students in order to give them some experience to help them on the job market in the future. When I’m frustrated that people didn’t see the bigger, structural picture — fewer adjunct positions, more tenure-line positions — and undermined us because they thought it was personal (you just won’t hire *my* friend or *my* student or give *me* a release), I resort to being angry at TTF but, really, there were often good, specific, individual reason for their desires, but if we’d granted each exception, we were back to where we started — accommodating the administration by hiring people cheaply off the tenure line. So that was the rub.

    We’re way at the bottom of the comments on Rebecca’s post so feel free to email me — ruthj@pdx.edu — if you want to discuss this further. Thanks and, again, many thanks to Rebecca. Please keep saying what you are saying, Rebecca.



  34. Hi Johannes, Eisbar,

    I’ve read more of the comments now and have a better sense of where you are coming from. First, thanks to Johannes for tirelessly advocating at his institution and thanks to Eisbar for being willing to reimagine his job along considerably less cushy lines in order to stanch the bleeding.

    Ultimately, though, if you are at an institution that awards tenure — I am at a tier three state school — then I agree with Rebecca and DM and dad anarchist.

    Johannes, you are awfully defeatist about academic freedom (which I not only believes exist but believe that I myself enjoy it on a daily basis). Dewey et. al. didn’t build an illusion. They built something that doesn’t exist at Burger King. They built a system that — for all its many flaws and shortcomings and its current attenuated state — does provide some degree of protection for some faculty at some institutions. Enough faculty at enough institutions that could make a difference, too.

    I don’t mean to imply that this is simple. Our taking this position entailed a lot of different things. For one, it meant establishing a presence across the institution — at Faculty Senate, on the Education Policy Committee, on the union — and leveraging all our influence. Once you’ve done that, it’s much harder for a Chair to just be removed. The Dean doesn’t want to be hated. And the President doesn’t want a no-confidence vote. They will go to great lengths to avoid things getting to that state and rightly so.

    I don’t mean to “blame” TTF but, again, our experience was real and revealing: had certain influential TTF and full-time NTTF in our own department stood with us, as many people across the university were doing, we could have kept doing what we were doing and probably continued to win good positions. We definitely had to sacrifice — our classes were actually filling up since we weren’t proliferating sections (so we had more papers to grade), course releases were only given for service not research, we couldn’t hire great people who were willing to teach cheaply, etc. — but it was working.

    Rebecca et. al. is not being naive, as some here assert. She’s right. And unless more people at institutions that still award tenure do this, we’re sunk.



  35. There is so much variation between institutions that we run the danger of talking at cross-purposes. Let’s keep that in mind.
    Tenure-stream faculty, wherever they are, ought to share a long-term interest in limiting the numbers of contingent faculty. Failure to do so may partly be due to administrative interests, but also partly due to an indefensible, near-sighted unwillingness by faculty to make individual sacrifices in the service of their departments, institutions, and fields.
    Those clamoring for the blood of tenure-stream faculty while seeming to ignore those holding the real power in almost all institutions – Deans/Provosts – are like parents who blame unionized teachers for the struggles of schools that have been bled dry by local and state governments. Please, please, direct your ire at the correct targets,


      • Anarchvist —

        On my end, I agree that some institutions do have faculty who can make these decisions, and everything that Rebecca S and others have been saying certainly apply to them.

        In my opinion, they are in the minority nationally.

        No one in these threads, to my knowledge, believes that adjuncts don’t deserve to be hired to FT positions. Speaking only for myself, though, I think if anyone is qualified to teach at the college or university level, they deserve to be hired into one of those positions, and if we were to follow ethical hiring practices, many of those adjuncting now would be recruited into new FT positions, preferably tenure track.

        So there is no question in my mind that university administrators are exploiting qualified people.


  36. Who is clamoring for the blood of tenure-stream faculty? I don’t hear that. I hear people asking tenured faculty to take responsibility and to use the security they enjoy to do more than they are doing. That is very fair. And, as for Deans/Provosts having the real power, I don’t buy it. Some of us may not believe that shared governance is real (we may think we’re managed employees of boss-Deans & boss-Provosts) but it’s still a real concept in academia and I’ve found that if you insist on taking it seriously, others can be cajoled to take it seriously, also. The Deans/Provost at my school didn’t like that we were making it harder to accrue SCH cheaply but they worked with us — which is more than we could say for a few of our tenured colleagues who couldn’t see the forest for their own tree.

