We all know about the “proletariat,” but what about the “precariat?” It’s a pun of sorts, designating the class of people who labor in academia in a permanently precarious state of employment—the adjuncts and contingent faculty who increasingly make up the majority of faculty at many institutions.
The travails of the precariat were at the center of a public conversation sponsored by the Albert Shanker Institute and the American Federation of Teachers in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday. Panelists sought to answer a weighty question: what does the loss of stable, well-compensated employment within academia mean for the future of higher education?
Their answer, in short, was “nothing good,” but, as always, the problem is far more complex than that.
Dr. Rosemary G. Feal, executive director of the Modern Language Association, first traced the history of the precariat, pointing to an abrupt divergence in institutional hiring practices. Since 1995, the number of full-time tenured and tenure-track faculty has barely budged, percent-wise. Meanwhile, the number of non-tenure-track and part-time faculty has dramatically expanded. <Read more.>