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In choosing the academic life, most teachers expect to be part of a community committed to freedom, fairness, and justice. It’s the rare academic who does not take pride in belonging to an honorable profession.

I was a young college president during the turmoil of the sixties and early seventies. Within a few years, students, faculty, and administrators at virtually all our institutions of higher learning were serving on committees charged with aligning institutional policy with emergent values of racial diversity and gender equality.

By century’s end, most colleges and universities had taken steps to disallow discrimination based on race, gender, age, disability, and sexual orientation.

Once again, we find ourselves in a moral predicament. In educational institutions of every kind, adjunct faculty are being subjected to de facto discrimination and exploitation. They know it, tenure-track faculty know it, administrators know it. The awful secret is out, and we can no longer avert our eyes. We’ll have to deal with this injustice as we did with those that came to a head in the sixties, because if we do not close the gap between our principles and our practice, the profession will forfeit its honor.

I need not belabor the immorality of paying adjuncts a fraction of what other faculty earn, and of denying them benefits, office space, parking rights, and a voice in departmental and institutional policy. These insults and humiliations are reminiscent of the degradation and injustice that roused academics to act against racial, gender, and other indignities.

Of course, there’s a reason that things are as they are. There is always a reason, one which seems cogent enough until suddenly it does not. What began as part-time teaching to meet a temporary need or plug a gap in the curriculum has evolved into systemic institutional injustice.

No one takes exception to cost-cutting, but forcing one group to subsidize another that’s doing comparable work, while maintaining working conditions that signal second-class status, is what the world now rejects as Apartheid.

That Academia has fallen into a practice that warrants the ignoble label “apartheid” is inconsistent with both academic and American values. By working for a pittance, adjunct faculty are serving as involuntary benefactors of other faculty, administrators, and students. That administrators and tenured faculty are themselves the beneficiaries of such victimization only strengthens the case for righting this wrong.

Honor requires that colleges and universities examine this practice and take steps to grant equal status and equitable compensation to those who, for whatever reason, are classified as adjunct faculty.

How might this be done? Coming up with a plan to end exploitation is never easy, and no doubt will require that we do what we did forty years ago: charge college and university committees—that include representatives of all stakeholders—with devising equitable solutions. Everything must be on the table, even the sensitive issue of tenure.

As anyone acquainted with adjunct professors knows, they are, on  average, as conscientious and committed, and as capable of carrying out research and of inspiring students, as the tenure-track faculty they subsidize.

Let me suggest a goal to guide the deliberations of what I hope we will soon see on every campus: a “Committee on the Status and Compensation of Adjunct Faculty.” That goal is: Part-Time, Full Status, Equal Dignity.

If colleges and universities tackle this threat with the same commitment and determination they brought to the issues of civil and women’s rights, they will find a way to end the exploitation of those now relegated to the back of the bus.

[Robert W. Fuller is a former president of Oberlin College, and the author of Belonging: A Memoir, and The Rowan Tree: A Novel, which explore the role of dignity in interpersonal and institutional relationships.]

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Comment Preferences

  •  Bravo. (9+ / 0-)

    I was an adjunct faculty member in the theatre department of a state university for nine years.  As a longtime working professional in my field, member of both performing unions, I taught for pennies along with a whole crew of other similarly-experienced adjuncts (we made up the entire acting and directing faculty).  The university decided to eliminate the 100-year-old department (along with five other departments--all in the humanities) and the 11 adjuncts in theatre were unceremoniously dumped.  Some had been on the faculty for a dozen years.

    The very day we packed up our offices and left without even a goodbye, the provost sent out a letter, crowing about the 78 full-time faculty that had just been hired.  I calculated that just two of those new faculty members' wages would have paid the salaries of all 11 of us.  

    "It ain't right, Atticus," said Jem. "No, son, it ain't right." --Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

    by SottoVoce on Fri Dec 06, 2013 at 02:04:24 PM PST

  •  Not sure if you want to be taken seriously (13+ / 0-)

    but if you do, you might want to drop the reference to apartheid.

    •  I agree - bad comparison (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Villanova Rhodes, nextstep, Sparhawk

      Quality, high profile colleges need to design programs where students can earn a BA/BS at half the cost of what it is today. To me that's the most pressing issue in higher education.

      "let's talk about that"

      by VClib on Fri Dec 06, 2013 at 02:26:03 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  What's a few more thousand in tuition, anyways... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        VClib

        The current estimated cost for a student entering Oberlin is about $68,000 a year. That is where Mr. Fuller was president. At some point this education bubble will burst. Colleges will simply price themselves out of the market at some point.

        I think paying adjuncts a higher wage might well be an admirable idea, but where will the money come from?

