August 11, 2011
As Satisfied and Well Paid Tenured Profs Lounge, Adjuncts Carry the Teaching Load
The reason that academic politics are so bitter, as the quip goes, is that the stakes are so low. True enough, but at times the stakes can be very high. They can include, for instance, guaranteed lifetime employment, an asset that few workers in the modern economy dare even dream of. After a probationary period of several years, during which essential research and writing is to be done—the infamous period of publish or perish—a professor either wins lifetime job security or becomes, as one victim described it, academic roadkill.
But there is the underclass of toiling adjunct profs who prop up this academic employment infrastructure for both tenued and potential roadkill profs. Gannon's WSJ Bookshelf article is actually a review of Naomi Schaefer Riley's new book, The Faculty Lounges: and Other Reasons Why You Won’t Get the College Education You Paid For (Ivan R Dee, June 16, 2011)[Amazon] and the issue it addresses -- "the question of academic tenure—what it was intended to be, what abuses it now invites and whether it is a good idea at all." About the book, Gannon writes
It is not a pretty picture, present or future. Although Ms. Riley never quite manages to make up her mind whether she wants to be a polemicist, an advocate or a reporter—she is a bit of all three—"The Faculty Lounges" ends up being a provocative and even profound book, one that recommends itself to anyone who cares about higher education, especially anyone who is about to make a personal investment in it by signing a tuition check.
See also Does Vocationalism Justify Academic Freedom and Tenure? for Stanley Fish's NYT think piece about Riley's The Faculty Lounges.
Hat tip to Mitchell Rubinstein's Adjunct Law Prof Blog post, More On Abuse of Adjuncts ("The review summarizes what we have been highlighting for some time. Adjuncts are grossly underpaid to the point of being abused at many universities.")
Adjuncts in the Legal Academy. In the context of the legal academy which is still struggling with granting some sort of job security recognition for legal skills profs, I doubt many law schools can afford to do what HLS has historically done, namely hire tenure-track profs to carry the the bulk of teaching load while also hiring big name law profs, who do teach, but are primarily hired to publish and be players on the national stage. Harvard makes no distinction between those two unoffical "classes" of law profs institutionally (well, I don't know which class gets the larger offices) but it does mean that HLS doesn't have to rely on adjunct law profs to the degree many other law schools do.
Unfortunately most non-HLS-schools don't have deep pockets to offer a stable workforce so they rely on adjuncts to teach substantive doctrinal law courses, not just practice-oriented courses, to fill in the facutly expertise gap. This can be in areas of law that students may eventually find themselves practicing in but are no longer all that interesting for scholarly proposes. Labor and employment law comes immediately to mind (Mitchell Rubinstein's speciality, by the way). But there are also other doctrinal courses, too.
As law schools scrambled to hire tenure and tenure-track profs for the latest hot areas like IP and intellectual fodder for scholarly analysis in such evolving areas of law this past decade, they have also discovered that their independent contractors who are tenured, even tenure-track, law profs really didn't want to teach UCC, bankruptcy, products liability, estates and gift tax, corporation law, evidence, etc. While law schools are not adverse to increasing law faculty hiring because (1) it reducing the teach load of regular faculty and (2) increases the all important student:faculty ratio for US News rankings, they can't find or afford to hire regular faculty to teach these 'boring-to-faculty" courses. My personal experience is that some profs interested in scholarly analysis such as critical legal theory, etc., accept such teaching loads while on tenure-track but have neither the expertise or interest in teaching these course. An intellectually unengaged law prof isn't likely to produce "teachable moments" for law school students.
Many law schools have had to turn to the unstable workforce that is adjuncts to fill out the course offerings. Of course, some adjunct-taught courses, are needed to pass the bar exam. But you never know which adjunct is going to stay for the long haul over multiple academic years. It might start out as an intellectual stimulating adventure for adjuncts but once they realize the amount of work involved and the ROI in terms of time spent, it is not an uncommon occurance to hear them say, "sorry, got to much billable work to do so I can't teach this year."
Over the years, I read more than just a few student evaluations of adjunct-taught courses. While some do complain that adjuncts spent too much time recounting "war stories," most student evaluations praised adjunct prof courses higher than the tenured and tenure-track faculty for being "more relevant."
Time for the ABA to Regulate the Value-Added Contributions Made by Adjunct Law Profs. Under existing ABA Accredition Standards, the ABA does monitor the use of adjunct law profs. Can't remember if it is a ratio of courses or credit hours but I'm thinking the ABA must dig deeper. In view of my very unscientific review of adjunct prof courses being evaluated as being "more relevant," even in doctrinal courses, I'm not suggesting that the ABA should mandate a reduction in the use of adjuncts but perhaps the ABA should require long-term employment contracts so that there is some measure of stability that students can rely on. Perhaps the ABA also should require compensation that is pro rata based for tenure and tenure-track faculties. Offering CLE credit hours earnings and a small stipend (when the latter is even offers) does not reflect the value added by law school adjuncts to the law school educational experience.
It's Good to be a Tenured Law Prof. Tenured law profs earn a decent living. Considering the oversupply of law school grads in the current labor market, I'm reminded of the once routine whining heard in faculty lounges by tenured law profs about how they earned substantially less than their students who get hired by BigLaw as first year associates, I'm thinking tenured law profs now are, or damn well should be, delighted to be earning more that temps working in document review factories -- that's the new earnings comparison. Tenured law profs also are pretty damn statisfied with their jobs according to TaxProf Blog's American Bar Foundation: Tenured Law Faculty Salaries, Job Satisfaction. The post refers to the ABA Foundation's recently published survey results. See After Tenure: Post-Tenure Law Professors in the U.S. (2011) [JH]