A former academic administrator unpacks the social and economic changes that have slashed the number of permanent, tenured faculty in colleges across the nation—changing higher education into the latest battleground of the gig economy.
Childress brings acid humor and earnest conviction...as well as the insights and the fury of someone who once cherished the idea of a life spent on campus. He has an eye for the finer distinctions within academia ... He is witheringly accurate when describing the atmosphere of faculty-wide meetings ... Childress knows the outward academic scene; he also knows who is backstage, making sure that appearances are kept ... Childress has a way of reinvigorating familiar tropes ... In the last few pages of Childress’s book, the manifesto melts away, and we’re afforded a momentary glimpse of a deeply moving memoir. Childress describes his personal disappointment with a piercing honesty ... there is nothing more universal than the moment when Childress realizes that his was never a problem of drive or focus; the horizon was illusory by design, moving according to someone else’s whims, continually drifting out of reach.
Herb Childress's The Adjunct Underclass: How America's Colleges Betrayed Their Faculty, Their Students, and Their Mission, is a masterfully compressed call to action ... the way he maps out his argument...is chilling ... The Adjunct Underclass is a devastating shot from deep within the woods, an emergency S.O.S. flare to those who can see the forest for the trees. Its thesis is similar to Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America, providing a clear picture of how low we've fallen and how we may never rise again without some serious reform ... Childress has exposed some uncomfortable truths with this book that are both painfully difficult for adjuncts to admit and essential reading for those concerned with the cultural and intellectual future of America.
The number of part-time faculty...has increased sevenfold ... Why did this happen? Mr. Childress has trouble answering that overarching question because he loves the field of higher education and tries hard not to sound like a right-winger fulminating against it. He does not challenge the modern universities’ creation of faux-academic disciplines—hospitality management, marketing, women’s studies—or the 20th-century delusion that everybody should go to college. Mr. Childress writes as a wounded lover, not as an adversary ... Mr. Childress’s reluctance to raise larger questions about the higher-education industry occasionally leads him to credulity, as when he accepts without qualm the notion that state universities underpay faculty and rely on contract work in part because their public funding has diminished ... Even so, and despite its author’s wavering sympathy for academia, The Adjunct Underclass is a heartbreaking indictment of American higher education.