FURNISH: ‘Adjunctivitis’ is undermining the purpose of higher education
There are around 20 million students in American colleges and universities, being taught by around 1.5 million instructors. 51% of those instructors are part-time.
Dr. Timothy Furnish is a writer, analyst, and author of five books, with over 13 years college teaching experience. He has taught at Georgia Perimeter College, Reinhardt University, Kennesaw State University, and Norwich University. Outside academia, he has lectured at Joint Special Operations University, Defense Institute for Security Assistance Management, the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, and several other intelligence and military venues. He also worked for five years as a consultant to US Special Operations Command. Furnish obtained his doctorate in Islamic/Middle Eastern history from The Ohio State University, after serving as an Arabic interrogator in the 101st Airborne Division.
There are around 20 million students in American colleges and universities, being taught by around 1.5 million instructors. 51% of those instructors are part-time. A substantial number of those teaching in higher education today, then, are what’s called “contingent” professors—meaning they receive less pay, benefits, job security, campus community involvement and, yes, respect than full-time faculty.
Does this matter? Yes. It results in “adjunctivitis.” That is an over-reliance on part-timers in higher education.
Let me be clear, all work is valuable. The necessity of working for a living goes back to the Hebrew scriptures (Proverbs 13:4, for example). The early Church Fathers also stressed its importance, and Martin Luther further fleshed out the value of non-religious vocations.
Additionally, and perhaps most famously, Max Weber attributed the wealth of European-American civilization to the “Protestant work ethic.”
But there is a difference between working full-time and part-time, whether one is a doctor, accountant, or soldier.
The physician who goes into the office every day and see patients on a regular basis is quite different from the weekend ER doc who performs triage on severe cases whom he will never see again.
The retired accountant who takes a part-time gig during tax season preparing returns is much less invested in his work than the accountant on staff at a corporation.
And the National Guardsman or Army Reservist who puts on the uniform one weekend a month, while still patriotic and admirable, is rarely as professional as the active-duty soldier.
Much the same is true of adjuncts v. tenured faculty. I know—I have worked as both.
While I am thankful, like many others, to have part-time teaching positions, I know full well their shortcomings, both for the professors themselves and for students.
For the professors, drawbacks include low pay, few to no benefits, general exclusion from campus life, and onerous course loads. I myself am teaching six courses this term: three at one university, two at another, and one online.
Drawbacks for students have been pointed out by Dan Edmonds in a 2015 article for Forbes: “[Non-tenure track] often teach outside their specific areas of expertise. Many are limited in their freedom to develop new curricula and are forced to follow syllabi that may be outdated, ill-conceived, or inferior.” There is also high turnover among such professors, making it hard for students to form academic relationships with them. Adjuncts and non-tenure track faculty often don’t even have offices. (I have in the past used Starbucks as my de facto office.)
And like it or not, grad schools often look down on recommendation letters from non-tenure track faculty. To lend further support to his analysis, Edmonds cites The Delphi Project, whose research indicates that “students who take more classes from contingent faculty have lower graduation rates…” and that such “faculty are less student-centered in their teaching, have less contact with students outside of class, and spend less time preparing for class.”
There are exceptions to this pattern of university’s hiring large numbers of adjuncts and non-tenure faculty, however. Ohio State University, where I obtained my doctorate, is one. Only 35% of its main campus professors are part-time.
But OSU also manifests one of the most injurious, and related, trends in modern higher education: The “diversicrat” plague. In other words, the proliferation of “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion”(or ‘DEI’) wranglers.
For the 2021-22 academic year, OSU spent over $13 million on these 132 officials and staffers. Ditto for the University of Michigan, University of Maryland, University of Virginia, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) and the University of Illinois, according to Joe Schoffstall, where “top diversity employees earn salaries ranging from $329,000 to $430,000—vastly eclipsing the average pay for the schools’ full-time tenured professors.”
Ten adjuncts could be hired for just one of these officials’ salaries. These five universities studied by Schoffstall “have between 71 and 163 individuals devoted to diversity efforts.” And what do DEI officials and staffers do? Not much, besides “create a political orthodoxy and enforce that political orthodoxy,” which usually consists of trashing America as intrinsically racist, seeking to undermine democracy and capitalism, and painting Western civilization as “white supremacist.”
Of course, universities have been on an administrator hiring boom for years, even before they caught DEI fever. In the quarter century between 1987 and 2012, higher education institutions added half-a-million administrators and staffers, “an average of 87 every working day.” But now this has been ratcheted up by the push for legions of "diversicrats."
At the same time, the number of full-time faculty has been going down, and continues to do so.
I recently examined higheredjobs.com and surveyed the latest 100 job listings in various disciplines. Here are the percentages of new jobs that were for adjuncts or non-tenure track faculty: Business administration, 68%; math, 64%; history, 63%; chemistry, 52%; political science, 38%; psychology, 37%.
There is clearly a need for more full-time professors to teach at our colleges and universities, based on the number of part-time jobs being advertised. But woke higher education administrators sacrifice the actual educational needs of students on the altar of DEI. Despite the fact, per Schoffstall, that there is “no evidence to show [DEI is] achieving its ostensible purposes of helping improve racial climate, tolerance and welfare of students.”
In the academic year 2021-22, colleges and universities in this country spent $671 billion. There is plenty of money in the system. It just needs to be allocated more logically. Based on the number of adjunct and NTTF jobs listed for various academic fields, there is considerable demand for more qualified people to actually teach. Higher education administrators should engage their considerable intellects, grow backbones, and shift monies from hiring legions to "diversicrats" to employing more full-time professors. Students would be much better served this way. The public needs to sound off on this, and pressure elected officials to get involved.
Otherwise, "adjunctivitis" will continue to be the price university officials are willing to pay in order to keep funding the myopia of DEI on their campuses.
Editorials and op-eds reflect the opinion of the authors and not necessarily that of Campus Reform or the Leadership Institute.