For years universities have simultaneously expanded the number of doctoral degrees granted while constricting the number of stable academic jobs, creating a system in which low wages and precarity are standard terms of employment for the least and most educated workers alike.
Contingent faculty now dominate the profession. More than half of faculty members at four-year public institutions are off the tenure track, and that rises to about 66 percent at four-year private nonprofit institutions. At two-year public colleges, it’s about 80 percent. Of all faculty, more than 40 percent at four-year and two-year colleges don’t have full-time positions.
Say you’re in a department that’s dropped from 50 full-time, tenure-track faculty to, say, 30, over time. It’s not like that was the plan. At first, the department used a contingent faculty member to replace someone on maternity leave. And then it was a way to do more composition teaching. And then it was a way to teach a language that didn’t have enough enrollment. And then. And then. And then.
After a while, the department has far fewer tenured or tenure-track professors, but curricula must still be developed. Students must be advised. Committees must be filled. Those who are left have felt their own service workload grow heavier, Krebs said.
Suddenly, you start to look around and say, “how did this happen?”
Now, the long-term effects of Covid-19 are still a mystery, but as colleges freeze hiring and budgets bottom out, it doesn’t seem to spell good news for either precarious workers or tenure trackers.