"Keep Adjuncts Away From Intro. Courses" Trumpets The National Enquirer (Chronicle) of Higher Education


In this week’s Chronicle of Higher Education, there is an article written by David Glenn and headlined “Keep Adjuncts Away From Intro Courses, Report Says.” The editor of The Chronicle of Higher Education, Jeffrey Selingo, obviously saw nothing wrong with the offensive title. The piece is about research by a University of North Carolina faculty member and a UCLA graduate student. The researchers found: “….an unhappy pattern: If gatekeeper courses were taught by part-time adjuncts, lecturers, or postdoctoral fellows (which occurred from 8 percent to 22 percent of the time, depending on the institution), those students were significantly less likely to return for their sophomore years. That pattern was consistent across all four universities.”
Later in the piece, David Glenn writes, “The two scholars both emphasized that they don’t mean to criticize adjuncts. ‘We’re not blaming part-time faculty,’ Ms. Jaeger said during the panel discussion. “We’re actually putting the onus on institutions of higher education to support part-time faculty.'” So why isn’t the headline of the piece “Poor Institutional Support of Part-time Faculty and Lecturers Adversely Impacts Student Retention?”
I suppose they did it for the same reason in the National Enquirer the headlines are often about whether ________________ (fill in the blank) is gay, two-headed babies, and aliens who spirit away men just as they are about the finally get the damn storm windows down. I am just sorry to see the National Enquirer (Chronicle) of Higher Education fall victim to sensationalist headline writing. One would think people who focus on higher education could tell the difference between the results of research and the cause of the problem. If any mainstream newspaper had printed the headline, I’d just assume ignorance of how higher education works. I can make no such assumption of the people who work at The Chronicle of Higher Education. This was a smear of part-time faculty and lecturers, as opposed to putting the spotlight where it belongs: directly on the administrators who provide little or no institutional support to the part-time faculty and lecturers who teach the freshmen at their institutions.
One upside to the article, it quotes the researchers as suggesting that adjuncts and lecturers should be employed to teach “smaller, advanced courses, rather than to large, introductory courses populated with first-year students who might be vulnerable to dropping out.” Sooooooooo, I am looking forward to teaching the 12 student Shakespeare seminar next semester. Not to be too unkind, I am also looking forward to watching the tenured colleague, who resembles an aged John D. Rockefeller, and whose office is next to mine, drag his briefcase down the hallway. I am sure he will gladly grade the 100 essays written by the students in the Introduction to American Literature course I have taught over the past three years.
I can ‘t decide who’s crazier, Lady MacBeth or the researchers who suggested adjuncts be assigned to teach seminar courses. Well, I’ll let you know after I get the storm windows out.

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  1. I actually think this will end up being good news — universities obviously won’t stop using adjuncts, but may finally have a reason (since relying on humanity hasn’t worked) to better conditions. Adjuncts with decent office space, compensated for holding office hours, etc. would be as available to students as FT faculty supposedly are

  2. Please do not interpret this as a defense of the CHE and that article, but there have always been adjuncts teaching higher-level courses –indeed, that was their original purpose: the specialty import.
    These have usually been the judge who teaches a law course, the CEO who teaches a business course, etc., et al. Not the new Ph.D. who hasn’t yet been hired in a tenure-track, or other somewhat similarly-situated academic who is hired for wages less than that of the janitorial staff to repeat the high school curriculum.
    Any adjunct who spends the time familiarizing him/herself with the institution’s majors, general education requirements, campus services, etc. to be able to mentor students (and thereby increase student retention to the sophomore year, for example)is being exploited even more than the adjunct who teaches the rhet/comp course and leaves — to correct the 100 essays.
    Freshman retention (or rather, lack thereof) is one of those dirty little secrets of academe: Colleges and universities get teary-eyed about the high drop-out rate — while at the same time making money off of the freshman large-scale lecture courses and adjunct-instructed writing courses which basically fund the upper-division courses in many a major.
    So, the economics of the situation tells us that administrations speak with forked-tongues: wringing their hands over student retention issues yet consciously preying off the drop-out rate which they deliberately engineer — setting up both the freshman student in the large lecture course and the overworked and underpaid lower-division adjunct — to fail.
    How else would it be possible to charge tuition to essentially duplicate the high-school senior year curriculum? What, in other countries, is “covered” in the high schools is neglected in the American secondary level senior year and then repeated in the freshman year of college.
    If there were true preK-16 articulation, the freshman year of college would disappear entirely — and with it the income stream and much of the adjunctification of the university. However, that would also entail far better management of the budget than is currently the case, far less waste by and on upper-level management, etc.
    I wouldn’t hold my breath….

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