Professors Are the New Therapists

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Media Outlet: Slate

The Better Life Lab curated a piece for their Slate channel from researcher Lindsay Bernhagen about how adjunct professors often have to provide unpaid emotional support for their students.

Jason was an untenured professor at a large public university when two students who had been dating each other began fighting regularly in his class. When he sought advice from university administrators about what to do, they merely passed him around the bureaucracy until, one day, he found himself assisting police, phoning one of the students and pleading with him to come to campus to surrender himself to the authorities after a violent fight with his girlfriend. Jason, who, like most untenured faculty today, prefers not to use his last name when critiquing university administrators, recalled the emotional toll the incident took on him: “I was upset for days. I had no idea what to do.”

Approximately 3 out of 4 workers who teach college students are contingent, also known as adjunct professors, meaning that they do not get the same benefits or protections as their tenure-track colleagues. Contingent instructors teach more courses with higher enrollments than those on the tenure track, and many make ends meet by teaching at multiple institutions, turning them into what one adjunct acquaintance called “self-contained mobile teaching units” who grade papers in their cars or meet with students wherever they can find open space on campus. Increasingly, these same overworked faculty are being asked to comfort and support students in ways that go far beyond the classroom.