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For that matter, administrators and anyone else whose job is officially to care about quality of education has such a duty. Studies have shown that students taught primarily by adjunct faculty are more likely to drop out, for example. I know some adjuncts object to the idea that adjuncts to a worse job teaching. Maybe that's true--after all, some full-time faculty do a poor job. But I know that I put less work into my teaching than I would if I had a professional commitment to the school. One problem with adjuncting is that you are caught in a constant conundrum: if you don't put a lot of time into teaching, you feel like you are failing in a duty to your students. But if you do put a lot of time into teaching, you feel like you are failing a duty to yourself. Moreover, and I think this is important: it's very difficult to forge relationships with students. I often have students ask me at the end of a semester whether I'll be teaching a class they can take with me in the following semester. Sometimes, the answer is that I won't be at that college the following semester, but more commonly the answer is that I'll be teaching a course that is too low-level for them.

So I'd think anyone whose duties include improving (or maintaining high levels of) student education among them thereby has an obligation to decrease reliance on faculty who have no long-term connection to the institution.


I do not think it at all implausible that, on balance, adjuncts would be worse teachers than tenure track or tenured faculty, even if they are as intelligent, hard-working, capable etc.
There are several contextual factors that contribute to this.
1. adjuncts hope to be hired, among other things, for their teaching skills, so they will try to do their best to get good student evaluations and hone their teaching skills. But TT faculty are also motivated to have a good teaching dossier, and there also exist several incentives for tenured faculty (e.g., teaching awards, an increase in salary if you get the teaching award etc). And given that one can just send a subset of one's teaching experience as a dossier (e.g., student evals in a given year), the incentive to continue to excel as a teacher is not enormous for adjuncts.
2. Commitment to the school: As Roman remarks, being a tenured or TT faculty member fosters a sense of reciprocal loyalty. Faculty loyalty has declined in recent years, but still, one feels more loyal towards people who give you a decent wage and benefit, that you meet also socially and during faculty meetings, etc. Adjuncts are paid poorly, and given the recent Leiter discussion on the university's attempts to circumvent paying healthcare for them, the universities clearly do not treat them with respect or as people of value. So it seems reasonable to assume that lack of loyalty also goes the other way: what possible incentive do adjuncts have to make their institutions wonderful centers of learning?
3. Conditions are worse for adjuncts - most do not have an office where they can work as TT or tenured faculty members have. They can't meet with students in their office. They often do not have access to the same resources as TT and T faculty (e.g., a stipend to attend conferences or buy books) that would make them better teachers.
4. Adjuncts have high teaching loads, or if not, they often have a side job next to teaching. This high workload puts pressure on the amount of prepping they can do, especially given that many need to do unpaid research too, in order to improve their dossier for the job market. TT and T faculty typically have lower teaching loads (e.g., 2/2 or 2/3 and summers off). They are paid for doing research. Schwitzgebel has recently argued that good researchers make good teachers, because the research can feed into the research.
In sum, if we assume there are no intrinsic differences in intelligence, teaching capacity, knowledge etc between faculty members and adjuncts, these contextual factors will nevertheless result in a decrease in quality in teaching if adjuncts take up increasingly higher percentages of the total teaching load.


Definitely tenured faculty and also administrators have this moral obligation, but I think most administrators in particular simply don't care. Where I work it's very obvious that the adjunct-taught courses tend to be seriously inferior to the rest, for all kinds of reasons. Administrators must know this but from their point of view it's all _good enough_ They want bums in seats, money from government, etc. They aren't all that concerned about measures of intellectual or pedagogical quality that go beyond what they need to achieve those goals. That's how it seems here, anyway. Maybe it's different at other places.


How are faculty supposed to do 2? I mean it. Say a faculty wants to. If the admin is resilient and cares more about the financial savings that adjuncts afford, it's just not clear to me that we can do much of anything.

Marcus Arvan

Kevin: suppose tenured faculty collectively went on strike to demand more full-time positions and less adjunct dependency. I know, it would probably never happen -- but suppose it did. Isn't that the route that factory-workers' unions went?

Wouldn't *that* force administrations to change (i.e. create more full-time jobs)? What are administrations going to do: go on without *all* of their top tenured researchers (the people who give their institution its "name" and prestige)?

