The Corner


Colleges Can Hire Adjunct Faculty Cheap — but Does that Harm Education?

College administrators may prattle on about how they’re so socially conscious, but they are as just as eager to save money on business costs as any CEO. Over the past 40 years, they have been economizing more and more on the expense of faculty by hiring adjunct instructors who are paid a small fraction of what full-time professors are paid. This situation is made possible by the glut of people who have Ph.D.s and want academic careers, but can’t land one of the shrinking number of full-time positions. (Federal student-aid programs have a lot to do with that glut.)

So adjuncts get hired to teach a course or two. The pay is low, the working conditions are poor, and benefits usually non-existent.

Inevitably, this leads to dissatisfaction and calls for unionization. It might also lower the quality of instruction for students, but teaching quality can’t really be measured so administrators don’t much care.

In today’s Martin Center article, Dan Way of the John Locke Foundation takes a look at the issues surrounding adjunct faculty. “Few question the credentials, knowledge, or teaching skills of adjunct and contingent faculty. But some are exploring whether their working conditions, lack of institutional support, and, primarily, meager compensation might take a toll on classroom quality, and weaken students’ education,” Way writes.

He quotes Maria Maisto of a group called New Faculty Majority, which pushes for improved pay and working conditions (but not necessarily unionization):

You can’t expect people to compensate for the deficiencies in the system. Constantly you get massive burnout in people. Eventually it becomes very difficult to sustain the level of quality when you’re constantly battling low pay, the lack of benefits.

That’s no doubt true, but you also find lots of full-time faculty who are burned out (from the publish-or-perish routine) and devote scant effort to teaching good courses. Groups like Maisto’s and the unions that are always looking for workers to “organize” would have you believe that the problem of poor adjunct teaching will go away if they get paid more — the SEIU is demanding a huge increase to $15,000 per course. Most adjuncts would gladly pocket the additional money and go on with their work as before.

“Even if ‘peak adjunct’ has passed,” Way concludes, “the tensions in the shifting world of higher ed will remain.” He’s right, and I’d argue that the only true solution is to move away from the old academic labor market where a few high-cost professors are employed mostly to do useless research and toward one where more are paid a reasonable, market-based salary to teach.

George Leef is the director of research for the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.

Most Popular


Kamala Harris Runs for Queen

I’m going to let you in on a secret about the 2020 presidential contest: Unless unforeseen circumstances lead to a true wave election, the legislative stakes will be extremely low. The odds are heavily stacked against Democrats’ retaking the Senate, and that means that even if a Democrat wins the White House, ... Read More
Energy & Environment

The Climate Trap for Democrats

The more the climate debate changes, the more it stays the same. Polls show that the public is worried about climate change, but that doesn’t mean that it is any more ready to bear any burden or pay any price to combat it. If President Donald Trump claws his way to victory again in Pennsylvania and the ... Read More

What We’ve Learned about Jussie Smollett

It’s been a few weeks since March 26, when all charges against Jussie Smollett were dropped and the actor declared that his version of events had been proven correct. How’s that going? Smollett’s celebrity defenders have gone quiet. His publicists and lawyers are dodging reporters. The @StandwithJussie ... Read More
Politics & Policy

But Why Is Guatemala Hungry?

I really, really don’t want to be on the “Nicolas Kristof Wrote Something Dumb” beat, but, Jiminy Cricket! Kristof has taken a trip to Guatemala, with a young woman from Arizona State University in tow. “My annual win-a-trip journey,” he writes. Reporting from Guatemala, he discovers that many ... Read More
Politics & Policy

On Painting Air Force One

And so it has come to this. Two oil tankers were just attacked in the Gulf of Oman, presumably by Iran. The United States and China are facing off in a confrontation that is about far more than trade. The southern border remains anarchic and uncontrolled. And Congress is asking: “Can I get the icon in ... Read More
White House

Sarah Sanders to Resign at End of June

Sarah Huckabee Sanders will resign from her position as White House press secretary at the end of the month, President Trump announced on Twitter Thursday afternoon. Sanders, the daughter of former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, succeeded Sean ... Read More