The Freelance Professor

Apr 4, 2007

According to a report released last week by the Education Department, over half of all faculty members at American colleges and universities are now working part-time, as adjunct positions and short-term contracts slowly but surely replace the tenure track. The so called "casualization of academic labor" is part of a bigger story of American jobs, of course-- the transformation of one of the traditionally most generous and secure lines of work into something riskier and more uncertain (although for some adjuncts, perhaps, more flexible and stimulating). Within the academy, there are worries about the effect of tenure decline on academic freedom. As a student advocate, I also worry about the effect of tenured professors who sway liberal arts students to enter graduate school and a profession that may be evaporating. But what's really interesting for Freelancers Union members is that the move toward "freelance" professors has become the basis for a lot of old-fashioned union organizing--adjuncts are making up a growing share of new faculty union units. Recently, all three national faculty unions--the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association, and the American Association of University Professors--have begun campaigns to improve the working conditions of adjuncts and bring their pay and benefits more in line with that of full-timers. The AAUP is lobbying for bills in several states that would require public universities to have at least 75 percent full time faculty. Most freelancers don't have a state government as their employer to lobby for better pay and conditions. But if part time "freeway flyer" faculty members juggling appointments in several colleges can be active in a union, and get results, maybe we can too.