The writer and teacher of creative writing James Hynes wrote a novel called The Lecturer’s Tale, a sardonic look at the life and absurdities of university teaching at the proletarian level. As a lecturer myself (at the University of Hawai’i, Manoa), I’ve been hesitant to cast my hat into the debate over the state of adjuncts – I appreciate the position I have, enjoy my department (the Institute of Peace) and feel valued there. This position also works with my schedule and the rest of my life. I teach in the evenings, online and in the summer and it allows me to keep a university affiliation that I otherwise would not have – this is important for publishing, conferences and other academic activities. They also pay me well as lecturing goes. For some the lecturership makes sense.
But the outcry is getting louder that something needs to be done about the two-tier system within academia. Seventy percent of college teaching faculty are now lecturers, which seems to signal a decline in the desire of universities to have research-producing faculty. Some lecturers soldier on and produce research seemingly against all odds.
A particularly poignant article in the New York Times depicted a lecturer who died destitute after a promising beginning to her career – she landed Visiting Assistant Professor positions, which are all too often carrots that dangle with nothing beyond them. Some are asking how the tenured and tenure-track faculty can sit by and watch the situation go on. Others say don’t blame tenured and TT faculty for the plight of adjuncts, blame admin. Fair enough. But the two-tier nature of the university system seems to ignore the fact t
hat most lecturers have the same degrees as the tenured professorate, and if they aren’t, or cannot develop into, senior members of the academic community, it is precisely because they have become the epitome of the “overworked and underpaid” cliche. As one lecturer put it: “how can I inspire my students if I’m not making it myself?”
I originally wrote this piece for my new website – Letters: The Life of the Mind – check it out!