Recently an American woman in her 80s died suddenly. She had no health benefits, no superannuation, no money. She wasn’t homeless or even without education or a profession. In fact, she was an adjunct professor at a university.
This story demonstrates the insidious tendency of universities employing academics under conditions that perhaps only non-educated fast food workers and the homeless endure. This maybe an American story but Australis is heading in the same direction with more than half of undergraduate teaching carried out by poorly paid postgrads, casuals of all sorts, part-timers and those on non-tenure track positions.
They are the dirty little secret of contemporary higher education. While universities tell students that getting educated is a ticket to a better life, those who are doing the teaching are sometimes destitute or frustrated to the max because recourse and change are impossible and they have wasted decades of their lives acquiring an education and a doctorate that leads to no decent professional life, sometimes not even a humane one.
“The dirty little secret is that higher education is staffed with an insufficiently resourced, egregiously exploited, contingent “new faculty majority.” In addition to the 49.3% of faculty in part-time positions (70% in community colleges), another 19% are full-time, nontenure-track. (These numbers do not include graduate assistants or postdocs.)
Adjunct professors, like many hard-working Americans, are the working poor. They are one step away from “We don’t need your services anymore” or one medical emergency away from being destitute, like Vojtko.”
This is not the sign of a decent, rich, self-respecting or civil society.