TOO LITTLE FOR TOO MUCH
By Dick Meister
Fully one-third of college and university courses nationwide are now
being taught by highly exploited "part-time" instructors -- underpaid, the
lot of them, overworked and generally denied fringe benefits and basic
The consequences have been as serious for students as they've been for
the teachers, whose classes usually are so large they have little
opportunity for the one-on-one instruction that's essential to good
teaching. Most don't even have offices in which to meet with students
Many of the teachers must rush from one overcrowded class to another,
sometimes from classes in one school to those elsewhere, teaching as many
classes as they can in order to make enough money to survive.
They have precious little time for lesson preparation, no chance to
develop ties to a school's students or full-time faculty, and no right to
determine what should be taught and under what conditions.
Although they're called "part-time," a recent U.S. Department of
Education study showed that the teachers actually work an average of nearly
37 hours a week.
They are more accurately described as non-tenured -- meaning they are
hired under conditions set unilaterally by school administrators and can be
fired at any time. They have no right to academic freedom. And though they
do the same work as tenured faculty members, they are paid less and rarely
have any of the benefits granted those with tenure.
That's why colleges and universities have been hiring growing numbers of
"part-time" instructors at the same time they've been cutting back
dramatically on the hiring of tenured "full-time" instructors, who have the
right to decent pay and conditions. At the same time, the number of
relatively high paid administrators has been rising steeply, siphoning off
funds that otherwise would be allocated to instructors.
And that's why the American Federation of Teachers, National Education
Association, American Association of University Professors and other faculty
representatives, student and parent groups, local government officials and
others have been holding teach-ins, rallies and other events in more than
two dozen states to protest the exploitation of "part-time" instructors.
They're demanding that they be guaranteed treatment equal to that of tenured
The message is clear. As Lawrence Gold, who heads the Federation of
Teachers' Higher Education Department says, "Erosion of full-time,
tenure-track faculty positions and their replacement by a growing, and
exploited, army of part-time and other non-tenure-track faculty is the most
dangerous trend in higher education today."
Given the steady slowdown in the economy, the situation is likely to
worsen. Schools undoubtedly will be even more eager to hire lower-paid
Yes, the part-timers usually are so busy attempting to deal with too many
classes and too many students in too little time that they're lucky to
provide more than a bare minimum of instruction. But they're a school
They dare not complain, lest they be replaced by others eager to get a start
in teaching. They're easy to hire, easy to control, easy to fire. No need
to bargain with them, no need to pay them much, no need to provide them
expensive fringe benefits.
A very good deal for administrators, a very bad deal for the rest of us.
Copyright 2001 Dick Meister, a veteran labor journalist who has taught at
San Francisco State University.