Friday, November 18, 2011

Adjuncts, accreditation and academic quality

The other day I posted some thoughts based on Leahgrrl's original post on adjuncts and technology. Tony Bates also posted thoughts on the issue around the topic of accreditation. Between these blog posts, and comments to all three of them, the mental gears started to slowly turn and think of additional thoughts around the issue.  The first one being accreditation.

Tony writes that through his experiences being part of an accreditation agency, adjunct labor is something that they pay attention to when new programs apply to become accredited, but then there is no follow up.  I know our campus had a recent AQUAD review* for all programs on our campus, and  both internal and external reviewers viewed departmental submissions of the resumes of these departments (history of department, course offerings, student information, course reviews, faculty reviews, student evaluations of courses and instructors,  etc.), in short everything an accreditor would need to see in order to approve or disapprove a program.

It's great that scrutiny is placed on new programs as far as adjuncts go, but I would like to see more information about adjunct use for re-accreditation purposes.  If I were an accreditor here are some questions I would ask and things that I would be looking for (in no particular order):

  • What is the ratio of tenured/tenure track to adjunct instructors and lecturers?†
  • What percentage of courses are taught by adjuncts?
  • What percentage of core courses are taught by adjuncts?
  • What is the longevity of your department's adjuncts?
    • both in aggregate, and per-adjunct, so I want to see how long, on average do your adjuncts stay with you, and then I want to see how long each adjunct has been with the department.  for me, a 1 year hiatus from teaching would be acceptable (scenario: you teach 1 specialist course every summer)
  • Do you adjuncts teach only for you, or do they teach elsewhere?
  • Do your adjuncts only teach, or do they also work in industry?
  • What is the conversion rate for
    • adjunct-to-lecturer
    • adjunct-to-tenure
    • lecturer-to-tenure
  • What other duties do you require of your lecturers and adjuncts (i.e. service requirements to the institution, advising and so on)
  • How do adjunct and tenured faculty reviews and grades compare?

This isn't an exhaustive list, but it's a start. If institutions were required to maintain a 70-30, 80-20, or 90-10 ratio of tenured/tenure track to adjunct ratio, and were required to have all core courses taught by tenured or tenure track faculty I think that we would see some changes.

Sarah, did bring up the point that not all adjuncts are sub-par.  And I agree. I happen to know many adjuncts who are awesome and put in a lot of love, care, and time in preparation. They really want to help their students.  Sarah brings up the point that money isn't always an issue since adjuncts may have other jobs or may be retired so they are doing it for the love of teaching.  Perhaps this was true at one point when adjuncts were employed to bring industry expertise into the classroom, and the payment was more of a stipend than a salary, a "thank you." Things are different now however.  I believe that most adjuncts are out-of-work academics that are willing to patch together many teaching gigs to make ends meet. They may still be dedicated and put in a lot of hours, and pull feats of herculean proportions, but just because you can pay them peanuts, doesn't mean that you ought to.

As Barry wrote, it's a dignity issue.  Money may not be the issue for some people, but it is an issue for others◊ . Even if money weren't the issue, money is an indicator of your perception of worth and appreciation for someone in this case, and paying them peanuts indicates that you don't perceive them to be worth much because you aren't paying them much. Ethically, too, even if people are willing to settle for what little they can get, should you as an organization pay them that little? Should you string them along with a carrot of tenuretrackdom even if you know that you are probably not going to hire someone on tenure track if they've been adjuncting•?

If adjuncts have longevity at your institution, if they've been with you for a number of years, pay increases and other perks should come their way.  Why, if you've hired someone for the past six semesters consecutively would you not want to give them a 3-5 year contract with increased salary?  You obviously value them and their work enough to keep hiring them back semester after semester, why not make it official and give them a longer stint, with job protection and better pay?  Why not have a career ladder of
adjunct --> lecturer (3 year contract) --> senior lecturer (5 year contract) --> tenure track --> tenure?



* Academic Quality and something something something...
† At my campus a lecturer is someone with a 3 year contract, a senior-lecturer someone with a 5 year contract. The pay still doesn't compare to tenure track/tenured faculty but it's a start.
◊ Tapping into contemporary sentiment, money may not be an issue for the 1% of adjuncts who have other jobs to sustain them, but it is an issue for the 99%
• I've read elsewhere that being an adjunct signals to employers that they shouldn't hire you for a tenured position. Sort of similar to the concept of if you are already employed you can get a job, but if you aren't you are out of luck...so silly, waste of good talent!
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