Adjuncts, Faculty Working Conditions, and Student Learning Conditionss


In “I Used to be a Good Teacher,” Alice Umber contrasts her experiences teaching as a tenure-track professor and then as a contingent, “adjunct” faculty member. Her piece should be required reading for college students and parents, for administrators and tenure-track faculty, and for legislators and think tank report writers, for it catalogues some of the many ways that contingent appointments profoundly–and negatively—affect students and the quality of the education they receive.

As Umber makes clear, the working conditions of adjunct faculty members make it almost impossible to do as well as they could with greater support and more time for students.

From the lack of time and opportunity to confer with colleagues to lack of support for conferences to lack of opportunities to learn about the curriculum or the students, it all adds up, she concludes, to this:

Without recognition, backing, career prospects, or job stability, I’m less than I could be if I were better supported. Even if I had an indomitable spirit and deep pockets, my teaching would be diminished by my detachment from the department, the university, and the students. I think students should be bothered by the fact that I am a one-off. I think students deserve the teacher I was and not the teacher I’ve become.

That adjunct faculty working conditions are, indeed, student learning conditions is a sad and infuriating truth in Umber’s powerful piece.

For another more analytical description of ways that contingent appointments hurt students, see Alan Kennedy’s piece, “How Colleges are Hurting Students.”