From the Letters to the Editor column in the January 1999 Perspectives
Counting the Invisible Adjunct
Melody Moss, January 1999
To the Editor:
I noted with dismay that two of the "News" columns in the October 1998 issue ("History Salaries Show Further Improvement" and "PhD Production Dropped Slightly in 1996") were based on statistical data that did not include specific information on adjunct faculty. This omission renders much of this data essentially useless. Robert Townsend's summary of the CUPA and AAUP data notes a marked trend in the replacement of senior tenured faculty with new junior faculty, yet no mention is made of the significant trend in replacing tenured faculty with non-tenure-track adjunct faculty.
Perhaps even worse is the data provided on PhD production, based on the National Research Council's annual report and information provided to the AHA for its annual Directory of History Departments and Organizations. This article states that "on the positive side, among [history PhDs] who had landed jobs, the proportion that found teaching positions rose dramatically to 76.3 percent from just 60 percent the year before." Yet we then read that "the data does not provide qualitative information on how many of these positions were full-time/tenure-track jobs or just short-term/part-time employment."
I fear the consequences of distributing such misleading data to current and potential graduate students, thus disguising the fact that the vast majority of academic positions in history are now temporary jobs with abysmal pay and no benefits. As a full-time adjunct instructor earning the rare "luxuries" of a livable wage and health insurance, I still am threatened every year with being reduced to a part-time position at a poverty-level salary. If as a profession we are going to make any progress toward ending the exploitation and overuse of adjunct faculty, we first need to acknowledge their existence. As a step in the right direction, the AHA should ask for explicit information on adjuncts, both full-time and part-time, in the information gathered for the annual Directory. I have never been in my department's listing despite the fact that I have taught full-time at this institution for the last four years. Few colleges or universities will report this information unless it is demanded of them. We should also put pressure on other reporting institutions, such as the AAUP, the CUPA, and the Chronicle of Higher Education, to specifically include adjunct faculty in any surveys they conduct.