[Adjuncts and contingent faculty] now make up an amazing 73 percent
of the nearly 1.6 million-employee instructional workforce in higher
education and teach over half of all undergraduate classes at public
institutions of higher education. Their number has now swollen to more than a million teachers and growing.
Those one million workers are making less than workers in McDonald's. They enjoy no benefits, no security, and they are working sixty hour weeks doing the same work as tenured faculty.
Megan wants to know how this exploitation can occur in a profession that is dominated by liberals, who should be the champions of the exploited.
This is a good question. Is it hypocrisy to be champions of the underdog, while letting some guy down the hall from you survive on ramen noodes?
YES, IT IS! Well, somewhat, sort of.
So, why are senior tenured and tenure-track faculty turning a blind eye to exploitation in their own midst? Lots of reasons.
First of all, people are allowing themselves to be exploited. Actually, lots and lots of people take these adjunct jobs with the vague hope that they'll someday win the lottery and get that smoking jacket and a tenured job. These people have been twisted to believe that an academic lifestyle is the only acceptable route to happiness and that working for the man means dull, meaningless work. It's hard to get the energy to fight exploitation, when there's a long line of people waiting to take a beating.
Secondly, the tenured and tenure track are in separate worlds from the adjunct faculty. They aren't chatting in the hallway about last night's American Idol. The adjuncts aren't invited to the Christmas party or the faculty meetings. The adjuncts are the invisible house elves who teach those icky intro classes. So, the tenured and tenure track are really in the dark about the conditions of adjunct life. Or they convince themselves that the adjuncts will find a good job in the next job cycle. Or they get Darwinian and believe that the adjuncts aren't as smart as they are; they are the Neanderthals of the academic world. Really, they just don't think about it at all.
Thirdly, tenure track are under a lot of pressure themselves. They have to get tenure, which is hard work and stressful. They have to appease the right people, and it would be stupid to critique the system. The older faculty just doesn't get it.
Fourthly, the adjuncts aren't organized. They aren't part of the union that represents the other faculty. There is no organization to form a rally and make demands. If they were better organized, the tenured faculty would certainly support their demands, but it would be unreasonable for the tenured faculty to take up the cause of a decentralized, mobile, disorganized, demoralized group of people who aren't even aware that they're being exploited.
RELATED: Check out Harry B's post about whether teaching matters at American universities.