WASHINGTON -- Several advocates for adjunct faculty members spoke Wednesday during a panel called “The Emergence of the ‘Precariat:' What Does the Loss of Stable, Well-Compensated Employment Mean for Education?” at the Albert Shanker Institute here. The education think tank is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers. Rosemary Feal, executive director of the Modern Language Association, compared the contingent faculty dynamic to an “iceberg,” in which only the less than one-third of faculty members who are tenure-line are visible to parents and others who still believe in an antiquated professor "myth." If the majority teaching force is vastly under-supported and under-recognized, she asked, “Is higher education the Titanic?” Barbara Ehrenreich, co-editor of the Economic Hardship Reporting Project, said the adjunct faculty trend challenged another myth – that of the university as a meritocracy – and said she believed now is a “turning point” in awareness inside and outside academe about poor adjunct faculty working conditions.
Jennie Shanker, an adjunct faculty instructor of art at Temple University, spoke first-hand about the financial, professional and personal hardships of working as an adjunct faculty member, and also spoke about the initial successes of the AFT-affiliated metro-wide organizing campaign in the Philadelphia area. Andrew Ross, professor of social and cultural analysis and interim director of American studies at New York University, linked the adjunct discussion to concerns about student debt, which he said is turning education – what was once a “vital public good” – into the “cruelest of debt traps.”
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