This article originally appeared in the August 19, 2007 (Morris County NJ) Daily Record and on the Daily Record web site.

Have Ph.D., will travel

Academia is increasingly dependent on flexible, part-time faculty


Sunday, August 19, 2007

Jonathan Golden

Karen Mancinelli / Daily Record

Former adjunct Jonathan Golden, an anthropology professor, holds a dumbek drum from Egypt in his new office at Drew University, where he will begin his first full-time professorship.

Jonathan Golden’s busiest workdays come at the end of academic semesters. As an adjunct teaching college anthropology courses for the past nine years, he has taught some 200 students in five courses per semester to make ends meet.

“Imagine my apartment,” said the 39-year-old, who lives in Madison. “I can have 300 essays or tests to grade in a two-week window without any teaching assistants to help.”

Golden is one in an ever-larger pool of itinerant adjunct professors floating from university to university hoping to land full-time jobs.

Being underqualified is not the reason for Golden’s situation. In 1998 he earned his doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania, an Ivy League school. Versed in all aspects of anthropology with a high-demand specialty in the Middle East, he teaches a broad base of courses. He also has done fieldwork and research in Israel, Italy, Spain, South America and California. His first book, “Ancient Canaan and Israel,” was published in 2004, and his second, “Dawn of the Metal Age,” will be released next year.

Over the past few decades academia has been offering proportionately fewer and fewer full-time tenure-track professorships, favoring instead full- and part-time lecturers, instructors and fellows without tenure — and lots of adjuncts, who are the academic equivalent of free agents. Nationwide, 34 percent of faculty were part time (another word for adjuncts) in the academic year 1987-1988, according to a study released this summer by the Cornell Higher Education Research Institute. The number rose to 52.3 percent in 2005-2006.

“There has been a widescale transformation of the faculty work force,” said Gwendolyn Bradley, senior program officer for the American Association of University Professors (AAUP). “It’s reflecting what’s happening in the economy in general. There is a trend away from stable, lifetime jobs with good benefits. Some people call it the Wal-Martization of higher education. It’s much cheaper in the short term to hire part-time faculty.”

Golden said adjuncts teach a course generally for one-third the pay a full-time tenured professor makes. Depending on the school, adjuncts are paid $1,200 to $4,000 per three-credit course.

For Golden, the years of scrambling and hard work paid off. Next month he will start his first full-time post as an assistant professor at Drew. The position, contracted for two years, is non-tenured. Still, he is happy.

There will be no more traveling to teach at Rosemont College in Pennsylvania; at one point Golden maintained two apartments, one in Philadelphia and one in Madison, to make his schedule work. He also will no longer juggle teaching schedules at Drew and the nearby Florham-Madison campus of Fairleigh Dickinson University.

“Some days I would be teaching classes 10 minutes apart — different subject matter at a different school,” he said. “It’s like ‘Star Trek.’ You need to be able to step into a transporter and appear somewhere else.”

He has kept up with teaching, book writing and the latest Middle East conferences by sacrificing sleep. At Drew, Golden attends “Teaching Lunches” to learn new techniques; serves as associate director of the Center on Religion, Culture and Conflict; performs his original music on campus, and gets to know the people.

Forty-eight percent of Drew’s faculty are contingent — part- or full-time off the tenure track. The figure is low compared to the College of St. Elizabeth at 73 percent, but high compared to Princeton University at 24 percent.

By comparison, in 1969 a total of 3.3 percent of faculty appointments nationwide were off the tenure track, according to the October 2001 American Association for Higher Education Bulletin.

Experts say colleges and universities are trying to find the right equilibrium as institutions of learning and businesses in a world very different from that of almost 40 years ago. In 1959, there were 3.6 million students enrolled in American colleges and universities and 380,000 faculty members, according to the book “The American Faculty.” In 2001, enrollment hit 15.9 million students with 1.1 million faculty.

The Cornell study concluded that an adjunct work force allows schools to save on labor and remain flexible in expanding and contracting its faculty to deal with fluctuating market forces, such as part-time students. The number of part-time students rose from 30 percent in the 1960s to more than 40 percent after 2000. Adjuncts often are more willing than full-time faculty to teach part-timers during nights and weekends.

