Monday, October 26, 2015

Activism on Behalf of Adjunct Faculty at Jesuit Universities

This came in our e-mail (and presumably, in the e-mail of the rest of the Marquette faculty):
Dear Friend

This week is Campus Equity Week. On campuses across the country, instructors are highlighting the inequities that exist on our campuses and advocating for faculty voices as the solution. Equity is part of Jesuit values. That is why we are bringing our petition demanding a voice on our campuses to the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities (AJCU).

Have you signed the petition?

We will be delivering the petition next week and will call upon Father Sheeran, S.J. to support just employment policies on all Jesuit campuses and help facilitate a national discussion with Jesuit school faculty about the need for improved working conditions and student learning conditions.

Add your name to the petition today, and if you’ve already signed, circulate this link to your social network.


The Faculty Forward Network Team
OK, what in the world is that about?

One has to click on the link to find out. It’s about adjunct faculty.

The text of the petition explains:
There are over 218,000 students and 20,000 faculty members at 28 Jesuit institutions across the United States. Once a middle-class job, nearly a majority of college and university faculty are now working part-time for very low pay, isolated from colleagues without job security, benefits or even office space. Jesuit institutions are no different, in fact, more than half (53 percent) of instructional faculty at Jesuit colleges and universities are now non-tenure track.

Because of these striking contradictions between Jesuit mission and practice, faculty and students across the 28 Jesuit colleges and universities have been organizing for inclusion and a voice in the campus community, improved working conditions and job security -- all in service to students and the rich traditions of Jesuit social justice. While some Jesuit institutions like Georgetown have chosen to embrace their mission and allow faculty a voice in the educational decision making, other institutions like Seattle University have chosen to hide behind their religious association to deny faculty their fundamental right of free association in pursuit of justice, standing in stark contrast to the fundamental mission of Jesuit education.
Uh, oh!

That last part of the give away. Faculty Forward is a front for the Service Employees International Union. Their real agenda is to unionize college employees, and they seem to aim at the most vulnerable, those adjuncts, graduate students, and so on.

So that is what is lurking behind that “social justice” rhetoric. The real agenda is not to give faculty a voice, but to give union activists a voice.


The rhetoric about adjunct instructors does touch on a real issue in higher education, notwithstanding the self-interested union agenda behind this campaign.

The simple fact is that having courses taught by adjunct faculty is cheap. Getting a course taught by an adjunct costs in the low to middle four figures. Getting four courses taught by a new tenure track hire costs in the mid- to high five figures (or more in some disciplines). So the temptation to have a lot of courses taught by adjuncts is huge.


We don’t much sympathize with the notion that adjuncts are exploited. Nobody forces anybody to work as an adjunct. Adjuncts are not expected to publish, nor do the sorts of things (committee work, advising, etc.) that regular faculty do. The job is just going into the classroom and teaching, typically teaching a class one has taught multiple times before with little new preparation needed. Usually, the sections are not large, since large sections are usually taught by tenure track faculty with teaching assistants.

Most adjunct faculty have other jobs, and are merely making some spending money doing something they rather enjoy.

Further, some departments with a large load of “service” courses (required courses that huge numbers of students take) have to use adjuncts, since there is no way to pay for tenure track lines to cover all the necessary sections. (And many tenure track faculty would not like to do the vast majority of their teaching in freshman level courses.)

Also, faculty get grants, fellowships, and so on, and therefore go on leave. So somebody has to be hired to fill in for the absent faculty member.

A Quality Issue

But having said that, a college that relies too much on adjunct faculty is providing a second-rate education. Often you can hire adjuncts who are good teachers. Political Science at Marquette now has a group of adjuncts who are excellent teachers. But in the past, we have had one or two disastrous situations.

Further, with excessive use of adjuncts, students lose the opportunity to take particular faculty members for both freshman and advanced courses, to develop a relationship with one or a few professors, and to ask for recommendations from faculty who know them well.

Finally, with excessive use of adjuncts, the administrative overhead (committee work, student advising, etc.) gets concentrated upon very few faculty. One can reach a point where one group of people are doing the vast majority of teaching, and another is keeping things running.

So would-be freshmen looking for a school would be well advised to check out the use of adjuncts at each of the schools they are considering.  If the number is quite large, the quality of education is questionable.

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Blogger AndrewV said...

I suggest you look a bit more into the subject of Adjuncts. No offense but you come across as "screw you buddy, I got mine".

2:28 AM  
Blogger John McAdams said...

Perhaps you should explain what you think I will find if I "look a bit more."

1:21 PM  

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