Adjunct faculty consider unionization

Andrew Nelson earns $22,000 a year — with no benefits — teaching three courses per semester at East Central College near St. Louis and Lindenwood University, reports AP. He drives as much as 100 miles a day and works 50 hours a week during the nine-month school year.

Tired of low wages and no job security, adjunct faculty in the St. Louis area are exploring unionization, reports AP.

Colleges and universities are relying more heavily on poorly paid adjuncts.

 Nelson gets paid about $2,500 a semester for every three-credit course he teaches. So he picks up as many courses as he can, splitting his time between two universities to make ends meet.

But, he said, it’s not just about money.

“The most important thing is that we have no input into the departments we work in. We have no say on textbooks, either,” he said. “So other people determine what we are going to teach and how we are going to teach it.”

Nelson also said adjuncts miss out on holding office hours to better connect with students, plus paid faculty development days which help instructors become better at their jobs.

The Service Employees International Union is organizing at several colleges and universities, including  St. Louis Community College.

Adjuncts are talking union at Cayuga Community College in Auburn, New York.  Seventy percent of the college’s 200 adjunct faculty want to organize, said Greg Sevik, who read a prepared statement at the board of trustees meeting.

“The college and its lawyers have decided to delay, arguing that, instead, we should join the existing union for full-time faculty members,” he said.

. . . full-time and adjunct professors “by no means work under the same conditions; unlike full-time faculty, adjuncts have no health benefits, few opportunities for professional advancement, no required office hours or member on college committees, and little assurance that they will have a job after the end of each semester.”

“I have no problem, this board has no problem, with an adjunct union,” responded Gregory DeCinque, the college’s interim president.

First comes math

Virginia community colleges have redesigned remediation, said Chancellor Glenn Dubois at the U.S. News STEM Solutions Conference. In First Comes Math, a panel discussed the remediation crisis at community colleges.

Seventy-two percent of new community college students were placed in developmental math in 2006, according to Achieving the Dream, a reform group. Three years later, 77 percent had not qualified for a college-level math course.

“Remediation is an access issue,” Dubois said. Columbia University’s Community College Resource Center studied the Virginia community colleges, finding that 75 percent of remedial students “will ultimately go nowhere.”

Math instructors helped shift course requirements to match students’ goals: Students in non-STEM majors don’t need as much math.

After one year in full effect across Virginia’s 23 community colleges, many more students are completing remediation courses – in a matter of months, not years – and advancing to college courses, Dubois said. “You can’t try to do these things at scale unless your faculty are on board and, in our case, we gave them a leadership role.”

Since adjuncts teach most remedial courses, Dubois is trying to raise the status of remediation faculty and provide more support and training. But that takes money, he said. 

The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching created Pathways, alternative developmental math curricula that focus on statistics and quantitative reasoning. In the first two years, more than 50 percent of students earned college math credit in one year. That compares to only 5 percent of community college students in traditional developmental math.

Adjuncts lack training, support

Community colleges depend heavily on part-time faculty but rarely treat them as “full partners in promoting student success,” charges Contingent Commitments: Bringing Part-Time Faculty Into Focus, a new report by the Center for Community College Student Engagement (CCCSE).

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Adjuncts teach 58 percent of community college classes, CCCSE reports. They work for much less money than full-time instructors and for minimal or no benefits.

Part-timers teach the neediest students: More than three-quarters of developmental education faculty are adjuncts.

Adjuncts are less likely to refer students to counselors, tutors or labs, perhaps because they’re less aware of support services.

Though many part-time faculty express their passion for teaching and commitment to student success, many also see themselves as outsiders in the colleges where they work. Many do not find out whether they will be teaching classes until just days before the term begins. Their access to orientation, professional development, college services, or office space to do their own work and meet with students is limited or simply unavailable. They rarely, if ever, are engaged in interaction with their peers or in campus discussions about the steps colleges need to take to improve student learning, persistence, and completion.

In focus groups, adjuncts complained they’d never been told how to make copies or find their mail boxes.

Embracing Non-Tenure Track Faculty,, edited by Adrianna Kezar, suggests ways colleges could improve working conditions for the “new majority” of contingent instructors.

College costs rise despite staffing cuts

Community colleges and public research universities hired 16 fewer staff  per 1,000 full-time-equivalent students — and many more part-time instructors — from 2000 to 2012, concludes Labor Intensive or Labor Expensive?, a report from American Institutes for Research’s Delta Cost Project.

Faculty pay hasn’t increased, said AIR researcher Donna Desrochers. However, the cost of health coverage, pensions and other benefits have risen steadily, driving up costs. In addition, colleges and universities are adding non-teaching jobs, such as business analysts, human resource staff, counselors and health workers.

