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or traveling across town to teach at campus number three. As JJ commented, "Did making so little money affect my job performance? Yes. I missed a week of class once due to being hospitalized for stress and exhaustion. Working 40-50 [hours a week] for a grand total of $4000 over four months . . . working extra jobs on top of that to cover my rent and to buy my health insurance and taking other extra jobs to cover my student loans nearly killed me." The Delphi Project on the Changing Faculty and Student Success, based at the University of Southern California, studies the recruitment and hiring process for ad- If the rationale for using low-wage professorial labor is affordable college, it hasn't worked. Tuition at public universities has tripled since 1980, and doubled at private universities. junct instructors. Adjuncts are often hired just days before a class begins, giving them little time for preparation or orientation to the school, the students, or the policies on grading and faculty-student interaction. My neighbor Mitch Tropin argues that "the problem is that most adjuncts do a good job, but are put in an unfair situation." In addition to poverty wages, long hours, and lack of office space, the isolation from other teachers can be a real problem. Naomi Winterfalcon at Champlain College told me that she knew few people in her department until the adjunct instructors unionized. Champlain, she explains, uses "lots of adjuncts," but she had never met most of them, even those in her department. Once they organized, however, they began to meet each other in union meetings. "It makes a big difference if you are able to talk to each other. It allows us to improve ourselves academically as well as our working environment," she says, and it "facilitates better teaching to have others who are in the same circumstances to talk through problems, share experiences, and strategize how to solve them." Champlain itself has done nothing to support the adjuncts' efforts to integrate into the faculty. What makes the situation even worse is that adjuncts are often disproportionately assigned the courses filled with the students who need the most assistance, such as introductory courses, freshman writing classes, or remedial education. Incoming students often need basic grammar and composition skills, which requires the kind 78 September/October 2015 of intensive hands-on teaching that is difficult for a parttimer with full-time teaching hours and insufficient support to provide. And there's a more subtle danger lurking in contingency: with no job security, precarious financial situations, and weak institutional support, adjunct professors may lack the independence and status they need to challenge students by presenting unpopular positions, critiquing commonly accepted ideas, or even giving out poor grades. Academic freedom doesn't mean much in these circumstances. And while we tend to see academic freedom as protection for provocative scholarship, it also performs the even more important function of facilitating discussion and debate in the classroom. Greg Lukianoff, the president and CEO of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, finds the potential for censorship and self-censorship in the adjunct system "troubling," and adds, "I think at minimum adjuncts should have contracts with both terms of several years and promises of academic freedom." When professors know that students' assessments may be the only evaluation they receive and thus are the most significant factor in whether they will be hired for another semester, they have little incentive to grade critically and instead may grade to please, resulting in grade inflation and permissiveness of students' wrong-headed ideas or disruptive behavior. The system gives students leverage to attack a teacher they may not like or to avoid the consequences of their own academic failure. T enure also has its critics, and not without reason. Compelling arguments that the decisionmaking process is opaque, allowing bias to go undetected, and that safeguarding positions allows dead-wood professors to keep their positions, all make tenure worth a critical second look. My father's experience reflected the upsides of the old regime: a young professor moves laterally to get a tenure-track position, gets tenure, and then jumps again for more prestige, in my father's case an endowed chair. He had an office, kept office hours, prepared his own curriculum, was invited to faculty seminars and programs on pedagogical advances, and had staff support and other resources so he could focus on teaching and scholarship rather than on seeking the next opening to teach a course and driving between campuses. My father served as mentor, emotional support, and intellectual guide for several generations of young scholars, while at the same time pursuing his own cutting-edge scholarship. Even among those academics who didn't share this trajectory, 80 percent were still full-time and eligible for tenure. While there are still professors who enjoy the benefits of tenure and the emoluments that go along with that status, many of their colleagues make up the proletariat of the ivory tower, with no hope of advancement, abysmal wages, and no job security.

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Washington Monthly - September/October 2015

Contents
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