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I just finished reading the November/December 2007 issue of Academe. It is published by the American Association of University Professors for the membership, around 40,000, most of whom are, not so oddly, white, tenure-line and men. Not that AAUP hasn’t been trying to organize part-time faculty. I just think there’s quite a bit of competition (thankfully) for the part-time groups that do organize, and AAUP loses out to more aggressive campaigns mounted by the other unions, which include the United Auto Workers, if you can believe it. We live in very interesting times.
Academe, under AAUP’s Director of Communications Gwen Bradley, has made some great strides in covering issues related to part-time faculty. In the November/December issue was a piece written titled “On Adjunct Labor and Community Colleges.” (Subtitled: They’re experienced, dedicated, and overworked, and they make up the majority of your colleagues at any given community college. Give them a place at the table, for the sake of the whole institution.) It’s written by Catherine Adamowicz, an associate professor of English at Bristol Community College in Massachusetts. She holds a Ph.D. in English from the University of Rhode Island. For five years, Adamowicz was coordinator of service learning and a teacher of writing and literature courses. Currently, she is chair of English and humanities and coordinator of elementary education as well as a teacher.
I read the piece several times, and then composed a somewhat tart letter to the Editor of Academe. Writing letters to the editor is a regular part of my job. I try to keep them even-handed, but sometimes I read essays and opinion pieces written by full-time faculty about part-time faculty and just can’t help myself.
Anyway, my letter to the Editor appears below. Read the Academe piece yourself. I’d be interested to know what you think.
Subject: On Adjunct Labor and Community Colleges
Date: January 19, 2008 6:16:45 PM GMT-05:00
To the Editor:
I read this piece with interest until I reached the section titled “Reliance on Part-Timers.” In that section, Catherine Adamowicz writes, “As it is not possible for an individual, let alone a head of household, to live on $9,732 per year, parttime faculty today cobble together multiple parttime teaching positions, just as I did twenty years ago. And, just like me twenty years ago, most parttime faculty today probably have little time or energy to meet with students, create new materials through reflection on their teaching practices, or serve on committees.” What?!?
As a department chair, it is absurd for her to simply accept that the part-time faculty whom she employs “probably have little time or energy to meet with students, create new materials through reflection on their teaching practices.” The obvious answer would be to strive to inform herself throughly concerning the employment situations of those faculty whom she employs, and to hire in such a way so as to stop perpetuating a system that leaves students in the hands of faculty members who choose to overextend themselves for whatever reason.
Further, Ms. Adamowicz writes, “Since most institutions make no commitment to future employment for contingent faculty and offer little money and no medical insurance during employment, why should these overworked, underpaid professionals have any loyalty to the institutions or the students?” Again….what?!? The part-time faculty who accept employment have the ethical obligation to offer their best efforts to their students and their profession. Period. Expecting any less, again, perpetuates the very employment system that Dr. Jacoby documents in his study as adversely impacting student graduation rates.
In short, Ms. Adamowicz offers what can only be described as lame excuses for both her own perpetuation of a terribly misguided employment system, as well as for the part-time faculty who choose employment within the system. The time has come to expect more of part-time faculty, terminal degrees for instance, as well as advising and research requirements. Only then will these women and men be selected with the same careful scrutiny applied to full-time hires, compensated and valued as full colleagues. Part-time faculty are essential members of the academic community, not victims of circumstance with graduate degrees for whom excuses must be found.
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The song accompanying this entry is “Please Read This Letter,” by Robert Plant and Alison Krause.