Still more about adjuncts (though from now on I will refer to “non-tenure-track (NTT) faculty” instead)

by Michael Bérubé on February 15, 2012

Good to see that the discussion of NTT faculty is spreading far and wide in the blogosphere. OK, let’s see what people are saying. Outside the Beltway, <a href=””>James Joyner doesn’t think much</a> of the MLA recommendations for per-course wages for NTT faculty. (He also refers to me as the “newly installed” president of the MLA**, perhaps because my only-somewhat-violent usurpation of the post from former president Russell Berman was payback from NATO for my support of the Libya intervention. They told me I could take Tripoli or the MLA, and naturally, I went where the oil is.) Joyner writes:

<blockquote>Not only does this elide the fact that strong market forces — a glut of PhDs in English and some other fields who can’t find tenure track jobs and are thus desperate to build a CV in hopes of improving their odds — push adjunct salaries down but it’s based on absurdly idealized view of what life is like for most full-time academics.</blockquote>

<blockquote>With few exceptions, colleges and universities have been facing severe budget pressures for the better part of two decades. One presumes that the ongoing global recession has added to that. It’s just absurd to expect them to double or triple the pay for adjunct faculty — especially when there are likely half a dozen highly qualified applicants for every adjunct opening at current prices.</blockquote>

<blockquote>Additionally, having spent all of my brief teaching career in institutions where a 4/4 load (that is, four classes per semester) was standard for tenure track faculty, I have to chuckle at the notion that adjuncts ought to be able to make a decent living teaching a 3/3 load while having zero obligation for institutional service.</blockquote>

<blockquote>Additionally, it’s aimed in exactly the wrong direction. The problem isn’t that adjuncts don’t make enough money but that colleges employ far too many adjuncts rather than hiring full time faculty. While I suppose raising the pay of full-time adjuncts to that of tenure-track faculty would indirectly lead us in that direction, it’s emphasizing the wrong problem.</blockquote>

<blockquote>Is it exploitative that people with some 21 years of education are being paid $2000 for teaching college courses? Perhaps. But, hey, they knew the risks when they went off to grad school. The real crime is that students are paying ever increasing tuition to attend institutions of higher education and then being taught by part-timers with no commitment to the institution and whose prime focus is on landing a job somewhere else.</blockquote>

I’ll start with the last graf. Minor point first: most people <i>didn’t</i> know the risks when they went off to grad school, because most people have no idea what NTT faculty get paid. And yes, as to the major point, if students are paying ever increasing tuition and universities are hiring ever more low-wage faculty, then those low-wage faculty are being “exploited.” According to the standard dictionary definition of the term, at least.

So I’m not getting why anyone would “chuckle at” the MLA standards. Is it really so risible that a scholarly organization would suggest that professionals with advanced degrees should make a decent living by teaching six courses a year? OK, maybe it’s a little too idealistic. Perhaps we can add some demeaning janitorial tasks to their teaching loads to offset their princely $40,000 (proposed) salaries?

As for that “glut of PhDs” driving down NTT wages: I am beginning to get the sense that everyone and her brother believes that NTT faculty are made up of PhDs who didn’t get TT jobs. Yes, of course, some of them are. But most of them are not. Though it comes as a surprise to many people (it certainly surprised me), we are talking about <i>two wholly distinct labor markets</i>. The tenure-track market is national, and is populated mostly by PhDs; the NTT market is local, and is populated chiefly by holders of the MA or MFA.  So, <a href=”″>once again with feeling</a>:

<blockquote>according to the 2004 National Study of Postsecondary Faculty, 65.2% of non-tenure-track faculty members hold the MA as their highest degree — 57.3% in four-year institutions, 76.2% in two-year institutions. There are many factors affecting the working conditions of adjuncts, but the production of PhDs isn’t one of the major ones.</blockquote>

Personally, I do think doctoral programs should be smaller overall; time-to-degree should be shortened; and we need to rethink graduate curricula for “alt-ac” career paths outside the academy (perhaps outside the beltway!). The MLA’s Task Force on Graduate Education, chaired by Russell Berman, will be addressing all of these questions. But the “glut of PhDs” is not what’s driving the supply of available NTT labor.***

And as for those “strong market forces”: though it’s true that “colleges and universities have been facing severe budget pressures for the better part of two decades,” somehow this has not slowed the growth of university administration. Quite the contrary. As Benjamin Ginsburg points out in <a href=”″><i>The Fall of the Faculty</i></a>, administrators and managers at public colleges numbered 60,733 in 1975; 82,396 in 1995; and 101,011 in 2005. At private colleges, those numbers are 40,350 in 1975, 65,049 in 1995, and an astonishing 95,313 in 2005 (almost 47 percent growth in only ten years! amazing what the market can do when it puts its mind to it).

But I agree completely with Joyner that “colleges employ far too many adjuncts rather than hiring full time faculty.” Indeed, the MLA has said so on many occasions. And one way to reduce the overreliance on (and exploitation of) NTT faculty is to make it more expensive to hire NTT faculty. The overall goal, which I am glad to see Joyner endorse, is to convert as many NTT positions to TT as possible, with minimal harm to the people currently working in those NTT positions.

OK, so much for the folk who think the MLA is too utopian. Now to turn to the people who think we’re too timid. I’ll cite two of them: one is a long-term (now retired) NTT faculty member, and the other is someone who commented on my last post. I’ve asked the first person for permission to reproduce her emails to me (and my reply) in full, with or without her name. She said “with,” emphatically.

<blockquote>Dear Michael,</blockquote>

<blockquote>I hope you remember me from your visit to Colorado a few years ago. You visited with AAUP chapters in Boulder and Denver, and you attended a meeting of contingent faculty in Boulder. The meeting was to discuss a resolution that the University of Colorado implement a system whereby instructors could be tenured. You endorsed the resolution, called it “bold,” and got a big laugh when you said that no doubt the administration would embrace it wholeheartedly.</blockquote>

<blockquote>The resolution was approved overwhelmingly by contingent faculty, but ran up against innumerable obstacles set up not so much by the administration as by tenured faculty. Only the elite, they argued, deserve tenure; the rest of us can have academic freedom without it (which of course is ridiculous, as you point out in your recent essay in Inside Higher Ed).</blockquote>

<blockquote>I’ve been hoping that the MLA would take a strong stand on behalf of contingent faculty, since the vast majority of composition teachers are contingent and comprise a large component of MLA’s constituency. I’m disappointed, however, at the continued reluctance of MLA to take the lead in changing the landscape. For example, MLA’s 2011 document “Professional Employment Practices for Non-Tenure-Track Faculty Members: Recommendations and Evaluative Questions” is wholly inadequate.</blockquote>

