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Higher Education’s Reliance on Adjunct Professorships Threatens Academic Freedom

WASHINGTON, D.C.—For The Chronicle of Higher Education, Eva Swidler, a professor at Goddard College and the Curtis Institute of Music, writes on the long-term effects of higher education’s reliance on adjunct professors and contingent faculty on semester-to-semester contracts on just, equitable classroom learning and academic freedom.

“If your job hangs in the balance, an overriding concern is to keep the supervisor happy, keep your student evaluations uniformly positive, and keep your head down. For many adjuncts, the ideal is to come to no one’s attention,” Swidler writes. “Because your syllabus goes to the department chair at the start of each semester, controversial authors and reading get weeded out. You need to avoid negative comments from students, so you avoid assignments that might challenge anyone’s ideas, and you steer classroom conversations away from any topic that might provoke a heated discussion. You don’t want to come to the attention of administrators, so you don’t participate in speaking events or teach-ins that might draw the ire of powers-that-be.”

The problem of watering down a syllabus that actively engages and challenges students’ conceptions of racism, exploitation, inequality, and violence is not confined to the higher education’s ivory towers, but rather threats to justice are perpetuated in greater society upon graduation. Swidler argues that the conditions adjunct employment, which the American Association of University professors has warned places students at risk of being “deprived of the debate essential to citizenship,” impose strict limits on genuine public discourse.

Swidler’s essay can be read in full here.

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November 6, 2017