Saturday, January 29, 2005

The adjunct track

Jocalo writes today about the problems of the continuing reliance on part-time faculty and how they might be resolved. I have been thinking about this because I have thought every once in a while about going back to teaching on a part-time basis, but then I remember what it was like to be an adjunct. Jocalo says that some places still pay $1000/class. It's not that bad around here. The going rate is about $3500. I used to teach two classes a semester for a grand total of $14,000/year. Woo hoo! Part of the reason for the need for part-time faculty is the reduction in state spending on education. While this doesn't affect private schools, they often follow suit. I've seen that happen around here. In fact, I started out at a large state institution, then moved to a private school and the private school actually relied on more part-timers proportionally than the state institution.

An administrator suggested that the public would never support the increased spending necessary to support teaching in the humanities. This is one thing that completely frustrates me. At a previous state institution where I worked, the state legislature cut spending every year I was there. This meant that our composition classes increased nearly every year. I started out with a fairly reasonable class size cap of 18. By the time I left 6 years later, that cap had increased to 22 and there was talking of bumping it to 25. Nearly all those classes were taught by graduate students, many of whom were excellent teachers. It's just a fact of life, though, that the larger the class, the harder it is to teach well. Composition teaching requires a lot of one-on-one time. I used to hold at least three require conferences a semester. The more students you have, the greater the chance of having to reduce those conferences. One might even reduce the number of papers required, giving the students less practice at writing. And it is definitely possible that the comments you make on those papers will decrease and be less specific to the particulars of the paper. All this increases the possibility that students leave the institution without having the skills necessary to write well.

We consistently heard from business leaders that this was indeed the case. Students were graduating with the inability to communicate well. To my knowledge, these business leaders never went to the legislature and said, we need to increase spending on education. Everyone expected us to do more with less.

At another session at the same conference, discussion centered around offering more flexible full-time schedules. I might have stuck with teaching if I could have found a full-time gig that offered a decent salary and benefits. I'd even do service. I just wasn't interested in the research treadmill or tenure. I could imagine myself teaching a 3-3 course load and being required to do a certain amount of service. There was only one place that offered non-tenure track full-time positons. The pay was good, the benefits were good, but the load was 4-4, which is pretty hard to do in composition.

There just are that many inroads into academics. Talk about lack of choice. You either get a tenure-track job or you're relegated to the adunct track. Surely there are lots of options in between.