<blockquote>I’m attaching the resolution passed by the contingent faculty in Boulder, which you endorsed. I ask you to advance this resolution (or one like it) in the MLA, and use your influence to get it passed.</blockquote>

<blockquote>Essentially, the resolution says that instructors who have passed a probationary period must be eligible for tenure at the instructor rank. This means simply that they become permanent employees, not temporary, contractual employees, and that they can be terminated, as can anyone with tenure, for cause, financial exigency, or program discontinuance. The position continues to be an instructorship, not a professorship, with no change in salary or job description. Those who have already passed the probationary period will be considered tenured.</blockquote>

<blockquote>Yes, it is a bold proposal. But efforts at simply improving treatment of contingent faculty are doomed to failure. The solution is to end contingency altogether. Everyone who teaches at a college or university must be on a tenure track. For some, that track leads to a professorship, with attendant salary and expectations; for others, that track leads to an instructorship. But as long as there are two kinds of faculty — tenure-track and non-tenure-track — unequal treatment is built into the system.</blockquote>

<blockquote>Salaries and benefits are of course important issues. However, the precariousness of their employment is what prevents contingent faculty for agitating for improvements in these areas. End their precariousness, and you’ll quickly see changes in their working conditions.</blockquote>

<blockquote>By the way, you might remember meeting Don Eron while you were in Boulder. Don is co-author of the Resolution for Instructor Tenure and author of many proposals and reports addressing issues of academic freedom and contingency. (See the <a href=””>AAUP Colorado Conference website</a>.) Don is running for second VP of AAUP. Ending contingency, by encouraging all institutions to put all teaching faculty on a tenure track, is a plank in his platform. I hope MLA will support his candidacy.</blockquote>

<blockquote>Sincerely, Suzanne Hudson</blockquote><blockquote>Instructor (recently retired), University of Colorado-Boulder</blockquote>

And my reply:

<blockquote>Dear Suzanne,</blockquote>

<blockquote>I remember you well, and I remember my visit to Boulder vividly. I’m sorry to hear that the TT faculty opposed your resolution, but not very surprised. In the past five years I’ve heard many people defend tenure as a special “merit badge” to be worn only by the elite, and I had to hear it a number of times before I realized that these people weren’t kidding. I mean, what is this, the Boy and Girl Scouts of America?</blockquote>

<blockquote>But I have also learned to my surprise, over the past five years, that not all NTT faculty agree that everyone teaching at a college or a university should be on the tenure track. In its <a href=””>2010 report on conversion of NTT positions</a>, the AAUP Committee on Contingency and the Profession came out strongly in favor of your position:

<blockquote>The best practice for institutions of all types is to convert the status of contingent appointments to appointments eligible for tenure with only minor changes in job description. This means that faculty hired contingently with teaching as the major component of their workload will become tenured or tenure eligible primarily on the basis of successful teaching. (Similarly, faculty serving on contingent appointments with research as the major component of their workload may become tenured or eligible for tenure primarily on the basis of successful research.) In the long run, however, a balance is desirable. Professional development and research activities support strong teaching, and a robust system of shared governance depends upon the participation of all faculty, so even teaching-intensive tenure-eligible positions should include service and appropriate forms of engagement in research or the scholarship of teaching.</blockquote></blockquote>

<blockquote>It may sound strange, but I have heard time and again — even in a series of emails I have received this week — from many NTT faculty who prefer NTT status precisely because they want nothing to do with “service and appropriate forms of engagement in research.” They would prefer multi-year contracts to annual contracts, of course; they would welcome better pay and benefits; and they want due process and a reliable review procedure. But they don’t want the added responsibilities of TT faculty. I have assured them that the MLA has no intention of dragooning everyone into committee work and ramping up research expectations; we want only to support those NTT faculty who do want a role in governance and opportunities for professional development. Unfortunately, the AAUP language above suggests otherwise, which is why I’ve been getting so much pushback on this. (Interestingly, Mayra Besosa’s <a href=””>recent essay</a> on NTT faculty is more pluralist than the 2010 report of the committee she co-chaired, acknowledging multiple ways of instituting better policies for NTT faculty — including, but not limited to, instructor tenure.)</blockquote>

<blockquote>I endorsed the UC-Boulder proposal in 2007 because it was clearly what the NTT faculty at Boulder wanted, and I still believe the administration and the TT faculty should honor your wishes. But the MLA cannot and will not take the stand that every faculty position in all of higher education should be on the tenure track. Instead, we will work together with the Coalition on the Academic Workforce and the New Faculty Majority to find ways of improving the working conditions and the job security of all NTT faculty, even the ones who want to remain off the tenure track. </blockquote>

<blockquote>As for the resolution and Don’s candidacy — these are matters for the AAUP, and I will support both in my role as member of the AAUP, but the MLA does not dictate employment conditions for individual campuses and does not endorse candidates in other organizations’ elections. I don’t know of any scholarly organization that does — which is one reason why I joined the AAUP in the first place. And I’m sorry to hear that you find the MLA’s 2011 document wholly inadequate, because it builds on guidelines that I helped to write in 2003, and was the work of our Committee on Contingent Labor in the Profession — made up largely of NTT faculty.</blockquote>

<blockquote>I’m sorry that we disagree about making instructor tenure universal throughout the profession. But I’m happy to report that not all efforts to improve the working conditions of NTT faculty are doomed to failure. I have now heard a number of reports from various campuses that are converting one-year positions to more stable multi-year positions, and seeking to insure that NTT faculty have a greater role in university governance — for those who want it.</blockquote>

<blockquote>Best wishes,</blockquote><blockquote>Michael</blockquote>

And her reply:

<blockquote>Hi, Michael</blockquote>

<blockquote>Thanks for your prompt and thoughtful response. I do appreciate your work on behalf of contingent faculty.</blockquote>

<blockquote>I hope you’ll indulge me one more comment. There is a very large difference between our instructor tenure proposal and the AAUP statement you quote, which unfortunately requires “minor changes” in job description. The AAUP statement has engendered resistance, understandably, from contingent faculty who don’t want to be required to do research or scholarly work, in addition to teaching a full load. Our proposal says that there should be no changes in job descriptions.</blockquote>

<blockquote>To us it makes sense that faculty who have been teaching for upwards of seven years, with their college’s continued endorsement, is already doing all that the college wants or needs them to do. There is no reason to add a layer of responsibility to obtain tenure.</blockquote>

<blockquote>It’s difficult to persuade academics that tenure does not have to be associated with the stress of obtaining a professorship. One can be tenured at any rank, or so says the AAUP before it contradicts itself in the statement you quote. All tenure means is that, after a suitable probationary period, they’ll have to have a good reason to fire you. Everyone who has been teaching at the college level for seven or more years deserves at least that.</blockquote>

