Education in the Age of Adjunctification

Yesterday’s class session with John Mogalescu, Senior University Dean for Academic Affairs at CUNY, was really wonderful, inspiring, and a bit troubling, but I’ll get to that in a minute. The undeniably astounding results that the ASAP program is having truly prove that institutional change is possible and must happen for higher ed to change. And yes, sometimes this change comes from the top down which nobody likes, but when “the way we’ve always done things” is not producing the desired results we have an imperative to re-adjust mid-course. ASAP is surely one of the very best examples of making this happen.

And yet, a core element of ASAP’s success has been through its admirable focus on the relationship between students and non-faculty advisers. Those two words “non-faculty” are what I find troubling, and indeed are part of the larger trend nationwide to hire non-faculty. In his defense, Mogalescu made salient points about hiring people with passion and ideas for his team regardless of credentials. While the topic of faculty vs. non-faculty positions came up a few times, we did not directly discuss the utility of a PhD in an age of adjunctification, so what follows is by no means a criticism of Mogalescu or the brilliant work he is doing.

All of this begs a few questions for me. What is the place for PhDs in the university of the present (let alone the future)? Is there one? If a PhD is no longer an entry ticket to a faculty position, what is it? Why are we outsourcing the job of advisement from faculty to staff? At the same time that I am someone who has invested a lot of time in getting an advanced degree, I recognize that there are many things in higher ed one can do without one. Indeed, a degree is no guarantee that one will be a good educator or administrator, but I find a deep conflict within the academy that keeps granting PhDs while simultaneously cutting faculty positions in favor of hiring administrators and non-faculty staff positions.

Many of these issues were covered in a recent New York Times piece by Paul F. Campos, a law professor at University of Colorado, Boulder. Campos confronts conventional wisdom about rising college costs with a barrage of statistics. Surely there is room for debate here and undoubtedly this article has ruffled some administrative feathers. Campos identifies a disturbing trend: “According to the Department of Education data, administrative positions at colleges and universities grew by 60 percent between 1993 and 2009, which Bloomberg reported was 10 times the rate of growth of tenured faculty positions.”

Campos concludes, “What cannot be defended, however, is the claim that tuition has risen because public funding for higher education has been cut. Despite its ubiquity, this claim flies directly in the face of the facts.” Funding is a never-ending chase, especially for public universities without Ivy-league level endowments or Harvard-style hedge funds propping them up.

Yet are we funding the education or the administration of students?

Is it the case that administration needed to grow by 60 percent? We need data to explore student outcomes from this same period to determine whether this expansion of administration had an appreciable effect or was just a massive program of the corporatization of the university, to use a hated buzzword. This is missing from Campos’ argument, yet his main points remain provocative and powerful.


The Futures Initiative
The Graduate Center, CUNY
365 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10016-4309