Higher education threatened by adjunct crisis


The Appalachian Online

Kevin Griffin

The April 15 living wage protests brought forth the usual suspects: fast food workers, retail employees and… college professors?

Professors, specifically adjunct professors, were among other workers protesting for higher wages, according to Inside Higher Ed.

While the idea of placing fast-food workers and professors into the same category seems strange, the realities that many adjuncts face make the comparison an unfortunately apt one.

Twenty-five percent of part-time college faculty rely on public assistance. Meanwhile, fast-food employees are at 52 percent, according to the Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education.

Adjuncts are professors hired by the university to work on a part-time basis without tenure.

Adjuncts often deal with low pay, employment insecurity, and erratic working conditions, according to a Jan. 2014 report by the U.S. House of Representatives Education and Workforce Committee.

It should be noted that the struggles adjuncts face are not a reflection of their skill. The previously stated report found that a majority of adjuncts surveyed were indeed experienced and 55 percent even held doctoral degrees.

This situation is not only a problem for adjuncts, but to all who have an investment in higher education.

Adjuncts are making up an increasingly large segment of the academic community. An American Association of University Professors fact sheet states that more than half of faculty in the nation work part time.

Placing such a large percentage of the academic community in such a vulnerable position erodes the ability of faculty members to engage in the traditional professional functions that define higher education as a forum for open discussion and thought.

The role of academic faculty is defined by the integration of teaching, research and participation in faculty governance. All of these components are to increase and develop our collective knowledge, according to the AAUP report.

The situation with adjuncts is perfectly emblematic with the other changes recently made in higher education, particularly the new “starve-the-beast” model that seems to drive policy. Foundational elements of universities, like faculty, are being pushed to a point of desperation.

This is a massive problem not only for faculty members and students, but, insofar as higher education delivers social benefits, all of society.

Griffin, a junior journalism major from Madison, is an opinion writer.

Column: Kevin Griffin, Opinion Writer