Invisible Adjunct has a follow-up on the thread from yesterday. She adds the following insight, gleaned from an analysis of several sources cited in the post:

It is quite true that the use of more adjuncts allows universities to offer more courses to more students. Given the cost-effectiveness of this trend, the danger, as I see it, is that entire professions become thoroughly, if not completely, adjunctified. If full-time English faculty, for example, agree to a system in which the part-timer teaches an English course for $2,500, at what point does the administration decide that the teaching of an English course is indeed worth no more than $2500? While King’s analysis seems to presuppose some sort of equilibrium (the continued existence of a tenure track alongside the adjunct track), the trend in some disciplines is in fact away from the tenure track and toward the adjunct track.

The other query I would raise: while King’s suggestion that “tinkering with the system may be more costly than we realize” is no doubt a valid concern (who knows what would be the unintended consequences of tinkering?), it seems to assume a good deal more power and agency on the part of faculty than is probably the case. I believe that tenure is now under attack. The public does not support it, and neither do significant numbers of university administrators. Though faculty teaching at elite, private insitutions are probably safe, those teaching at publicly funded schools are not. Without an active effort to halt (if not reverse) current trends toward part-time faculty, it is difficult to see how adjunct-heavy disciplines can maintain and defend the continued existence of a tenure track.

While I agree with IA’s points on adjunctification and lowering of professionalism, the problem is much deeper. Because most university administrators these days are educrats rather than scholar-administrators, they basically see faculty as an “expense” rather than as an asset. Indeed, I’m not sure anyone really thinks of professors as professionals anymore, and maybe with good reason. Not only are they radically lower paid compared to doctors and lawyers, but they don’t seem to view themselves in the same manner. The rather slovenly manner in which most dress for work is but one anecdotal example.

FILED UNDER: Economics and Business, Education,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Jem says:

    Uh, James, Invisible Adjunct is female (ref postings on motherhood and the very first of the Personal musings section).

  2. James Joyner says:

    Ah. I don’t read sections; just posts:)

  3. joy says:

    Just a question. I’m a computer instructor, but I can only teach at the community college level or lower because I only hold a BA. Of the typical $2500 one gets paid for teaching a class, what is the hourly breakdown on that? I assume the stipend is for in-class time, but for you instructors out there, how much time do you actually spend on prepping for a class?

    Very likely, I get paid to teach more than someone with a Phd.

  4. Tom says:

    And the other problem is one of quality. It seems to be the rare professor who will maintain the quality of their classroom time after they have achieved tenure. Tenure is not a benefit for the typical undergraduate student. At larger institutions, having a “tenured professor” means a grad student will be teaching ones class.
    Tenure is a wonderful perk. However, it is one that should die on the vine over the next 50 years.
    I see the trend away from the traditional university enviroment, and into a world that is much more practical featuring minimal classroom time and much more e-learning.

  5. James Joyner says:

    I would imagine adjunct pay would vary wildly by discipline, geography, and in some cases, enrollment. Certainly, prep time varies even more wildly, as it is almost completely self-determined.

  6. James Joyner says:

    Tom: I would think the correlation between teaching quality, however that’s measured, and tenure would work in the opposite direction. There is very little reward for teaching well in tenuring decisions, which are based almost entirely on research.

    And while I agree that the trend you cite will grow, I’m not sure it’s a good one. Universities are not supposed to be technical institutes to teach job skills but rather institutions of higher learning.

  7. Tom says:

    I agree, however the economics of almost all universities these days are not healthy. This, in my humble opinion, will lead to a huge split in the offering of the educational experience. There will be the IVY’s adn near Ivy’s that will survive intact, there will be large growth in the suburban state commuter campuses, and lots of carnage in the small and underfunded liberal arts colleges. These smaller campuses got caught over the last 15 years of expanding their plants and facilities to “compete”, that they have created a capital pit that only escalating tuitions can cover. And I truly feel that Mom’s and Dad’s are not going to look out and say, ” I would rather send little Tommy to Denison at 120K for 4 Years, or University of Georgia, Georgia Southern, ect… for 50K. the data is showing that there is very little corrolation between the income potential of degrees from these schools. I went to Denison University, in Granville, Ohio. It was a tremendous experience, but for 70K in todays dollars, is it worth that much? Or should we allow little Tommy to go to UGA and buy him a new car on graduation. Troubling questions for me. Business Week ran a good article on this a couple of months ago.

    Here is the link.

    Great thread..