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Nobody hires the old or adjunct

August 15, 2006

The following is a cross-post to my response to this article and the subsequent comments. Click and return. I can wait.
As identified above, there are two issues here (see the title of the article):

1. why hire old people
2. why promote adjuncts.

Here is my take: Steven, right above, argues that it is more cost effective to overlook older adjuncts in favor of the young. The reasoning goes like this: two search committees over ten years costs more than one over 30 years. Steven is short sighted. He assumes that a younger worker will last more than 10 years. Spousal moves, kids, better jobs, etc. all could work against this. Not to mention a bad fit. Decisions driven by economic exigency always seem to bite one on the ass.

So, hire the old person. They probably know a lot. If there is a proven class-track record, embrace.

But you (being the search committee) won’t. Here is why. Faculty is a club. It hazes (what is tenure-track if not a hazing), colludes and has internecine battles. But, above all, it wants cool people to join. Older adjuncts, from my experience, usually rank lower on the “cool” spectrum (even if they are cool once you get to know them, but that is a tangent). Hire the young’n because young is vibrant. Nothing needs an infusion of life like academic departments. Kind of vampirish, but there it is.

But then again, you may not want to hire the adjunct. If they are excellent teachers, you want to flexibility of inserting them at will to save the day (none of our full-time instructors want to drive 2.5 hours to teach this class of nursing majors Business Writing—but you, Mr. Adjunct, are perfect). Or, you may secretly wonder why they were not hired full time to begin with. Yes, occasionally (so I have heard) adjuncting may be the way to full-time, but I doubt it. It is too easy to pigeonhole the adjuncts as also-rans. Prophets are revered in their hometown.

So, if you are old and adjuncting, consider a move: to another institution, town or job. Why, because the track you are on is not tenure but dead-end bound.

[After posting the above, I read Dean Dad’s post on the “Grey Ceiling” (article link)which outlines the tendency of older workers to remain on the job, leaving little room for Gen-Xs. Initially I felt there was a conflict at work here: how can older workers make up the grey ceiling when they are not being hired?

But there really no conflict, unless one of class or inclusion. In academia, it is still the tenured group which has the advantages (to hire their whim, to stay on the job, etc.) and the lower levels to suffer the consequences (older, haven’t-worked-at-that-job-forever, adjuncts, etc.)]

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