By Melanie Ojwang
The domain of higher education has increasingly become a competitive marketplace. For many students this has manifested in rising tuition. Such costs have, at times, been explained as a means of providing the type of four-year experience that modern students have come to expect. However this improved college experience does not seem to apply to the creation of a stable environment for all faculty members. As opposed to establishing more full-time faculty, adjunct professors, or part-time faculty without the possibility of tenure, are becoming more common. The influx of adjuncts, and the characteristics of their work environment, is creating tension on campuses.
Around 76 percent of college and university instructors can be classified as contingent faculty. Contingent faculty include full-time non-tenure-track faculty members, part-time (or adjunct) faculty members, and graduate student employees. While full-time non-tenure-track faculty members essentially achieve permanent work status, part-time faculty members still receive full teaching loads but not the same institutional commitment, in reference to benefits such as pay, job security, and office space.
From the standpoint of a school administration, contingency faculty members can be seen as a financially wise decision. With changes in funding and budget restrictions, colleges and universities have to evaluate expenses. Adjuncts are paid an average of $2,700 per course with an annual pay around $23,000. This is in comparison to the average pay of an assistant professor at $66,564, as reported in 2011. Many argue that these financial constraints are a main reason for the increased number of adjuncts.
There are also arguments that adjuncts provide valuable resources to students that full-time faculty might be unable to provide. William LeoGrande of American University claimed that faculty at his own school “see[s] adjuncts as being able to bring their professional experience into the classroom and share it with our students.” It is true that many adjunct professors have a second job, perhaps a main career while they teach a class on the side, and that this other profession can provide special insight to the field of study.
However there are several adjuncts that juggle working at multiple universities and colleges. The stress of multiple jobs affects the on campus life of adjuncts. Many are without offices or consistent office hours, which means there are unable to be a reliable source for students. Adjunct instructors may also not be integrated into the campus as well as full time professors. The connection and relationships with students that could be established are affected or not even cultivated.
Maria Maisto, president of the adjunct activist group New Faculty Majority, claims that, for many adjuncts, there is emphasis on achieving good student evaluations to retain employment. In turn, adjuncts feel unable to challenge students out of fear for poor evaluations.
The use of adjuncts also restricts the research output of universities. There is little time or possibility for adjunct professors to also produce scholarly work in their field.
But it is notably the undesirable working conditions such as job instability, low wages, and a lack of benefits that have resulted in the formation, or at least discussion, of several adjunct unions across the country. The main goals of many unions is to establish a better work compensation, such as higher wages and health insurance, that can lead to an improved campus environment due to happier, healthier, financially stable, and involved faculty caring for the needs of students.
In contrast, several colleges have opposed unionization, claiming it to be “against the culture of a university.” But what is to be said about the culture of a university that provides students with “substandard education” due to the necessity of adjunct instructors to “subsidize” themselves?
Melanie Ojwang is a senior at McDaniel College majoring in English and Sociology. McDaniel College is the location of the Delta of Maryland chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.