The Real Adjunct Faculty

Yesterday, when discussing a piece about the presence of adjunct professors in higher education, I characterized the problem as essentially one of oversupply. I wrote that “institutions abuse adjunct faculty [because] there are still people willing and eager to take low-paid, no benefit positions at American colleges. This is because American universities are creating more PhD graduates than there are tenure-track positions available for them.”

I might have been mistaken.

While I still think I’ve explained the basic market for adjunct faculty correctly (there are simply too many people willing to take these jobs for the institutions to have any incentive to pay the adjuncts well or give them good benefits) it is perhaps misleading to characterize the problem as entirely a function of the number of PhDs in America.

In fact, according to Pennsylvania State University’s Michael Berube, the president of the Modern Language Association:

I am beginning to get the sense that everyone and her brother believes that non-tenure-track faculty are made up of PhDs who didn’t get tenure-track jobs. Yes, of course, some of them are. But most of them are not. Though it comes as a surprise to many people (it certainly surprised me), we are talking about two wholly distinct labor markets. The tenure-track market is national, and is populated mostly by PhDs; the NTT market is local, and is populated chiefly by holders of the MA or MFA.

Actually the majority, 65.2 percent, of all non-tenure-track faculty members hold only a master’s degree. At two-year institutions, some 76 percent of the adjunct faculty members have only master’s degrees.

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Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer