Thursday, May 18, 2017

Adjuncts and Academic Labor

Contributed by: Stacy Wittstock, PhD Student, School of Education

Adjuncts and other contingent faculty have increasingly been bearing the important burden of teaching in colleges and universities across the US. As the availability of tenure track positions shrinks, only to be replaced by more non-tenure track contingent faculty, short-term contracts and part-time positions have gradually become the norm in higher education. Faculty in these positions face low-pay, job insecurity, poor working conditions, lack of support from departments and institutions, and little or no benefits normally available to their colleagues in full-time or tenure track positions. Ultimately, this trend presents serious concerns for both non-tenure track and tenure track faculty, university administrators, and most importantly, students.

What are Adjuncts?
·      Contingent faculty—full- and part-time non-tenure track instructional staff
·      Adjunct—part-time instructors for primarily entry-level courses (depending on the school)
·      According to the American Association of University Professors:
o   More than 50% of all faculty appointments are part-time
§  This can include “positions that may be classified by the institution as adjuncts, part-time lecturers, or graduate assistantships.”
o   More than 70% of all instructional staff positions in American higher education are non-tenure track
·      Some statistics:
o   A 2012 report from the Center for the Future of Higher Education found that:
§  77% of respondents teach in part-time, contingent positions
§  54% teach in more than one institution
§  29% teach in two institutions
§  11% teach in three institutions
§  6% teach in four institutions
§  52% teach in four year institutions
§  14% teach in both two and four year institutions
§  59% teach in at least one position governed by a collective bargaining agreement
o   Additionally, the National Center for Education Statistics found that in 2013, that the majority of non-tenure track instructors and lecturers are women (see Figure 1 below).
o   Finally, trends in employment in higher education in the last 50 years have demonstrated that full-time faculty (non-tenure and tenure track) positions have decreased, corresponding with an increase in part-time positions (see Figure 2 below).

Adjunct Wages
       The median per-class wage for a semester-long course for adjuncts in $2,700
       In 2013, NPR found that adjuncts’ average annual pay is between $20,000 and $25,000
       In a survey of 500 adjuncts, Pacific Standard found in 2015 that the majority of participants earned less than $20,000 per year
       A 2015 report from UC Berkeley found that 25% of adjuncts receive public assistance like Medicaid or food stamps
       Because they are part-time, adjuncts typically are not eligible for health insurance, or other benefits (e.g., retirement, life insurance, etc.)

Working Conditions
       “Freeway Flyers”: Many adjuncts work at multiple institutions (AAUP; CFHEP, 2012)
       Some adjuncts teach between 18-24 contact hours, or 6-8 classes at various institutions
       Most do not have offices, access to computer support, or even copying services
       They lack the job security, with contracts that run term-to-term and can be ”non-renewed” at any time
       ”Just-in-Time” employment: most are not informed of employment until shortly before the term starts, making finding other employment difficult
       Adjuncts are typically not allowed to be involved in any sort of departmental or institutional governance
       Many cannot attend departmental faculty meetings, serve on departmental or institutional committees or serve as advisors
       This is bad for both NTT and TT faculty, as this leaves an often incredible workload for TT faculty

So, What Happened?
       The myth is that the adjunct crisis was caused by the Great Recession and subsequent cuts to higher education funding
       However, according to the AAUP,  “the turn towards cheaper contingent labor is largely a matter of priorities rather than economic necessity.”
       “While many institutions are currently suffering budget cuts, the greatest growth in contingent appointments occurred during times of economic prosperity.”
       “Many institutions have invested heavily in facilities and technology while cutting instructional spending.”
       “Though incoming students may find finer facilities, they are also likely to find fewer full-time faculty with adequate time, professional support, and resources available for their instruction.”

The Effects on Students
       Because of the excessive demands on their time, and the likelihood that they are working at multiple institutions (AAUP; CFHEP, 2012):
       Adjuncts have less time to support students outside of the classroom and may lack spaces in which to do so
       Adjuncts often have less time to plan lessons, and even courses themselves
       There is often far less scrutiny on the hiring of adjuncts than on full-time NTT or TT faculty
       According to the AAUP,  “The high turnover among contingent faculty members mean that some students may never have the same teacher twice, or may be unable to find an instructor who knows them well enough to write a letter of recommendation.”

The Effects on Faculty
       Less full-time NTT and TT faculty means:
       The integrity of work in the department as a whole is lowered when so many levels of faculty are responsible for teaching
       All departmental responsibilities are saddled on TT faculty (i.e., advising students, setting departmental curriculum, programmatic assessment and research, serving on college-wide and departmental committees)
       Academic freedom itself is jeopardized when only TT faculty have access to protections
       Contingent faculty are less likely to take risks in the classroom
       Many may not receive any evaluations of their teaching or work

Chronicle Data. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Smith, J. (2015, Feb.). National adjunct walkout and awareness day (Public accessible presentation). Retrieved from

Background Facts on Contingent Faculty. (n.d.). Retrieved from

McKenna, L. (2015, May). The cost of an adjunct. Retrieved from

National Center for Education Statistics. (2016). Fast facts: Race/ethnicity of college faculty. Retrieved from

Curtis, J. & Thornton, S. (2013). Here’s the news: The annual report on the economic status of the profession, 2012-2013. American Association of University Professors. Retrieved from

Center for the Future of Higher Education. (2012). Policy report #2: Who is Professor “Staff,” and how can this person teach so many classes? Center for the Future of Higher Education. Retrieved from 

Figure 1: Percentage distribution of full-time instructional faculty in degree-granting postsecondary institutions, by academic rank, selected race/ethnicity, and sex: Fall 2013

Figure 2: Trends in Instructional Staff Employment Status, 1975-2011


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