NY Times finally recognizes the problem of adjunct abuse, offers vague solutions, no mechanism

Today the NY Times  at least finally recognized that the casualization of college faculty is a serious problem that affects students’ education and results in poor employment conditions and compensation.  No kidding.  What’s amazing is that the Times editorial board appears to think that it’s the first to realize this issue (maybe part of the Old Gray Lady‘s long assumption that, as the self-proclaimed paper of record, if something wasn’t reported there, it didn’t exist).  Maybe that’s why this editorial seems not to offer much in terms of real solutions, or a recognition of how deep the problems are.  The problem is not simply too little money, although that’s a big part of it.  The problem is what we value in higher education.

In a piece called The College Faculty Crisisthe Times‘s editorial board noted that adjuncts

often learn which courses they are teaching just weeks or even days before the start of the semester, so there is almost no time to prepare. They often lack office space or administrative or technical support and are rarely given any guidance on how to do their jobs effectively. According to the report, they are implicitly told: “Just show up every Thursday at 5 o’clock and deliver a lecture to your class. Give a midterm and a final exam, and then turn in a grade, and the college will pay you a notably small amount of money.”

Amazingly, the Times offers weak tea in terms of addressing the problem, suggesting two actions:

  • better screening of and training for adjuncts, including “providing mentors and career paths that give them the opportunity to engage with campus life.”
  • “More money for higher salaries and professional development.”

Amen to the second; as far as the first, should adjuncts now be expected to do service in addition to all their teaching, if they don’t have full-time jobs?  Apparently, the solution to adjuncts’ very rational decision to limit their time on one campus–often because they have to drive among several every day just to make ends meet–is to spend yet more time on campus.

In other words, strikingly, there’s no suggestion that, lo and  behold, maybe higher education should try to humanize education rather than to continue to treat faculty like interchangeable labor units.  Maybe colleges and universities should hire people full-time, and treat them like people.

Maybe that’s why the Times‘s mechanism for solving this problem is so vague: “public officials who determine community college budgets should know full well that colleges, like other institutions, only get what they pay for.”  No kidding.  Those “public officials” (governors? legislators? university administrators?) already know that: that’s why they pay university administrators and coaches so much.

Rather, the problem is deeper: it’s that, at nearly every level, those in power involving money in higher education make decisions that suggest that heroic administrators and coaches must be rewarded, while lazy faculty must be tolerated, at best.  It’s part and parcel of a deeper societal assumption that those at the top of the heap have earned everything they can get, and those below them must be prodded to pull their weight.

As long as that attitude persists, we will continue down this dark road of the decline of American higher education.

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