<blockquote>If contingent faculty knew they could have tenure without the added burden of research and scholarly work, surely they would prefer it to multi-year contracts, which, speaking as a person who has had such contracts, do nothing to protect academic freedom. One must be cautious during the course of the contract not to express an opinion that will upset the powers-that-be, or face non-renewal.</blockquote>

<blockquote>The AAUP’s central argument remains true: American universities cannot function without academic freedom and shared governance, which in turn cannot thrive without the protections of tenure. And now the majority of faculties throughout the country have no meaningful access to either. The MLA could go a long way toward correcting this problem if it endorsed tenure (without changes in job descriptions) over multi-year contracts.</blockquote>

<blockquote>Anyhow, Michael, thanks again for your efforts and for hearing me out.</blockquote>

<blockquote>All the best,</blockquote><blockquote>Suzanne</blockquote>

OK, so I’m tossing this to you all for discussion. I know that instructor tenure would be more secure than multi-year contracts, and I am deeply sympathetic to the argument that those contracts don’t protect academic freedom as effectively as tenure does, but I’m not sure how it would work nationwide. Obviously, it couldn’t rely on external peer review, as tenure does. So how <i>would</i> it work? Or would it just lead universities to fire NTT faculty before they became eligible for it?

Finally, to AOP, who left <a href=”″> this long and challenging comment</a> here on February 9:

<blockquote>Professor Bérubé, I am not alone in admiring your attention, as MLA Prez, to the growth of NTT labor, its conditions, and its implications for the future of humanities scholarship and instruction. For my part, however, I find the framing questions of this present discussion too timid to be productive. Yes, it will be helpful to gather more accurate and thorough data on just how exploited NTT teachers are, but the question that MLA and other profession-defining bodies are already late in answering is simple: what are we going to do about it? It’s exasperating that the MLA’s ability to censure is only now being broached — and not, I think, in a serious enough way to sustain the immediate, decisive action necessary to improve NTT working conditions and effectively reassert the expectation of tenure as a standard of academic freedom and excellence.</blockquote>

<blockquote>You clearly recognize that even a strong censure from MLA would amount nothing much: “I censure thee!” Who cares what the MLA thinks, really? Most of MLA’s members see the organization primarily as a clearing-house for academic jobs. Whatever the MLA thinks or says, in other words, it can do quite a lot to shape the search for literature teachers, and that’s precisely where MLA can help solve this problem:</blockquote>

<blockquote>1. Identify departments and institutions whose pay and benefits do not meet the standards of NTT academic employment currently advocated by MLA. Perhaps add a 10% “cushion” if MLA lacks confidence in its own existing standards, about which more below.</blockquote>

<blockquote>2. Divide institutions of higher education into categories, and apply to each category an ideal ratio of NTT to TT instructors, including graduate students in the former category. The division into brackets provides a way of recognizing that community colleges, large state schools, and small liberal arts colleges have different resources and needs and should therefore meet different NTT/TT instructor ratios.</blockquote>

<blockquote>3. If a department fails to meet either standard, MLA should send a letter notifying them of this fact, CC:ing it to the relevant dean and institutional president.</blockquote>

<blockquote>4. The letter should notify the department that MLA will not assist in that department’s job searches. For example, members of the department attending the conference but not giving talks — thus, likely, attending for a job search — will not be given conference rates on hotel rooms, even if they register for the conference.</blockquote>

<blockquote>5. During the job season, email every MLA member a list of departments that do not meet these standards, advising graduate students and others against accepting jobs in these departments.</blockquote>

<blockquote>6. Contact the ADE and other relevant jobs-lists, seeking to strike a deal by which ADE would refuse to list job searches (or NTT job searches) in departments that do not meet MLA’s standards.</blockquote>

<blockquote>7. Contact institutional accreditation authorities and inform them that, in the judgment of MLA, the following departments do not meet minimum requirements — and that their failure to meet these requirements has a negative impact upon the quality of instruction.</blockquote>

<blockquote>8. Mention, in the letters to these departments, that you have taken or intend to take steps 5-7.</blockquote>

<blockquote>The actual reasonableness of these steps — for example, the inevitably arbitrary division into institutional categories — is not directly relevant to their effectiveness. All that matters is that the hiring and exploiting of NTT instructors should become less convenient and less attractive to department chairs, deans, and presidents. The way to do this is to publicly shame offenders, attack their accreditation, and make their search for instructors less convenient. The MLA is especially well positioned to clog up hiring processes.</blockquote>

<blockquote>It is profoundly disheartening to hear this toothless speculation about whether MLA “can” censure departments or institutions — an action that, if it looks anything like a Delegate Assembly resolution, would itself be pretty toothless. I urge you and the other MLA higher-ups to do everything you can think of to make life less easy for those who find it so convenient to replace tenure lines with non-tenured positions and to egregiously underpay NTT instructors. The list of actions above is far from perfect, but I hope it illustrates that there are plenty of options for substantive action. The most important factor is that the MLA should act now and act decisively.</blockquote>

First off, I’m not sure that most MLA members see (or should see) the association “primarily as a clearing-house for academic jobs.” My sense is that this is a graduate-student-eye’s view of the association (or the view of  a relatively new member, or someone currently on the market), and that the members who are long past the hotel-interview stage also see the MLA as an organization that promotes scholarly communication, publishes journals and a bibliography and a handbook and an extensive “approaches to teaching” series, and maintains a wide array of committees on issues important to the profession.

More important, I don’t think these suggestions address the two-labor-market problem I mentioned above. We can restrict access to the Job Information List and punish departments as suggested in items 4 and 6, but this will not stop those departments from conducting searches for TT faculty by bypassing the MLA altogether, and of course the vast majority of NTT hires are local, involving neither advertising nor convention attendance.

However, I’m all for collecting and publishing the data, and putting everyone on notice — universities, departments, current TT faculty, current NTT faculty, and prospective job applicants — about who is and isn’t meeting our recommendations. And I agree completely that we should do everything we can think of “to make life less easy for those who find it so convenient to replace tenure lines with non-tenured positions and to egregiously underpay NTT instructors.”

Finally, and on that note, my thanks to everyone who is helping to bring this issue to the attention of administrators and the higher-ed press.


** I was elected by the membership, not “appointed,” let alone “installed” (I am surprised at how many people have congratulated me on my “appointment”).  OK, sure, it was a dirty election involving hundreds of millions of SuperPAC dollars and unfounded rumors (about which my campaign always maintained plausible deniability) that my opponents were born outside the US.  But it was an election all the same.

*** I am also beginning to get the sense that it will be very hard to dislodge the notion that the working conditions of NTT faculty are attributable primarily to the production of PhDs.  It may be one of those things everybody already knows for certain, like the <a href=”″>recent and precipitous enrollment decline in the humanities</a>.



