One of the best parts about being a Macalester student is choosing from the breadth of interesting courses that are offered each semester. Balancing creative desires, career aspirations and graduation requirements in only four classes often seems like an impossible task. Macalester’s ability to attract incredible and passionate faculty only further complicates the decision. There are approximately 250 faculty at Macalester, meaning we have a 10-to-one student to teacher ratio. The close interaction between students and devoted professors is what makes Macalester exceptional.
Over half of these 250 teachers that we are so proud of are contingent faculty. Any professor who is not on tenure track is considered contingent. This includes visiting professors, adjunct professors, instructors, lecturers and postdoctoral fellows. They are so prevalent on our campus that it is unlikely that anybody has had a semester in which at least one of their classes was not taught by a professor that falls into one of these categories. Of the approximately 400 classes offered next fall, 216 of them will be taught by contingents.
What we value in our professors is their commitment to students, their intellectual engagement and their availability to us as both educators and mentors. Contingent professors fulfill these expectations despite being marginalized by our higher education system. They have very little job security, they often receive no health benefits and they are paid on a course-to-course, contractual basis. Female professors and faculty of color are disproportionately represented in this swelling labor force, adding to its exploitative nature. The hiring of contingent faculty has become a widespread phenomenon in American higher education. Today, according to the New York Times, approximately 76% of college and university faculty in the United States are contingent. Forty years ago, contingent professors only comprised 20%.
Macalester participates in this national trend. As the presence of contingent faculty here on campus continues to grow, it is important that we students pause to acknowledge the integral role they play in the Macalester community. Without them Macalester would not be the same, and and we are grateful for their immense contribution to our education. In this spirit, we invite you to join in a campus-wide celebration of our contingent faculty during the upcoming weeks.
Eli Liebman (Applied Math and Statistics ‘15)
Jeremy Levine-Drizin (Political Science ’15)