Academic Cog has a very interesting post on contingent academic labor from the vantage point of a TA working under an adjunct lecturer. Academic Cog writes:
... huge numbers of classes are being taught by people who know they are here only temporarily and who already have an eye on the future and one foot out the door, frantically scrambling to grab a permanent position. Because the adjunct positions are there permanently, only with different individuals cycled in and out of them, what the university ends up with is instructors who are permanently job seeking and distracted. If you put 30 hours a week on an intensive and draining job search, how much time are you going to put in additionally to a job that pays you crap wages? How will that time break down per student given the class sizes?This is yet another face of the current reliance on contingent faculty to teach an ever increasing share of college classes. There are very good reasons to limit the number of years a university can exploit a particular adjunct at starvation wages (and to my mind the fewer years the better -- zero would be ideal). But as Academic Cog notes, the adjunct positions themselves are there permanently. This means that there is revolving door of new faces occupying these underpaid and overworked positions. The result of this is that the institution is buying faculty who cannot afford to invest the time and effort into their teaching that everyone involved -- students, administrators, TA's, other faculty, and not least the adjunct faculty member him or herself -- wishes to be able to devote to teaching.
In short, why invest any more time or effort or collegiality or service into a university that is investing practically nothing in you?
This is why the question of adjuncts and accreditation begins to loom so large. Adjunct use creates structural limitations on the quality of instruction -- through no fault of the hard working adjunct faculty themselves. Unlike Confessions of a Community College Dean (CCCD), I think linking university accreditation with limits on the use of contingent labor is exactly the right place to apply pressure. Universities cannot be expected to resist the lure of cheap contingent faculty labor without some equally powerful disincentive. Accreditation provides universities with a materially relevant reason to limit their use of adjunct faculty. Moral arguments alone against this exploitation are always doomed to fail when confronted with the realities of a limited budget.
CCCD is rightly concerned, though, that externally imposed limits on the number of adjuncts allowed will simply encourage institutions to game the system and may even force some institutions to increase their use of adjuncts up to the legal limit. This is why I think it will still be necessary to eliminate the existing wage differentials between contingent and tenure-track faculty. As long as adjuncts can be hired on the cheap and without benefits, institutions will continue to exploit them. In fact, the fiduciary responsibilities of an institution's administrators will virtually demand it. Therefore, a twin-pronged strategy focusing on linking accreditation with minimizing adjunct use, coupled with raising adjunct salaries seems necessary.
As to CCCD's other concern about the relevance of limiting adjunct use to the goals of accreditation itself, there is Marc Bousquet's recent article in Inside Higher Ed. CCCD writes:
More to the point, what is the point of accreditation? I've always understood it as a way of assuring prospective students that the institution is what it says it is, rather than some fly-by-night operation. To the extent that it's really about the students, I'm not entirely sure what a magic cutoff number for adjuncts has to do with it.As Marc Bousquet writes:
First-year students are more likely to persist to their sophomore year when high-stakes “gate-keeper” courses are taught by permanent faculty, and campus unions generate significantly greater undergraduate experience of tenure-stream faculty, observe two studies just released at the annual convention of the American Education Research Association.This can be coupled with other findings that show that:
A national analysis of graduation and program completion rates at community colleges has found that institutions with higher percentages of full-time faculty members have higher completion rates.And student retention and persistence to graduation are certainly legitimate and appropriate concerns for accreditation.
Or you can simply look again at the situation faced by Academic Cog who, as the TA for an overworked and underpaid adjunct, sees firsthand the ways students get short-changed by these working conditions:
You know what they call the TA who makes up for this situation by putting in extra time and effort to actually teach the students something about writing and critical thinking and writes lots of insightful, constructive comments on drafts and essays?