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by Ian Lopez

The Coalition on Contingent Academic Labor demonstrate their dissatisfaction in Chicago in 2004. As higher learning institutions increase employment of adjunct faculty opposition to current contracting practices is building. Image courtesy of AAUP.

The Coalition on Contingent Academic Labor demonstrate their dissatisfaction in Chicago in 2004. As higher learning institutions increase employment of adjunct faculty, opposition to current contracting practices is building. Image courtesy of AAUP.

Educators of the Me Generation are getting shortchanged. Some say the students are too.

A lack of benefits, security, health insurance and a paycheck one-third the size of your full-time peers aren’t the most enticing benefits when scanning the job market.

It is, however, the reality faced by many of the hundreds of thousands of adjunct college professors across the nation.

“Without a contract, the college can literally do to adjuncts and full-time faculty as it wishes,” said Harper College Adjunct Faculty Association President Ilona Sala (HCAFA). “There is totally the feeling that adjuncts are treated as menial laborers who can be bumped at a moment’s notice.”

The HCAFA formed in 2005 in an effort to protect the job security of adjuncts who have taught at least a three-credit course for four consecutive semesters, and holds 460 professors under its umbrella. With this union in place the college can no longer just get rid of adjuncts for no reason, according to adjunct mathematics professor and HCAFA Treasurer Janice Cutler.

“Most of us are just as qualified as any of the full-time faculty,” Cutler said.  “I know a whole lot more [adjunct professors] with more letters behind their name than most [full-timers].”

Across the nation there are currently 800,000 adjuncts, two-thirds of all professors in the United States.  Over the years the numbers have been moving up too, with as much as 46 percent of all faculty being adjunct in 2003 and 22 percent in 1970.

“It’s definitely a trend,” said John Curtis, research director for the American Association of University Professors.  “It’s been going on for three decades, and current economic situations will make things worse.”

Curtis shined light on points made by HCAFA members as well, saying that choosing faculty members standings between full and part time doesn’t come down to qualifications, but is just a matter of fortune.

Adjuncts don’t go through the usual process associated with loosing a teaching position – a board meeting, review process, etc. – and don’t technically get fired. Instead, Curtis said, most just don’t get hired back as one semester progresses to the next, and this can be done without a reason being offered.

While most full-time faculty receive salary with health benefits, most adjuncts are paid on a course-by-course basis, according to Curtis.

The difficulties resulting from institutions relying on part-timers poses threats beyond the realm of the worker, crossing over into the learning experiences of students enrolled in courses taught by part-timers.

Adjunct teachers may not be able to raise issues or challenge students because a college or university can get rid of a part-time professor, according to Curtis. This job insecurity increases particularly in cases where too many students pass or fail.

“It’s a lesson learned quickly – [adjuncts] can’t challenge or be too demanding,” Curtis said.

Contacting instructors outside of class is another hurdle created by heavily relying on adjunct faculty, according to Curtis. The part-time professors often do not have on-campus offices or school email addresses.

“We often receive reports of part-time faculty having to meet with students in the parking lot,” Curtis said.

New York University graduate student employees protest disproportionate compensation in April 2006. The American Association of University Professors also participated in the event. Image courtesy of AAUP.

New York University graduate student employees protest disproportionate compensation in April 2006. The American Association of University Professors also participated in the event. Image courtesy of AAUP.

Curtis added that academic freedom in the classroom is an issue that is constantly faced, and students may have difficulty getting letters of recommendation when applying to graduate schools because of how easily institutions can let part-timers go.

Furthermore, because of the typically low pay, adjunct professors usually have other sources of income – teaching at other institutions, for example– and may not be able to devote as much focus as a full-time professor would.

“Contact with faculty outside of the classroom is widely correlated to student success by a variety of measures,” said Treseanne Ainsworth, an undergraduate advisor for Boston College’s English Department.  “It also makes faculty seem peripheral to the university from a departmental standpoint.

Ainsworth, who recently went from an adjunct to full-time position with no tenure, said   though most adjunct faculty do exceptional work under difficult circumstances, less travel time between campuses means more time spent on research, course preparation and with students.

In June Ainsworth proposed a model for adjuncts that would give them pay for services they provided to students outside the classroom including being a mentor, advising and developing courses. Though tenure may not be an option, the contracts are shooting for five to ten year agreements as opposed to the one to three year contracts already in place at some institutions.

“This plan will stick as long as contracts are honored, and faculty continue to do quality work,” Ainsworth said. “I am optimistic about both.”

Copyright 2009

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