From the NEA Higher Education Journal:
I know I am about to be offered a job when interviewers begin to apologize. They examine their shoes or a far wall, purse their lips, shake their heads in embarrassment. "As you probably know,’’ they often tell me, in a pained, obligatory preamble, ‘‘salaries for adjunct faculty are abysmally low.’’
Yes. I know.
And I nod—a gesture of understanding, if not approval. I need the work; what else can I say? Increasingly, though, I feel the urge to turn the question around. Why I put up with the situation is obvious.
But the people doing the interviewing—the tenured members of search committees, the departmental and divisional chairs, the deans—how can they put up with the growing disparity between full- and part-time faculty? The market-based excuses—that the two-tier system is firmly entrenched and each college has ample company—do not respond to the larger, moral issue. And it is in this arena that people should and, I believe eventually will, be held accountable.
Cost matters, of course, and a certain amount of market discipline is reasonable and necessary. But academia is not a business; colleges and universities do not advertise themselves as the lowest bidder. Institutions of higher education are first and foremost transmitters of values. Paramount among these values is the ideal that learning is a precious thing, that it matters above whatever its immediate and obvious utility may be.