    Some ire at tenured faculty is completely appropriate, esp. if it shames us into becoming more active citizens in our own departments. Talk to your tenured colleagues, find out how many adjuncts your dept. uses if you don’t know, find out what you pay them, find out how the budget works at the department and college level, talk to your chair and see what she or he is doing about the problem. Johannes, this is not directed at you, as you clearly have fought a hard and bitter battle at the kind of institution that operates completely as a business without even paying lip service to academic ideals.


    • Probably the tenured faculty most guilty of protecting their own interests at the expense of others are not the ones reading this blog or these comments! But it’s good for us all to have these exchanges. Though faculty at my institution have been stonewalled & overruled repeatedly by our admin (“shared governance” is a total joke–we’ve been overruled on hires, curriculum, you name it), this blog and the comments certainly help inspire me to work harder on this problem–which I will have to do if I become chair next year. The problems are systemic, so the solutions won’t be individual, but I will turn here for reminders about why it is important to speak up.


      • Good luck as chair Media Prof! FWIW, your deans/provost might truly be awful but I entered into chairdom assuming that mine were (we have a *very* anti-admin culture at my institution that I had completely subscribed to). I was pretty belligerent at first because of this but then I was surprised to find that they weren’t as bad as everyone said. Made me realize how easy it is to demonize administration for the adjunctification of the professoriate and how hard it is to fight for every line — it takes minutes to hire someone from a c.v. for pennies; it takes an eternity of hours to get the budget for a tenure line approved, decide on the area of hire as a department, put together a committee, have them vet hundreds of app.s, bring the candidates, have the debates, and bring someone on board as tenure-track.


    • Jennifer,
      When you write this: “And, as for Deans/Provosts having the real power, I don’t buy it,” I have to wonder if you really processed what I just wrote: “There is so much variation between institutions that we run the danger of talking at cross-purposes. Let’s keep that in mind.”

      You don’t have to buy it, I’ll give it to you for free! (-;

      We are most certainly on the same team. I’m lucky as my department does not hire adjuncts, and I really will take a bullet to prevent us ever going down that road. Even now I am fighting the best I can to prevent the growth of more NTT full-time faculty to the exclusion of TT lines. But when we, a tiny department btw, are told that we either get a NTT line or nothing, and we have all been teaching overloads for years, what do we do? The larger departments, like English, get larger. The smaller departments, like German, get smaller. Then, they die. Faculty in disciplines like English, Political Science, Biology, etc. don’t seem to get that small disciplines like German, Russian, Classics, etc. face *existential* threats. And when a department is closed tenure means nothing.

      So, please remember, institutions are different! Departments are different! What may be doable for as associate professor of English at Portland State is simply not possible for professors of X and Y at colleges A, B, and C.


      • Thanks Eisbar. I appreciate the warmth and humor and I really appreciate that you’ll take a bullet before allowing your own dept. to go down the adjunct road. We are on the same team.

        I get that institutions are different and I esp. get that departments/programs are different and unevenly vulnerable. One of the most painful relationships I had was with the head of a program that relied entirely on adjuncts at the time (our publishing program). He was furious with me, understandably, for trying to minimize our reliance on adjuncts. His program simply wouldn’t exist if he didn’t hire adjuncts. And I get that it’s easier to do the kind of work we did in English *in English* than in much smaller departments that can be downsized into nothing if its faculty “take a stand.” Still, given that we had been telling ourselves over and over that there was nothing we could do about the situation, and given that this turned out not to be true, I do feel an obligation to make my experience known. I don’t assume that my experience is, or could be, universal, but I do think it might be tried more often, yes?


    • I take it, Rebecca, that this is not because the UMSL department has decided that it won’t contribute to the erosion of its own professional standards by hiring people at substandard wages with substandard working conditions. I take it that you, as an individual, are being asked to not come back. I’m very sorry. If your outspokenness has anything to do with their decision, I hope you don’t regret your outspokenness for a second.

