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From the Letters to the Editor column in the September 1995 Perspectives

The Problem of Non-Tenure-Track Faculty

Mark D. Higbee, September 1995

To the Editor:

Having taught between 1989 and 1993 as an adjunct in the City University of New York system, I'm pleased that so much of the May/June issue of Perspectives was devoted to articles on the employment of non-tenure-track faculty. However, the articles by Mary Elizabeth Perry and Leslie Brown, as well as the American Association of University Professors statement, refer to adjunct instructors as "part-time" teachers. In fact adjuncts quite often carry teaching loads that are equal to or greater than the full-time loads of their tenured and tenure-track colleagues. At many schools it is entirely normal for adjuncts to have course loads that are at least two or three times as heavy as those carried by tenured or tenure-track faculty employed in the same department. Adjuncts quite often teach three, four, five, or even more courses per term. While adjuncts are paid on a piecework basis (only rarely above $2,000 per course), no one teaching four or five college courses should be labeled a "part time" instructor.

In the academic labor force today, "adjunct" usually means part-time pay for full-time work. The economic motives of both adjunct and other non-tenure-track professors, and of the universities and departments that exploit their labor, are fundamental to the entire problem. Today non-tenure-track faculty teach the majority of course sections offered in many departments. Yet the educational and professional problems posed by the rise of this exploitative two-tier system of professional academic employment have been largely ignored by departments, universities, graduate programs, and the historical profession as a whole. Sympathetic statements acknowledging the problem have rarely been matched by action.

I applaud Perspectives for calling attention to this vital issue. I urge departments, historians, the AHA, and faculty unions to actively and seriously support the demand that no more than 15 percent of the total instruction in a given department or university be conducted by non-tenure-track faculty. The problem will get worse until we change the economic forces perpetuating it.

Mark D. Higbee
Eastern Michigan University