Presentations at the meeting generally concentrated on academic careers that permit—indeed require—extensive involvement in research. This career path accounts for the overwhelming portion of the scientific discovery and technological innovation emerging from America’s academe. It represents, however, only a minority of the jobs open to young scientists and of the faculty members teaching in American higher education. It is also much too small to accommodate the large numbers of Ph.D. scientists graduating from America’s universities.
Discussions and presentations at the workshop concentrated on the traditional—and for many people, still the ideal—academic career path at uppertier research-intensive universities. Frequently appearing in the conversation, however, were considerations of major trends that have led large numbers of Ph.D. scientists who cannot find—or do not wish to compete for—tenure-track positions into the far more plentiful “off-track” and “non-track” jobs in academe.
Trying to “embrace the complexity of the academic career,” and specifically of “a scientist career, a science and engineering career,” required examining Ph.D.s working in these other academic realms, Valerie Martin Conley said. Edie Goldenberg called attention to the “important” distinction between the academic “haves and have-nots”—a distinction that applies to both individuals and institutions—between the tenure-track and tenured professors at elite, highly endowed research campuses and the educators teaching at community colleges and working in adjunct positions. “These are different worlds,” she said. “They are all important, but for different purposes. The goals, the actions that are appropriate have to be, it seems to me, quite different for these different places.”
Underlying the importance of community colleges in higher education, Richard Zare, the chair of the Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy (COSEPUP), told the group that 2-year institutions “serve almost half of
the undergraduate students in the United States” and perhaps more. In so doing, they “provide open access to postsecondary education, preparing students for transfer to 4-year institutions, providing workforce development and skills, offering noncredit programs ranging from English as a Second Language…to retraining and community enrichment programs or cultural activities.”
Community college faculties are almost evenly divided between men and women, he continued. A number of women who teach science, technology, engineering, and mathematics courses at such colleges shared observations on their work in a study funded by the National Science Foundation, Martin Conley reported. Researchers did face-to-face interviews with women at nine community colleges across the state of Ohio and “telephone interviews with women in New York, Florida, Texas, and California, where [there] are large percentages of community college enrollment… . Over and over again, we were really struck by the responses …from these women, saying, ‘I love teaching. I made this choice because I love teaching,’ “ she explained. “Many of these women were educated at our top research institutions across the country, too. Many of them had Ph.D.s, but the Ph.D. is not necessarily the degree that is required to teach at the community college, so many of them did not.”
The women “also talked about their decision not to continue to pursue the Ph.D.,” she said. “We really do need to open up our…ideas about what we will accept as that academic career that we are thinking about.”
At institutions of every kind, from local community colleges to worldrenowned research universities, some members of the faculty work in what Robert Hauser called a “just-in-time, part-time adjunct” labor force. At City University of New York, Manfred Philipp said, “Some of [these teachers] are…doctoral and master’s students, but the vast majority come from the academic proletariat, to use a Marxist phrase, that exists in New York City. That is simply the reality.”
These teachers “are disproportionately women Ph.D.s with children,” the mothers who did not receive tenure or did not secure or even try for a tenure-track position, Mason said. The universities “are feeding this whole labor force in a way that was certainly unintended, but it is occurring. It is a cheap labor force…for the universities to tie into.” She added, “This is the fastest-growing part of the academic labor force.”
That is because, “if you are sitting in the seat of a provost,” Tanner observed, “…adjuncts are a much more effective workforce for educating undergraduates…because they teach more. You have to think carefully about the number of tenured positions you can support.”
In addition to spending all their time teaching, adjuncts are economical because they are paid much less than “on-track” faculty for the classes they teach, they generally receive few or no fringe benefits, and they do not tie the university to long-term commitments. For the individual adjunct, that translates to low pay, no job security, and lack of health insurance or an employer’s retirement plan. At the City University of New York, “we just got adjunct
health care last year,” said Philipp. “All of our adjuncts worked without health care. There was some possibility, if they were long-term adjuncts, of getting health care before that....Some adjuncts had the interesting experience of getting sick just before classes start[ed], and then they were dropped from the rolls of the instructional faculty, and then they were dropped from any access to health care, too. This was not an uncommon situation. For adjuncts, getting health care is a difficult sort of situation.”
Because of low incomes and lack of employer retirement plans, the same difficult questions raised by the “graying” of the larger population could have an even greater impact on these other academic positions. “Many more people [are] working part-time than we have ever had in history,” Martin Conley said. “Both full-time and part-time faculty are aging, as is the population. The average age of part-time faculty has increased from 44 to 50 years old during the time period that they collected the data from NSOPF [National Study of Postsecondary Faculty].” 9
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