        •  OC - I think that's the key question (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          OrganicChemist

          Where does the money come from. I agree with you that many colleges are going to price themselves out of existence. I think that colleges need to think about what classes could be taught over the internet to registered students, for credit at a fraction of the tuition cost per unit. If students could live at home half time and take less expensive courses, colleges could focus on the labs and seminar classes that upper class, and graduate students take. For kids from wealthy families staying on campus full time for four years should be available, but what about some other options?

          "let's talk about that"

          by VClib on Sat Dec 07, 2013 at 01:23:50 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

    •  Yes, "apartheid" is inseparably linked (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Villanova Rhodes

      to racism in a way that makes comparisons such as this one clumsy at best.

      In any event, if this doesn't take place, cost cutting measures such as MOOCs seem inevitable.  Not good, just inevitable.

    •  Disagree - a more significant # are POC as well (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Robert Fuller

      as working poor and adjuncts are no different than the Group Areas Act of 1950 where governance is not shared.

      How might this be done? Coming up with a plan to end exploitation is never easy, and no doubt will require that we do what we did forty years ago: charge college and university committees—that include representatives of all stakeholders—with devising equitable solutions. Everything must be on the table, even the sensitive issue of tenure.
      OTOH, good luck with that. The only progress on that front has been done by faculty unions, more of which are run like the AMA's relationship to the EMT profession

      Warning - some snark may be above‽ (-9.50; -7.03)‽ eState4Column5©2013 "I’m not the strapping young Muslim socialist that I used to be" - Barack Obama 04/27/2013

      by annieli on Fri Dec 06, 2013 at 02:51:43 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  this is all pretty much like "American Taliban" so (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Robert Fuller

      picking at "apartheid" at the lexical level especially since it no longer exists (unlike our US 'baggers) is not unlike worrying about the shapes of noses in comics

      Warning - some snark may be above‽ (-9.50; -7.03)‽ eState4Column5©2013 "I’m not the strapping young Muslim socialist that I used to be" - Barack Obama 04/27/2013

      by annieli on Fri Dec 06, 2013 at 03:04:10 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Apartheid? Really? (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Justanothernyer, doc2, FG

    Why not swing for the fences and call it slavery?

    I consider myself an ally on your main point, but you might want to rethink the timing of this diary if you're committed to the hyperbolic label. (It's especially puzzling from someone who was already a campus president during the anti-apartheid divestment campaigns.) There are lots of second-class citizenship statuses that aren't the equivalent of South African apartheid. If nothing else, you're going to turn off potential supporters.

    •  wage slavery is ubiquitous like academic apartheid (0+ / 0-)

      Warning - some snark may be above‽ (-9.50; -7.03)‽ eState4Column5©2013 "I’m not the strapping young Muslim socialist that I used to be" - Barack Obama 04/27/2013

      by annieli on Fri Dec 06, 2013 at 02:55:15 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Why not just call it genocide if (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Roadbed Guy, Villanova Rhodes

        you are going to untether from reality? How about "academic euthanasia"?

      •  Slavery? (0+ / 0-)

        Last time I checked, no one is forced into any particular career path.

        And above minimum, no one is forced to pay any particular wage.

        (-5.50,-6.67): Left Libertarian
        Leadership doesn't mean taking a straw poll and then just throwing up your hands. -Jyrinx

        by Sparhawk on Fri Dec 06, 2013 at 03:05:49 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  LOL (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Robert Fuller, JerryNA
          Wage slavery refers to a situation perceived as quasi-voluntary slavery, where a person's livelihood depends on wages, especially when the dependence is total and immediate. It is a negatively connoted term used to draw an analogy between slavery and wage labor by focusing on similarities between owning and renting a person. The term wage slavery has been used to criticize economic exploitation and social stratification, with the former seen primarily as unequal bargaining power between labor and capital (particularly when workers are paid comparatively low wages, e.g. in sweatshops), and the latter as a lack of workers' self-management, fulfilling job choices and leisure in an economy. The criticism of social stratification covers a wider range of employment choices bound by the pressures of a hierarchical society to perform otherwise unfulfilling work that deprives humans of their "species character" not only under threat of starvation or poverty, but also of social stigma and status diminution.

          Warning - some snark may be above‽ (-9.50; -7.03)‽ eState4Column5©2013 "I’m not the strapping young Muslim socialist that I used to be" - Barack Obama 04/27/2013

          by annieli on Fri Dec 06, 2013 at 03:08:43 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

      •  It takes a certain unfamiliarity with this site (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Justanothernyer

        to believe that using either term is going to promote on-topic discussion or convince anyone new of the diarist's argument. However descriptively accurate you may believe them to be -- and I do appreciate the wayback trip to grad school that your earlier comment brought! -- in my view the terms have no communicative benefit here and now. I could be wrong. Ensuing discussion, or lack thereof, will tell.

