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Class ends Students pack up and head back to their dorms The professor meanwhile goes to her car to catch a little sleep and then eat a cheeseburger in her lap before driving across the city to a different university to teach another wholly different class All for a paycheck that once prep and grading are factored in barely reaches minimum wage   Welcome to the life of the mind in the gig economy Over the past few decades the job of college professor has been utterly transformed—for the worse America’s colleges and universities were designed to serve students and create knowledge through the teaching research and stability that come with the longevity of tenured faculty but higher education today is dominated by adjuncts In 1975 only thirty percent of faculty held temporary or part time positions By 2011 as universities faced both a decrease in public support and ballooning administrative costs that number topped fifty percent Now some surveys suggest that as many as seventy percent of American professors are working course to course with few benefits little to no security and extremely low pay   In The Adjunct Underclass Herb Childress draws on his own firsthand experience and that of other adjuncts to tell the story of how higher education reached this sorry state Pinpointing numerous forces within and beyond higher ed that have driven this shift he shows us the damage wrought by contingency not only on the adjunct faculty themselves but also on students the permanent faculty and administration and the nation How can we say that we value higher education when we treat educators like desperate day laborers?   Measured but passionate rooted in facts but sure to shock The Adjunct Underclass reveals the conflicting values strangled resources and competing goals that have fundamentally changed our idea of what college should be This book is a call to arms for anyone who believes that strong colleges are vital to society  

10 thoughts on “The Adjunct Underclass

  1. says:

    If you think the laws of capitalism were somehow not something academics had to worry about you'd be wrong Although the Tenure Track professors are doing fine thank you there is a class of postdoc the NonTenure Track adjunct who is a PhD level burger flipper Made to teach a semester course at an average rate of 2700 dollars per course when the hours put in are calculated comes out to less than minimum wage in some states in the US This is a class of workers who have the highest credentials but make low wages have no job security are subject to harassment and must remain silent or face reprisal in other words marginal as the most exploited workers in this economy yet entrusted to teach intro courses to freshman at most universities This is a bad situation for the adjuncts the students and yes even the shrinking number of privileged Tenure Track professors who colleges have slowly been replacing with academic burger flippers Eye opening and disturbing no one is safe from the one percentAn hour long discussion with the author about this bookhttpswwwyoutubecomwatch?vR b

  2. says:

