Because the humanities sequence is taught largely by adjuncts, funding was a large part of our conversations. Professor Asher, the director of the humanities at Geneseo, described very succinctly how the adjunct crisis affects the humanities; he explained that several years ago he proposed to administration that the school should take on some of their current adjuncts as full-time “quasi lecturers” to teach exclusively humanities, “but there then [came] another financial crisis.” According to Professor Asher, the school didn’t think they could afford to bring on more full-time faculty because when “you hire someone to teach three courses, you’re getting close to a moral obligation to pay them a grown up salary.” He continued, “if you teach them two [courses] you can pay them ad hoc per course,” he estimated somewhere in the range of $3500—well over the national average—“so they teach two courses” and get roughly $7000. “It’s ridiculous,” Professor Asher concluded.
Several issues arise from not having a sustained humanities faculty: new professors are trained through co-teaching the course with an established professor, adjuncts often can’t pursue their own research, and it becomes difficult to create a standard pedagogical model for the course. Professor Behrend, who had been teaching at Geneseo for several years before he started teaching humanities, had to put his research interests on the side in order to adjust to teaching the course; while he enjoyed co-teaching, it was still a lot of work to learn new material, and then preparing to be on his own the next semester—and even the third semester, adapting the course to be his own unique section of the humanities was time consuming. He added that for adjuncts, this can be a major setback; “it’s definitely an issue,” he told us, and “it’s not clear that we retain adjuncts that teach the humanities.” With resources for higher education decreasing and an increasingly competitive job market for PhD’s–in addition to the severe lack of resources and benefits that adjuncts deal with–many adjuncts cannot afford to let their research fall by the wayside.
Speaking to the experience of co-teaching, professors Behrend and Kirk said that they truly enjoyed the experience—Professor Kirk explained that “its great that there are professors that teach [the humanities] differently—wherever you get your humanities education its different and you can only enrich.” However, team-teaching means a discussion based seminar course of 60 students, which makes generating and sustaining an engaged conversation with the whole class very difficult. With this said, both professors Behrend and Asher made it clear that team teaching engages with the liberal arts mission of understanding various perspectives: when professors team teach, they are usually paired with a professor from another department. Accordingly, the new professor can teach to their disciplinary strength while gaining a greater understanding of how the other disciplines function.
Professors Kirk and McCorkle added that having a course that relies so heavily on adjuncts makes it difficult to have a standard pedagogical model for the course. “I think the writing seminar suffers more because of this,” professor Kirk explained, “People aren’t teaching writing, they’re using INTD 105 to teach a subject matter that they haven’t been able to teach,” either because they’re an adjunct or because they have so many gen-ed requirements to teach that their own interests fall by the wayside. Professor McCorkle added to this that although she sincerely appreciates the freedom that Geneseo offers, “there needs to be more unity across the INTD’s and the Humanities.” She added, it’s a “challenge because this school doesn’t have enough funding,” and professor Asher concurred: “at the very root,” he told us, “it’s a financial problem.”
Limited funding also places stress on the departments who contribute to the humanities because they have to allocate a certain number of their professors to teaching the humanities each semester, which means the courses in their own department are limited. As a result, there are only ever exactly the number of humanities seats necessary for students to graduate on time, which problematizes one of the fundamental functions of the humanities sequence: a common experience. According to Professor Asher, at the conception of the humanities, administration and faculty hoped that the humanities would be taken in a students sophomore year; accordingly students would be able to not only take the knowledge from these courses and apply it to the rest of their education, but they would also have a common educational experience with peers in their year of schooling. However, with majors–especially in business and natural sciences, and students who add teaching certifications–that require upwards of 60 or 70 credits, many student cannot get into the humanities when they are sophomores because they need to take entry level courses early on so they have the ability to specialize in their final years. When these students get to the humanities in their final semesters, they take spots from sophomores and perpetuate the cycle.