Moti Mizrahi

I don't think that a full-scale strike is needed to make administrators do something about the plight of contingent faculty. What if tenured faculty ceased from serving on committees and representing their universities in official roles?

BTW, where I come from, junior and senior faculty (and even students) go on strikes in solidarity every now and then: http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3064315,00.html . So it's not that farfetched.


Well, some of us teach at unis that have neither name nor prestige. And if our doing 2 requires that we can get all our colleagues to go on strike....


It's happened a few times in Canada too. Here's a very recent example:


Moti Mizrahi

Kevin: It's not as if you have to start from scratch. Some tenured faculty are already unionized at the local level. In addition, there are organizations like the AAUP and the AFT.


Well, it /would/ be starting from scratch here at my uni!

Moti Mizrahi

Rachel: Thanks for the link!

Kevin: Well, in that case you still have (3).


The problem with (3) is that it involves faculty shooting themselves in the foot, and so it's unlikely to catch on. If you're out there talking about how your school relies too much on adjuncts, maybe tenure protects you from admin retaliations. But: if you're giving off the impression that your school isn't that good, you're hurting enrollment. That can lead to all sorts of things, like worse working conditions (more students per class, say), or even departments getting cut (and so faculty getting fired, tenure or no). I think reliance on adjunct faculty is obviously bad for schools and education, and it would be great if more faculty publicly fought against it. But I can't imagine it will happen too often.

Of course what *should* happen is that actual accrediting bodies, instead of regulating how our course objectives are phrased on syllabi, did their job and tied accreditation to percent of courses taught by t/tt faculty, so schools would be forced to hire more tt faculty or shut down.

elisa freschi

I cannot avoid trying to phrase this duty as a general one. Would it be
a) "Everyone in the Academia has the duty to help the ones who have less than him/her"?
If so, then, should not it entail our (non-TT/non-T adjuncts, post-doc, etc.) duty to help younger colleagues who are unemployed/have less publications and so on? (see Dan Dennis and Marcus Arvan's discussion in the comments to this post: http://philosopherscocoon.typepad.com/blog/2013/04/publishing-secrets.html)

If one wants such duties to regard only TT/T staff members, then one should phrase the general duty as
b) "Everyone in the Academia who has *enough* has the duty to help the ones who have less than him/her". The problem is, however, how much enough is enough… For me, a TT position seems enough, but my colleagues who are in a TT position speak of the distress of not having your position confirmed (and those who have a tenure have mortgages to pay, an aweful lot of administrative job to do, dream about researching instead of just teaching………).

(Personally, I agree with a) and only as a recommendation with b). What about you?

Justin Caouette

Elisa: I'm with you. A over B.

Moti: I know you wanted to focus on 2 and 3 but 1 seems to be particularly problematic. Are programs being unethical (especially universities where students tend to have a more difficult time getting a TT job) in having a PhD program in the first place? How about programs that know their students want TT jobs but are unlikely to get them? They are flooding the market with adjuncts willing to work for less to stay in the field, and, with budget cuts looming many departments are opting to make those hires instead. Often, the University does not give them the option to fill vacant TT positions. With many programs dealing with TT hiring freezes and with far too many degrees being given out every year compared to the number of open job slots and back-logged PhD holders (is this true? it seems obvious), should programs take less students or close up shop? Or, is the process of getting a PhD something that should not be taken away even if it seems apparent that many of the graduates will not be in a position to get a job? I'm inclined to say that there are too many PhDs (and M.A.’s for that matter) going out and programs should take this into consideration when considering how many students to accept, though this is also problematic for many reasons. Either way, if we fix 1 then it becomes much more feasible for non TT folks to collectivize and attempt 4. All this coming from a PhD student who is not in the top tier (go figure).

Been There

Grad students are a source of relatively cheap teaching, do a lot of the teaching and grading tenured faculty don't want to do, and provide warm bodies so faculty can teach seminars on their research rather than bored Freshmen. Most programs will not cut back on their grad student enrollment. Some are actually increasing it. It makes economic sense for administrators and faculty. All you can do, as a student, is go to a very good grad school (very) so you can get tenure too, get out, get very lucky, or get crushed.

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