In what is being hailed as a revolutionary solution to the overpopulation problem of adjuncts in higher education, the Bench Foundation has announced a multi-year program called Aid-for-Adjuncts. The program is the result of a ten-year study of the rapid proliferation of part-time instructors in college, university, and seminary classrooms. For the first time, administrative centers will be established across America, helping school officials formulate proper guidelines for the use and abuse of adjuncts.
In a news conference carried live over the web, Bench spokesperson Melody Smith explained the evolution of the Aid-for-Adjuncts idea. An early draft of the program, she said, had proposed that universities establish funds so that adjuncts might seek grants for travel, research, and conferences, as well as raises in pay.
That proposal does not appear in the final draft. “We consulted with deans and presidents at leading institutions, and we were encouraged to discover that they did not want to take the easy route of simply passing on funds to adjuncts. We are about changing institutional cultures, not giving charity to individuals in need.”
Smith shared with me two emails that had shaped her thinking about the program. “Adjuncts cost money,” one dean wrote, “because the more of them we hire, the more of a liability they become for our national rankings, to say nothing of the small dents they make in university budgets, which, small or not, have to be hammered out.”
Another email came from a college president. “Anything done for adjuncts has to compensate us, their employers, especially since adjuncts benefit so much from their association with us. Consider the investments we make in star professors, and how their fame rubs off on the part-time teachers who share a campus with them.”
In light of these responses, the Bench Foundation chose to make assessment and accountability the keystones of the Aid-for-Adjuncts program.
“Adjuncts are a symptom of stress on the system,” Smith said, “so it’s the system that needs help, not the symptom. We need to help universities become stronger so that they can make the most of their part-time instructors.”
In a follow-up communication, Ben Steady, Director of the Bench Foundation, reiterated this point. “Treating adjuncts as a special class deserving of various rights and protections would be to grant them some of the same privileges that tenured faculty have, and that would defeat the purpose of having adjuncts.”
The administrative cost of the grant is supported by the Luminous Bulb Trust. A preliminary grant of $5 million will be given to any institution of higher education that establishes a Center for Adjunct Studies.
The Adjunct Centers will be seeking directors who are familiar with the people, procedures, and politics of their home institutions. Associate and full professors in disciplines such as education, English, and religious studies will be encouraged to apply. “We are looking for professors who are mid-career and in need of new topics to research and write about,” Jon Privy, spokesperson for Luminous Bulb, told me. “Becoming a director of one of our Adjunct Centers will give faculty some time away from the demands of the classroom. Grants will be available to fund the hiring of adjuncts to take up the courses the regular faculty will be forced to miss.”
Privy added, “We think it is especially important to bring adjuncts into the assessment structures of their employers. If we tighten governmental oversight, it will be easier to analyze the role of adjuncts in higher education. After all, if a problem does not have an administrative unit dedicated to it, then it isn’t really a problem, is it?”
One of the first tasks for the Adjunct Centers will be to convene workshops to discuss the impact of adjuncts on the pedagogy of tenured faculty. “With more adjuncts teaching,” Privy explained, “tenured professors spend less time in the classroom, which makes that time more important and thus more worthy of support.”
I asked Privy whether the workshops would raise substantial moral questions, such as the just wage for an adjunct teaching the same students as a full professor. Perhaps, I suggested, these Centers should encourage students and faculty to address the moral problem of “haves” and “have-nots” closer to home, where decisions about the distribution of resources are less abstract and might involve personal cost.
“I suspect we’ll have a lot of deep self-reflection going on,” Privy told me. “Some of it might even be painful for the participants. There have been times when full professors have been compared unfairly to adjuncts, who tend to be younger and thus more hip by adolescent standards. Moreover, adjuncts have more energy in the classroom because they do not have to go to as many meetings as the tenured. We need to give tenured professors a safe space to reflect on how they really feel about these issues.
“Most of all,” he continued, “we want professors to come away from these workshops feeling rejuvenated for the classroom. The whole point is to incentivize faculty talking to each other, regardless of the topic.”
For more information, executive officers of any college, university, or seminary can contact the Bench Foundation officers at savethestatusquoofhighereducation.com.
Stephen H. Webb is a columnist for First Things. He is the author most recently of Mormon Christianity.