In recent weeks, the faculty at the university I work for has been in an uproar over the amount of administrative bloat and pay compared to faculty salaries. To illustrate this point, I’m borrowing some statistics from a fellow colleague who gathered information from the Sacramento Bee and our own university:
Changes between 2010 and 2014 :
- Number of Students increased by 10%
- Tenure(d) faculty decreased by 6%
- Non-tenure faculty increased by 32%
- Part-time instructors without benefits increased by 19%
- High-paid administrators increased by 39%
- Faculty salaries increased by 3%
- Student Tuition increased by 41%
- Total administrative salary burden increased 43%
But one thing that often gets looked over, even in this time of faculty outrage, is the plight of the lecturer (or adjunct as we’re more officially refereed to). As you can see from the above statistics, lectures have increased by 32%, so I think it’s only fair to share some of my views.
Much has been written lately about the plight of the adjunct, and the poor working conditions of the adjunct university professor are being acknowledged by numerous and reputable news sources, and for good reason. Many adjuncts, also known as “freeway fliers,” teach at multiple schools, don’t have health insurance, have little job security, and make very little money. And some don’t even have an office.
As an adjunct, I don’t fall into those parameters. I’m the lucky adjunct. I teach at two schools, a highly regarded university within the California State University system and a community college. The university is ½ a mile from my home and the community college is six miles away, so my travel time is minimal to say the least. I have some form of job security; after teaching for 10 years at both schools, I have maintained entitlement, a system of guaranteeing me a contract, which also affords me excellent healthcare and other benefits. My job security right now seems good, though during the great recession of 2008, I was laid off every quarter at the university, but rehired at the last minute. For two years. While this caused me much stress, I still retained my job and benefits—others were not so fortunate. At both colleges, I share an office with one colleague. I don’t make great money, but as a single mom of two kids, we manage. We might not own a home—we may never own a home—but my kids have never gone without basic necessities.
Like I said, I am a lucky adjunct. But I’ve recently realized that I’m not really lucky: I’ve just become accustomed to my situation. A colleague recently described it to me like this: an abused person doesn’t usually understand that she’s being abused.
This may seem a bit hyperbolic, but I assure you it’s not. I teach 11 classes a year at the university, which is on the quarter system, and am only considered at .98% yearly work. I’ll never be hired as full-time, let alone tenure-track; In fact, in my department there are only 2 full-time adjuncts, while there are over 35 part-time instructors. And I only have an MA (you might notice how easily the word “only” comes out. I have come to feel that I am “only” good enough, and usually barely that). It’s not that I never wanted to get a PhD, but when I looked at the ROI of getting another degree, the math didn’t add up. Thousands of dollars more for fewer and fewer positions available.
So, I’ve made my way through the university system. Because I teach writing, rhetoric, and critical thinking, my work load is immense. During fall quarter at the university, I had 88 students. Each student writes three out-of-class essays and two in-class essays. That accounts for 440 essays I must grade, write meaningful comments explaining the students’ grades, and return in a timely fashion, usually within two weeks of receiving the essays. This number does not even include the revisions I allow in my classroom because without being able to revise, students don’t always learn how to do write better. This workload also does not include the classes I teach at the community college.
To that end, I consider myself a good teacher. Good enough to win the distinguished lecturer award from the California Faculty Association for the school year 2012-2013. During that time, I still carved out time to participate in several committees and go to conferences in my field. Unlike a tenured-track professor, I was never given release time for my work nor compensated for the conferences I attended.
One the most interesting committees I sat on was the Lecturer Committee. This committee was recently formed by lecturers for lectures: the concerns of the ever-growing body of lecturers within our department made the need that much more prevalent. As is commonly known, the “academic industrial complex” (as some are now referring to higher education) has become a business model, one that includes, among other things, hiring more adjuncts than tenure-track instructors. One peer-reviewed article noted that for the price of one tenure-track position, 4-5 adjuncts could be hired. Slowly at first, and now more rapidly, our department has gone topsy-turvy, with adjuncts outnumbering tenure/tenured track more than 2-1. During the 2013-2014 year, adjuncts taught 57% of all students who passed through our department; tenured/tenure track taught 35% of all department students. The results are more startling when we looked at 100-level courses—courses usually comprised of freshmen only, though there’s always some sophomores, juniors, or even seniors who takes the class for some reason or another—where adjuncts taught 93% of the students and tenure/tenured track taught 0%. The remaining 7% went to Teaching Assistants.
