Hard times for adjuncts

Every student will at some point take a class from an adjunct faculty member. Our school has about 450 full-time faculty members, and about a thousand part-time faculty, most of whom are adjunct professors. Over 50 percent of the credit hours awarded are taught by adjuncts. In the rest of the nation, about 70 percent of faculty are adjuncts.

Adjuncts are thought of as second-class academics, and for the most part are paid accordingly. At UVU, adjuncts are classified along with other part-time faculty. They teach, usually, but not always, fewer classes than tenure track faculty. But they often teach the same classes and often have the same sort of educational background – in other words, an adjunct may be just as qualified as a tenure track professor. Still they teach for lower pay and no benefits.

An adjunct teaching three classes – which any teacher will tell you qualifies as a full time job – gets paid barely minimum wage for their efforts after spending years in graduate school earning a Master’s or a Ph.D. As it turns out, getting an education doesn’t always pay as much as we like to think. An adjunct teaching one or two classes makes, obviously, far less than this.

It might be, and often is, argued that adjunct faculty value their mostly part-time status. Certainly this is sometimes true – it may be the case that an adjunct is willing to take a hit in pay and benefits in order to have time to do other things like family, research, personal activities, etc. There is a great deal of sense in the idea that the same work and the same qualifications demand the same pay, rather than the current two-tiered system.

The fact that adjuncts are classified as part-time hides a number of issues as well. They’re part time at this university, but often adjuncts will teach at more than one school in order to make ends meet. Your part-time adjunct math teacher may also be teaching at SLCC or the U as well, and thus not only be working 40 or more hours a week, but be commuting back and forth. Even if an adjunct is teaching two classes, and a tenure track faculty two classes, the one is considered part-time, and the other is not.

As a matter of fact, UVU’s reliance on adjunct faculty has gone down, bucking the trend of the rest of the nation. But with budget cuts bleeding the institution in the past few years, that trend threatens to change. Adjuncts are cheap and we need to save money.

Heavy reliance on adjuncts is bad not because adjunct faculty themselves are bad, but because two-tiered compensation for similar, and sometimes identical, work is bad. Both equalizing pay, and increasing tenure-track faculty positions, though difficult, is the only reasonable solution.

There must be a place for adjunct faculty. We need teachers one way or another, and we need to accommodate people who do value having a part-time status. However, there can be no doubt that having more full-time tenure-track faculty positions is better for everyone involved.

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