The Caste System in Higher Education (Opinion)

Ann McClure's picture

The caste system in higher education is alive and well, according to a report recently issued by the Center for the Future of Higher Education.

The report, "Who is Professor 'Staff'," is based on a survey of adjunct or contingent faculty members, over three-quarters of them part-time, conducted last fall by the New Faculty Majority Foundation, a national association that promotes better work conditions for adjunct faculty in colleges and universities. The report, primarily written by foundation staff, takes its title from the way adjunct professors are often described on course schedule -- a dehumanizing aspect of the adjunct experience. The report leaves no doubt that adjunct teachers are treated like second-class citizens.

The report focuses on two of the major problems adjuncts face. The first is that many, if not most, of them are hired at the last minute, weeks if not days before the start of a course. That is the reason they are listed as 'Staff,' not by their real names, leaving students to guess about who will be running their classes.

These "just-in-time" hiring practices give instructors very little or no time to prepare for their classes. Thirty-eight percent of the survey's respondents reported that they had less than two weeks' notice before the start of class; another 25 percent said that they had between two and three weeks' notice. And, regardless of the timing of their appointments, they were not paid for whatever preparation they did.

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