Wednesday, February 25, 2015

National Adjunct Walkout Day (and Why It Matters to You)

Today, February 25, is National Adjunct Walkout Day. The majority of college teachers in America today are not full-time instructors with salaries, benefits, or job security, but allegedly "part time" adjunct faculty members paid a few thousand dollars per course. Today, across our country, those adjunct faculty members will be walking out of their classes and holding events to raise awareness.

I support them, and so should you. It is in everyone's best interest.

I have written before that placing so much of colleges' teaching load on adjuncts damages students' education. It makes teachers overly dependent on student evaluations, so that nationwide standards inevitably get lowered. It keeps courses from working together in an effective sequence, because the teachers of each class are cut off from the rest of the program. And it leads to gross overwork, which burns adjuncts out, spreads their labor too thin, and demands less and less attention to each student. Most adjunct professors are gifted teachers. We throw their gifts away. The abusive work conditions they face damage the education students get. Working harder won't fix that. Overwork is part of the problem.

And this is a systematic problem. It's not one or two colleges doing this, and one or two colleges can't stop doing it on their own. Adjunctification, the move to a majority-adjunct teaching force, has become systematic, and the decision-makers don't feel that they can afford to stop relying on it. If they did, their budgets would fall apart, and competing schools would gain advantages over them. This problem can only be stopped by pressure nationwide. The people who run universities believe that they can't afford to stop using adjuncts. They have to reach the point where they can't afford NOT to stop, where the price of adjunctification becomes too high. And that pressure can't just be applied to one or two schools. It has to be system-wide.

This should matter to you if you're a student. Adjunctification, the switch to a majority-adjunct teaching force, is a way for colleges to spend your tuition on things other than your education. It matters if you're the parent of a student. It matters if you're one of the shrinking number of full-time tenure-unit faculty; the reliance on adjuncts also means fewer full-time professors. They too get overworked (because a smaller number have to share the work that adjuncts aren't allowed to do), and they too have their teaching effectiveness undermined. If all of the basic intro classes are taught by overworked teachers without the time or resources to be thorough, the students aren't going to come into more advanced classes with a thorough grasp of the basics. And then those advanced courses aren't what they should be, either. It's that simple. 

And it matters to you if you live in America. The burden on America's adjunct professors damages our entire system of higher education. And a shakily-educated populace is not good for us: not economically, not globally, and not in terms of protecting our democracy. It makes us less prepared as workers, less competitive in international trade, and less informed as citizens. What's bad for adjunct teachers is bad for all teachers, for all students, and for all Americans. Please support National Adjunct Walkout Day.

cross-posted from Dagblog

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