This article briefly examines the history of adjunct teaching and presents statistics on decreasing tenured positions and increasing adjunct positions over the last several decades. It looks into the reasons why American higher education has transitioned to the "adjunct model" and makes a comparison of salaries and benefits between tenured professors and adjunct professors. The article then briefly explores the position of some of the largest associations and organizations concerning adjunct teaching, and it explains some of the advantages and disadvantages of adopting the adjunct model in American higher education.
American Association of University Professors (AAUP)
American Federation of Teachers (AFT)
National Education Association (NEA)
Definition & History of Adjunct Teaching
Traditionally, college professors had a clear-cut path for their profession, a path that led to a rewarding and well-paid career as a tenured professor; but this is becoming less the case each year. As Keels (2005) points out, an increasing number of teaching assistants—who accept a low-paying stipend in order to complete their doctoral degrees—find themselves searching for far fewer available tenure-track positions. Keels notes that the current generation of Ph.D. graduates are finding out "they have become part of a growing contingent on campuses across the country—the adjunct professor" ( p. 3). Essentially, the American system of higher education is seeing a new class of educators, a class that will replace the former class with its system of tenure. This new class is also part of a new business model that colleges and universities are increasingly using.
The etymology of the word "adjunct" indicates that something is being joined to another thing; the meaning within the educational system is that a teacher is being joined to the full-time or tenured staff to teach additional courses. Mann and Hochenedel (2003) offer a standard definition.
The term "adjunct," used in the United States to describe sessional lecturers, is most revealing. It means "a thing added to something else, but secondary or not essential to it," or "a person connected with another as a helper or subordinate" (p. 111).
An adjunct teacher is added to a college's tenured faculty to teach extra courses. Mcardle (2002) points out that originally, an adjunct teaching arrangement was a special arrangement generally for professionals who wanted to teach a few courses so as to give students an inside point of view for the student's profession of interest. Mcardle gives several examples: "the successful sculptor who lectured passionately about art, the lawyer who taught criminal justice, the stockbroker who described her daily work to business majors" (p. 25). Thus, traditionally an adjunct lecturer was usually someone with a full-time career who probably wanted to teach university students more for recognition and prestige than for money, or perhaps to "give something back." In any case, adjunct lecturers were the exceptions within an educational system filled with tenure-track professors.
However, in the 1990's a quite different type of adjunct instructor began to teach at universities. This new type of adjunct usually had earned a Ph.D. and had excellent credentials, but could not find a full-time teaching job. Mcardle notes that, "because there's now a glut of these part-time instructors, they'll work cheap, earning a fraction of what full-time professors make" (p. 26). Also, because colleges and universities are facing difficult budget constraints, these schools may be more inclined to hire adjuncts to save money.
The number of adjuncts versus the number of tenured professors has seen a dramatic shift in percentages in the last several decades. Mcardle notes that in the early 1980s, only about 20 percent of all courses across the country were taught by adjuncts while the rest were taught by full-time, tenured faculty (2002, p. 26). Feldman and Turnley (2001) also note that, in 1968, only 20 percent of all faculty were adjuncts, whereas in 2001 the number had doubled to 40 percent (p. 1). In 2006, Benton noted that as of 2003 the number of adjuncts had reached 46 percent (p. 10). Bousquet (2009) said that "at the present rate of decline, the next two decades will see the percentage of tenured and tenure-track professors plunge into the single digits" ("The Faculty of the Future," p. 4). Thus, in fifty years time—from 1980 to 2030—American colleges and universities will most likely have gone from 80 percent tenured faculty to 10 percent—a 70 percent decrease. Indeed, a 2009 survey showed that 75 percent of faculty in higher education were adjunct (Coalition on the Academic Workforce, 2012).
Wilson (2009) examines a typical community college and shows this same pattern occurring. She notes that, as full-time professors retire from their departments, the school has replaced these tenured professors with adjuncts. Consequently, "the adjunct ranks have swelled to 80 as the number of full-timers has dropped to only 10" (p. 22). Clearly, the career path that educators traditionally took to become well-paid tenured faculty is coming to an end; or, at best, tenured professors will soon become the exceptions within the educational system. Considering the significant changes that are influencing the entire system of higher education in America, we should examine why these changes are occurring, and what these changes may mean to American society.
Why Adjunct Teaching Has Increased
As to why a significant shift in the numbers of adjunct versus tenured professors is occurring, most experts would agree that economics is the primary reason. As Keels points out, "shifting conditions in the academy account for the increasing number of doctorates teaching in adjunct roles rather than in full-time, tenure-track positions, and much of it has to do with economics" (2005, p. 4). Mann and Hochenedel observe that this economic change in education has already been given a name, the “adjunct model,” though the term is not yet pervasively used. The write that
In recent years, some institutions in the United States have moved to what is poetically termed "the adjunct model," in which most if not all of the faculty in an institution are secondary and inessential, which is to say they are allowed to teach only a few classes and are not paid benefits (2003, p. 111).
The Adjunct Model
Thus, the term " adjunct model" will probably be used to denote the new business model that has already deeply taken root within American higher education. Essentially, the adjunct model is an extension of the outsourcing phenomenon that has been occurring throughout the American corporate economy in the past several decades. A general rule of outsourcing is that it significantly reduces costs for the business or institution that outsources, but that reduction is always at the expense of the person who is being outsourced; educational outsourcing of adjuncts is no exception. P. D. Lesko, publisher of the Adjunct Advocate, makes the point that "colleges tell you its for flexibility," so that there are enough teachers for quickly adding courses when necessary, "but, if you look behind the flexibility, you'll see that they're not paying a pro rata salary or benefits. They're saving a lot of money" (cited in Mcardle, 2002, p. 27).
Wilson (2009) looks at how much the educational institutions are saving. She notes that at Oakton, a community college near Chicago, full-time faculty members who taught five courses per semester earned on average $86,000 annually. The adjuncts at Oakton were allowed to teach up to three classes each semester. In 2009, for teaching three courses per semester, the adjuncts earned at most around $21,000 annually. Plus, "like other colleges, Oakton does not provide adjuncts with subsidized health insurance" (p. 14). But Oakton was actually not typical in terms of pay; it paid much more to its adjuncts than did other colleges and universities. At the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, adjuncts received a more typical sum for teaching a semester course. Dartmouth is a microcosm of what is happening in universities across America, which are doing what they can to get their tenured professors to retire; they then hire more adjuncts to replace the much more expensive tenured professors. At Dartmouth in 2002, 10 percent of the faculty retired as part of the school's early-retirement program. One Dartmouth administrator succinctly narrated the rest of the situation:
“At the same time, the state chopped the budget, with more cuts to come. While the school doesn't like to hire too many adjuncts, it has no choice,” says Richard J. Panofsky, associate vice chancellor for academic affairs. The university pays an assistant professor $47,796 for a three-course teaching load per semester, and adjuncts are much cheaper. But Panofsky says the school does its best to treat adjuncts well. It pays $3,000 per course to adjuncts, as part of a negotiated union contract. "We just can't afford to pay pro rata," he says (cited in Mcardle, 2002, p. 29).
Thus, universities save enormous amounts of money by outsourcing their courses to adjuncts. Whether or not colleges and universities really are being forced into this new economic model is a question for additional research, and cannot be adequately answered here, but the savings are without question.
Wilson quotes the president of Oakton Community College, who claimed that...
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