Relying on cheap labor at educational institutions comes at a high price — for educators and students alike. Since the 1970s, a radical shift has been occurring in higher education, as growing numbers of institutions turn to contingent (or adjunct) faculty to cut costs, while keeping pay as low as possible for the support staff who keep campuses running. Students suffer, as the number of available services are reduced, class sizes increase, and educators are less able to provide direct assistance and mentoring to the students they are there to teach. Now, employees in higher education are fighting back, and facing real challenges from administrations when they do.
In a political climate where a leading presidential candidate freely discloses his belief that higher education has no value, and even poses a threat, discussing the working climate for higher education employees is more critical than ever. In some regions of the United States, educators and support staff are encountering hostile attitudes in the outside world about the work they perform, as well as questions about whether teaching has worth, or is even a form of work. At the same time, their own administrations are slashing budgets, cutting wages and benefits to limit costs. Long dismissed as the sheltered ivory tower, American educational institutions, and their workers, are clearly under siege.