    For anyone who has kept up with the Chronicle of Higher Education regularly over the last several years or The Adjunct Underclass reads like a greatest hits compilation of all that we've seen at CHE week after week In fact CHE is where I first heard about this book What sets Herb Childress's book apart is the clear well reasoned argument that he steadily builds through the book Also you don't have to endure the arrogant grandstanding and childish bickering in the comments section which is apparently an essential part of any article posted to the CHE website I love books This is the kind of book that people like me who have been shut out of the collegiate life we once dreamed of will both cheer for and weep over It resonates so deeply with those disappointed hopes I don't know if people who have achieved their tenure track university dreams will understand the book; they may feel that it is unfair or too extremeI'll mention a few specific points that I especially enjoyed The first is Childress's explanation of why despite the many With a PhD you can do any career websites PhDs are ill suited to any vocation except the university This is something I have felt very acutely but I've never heard anyone talk about it this perfectlyThere's a lot of commentary in doctoral education circles about preparing students for alt careers bringing their intelligence to bear in a variety of industries rather than focusing only upon an academic livelihood Although all those adjuncts and postdocs could leave could go into lives in pharma or finance and make money than they would as professors anyway most careers are misfit for the mindset engendered by a good doctoral education Commerce rewards expertise that thing that you know you can do reliably and uickly Academic life rewards almost the inverse condition a constant state of not knowing a discontent with current knowledge and current practice a desire to reexamine the foundations of one's knowledge The work of the doctorate done well makes its participants ill shaped for other ways of living They cling to academic career hopes in the face of evidence—not merely out of wishful thinking that someday they might be allowed inside the academic gates but because it's the way scholars understand the world and because other careers are less open to curiosity 64–65I have found all of this to be completely true I feel that my lack of success in applying for jobs outside of academia is at least in part because of this misfit—other industries couldn't care less about my broad minded perspective my ongoing curiosity my ability to synthesize many streams of knowledge I mean job descriptions may indicate that this is the kind of person they want to hire; but it's not trueA second point that I found very insightful was Childress's explanation 127–129 of how there can be women in the professorate and yet higher education is still unfriendly toward women It's the same as in other industries where opening the doors to women professionals only led to the creation of a lower class of non professional workers who took on a number of the tasks that the professionals used to do In the case of higher ed this happened when greater numbers of women were allowed to become professors but then much of the work shifted down to the contingent adjunct workforce—non professional workers who are paid less and given fewer benefits and no job security Surprise this workforce includes a higher percentage of women than men And so the injustice continues but in a situation in which it is neatly invisibleA final point that I want to remember is Childress's discussion of why the commodification of a college education is a bad thing A lot of people now have the idea that a three credit intro to calculus course at one college is the same as that intro course at any other college In chapter 5 Childress argues that this is not the case and that believing it is true has done damage to education I hadn't thought of this so clearly before but I agree with what Childress says Added to this he also outlines why top tier research schools are different from middle class state universities and other levels of schools I knew a little of this already from reading David Labaree's A Perfect Mess and what Childress writes supports and expands that to the current educational environment It's highly recommended reading for all parents and students thinking about where to go to college and why The Adjunct Underclass is a book I would gladly give to anyone considering a PhD especially in the humanities In fact I plan to buy a copy to have on hand for the next time I'm talking with someone like that Though it's true that most academic hopefuls won't heed Childress's advice feeling that they are that one lucky person who will actually get the job they're dreaming of reading this book will at least give them one opportunity to learn what academia is really like now I think we have likewise passed the point of peak faculty Childress writes near the end of the bookA combination of consumer thinking market fluidity loss of professional status technological innovation and demographic shifts has led us to a point where the faculty will never again be a full time primarily tenure track institutional commitment There will always be teachers sure But the idea of the faculty is as dead as the idea of coal; it'll carry on for a while because of sunk costs and the gasping demands of those still left in the industry—but really it's gone 135The last chapter is bleak and sad but I could relate to a lot of it Giving up on dreams of academic life is really hard and I haven't found my way through it yet The Adjunct Underclass helped me see that I'm not alone I'm not weird; this is something that many people are enduring and I'm thankful that my situation is not nearly so bad as what some other people are going through In a relatively brief book Childress has brought up a lot of insightful points to consider and I hope it leads to positive changes It's too late to do anything in my own life but may it improve the lives of the people just starting to imagine how awesome it would be to be a professor

  3. says:

    First things first I made a decision long ago that I would not work as a contingent faculty member or a contingent anything I might add Several acuaintances of mine work as adjuncts but I have only recommended and supported such work for them in specific situations I also know acuaintances or their children who have moved into academia via grad programs and obtaining a new doctorate This is also a highly risky proposition these days and possible only for a select few individuals I am very familiar with the conditions analyzed by Mr Childress His book capably presents them and provides reasonably current statistics to show the current gloomy state of affairs In his critiue of the state of adjunct faculty Mr Childress is preaching to the choir as far as I am concerned My biggest issue with his book is figuring out just what he is preachingTo start with the issues in the book are well known to most who are directly involved in higher education these days The plight of adjuncts is not new and has been bad for uite a while So what is new here?Mr Childress seems to take as a major issue in the book that the prevalence of adjuncts harms the ability of higher education institutions to fulfill their missions of enabling the personal fulfillment of undergrads and of instructors by impeding the ability of students and instructors to interact on a continuing and productive basis including the fostering mentoring roles and community values This is an arguable position but is weakened if one grants that “higher education” as a sector has grown to include a wide range of students beyond the minority traditionally pursuing personal growth and enrichment through high uality and challenging liberal arts programs He references a famous uote of Vance Packard to the effect that while the number of students enrolled in college expanded greatly after WW2 the number pursuing a traditional notion of college has not changed that substantially On these terms alone I was left with some issues of just what the problem is that is being addressed in the book If by higher education we are including many students not typically seen as in higher education then what is the problem with staffing for such students in alternative ways and with different effects?Another issue that could have received much attention is an obvious one There are just too many PhDs When that is a chronic problem why is it surprising that the value and employability of new doctorates will fall? Childress rightly brings up why schools and departments may continue to admit new doctoral students even under current conditions making the policy uestion for schools that of how those running programs can be held accountable for how students fare after graduation A deeper uestion is why doctoral programs fail to consolidate to restrict supply a bit That is what a concern for students would suggest There is a trade off here More doctoral students will restrict the ability of schools to hire contingent faculty and vice versa This is a policy choiceChildress does not give much consideration to the recurrent high cost nature of university and college systems in recent years This is not to justify such cost environments but to recognize that Baumol’s “cost disease” analysis is real and relevant to higher education environments He gets to a similar place in his analysis but Baumol is relevant here and should be includedThe conclusions of the book are good and relevant as far as they go but have an air of “redefining the problem in the form of a solution” Yes it would be nice if all the parties involved here recognized what was going on and did their bit to promote change But is that a good place to leave things? I would also hope to banish sin from the world but that is also unlikely The systemic nature of the problem suggests that an alternative perspective would be to look at what schools and departments might do to help themselves and make a contribution For example move away from PT to FT faculty even if contingent to get better involvement and permit benefits to be a part of NTT compensation packages NTT faculty could get increased voting rights where feasible which would also aid their inclusion into department structures I am not at all confident that the TTNTT fence will be coming down any time soon but why not invest as much as possible in the department’s faculty? In any event this is a big problem area and it will not be remedied by one set of conclusions or another any time soonChildress’s book is a good effort and worth reading

