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The adjunct explosion: IHEs rely heavily on part-time professors, but is this 'economic necessity' changing the face of academe? (Employee Relations).

TWENTY YEARS AGO, the typical adjunct professor had a career outside of higher education, and taught a college course for personal fulfillment or to pick up a few extra bucks. With real-world experience and a practical approach, these part-timers--the successful sculptor who lectured passionately about art, the lawyer who taught criminal justice, the stockbroker who described her daily work to business majors--held a small but valued role in higher education. Over the past decade, however, a very different adjunct has emerged.

Today's adjunct is likely to be a Ph.D. with excellent credentials who simply can't find a full-time teaching job. To eke out a living, he may juggle a heavy teaching schedule at several colleges, each paying a minimal salary with no benefits and little possibility for a permanent position. Some instructors literally rush from campus to campus with no office, no practical support, and little time for student interaction. It's no wonder they're often called "roads scholars."

And because there's now a glut of these part-time instructors, they'll work cheap, earning a fraction of what full-time professors make. For colleges and universities buckling under serious budget crunches, the temptation to pack departments with inexpensive adjuncts is almost overwhelming.


In the early 1980s, about 20 percent of courses nationwide were taught by adjuncts, says Jamie Horowitz, a spokesman with the American Federation of Teachers (the union's 1.3 million members include 125,000 college and university faculty). Adjuncts typically were hired to fill in for professors on sabbatical, or to bring outside expertise to a specialized course. But about 10 years ago, colleges began to rely on adjuncts to reduce salary expenses, and they grew to comprise an average one-third of faculty nationwide, Horowitz says.

Christian Gregory is a highly regarded adjunct English instructor at Auburn University (AL), but he'll be leaving the profession next year because he cannot find a full-time job and can't survive on a part-time salary. He blames the increased use of adjuncts on higher ed's move toward corporate business practices. "In the early '90s, universities began to adopt the management techniques of business: outsourcing to minimize labor costs. The easiest way to do that? Increase adjuncts," he says.

But even a decade ago, elite institutions were resisting the trend to adjunct use. By 1998, however, 43 percent of courses nationwide were taught by adjuncts (from the U.S. Department of Education's "A Profile of Part-Time Faculty: Fall 1998" Since these numbers are five years old, says Horowitz, "We believe that in reality, we're at or approaching a time where half the faculty in the U.S. are adjuncts." And according to the DOE report, the numbers are even higher at community colleges, where more than 60 percent of faculty are part-time, compared to less than 20 percent in 1970.

Almost no one disputes the quality of education suffers from too many adjuncts, but the question may be, what is "too many"? The state of California had a legislated goal that three-quarters of classes at community colleges should be taught by full-time faculty, says George Boggs, president and CEO of the American Association of Community Colleges. "But very few community colleges were able to reach that goal, because we weren't funded for it," he says. Boggs believes that more adjuncts than ever were hired in the past year or so. "Colleges are faced with tremendous enrollment increases--often double-digit increases from one term to the next--at the same time that budgets are being cut. Some have reacted by increasing tuition for students, but they've also tried to cut costs, and so they are hiring more adjunct faculty."


"It's a pool of cheap labor for the university. But ethically, it's a shame," says Miller Solomon, an English professor at Auburn. Adjuncts are being exploited by cost-obsessed colleges, he and other opponents to this trend maintain. They say that part-timers are overworked, given no voice in college governance, and may lose their jobs if they're tough graders or take controversial positions. Hiring large numbers of adjuncts undermines the tenure system, which will subtly yet surely destroy the fabric of higher education, they say.

"This will set back college education in this country a long way," says Horowitz. "You're talking about changing the entire character of higher education in the U.S."

Others insist the widespread use of adjuncts is simply a matter of economics. John Roueche, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin, co-authored Strangers in Their Own Land (Community College Press, 1995), which looks at adjuncts in community colleges. "It's not just a case of universities not caring," he says. "It's a matter of money. You can probably cover three to four times the number of classes with adjuncts." State financial support to higher education has been in a steady decline for 20 years, Roueche points out. And the current economic climate has both state and private universities in financial straits, he says. Hiring adjuncts is an almost-irresistible option for cutting costs.

"We'll never again have all full-time faculty," he says. "We're going to continue using adjuncts--probably even more in the future--because of the funding exigencies with which colleges are struggling. I don't see any time in the next 10 years where there will be revenue to hire more full-time faculty." There is simply no alternative, he says. "The great percentage of a college's budget is personnel. When reduced funding occurs, there are only a few places to cut. And where they cut, adjuncts can meet the need."

