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Can College Trustees Be Pushed To Solve the “Adjunct Problem?”

By Erin O’Connor and Maurice Black

For years now, a sad, steady flow of articles, books, and studies has documented the rise of the “disposable academic,” the growing underclass of poorly paid, uninsured Ph.D.s who do the bulk of college teaching but have no real chance of ever landing a secure academic job. This is a tragedy, the argument goes, not only for the young scholars who will never become professors, but also for undergraduates (whose educations suffer when they are taught by “disposable” teachers) and for progress itself (adjunct work is not conducive to original research, open debate, and knowledge production).
But despite the large body of work on the subject, the ratio of “securely-employed” to “disposable” has only gotten worse over the years. As Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa report in their recent study Academically Adrift, in 1970, 78 percent of college teachers at degree-granting institutions were full-time faculty; in 2005, only 52 percent were. Fully three quarters of all faculty appointments today are non-tenure-track. “The professor”—as a job, a vocation, and an academic institution—seems to be disappearing.

Moreover, warnings can only fall on deaf ears so many times before they sound absurd. People are still flocking

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