David Moles 02.15.12 at 6:47 pm


I’m getting the impression that Suzanne Hudson, on the one hand, think “tenure” just means “full-time, permanent employee” (in the sense it’s generally understood outside the academy), and that you and the AAUP both think it necessarily has to mean something more than that (“service and appropriate forms of engagement in research”); and also that she thinks it’s about job security, while you (and the AAUP?) think it’s about academic freedom.

Am I reading y’all right? And if so, how do you think the academy ought to address the job security question, if not in some way involving the word “tenure”?


Steve LaBonne 02.15.12 at 7:00 pm

Well, I’m only one data point, but while (as an ex-academic forensic biologist) I could find opportunities to do a little college teaching on the side if I wanted to, I don’t want to because the going rate for adjunct teaching is in no way adequate compensation for the amount of time and effort it takes to teach a course well. If I’m not totally atypical, then even for the “good” use of NTT instructors- using mid-career professionals to teach practical subjects- the crappy pay depresses the quality of the available pool of candidates and therefore depresses the quality of instruction.


Michael Bérubé 02.15.12 at 7:08 pm

I think you’re reading this right, David, and that’s why I think the best way to go about this is to convert as many NTT jobs to TT as possible while trying to insure greater job security, short of tenure (because of the impossibility of conducting an external-review process), for the people who cannot or do not want to transition to the tenure track. However, if individual institutions want to award “instructor tenure,” so be it. AAUP Recommended Institutional Regulation 13f, which introduced the concept in 2007 (and gave rise to the UC-Boulder vote) reads (much scrolling required):

Prior to consideration of reappointment beyond a seventh year, part-time faculty members who have taught at least twelve courses or six terms within those seven years shall be provided a comprehensive review with a view toward (1) appointment with part-time tenure where such exists, (2) appointment with part-time continuing service, or (3) nonreappointment. Those appointed with tenure shall be afforded the same procedural safeguards as full-time tenured faculty. Those offered additional appointment without tenure shall have continuing appointments and shall not be replaced by part-time appointees with less service who are assigned substantially identical responsibilities without having been afforded the procedural safeguards associated with dismissal as set forth above in section b.

RIR 13 speaks only of “part-time” faculty, but could provide guidance for full-time NTT faculty as well, as the NTT faculty at Colorado were effectively saying. And it does not insist on instructor tenure to the exclusion of “continuing appointments.”


Michael Bérubé 02.15.12 at 7:09 pm


If I’m not totally atypical, then even for the “good” use of NTT instructors- using mid-career professionals to teach practical subjects- the crappy pay depresses the quality of the available pool of candidates and therefore depresses the quality of instruction.

Point well taken.


J. Otto Pohl 02.15.12 at 7:26 pm

I know in the American context it is thought that tenure is necessary for academic freedom. But, outside the US there is both no tenure and academic freedom for faculty at many universities. So it is possible to have multi-year contracts, academic freedom, no tenure, and unionization. In fact I think this is more common than the US model. To be honest a system where everybody teaching gets a multi-year contract and union protection seems to be a lot better than one where only a few get tenure and the rest are on one year or one semester contracts and have no union. So, yes I think job security is possible without tenure. It might even be a better route to go.


Chris Bertram 02.15.12 at 7:31 pm

I’ve been reading these posts and trying to get a sense of a meaningful comparison for the UK, where we have some of the same problems. But to do so, I’d need more information. So, when a TA/adjunct/PhD student teaches an undergraduate course over a semester, what are the typical claims on their time. How many contact hours do they have a week, how many papers (what length) to grade, ditto exams …? etc etc


Tom Bach 02.15.12 at 7:38 pm

When I was an adjunct both as a PhD candidate and after at a smallish Catholic liberal arts college among other adjunct jobs, I taught 3 course per semester of 30 students each with a required 10 page research paper for each section, plus two 5 page book reviews, a midterm exam, and a final. Three hours of courses per section plus a minimum of 2 hrs open office. Lecture prep and related etc plus research and writing to complete the diss as well presentations. It was a full time job and paid about 3600 per course. Overall I taught about 5 courses per semester including other institutions and the work load was more or less the same, although the research essays were shorter. TAs are different than adjuncts.


Ben Alpers 02.15.12 at 7:40 pm

A fascinating, thoughtful, and thought-provoking post on a subject that we in the academy need to think harder (and do more) about.

A few thoughts…

1) The labor markets for NTT and TT faculty are distinct, but they overlap. It’s important to point out as you do that most NTT faculty don’t have the PhD. But it’s also important to remember that many NTT faculty do (and that some who don’t are en route to the PhD). The long-term career aspirations of PhD-holding (and future PhD-holding) NTT faculty may be substantially different from those of non-PhD-holding NTT faculty…and along with those different aspirations, they may have quite different short-term employment desires (esp. as regards time to pursue their own research agendas).

2) To the extent that these are two distinct labor markets, isn’t the conversion of NTT lines into (traditional) TT lines simply eliminating jobs for the non-PhD-holding majority of potential NTT faculty? How does such a program serve this majority? (I say this as someone who generally supports more TT and fewer NTT lines).

3) One of the things we should consider is the un-bundling of the differences between the employment conditions of NTT and TT faculty. Currently, most NTT faculty teach higher loads, have lower service and research expectations, get paid less, and have much less job security than TT faculty. There’s no reason that these various aspects of the job cannot be separated from each other. Suzanne Hudson’s proposal of what is essentially teaching-intensive TT lines is one way to do this. I think we need to be more generally willing to mix and match these job features in creative ways.

4) Call me old-fashioned, but I still think that unionization (of both TT and NTT faculty) remains one of the best ways to resist the demands of what is euphemistically referred to as “the market.”


christian_h 02.15.12 at 7:42 pm

As an example, most of the instructors at UCLA are on what is called “plus-six” contracts – meaning once they have been employed for six years, the job becomes permanent and they cannot be dismissed without cause, and only on a one-year notice. This seems to be what Suzanne means by “tenure” (and it is similar to what tenure means in, say, school teacher union contracts); but is of course NOT what academic tenure means.


christian_h 02.15.12 at 7:44 pm

To add, in support of Ben’s 4) which I share: this was achieved through the union representing instructors in the UC system.


sbk 02.15.12 at 8:03 pm

My sympathies on footnote ***. But one question about those numbers: does anyone have any idea of the proportion of these non-PhD holders who are current ABD grad students or even people who “mastered out” of doctoral programs? Could even an informal survey be done? I doubt that the number is all that high, but it probably isn’t zero.