P.D. Lesko is publisher of the Adjunct Advocote (, a monthly news magazine with 80,000 readers, mostly part-time or adjunct faculty. She estimates there are a half-million adjuncts nationwide. "Colleges tell you it's for flexibility," so that unexpected demand for freshman English courses, for example, can be met by hiring several adjuncts, says Lesko. "But, if you look behind the flexibility, you'll see they're not paying a pro rata salary or benefits. They're saving a lot of money."

Currently, the largest numbers of adjuncts are in the humanities departments, where they teach low-level core courses to large classes. "If you look at it strictly for efficiency and effectiveness, we can cover a lot more classes with adjuncts," says Roueche. Even top-ranked institutions now make heavy use of them; at New York University, for instance, about 70 percent of the faculty are adjuncts.

Until recently, there were few complaints from students and parents--in large part because adjuncts as a group are as dedicated and effective as their full-time colleagues. "Most of them are very good instructors, which is why you aren't seeing protests," says Horowitz.

In fact, a number of studies confirm the high quality of adjunct teaching, says Roueche, who is also the director of the Community College Leadership Program at UT-Austin. "The bottom line is, no matter who was doing the evaluating--students, deans, or peers--the evaluations of adjuncts were as good as those of full-time faculty," he says.


So, what's the problem? For one thing, say opponents, classroom teaching isn't the only function of an instructor; when adjuncts don't have offices to meet with students, or are racing from campus to campus, the quality of education suffers.

Impact on students. Because adjunct instructors usually are not given offices, they cannot be as effective in after-class guidance as are full-time faculty. "Ultimately, the students suffer," Horowitz says. "How can you go to an adjunct and ask for a letter of recommendation? These people aren't participating in campus meetings; a lot of them don't know what's going on. I spoke to one part-timer at NYU who said, 'They handed me a key and sent me to a room number, and that was it.'

"Students should be able to find a professor they can meet with, who knows about other programs at the university, who considers herself part of the institution," says Horowitz. "That's what you're supposed to get for your money. Students are missing part of the package they're paying for. They're not getting their money's worth."

Lesko agrees. "The American populace hasn't latched onto the implications of having someone who's teaching freshman comp also teaching six other classes," she says. "It's pretty hard for that person to devote the time he needs, to teaching."

Impact on institutions. Larry Gerber, an associate professor of History at Auburn and national vice president of the American Association of University Professors (representing 45,000 professors nationwide), worries that this trend will de-professionalize higher education. "Adjuncts are thought of as disposables. In essence, it's undermining the assumption we've had that higher education should be entrusted to professionals, and all that that entails," he says. "I'm not saying it's simple, because there are economic pressures. But you can't let economic pressure undermine the quality of our higher education system, which has been one of the strengths of our entire economy."

Many opponents note that it's unfair for administrators to cut back on faculty when they don't take the same hit themselves. In 2001, administrator pay grew 4.7 percent, according to annual survey the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources (

Impact on Adjuncts. Horowitz believes that at least one-third of adjuncts are "roads scholars," cobbling together a fulltime career by teaching part-time at several colleges. And though adjuncts may be paid $3,000 to $4,000 a course, that figure can be as low as $1,000 in some parts of the country. "You have to teach basically three times what's considered a full-time job, and even then you make only $25,000 a year," says Lesko.

And since they have no guaranteed employment, adjuncts can be fired for speaking out on controversial topics, or for other unfair reasons. A number of adjuncts have been dropped by their colleges for participating in labor union activities, Horowitz says. Although it's illegal to fire someone for union activity, proving that would be very difficult, he adds. "They may have taught for a number of years, but suddenly they just aren't invited back."

Impact on higher education. The most serious issue, say insiders, is that the growing use of adjuncts threatens one of the cornerstones of American higher education: academic freedom.

"If adjuncts grade tough and students complain, or if they say something controversial, they may not be asked back," says Horowitz. This may an issue, as well, for full-timers without tenure. But with so many vulnerable adjuncts, a college will eventually find itself dominated by a system that no longer protects free speech, he says. "Whether the university actually does these things almost doesn't matter," says Horowitz. "It's that the adjuncts have a fear of it"--and behave accordingly.


As adjuncts command a larger presence on campuses, labor unions are pushing to organize them. In July, about 4,000 adjuncts at NYU voted to join the United Auto Workers (currently, the American Federation of Teachers has more adjunct members than any other union). Both the UAW and the AFT have made inroads improving conditions for their members, and this summer, the AFT issued a set of standards for adjuncts, including equitable pay, office space, paid office hours, and a seniority system for job security. A fair wage is the crucial issue, however.

"The salary schedule should be proportionate to that of a full-time professor," says Horowitz. "And for every class an adjunct teaches, an amount should be set aside for benefits and office hours."

But that would negate the entire point of hiring adjuncts--saving money, Roueche maintains. "If you double what adjuncts are paid, you'll have to cut your class offerings in half," he says.

