A friend and I were debating a story we’d heard on the news about an 80-year-old woman with a PhD who for decades taught as an adjunct at a university. Recently she lost her job and died in poverty, her body committed to a cardboard box. As adjuncts comprise 50-70% of college workforces, the nub of our discussion was about what their place should be in the system. Adjuncts are defined as part-timers so they are ineligible for medical benefits, vacations, or sick leave. In the academic world, they can be compared to fast food workers, often needing food stamps and other welfare benefits to survive.
My friend was as appalled as I was by the woman’s story but for different reasons. He marveled that she would work for 30 years at a job that left her penniless. Why didn’t she seek employment elsewhere, he wondered. For my part, I wondered why well-endowed colleges and universities, with fine libraries and sports stadiums, thought it was right to balance their budgets on the backs of adjunct teachers? (See blog: Oct. 17, 2013)
Columnist Becky Quick, while not addressing the plight of these overworked and underpaid educators, points to a revolution that is underway in higher education. If it succeeds, it might change the landscape for adjuncts and students alike. For example, she reports on the Minerva Project, a scholastic system which “Promises an Ivy League quality education at less than half the price.” (“Fifty Thousand Reason to Root for New College Models,” by Becky Quick, Fortune, Feb. 3, 2014, pg. 64.) Minerva will offer online courses but will limit class size to 20 so students can have full access to their teachers. These same students will live in dorms cluster in cities around the globe. (Ibid, pg. 64) Because the system doesn’t lease, own or need bricks and mortar facilities, the cost of education will be reduced. My only hope is that the money saved will not only lower tuition for students but will also provide a living wage for adjunct teachers. If the experiment manages to do both, it will be a welcome revolution.
Of course, the best way for anyone to obtain justice is to demand it. If adjuncts formed unions, universities faced with the loss of 50-70% of their teaching staff, might be forced to reconsider their priorities.
(Courtesy of blogs.westward.com)