Primarily because unions are stronger in public institutions, they generally hire fewer part-time faculty than their non-elite counterparts in the private sector. From the early 1980s through recent years, the share of public school revenues coming from state funding dropped from 44 percent to 32 percent, according to the Cornell study. In the same time period, the share of their revenues coming from tuition and fees increased from 12 percent to 20 percent. Hiring more adjuncts means schools are able to offer more courses to attract more students of diverse interests.

Geoffrey Weinman, dean of Fairleigh Dickinson’s Becton College of Arts and Sciences, said the college sometimes hires adjuncts for budgetary reasons but mostly vets them carefully for special expertise and experiences that supplement those of full-time faculty. Some, for instance, are working media professionals, published writers and industrial psychologists.

About 30 of the adjuncts teaching at Becton College have doctorates and teach courses in the sciences, philosophy, literature, math, modern languages, psychology, social sciences and the visual and performing arts.

“Our language department is relatively small,” Weinman said, “so in order to offer languages that don’t attract large numbers of students, we bring in adjuncts. Spanish, French and Italian are more popular among our students, but we have some who want to take Arabic and Japanese and sign language.”

At FDU, adjuncts share office space and hold office hours, he said. In recent years, the university has converted a number of adjunct positions into full-time, non-tenure-track lecturer positions that are renewable annually.

Adjuncting is good for teacher, student and school, said Loren Vocaturo, a full-time psychologist at Kessler Rehabilitation Institute and an adjunct at FDU for six years. Vocaturo, who has a Ph.D., teaches Saturdays and sometimes brings patients and guest speakers into the classroom, which helps students integrate their theoretical knowledge with clinical skills.

“Clinical demands are exciting at a certain point in your career,” said Vocaturo, who is 40something. “But they can burn you out. Teaching helps balance that. Plus, it’s rewarding to train the next generation in your profession.”

Not everyone feels as positively. Bradley, of AAUP, said schools are relying heavily on adjuncts to teach core courses, which are the heart of a university, not specialized courses. Many, like Golden, are trained for and want full-time faculty jobs.

Karen Thompson, a part-time lecturer at Rutgers University for almost 30 years, also is a full-time staff representative for Rutgers AAUP-AFT (American Association of University Professors — American Federation of Teachers). Her experiences lead her to believe adjuncts are paid little so they turn over quickly, giving administration ease of management because it can always get new eager teachers to do the job.

The public should know that much of higher education in the United States is being delivered by people who are almost volunteers, she said.

“Some of us are excellent teachers,” she said, “but since we’re not paid to be here all the time, to know how the university works, we’re not necessarily very good advisers about the university. We’re distracted about not having health benefits. We don’t necessarily have access to the facilities that we need to be the best teachers we can be.

“Most important, we’re not interested in taking risks. In order to be a good teacher, you need to innovate and take risks, but if you’re always worried about whether you’re going to be reappointed the next semester or not, you can’t take any chances.”

Adjuncts have to teach too many courses to make a living, she said, and pay varies a lot.

At FDU, Vocaturo makes $2,500 for a three-credit course. At Rutgers, the pay is $3,600. At Drew, Golden makes the top dollar amount in the market — $4,000. When he started at Drew, the university offered its adjuncts health care benefits. It no longer does, Golden said, though his were grandfathered.

“What we’re talking about is the business model of higher education,” Golden said, “and Drew has handled it in an elegant way.”

He always has had an office on campus and access to Drew’s computer lab and experts to include high-tech innovations in his class materials. Drew has helped him pay for conference expenses, too. But what he mostly likes is the respect he gets.

Early on, Golden was invited to the office of Paolo Cucchi, dean of Drew’s College of Liberal Arts, for biscotti, coffee and a chat, and both presidents of the university during his time there — Thomas H. Kean and now Robert Weisbuch — attended events he ran on campus, such as an interfaith kosher feast.

But Golden has done much to help himself, too. He has created 15 courses — from “Introduction to Cultural Anthropology” to “Terrorism and the Middle East — Cultural Perspectives.” To attract students, he hangs fliers announcing his upcoming courses around campus.

But with proportionately fewer tenured professorships available, some wonder if the would-be professors of tomorrow will be willing to pay some $40,000 for a doctorate, as Golden did, or more, to enter years of the adjunct life and work toward a goal they may never achieve.