More Crap About Adjuncts Masquerading as “Straight Talk”

by Gordon Haber

N.B. I’ve gotten a nice response to the post below, so I want to remind all adjuncts and other contingent types that they are invited to email me (firstnamelastname at gmail) for a free copy of my novella about the adjunct life, Adjunctivitis.

As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t want to blog about adjuncting anymore, because it takes time away from other stuff I could be doing, for example promoting a book I have coming out next year. And as I’ve mentioned before, I find it impossible to move on because I keep coming across some seriously misguided discussions of the adjuncting crisis.

Today’s example is Straight Talk About Adjunctification in the CHE written by Rob Jenkins, an English prof and author of Building a Career in America’s Community Colleges (which you can find shelved between books about unicorns and monkeys flying out of my butt).

Jenkins starts off with some good old-fashioned condescension: those who fret about the adjunct crisis “don’t fully comprehend its nuances.” And then this breathtaking paragraph:

Unfortunately, much of the rhetoric surrounding the hiring of contingent faculty members remains emotionally charged, which is understandable, perhaps, but not particularly helpful. Bitterness and frustration, however justifiable, lead to impractical demands, unrealistic expectations, and, in some cases, further inequities.

Translation: Don’t get upset even though you are getting royally screwed because it makes me uncomfortable and then I won’t help you, even though I’m not helping you anyway.

I am particularly curious about the “further inequities.” I’m sure Jenkins doesn’t mean this as a threat, but short of getting fired for speaking out I don’t know how the inequities between full-time faculty and adjuncts could be more pronounced.

Moving on. Jenkins concedes that the “overuse of part-time instructors harms the higher education enterprise.” And not unreasonably he says that “some use of adjuncts is necessary.” But his support for the latter assertion? That “state funding budgets” aren’t going to increase and there’s nothing we can do about it.

This, my friends, is bullshit. Because there’s no mention of administrative bloat. For example, if you search the staff directory of Jenkins’ college using the nebulous term “academic” you get 17 pages of results—that’s 150 or so administrators and are you telling me that they’re all crucial to the operation of the college? That they’re more important than teachers?

Jenkins’ next point is that “adjuncting is not always a bad thing.” Now this is interesting because he says what I’ve been saying, which is to “do the math”:

If you have 90 sections in your department being staffed by 30 part-timers teaching three sections each, and you convert all those positions into full time, assuming a five-course load (as is the case at most two-year colleges), that means 12 people are out of a job. You might think it a kindness to put some of those people out of their misery, so to speak, but I doubt most of them would agree.

I might say that a five-course load is inhuman, but that’s another thing we can’t do much about. Anyway, Professor Jenkins is correct. Even if colleges wanted to convert most adjunct positions to full-time jobs, many would be left without work. So we indeed do have to realize that it is impossible to solve the crisis to everyone’s satisfaction.

On the other hand, arguing that we should thus be happy with a preponderance of shitty jobs is an argument that does not reveal, as I suspect Jenkins wants us to believe, a kind of hard-nosed realism. Instead it reveals a contempt for fairness.

Jenkins next point: “Not everyone is tenure-track material”:

Before you put someone in a position in which he or she is likely to stay for 30 years, you must believe that person is sufficiently committed to the institution and the profession, will make a consistently positive contribution, and will be a good colleague.

Translation: Don’t be a pain in my ass.

Jenkins has some solutions: “that we should go out of our way to provide more opportunities for long-term adjuncts to compete for tenure-track positions.” I don’t see how this is possible given everything he said above. He also says that “colleges should lobby regional accreditation bodies to tighten restrictions on hiring part-time faculty.” But then, by his own admission, accreditors don’t pay much attention to such restrictions. So these ideas aren’t really ideas, more the vague mumblings of lip service.

Here is some straight talk. The adjunct crisis is going to be very difficult to solve. A good start, however, would be to stop listening to the unimaginative condescending arguments of tenured administrators.