Michael Bérubé 02.15.12 at 8:37 pm

Chris @ 6: for the most part, NTT faculty in the US are teaching intro and lower-division courses just as Tom @ 7 indicates (full responsibility for course material, contact hours identical to the courses taught by TT faculty), whereas graduate TAs have more varied responsibilities — sometimes teaching introductory composition, sometimes their own lower-division courses, sometimes leading “discussion sections” of large lectures. So I’m leaving TAs out of this question, and focusing mostly on the long-term NTTs, which takes me to Ben’s second point.

Ben @ 8:

To the extent that these are two distinct labor markets, isn’t the conversion of NTT lines into (traditional) TT lines simply eliminating jobs for the non-PhD-holding majority of potential NTT faculty? How does such a program serve this majority?

That’s the heart of the whole entire problem, right there. In 1997, the MLA issued a report calling for the conversion of NTT positions to TT — but we didn’t realize how many people in those positions would be ineligible for new TT lines. Likewise, Marc Bousquet is right to argue that there would be no “glut” of PhDs if the PhD were universally recognized as the qualifying degree for college professors. On the contrary, there would be an undersupply of PhDs; the problem is the number of MA and MFA-holders in teaching positions. But what are you going to do with all those MAs and MFAs? Fire them or frog-march them back to graduate school?

Your third suggestion makes sense. Multi-year contracts for some NTTs, and “instructor tenure” or “plus-six” contracts or “professorships of the practice” for others. Christian @ 9, I believe the way California handles the “plus-six” is by way of the so-called “eye of the needle review.” Indeed, it was the nonrenewal of a UC-Davis NTT faculty member in 2002 that called attention to the inadequacy of the MLA’s 1997 policy; UC-Davis maintained that they were converting the line to TT, but the faculty member’s supporters suspected that his nonrenewal was a way of avoiding the “eye of the needle” review for which he would have been eligible the following year. The MLA’s Delegate Assembly then passed a resolution condemning UC-Davis for this, and the membership ratified it, but this in turn points to a problem with the whole “censure” question, because we had no way of determining what, in fact, had happened at Davis or why. Hence my skepticism about MLA censures. But that episode did alert me to the possibility that someone, somewhere, could thwart “instructor tenure” by firing NTT faculty after a six-year term.


D. Eppstein 02.15.12 at 8:54 pm

How to get administrations to take NTT pay and NTT/tenured faculty ratios seriously: make them an important part of college and university rating systems.


bdbd 02.15.12 at 8:55 pm

Perhaps “spot faculty” captures the gist of the NTT situation well.


christian_h 02.15.12 at 8:56 pm

Yes, this is of course a problem with contracts of this kind – but this problem can be addressed to a large extent by real union seniority protection (ie, the employer cannot fire someone with seniority and then hire someone else to do the same job).


Fred Bush 02.15.12 at 9:23 pm

Your data on the MA/PhD breakdown on NTT faculty is from 2004. Why are you so sure that it’s still accurate?

If I am reading the data correctly, according to the 1999 NSOPF the percentage of NTT faculty with a PhD was about 22%, and according to your data it’s up to 34% in 2004 — that’s a pretty sharp increase, and if it continued to increase at that rate it would be at about 50% PhDs these days.


Chaz 02.15.12 at 10:00 pm

Why is it inconceivable that tenure be awarded to someone without a PhD?


Tim Worstall 02.15.12 at 10:01 pm

“most people didn’t know the risks when they went off to grad school, because most people have no idea what NTT faculty get paid.”

This does not reflect well on the intelligence/research skills of those who are supposed to be intelligent/have research skills.


Marc 02.15.12 at 10:03 pm

@15: and the flip side would be that performance reviews would be substantially more rigorous if universities were hiring faculty with job security. Otherwise there is a generational equity issue: you lock the current generation of NTT faculty into guaranteed jobs, thereby cutting off new entries into NTT faculty lines until the current cohort retires. Once you have a viable system in play you recover the dynamics of the current tenure system, for good and ill: retirements balance new hires or you gain from overall growth in the student population. But if you institute tenure in the current environment you have substantial transition issues.


js. 02.15.12 at 10:08 pm

Though it comes as a surprise to many people (it certainly surprised me), we are talking about two wholly distinct labor markets. The tenure-track market is national, and is populated mostly by PhDs; the NTT market is local, and is populated chiefly by holders of the MA or MFA.

This continues to surprise me. Does anyone know whether or how much this varies across disciplines? In particular, I’m wondering whether the numbers for English NTT faculty are somewhat skewed, given very large numbers of composition classes taught by non-PhDs. It would really surprise me if, say, something like 50% of NTT faculty in Philosophy had MAs and not PhDs.


LFC 02.15.12 at 10:09 pm

Likewise, Marc Bousquet is right to argue that there would be no “glut” of PhDs if the PhD were universally recognized as the qualifying degree for college professors. On the contrary, there would be an undersupply of PhDs; the problem is the number of MA and MFA-holders in teaching positions.

Maybe in some fields that’s the ‘problem’ but not in others. In political science/IR, I doubt that there are all that many MAs (i.e., MAs not in progress to a PhD) in teaching positions, even adjunct (though I don’t know for sure).

WTF? When I finished my PhD and applied for jobs, I wasn’t competing with MAs or MFAs, but with other PhDs or soon-to-be-PhDs. I know this b/c these were jobs where you had to have “the PhD in hand by date XXX” to be considered, according to the explicit language of the job announcements. If there were an underse


LFC 02.15.12 at 10:10 pm

Sorry, ignore the last graf in above comment. I meant to delete it.


piglet 02.15.12 at 10:19 pm

I am restating this from an earlier thread. I know of a university where departments are explicitly encouraged to hire female adjuncts – who are generously counted as faculty members – in order to boost the number of female “faculty”.

They are not faculty, not by any normal use of the word, but isn’t it nice when the head of the biology department can brag “we have ten female faculty” – when nine of the ten are adjuncts?

Do others have similar experiences? Is this common practice?


js. 02.15.12 at 10:30 pm

piglet @22:

I think it’s pretty standard to count adjuncts and NTT positions as faculty. And I can certainly imagine this designation allowing or even encouraging the sort of abuse you mention. Still, explicit encouragement of the sort you mention seems pretty egregious, at least to me.


djw 02.15.12 at 10:34 pm

How to get administrations to take NTT pay and NTT/tenured faculty ratios seriously: make them an important part of college and university rating systems.

Ding ding ding!

I don’t want to take away from what MB and the MLA are trying to do; it’s great and I could even imagine it might have a modest positive influence on the situation. But this plan is far more likely to get the attention of administrators.


