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A Forum for the Contingent Teacher

The following post is by NCTE member Amy Lynch-Biniek and editor of Forum: Issues about Part-Time and Contingent Faculty

Amy Lynch-BiniekI’m lucky—I have a secure tenure-track position as a Composition professor at Kutztown University in Pennsylvania.  For ten years previous, I worked as an adjunct professor. I was part-time, picking up classes where I could. At first, I was supplementing my income as a secondary education English teacher: I’d guide 9th graders through Romeo and Juliet by day, and teach college freshmen Othello at night. Later, I decided to pursue college teaching full-time, but as I worked on my Ph.D., it became clear to me that “full time” was going to be hard to come by. Again, I got lucky: graduates hoping to become professors soon discover the odds are stacked against them.

In an era beset by austerity measures, teachers from elementary to post-secondary are competing for fewer positions. Writing on FiveThirtyEight, Ben Casselman shares the sobering news that on the secondary level, “As millions of children across the country head back to school this month, they will be returning to schools with fewer teachers than in past years. Those teachers will be paid less, on average. And many of them will be working in school systems that receive less funding.”  The news is no better for those of us in higher ed: as states have slashed budgets, more and more tenure-track professors have disappeared along with the funding.

As the number of permanent positions dwindles, the number of adjunct positions is on the rise—an estimated 75% of professors nationwide now work on some form of contingent contract. English departments are sadly at the forefront of this trend. Whether called adjunct, visiting, or temporary, these faculty are less likely to have health insurance, to take part in curriculum planning, and to enjoy academic freedom. While the persistent stereotype of a college professor is a tweed-wearing, Volvo-driving, upper-middle class man, the average adjunct teacher is a woman pulling in just $2,987 per three-credit course. Many profs are on public assistance.

The NCTE peer-reviewed journal Forum: Issues about Part-Time and Contingent Faculty is dedicated to considering how these conditions impact both teachers and students. Contributors explore what it means to teach writing, literature, and communication under this system. They analyze the effects of ongoing reforms and propose new approaches. They are making some much needed noise. Forum is one of the very few publications in English dedicated to shining a light on the concerns of contingent faculty, and NCTE makes it free to access via our website.

As the editor of Forum, I’m especially excited to mentor adjunct, graduate, and junior scholars with an interest in the intersections of English studies, pedagogy, and labor. If you have an idea for an article, I hope you’ll drop me a line: @amylynchbiniek on Twitter or lynchbin@kutztown.edu.

It’s easy for us teachers to feel overwhelmed in the face of so many challenges. But I’m convinced by the excellent work of organizations like The New Faculty Majority and many others around the country that we can make a difference when we keep writing back, speaking up, and acting up.  Join me in making some noise!

Amy Lynch-Biniek is the Coordinator of Composition and an associate professor of Composition at Kutztown University, part of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education. She is the current editor of Forum: Issues about Part-Time & Contingent Faculty.