Academia Is Messed Up
May 10, 2011
Here’s one handy chart to illustrate why, courtesy of the AAUP:
This figure tells us a few things, none of which are particularly great.
1) The myth of grad-student overproduction is mostly a myth. See that column on the far right? It’s pretty much steady. So the rate of grad-student overproduction is the same as it was in 1975, perhaps not even as bad.
2) The column to the left of grad students is far more telling, and really bad news. Part-time faculty have no benefits. They have no guarantee of a job from semester to semester. In most places, they make less than half what a full-time employee makes. To give an example from my own life, this year I worked as a full-time, non-tenure-track lecturer at a place where I adjuncted. That full-time job paid exactly twice per credit hour what I earned an adjunct.
Here’s what adjuncts do: they teach high-enrollment, entry-level courses. They often provide the initial experience a student has with a particular department. And they get paid very little to do it–some as little as $2500 per class. Since adjuncts generally have to teach at multiple institutions to make ends meet, they have less time per class than a full-time faculty member. Out of necessity, most adjuncts make easier and easier-to-grade exams. They also spend less time prepping for class, or are reluctant to integrate the latest materials into coursework. Why? They aren’t lazy. They just don’t have time.
For the students, this has multiple implications. They might learn old information. They might have an easy time with easy questions, and not learn anything. They might have an adjunct professor who is so focused on his or her research — the only thing that he or she might get recognized for, though once you have the adjunct stink on you it never comes off — that he or she ignores student emails at conferences or around important deadlines. Or that adjunct may just tune out altogether as he or she realizes that the job doesn’t pay enough to worry about students’ futures. And, sometimes, they might get an instructor who loves teaching, and doesn’t yet know that adjuncting is a dead end. And the kicker? If a student really loves an adjunct, he or she will likely not be able to take another course with them, since in many places they are relegated to intro courses only.
Adjuncting is bad for both students and departments, since it often means fewer students are taking advanced classes in departments, whether because they have a crap teacher or a good one they can never take again. It means less tuition money for those departments, and that they have less value to the university. And so the cycle gets worse, because there’s no justifying a tenure-track line to a dying department. (And I don’t have any time to go into it here, but for full-time faculty, you should really think about how adjuncts teaching high-enrollment courses get the tuition dollars to pay for YOUR salary to teach classes with ten kids in them. Because I have.)
3) At 7.6 percent of university jobs, getting a tenure-track job is less likely than winning a scratch-off ticket. A lot of NY State Lotto tickets have at least one in seven odds. This is much worse.
Would you spend eight to ten years in school for any field if someone told you that only 7.6 percent of the jobs* had a future or a guarantee of more than four months, or, at most, a year? Would you do it if someone told you there would be over 200 applicants for each job, always and forever? Would you do it knowing that if you took one of those part-time jobs where you gain experience teaching, most of the time they’ll pass you over for someone ABD (all but dissertation, for my non-academic readers) who “shows potential” because teaching as an adjunct part-time holds a stigma for many in the profession?
A lot of faculty members are now saying that they warn grad students that it’s a tough market. However, most people still go with the adage, “There’s always room for people who do good work. You do good work.” With those odds, however, “good work” doesn’t cut it. Most people who get through grad school do “good work.” Hell, many do “great work.” And not all of them have jobs, because there aren’t enough jobs to go around.
(Aaaaaaand, finally, that would assume that all jobs went to good people. But as this article in the Chronicle attests, that isn’t the case.)
*Outside those with tenure, but you aren’t eligible for those straight out of grad school. Still, the total of tenure and tenure-track jobs is 24.4 percent. That’s pretty terrible.