On Canned Classes and the Life of Adjunct Professors

This summer has gotten me thinking about education, online learning, and being adjunct faculty. I have a number of new classes, classes I have not taught in years, and a new LMS to learn, and so have been very busy. Add to that the fact that I don’t get paid unless said classes go, since I am adjunct, and at least 3 of my classes are seriously under enrolled for Fall, with only 3 weeks to go, and in danger of being cancelled.

The new LMS I had to learn came with a canned class from the home campus of this school, which only sounds like a fun alien world. The reality is that the home campus, in the Mid-West, sends canned classes, heavily dependent on terrible textbooks and their canned assignments, to those of us lowly adjunct professors teaching at the satellite campuses. This severely impacts academic freedom, and make me wonder why they bother hiring folks with advanced degrees for these classes. If you don’t think we are capable of teaching these classes, why not just hire someone to do rote grading for you? What do you need from someone with a graduate degree and 10 years of education experience? There have been interesting articles written on this: http://www.examiner.com/article/canned-courses-new-normal-for-college-communities or http://www.hybridpedagogy.com/journal/why-online-programs-fail-and-5-things-we-can-do-about-it/. But it seems that colleges and universities, who rely so much on adjuncts who are underpaid and generally have no guarantee of a job, see this as another time saving move. But, is this beneficial to our students? As far as I can tell from my experiences, canned classes benefit the college or university, and the textbook company who sold them the class. Students are not challenged, and just follow along by rote, with no real creative though. The adjunct professors “teaching” these classes become cogs in the machines, rather than admired, respected professionals with knowledge and experience in their fields.

All of this brings me to another point. We adjuncts have no guarantee of a job, stability, contract worth the paper it’s printed on, etc, yet we are expected to do training, professional development, and course prep, all without knowing if you class will be cancelled and you will be out of luck. This helps to further destabilize the educational system, since there are a whole working group of people that will bolt for something stable, full-time, and with benefits, most likely outside of academia, at the first opportunity. Is this not a brain drain? Although there has been talk of stabilizing the process, addressing pay inequity, etc, why would colleges and universities worry? As I have been told many times as an adjunct by full time professors, staff and deans at the college I mainly teach for, we are easily replaceable. But, if we allow people with 10+ years of experience to walk away for something outside of academia, are we not doing a disservice to the very students we are supposed to be helping and supporting as they move through college? What kind of model is this if we are teaching students that education is the means to get ahead, but they see professors on food stamps, living in homeless shelters because of the treatment they receive from the schools these students (and/or their parents) are going into debt to attend?

I realize I am saying nothing that has not been said in this discussion/debate before, but perhaps if the chorus continues, and continues to get louder, the value of ALL professors, not just the full-time, tenure track ones will rise. Perhaps the brain drain of experienced, passionate, quality professors will end, and academia will once again be a viable profession. At least a girl, who is about to have a whole lot of cancelled classes, can dream.

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2 thoughts on “On Canned Classes and the Life of Adjunct Professors

  1. Excellent points, Joanne. I’ll be trying my first semi-canned class, on purpose, as a full-timer. I see where things are heading, for everyone. The fact that associate faculty are still being taken advantage of in terms of cancelled classes, unpaid prep time, and insecure working conditions is appalling. Considering issues of academic freedom on top of this is laudable! Maybe when it starts to hurt full-timers, there will be more action?

    • Perhaps that is when the administrations, who run colleges and universities more like businesses than institutions of higher learning, will take notice. It is just so frustrating!

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