Adjunct system leads to an inferior education

Is your tuition for higher education being wasted by a system that employs part-timers to teach?

Writing in the Boston Globe, Susan McNamara, an adjunct at Northeastern University, says she’s not sure she’s going back to class in September.

Adjuncts across the country are trying to unionize because they’re not paid very well. She writes that the adjunct system is wasting your tuition money.

We are now a majority of all college and university faculty, both regionally and nationally. Adjuncts are not temporary employees. Most of us do not work part-time hours. Yet, we are denied full-time pay and benefits, and have no job security. Many only survive by creating a heavy, piecemeal schedule across multiple schools.

Adjuncts often have insufficient time to prepare to teach a course because they have little advance notice they are teaching at all. Without an office, we may have difficulty meeting with a student to discuss anything confidential, such as grades, or to provide additional instructional assistance.

You won’t see this in any university’s glossy brochure but it has become a catchphrase for many adjuncts: Our precarious working conditions are students’ learning conditions. I’m asking for your help in raising the standards at America’s colleges and universities.

Every adjunct I know is dedicated to their students’ well-being and strives to ensure their students receive the same quality of education as they would from a full-time faculty member. However, working conditions have deteriorated to the point where they are intolerable. Adjuncts across Boston are uniting to form unions so we can focus on identifying and implementing solutions to these systemic problems.

A parent, writing in the Boston Globe in response to McNamara, notes that it’s not just about money, it’s about whether the adjunct system is fair to students.

The adjunct teachers are seldom on campus beyond class time, do not understand how their course content fits into the overall curriculum, and in some cases are so beyond the oversight of the department that they are able to turn their courses into bully pulpits for crackpot worldviews.

We are paying high tuition and receiving poor pedagogical quality. Now that my second child is starting the college selection process, one of the questions I will be sure to ask is what percentage of a school’s faculty are adjunct.

Adjuncts at both Macalester College and Hamline University are trying to form unions.

The Atlantic reported last month that some adjunct professors are nearly homeless, sleeping in cars and showering at college athletic facilities.

But Elizabeth Segran said the biggest impact on students is that adjuncts are reluctant to teach some of what students should be learning.

The tenure system was originally designed to foster academic freedom by allowing professors to voice unpopular opinions without the fear of being fired: in contrast, adjuncts can have their contracts terminated without a grievance process. (Maria Maisto, president of the adjunct activist group New Faculty Majority) told me that many adjuncts are afraid to challenge their students in class because poor student evaluations could cost them their jobs. “College is no longer creating a critically-thinking citizenry who can participate actively in a democracy,” she said.

Emily Van Duyne, an adjunct professor in New Jersey, told me she finds it uncomfortable to teach her students about issues like the American Civil Rights Movement when she feels unable to change her own unjust working conditions. “It feels very strange asking students to hone their critical thinking skills about an oppressive culture and the ways you can respond effectively, when you are teaching out of a broken system,” she told me.

Segran reports the next step may be to educate accreditors that because of the working conditions, education by adjunct professors is inferior.