College teaching woes intensify

The number of college students today stand at an all-time high of 20 million, as compared with 8.6 million a half century ago.  Since 1970 alone, the number of faculty members has grown to 790,000 compared with 370,000. But lost in the data is the number of part-time faculty, which has increased to 755,000 from 105,000 (“ ‘The Adjunct Underclass’ Review: Teachable Moments,” The Wall Street Journal, May 2).

These adjunct teachers are referred to as freeway flyers in California because so many are forced to travel long distances between assignments in order to make ends meet.  Their salaries are low, and their benefits are few.  Yet it’s hard to feel sorry for them.  They must have known that earning a doctorate today in anything but science, technology, engineering or math would not make them marketable.  Nevertheless, they persist in their quest for a permanent position.  I don’t blame them for trying, but I wonder what they were thinking when they decided to earn a doctorate.

It’s understandable why colleges are reluctant to eliminate adjunct positions.  They provide flexibility in meeting the ever-changing needs of students.  Yes, entire departments of tenured professors can be abolished when demand dwindles to a trickle.  But why go that route when adjuncts are more easily jettisoned?  Further, most adjuncts receive no benefits, which make them cheap labor.  I’m not defending colleges, but they have to be realistic.  The situation is only going to get worse, as the supply of doctoral students continues to exceed the demand for their services.

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