Are we all adjuncts now?

The knock against adjuncts has always been that they are with the school but not of it—they teach their classes and meet their office hours, but they lack a broader commitment to the institution.  Having too many adjuncts is bad for the institution, because there aren’t enough full-time staff to do the other important work of university.  I think this argument is oversold, but let’s go with it for now.

At the risk of over-simplifying, full-time faculty members see themselves in one of two ways.  Either they see themselves primarily as mathematicians,  sociologists or historians, who happen to work for a specific university (Type 1).  Or they see themselves primarily as faculty members of the university, who happen to teach in the mathematics, sociology or history department (Type 2).

Colleagues holding the first view see their job as consisting of teaching their courses well, doing their research well, and serving on enough committees to “satisfy” the requirement for service.  For many such faculty, one’s professional responsibilities can be summarized as a checklist.  Service is seen as an obligation, rather than something bigger.     I think this view is similar to that of  adjunct faculty members described above, albeit with a somewhat broader but still limited vision.

The second view holds that a major component of one’s job is responsibility to the institution, to do what one can, to do what is necessary to help the institution flourish.  This responsibility is not a ball & chain which keeps one from one’s real work—it is an essential part of the real work.  That doesn’t mean such faculty are not interested in teaching and research.  It just means they have a broader vision of the job.  It is a vision which comes with tenure and experience (I’m not criticizing junior faculty who don’t have this broader vision).

A university desperately needs faculty who think that their job is greater than the sum of teaching, research and service, narrowly defined.  Or putting it differently, a faculty member can satisfy the checklist (teaching, research, and adequate service) and still not satisfy what the university really needs.  Type 1 faculty are like the caricature of adjuncts I started this post with.  A university can afford to have some, but too many will prevent the university from flourishing.

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For the record, I think that most adjuncts do a fine job given the constraints they work under.

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2 Responses to Are we all adjuncts now?

  1. Martha says:

    Interesting post. Do you think there is much movement between the two groups? Have you witnessed a colleague starting as a Type 2 but becoming a Type 1 over time (or vice versa).

    I guess I’m asking is this classification inherent within most people before they come to the University (a result of their own personal goals, their graduate school experience, etc.) or is it something that develops within the ecosystem of the University?

    And, if a University has more Type 1’s than Type 2’s what do we attribute that to? Hiring the wrong kinds of faculty? Poor administration? Weak governance?

    I’m asking because if you’re right and our schools are stronger with more Type 2’s, than I’m wondering how choices we make influence these classifications.

  2. Steve says:

    If one were to ask long time faculty at UMW about this question, they would say that they have noticed a shift over the last decade or so from Type 2 to Type 1 faculty.

    My sense is that faculty have a propensity for one type or the other before they are hired. It might be possible to screen Type 1’s out before hire, but that would probably violate labor laws, since the qualities of Type 2 are hard to articulate. I suppose one could provide signals about the environment one is hiring for, but Type 1’s are likely to ignore the signals if they want the job.

    Today was our last faculty meeting of the year when testimonials are given for retiring faculty. I was struck by how all four retirees were Type 2 faculty. Indeed, some of the testimonials used Type 2 language. Their retirement is a great loss to the university. Bill Crawley, Margaret Huber, Craig Naylor, Roy Smith, you have honored us with your presence. Thank you!

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