Year of Publication

2017

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

College

Arts and Sciences

Department

English

First Advisor

Dr. Pearl James

Abstract

Since their advent as supplemental staff at community colleges four decades ago, part-time instructors, or adjuncts, have since been employed with increasing frequency and in escalating numbers across all institutional types of American higher education. Currently comprising approximately forty percent of all postsecondary faculty, part-time instructors now outnumber full-time nontenure-track, tenure-track, and tenured faculty respectively on many campuses. This pervasive trend has created a professional climate of uncertainty and, in some cases, even hostility as American colleges and universities struggle to adapt to ever changing enrollment populations, market demands, technological innovations, and political pressure. As the sustainability of traditional faculty tenure hangs in the balance and as opportunities to secure tenure-track appointments continually diminish, the arguably inequitable working conditions of college faculty hired off the tenure track have fallen under public and political scrutiny since these instructors now provide such a large proportion of undergraduate education. This dissertation offers a comprehensive overview of the adjunct staffing model’s development and consequences as well as a proposed solution particularly to chairpersons of academic departments that have become inordinately dependent upon part-time instructors to teach their undergraduate curriculum.

Combining personal experience with recent research, the first chapter offers a detailed description of the typical adjunct’s current working conditions, which include heavy workloads, poor compensation, and insufficient time for preparation and professional development. I briefly review the origins of and dramatically increasing reliance upon postsecondary adjunct employment over the past forty years. I situate the present undervaluing of part-time instructors within the context of colleges’ persistently rising “sticker prices,” which most commonly derive from curricular as well as extracurricular amenities and a drastic increase in non-instructional staff. I suggest that colleges cannot afford to ignore the adjunct problem much longer due to growing public and political awareness of the issue. I conclude by encouraging college governing boards, administrators, and faculty to collaborate in order to arrange respectable and sustainable terms of employment.

The second chapter analyzes how the current model of adjunct employment adversely affects higher education. In addition to the first chapter’s grievances pertaining specifically to adjuncts, college faculty as a whole suffers from the deprofessionalization and bifurcation resulting from the widespread overdependence upon part-time instruction. Furthermore, college students suffer from part-time instructors’ compromised ethos and resultant “shielding,” last-minute staffing practices by means of which institutions often hire adjuncts, part-time instructors’ inadequate access to instructional resources, and irrational models for adjunct compensation. Finally, the adjunct problem harms the reputations of postsecondary institutions overall, indicating dysfunction and lack of accountability to an already skeptical public. The chapter closes with a call to action, encouraging all postsecondary institutions to consider improved, sustainable employment for all faculty.

The third and final chapter proposes a solution in the form of a standardized college faculty position, which I call the core-survey instructor. Based loosely on a specific definition of contingent faculty, such a professor would assume reasonably heavy teaching loads as a full-time employee of one institution in exchange for a respectable salary, renewable multi-year contracts, and limited benefits. I explain how core-survey instructors will benefit postsecondary institutions not only by resolving the detriments listed in the second essay but also via improved remedial instruction, academic advising, and participation in shared governance.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

https://doi.org/10.13023/ETD.2017.439

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