Monday, November 19, 2007

"The untouchables of academia"

Higher education in America is yet another member of the suffering contingent of those realms of being in the country that is underfunded. A recent New York Times article addresses the concern that the tenure-track position is on the decline, as universities can cut corners (read: save money, hire and fire much easier) by instead hiring professors part-time. Many of these professors, like Elaine Zendlovitz, end up teaching a number of courses at more than one institution, often ending their days at 10 p.m. Zendlovitz teaches at both the University of Michigan, Dearborn, and Oakland Community College, among others-- she actually teachers "six courses at four institutions." In addition, she occasionally has a 10-hour teaching day.

Teachers like Zendlovitz are complaining that because they are forced to spread themselves so thin, "It's harder to spend time with students. I don't have prep time, and I know how to prepare a fabulous class." The fact is that these professors are at quite a disadvantage. By not having the freedom and time to publish, tenure-track positions will remain out of reach for most in situations similar to Zendlovitz. In addition, according to a letter to the Times in response to the article from a former adjunct professor in New York City, adjuncts are provided with "no health care, [or] retirement benefits..."

In the end, the students are the ones who lose. By providing students with teachers that aren't available to discuss items from class or adequately prepare for one of their myriad of classes, a void grows in the education of the students subjected to these conditions. According to the New York Times, a psychology major enrolled at Florida International University can go their whole academic career without attending a class taught by a full-time faculty member. Plus, students can tell when a professor is part-time. Mike Brennan, a sophomore at Michigan argues that because "[t]hey have so many classes that they give tests that are easier to grade." Carly Matkovich, also at Michigan, states that she feels "cheated" because "[t]hey're never around."

What is to be done? Perhaps the tenure-track position is dying. Perhaps security is simply a casualty of the times, and underfunded public universities will eventually ax them altogether. Some believe that raising salaries or at least offering benefits will offset the damage done to the adjunct professor contingent. Eventually, the effects of this will certainly be felt. Most noteworthy of all is the fact that the elite universities like Harvard and Princeton are the least likely to have adjunct faculty, while the lower-tiered public institutions (and community colleges), FIU for example, are naturally put in the position where underfunding forces the position they take. Regardless, it is quite apparent that the effects of this higher education epidemic will be felt soon enough.

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