      Above, in the thread, someone said something about how tenured faculty “heroically falling on their sword” is not the best approach. The funny thing about that is that when we fall on our swords, we don’t actually die, so why aren’t we doing it more? We’re not committing professional suicide when we fight this as non-tenured faculty sometimes are when they do (which is why it’s unrealistic and unfair to demand that change come from the contingent ranks). When administrators have been annoyed with me for being outspoken, a few of them called me names like “strident” but I still had a job. It’s true that our experience with some of our own tenured colleagues — some of whom claimed to support us “in principle” — was searingly horrible but, again, we’ve lived to tell the tale. We’re still employed and can still be voices in our immediate, professional communities. (Johannes, yes, I know, I teach in some anomalous wonderland [a cash-strapped, third-tier state school with among the lowest funding in the country] which is why I’ve not been fired. I don’t think so. I think I’ve not been fired because it would be a major hassle to fire me — thank you, John Dewey and AAUP — whereas adjuncts can be hired or not hired with little consideration.)


  37. No, no, don’t worry, I understand now, Johannes. I just read a reply of yours to somebody else up top and now I’m no longer delusional.

    You explained:




    Get it through your head, just once.


    Got it! Thanks!


  38. Two thoughts: the comments section makes it clear that while in many cases the angry commenters may be correct (the department and the faculty within don’t have any decision-making authority), at many institutions there clearly ARE points of contact where faculty did/do have some say and influence on hiring practices and who teaches what. If your situation really is that the faculty have zero power or influence, that’s one thing. But there are still places and situations where some faculty do have some influence. It shouldn’t be asking too much to encourage them to see a bigger picture.

    Secondly: there’s clearly an idea that adjuncts aren’t getting hired to real positions because they don’t deserve to be. This collapses when faced with the fact that so many courses are taught by adjuncts. Either university administrations are exploiting qualified people, or they purposely hire unqualified people to teach their students. Which is it?


      • If you can’t refrain from calling me names on my own blog, I’ll have to moderate your comments out. My blog is a safe space for me in an internet full of hostility where people seem to think that just because I have opinions and am not afraid to state them, that I can thus withstand–and indeed should withstand–an infinite amount of abuse. In fact, many see it as their life’s work to pick on me, even though I have done nothing to them personally.

        My adjuncts suggestion was intentionally provocative, but what it aimed to provoke was ideas, not attacks. If you want to attack me and call me stupid, there is a huge group caring nurturers at the CHE website who would welcome another. You are welcome to your opinions about me, but if those opinions are too personally hurtful, you are not welcome to express them here. This is my world. I let you play in it. If you can’t play nice, I’ll have to ask you to leave.

        That goes for everyone on this thread. If you want to attack me, do it somewhere else. This is literally the only spot on the Internet where I have any control whatsoever, and I have every right I exercise it when I feel hurt. You do not come and hurt me on my own blog. You do not. Again, that goes for everyone.


      • More than reasonable, Rebecca. Thank you for sticking up for yourself. This issue is so volatile and you haven’t just been “provocative” in this post — you’ve hit the nail on the head. So no surprise it ignited a fire. There are a thousand individual “accommodations” (to student demand, to personal desires, to administrators’ “demands”) that make sense in the short term but that add up to the long term erosion of tenure lines. The use of adjunct sections is at the heart of this.

        Hang in there and, if you can stomach it, keep it up!


      • I recognize that this is starting (!) to get ugly and obsessive and I don’t want to get pulled into this loop. At the same time, I really feel for Rebecca here and don’t feel right walking away from this. Think about it: she just told people to stop hiring adjuncts. Who would this possibly endear her to? Who would say, “Great idea Rebecca! Thanks!” Absolutely nobody. We have a ton invested in resisting the startling common sense of this. We may be an adjunct who does not want his/her dept.(s) to stop hiring adjuncts, even if we see the long-term point. We may be a faculty member who just got what felt like a hard-earned course release in order to do some much-looked-forward-to-and-important research and our absence is being filled by an adjunct. We might be part of an academic couple, one of whom adjuncts where the other has a tenure-track job, and this arrangement — while not ideal — allows life to continue without total sacrifice on one or the other’s part. We might be an administrator who is trying to balance a budget with shrinking reserves and less-and-less subsidizing from the state and federal government. We might have just raised tuition in order to balance the budget and, very aware of the student debt problem, we see that if we were to stop relying on cheap adjunct labor, we’d have to raise tuition even more. We might be a chair battling our ass off to hold onto lines and the idea of beginning to actively work against the trend rather than just tread water is overwhelming. We may be someone who is firmly convinced that the problem is so infinitely big that addressing it at the level of local hiring seems obtuse.

