As we all try to make sense of the state of adjunct faculty, and try to write, it is easy to get caught up in the immediate: to focus on one’s own personal frustrations, or to step up no more than a single category and to consider adjuncts as such.
That’s understandable, but it does not lead to a wider view of the issues. Today I’d like to touch on three attempts to put the situation into perspective.
The first is a recent story in The Chronicle of Higher Education on outsourcing feedback on written assignments. Essays are sent electronically from colleges in the United States to “India, Singapore, and Malaysia” as well as to some graders elsewhere in the U.S. These grading specialists provide written commentary on the essays; the company providing this “Virtual-TA” service bills per essay graded.
This indicates that adjuncts are not just struggling for equality with the tenure track faculty at their employing institutions. They are workers in a global economy, and to the extent that services such as this catch on (and run smoothly), they will raise the pressure on adjunct writing teachers. After all, there is a small step from virtual teaching assistant to virtual adjuncts.
The second perspective comes to us courtesy of the Education Writers Association (EWA). For more than half a century, EWA has labored as a professional organization to raise the level of writing about education. Their website makes a national survey on education reporting available for free here. While this dates from 2006, and is therefore a bit dated, it is worth reviewing because of the patterns shown in what gets written about. In 2005, over 60% of stories published “were about personnel/institutional issues, academics, and finance.” And what got written about least? “Grade inflation, class size, and faculty unionization,” the last two of which being topics directly impacting adjunct faculty. That leads to a second perspective: we’re not news. Our issues are not being addressed because they aren’t being written about. Therefore, if you want anyone to even know about them, you need to sit down and type. Let your next adjunct writing be a letter to the editor, the state legislature, a professional organization, or a local college.
And the third perspective? A positive one. The Hechinger Report is a recently announced news organization that will be covering education. They promise to report and blog regularly on community colleges, that pervasive but under-discussed element in the American college scene. I for one look forward to it, and will be commenting on their stories and post often.