The tenure/adjunct dialectic

To end the exploitation of adjuncts, get rid of tenure, writes Community College Dean in response to a New York Times’ Room for Debate on tenure.

The cost of tenure goes far beyond the salary of the tenured. It includes the opportunity cost of more productive uses that had to be skipped to pay for a decision made decades earlier in a different context. (We actually have people for whom staff jobs were created when their tenured speciality went away. That’s a direct cost of tenure.) It also includes the cost of the various bribes that have to be paid to the tenured to get them to step up to acknowledge institutional needs: course releases (a direct cause of adjunct hiring), preferential scheduling (whether it makes sense for students or not), and even cash stipends (which have to be paid for somehow).

Adjuncts are hired to teach the classes the tenured faculty won’t.  “Aristocrats need serfs, and the tenured need the adjuncts,” he writes. There’s an endless supply of underemployed PhDs willing to work as adjuncts because the dream of tenure lures young idealists into graduate school.

Getting rid of a tenured professor is ridiculously difficult, the dean writes. The courts  have interpreted tenure as ownership of the job.

Combine an ownership interest with the lack of a mandatory retirement age, and you get some pretty entitled, embittered, ineffective people lumbering around, their life support paid by the surplus value created by the adjuncts who teach they courses the cranky veterans would rather not. And do you know what those seventy-somethings are waiting for? Retirement incentives! Another cost of tenure.

Tenure has a public opinion cost as well. Tenure’s defenders claim that professors need tenure to protect them from evil and incompetent administrators.  As college costs continue to rise, taxpayers are asked to “pay progressively more for someone unaccountable (faculty) managed by someone incompetent (administrators).”

The dean advocates “renewable contracts with academic freedom stipulated in the contract language.”

Nobody would be forced into the artificial “up or out” moment that does so much to squelch real academic freedom. . . . Jobs could change as institutional needs change. Nobody would have to try to guess how productive someone else would be in thirty years, which is the system we have now.

Adjuncts are treated well at Vancouver Community College, reports the Chronicle of Higher Education as part of its package on Great Colleges To Work For.  Under the Canadian college’s union contract, instructors who work at least half time for 19 out of 24 months achieve “regular” status, which comes with job security, health benefits for half-timers and professional development opportunites.

At most community colleges in the U.S. and Canada, adjuncts earn a fraction of what full-time faculty make. At VCC, a half-time instructor earns half as much as a full-time instructor who does the same work and has similar experience.

Adjuncts accrue seniority, which protects them from lay-offs, at the same rate as full-time faculty. Part-timers are paid for office hours, grading papers, and preparing course materials.

After working for six months, adjuncts have “the first right of refusal for any new teaching contracts offered in their departments to temporary employees.”

POSTED BY Joanne Jacobs ON July 28, 2010

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