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National discussion of employment issues and wage fairness has placed a spotlight on a contentious area within higher education: the growing reliance on adjunct appointments and the shrinking number of tenure-track faculty positions at many institutions. In August, a pair of commentaries published in the Chronicle of Higher Education highlighted the tension surrounding those issues.

The first was a letter to the editor written by Catherine Stukel, a full-time community college teacher, that criticized pundits for complaining about inequitable treatment of adjuncts, saying that such complaints were a result of an attitude of entitlement among faculty members. In response to her letter, Marc Bosquet, an associate professor of English at Emory University, wrote a letter condemning Stukel’s essay and highlighting issues in higher education that have led to the current plight of adjuncts.

Bosquet argued that the increased reliance on adjunct faculty members is a result of misplaced financial priorities in university leadership. He said that while in the 1970s about 80% of faculty appointments were tenure-track, today that number is around 20% to 30%, and that the savings in faculty compensation are being spent on bloated administrative expenses.

“‘Savings on $70,000 faculty salaries generate a vast, expensive need for $80,000- to $120,000-per-year accountants, IT staff members, and HR specialists, plus a few $270,000 associate provosts. Not to mention the $500,000 bonus awarded to the president for meeting the board’s permatemping target and successfully hiding the consequences from students, parents, and the public,” he writes.

Bosquet goes on to say that the reliance on adjuncts has created an unhealthy attitude of elitism among tenured faculty, who may view research positions as inherently more valuable than teaching appointments. He states “Today, at elite institutions, it is part of the culture to erroneously imagine that tenure is or should be largely reserved for those in research-intensive appointments, while those in teaching-intensive positions don’t ‘deserve’ it.”

To remedy the situation, Bosquet calls for a re-examination of faculty employment systems and the factors that divide tenure and adjunct positions. “The best way to support faculty members with bad [positions] is to join the struggle to re-create good ones,” he writes. “For many of us, this will require discarding a self-congratulatory mythology about the meaning of tenure.”

Bosquet’s full essay from the Chronicle of Higher Education is available here:

Content originally published on Learn more about Interfolio’s acquisition of Data180 here.