T. Paine 02.15.12 at 10:54 pm

Hometown and school pride requires me to note that it’s “CU-Boulder,” not “UC-Boulder.”


liberal japonicus 02.16.12 at 12:18 am

The situation in Japan may be an interesting counterpoint. ‘Tenure’ is generally something that used to come with almost any job, so that people entering Sony or Honda or any company were guaranteed life-long employment. It was also recognized that people who had multiple contract renewals were de facto tenured and they could not be fired except for a specific set of reasons having to do with restructuring the business, dealing with economic conditions, etc.

However, taking an employer to court was a very long and tedious process, and given the nature of Japanese workplaces, it was possible to make life really miserable for someone. Furthermore, those labor protections have been chipped away in the process of the Lost decade.

The situation for higher education is exacerbated by the demographic greying of the Japanese population. I have worked with mostly foreigners who have had to deal with these issues, and questions of cross cultural misunderstandings and misinterpretations, as well as varying conditions at various universities, plus the role of the central education ministry, make it difficult to come up with a blanket response.

However, when I have shared things about the US adjunct system with folks here, the response is often, ‘thank god I’m in Japan!’


ascholl 02.16.12 at 12:47 am

That’s an illuminating & convincing post, right there. I’m skeptical though about one claim: “Minor point first: most people didn’t know the risks when they went off to grad school, because most people have no idea what NTT faculty get paid.” In my experience, everyone sufficiently enough involved in academic life to seriously consider graduate school has a pretty good idea how poorly compensated NTT instructors are. It’s not like they’re shy about broadcasting how badly they get screwed. If you spend ten minutes in the presence of a laborer in the adjunct penal system without getting an earful about how dismaying things are, I’m guessing that you’re either university administration or a full professor.


John Quiggin 02.16.12 at 12:48 am

I have to admit that I was “installed” as President of the Australian Agricultural and Resource Econ Society, though there was a Soviet-style “election” at the AGM. We elect the president a year in advance, and then they serve a further year as past president (me, right now) OTOH, finding even one person per year willing to take on these jobs is a challenge for us, and just about everyone gets a turn if they hang around long enough and aren’t firm in pleading alternative engagements. Giving


Bloix 02.16.12 at 12:59 am

1) You say that 42% of NTT faculty at 4-year institutions have PhD’s. That means that the PhD glut is most definitely one of the major factors driving the working conditions of NTT’s. Even English professors know that “most” does not mean “almost all” and “some” is not a synonym for “close to half.”

To state your data another way: over a third of all NTT’s (2 and 4 year institutions) hold PhD’s. To a person, these are all individuals who had hoped and planned to become tenured faculty members. But there are no TT jobs for them.

I accept that there are people with MA’s (ie who didn’t complete their PhD’s) who choose to become casual academic labor – people with other jobs who like to teach and to supplement their incomes; stay-at-home parents who want part-time positions; people who are happy to live for a few years on very low wages while they figure out what to do next. But that’s not the case for over a third of NTT’s, and the existence of that third is what suppresses the market and keeps wages down. These people are being exploited. If academia can’t make space for them, it shouldn’t keep churning them out.

(MFA’s are a different story. The MFA is a terminal degree and MFA’s are people who want to be artists and are willing to teach to keep body and soul together. They don’t have much in common with ABD’s.)


faustusnotes 02.16.12 at 1:04 am

Chris Bertram, I taught as an adjunct at a private University in Japan (they have this system here too). My worst class was 250 students, I had to write the course material myself (I was the first person to run the course), and there were two assignments. I had one teaching assistant (a grad student) whose main task was to manage the class and to help with marking (at which, since he didn’t know the topic, he wasn’t very good). I also taught some graduate courses that were much more manageable. I was paid about $80 per 1.5 hour class, which is a very good hourly rate in Japan, but I would have had to work a 40 hour week every semester to make about a third of the basic wage for a freshman company employee. I was also ineligible to apply for grants.

Adjuncts in a system like that will very quickly stop caring about education quality. It’s a labour of love that will soon turn to hatred.


LFC 02.16.12 at 1:28 am

Bloix @29:
Absolutely right, IMO.


Another Damned Medievalist 02.16.12 at 1:34 am

If there were such a PhD glut, then we’d get more applications for out TT positions. Some things are predictable — I knew there would be competition for TT jobs going into the field, so I did everything I could to give myself a solid generalist background. Given that my postgraduate institution wasn’t one of the ones with a huge number of medievalists or more than a solid library that was strong in some parts of medieval history, I was unlikely to be in the running for a job at a top-ten uni, even if I did everything right. So I did what I could to make myself competitive (somewhat offset by holding the number one spot for time to degree…). The problem is, some things are not predictable. There might be far too many Civil War historians out there, but not enough people who have fields in African and who can also teach an occasional course in Latin American. As FT faculty positions are cut, departments do all sorts of things to get coverage. Politics come into play as well — I was on a committee once where the chair wanted to hire a Mini Me, and the rest of the committee wanted a person who might bring in something not “canon of the Class of ’72.” Three years later, the accreditation people told us flat out that the next hire needed to be someone who specialized in one of three non-Eurocentric areas.

That’s the sort of thing that you can’t predict going into postgraduate studies. Fashions, departmental politics, etc., are difficult.

Anyway, I think we need to stop seeing these issues as binaries. They really aren’t either/or; they are both/and. Yes, there are sometimes too many people in some fields/subfields looking for TT jobs, but also yes, universities have been saving money by hiring NTT faculty, hiring more administrators (many of whom have not ever taught at the college level), and raising requirements of TT faculty.


jim 02.16.12 at 2:03 am

I’m not sure that the aggregations here are the most helpful. It seems to me that full-time NTT faculty on year-long contracts (“visiting”) are a national market, while part-time NTT faculty on semester-long contracts (“adjuncts”) are very much a local market. Different departments and different locations provide different experiences: PhDs may well fill adjunct positions in local markets where there’s a glut — New York, Boston, Chicago, Washington — while being rare in more rural locations; MFAs adjunct in English, but not in History. Some disciplines do seem to absorb the majority of new PhDs into TT jobs — that’s the claim that’s been made for Economics. Others, not so much. Those PhDs really do take adjunct jobs, at least for a few years. And, of course, in the grant-driven disciplines — typically but not exclusively the experimental sciences — NTT faculty are more likely to be soft money funded researchers rather than teaching 101. There are more NTT MAs in community colleges than in four-year colleges, but there are more TT MAs in community colleges, too.

One or two simplified statistics distort the reality.


Harry 02.16.12 at 2:20 am

There is something that Joyner gets right: there is an oversupply of PhDs (and people with MAs etc). Michael is right that people going to grad school don’t know the risks they are taking. And who is, at least, complicit in making both of those things true: tenured faculty at PhD granting institutions who cheerfully accept numbers of students beyond those that they know will be able to get academic jobs, do not give good information about the real risks, and then are happy to hire adjuncts. English, with its rapacious demand for graduate students to i) fill its seminars and ii) teach composition and the numerous other service classes it has captured through the process of negotiations over undergraduate requirements, is a particular offender here, but none of us are innocent.

