From the Letters to the Editor column of the May 2002 Perspectives

Radical Reform of Adjunct Instruction

David Adams and William Paquette, May 2002

I was briefly happy to see a survey on adjunct teaching in the March issue of Perspectives. This survey, I thought, must certainly be a step in the right direction. About halfway through filling out the survey, however, I realized that this was not the case. The survey is a reflection of reform that is palatable for defenders of the status quo. The survey reflects an attempt to give lip service to the plight of adjuncts, but it does not reflect any deep concern for them.

First, let me say that some ideas expressed in the survey are good, but these ideas, taken alone, fall far short of what is necessary. Yes, adjuncts need representation in the AHA-and not just one or two representatives, but equal representation. It would also help if the AHA acted as an ombudsman for adjuncts, but such a role must be more aggressive than I believe the AHA is willing to be. So there are some good ideas in the survey, but I must now turn to explaining why the survey is attempting to sell a type of "reform" that actually feeds into the exploitation of adjuncts.

The idea that the AHA should help adjuncts get published is, at best, a benevolent but badly thought-out idea. At worst, it as a cynical attempt by the AHA to appear helpful, while endorsing precisely those activities that make the adjunct's life intolerable. Even if the AHR instituted a quota system that gave proportional space to adjunct publication, this would only indirectly and ineffectively address the problem of adjunct employment (At any rate, I find it doubtful that the AHR would allot more publication space for adjuncts at the cost of space for full-timers.) As long as we do not replace adjunct positions with tenure-track appointments, any policy to help adjuncts get published can only result in the inflation of the publish-or-perish syndrome. The adjunct problem is a problem of hiring and tenure-granting practices, not adjunct publication records. Adjuncts need more time to work on research, but hiring committees must also focus less attention on research and more attention on the very good teaching that adjuncts do.

Secondly, the idea that adjuncts should have a tenured faculty mentor suggests two disappointing assumptions on the part of the AHA. First of all, it suggests that the AHA has no interest in reforming a hiring process that is unforgivably nepotistic. Secondly, it reflects an attitude that sees adjuncts not just as the economic underlings of tenured faculty, but also as intellectual underlings. This is not only wrong; it is insulting. There are many reasons why scholars are appointed to tenured positions; intellectual sophistication is but one of these reasons. Likewise, there are many reasons why adjuncts are not appointed to tenure-track positions, and an intellectual deficiency compared to tenured faculty is a relatively rare reason. This does not mean that adjuncts should not have intellectual mentors; all scholars should, but it means that the institutionalization of mentoring would lead to further academic nepotism. At the same time, this would foster a feeling of tenured superiority based on corporate status rather than free intellectual debate. Let us encourage the intellectual mentoring that naturally occurs when one scholar looks up to another scholar; let us discourage institutionalized mentoring that would have one scholar placed above another on the basis of professional rank.

The survey in Perspectives reflects an attempt by the AHA to reform the adjunct system within the confines of the old academic structure. But the growing number of adjuncts in all fields demonstrates that the structure is no longer viable. The AHA must realize this and push for radical reform. It should accept no less than prorated pay and health care for adjuncts; it should demand the abolition of the adjunct system. This is not unrealistic; this is a necessary step for the history profession and academia as a whole. I respectfully ask the AHA to take the lead in supporting the radical reform of adjunct instruction.

David Adams
The Catholic University of America/Marymount University

William Paquette's Response

I am one of the principal authors of the survey. It is important to note that the survey is a first step. Hard data are needed to statistically show the changes within the profession and to prove to and exert pressure on accreditation societies, colleges and universities, and state legislatures that more full-time positions are critical to the academy's future. The questions Adams cites were actually framed by adjuncts serving on the committee and were designed to encourage adjuncts to tell the AHA and OAH how the professional organizations can better serve them without patronizing them. Adjunct teachers are well represented on the AHA-OAH Joint Committee on Part-Time and Adjunct Employment and even most of the full-time faculty on the committee once worked as adjuncts. I myself worked as an adjunct for five years. I encourage Adams to complete the questionnaire so that we can add to the data. The greater the number of responses, the better armed we will be to bring effective change. There is a role for adjuncts in the profession but not at the numbers currently existing. More full-time positions need to be created. The committee on adjuncts met in April to initiate the next steps in a lengthy process to effect change in hiring practices and employment benefits. Regular updates in Perspectives will keep the membership informed. Adjunct faculty should continue to bring their concerns to the attention of the committee or me.

William Paquette
Tidewater Community College