At the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, enrollment this fall grew by 10 percent over 2001, while 10 percent of the faculty retired last spring in an early-retirement program. At the same time, the state chopped the budget, with more cuts to come. While the school doesn't like to hire too many adjuncts, it has no choice, says Richard J. Panofsky, associate vice chancellor for academic affairs. The university pays an assistant professor $47,796 for a three-course teaching load per semester, and adjuncts are much cheaper. But Panofsky says the school does its best to treat adjuncts welt. It pays $3,000 per course to adjuncts, as part of a negotiated union contract. "We just can't afford to pay pro rata," he says.

Still, it's incorrect to frame the issue purely as one of money, says Horowitz. One of the AFT's primary demands for its union members is office space (even if shared) so that adjuncts can hold office hours to meet with students. And there are ways to compensate adjuncts, such as giving them first choice to teach courses they've taught in the past, inviting them to attend department meetings, and giving them tuition waivers for their children.


Despite the economic advantages of hiring adjuncts, some university leaders are resisting the temptation to take advantage of them. At Bates College (ME), the 44 part-time lecturers are paid pro rata to their 203 full-time colleagues. They are provided with offices, computers, and staff support; are eligible for tenure; and even those who aren't looking for full-time employment get three- to five-year commitments from the college. They're also expected to participate, pro rata, in college service.

"We want really good people here who are committed to teaching, even if they're here for just one course. We want them to be available to students," says Pamela Baker, associate dean of faculty. Of course, students at Bates are willing to pay top dollar for this experience: tuition, room, and board run $37,000 a year. But at a smart liberal arts college, faculty and student interaction is a critical part of the experience, agrees Robert Entzminger, provost and dean at Hendrix College in Arkansas. That's one reason parents and students accept the higher tuition and other costs, he says.

"Academic piecework is very different From what a full-time faculty member provides," Entzminger insists. Although Hendrix, like many private institutions, has been hurt by the economy and finds its endowment shrinking, it won't succumb to the lure of more adjuncts, he says. "You don't get the advising, the committee service, the quality of education. I'm not saying adjuncts aren't good--many are superlative. But you simply can't ask them to do all the kinds of things that full-time faculty routinely do, in addition to teaching and research."

And at Auburn, the History department's full-time faculty has made a commitment to minimizing the impact of the adjunct trend. The department hires only full-time instructors, although a handful (four in a department of 26 full-time professors) is on one-year contracts. These temporary instructors are paid $5,000 to $6,000 per course, a good deal more than typical adjunct pay. As a result, some history classes are larger than ideal, but that's the price to be paid for treating faculty fairly, Auburn's Gerber believes.

For now, though, because of the economic realities, the adjunct trend is unlikely to change on any real scale, says Lesko, "not unless students and parents realize it's a problem in terms of the quality of education offered to undergraduates--and really make noise about it."

On the other hand, one-third to one-half of full-time faculty are expected to retire in the next five to 10 years, so there will be more faculty openings than have been seen in a long time, notes Roueche. How many of these will be filled by full-time professors remains to be seen.

RELATED ARTICLE: Fair treatment for adjuncts.

This summer at its annual meeting, the AFT approved the resolution, Standards of Good Practice in the Employment of Part-time/Adjunct Faculty. Intended as a guideline for fair treatment of adjuncts, it is to be presented by the AFT to legislatures, governors, boards of trustees, and others. Primary recommendations include:

Employment Standards

* Part-time faculty should be hired under the same procedures and with the same care as other faculty members.

* A probationary period should be set for the evaluation of part-timers, after which they wi11 achieve a form of job security.

* Upon completion of probation, adjunct faculty should be placed on a seniority schedule

* Once seniority has been achieved part-time instructors should only be subject to non-reappointment if the courses taught are not being offered, or for cause, utilizing due-process protections.

* All faculty should have the right to order their own texts and design their own courses, unless these are department decisions. If hook selection and course design are conducted by the department, adjuncts should be included in the decision-making process.

Standards of Professional Responsibility and Support

* All faculty should receive an orientation after their hiring regarding university services, expectations, curriculum, and governance structure.

* Adjuncts should have a right to express preferences regarding course schedules and locations.

* Part-time faculty should be supplied with office space and should have paid office hours to meet with students.

* Part-time faculty who have achieved seniority should be invited to participate in departmental meetings and other committees, with voting privileges, and should be compensated for doing so.

* Part-time faculty should be provided with secretarial and technological support as well as access to campus libraries and other privileges afforded full-time faculty.

* Part-time faculty should have opportunities and financial support to participate in conferences and workshops for their professional development, to apply for grants and sabbaticals and to participate in tuition-support programs.

Elaine McArdle is a freelance writer based in Massachusetts.
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Author:McArdle, Elaine
Publication:University Business
Date:Dec 1, 2002
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