I am an adjunct and have been one for eight years. Six of those years I was happy as an adjunct. Two of those years I was working a full-time job, but being paid as an adjunct. I have benefits because the state of Texas ruled that as an adjunct in a state college, I am allowed to purchase health insurance. It’s not great insurance and it costs $650 a month, but I have it. I have been an adjunct at three different colleges.
I think that adjuncts are the wave of the future. Yes, I am aware that adjuncts already teach 40-60% of the courses in higher education in the US. But I actually think that they will be teaching even more courses in the future.
Finances are tight. Many tenure track lines are being lost. As folks move, retire, or die, the jobs they left behind them disappear. There’s not a lot of money and costs are being cut in ways that make sense and ways that don’t. One of the ways that budgets are being reframed is by having fewer full-time instructors.
I doubt seriously that most tenure track positions will be renewed once the economy returns. There are a lot of reasons to not do that.
First, of course, is the question of money. It is cheaper to pay adjuncts. There are plenty of people (including me) around who are willing to teach for minimal pay. The cost equivalent in teaching courses through adjuncts versus full-timers is between 3:1 and 5:1. At some of the better paying schools, this ratio might go even higher.
Second, is the issue of tenure. Without tenure schools can hire and fire at will. New administrations can restructure the school according to their ideals and many want to. If the faculty are half or more adjuncts, then it is easy to reconfigure the course of the school. Even if the schools add lecturer positions, which pay a little more than adjuncting, they will still have this flexibility. A one- to three-year contract will allow continuity without permanence, at a slightly higher price than simply hiring adjuncts to do the same work.
Third, is the issue of expectations. As faculty are let go, other faculty take up the slack. So if three members of a department leave and no more are hired full-time, the other fifteen people take over those three faculty’s committee and service work. There is no loss to the college in terms of service and so there will be no reason to hire full-timers to take over those service projects. The college will expect more service from the tenure-track faculty and they will comply if they want to keep their jobs.
Fourth, the negative of not being able to attract star faculty will not apply. Tenure won’t cease to exist; instead it will cease to be the norm. So, if the college wants to hire Big Name, they will still be able to offer tenure and, perhaps, even more money because they have brought their faculty costs down.
Therefore, hiring more faculty as adjuncts and still retaining the system of tenure will give college administrators more flexibility. Why would any administration, seeing this, decide to renew tenure-track lines and go for the more expensive option?