At community colleges, 58 percent of employees are instructors, a percentage that’s remained steady for 12 years. However, only 17 percent of employees were full-time faculty in 2012, down from 21 percent in 2000. There are 2.7 FTE instructors per administrator. That’s the lowest ratio of administrators to faculty in higher education.

When a calling stops calling

Teaching was a “calling” when she had a shot at a permanent job, writes Rebecca Schuman. Now, after “two years as a slightly less-disposable faculty member, with a salary, full benefits, course-design autonomy, and my own office,” she’s returned to “dead-end adjuncting.” As a disposable teacher, she’s “hanging up” on the calling, she writes in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

George Washington University’s Joseph Fruscione, whose adjunct advocacy has thrust him into the public eye, told me that what “calling” he has felt to teach hasn’t changed—just his perceptions of academe. He wrote to me: “I entered with a (too) idealistic sense of it as a place of knowledge and intellectual inquiry. Being essentially cheap, renewable labor has made me feel cynical and a little angry about how universities are knowingly overusing contingent faculty while adding more administrators, provosts, and the like.”

Calling teaching a “calling” is an excuse to pay less, said Katie Guest Pryal, who teaches legal writing at the University of North Carolina.

The language of “calling” can contribute to the feminization of contingency, a California adjunct said.  “My mother was a second-wave feminist and taught me to see the use of the words ‘calling’ and ‘vocation’ as excuses not to pay women for labor, especially in teaching and nursing.”

Adjuncts demand equality

The plight of temporary, part-time college instructors is getting attention, if not action.

Adjunct college instructors complain of low pay, few benefits, shifting schedules and no job security in The Just-in-Time Professor. The report was compiled from an online forum set up by Rep. George Miller, a California Democrat.

Most respondents said they make $2,000 to $3,500 per three-credit course or an average of $24,926 a year, reports the Chronicle of Higher Education.

More than 60 respondents reported salaries that would put them beneath the federal poverty line for a three-person family. Some respondents said they were on federal assistance programs like Medicaid or food stamps. One added: “During the time I taught at the community college, I earned so little that I sold my plasma on Tuesdays and Thursdays to pay for [my child’s] daycare costs.”

On top of low pay, 75 percent of the respondents who discussed the topic said they did not receive benefits—either because their employer didn’t offer them or because they were otherwise ineligible. One adjunct wrote: “The health care plan that I could buy into costs more than my take-home pay on even a good year. My retirement plan is to work until they bury me.”

In Equality for Contingent Faculty: Overcoming the Two-Tier System, edited by Keith Hoeller, 11 activists propose solutions to the “two-tier system.”

Three-fourths of college faculty are “contingent,” a nearly tenfold increase since 1975, according to the writers. That divides the faculty into haves and have-nots. The book describes successful organizing efforts. 

Hoeller is an adjunct professor of philosophy at Green River Community College, cofounder of the Washington Part-Time Faculty Association and co-organizer of the New Faculty Majority.

Marcia Newfield and Rosalind Petchesky have advanced degrees and decades of experience teaching at City University of New York, reports NBC. As an adjunct, Newfield earns $3,622 for each of the two classes she teaches each semester at Borough of Manhattan Community College. She now has health insurance but “no job security, disability benefits, permanent office, or input in her department’s curriculum, and only a meager pension.” Petchesky, a “distinguished” professor with tenure, makes about $144,000 a year.

The academic sweat shop

Young PhDs are scrambling for a few tenure-track jobs, working as poorly paid adjuncts for years on end and getting very, very angry, writes Megan McArdle on Bloomberg.

Rebecca Schuman’s “naming and shaming” of UC Riverside’s interviewing process set off an angry online debate, including Job Market Rage Redux and How the Tenured Are to the Job Market as White People Are to Racism.

“Academia is now one of the most exploitative labor markets in the world,” writes McArdle.

It’s not quite up there with Hollywood and Broadway in taking kids with a dream and encouraging them to waste the formative decade(s) of their work life chasing after a brass ring that they’re vanishingly unlikely to get, then dumping them on the job market with fewer employment prospects than they had at 22. But it certainly seems to be trying to catch up.

. . .  it’s not surprising that so many academics believe that the American workplace is a desperately oppressive and exploitative environment in which employers can endlessly abuse workers without fear of reprisal, or of losing the workers. That’s a pretty accurate description of the job market for academic labor … until you have tenure.

The academic job market won’t improve until graduate programs admit fewer students, she writes. “A lot fewer.” Some PhD programs should “go out of existence.”

But of course, this is saying that universities, and tenured professors, should do something that is radically against their own self-interest. That constant flow of grad students allows professors to teach interesting graduate seminars while pushing the grunt work of grading and tutoring and teaching intro classes to students and adjuncts. It provides a massive oversupply of adjunct professors who can be induced to teach the lower-level classes for very little, thus freeing up tenured professors for research.

