Headlines

In the November 14th issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education sitting on my desk, the following headline is splashed across the front page: “Use of Part-Time Instructors Tied to Lower Student Success.” I can’t even begin to tell you how disappointed I am. I feel like Jeff Selingo, who edits The Chronicle, is missing the boat over and again where part-time faculty are concerned. I know part-time faculty don’t comprise even 10 percent of The Chronicle’s subscribers (and it’s no small wonder with coverage like this), but printing headlines that trash the reputation of an entire group of college faculty is nothing short of, well, pandering to the subscribers.

Chronicle writer Peter Schmidt, whom I spoke with before he wrote the piece, did a fine job of balanced reporting, I think. He quotes Cary Nelson (AAUP’s current president in whose ability to grasp the issues surrounding the lack of institutional support of part-time faculty I am quickly losing confidence). Nelson is quoted in the piece as saying, “We have had our heads in the sand about this problem for many years, and the problem is getting worse.” He said most part-time faculty members are deeply committed to their work, but many are “just frazzled” as a result of the pressures placed on them, and “the students are paying a price for it.”

Students are paying the price of being taught by faculty who are offered, as a rule, the bare minimum of institutional support. This happens at colleges which boast various union chapters, including AAUP union affiliates. The Connecticut State system comes immediately to mind. In the AAUP’s contract, part-time faculty union member pay is actually capped by a clause that restricts pay maximums, and the contract gives administrators permission to withhold any part-time faculty member’s final paycheck until “obligations” have been met. In the contract, professional development and travel money are divvied up 90 percent-10 percent between the full-time and part-time faculty thanks to the AAUP union negotiators. 

In The Chronicle’s piece, Keith Hoeller is quoted as saying that the study referred to in the piece actually measures the differences in institutional support offered to full-time and part-time faculty, and not differences in the teaching abilities between full-time and part-time faculty. As such, The Chronicle’s headline writer might just have easily titled the piece “Shoddy Support of Nation’s Part-time Faculty Adversely Impacts Student Retention.”

That would be more to the point, and a more accurate representation of the truth behind the study conducted by Paul D. Umbach, an associate professor of adult and higher education at North Carolina State University. However, taking college administrators to task is a dicey proposition at The Chronicle of Higher Education, where the bulk of the paper’s shrinking revenues come from classified advertising placed by those same department chairs, deans and vice presidents. It’s also a dicey task at AAUP, where the majority of the association’s membership is comprised of older, white men—the same guys who lead departments that employ part-time faculty and pointedly don’t provide, perhaps, for any professional development or support.

Well, I suppose this episode just shows that the need for AdjunctNation.com and its reporting on behalf of part-time faculty is even more important than ever. I agree with Cary Nelson about one thing: For years, The Chronicle and AAUP had their respective heads in the sand concerning the growing use of part-time faculty. Their heads are out of the sand now, but it’s increasingly obvious that sometimes their views are clouded by the sand still in their eyes and ears.

 

 

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