        I will say it again — though I’ll probably get an all-caps shout in my face for doing so — Rebecca said something important and courageous here. And I’m not surprised that the reaction has been so negative. My friends and I had our own common-sense revelation and, naively, took this on. We have some consolation in the fact that, at least for a spell, it seemed to work, and we got some tenure lines that hadn’t existed before. But we lost friends in ways that shocked and hurt us deeply. What was not personal but structural to us was deeply personal to many people.


      • I know it is in tenured and tenure-track faculty’s interest to have tenure-track colleagues. And I know you and Eisbar know this. This is where we differ: I think that Rebecca’s calling TTF to task for this is highly appropriate because, in my experience which I’m not claiming is universal, TTF had a very hard time remembering this basic truth when their circumstances – or their students’ (how can we not give our students this particularly excellent instructor?) made creating an adjunct section desirable.

        The battle did not play out at the level of the president and board but at the level of the dept. and then between me and the Dean.


      • As I said I would, I moderated Johannes’s comment out. I will now moderate them all out. Like I said. This blog is my single corner of the Internet where I do not have to tolerate anything I do not feel like.


      • Totally understandable! People seem to forget there is another human being reading through and sorting out these things. I happen to agree with many of the points that JC tried to make, but his frustrations plainly got the better of him. You run this tavern as you see fit, Rebecca, and no apologies necessary!!

        We (meaning Z, J, R, and I) all most certainly are on the same team, and my attempts to direct the slings at administrators should not be taken to exculpate TT faculty entirely. Insofar as they are allowed time and energy to pursue research and lower teaching loads thanks to the exploitation of other teachers they should be called out vociferously. Sadly, many of them served as adjuncts, and yet they seem to forget that prior status and those past travails as soon as they win the lottery and land a TT position. “There but for the grace of the bouncing ball of randomness go I,” we TT should all chant. And in doing so perhaps we would work harder at not letting our current, fortunate selves exploit our past, unfortunate selves.

        One can easily imagine a world where the cards simply fell differently. In such a world Assistant Professor Schuman would have to remind herself that applying for that course-release in order to complete the book ms. that she desperately needs by her third-year review means that her department will be hiring as her proxy an adjunct, who herself will be paid peanuts, even as she is desperately trying to publish enough to get MLA interviews…

        Here is one place where our collisions are leveraged against us: research. Whether it be the “esteem economy,” or the brutal fact that without ludicrously high levels of research (much higher than our senior colleagues were asked to perform) junior faculty will fail and will fall. Ehrenreich sketched out the psychological toll this existence has in general, and I think academics are caught in a system in which this fear of falling hits very hard and very fast. Having had the fortune to be lifted out of the fire and into the frying pan, tenure track faculty have every short-term incentive to let the laboring lives of other academics burn to cinders in order to avoid falling back into that state. It is unhealthy in every respect, leads to unethical behavior, and is profoundly against our own interests in the long-term, but it seems many of us junior faculty subscribe to the George W. Bush mantra of the long-term: a place where we are all dead!


    • Admins are exploiting qualified people. And TT faculty often allow this to happen because they are foolish, selfish, or too weak-willed to do anything about it. The long-term interests of all faculty and aspiring faculty align, but short-term interests often collide, and Admins leverage those collisions for their own benefit. This is a labor-history as old as the hills, or at least as old as the rise of the management class in the 19th century.


  39. I’m coming to this conversation months late, but i feel impelled to join anyway. I’ve often felt that my university exploits instructors, though not as badly as many others—the instructors are unionized and do have some security (after a while).

    Our department hires one full-time instructor who teaches 6 courses a year (actually 3 copies of 2 different courses). I believe she has been around long enough that she gets 3-year contracts now, so I don’t think that her situation is what Rebecca would object to.

    Our department also hires some instructors for one or two classes a year—not enough to fund another full-time position though. For the most part, these are people who are otherwise hired as postdocs or research specialists, and for whom the instructor positions were a pay cut. Our department did just recently vote to establish a better pay scale for these instructors—an action that was initiated by a staff person who pointed out that we could do so (none of the faculty, not even the chair, knew that instructor salaries were settable by the department).

    We are trying very hard to hire more faculty—we’re about half the number of tenure-track faculty that the long-range plan called for at this time, but getting tenure track lines at a putatitvely state-funded R1 institution is tough.

    We could not get department consensus on hiring no part-time instructors—if anything, the majority of the department would like to be able to “buy out” of more courses and devote more time to research. They do see the need to pay at least marginally realistic amounts though.


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