Only a third of university professors are tenured or on the tenure track and only 19 percent of non-tenure-track teaching jobs are full time.

Desiree Robertson teaches sociology part-time at Southwest Tennessee Community College in Memphis while working full time at a foundation. The adjunct’s life is a balancing act, she tells the Chronicle of Higher Ed.

Just say no to adjunct abuse

Adjuncts are highly educated, badly paid and often abused, writes Charlotte Allen in a Los Angeles Times commentary.

Take Stefan Veldhuis who taught political science for seven years at Chaffey College in Rancho Cucamonga. On Nov. 20, just two weeks before the semester’s end, he was fired. The college won’t say why. Veldhuis said he was told he wasn’t a “good fit.”  He thinks an employee, who he’d reported for having sex in a classroom, retaliated by falsely accusing Veldhuis of a sexual relationship with a former student.

Welcome to the perilous, humiliating and distinctly un-remunerative world of the “adjunct professor.” Although adjuncts generally have the same kind of advanced degrees as faculty members who have tenure or are on a track to get it, and often teach the same classes as their tenured or tenure-track brethren, they are treated very differently. In fact, Veldhuis, who has a master’s degree, didn’t even teach at Chaffey full time. Instead, he had to cobble together full-time work by teaching three classes a semester at Chaffey and two at another college.

According to the American Assn. of University Professors, the median pay for an adjunct is $2,700 per three-credit-hour course. At that median rate, and by teaching more courses per semester than the two to four that tenure-line faculty are required to teach, Chaffey might have been earning $27,000 a year from his two part-time jobs, maybe more if he taught summer school.

That’s just a little above barista level, except that baristas, as full-time employees, often get health insurance, paid vacations and other benefits. The overwhelming majority of adjuncts don’t.

At community colleges,  full-time professors start at $53,000 on average, Allen writes.

Colleges and universities, “supposed bastions of liberal compassion for the downtrodden, viciously exploit the labor of the underpaid and the overworked,” Allen writes. They get away with it because there are twice as many humanities PhDs as tenure-track job openings.

Adjuncts are fighting back by unionizing, Allen writes. They’d do better to go on strike — permanently. “Just say no” to exploitation.

While some adjuncts live in “Dickensian misery,” others are moonlighting professionals or part-time on purpose, writes Daniel Luzer in the Washington Monthly‘s College Guide.

California accreditor survives — for now

The commission that accredits two-year colleges in California will keep its federal recognition for another year, reports Inside Higher Ed.  A federal panel told the accreditor to show that it is complying with federal standards.

The accreditor, the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, has been under fire for its decision this year to revoke accreditation of City College of San Francisco. Many supporters of the college — faculty unions, student advocates, and some elected officials — had been pushing for the panel to recommend the Education Department strip the accreditor of its federal recognition.

More than two dozen students, faculty members, union leaders and other supporters of City College of San Francisco testified Thursday and Friday.

The federal panel also voted to recommend another year of recognition for the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, which is under fire for how it’s handled complaints from adjuncts.

Last week’s meetings of the federal accreditation panel occurred against the backdrop of a larger debate over the future of accreditation that has begun to play out in Washington as Congress considers the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. Policy makers have discussed, among other issues, whether accreditors are doing enough to promote innovation in higher education and whether they should do more to keep college affordable.

Outgoing Undersecretary of Education Martha Kanter asked the panel to revisit its 2011 recommendations for improving accreditation and make new suggestions.

Study: Adjuncts are just as effective

Adjuncts don’t hurt — or help — student success at community colleges, concludes a preliminary study. Most research shows adjuncts aren’t as effective, notes Inside Higher Ed. But a study released earlier in the fall found students may learn more from adjuncts, “at least at research universities.”

Hongwei Yu, a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Office of Community College Research and Leadership, was lead author of The Effect of Part-time Faculty on Students’ Degree and/or Certificate Completion in Two-Year Community Colleges. 

The authors attribute their findings regarding adjuncts and student success to the possibility that community colleges “hire a significant percentage of part-time faculty who come directly from professional fields and  have practical experiences, skills, and knowledge [...] which may help students achieve degree or certificate completion in two-year community colleges. In addition, part-time faculty may provide students connections to workplace or a community.”

Researchers found lower completion rates at large community colleges (10,000 or more students) and at rural colleges. High school grades also correlated with completion rates.

More than two-thirds of community college faculty are adjuncts teaching part-time for low wages, no benefits and no job security.

Some adjuncts are trying to organize for better treatment, but there’s a large pool of people with advanced degrees and limited job prospects.

The Adjunct Question is the topic for the week at National Journal.