Reduce the number of PhD’s admits, spend more time teaching undergraduates and less time teaching graduate students, and provide an upfront message explaining, clearly, to incoming students what you perceive the risks to be; and then reinforce this message during their first year or two of grad school so they can make informed decisions about whether to continue.

I always hate disagreeing with Tim Worstall, but I don’t think most people understand or appreciate the risks of the professions they enter when they are 22, and I don’t think this reflects badly on them, its just what people are like. Academia is an unusually risky career (compared with other things prospective academics can do) and the people with the information about what the risks are are not very forthcoming about it. That’s who it reflects badly on.

My current department, when I enquired about coming to graduate school here 25 years ago, said sent me a letter explaining pretty clearly what the risks were, and explaining that they underfund their students. I didn’t apply (and a good thing too; I’d not have been able to teach here if I’d come here for grad school).


ezra abrams 02.16.12 at 3:06 am

“… in The Fall of the Faculty, administrators and managers at public colleges numbered 60,733 in 1975….. 101,011 in 2005. At private colleges, those numbers are 40,350 in 1975, 65,049 in 1995, and an astonishing 95,313 in 2005 ”

I am astonished that the Head of the MLA can put up such a paragraph; any good Senior – heck, any good HS senior – should be able to see at least one *major* flaw – is it per capita !! (or, more precisely, per capita student) (not the sly use of “astonishing” – astonishing compared to what ?
a little googling suggests there are around 5.5 million students in priv colleges; that works out to (rough 5e6/1e5) 50 students per administrtor, ok that is astonishing, untill you correct per capita (source below) when you see that admins per student has gone down !!!!!!
you wouldn’t know it from the blog post – sloppy at best, what do you who are educators here give the poster as a grade for this sloppy writing ?
Its late here in Boston, and I’m tired, but I can think of at least two other problems with this paragraph – 1st, was the condition in 1970 good ? maybe the schools needed more admins, or maybe the def of admin has changed, or maybe the people attending private school have become more affluent and are demanding better services. One of the things you learn in life is that admins are valuable. Second, maybe things have changed – certainly, schools need a lot more admin to deal with, say financial aid then in 1970.



Harry 02.16.12 at 4:04 am

Two (of several) drivers of the increase in administrative staff, of which student services comprise a significant part:
1) faculty take less time and energy to interact with students, and services have been professionalised (first part of that is bad, second part good)
2) increased numbers of students from backgrounds which are unfamiliar with college life, so need more support to graduate, and increased pressure on colleges not just to admit students who are not from college educated backgrounds but actually educate them until they graduate (rather than only till they drop out). Both very good things. (Oh, and there are people trying to prevent sexual assault, and trying to provide services to the numerous victims of sexual assault, another good thing)

I know a good number students who will graduate more or less on time, who, without the professional services provided by the administrative staff that my college hires, and which many faculty think of as fat, would have dropped out after freshman or sophomore year. Some have overcome barriers to succeeding that I would never have imagined in college, and several of them will contribute more to the good of society in the next 10-15 years than I will have done in my career. I’ve watched some of the administrators in action with them, and I’m sure there is loads of administrative waste, but I have seen less of it (here, and admittedly we are lean) than I have of faculty wasting time and effort because they don’t invest the handful of hours a year in learning about teaching that would significantly improve their instruction.


Ian 02.16.12 at 5:13 am

Bloix @ 29: “(MFA’s are a different story. The MFA is a terminal degree and MFA’s are people who want to be artists and are willing to teach to keep body and soul together. They don’t have much in common with ABD’s.)”

Indeed–I don’t really understand why MFAs are being lumped in with MAs. The adjuncts who teach in my theater department (mostly) are active professionals for whom teaching is a sideline.


js. 02.16.12 at 5:53 am

Indeed—I don’t really understand why MFAs are being lumped in with MAs. The adjuncts who teach in my theater department (mostly) are active professionals for whom teaching is a sideline.

In my experience, a lot of poetry/fiction/non-fiction MFAs teach composition etc. as adjuncts while trying to ideally land a book deal or at least get more of their stuff published, so that they can move into a tenure-track position—or at least better their chances of doing so.


Corey 02.16.12 at 6:59 am

js. is mostly correct about MFAs (speaking as an MFA–specifically, poetry) and, of course, speaking only for Creative Writing. There are a fair number of MFA tenured or tenure-track faculty who posses only an MFA and several (or one, although this is much less common in recent years) book. I was taught by excellent professors in undergrad who had a MFA in addition to a PhD from a top three Creative Writing program, but MFA only faculty were more common in graduate school (owing, I’m guessing, to the fact that I attended a small, liberal arts college for undergrad and the Creative Writing PhD is, for many programs, essentially a literature doctoral degree with a creative thesis). I’m interested to hear what some other tenured faculty (in the Humanities or otherwise) think of English depts. creating a PhD for a practice that already has a terminal degree, although one with some variation–I spent three years earning mine, but there are a fair number of two (and the occasional one year) programs, which seem closer to the MA model than a terminal degree.

(Perhaps it’s more akin to a law degree? The University of Virginia does have a strong Creative Writing program and offers a dual JD/MFA program, which I always assumed led to applicants applying for jobs and being asked “You meant ‘MBA,’ didn’t you?” and having to look at their shoes, awkwardly squeaking out a response about writing poetry, Wallace Stevens [he was a lawyer too!] and their summer internship for a major local law firm).


SB 02.16.12 at 10:08 am

This is interesting to me. When the NTT faculty speak out, it can cause various reactions in TT faculty–One thing that seems a little nuts from a TT perspective is the claim that NTT are doing the exact same job and are entitled to everything a TT job has because of the length of time they have been teaching in those jobs. It’s a strange idea that if you became NTT you would probably get to keep your job but if you become TT you may not because you’ll have to go through a tenure *process* which can result in your losing your job. It sort of turns everything on its head. We went through so many hoops for tenure. The bar gets higher and higher every year (partly to show that that the TT faculty are deserving of their special status?). How could it make sense to say that the standard for tenure depends on the years one is teaching?

I’ve always taken it for granted that this is some kind of confusion on the part of NTT faculty. But your letter writer has convinced me that there has to be something–some kind of security–particularly when I think about what it’s like not to have any sort of security. Tenure itself can drive a person nuts that way. I can’t imagine having my entire life be that uncertain. So yes, I do see a good reason for some kind of tenure to evolve for NTT faculty.

