The Plight of the Adjuncts: Maligned by the Media?

From Wider than the Sky blog:

This is not what I had planned as Part 2 of my adjunct series, but this morning Anne Kress, President of Monroe Community College, tweeted about a recentNY Times Op-Ed piece:

anne kress tweet

Color me interested. So I looked up the piece she referenced. And she’s right: Ugh.

We do have a problem with adjunct faculty in colleges.  I think I already made that clear. But this is not the problem:

“The colleges expect little of these teachers. Not surprisingly, they often act accordingly. They spend significantly less time than full-time teachers preparing for class, advising students or giving written or oral feedback. And they are far less likely to participate in instructional activities — like tutoring, academic goal setting or developing community-based projects — that can benefit students.”

 

First of all, I don’t know which colleges the authors of this piece are referring to in that first line, but it’s not any college with which I am personally familiar. But in my ten years of experience in the community college system, I have found that adjuncts are expected to do a great deal.  I would go so far as to say that they are basically expected to everything their full-time counterparts do–and then some–with fewer resources, less time, and virtually no compensation.  With so many of our courses being taught by adjunct faculty, the responsibility for student success, persistence, retention, graduation rates (or whatever the popular metric du jour is), rests squarely on their overburdened, under- compensated shoulders.

Second, most of the adjuncts I know accept that responsibility willingly–not because they are compensated for anything beyond the time they spend in the classroom but because they actually care about our students and their learning.  To be perfectly blunt, the assertion that adjunct faculty spend less time “preparing for class, advising students or giving written or oral feedback” is a crock. I have to wonder, again, what adjuncts these writers have worked with, spoken to, or observed (oh, right, I don’t think they have; I think they just skimmed the new CCSSE report.).  I have only my own experience to draw on, but in that experience, I have found that adjunct faculty spend just as much time as–if not more time than–full-time faculty on these activities. We have adjunct faculty actively engaged in advising students every day.  We have adjunct faculty who collaborate to create service-learning projects for students.  We have adjunct faculty who are on campus from 8:00 AM to 10:00 PM–and that time isn’t all spent in class.  We have adjunct faculty who are tutoring students in the hallway because they have no office space.  We have adjunct faculty meeting students in the library in their free time to give them a little extra help. We have adjunct faculty developing and designing entire curriculums.  And we have adjunct faculty who attend every possible professional development opportunity offered them.

The NY Times Editorial Board ought to be ashamed of themselves. Yes, there’s a problem, and yes it needs to be fixed.  But instead of maligning adjunct faculty in a call for “more money for higher salaries and professional development,” let’s try pointing to to good, selfless work they do every day–let’s recognize their efforts, and let’s make a call to reward those efforts appropriately. Because this call to action is where they have it right: we have to do better by our adjunct faculty.  The way we treat them does not encourage excellence–but they give it to us in spite of that–which the NY Times piece ignores. So for our part we need to stop marginalizing them and start embracing, encouraging, respecting, and rewarding them for their efforts–efforts that do make all the difference to our students.

Read the full blog post here.