Of Course Tenured Faculty Are Responsible for the "Adjunct Crisis"
by P.D. Lesko
On Feb. 22, 2017, Blaine Greteman, an associate professor of English at the University of Iowa, penned an essay for The Chronicle of Higher Education titled, “Don’t Blame Tenured Academics for the Adjunct Crisis.” In his piece, Dr. Greteman writes, “Faculty hiring has been outpaced by that of administrators and staff charged with managing a growing army of adjuncts and monetizing the university’s recreational and residential wings. Say what you will about Miltonists, but almost without exception this does not reflect their priorities and it was not their doing. The change does, however, mirror broader economic and political trends, and this is important if we want to talk about ‘the system’ with any real hope of changing it.”
In short, the “adjunct crisis” is the result of systemic changes to the American economy. “Outside of this supposed ivory tower, income inequality in the United States at large has arguably become worse than at any time in the 20th century….it [is] one of the worst symptoms of a larger devaluation of labor, of academic access, and of intellectual work.”
His reasoning is little more than sophistry and poppycock.
According to a state employee salary database posted by The Des Moines Register, in 2016 Blaine Greteman earned a salary of $82,779, up from $64,019 in 2012. According to a 2012 piece published in The Ames Tribune, there are upwards of 400 adjunct faculty at the University of Iowa and “52 percent of ISU’s academic departments have adjuncts teaching loads that exceed national standards set by the American Association of University Professors.” Adjuncts at the University of Iowa teach close to 40 percent of the credit hours offered.
Let’s cut through Dr. Greteman’s carefully crafted sob story and ask a single question: Who benefits financially from the devaluation of the labor of adjunct faculty and the professional discrimination against non-tenured instructors? The answer is simple: tenured faculty benefit economically, professionally and socially. In higher education, there has evolved over the past five decades a tyranny of the minority in all its ugly and active oppression.
The AAUP’s 2014 salary survey which, for decades, neglected to track salaries for adjunct faculty, revealed that adjuncts, on average, earn annual salaries that are jut 1/10th of those paid to tenure-lined and tenured faculty.
A look at a university budget that breaks out total amounts paid to full-time and part-time faculty is an education in how tenured faculty benefit and why they are to blame for the perpetuation of the “adjunct crisis.”
Here are some numbers from the 2016-2017 approved budget at Youngstown State University, where adjunct faculty have not had a raise in 25 years. Adjuncts at YSU teach 51 percent of the college’s credit hours, yet in 2016 300 full-time faculty collected 75 percent of the $40.5 million the college allocated to faculty pay. Over just 24 months, adjunct faculty at YSU saw the amount allocated for their pay drop by 11 percent. Meanwhile, full-time faculty pay over the same period was reduced by 1.1 percent.
In 2016, YSU cut the overall amount allocated to all faculty pay:
Temporary / Part-Time Faculty
$9,885,604 allocated in 2015 was cut to $8,965,711 (-$919,893) or a 9.3 percent reduction in the amount paid to the college’s 650 adjunct faculty.
$30,710,870 allocated in 2015 was cut to $29,620,154 (-$1,090,716) or a 3.6 percent reduction is the amount paid to the college’s 300 full-time faculty.
In 2017, YSU allocated faculty pay thusly:
Temporary / Part-Time Faculty
$8,965,711 allocated in 2016 was lowered to $8,794,274 (-$171,437) or a 1.9 percent
decrease in the amount paid to the college’s 650 part-time faculty.
$29,620,154 allocated in 2016 was raised to $30,355,273 ($735,119) or a 2.5 percent increase in the amount paid to the college’s 300 full-time faculty.
Youngstown State University tenure-line and tenured faculty are represented by an Ohio chapter of the National Education Association. Not only are non-tenured faculty excluded from the full-timers’ union, the union contract includes language that codifies the exploitation of that college’s adjunct faculty.
The system in higher education perpetuated by (and to the ultimate benefit of) the tenured faculty is a classic example of minority rule—along with all of the ugly repression, persistence of discrimination, devaluation of labor and hogging of resources that we see with minority rule. Tenured faculty blame administrators and point the tenured finger at administrative bloat, which is a reality. Administrators blame legislators, who have reduced the amount states spend on higher education. Never mind that tuition revenue in higher education is higher than it has ever been before, the total amount colleges allocate to student aid has been steadily reduced as a percentage of total revenues, and as a result student debt has skyrocketed.
Tomorrow, education unions that represent tenured faculty in colleges all over the United States could pledge to divide the total amount allocated by their colleges for faculty salaries by the percent of credit hours taught by tenured and non-tenured faculty. At Youngstown State University, then, 51 percent of the total $39,149,545 in faculty salary pay would be paid out to the 650 part-time faculty and 49 percent of the total to the 300 full-time faculty. This would mean part-time faculty who have not had a raise in 25 years would see their salaries increased by 150 percent to an average of $30,700 per year. Full-time faculty would earn, on average, $63,944 per year, plus the generous benefits they already enjoy.
Maybe then, full-time faculty would get serious about reducing the administrative bloat that is consuming higher education so that there could be more money to allocate to instruction and faculty salaries. Tenured faculty would not do this, because it would be a tremendous devaluation of their professional and economic self-worth. Yet, tenured faculty actively participate as adjunct faculty pay is cut, benefits withheld, professional development ignored and opportunities stymied.
Is the reason adjunct faculty across the nation are holding office hours in coffee shops because of “income equality in the United States?” Of course not. It’s because tenured faculty have offices and whether adjunct faculty have offices isn’t an issue tenured faculty care about. Is the reason that adjunct faculty are excluded from Faculty Senates in thousands of colleges across the nation because of “broader economic and political trends?” No. It’s because Faculty Senates wield power, and the tenured faculty who occupy those senate seats don’t want to share their say about institutional governance with the non-tenured faculty majorities at their respective institutions. Faculty Senates are a bastion of patrician privilege.
To be clear, no one should begrudge Blaine Greteman his faculty status. He earned a Ph.D. from UC-Berkeley and a Master’s in philosophy from Oxford. He has published extensively and his classes on the poet Milton have earned him three respectable reviews from his students (4.2 average) on RateMyProfessor.com. What Greteman in his essay, and hundreds of thousands of other tenure-line and tenured faculty often neglect to acknowledge, is that they are able to ascend that academic Everest thanks to the work of hundreds of thousands of Academic Sherpas. These are the non-tenured faculty hired to carry the increasingly large number of credit hours their tenured faculty colleagues have turned over to them.
The truth is that tenure-line and tenured faculty, much like hypochondriacs, have enjoyed the symptoms of higher education’s “poor health” associated with the Adjunct Crisis for the past 40 years.