Post Academic

Why Are There So Many Underpaid Adjuncts in Higher Ed?

Megan McArdle’s piece at the Atlantic, which is a response to a piece on the rough lot for adjuncts at Inside Higher Ed asks a good question: If academics are supposedly liberal and pro-labor, why do underpaid adjuncts make up so much of the higher ed workforce?

Here are a few possible answers, plus my evaluation of those answers from the Hamster World perspective:

Tenured faculty members don’t pull their weight when it comes to teaching.
Response: I’m sure there are some tenured faculty who don’t carry their load and give everyone else a bad rap, but those people should be treated as individuals. In the Hamster World, you wouldn’t fire an entire department if it is harboring one slacker. You’d put the slacker on notice and then fire the slacker (or at least give the slacker a hard time since you can’t fire someone with tenure).

That’s what Socialism gets you.
Response: McArdle warned her commenters not to make assumptions and claim the academy made its own bed. First of all, too many people assume that academics are liberals. Anyone who’s been in the academy for any amount of time will tell you that’s not so. The Socialism argument is a crock because the system is obviously broken, and pointing fingers isn’t going to fix it. In this kind of situation, one’s political leanings are irrelevant.

More after the jump!
Faculty members are under the gun to publish and are rewarded for publishing, so they put teaching on the back burner.
Response: This seems to be the most likely culprit for the abundance of underpaid adjuncts. Universities and departments have put their butts in a sling by prioritizing research and publishing above all else instead of making a genuine effort to balance the two. This goes double for universities that are not known for being research institutions. Why prioritize publications when you just don’t do that much research?

And now, if universities decide to prioritize teaching, they’ll be under pressure to hire more adjuncts full time, which is the right thing to do. But that will bust budgets that are already strained. It’s a mess.

So, how do we go about fixing the problem of underpaid, underemployed adjuncts? And where is the money to pay them? I’d love to think it’s hidden in some bloated administrative budgets and salaries, but I am not sure that’s the case.

3 Responses to 'Why Are There So Many Underpaid Adjuncts in Higher Ed?'

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  1. dhume said,

    The money’s hidden in institutional subsidies to athletic budgets, IMHO. Get rid of those and there’d be plenty of money to hire more teaching faculty full-time.

    As a Renaissance scholar, I keep dreaming of a Henry VIII-type leader who will dissolve the monasteries (I mean, athletic departments) and reappropriate the money to people who deserve it. But since we live in a society that values entertainment a lot and education not in the slightest, I won’t hold my breath.

    • Arnold Pan said,

      That’s definitely a possibility, dhume, especially when the highest paid UC employees are the Cal football coach and the UCLA basketball coach. I think McArdle’s piece doesn’t really account for the admin possibility either, rather than going for the more ideological charge that lefty profs are clueless and/or don’t practice what they preach.

  2. Adjunct said,

    The money is there; it’s just being spent on everything BUT instruction:

    “Let us look at an interesting pattern of growth in personnel over the last decade. Figure 1 shows that when it comes time to hire, colleges and universities are stocking up more on executives and administrators than on faculty.[15] This helps explain one of the key findings of the Delta Cost Project’s recent report Trends in College Spending. The Delta Cost Project organizes data on institutional spending and revenues that colleges and universities report to IPEDS into more useful and understandable measures of costs per student and costs per degree or certificate produced.[16] Its recent report found that in recent years, the average college or university has increased its institutional support–which includes general administrative services, executive management, legal and fiscal operations, and public relations–faster than it has increased its instructional expenditures.” See

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