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crossposted from unbossed

It is not news that higher education is increasingly delivered by freeway flyers a/k/a roads scholars a/k/a contingent academics. A new report by the American Association of University Professors is just out with updates on the the increasing insecurity of the teachers at our country's colleges and universities. One thing I noticed is that if you attend a for-profit or private instution, you are more likely to be taught by a non-tenure track teacher.

If you are studying at a community college, from 80-100% of your teachers will be non-tenure track. That percentage decreases overall, except at for-profit colleges, as you move to four-year colleges and on to doctorate-granting universities. You can find a table with details at this link on p.17-18.

Why does this matter?

First, you have to view this situation within a context in which college and universities are rapidly moving to a business model of operation. What this means for students is that the quality of their education becomes subordinated to the bottom line. The one group that collectively cares passionately about the quality of education is faculty. When they are insecure in their jobs, because they are at-will employees, they will be less willing to speak out for good education.

Second, recall that tenure does not mean lifetime job security. All it means is that an institution must have just cause to fire the worker. But that protection is critically important in protecting the willingness of faculty members to take unpopular positions and buck the demands corporatized educational institutions.

As the AAUP reports puts it:

lack of academic freedom for contingent faculty and the justifiable fear many of these faculty members have about challenging the status quo and losing their already tenuous positions.

The second reason is that contingent faculty tend to be grossly overworked because they are grossly underpaid.

However, the nature of contingent faculty work itself is also to blame. Contingent faculty members are either short-term employees tasked with heavy course loads at one or more institutions, or longer term employees who are allowed only limited participation in the academic community around them.

The third reason is that contingent faculty lack buy-in to their institutions. They are forced to have an attachment that is equivalent to that of a fast-food worker.

Faculty voice and power in higher education are being diminished by contingency and may be stifled entirely if these trends continue unabated.

The report concludes:

The informed teacher-scholar is central to the values of American higher education. Maintaining an academic workforce where faculty are valued for their contributions in and out of the classroom, and then rewarded for those contributions with the security and freedom of tenure, is fundamental to the system itself. In the end, those who benefit are not teachers and researchers ensconced in ivory towers. The beneficiaries are the students who learn from faculty who are provided with the tools to guide, challenge, and support them through their education. Without such faculty, higher education cannot remain the vital institution it has become in American society.

This is an issue I have discussed before, so for more reports and background check out

More on the Protean University - The Contingent Workforce

And in more education news here is a new report on outsourcing IT. Another source for concern as we businesstize higher ed. See here for reasons why I say so.

Originally posted to shirah on Fri Dec 15, 2006 at 08:44 AM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  This is also a class issue. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    annetteboardman, ybruti

    The students at community colleges are most likely to be working class and are the ones being taught by overworked, underprotected faculty. Students at elite institutions are in a completely different world.

    Another example of those that have get. Not exactly a model for a democracy that needs a well-educated citizenry.

  •  Not sure how we can undo this trend (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Colleges compete with each other for students and so "costs" are an issue on both ends.  Students want to save money on tuition and institutions want to save money on salaries.

    The knowledge economy is demanding higher and higher levels of education and as it does so, the market is finding ways to provide that for less and less money.

    Not saying that is a good thing, just that, as a part-time adjunct faculty myself, not sure what anyone can do to change it.  If I quit my job, someone else would be quite happy to take it; in my case, I am well-compensated, though completely at the whim of my superiors.

    Education? Teaching? NCLB? Read my book _Becoming Mr. Henry_

    by Mi Corazon on Fri Dec 15, 2006 at 08:57:14 AM PST

  •  The quality gap may be narrowing (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    The quality gap between community colleges and big second-tier public universities may be narrowing a bit. Classes in community colleges tend to be much smaller, and faculty at 4-year institutions are under increasing pressure of "market forces" to gut curriculum and lower standards.

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