These are nine of the most prestigious universities in the world, in many cases the cream of their nation and better than most U.S. institutions. And when you compare their prices to the top U.S. schools, you’ll wonder why anyone goes to college in America in the first place.
Literally crying and wiping my tears with my pile of crippling student debt
(In the United States, that is.)
This is a reminder that, statistically, half of your professors are adjuncts, which means that they work part time, at an average of $2500 per course (not per credit hour, per COURSE, for an ENTIRE SEMESTER), which in some areas amounts to less than minimum wage. In order to make ends meet, many adjuncts work at multiple campuses, teaching up to seven classes at a time. They have to be re-hired every semester. They have to wait until the registration period is over before finding out if they will get any classes to teach. They make up substantially more than half of the instructional workforce at some institutions, but they have no role in governance, no voice with the administration. In many cases, they have no library or computer privileges, no professional support, and no office in which to meet with you.
If you think this likely has an impact on the quality of the education for which you are paying increasingly exorbitant tuition, then you are correct. You and your parents owe it to yourselves to find out what your university’s adjunct hiring practices are. If you are a high school student considering higher education, ask administrators for this information and let them know that it matters to you. Support the efforts of adjuncts to unionize. Universities in the US increasingly operate on the retail model of education. They see students and parents as the customer, and the best way to get them to change is to let them know that the customer is not happy.
from what i was told by contract professors, my university took student course evaluations very seriously and they had an impact on whether professors’ contracts would be renewed or whether they had a chance of moving into a tenure track position. i don’t know if this is the case at every institution. but by my third year of university, i established a personal policy of giving glowing course evals to any adjunct/contract professor who wasn’t a complete dick or completely incompetent (and in so doing discovered that the complete dicks/completely incompentent profs that i encountered were, without exception, tenured and on the sunshine list).
even if the contract prof who taught my class was only so-so, the question i always asked myself was always how did this professor perform relative to their below poverty-line wages? and the answer was literally always 15 out of 10, how the fuck did they manage to pull this off with this much grace and humour?
what i wish i’d learned much, much earlier in my university career: if you have an adjunct professor that you love, ask them if there are ways you can best support them professionally, whether it be filling out course evals or signing petitions or making sure to email them 72 hours before you need an answer or putting pressure on the university or showing up at the picket lines when their union is on strike! you might be surprised by the small low-effort practical steps you can take to make their lives a little easier.
This is absolutely correct.
I am an adjunct, have been an adjunct for years, and my student evals + my union seniority are the only thing keeping me on the hiring list. I am SO FUCKING LUCKY to have a union here that works for me, and knowing what can happen even with that formal support system, I cringe at the thought of what non-unionized part-time academics have to deal with.
Honestly good evaluations and letters of support are absolutely invaluable. If you even take two minutes at the end of a semester to write a ‘thank you for teaching’ email to a professor you liked, that can go in their hiring file and be used to support applications later on.
Seriously. Even something as simple as “I wanted to write and thank you for the essay help you gave me this term. It was really useful” or “Thanks for being there during office hours – loved being able to stop in with questions” or whatever true thing you appreciated can make a huge difference, with minimal effort.
As an adjunct, I can attest that this is 100% true. I’m actually not sure how much my university counts its student evaluations, but I know that my boss definitely takes student opinions into account when deciding who to offer classes to the next semester. So, yeah, positive student evals are definitely helpful.
As for the other, over the past several years, I’ve had several students ask if I’m teaching the next level course to the one I currently had them for and then be disappointed when I told them ‘no’. As flattering as that is, though (and it is, don’t get me wrong!), a quick email to the department head who decides who’s teaching what, telling them that you really felt you benefited from this professor’s teaching and would love to sit another class with them would go even further than my being flattered.
But even if you don’t feel comfortable doing that, please at least let your professors (especially adjuncts) know if they mean something to you. Because at the end of a long day in a longer week in an even longer semester, getting paid crap money to work long hours for little to no thanks, and being in a constant state of worry that I may not have income the next semester… hearing a student tell me that I’ve made a difference for them goes a LONG way.