In my last post, I made a reference to this horrific event. As word of this has filtered out, we’ve seen an array of reactions, but the general consensus is that people are finally starting to realize how precarious a position most people who work in the academy actually have. (Even tenure is not as stable as it once was.)

So what to do about it?

My friend (an outstanding composer as well – if you’re in central NJ on SundaySaturday, go to his recital!) Christian B. Carey mentioned this idea on Twitter yesterday, and I think it shows some promise: Why not have consortia of colleges that, between them, can hire an adjunct at nearly-full-time status and split the costs of benefits? It’s not perfect, as you’ll see from the discussion, but some systems (Mike Berry mentions the Washington State higher ed system) are doing things like this already.

Another solution, of course, is to separate health insurance and access to care from employment. The new exchanges may help with regard to that, but we need to pressure all states to expand Medicaid (since many adjuncts are below the poverty level) and/or push for a single-payer/Medicare for all system.

Here at UMM, at least in music, we’re lucky – for the majority of our adjuncts, this truly is a second or third gig. We also offer some pot-sweeteners because of our distance from major population centers. We have an “adjunct coordinator,” and we make it a point to include contingent faculty in the governance of the discipline as much as possible. Still, I have been in positions where adjuncts have been mistreated, and having lived that life myself and knowing how challenging it can be (and knowing current adjuncts), I recognize that we need to fix this. It is unsustainable over the long term.

What thoughts do you have on the adjunct crisis?

I read this at The Chronicle of Higher Education earlier today, and something about it really popped for me.

As both of my readers will recall, I spent the spring semester serving in a minor administrative capacity. This all-too-brief introduction to real academic administration* got me to contemplate the critical issues facing academia. Among the issues that have been on my mind:

(1) Treatment of adjuncts. How we treat these freeway flyers can have dangerous consequences; this is nothing short of shameful. No doubt I’ll have more on this later.

(2) The continuing destruction of our commitment to higher education. At a time when we’re asking – nay, demanding – that everyone get a college education, we are defunding our public higher education system at a breakneck clip. This can’t end well.

(3) MOOCs and online ed. This is where the above article comes in. I’ve taught online, and I can see certain situations where it can be quite effective. But, just as there’s no substitute for a fresh tomato from your own garden, there’s nothing like a master teacher, working in concert with excited, ready-to-learn students, operating with a real sense of place. Small liberal arts colleges, like the wonderful institution that pays me every two weeks to do things I love, are uniquely positioned to provide this opportunity. Take advantage of it. Support your local college.

*I’ve headed up theory-composition programs, but those positions lacked budgetary and other responsibilities.


One of the things about being an administrator, even one with as little power as I (I have essentially the same rank as Henry Drummond in Inherit the Wind, and believe you me, I’m milking Temporary Honorary Colonel for all it’s worth), is that I have to deal with personnel issues. No, I don’t have the power of hiring and firing, but I do have to listen to people and work through interpersonal conflicts. This is no mean feat sometimes, for as anyone knows when you put two faculty in a room you’ll end up with three opinions.

Fortunately, I am blessed with colleagues that are collegial. We all want what is best for the students and for the program. Most of the issues have been around adjunct faculty concerns, and this is something I have wrestled with for some time. Adjunct faculty are, in some institutions, the largest group of faculty, but they have very little (if any) input in governance. They are paid horribly, usually have no benefits, and are often subject to being fired on a whim. In some places, they are expected to exhibit loyalty to an institution that will not return that loyalty, and actively looking for full-time work can be grounds for dismissal. On top of it, adjunct too long, and you may make it impossible to ever land that full-time job.

I was an adjunct for a good bit (1998-2004) and have been a visiting full-timer twice (2004-05 and 2007-08). I consider myself darn lucky to be on the tenure track. What should we be doing to help our adjuncts?