Here and Elsewhere, Part-Time Professors Need More Institutional Support

In a country where approximately 70% of faculty are off the tenure track, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education, what can we do to make a shift away from adjunct culture?

The realities faced by adjunct professors—long hours and exceptionally low pay after years of graduate education—are unfair and increasingly widespread in universities in the U.S. In 1969, tenured or tenure-track professors made up 78% of the faculty at U.S. colleges, while they made up only a third of the higher education workforce in 2009, according to the Pullias Center for Higher Education at the University of Southern California. The current dependence on adjunct professors in higher education is unsustainable, and schools must take action to hire more tenure-track faculty.

To this end, we commend the members of the Claremont Colleges that have moved to decrease their reliance on adjunct professors, though more work still needs to be done. It’s difficult to completely cut off the practice of hiring part-time professors completely, since professors often need replacements when they leave for sabbaticals. Still, people with doctorate degrees should not have glorified internships with little opportunity for advancement at the school.

On Page 2, Carlos Ballesteros and Sean Gunther tell the stories of two of the many part-time and temporary professors at the 5Cs. Their narratives, as well as those of other non-tenure track faculty, must be treated with respect. As much as we students are constantly told that professors are there for us, we need to acknowledge that some of our professors have to be there for themselves in order to make ends meet.

In order to understand issues facing adjunct and part-time faculty at the 5Cs, we should have a common vocabulary to describe faculty positions across the colleges. However, someone who is considered a “contingent professor” at Pitzer may be called a “visiting professor” at Pomona. This makes understanding the distinctions between each position confusing at best, overwhelming at worst.

While each college should be free to set its own system of faculty governance, the 5Cs have a very high degree of academic integration. There are several intercollegiate departments, and students are free to take courses at any of the colleges. As such, it is necessary to have a common vocabulary even if hiring policies differ from school to school. Given recent efforts to align 5C sexual assault policy, such a unification is certainly possible.

Furthermore, it’s necessary for schools to compile data regularly on their professors and make these numbers available to students. We have a right to know how many adjunct, part-time and visiting professors are on schools’ payrolls, especially considering how hard these professors often have to work to make ends meet. A recent article on Slate calls for prominent college ranking service U.S. News to penalize universities that employ too many adjuncts by making “the percentage of full-time faculty” a primary factor in rankings. We believe that using this percentage as a more central indicator in rankings would be effective in holding universities accountable, and thus, creating an incentive to change policies. 

Ultimately, we need to be there to support the most vulnerable members of our community, and part-time and temporary professors are no exception to this. When we’re at some of the wealthiest colleges in the country and professors are forced to live from check to check with no semblance of job security, something has to change. Increasing transparency about the realities adjuncts face is a step the administrations can take—but it’s also something we should advocate for as a greater student community. 

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