The Part-timing of the Economy and the Academy

In Philly Blog on August 15, 2014 at 8:10 am

parttime clock

By Paul Dannenfelser

The conversion of full-time jobs into part-time jobs is a convenient way for employers to cut their costs. They don’t have to offer health insurance, retirement plans, or steady predictable hours. In many cases, they do not offer sick days, holidays or vacation. This is a disturbing trend in the current economy and has now been adopted by higher education.

College and University administrators have taken to this strategy with great enthusiasm. They are all in, replacing full-time tenured/tenure-track professors with part-time adjuncts and full-time, non-tenure-track instructors on short-term contracts. That’s right –even if you can get full time employment in the academy, it is now likely to be temporary.

It seems as though business (and I include higher education in this) wants to keep its work force permanently insecure, if not permanently employed. Of course there are exceptions: presidents, provosts, deans, and other high-level administrators negotiate tenure when they get hired ensuring that they will have a permanent faculty position when they leave administration.

So what is the message that the academy is sending to its students and employees? Well, for one, those expensive tuitions that generate a good deal of student debt buy you over-worked and under-paid instructors, many of whom are not sure if, or where, they will work next semester.   If a student continues to pay tuition and goes on for an advanced degree, with the hope of some day teaching at a college or university, his or her future will likely included one of these temporary and poorly paid positions. For those that are now teaching, the message is clear;  the institution will not commit or invest in you, and does not see you as essential, but as one of many interchangeable pieces.

What’s the solution? Well, if the trend in higher education is to have a more transient work force that lacks a connection to particular institutions, then an alternative must be developed. Instructors/workers must establish organizations that will provide training, benefits, steady employment, and fair compensation. It is the only way to ensure the high quality education our students deserve. Higher education administrators have a strategy and are organized. It is time for us to do the same.