Here’s a man-bites-dog higher ed story for you: “Call to Arms for Adjuncts. . . From an Administrator.” Yes, you read that right:
“Wal-Mart is a more honest employer of part-time employees than are most colleges and universities,” said A.G. Monaco, senior human resources official at the University of Akron, and yet academics are “the ones screaming about how bad Wal-Mart is.” Academics “have to stop lying” about the way non-tenure-track professors are treated, he said.
Monaco described an adjunct he met recently. “She is teaching eight courses a semester at colleges in southern Illinois, for an average of $2,000 per course. If she continues at this pace, without benefits, she can support herself, he said, but what does this say about higher education?” He also raised the issue of gender equity of a two-tier faculty:
Beyond the questions the system raises about fairness and quality of teaching, he said there is also legal exposure. Monaco noted that colleges — champions of diversity — have created not only a two-tier system, but one in which adjuncts (who are likely to be female) are likely to work longer hours for smaller paychecks than another group, tenured faculty members, who are likely to be male.
So, is Monaco your hero yet? Well, hold onto your hats. (He’s in HR after all.)
Why doesn’t the adjunct system work managerially? “We’ve created a two-tier instructional staff” without telling the students or the public, he said. “You know that if you have two people do the same jobs and one is paid three times the other, one is going to get ticked off,” he said.
But the ones who are suffering from “gross disparities in salaries and benefits,” he said, are the ones who are doing an increasing share of the teaching. Monaco acknowledged that at research universities, there is a genuine need for faculty members to have extended non-teaching time to perform their responsibilities to advance scholarship. But he said that, up to master’s institutions, adjuncts and tenure-track faculty members have become largely indistinguishable in quality or classroom duties, but one group has much better pay and benefits. At most institutions outside the research elites, he said, the professors teaching less to do research “aren’t curing cancer.”
That’s true–in the History department we will probably never come up with a cure for cancer. But, that’s because we’re the Department of History, not the Department of Curing Cancer, and it strikes me that a “cures cancer” standard for our research would be a monumental injustice to those of us hired to do research in other fields. Those of us in Philosophy, English, French, German, Art History, and Anthropology (for example)–we’re more into curing terminal ignorance than cancer, but I’d like to point out that the one–the cure for ignorance–is a necessary precondition to the other–the cure for cancer. My perspective is surely that of a self-interested regular faculty member, but: what’s with knocking people’s research and pretending like “teaching” is the beginning and the end of our job descriptions? (It’s not me who’s calling all of those meetings about curricular development, tenure and promotion, and departmental and college governance that I’m expected to attend. Believe me, I’d rather be curing cancer!)
Can we really trust this guy to be the adjuncts’ Avenging Angel, when it seems like he’s not so much interested in putting adjuncts into tenure-track lines as he is in adjunctifying the regular faculty? Keep reading to the end of the article–Monaco’s pro-adjunct pose is a Trojan Horse for attacking tenure and faculty unions. I agree with him that the interests of the regular faculty and of adjunct faculty are at odds–because neither of us have the time, money, or other resources to do our jobs properly. The solution isn’t slicing the same pie differently, it’s more pies for everyone.