There is a new report from the national AAUP on "Conversions of Appointments to the Tenure Track (2009)":
They note there that we're not alone as a university most of whose classes are taught by adjunct faculty members: "By 2007 . . . almost 70 percent of faculty members were employed off the tenure track." They see universities at a tipping point: "In addition to injuries to students, campuses that overuse contingent appointments show higher levels of disengagement and disaffection among faculty, even those with more secure positions. The committee sees a steadily shrinking minority, faculty with tenure, as increasingly unable to protect academic freedom, professional autonomies, and the faculty role in governance for themselves -- much less for the contingent majority."
This might be an issue we should take on, and would include at least these two intimately interwoven aspects:
1. raising adjuncts' pay to a less scandalous level
2. raising the percentage of full-time faculty across campus
As adjunct pay rises, there will be less and less recourse to using them in such numbers and more and more impetus to hire full-time faculty. It's first of all a moral issues, at least in my mind. It's not right to exploit our adjunct colleagues. The aaup report lists several ways universities have begun to convert long-time adjuncts into full-timers, because it's also not right to simply shoulder adjuncts aside. None of the models seem ideal (to the aaup committee) but they share a commitment to fairness and to higher percentages of full-time employment.
In addition to the AAUP report, here are a few related thoughts:
The development of everything from curriculum for new majors and policies for departments and the university and pressures like accreditation (which is coming around again much sooner that the normal 10 years) and assessment and so on has members of the faculty, at least the good ones, working far beyond what I've ever seen elsewhere, at least in terms of service. Committee assignments at Vanderbilt and BYU were much more broadly distributed than here.
That was the case because (1) most of the curriculum and most of the policies were already in place and the institutions weren't changing so precipitously, and (2) there were many more members of the full-time faculty to share the burden. If one takes a look at departments here, it is evident that most of the teaching is done by adjunct faculty members, none of whom share the service component of what we do (nor should they). In History, for example, a handful of faculty members has brought forth the new major, has developed and taught a whole list of upper-division courses for the major, and currently teach 3 or 4 different preparations per semester to make the major possible. 86% of the students taught by the department are taught by adjunct faculty. There simply aren't enough full-time people. Most departments on campus are in a similar situation.
This is different, I think, from the perceived need departments everywhere always have for new faculty lines. It's not a matter of needing a medievalist to complement the baroque specialist. Most departments are simply and woefully understaffed in terms of full-time faculty.