A piece on adjuncts in Inside Higher Ed has been attracting a lot of attention among academics of my acquaintance. Its description of academic life is shockingly brutal--shocking even to me, who knows enough PhDs to be acquainted with the dismal facts:
When I began teaching at Columbia and Barnard in the 1960s, almost all the positions in their German departments were tenure-track. I came to SUNY New Paltz in the 70s, when there were only a couple of virtually silent and invisible part-time adjuncts among the 35 teachers in the entire Foreign Language Division. It was not until a few years after the dawn of the new millennium that I, like Rip Van Winkle, "awoke" after decades to a brand new reality: the number of tenure-track faculty in my department had shrunk to a mere 10, while some two dozen adjuncts were now teaching the bulk of our foreign language courses. Yikes!
As everyone in academe now knows, the professoriate has experienced a radical transformation over the past few decades. These enormous changes have occurred so gradually, however, that they are only now beginning to receive attention. The general public has remained largely unaware of the staffing crisis in higher education. As contingent colleagues around the country came to outnumber the tenured faculty and as they were assigned an ever larger share of the curriculum, they became an inescapable fact of academic departmental life.Nationally, adjuncts and contingent faculty -- we call them ad-cons -- include part-time/adjunct faculty; full-time, nontenure-track faculty; and graduate employees. Together these employees 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.
Now, he's lumping together a bunch of different things: I don't really care if part timers and graduate students don't get paid much . . . at least as long as the graduate students are on track to better jobs. The core issue is full-time adjuncts, and whether the graduate students have a reasonable shot at a tenure-track position.
Unfortunately, the answer now is that they don't. Academia has bifurcated into two classes: tenured professors who are decently paid, have lifetime job security, and get to work on whatever strikes their fancy; and adjuncts who are paid at the poverty level and may labor for years in the desperate and often futile hope of landing a tenure track position. And, of course, graduate students, the number of whom may paradoxically increase as the number of tenure track jobs decreases--because someone has to teach all those intro classes.