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Another Hoorah for Adjuncts

by Steven R. Van Hook, PhD

Steven R. Van HookYet another study is in the headlines showing adjunct instructors teach as well (or in this case, better) than tenured professors (National Bureau of Economic Research, 2013).
This kind of finding may be counter-intuitive.
Adjuncts typically receive little in the way of institutional support, even though they total more than 70% of all faculty.
Adjunct course development is mostly unpaid, there few employment benefits to relieve survival pressures, no sabbaticals; all at a fraction of the pay tenured instructors receive for teaching the same class.
And yet adjunct instructors teach so well.
Based on my experience as and with adjunct instructors, there are some obvious reasons for this:
Adjuncts are frequently joining academia as outsiders, bringing real-world battle-proven skills with them.
Thatís a big reason they are adjuncts Ė they havenít followed the normal academic career path of those who quite often never leave the schoolyard.
The students respond well to an adjunctís practical life experience, and the out-of-book perspectives it gives.
Adjuncts by necessity scramble for nontraditional resources and networks to prepare for classroom duty.
Their classes are thus often more current, lively, engaging; resulting in better student learning and higher teacher evaluations.
Or I may be all wrong. But whatever the reason, the finding is clear: adjuncts do teach well.
Itís hard to say what the fallout from such data might be:
Will administrators use it to justify their increasing reliance on adjuncts, at the continued disparity in pay and benefits, since the model is evidently working so well?
Will the worth of adjuncts become ever more evident, so compensations increase fairly?
Will student demands for the skillful teaching provided by adjuncts shift market forces towards parity?
Or is all this just part of a metamorphosis into transformations we canít begin to guess? 

~ Steve

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