There’s an interesting discussion in US academia at the moment about whether a portfolio career is a good thing for an adjunct (or part-time, temporary) lecturer to be establishing. See the full discussion here for yourself. Portfolio careers (those with several part-time roles building up to one full time role) have certain advantages and disadvantages over the traditional one permanent job model and I’m going to look at some of those today.
In the US and the UK it’s still considered that part-time temporary lecturers are lower in status and of course pay. But for some people there is an advantage to working like this. For those just starting out in academia part time teaching is a way of getting experience of different ways of working. Also for people with outside commitments such as family responsibilities, the hothouse environment of the tenure track (ie permanent) job might not be what you’re looking for.
But most of those advantages are negated by the lowly status of part-timers, especially in the US. They have to shoulder the most challenging teaching tasks, taking on more hours’ work for their wages than the equivalent full-timer. They are given no encouragement or incentive to research and for many people the adjunct system ends up being a trap out of which they cannot climb.
So, in a provocative blog posting Audrey Williams June argues that part-timers could take on other responsibilities to build up a full time wage. The extra activities that they do for their department such as course design and student advising could constitute extra jobs. She calls this a ‘new model’ for adjuncts. Many part timers already do this sort of work as part of their meagre wages, so it’s not clear if she’s calling for an adjunct rebellion and a refusal to do these extras without extra pay, or whether she hopes for a gradual change in model.
The comments received on the blog show that part-time lecturers are especially discontented with their lot at the moment, but they see this as a systemic failure rather than the fault of privileged and lazy permanent professors. Perhaps we do need the sort of change that Audrey Williams June suggests so that those who choose to work part-time at least receive the remuneration and recognition they deserve.
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