  4. says:

    Great survey of the landscape of adjunct academiaThe author provides a very thorough survey of the situation with respect to non full time jobs in academia and the institutional dynamics that have led to a situation in which this type of jobs are the main pillar of academic work It is incredibly detailed and provides insight to the landscape one is going to face after finishing graduate school

  5. says:

    This was heartbreaking and really hard to read It certainly made me feel very grateful for both my undergraduate education and a lot of things that came together for us to be in the place we’re in Also I do kind of think everyone should read this if they’re connected to higher education in any way

  6. says:

    For those who feel like measuring the pervasive fog of their professional commute

  7. says:

    The butler did itThe bulk of this book is taken up with diagnosis of the problem of precarious employment in college teaching For me and for most people with reasonable familiarity with the issue this will be nothing new at all In some ways the analysis in these chapters is less fine toothed than in other books notably Marc Bousuet's How the University WorksBut the last chapter and the Aftermath are very worthwhile I have not read a better expression of the emotional and spiritual damage we contingent faculty suffer and I include myself even though I am among the very most privileged non tenure track faculty in the US both because I'm full time and because I'm covered by one of the best collective bargaining agreements in the US between the California Faculty Association and Cal State University Childress clearly articulates the absurdity of our positions and how like abusive relationships dysfunctional families or addiction our careers are I think there's a key to survival hidden in that You have to give up the delusion that permanent tenured employment is possible for you It's a struggle one I still have but it's the only way I have been able to think of my status as a reasonable condition and nothing to do with desert or merit Importantly Childress is alumnus of the contingent faculty and it's clear that writing the book has given him some post traumatic stress Like many who have survived and lived to tell the tale and indeed many do not viz Mary Vojtko he tells us that there is something deeply pathological not only about the system but about staying in it

  8. says:

    I must start by saying some of my closest friends are adjuncts And I never thought I would use that languageHerb Childress’ The Adjunct Underclass How America’s Colleges Betrayed Their Faculty Their Students and Their Mission explains in detail exactly what he proposes American higher education has gone to hell It has gone to hell uite rapidly And one of the biggest reasons is adjunct or part time faculty It’s not so much their fault as it is the administrations who hike tuition costs while spending less and less on teaching And there are other reasons too Childress points out that adjuncts are the Uber drivers of education It’s a gig economy But in the meantime there are really no jobs available for full time faculty And various majors are just disappearing or at best fading Some community colleges are 90 100% part time faculty who are paid very poorly He notes that the higher rated schools such as Stanford Harvard Brown have the fewest part time faculty while the students who attend the least prestigious schools have the highest numbers of adjunctsOther activities show their ugly heads such as permanent Title IX directors who have job security unlike the people they are supposed to be protecting Likewise many of the adjuncts are women Unfortunately few will ever find a job with tenure Maybe none Not one a one Childress is a bit shrill and writes too personally for a scholarly work But he cares No one else seems to give a tinker’s damn

  9. says:

