Adjunct Professors Are Hiding In Plain Sight (Opinion)

Ann McClure's picture
Monday, April 30, 2012

Retail employees, food service workers, call center operators: These, we are told, are the low-paying jobs of the future. Unfortunately, that list would be incomplete without including one of the fastest growing job titles at the business networking site LinkedIn: adjunct professors. Between 2007 and 2011, the number of people describing themselves there this way grew by almost 40 percent.

Adjunct professors are not a new presence in American universities. They have been around since the 1970s. However, their numbers have increased drastically recently just as tuition has spiked too. According to a recent report by the American Federation of Teachers' higher education division, three quarters of faculty employed in American colleges and universities are now part-time workers on limited term contracts.

The numbers in Colorado aren't much better than they are nationwide. At CU-Boulder, for example, government data shows only 54 percent of faculty are tenured or on the tenure track. Even at a private school like the University of Denver, 48 percent of the faculty are part-time. Thirty-one percent of faculty there are non-tenure track.

Despite their near-universal presence in American higher education, most students and their parents don't know anything about adjunct faculty members, nor do they understand the difference between adjuncts, lecturers and tenure-track faculty. After all, everyone tends to call whoever is at the front of the classroom "professor."

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