Yeah. Interesting in the way hangnails are interesting. English Depts. have depended on adjuncts for ever and a day. My department has 6 full time people (one of them a non-tenure track positions, which is another way that cheap comes into play) and we have 20 adjuncts. Not all of the adjuncts teach every semester (this semester we have 15 adjuncts teaching), but we could not possibly run all the sections of composition that we have to offer without the adjuncts. If we had to do it only with full time people, we'd have to hire 7 more full timers--and the school couldn't afford to do that. Big universities with graduate programs have graduate students who do the same kind of work, but even they have to hire adjuncts to cover all of the comp classes that they have to offer.
The system sucks in all directions. The adjuncts get paid on a piecework basis, really low low wages (if you had to do a per-hour accounting, taking all of the grading and preparation into the equation, it would be something like 10 bucks an hour--piddling if you take into account how much tutors charge per hour). They get no money benefits--no health insurance, no life insurance. Because the federal government limits the number of courses that an adjunct can teach in one institution without then becoming de facto full-time, adjuncts also have to piece together work from several different schools. I have people working in my department who teach a total of 12 or more classes in the course of a year, at three or four different institutions. I honestly do not know how they keep their sanity, because all of the work is teaching freshman composition, which is probably the most labor-intensive and heart-attack-inducing teaching that you can imagine.
For the student, having an adjunct presents its own set of problems. It's not that the adjuncts are bad teachers. On the contrary, they are usually really good at what they do because they have a great deal of practice doing it. But their availability on any one campus is necessarily limited. Their many many sections means that they're always harried. Their connection to the rest of the schools where they teach is pretty iffy, so often they don't know where to refer students for tutorial help or for counseling services, and so on. They do tremendous work, but even so the student gets less from them than they do from full time instructors.
Sorry, Steve. You got me going!
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