by Rita Lilly, @New95 Associate, October 6. 2016
Unless you’re directly connected to an institution of higher learning, it’s easy to ignore the crisis adjunct professors are currently experiencing. In truth, it should hold meaning and cause concern for everyone. Here’s why.
First, let’s look at how it affects students and how they, in turn, affect society as a whole.
Many of us have fond memories of in-depth discussions with a professor after class, some of which took a complete departure from the class topic. For some of us, that marked the beginning of seeing ourselves as adults and learning to interact with others on an adult level. Today’s adjuncts rarely have time for those encounters. Most must run from the classroom to travel to another part of town for a second or third job. Since they’re not provided office space, meetings that do take place are held in a busy hallway or on the way to the parking lot. When adjuncts are denied offices and storage, they frequently try to organize reference materials and student records in the trunks of their cars (if they can afford cars).
According to the Delphi Project, which studies how the changing face of faculty affects student success, students taught primarily by adjuncts and, therefore, who miss out on the extra time and attention they need, are much more likely to drop out of school than those with access to instructors. That presents the country as a whole with a generation of under-educated young adults who’ll face a harder time finding work (and, perhaps, moving out of their parents’ homes).
Another important memory from my own college years is being challenged by my professors, being forced to objectively examine and sometimes abandon lifelong ways of thinking. I was taught critical thinking skills and the importance of presenting a cogent argument in order to defend my beliefs. In today’s colleges and universities, adjuncts have absolutely no job security. Being offered a contract for the next semester depends, in part, on student evaluations. If a professor is too challenging or a class is too difficult, students can sway admin toward foregoing a contract renewal. With that in mind, some professors understandably choose to lob softballs at students, keeping challenging materials and subject matter to a minimum in order to protect their employment.
We’re creating a generation of college graduates who are ill-prepared for the requirements and rebuttals of real world careers. In truth, almost half or college grads feel unready to head into the workplace, and 43% of employers agree. And, do I even need to mention that these 20-somethings, who haven’t been asked to make hard decisions or think critically while matriculating will be asked to step into voting booths to help decide critical issues and elect officials that will affect the future of the entire country?
Maybe the arguments stated to this point still haven’t convinced you that you need to care. Well, maybe you’ll care when you realize that it hits your wallet … hard.
1 in 4 adjunct professors need at least one form of public assistance. That means your tax dollars are being used to subsidize fat cat college presidents who collect six- to seven-figure salaries while paying professors so little that they’re forced to turn to food stamps, Medicare and other social services. Current estimates are that public services for adjuncts and their families cost taxpayers around $468-million per year. Whether you’re in college or have a child at a university, you’re paying the price of letting administrators teach higher education like a neighborhood Walmart. Be honest, would you pay tens of thousands of dollars to send your kid to Walmart for college? Is that the level of university education from which you want to get your next generation of employees? If not, maybe you should start paying attention to what’s going on with adjuncts.