If you are a postgraduate you might love your discipline more than your sleep or holidays. Teaching, pills learning, and contributing to the sum of all human knowledge might fill your heart, although not your pockets.
You might also be familiar with the low numbers of available lecturing positions in the academic world which are far less than the number of PhDs awarded annually. Another big threat to career aspirations is adjunct lecturing. Casual labourers on zero hours contracts, adjunct lecturing positions were originally aimed to be supplementary positions for non-academic professionals with real-world experience. Whilst in the 20% range of total teachers in the 1970s the number of adjunct lecturers in US universities can now be in the 70% range.
Adjunct lecturing positions are today filled by lecturers for whom this is their only occupation. Being paid only for the hours they teach, adjunct lecturers get no remuneration for time in office hours, marking papers, or communicating with students. They have short term contracts, no job security, few benefits, no desk space, and often work for multiple universities at once. Not protected by the teachers’ unions who represent full time lecturers, adjuncts can be afraid to speak out against their employers as they still hope for those ever decreasing full time positions. But with no time for research, many have started to lose hope. In the US an adjunct’s average wage hovers around the poverty line (called the ‘hyper-educated poor’) and while remuneration to adjuncts decreases, student fees increase. Not limited to the US, adjunct lecturing is on the increase in Irish universities, according to Irish campaigners Third Level Workplace Watch.
And it’s not just bad for adjuncts. Students lose out due to lecturer’s reduced preparation time and the precarious nature of employment makes for poorer quality lecturing and less time afforded to students. The danger to academia includes scaring future academics out of the industry or encouraging existing academics to quit.
So is this the beginning of the end for modern academia? Ironically, a solution might be in the hands of adjuncts themselves. Recently, adjuncts in the US have started to organise into their own unions. Encouraged by some recent negotiation wins, many are pledged to support a National Adjunct Walkout Day #NAWD this 25th February. Perhaps organisation will be the saviour of modern academia and only the end of the beginning, rather than the beginning of the end.