Monday, February 08, 1999

14. Adjuncthood awaits.

As a direct result of the unceasing flow of new PhDs entering the job market every year, there is an oversupply of people qualified to teach at the university level. As in any other industry, when the supply of labor is low, wages tend to rise, and when the supply of labor is high, wages tend to decrease. As would most any business in a similar situation, colleges and universities have taken advantage of this oversupply. Instead of hiring full-time faculty members with expensive salaries and benefits, colleges can hire part-time instructors on short-term contracts. These instructors typically receive no benefits apart from what they are paid on a per-course basis to teach. In the language of American academe, they are called “adjunct” professors.

After spending the better part of a decade, and perhaps more, working toward their doctorates, many people find that a PhD is a ticket to a part-time job. Or, just as likely, it is a ticket to multiple part-time jobs that have to be held down simultaneously just to earn enough money to cover the bills. These jobs, moreover, are not guaranteed to last beyond the current quarter or semester, as universities tend to hire part-time instructors according to the vagaries of their ever-changing budgets. The life of an adjunct professor trying to make a living was described in 2002 by the Washington Post. So, once you have your PhD in hand, how likely are you to find yourself in an adjunct position? According to the American Association of University Professors, more than half of all faculty members hold part-time appointments, and 68 percent of all people teaching in colleges and universities in the United States hold non-tenure-track positions.

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