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A Declaration of Educator Independence

by Steven R. Van Hook, PhD

Steven R. Van HookTalking to people outside of academia, itís hard to find much sympathy for the plight of adjunct instructors taking on much more of the college teaching load for much less pay.
The economic trends are systemic, certainly not specific to academia. Any groups expecting disproportionate public sympathies are bound to be disappointed.
Other trends in the economy may be closer to the average personís experience. Most every time Iíve whined about the life of an adjunct, I hear stories back of conditions even worse (in aviation, health care, retail Ė just to name a few).
In the retail industry, for example, over the last 20 years fulltime jobs fell from 80%, to now more than 70% working part-time, saving employers substantial payroll costs.1
Itís a telling correlation.
In 1975, nearly 60% of all higher education faculty were in the tenure system. Now more than 70% of faculty are part-time adjuncts, and by the time the trend peaks, it could be 85%.2
Adjunct instructors are intractably replacing tenured professors Ė if for no other reason, you can hire adjuncts at 4-for-the-price-of-1 tenured. And adjuncts often do as good a job (if not better).3
Even though Iíve been one for some 15 years, I donít like to think of myself as an adjunct (or an appendage) to an institution; and certainly not as a contingent worker (contingency on institutional whims).
I prefer to call myself an independent educator, dependent on my own energies and abilities, even if the IRS wishes to misguidedly classify me as an employee; an instructor who does other things too (website publishing, freelance writing, sailing instruction, weddings at sea, etc.)
The institutions I teach for are adjunct to my life; are contingent on my availability and preferences.
Itís a change in mindset Iíve worked for over many years of independent teaching.
Certain lifestyles demand certain sacrifices.
Iíve held a number of jobs I really loved, but paid for with lower wages: reporter, social worker, dog washer ...
Iíve also held well-paying jobs I was not so happy at. What Iíve learned in some 40 years of working: the more they pay, the more of yourself you often have to sell.
So here we independent educators stand strong, educated, aware, if not united. As freelance instructors we are short on any kind of powerbase. We may hope to climb ourselves into a rare tenured or contracted spot. Those who have, Iíve seen, sometimes turn cold to their sister/brother adjuncts left behind.
In spite of the road miles and segmented lives that keep us apart, we can network, share resources, cherish one another in our mission.
We can seek a greater perspective on the transformational changes underway worldwide.
And through it all, we can better empower our students to fix the many wrongs soon to be in their hands, with the many rights they inherit as well.

~ Steve
1 Greenhouse, S. ďA Part-Time Life, as Hours Shrink and Shift.Ē New York Times,
   October 27, 2012.
2 Figlio, D, Schapiro, M, and Soter, K. ďAre Tenure Track Professors Better Teachers?Ē
   National Bureau of Economic Research
, September, 2013.
3 Ibid.

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