    Reading this book makes me want to give Childress a hug and some warm cocoa as he rails at the loss of the relational university which emphasized the experience and connections to be made between professors and students rather than the credit hour credential consumer model that has uickly spread like a virus to institutions of every stripe Education has fallen victim to neoliberalism in which everything is a commodity and people are regarded as buyers sellers and service providers Faculty have become contingent workers like everyone else They work longer hours as independent contractors constantly seeking gigs to make ends meet with no safety nets like health benefits unemployment insurance job security etc So much for the life of the mind but we allowed the erosion of the labor movement and no one is exempt even in the ivory towerI'm not unsympathetic and I do wax nostalgic but it's basic supply and demand There is a glut of PhDs on the market right now Humanities PhDs are a dime a dozen while Engineering and Pharmacy are few If there are funds for only 2 tenure track positions it's obvious who will receive the offers and who will not Chapter 2 demonstrates how facultystudent ratios are manipulated to hide the fact that 75% of instructors are non tenure track should anyone care Childress does but it's clear that few others do He's right that this affects the uality of advising however Once the domain of professors advising is now performed by staff who lack any career specific preparation No wonder students take so long to graduate because they don't take the right courses I am not completely in agreement however A part time Business prof who works in the real world too has fresh and relevant experience that makes for a superior learning experience than someone who either has never had that experience or who left it behind ages ago Moreover the Humanities prof who would rather be full time isn't likely to be a lousy teacher precisely because of the extremely exploitative phenomenon of hope labor un or under compensated work carried out in the present often for experience or exposure in the hope that future employment opportunities will follow 124 but they don't That carrot will keep the prof on hisher toes This is true of many sectors at this point People carry out much work or pursue a graduate degree in the hope or expectation it will lead to something else but opportunity fails to materialize Childress has given the adjunctification of higher ed which I would rename broadly the consumer model a great deal of thought and concludes that A combination of consumer thinking market fluidity loss of professional status technological innovation and demographic shifts has led us to a point where the faculty will never again be a primarily full time primarily tenure track institutional or cultural commitment 135The demographic shifts refer to the decline in number of college age students and the sex dynamic With females in the student body and the professoriate Regardless of the industry the unspoken argument is the same if a woman can do it it must not be very important and we shouldn't have to pay much for it 129 leading to both defunding universities and lower wages for profs Just ask a librarian how this works or observe its reverse in the computer science field which women used to dominate or midwives or herbal healers before men took over those functionsBut wait there's We produce far too many new scholars and use far too few Changes taking place within higher education fluctuating enrollments of students chasing unpredictable careers the reduction of public funding the ubiuity of transfer students the rise of the co curricular college professionals increased regulatory and disciplinary demands for standardization work against stable academic careers Changes in our larger culture the privilege of consumption over production the normalization of 'hope labor' the devaluation of every profession that women gain access to the unreflective embrace of progress the primacy of marketing and the ritual of expansion and the lasting impacts of the baby boom have made the disaster of faculty employment seem normal And our lack of agreed understanding about why college exists at all and for whom presents a convoluted problem perhaps too tangled to straighten out 140 1That's part of Chapter 8 which is prescriptive for students scholars the community at large and realistic about the past if not the future It's just not a realistic vision and Childress knows it He's a voice crying out in the wilderness but he knows it's no use There's no going back This is followed by Appendix A which cites helpful ed stats on many significant points like number of overt career preparation degrees and various others awarded 1976 and 2016 IT spending etc There is no uestion that the gem I pass along again and again is the Academic Career Calibration Protocol a scale Childress developed to help grad students understand their pending careers with point values assigned to specific features like the renown of one's dissertation advisor the occupation of one's parents etc This is glorious and realistic and should be part of every prospective grad student's decision process The university has changed in accord with late capitalism and it is not for the common good There is so much to be said like how essay mills are so ubiuitous that they're regarded as wise use of resources than academic dishonesty or even paying others to take courses in one's steadWithout intending to do so Childress hints at a solid argument against Free College For All 1 It would lead to the demise of the small private college which are truly relational and would lead to even of what Childress describes the credit hour credential consumer driven university 2 It further undervalues those whose gifts lie in areas outside of academia 3 It would result in further credential inflation with businesses reuiring degrees for jobs easily performed without them 4 It would exacerbate the shortage of people who actually know how to fix and create that leads to infrastructure projects not being executed The gospel of education that preaches that credit hours and credentials make for a better life is a lie Childress proves it admirably

  10. says:

    Academia It's not that great for basically everyone but the 1% His idea of adjuncting as basically hope labor is kind of accurate and is a little sad Also I was way under payed at CSUF compared to the 3 unit class average of 2700 So yeahWill write about this later