Let’s Talk Turkey (After Thanksgiving)

The AFT recently came out with a new study that concludes part-time faculty are teaching a majority of the courses offered at public colleges and universities in the U.S. I suppose the surprise, then, has to do with the use of part-time faculty at 4-year institutions. We all know that community colleges have been loaded down with part-time faculty for at least two decades. Now the kicker: the AFT’s study is titled “Reversing Course: The Troubled State of Academic Staffing and a Path Forward.”

Maybe I’m so wrong that when I re-read this a decade hence, I will look back at my own naivete and chuckle. However, AFT higher education leaders (right along with the AAUP’s president Dr. Cary Nelson) are baying at the full moon. Yes, Virginia, adjuncts teach the majority of courses in public colleges in the United States. Yes, my Sweet, temporary faculty now comprise the majority of faculty in the United States. At the moment, 52 percent of college faculty teach part-time and 70 percent of the nation’s 1.2 million college faculty teach off the tenure-track.

The InsideHigherEd piece I read about the study quotes an AFT usual suspect, Barbara Bowen, president of PSC-CUNY. IHE founder and writer Scott Jaschik needs to consider the sources he uses. Barbara Bowen, and other PSC-CUNY leaders, recently quashed a revolt among its 8,000 part-time members with tactics that included refusing part-time members access to the union’s email list. The part-timers were up in arms over a proposed contract that included the ever-so-popular, yet clearly evil “equal percentage raise.” Oh, and when there was a chance that the AFT’s boondoggle FACE program would be funded by the New York State Assembly (pre-Spitzer’s spin with a call girl), New York State officials who suggested adjunct faculty currently teaching at CUNY be hired for the funded full-time positions, met with “resistance” on the part of PSC-CUNY union officials, as well as the union’s full-time faculty members. 

Back to the study. So, here’s my observation: the trend of using huge numbers of part-time faculty to teach the majority of courses at public colleges and universities in the United States will never be reversed. First of all, even with the minimal institutional support, non-existent job security and poor supervision they’re afforded part-timers they do just as good a job in the classroom as their full-time colleagues. Second of all, the trillions simply don’t exist in our state and federal budgets to reverse the trend. As a result, every dollar the education unions spend on political influence, programs, staff and studies aimed at reversing the trend are being wasted in the name of chuckle-headed policy and poor leadership.

Well, FACE and union activists might argue that higher education deserves more funding, and with more funding colleges and universities will, yes, funnel millions into hiring more full-time faculty. Sure they will.  If colleges won’t allocate money now to the hiring of more full-time, tenure-stream faculty, what evidence do we have that just giving them more money will result in a reversal of the current staffing trends? In 2006, states spent a total of $191 billion dollars to enroll a scant 5.9 percent of our country’s adult population. The majority of those people were taught by part-timers and taught very competently, thank you very much.

With significantly more money at their disposal, there’s scant evidence to lead us to conclude that college administrators would spend it any differently than they do at the moment. This is what makes the notion of “reversing” the staffing trends in higher education wrong-headed. 

So, where should the AFT, AAUP and NEA be plowing their tens of millions of dollars in higher education money? They ought to plow it into actually organizing temporary faculty. The education unions ought to work to legislate pro-rata pay and benefits for temporary college faculty through a national (ideally) platform. Union leaders should start tomorrow making sure that their locals leaders stop screwing their part-time faculty members by negotiating “equal percentage” raises, and by classifying full-time faculty who teach overload as part-time faculty.

When, oh, when will the AAUP, AFT and NEA make the institutional support of part-time faculty a national priority? I predict it will happen sometime in the next decade after FACE falls flat on its rear-end.

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