On several occasions, I’ve mentioned the plight of adjunct professors: that is, the teachers who not only don’t have tenure, but don’t have a job, per se. They are paid (poorly) by the course, get no benefits, have no security from semester to semester, and currently make up a shocking 50 percent of the professoriate nationwide.
Turns out that “plight” may not be precisely the right word, at least according to a survey the Chronicle of Higher Education (subscription required) has conducted in the Chicago area. At least one piece of the conventional wisdom is correct: 80 percent of the adjuncts reported earning $20,000 a year or less. But an overwhelming number said they were satisfied or very satisfied with their jobs, and nearly half said they preferred part-time work, in many cases because it fit in with the demands of their family life.
That’s all well and good. But several grim facts remain. One, these people are underpaid. At the University of Delaware, an adjunct with a PhD gets about $4000 a course. (That’s before taxes and, embarrassingly, parking.) Two, women and other underrepresented groups are overrepresented here—as the bit about “family life” suggests.
Third, students are generally ill-served by the proliferation of adjuncts. They are knowledgeable and dedicated, to be sure, but they’re also harried and overworked. Plus, the lack of security crimps their style; they tend to teach cautiously, which isn’t ideal.
Over the past several years, the U of D, has, admirably, converted some part-time positions to full-time lines. But in the current economic climate, that trend is unlikely to continue. Think about it. A full-time prof in our department teaches four courses a year and might cost the university (once you count up all the benefits and 403(b) contributions) about $100,000 a year. Four adjuncts run you $16,000 or less. Money talks.