      •  Someone should give you a Derby's Dose... (0+ / 0-)

        so you can learn what slavery was really like.

  •  no, it is apartheid - a dual system of development (3+ / 0-)

    with the entitled hegemons exploiting the majoritarian subaltern class who do the majority of teaching and in some cases are the Potemkin diversity evidence for reaccreditation

    Let me suggest a goal to guide the deliberations of what I hope we will soon see on every campus: a “Committee on the Status and Compensation of Adjunct Faculty.” That goal is: Part-Time, Full Status, Equal Dignity.

    Warning - some snark may be above‽ (-9.50; -7.03)‽ eState4Column5©2013 "I’m not the strapping young Muslim socialist that I used to be" - Barack Obama 04/27/2013

    by annieli on Fri Dec 06, 2013 at 02:43:51 PM PST

  •  Satire? Academia is inherently elitist..... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    annieli, Sparhawk

    Which if the status is based on achievement and comprehensive knowledge of a field of study is perfectly appropriate.

    Let's look at this diary as satire of the deepest level.  Perhaps what Dr. Fuller is trying to illustrate is the paradox between the liberal values of equality that is universally mandated and the reality of an elitism that allows ultimate security without evaluation of tenured clergy, while the vast amount of work is done by the lower castes of adjuncts.

    Actually, the old system is now becoming unstable, caused not by political activism but technology.  The brick mortar, lecture examination model is becoming pedagogically obsolete.  I can investigate any subject in depth starting with wikipedia and then searching the references listed below.  I'm doing it now with Periodontal disease, and it's damn complicated getting into areas fron professional prerogatives to cellular biology.

    There are no graduate courses that cover this, and I will have to do more work that is worth it for me, but the reality is that it's there, every research article on the subject along with the background science.  I'm not sure how this will evolve, but the traditional Ivy tower is pretty obsolete and it can be counter productive.  I don't think that equality between tenured and adjunct faculty would be a cure.

    Hey, this could be an occasion to quote my own academic article sort of on this subject in the on line journall Social Epistemology.  And I got paid even less for it than an adjunct professor!!

  •  This is a thoughtful diary (4+ / 0-)

    However, a lot of colleges are achieving "equality" by attrition.  Tenured people retire, adjuncts get hired.  

    Full-time, tenured lines are so scarce, an advertised position will generate more vitae  than HR and a committee can even screen.

  •  Adjuncts are less qualified as a group. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Vico

    That's why they don't have tenure-line positions.  It's as pointless to demand that they be compensated and treated as tenure-line faculty as it is to demand that minor-league athletes, who work just as hard as major-league athletes, be compensated the same.  Now, is it the case that any given adjunct might be a better teacher, and even a better research and would-be overall institutional citizen, than the median tenure-line professor?  Sure, just like there are people in the minor leagues, or out on the street, who would be better on a pro roster.  But there's no real-world basis for saying that people who've lost out in a competitive process (with pretty substantial institutional controls) should be granted what they didn't get in the regular way.  

    It's not the side effects of the cocaine/I'm thinking that it must be love

    by Rich in PA on Fri Dec 06, 2013 at 06:34:17 PM PST

    •  No, that is wrong. It does not even touch on nor (4+ / 0-)

      explain why so many adjuncts are re-hired for many years or even decades to teach the same classes at the same institutions.  If they were not as qualified, then the college easily could and should have hired a 'more qualified' person after one semester.  Your explanation is simply wrong.  It misses the real reason- money.  Just like corporations had gotten away with hiring full time long term "contractors" instead of full time salaried employees to avoid paying higher wages and any benefits, in some cases illegally per tax law, these colleges are doing the exact same thing.  Many adjunct faculty have been promised full time jobs, the same ones they were teaching, for years.  It is just cheaper to string them along, leaving much more money for stadiums, coach salaries, and college president perks (even in the case of state schools).

      •  They're qualified to teach that class. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Justanothernyer

        If they're qualified in the open market to be full time professors, why aren't they full time professors?  Look, there are two separate issues here and the diarist's maximalism prevents us from seeing that.  One issue is whether adjuncts should be paid more, and by and large they should be.  Likewise, for the sake of their students, adjuncts should have a work space that suits their necessary dealings with students.  But the idea that adjuncts should be raised to tenure-line status is ridiculous.  Leaving aside the fact that many or most of them don't have the terminal degree, most of those who do would flunk the research expectations and wouldn't last.  Not to mention that the institution wouldn't have the physical facilities to support all of those new tenure-line faculty in their full range of responsibilities.

        There will always be substantial casual labor in college teaching.  You can work incrementally to improve the situation of that casual labor, or you can live in a fantasy world where they all deserve to be tenure-line.  The first approach will lead somewhere but the second one won't.