This seems to make sense at first: why would a tenure/tenured-track instructor teach a 100-level course? They wouldn’t, right? But what’s interesting is when you realize that freshman retention is incredibly important. According to one study, “It is estimated that 40% of college students will leavehigher education without a degree[…]freshman class attrition rates are typically greater than any other academic year and are commonly as high as 20-30%.” And that “the implications of leaving college without a degree are many. Each student that leaves before degree completion costs the college or university thousands of dollars in unrealized tuition, fees, and alumni contributions[…] also frequently economically deleterious to the college dropout [which] often leaves him or her in a position to earn much less over a lifetime of work.” Furthermore, while freshman retention is significantly affected by such things as academic performance, social interactions, a sense of community, some scholars believe that “the primary responsibility for helping students experience a successful freshman year lies with the faculty who teach the freshman courses.”
It is therefore shocking that the academic system–at the university I teach at least–treat their adjuncts so poorly, when most adjuncts go above and beyond their job description to foster meaningful relationships with students and try and find time to give back to the very institution that denies them so much.
For instance, adjuncts are not allowed to participate in shared governance. The rationale from our department is that adjuncts are not encouraged to be part of the university system nor reimbursed for any time because adjuncts don’t know how the university system works, yet without being allowed to participate, how can we learn?
Most of the committees on campus are limited to tenure/tenured track only. Many of the fantastic trainings held on campus are also only for tenure/tenured track. Thus, if an adjunct wants to further his or her pedagogy, he or she must do so outside the university setting. Recently, a colleague of mine wanted to nominate a fellow adjunct for an annual award for faculty promoting diversity, but because her nominee was an adjunct, she wasn’t even considered for the award.
This “separate but equal” mentality in the minds of administrators and tenure/tenured track hurt us all. And the reality is there is nothing equal about the current ways the university treats adjuncts. Along with the fact that thousands of adjuncts don’t have an office, have little to no job security, and can barely afford to live above the poverty line, many adjuncts are missing the simple key ingredient that should be inherent in any job at a university—a place that devotes much of its time spewing such clichéd terms as opportunity, diversity, accountability–and that is respect, especially for the “lowly” adjuncts who are the foundation for much of what the university is built upon.
For years I felt fortunate to be an adjunct, but I no longer believe that. When the lecturer committee sent out an informal and anonymous questionnaire to fellow adjuncts in our department, the number one thing adjuncts wanted was not more pay, time-release for committee work, or better offices. It was respect. As one anonymous colleague noted, “Bridge the gap between lecturers and tenured-track faculty: less isolation…to help us feel less sweat-shop labor-ish.” Another wrote, “I’m interested in what it would take to be recognized as true colleagues among faculty.” These comments bring down the morale of the entire department—adjuncts and tenured track alike—and low morale within a department spreads out, directly affecting the most innocent of the system, the students.
So I’ve made a decision. No more. I will continue to teach because it’s my passion, but my department and the university will not receive one more ounce of my free time and energy. For years I was willing to accept that most of my extra work would be unpaid, but I cannot and will not accept that I don’t deserve respect—not just for the work I’ve given back to the university, but for the simple fact that I teach with passion and for the simpler fact that I am a human being who deserves to be treated with respect.
That is how you lose an adjunct. It might come in many forms—those who leave to pursue more lucrative jobs, those who decide to travel the world, and those, like me, who won’t give back in any way to the university they work for. From afar, it seems like the ivory tower of the CSU system doesn’t affect many people, but when you consider that the CSU system is one of the largest employers in California, this perception may change. Imagine all the intelligent, student-centered adjuncts that leave the system.
What a loss for the universities with adjuncts like me.