Fairness for Adjuncts

An obvious sign of mismanagement in an organization is leaders’ failure to confront fundamental cost problems in the enterprise and instead rely on quick fixes – often for decades.

The growth of adjunct faculty (both part-time and full-time) and the below-living wages (for full-time adjuncts) is the most notable example in higher education. Exploitation of this resource (in aggregate) to serve a narrow interest (reduce the cost of operations, while costs grow elsewhere), versus student’s interests, reveals exceptionally poor thinking (no doubt the results of poor education).

Without question, the pay (per-course) and benefits problems that adjunct faculty have long faced must be corrected. University administrators should not have to be forced into doing this. Leaders volunteer to correct known problems and assure fair outcomes, managers don’t. It is a simple act of humanity that demonstrates respect for people.

Adjunct faculty can bring much-needed real-world knowledge int the classroom, for the benefit of students, and help create better and more distinctive academic programs. However, the growth of adjuncts to more than 50 percent of the teaching faculty in most colleges and universities shows that contingent labor has been overdone.

In contrast, a Lean business typically staffs itself with 90 percent full-time regular employees and 10 percent contingent employees to deal with increases in sales (students) and to provide knowledge or capabilities that do not exist internally. The pay may be a bit less than full-time regular employees, and the benefits less generous, but contingent employees are not so brazenly exploited.

Universities should do the same when it comes to adjunct faculty. The way forward is to hire qualified adjuncts as full-time regular faculty (where full-time teaching load exists) and make judicious use of adjuncts to strengthen academic programs. Those adjuncts who work full-time in industry and teach part-time should receive greater pay per course because they are worth more.

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