        It's not the side effects of the cocaine/I'm thinking that it must be love

        by Rich in PA on Sat Dec 07, 2013 at 05:42:10 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  What experience or evidence do you have to say (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Robert Fuller

      this?
      The tenure-track lines have been rapidly disappearing in the past few decades. So more and more it's a matter of a star-status professoriate versus the plebeian contingent faculty. That does not mean that the adjuncts, as a group, are less qualified. For that matter, many of the newly-degreed are at least as capable, if not more than, many of the long-term tenured faculty. But there's simply no room being made for growth--even as the numbers of undergraduate students have increased. Think of it as another example of increasing inequality, or of the casualization of labor.
      In addition, if you believe that the hiring processes for tenure-track faculty are run strictly according to merit and qualifications, I have a bridge to sell you. It's still a matter of who you know at least as much as what you know.

      Support Small Business: Shop Kos Katalogue If you'd like to join the Motor City Kossacks, send me a Kosmail.

      by peregrine kate on Fri Dec 06, 2013 at 10:51:16 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  In general, yes. But that's like saying that (3+ / 0-)

      McDonalds employees are less qualified to play basketball than NBA players. Which is of course true. But that doesn't mean that it's perfectly fine to pay them e.g. $2/hour. The question is not about the difference in salary between adjuncts and tenure-line faculty, it's about low salary for adjuncts.

  •  I've met some of these adjunct professors (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    peregrine kate, Robert Fuller

    here in Pittsburgh. Those at Duquesne University have voted to unionize under the USW. The school is currently claiming a religious exemption from US Labor laws, being a Catholic institution, if you can believe it! These people do not earn anything close to a living wage that can support a decent life in a place as inexpensive as Pittsburgh. I'm also pleased to report these Pittsburgh adjuncts have come out to support the recent Fight for Fifteen (and a union) protests in downtown Pittsburgh, as well as participate in a screening and panel discussion of Robert Reich's movie "Inequality for All." We're fighting back, organizing and getting our message out. This region is the birthplace of the union movement in this country, the roots run as deep as the abandoned mines.

    Apartheid may have been an indelicate choice of words, but only because we think the lack of respect we give our adjuncts or our fast food workers is grounded in a higher plane of morality than the hatred of the South African apartheid. I have to believe otherwise.

  •  Multiple classes of faculty (0+ / 0-)

    An overview plus one additional note about the adjunct situation.

    (1) Tenured and tenure-track faculty: in most four-year and graduate-degree-offering universities, need to have research program, teach upper-level courses, and (ordinarily) provide significant service to department, university, and profession. Good salaries, offices, perks, influence.

    (2) Permanent non-tenured full-time faculty (with various names such as "Instructional Specialist", "Faculty Associate", or "Lecturer"): in principle, not qualified for a tenure-track appointment (though this is too often violated): little or no research responsibility, not so many upper-level courses but more teaching and service responsibilities. Adequate salaries, offices. Influence varies.

    (3) Term faculty: Term-limited (five or six years, by AAUP tenure standards) full-time faculty. Might fit into either of the above classes. Often used to replace faculty on sabbatical, leave or medical leave, or because the university won't commit to a permanent line. May alternatively be candidates for a terminal degree. Varying responsibilities, adequate salaries, offices, but minimal influence.

    (3A) A separate category is "Visiting Faculty" who may be tenured somewhere else, and who are generally paid somewhat better.

    (3B) "Soft-money" faculty: Supported largely or completely by a grant. May teach courses. Service (in general) only where relevant to the grant. Better paid than post-docs, but salary specified by the grant.

    (4) Adjuncts: Contingent part-time faculty (potentially forever). Teach 1-3 classes per term, pay ranging from inadequate down to terrible, in some cases barely covering parking and travel expenses. I've seen several groups: those who can teach but don't have the academic qualifications; those who have daytime jobs (e.g., high-school teachers or software designers) and just like the academic environment; those who are academically qualified, but in fields in which there are far more candidates than positions; those who are geographically constrained by spouses or other obligations; and those (e.g., retirees) who only want a part-time job.

    In addition to the salary issue, adjuncts (as noted above) do not have offices. Also, unlike every other category, their salaries (in most institutions) do not increase with longevity--at least not in any significant way. As importantly, they often are not valued or treated as quite human by the tenured members of the department or the administration--cannon fodder, shock troops--when many of them are important to the success of academic programs and students. In my mind, this is one way to measure the health of an academic department.

    (4A) Specialists: In some disciplines, particularly the more technical areas, some part-time faculty teaching advanced courses are drawn from an expert community and compensated much more like full-time faculty. While medical and law schools are the obvious examples, you might also find actuaries and CPAs, for example, in this category.

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