George Mason Grad Students Release Adjunct Study

October 13, 2014

The Public Sociology Association, made up of graduate students at George Mason University, has published what adjunct advocates are calling the most comprehensive study of one institution’s adjunct faculty working conditions ever. Their report, called “Indispensable but Invisible,” is based on an online survey completed by 241 adjuncts at George Mason.

The vast majority of respondents (85 percent) say that they are motivated to teach by their passion for education and their respective disciplines, but only 26 percent believe the uncompensated time they devote to the job – about five hours per class per week, on average – will be recognized by the university. Some 40 percent say they aspire to tenure-track jobs, but many express concern that they will not be considered for such positions due to their adjunct status. About a quarter of respondents (23 percent) have an annual household income of less than $30,000. One-third are also graduate students, and 51 percent of those respondents say that teaching responsibilities slow down their progress to graduation.

“Significant minorities” of respondents didn’t receive course resources such as curriculum guidelines (29 percent) and sample syllabuses (19). Some 40 percent said they didn’t have access to a computer and 21 percent said they didn’t have access to copying services. Most are using their own computers (77 percent) and office space (56 percent). Most (79 percent) say they have not received training to accommodate students with unique or special needs.

Marisa Allison, report's lead author, said it’s significant because it captures such a rich picture of adjunct faculty working conditions at a single institution. (At the same time, the report acknowledges that a minority of those invited to respond did, which could have skewed to reflect the positions of those most motivated to respond.) Allison said it was the group’s “genuine hope” that the survey tool could be used elsewhere  to gather data on adjunct faculty working conditions.

Gary Rhoades, director of the Center for the Study of Higher Education at the University of Arizona, said the new survey is a "model of how local contingent activists can identify and hopefully take concrete steps in improving working and learning conditions, as part of beginning to reduce the structural" issues surrounding non-tenure-track faculty employment. Local activists, faculty unions and academic administrators on other campuses "should be following their lead," he added.

Via email, S. David Wu, provost, said: “We are concerned about our faculty members and are committed to their professional growth, wellness, and well-being. We are also pleased to see our students pursuing research that is of critical importance to our community. While we would agree that there is a need for more research and dialogue around the issues raised, the study’s findings are not consistent with the environment here or the services we provide.”

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