Whitney Rio-Ross has a master's in religion and literature from Yale Divinity School. She teaches as an adjunct in Nashville, Tenn.

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The Scandal of the Adjunct Instructor System

by Whitney Rio-Ross 10-22-2019
A review of "The Adjunct Underclass: How America’s Colleges Betrayed Their Faculty, Their Students, and Their Mission," by Herb Childress.

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

IN THE ADJUNCT UNDERCLASS, Herb Childress addresses a pressing issue of justice in higher education: the mistreatment of more than half the nation’s college instructors. Childress explores the making of adjuncts—contract workers (like rideshare drivers) who teach on a class-by-class basis, earning a fixed rate that is less than half what a “full-time” professor would make for the same work. Most receive no benefits and no assurance of future classes.

After a boom in college attendance 20 years ago and the foolish assumption that population growth and a robust economy were constants, the higher education system is scrambling to make up for greedy mistakes. The price for those mistakes is being paid by teachers, who should be concerned about educating students, not struggling for survival on subsistence wages. And so the real cost is to education itself.

The Adjunct Underclass is masterfully written and thorough, covering budgets, expansion, accreditation, hiring, and the ambivalence of tenured faculty. Adjuncts offer horror stories of scraping by while waiting on empty promises of an established position. These stories demand moral outrage.