There are some issues though–there is often not much oversight of the NTT faculty. Someone has to create more of a process for this ‘instructor tenure.’ You worry a little that it will become the hellish nightmare that tenure is for the NTT faculty. And then what happens to the excellent teacher who doesn’t get tenure due to research failings–does he get ‘instructor tenure’? Are you just out on your ass because you were dumb enough to try for the TT? Why even do that?

I think all these complexities could be ironed out. A better thing, I think, would be to get rid of the NTT positions over time. I think TT faculty have no choice but to band together and refuse to assist adminstrators in filling sections with adjuncts. Or something. I don’t have any answers obviously. Let’s just agree it’s a might complex situation and the more the TT faculty make a common cause with NTT faculty the easier it will be to resolve it.


mds 02.16.12 at 6:03 pm

And as for those “strong market forces”: though it’s true that “colleges and universities have been facing severe budget pressures for the better part of two decades,” somehow this has not slowed the growth of university administration.

Indeed, a recent initiative at the university which currently surrounds me is “shared services,” in which not-necessarily continguous departments share one set of administrative staff, in order to reduce costs. Faculty who are less than thrilled by this have pointed out that non-departmental administrative costs continue to rise, as e.g. the ten provosts certainly aren’t as vigorously eliminating overlap in their administrative staff. Meanwhile, as our faculty hiring restrictions continue due to budget constraints, we have just recently welcomed another new vice president whose position was created by splitting the duties of an existing vice president who found the job too demanding. So even though these discussions are primarily useful to me in reinforcing why I didn’t bother with the traditional academic track, I can certainly turn a jaundiced eye to suspiciously convenient “cost consciousness.”


J. Fisher 02.16.12 at 6:07 pm

Briefly, on the matter of professionals who are employed as adjuncts on the side. My limited experience with that kind of thing still resulted in marginalizing matters like not having a mailbox or a space to meet with students or a functional desk on which to grade papers, etc. So, oftentimes, even the schools and universities that are established with the express purpose of employing part-time people from the private sector (or the professional world or whatever we want to call it) still make instruction difficult and cumbersome for the students and for the faculty involved.


Dave 02.16.12 at 6:24 pm

There are so many layered orders of failure behind the phrase “glut of PhDs.” Glad to see you don’t buy that frame, Michael.


Michael Cholbi 02.16.12 at 7:01 pm

My observation (I am a tenured philosopher) has been that the relationship between receiving the Ph.D. and being an adjunct is often not as it’s being presented in the comments. I’ve observed many MA philosophers or PhD-candidate philosophers who become adjuncts (because their grad fellowships have ended, they want a little more teaching experience, they’re looking to make some extra money, etc.) but don’t complete their degrees because they’ve become adjuncts. Adjuncting takes over and the dissertation stalls out. In a sense, I think what we’re dealing with is not a glut of PhD’s as such, but a glut of late-stage grad students who don’t finish. That’s still exploitative.


Michael Bérubé 02.17.12 at 4:15 pm

Thanks, everyone. I just want to repeat one thing from the OP — I do think graduate programs should be smaller. I have been saying so for almost 20 years now, and back in the day, when Cary Nelson and I first started writing about the exploitation of graduate students, we caught some flak from our left: we were accused, I kid you not, of being corporate “downsizers,” as if not admitting an applicant to a graduate program is analogous to firing an employee. And I think Michael Cholbi @ 45 is right — those MAs include a bunch of stalled-out PhD candidates.

Ezra @ 36, allow me, as newly installed Head of the MLA, to explain it to you again. Joyner says (and he is not alone) that universities are financially strapped and cannot hire TT faculty. Yet they hired many many administrators. Ginsburg (whom I am citing here) is a bit too snarky and dismissive about administration (I can’t believe I am writing this, but it’s true), but the point remains that there has been plenty of money available for them. Per capita, even.


Katherine 02.17.12 at 4:16 pm

Still no MLA thoughts as to gender, or disaggregation of NTT faculty figures by gender? How disappointing.

I’d refer you to CEDAW if it weren’t for the fact that the US is one of the few countries in the world not to have signed up to it.

PS Thanks though to Krippendorf on the previous thread for the figures. I was interested in sparking thoughts and debate as much as the figures themselves. Failed there, clearly.


James Joyner 02.17.12 at 4:41 pm


I apologize for any offense caused by referring to you as “newly installed.” I didn’t mean to imply that there was something untoward to your assumption of the office, merely that you had just taken it. I don’t know whether you are “newly elected,” since a goodly many professional associations either elect presidents a year out or elect vice presidents who are then put on track to assume the presidency after a rotational period in order to create institutional stability.

I didn’t realize that so many non-PhDs were being hired as adjuncts. But that actually strengthens my argument: we should be hiring PhDs to teach college and giving as many of them as possible the chance to prove themselves worthy of tenure and long-term commitment to the institution. As bad as having underemployed PhDs serve as adjuncts may be, having underqualified instructors teaching undergrads is worse as it contributes to the high schoolification of higher ed.

I make exceptions to the above for the fine arts, business, and other vocational-technical fields, where practical experience is more highly valued than educational preparation and a propensity to engage in scholarly research. An MFA is widely considered a terminal degree, even though there is such a thing as a DFA and a DA. And having MBAs teaching business students probably makes as much sense as having scholars do it.


Zehou 02.19.12 at 5:17 am

Joyner: “I didn’t realize that so many non-PhDs were being hired as adjuncts. . . . As bad as having underemployed PhDs serve as adjuncts may be, having underqualified instructors teaching undergrads is worse as it contributes to the high schoolification of higher ed.”

“Non-PhDs” seems to me an incredibly unhelpful term in discussions about qualifications for college and university teaching. Where I come from an MA student is expected to complete 8 courses and write a modest thesis–no foreign language requirement, no teaching duties, no teacher training, no seminar attendance requirement, no mandatory paper presentation, no pressure to begin publishing, etc. ABDs in the same department must complete almost twice as many courses (14), though they are expected to audit many more, too, and of course they are subject to all the requirements and expectations mentioned above as well. For most students there, achieving ABD status takes twice as long as does securing the MA.

Further, the ABDs have exactly the same level of preparation for teaching lower-level undergraduate survey courses (the courses that NTT faculty are most often expected to teach) as the PhDs. (The PhDs have additional preparation for a research university career that the ABDs lack, since the PhDs have also completed a long, ambitious research project on a narrowly defined topic. But that’s preparation for conducting advanced research and for teaching advanced undergraduates and graduate students.)


Stacey 02.19.12 at 6:20 am

“Ginsburg (whom I am citing here) is a bit too snarky and dismissive about administration (I can’t believe I am writing this, but it’s true)…”

So glad to see that concession: I’ve been reading the book since you cited it here, Michael, and have copied passages to use in my first year composition classes as illustrations of what NOT to do in an argument. What a missed opportunity on Ginsberg’s part to effectively address what is a real concern.

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