Hotlips Houlihan and Adjuncting

Ian Houlihan, we’ll call him “Hotlips,” just for fun, is a tenured faculty member at a Catholic University in the Northeast. In the February 23rd edition of The Chronicle of Higher Education, he writes about his “foray into adjunct life.” Where to begin?

How about we start with the fact that he uses a pseudonym instead of his real name. I would have done so, as well, but perhaps for a different reason. Here’s what Hotlips writes about preparing for the course he is going to teach as an adjunct:


“I had just received tenure at a private university, so the chance of doing something new — even if it was basically the same thing I was already doing, but in a different place — was intriguing. What’s more, teaching American government during the election sounded pretty easy. As an introductory course, it would not require much prep. ‘I’ll just go in once a week and talk about the election,’ I told a friend.”

No wonder the AAUP is having such a tough time defending tenure outside of the Academy. Hotlips confirms every suspicion lurking in the minds of those who oppose tenure. Perhaps you’ve heard some of the same comments I’ve heard on the subject?

Tenure encourages professors to be lazy.

What in the Wide World of Sports do professors do all day, anyway?

Course prep.? What’s that?

Sure as shootin’ course prep. is not what Hotlips describes in his essay. Can you imagine the nuclear fall-out if an adjunct had written that he was just going to accept a course because he could just prance into class every week and talk about the election? Say that at your interview, and see if you get hired. Had an adjunct written that in The Chronicle of Higher Education, the comment would be taken and used as confirmation of the alleged destruction of undergraduate education by part-time faculty nation-wide. 

I can just hear self-proclaimed contingent-faculty- spokesman-on-the-tenure-track Marc Bousquet: “Good Gravy! Adjuncts don’t prepare adequately for their courses! I support them in not preparing for their courses, but more adjuncts need to take the lead and speak out about this.” 

AAUP would form Committee P to study to preparedness of Part-time Professors (Bousquet would Chair Committee P after posting to InsideHigherEd that more adjuncts need to Chair such committees.). Cary Nelson would write in his next column in Academe: “AAUP supports adjuncts, but we need fewer of us. Well, them. No, us. You know who I mean! Only fast-food faculty think they…I mean us….I mean…..forget it….can waltz into a classroom and just chat about the election all semester. It’s just this kind of thing that is destroying the tenure I enjoyed for 35 years, and dragging down continuity in academic programs across the nation.”

“We need to get back to days when three out of four faculty actually prepared for their classes,” AFT’s William Scheuerman would announce at his press conferences. “We need more full-time faculty who actually have the time to prepare for classes, meet with their students and mentor them. We’ve never conducted a study to answer the question of whether adjuncts have the time to prepare for classes, meet students and mentor them, but I’ll just throw it out there anyway.” 

Sandra Schroeder, President of AFT-Washington, would send along a snappy email to the union’s sate-wide listserv in support of Scheuerman’s proclamation in which she blames, “Keith Hoeller’s anti-union rhetoric for all Washington state adjunct faculty who don’t prepare for their courses.” She would also blame Hoeller and other adjunct rabble rousers for, well, “everything.” Then, she’d hire Dr. Dan Jacoby to do a study.

“We’re not demeaning the efforts of adjunct faculty,” researcher Dan Jacoby might proffer,”but not preparing adequately for one’s courses leads to a significant 1 or 2 percent drop in student retention.”

Researcher Andrea Jaeger, after examining 30,000 sets of student transcripts would announce: “My guess is that adjuncts not preparing for courses leads to first-year student retention problems.”

As for Hotlips, he goes on to do a credible impersonation of George Bush the First. Remember the time Bush went into a supermarket and went on and on about the scanners? He’d never seen one. Like Bush, for whom life had seldom interfered in his fantasy attic, Hotlips meets students who are “diverse,” and “not affluent.” Students who can’t afford books. He hides his “moonlighting” from everyone on his “home” campus. The process of getting hired he describes as “disordered” and “odd.” (He ended up being hired via email.) Then, from the man who tells us teaching a course on American government is as easy as 1-2-talk about the election for an entire semester, we hear the following:

“Needless to say, the experience gave me greater respect for the adjuncts I work with at my home campus….As the percentage of courses around the country taught by adjuncts continues to rise, it would seem the processes by which they are supported, evaluated, and compensated are going to have to be revisited. If not, we are going to see a considerable shift in the nature and quality of higher education.”

So, we should all fret about a considerable shift in the nature and quality of higher education because Hotlips was a lazy sod of an adjunct and adjuncts teach half the courses in the country? I think not. Once again, we have sweeping conclusions drawn about the impact adjuncts may have on higher education based on reasoning that can only be described as having the consistency of dryer fluff. Does anyone remember the Bowen Report? That was the report that concluded scads of tenure-line faculty would retire, and there would be oodles of new tenure-line jobs for Ph.D.s lingering sadly as burger-flippers at their local McDonalds. The Bowen Report was lauded, promulgated, commented upon, written up, and embraced by those within higher education well after it was proven to contain nothing more than, well, bad math and grossly inaccurate conclusions.

Hotlips Houlihan’s essay is a chip off the old Bowen Report. Unfortunately, there are a lot of chips making the rounds in higher education these days.

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