The recent Chronicle of Higher Education article, on the struggles of Ph.D. students and graduates on public assistance, raises a vitally important issue, one that deserves the full discussion now taking place online. I was glad to provide comments for the article, but, no doubt, space constraints made a fuller quotation of my longer replies to the Chronicle impossible. So here, to help continue the conversation, are two additional follow-up questions submitted to me via email on March 30, 2012, and my complete, unedited replies.
1. Are you surprised to hear that there adjuncts in the humanities who are on government assistance because they get paid so low?
I’m certainly aware of the inadequate pay scales that characterize the employment structure for many historians and others in the academy. Anyone familiar with the rates of pay for scholars teaching part time in colleges and universities has to be aware of the possibility that part time teaching could easily be compatible with eligibility for various forms of public assistance.
2. What do you think scholarly associations can do to address this issue and the deteriorating working conditions among a good number of adjuncts?
The AHA and other scholarly societies can, and do, establish and endorse best practices documents for employment of non-tenure track faculty, and use the various forums and publications available to us to advocate for such practices. We also have been involved in a substantive data gathering process through the Coalition on the Academic Workforce, which we hope will strengthen these advocacy efforts. The Coalition brings together a variety of organizations, including scholarly societies, the AFT, AAUP, New Faculty Majority, and others, working together to seek and then mobilize leverage in this area. The AHA, like other scholarly societies, considers the shifting employment structure in colleges and universities to be a major issue in terms of both fair employment practices, and educational quality. If we are to provide first class education to our students, we must provide their teachers with working conditions appropriate to those ambitions.