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The use and abuse of adjunct faculty in theology.

Abstract

The difficulties experienced by many adjunct faculty can only be overcome when we convince others that the use and abuse of part-time instructors affects everyone on campus. Unless we persuade others of the severity of these problems, we cannot expect administrators to make programmatic, financial and structural changes. We must confront administration by naming our concerns, identifying specific needs and offering creative solutions. We also need to remind ourselves of the many girls we bring to our students and the campus. [1]

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Clearly there is a problem. It has been well established that adjunct faculty often face issues of low pay, lack of office space, few or no benefits, exclusion from full-time faculty meetings, high class loads, few materials, lack of continued education, lack of respect, lack of job stability.... the list goes on and on. According to the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), in 1970, 22 percent of all university faculty were adjuncts. Now more than 46 percent of college teachers describe themselves as part-timers or adjunct faculty. [2] In the past three years I taught as an adjunct, twelve different classes--many of them outside my own specialty--at five different institutions. I shared office space, received low pay and traveled over one hour each way to teach a night class at a local community college where the class loads far exceed the ideal number. Currently I am working full-time as the Associate Director of the Niebuhr Center at Elmhurst College. However, I continue to teach part-time as an adjunct faculty member in the theology and religion department.

When faced with the overwhelming troubles of adjunct teaching, it is important to focus on an often-overlooked question. Whose problem is it anyway? The obvious answer is that the use and abuse of adjunct faculty in theology affects everyone: administration, full-time faculty, staff, the adjuncts and students. Many are aware of some of the problems that challenge adjunct faculty, however, it appears as if these issues are not a primary concern for any of these groups. I propose change will only occur when the use and abuse of adjunct faculty becomes a central issue for everyone.

Are administrators concerned about the use and abuse of adjunct faculty? Sometimes. In some places, administrators do tackle adjunct issues. Some administrators, such as department chairpersons, also have teaching responsibilities and work alongside adjunct instructors. This type of administrator may be more aware of issues that are important to part-time instructors. Other administrators may have little contact with adjunct faculty. And while I understand that I am generalizing, it does seem that for some administrators, adjuncts are the answer to far different problems. For example, Paul Parker, chairperson of the theology and religion department at Elmhurst College claims, "that by hiring more and new adjuncts (though without increasing the number of sections) I am enabled to diversify the faculty in a way I could not otherwise." (P. Parker, personal communication: telephone, October 3, 2003) And for some administrators, since adjunct faculty provide solutions to the current financial crisis, the problems that result from utilizing part-time faculty are worth it. The benefits of hiring adjunct faculty literally--outweigh the costs. However, the relationship of administrators to adjunct faculty may be more complicated than it first appears. As Richard Fulton notes, college and university administrators get most of the blame for creating and continuing the practice of overusing and abusing part-time faculty. [3] Fulton also points to Martin Napersteck's work who claims, "Many of the part-time advocates assume that administrators are abusing the working poor" and that in the case of a budget crisis, such faculty "can be dropped from the payroll at the stroke of a vice-presidential pen." [4] Thus, administrators may be viewed negatively by adjuncts or at the very least understood as focused only on the budget rather than on the needs of people.

From another angle, do adjunct issues worry full-time faculty? In my experience working as an adjunct in two community colleges and three four-year institutions, adjunct issues are of concern to full-time faculty. However, full-time instructors I interviewed self-reported that focus on their teaching, writing and race on the tenure track meant they had little time to address adjunct issues. I asked the full-time faculty of the theology department at my school to gather for an informal conversation about this topic. However, concerns important to adjunct faculty didn't seem to raise any eyebrows. The full-time faculty were not uninformed or uncaring; it appeared as if they just didn't have time to tackle these issues.

Full-time faculty may assume that some adjuncts are in temporary positions and will get a full-time teaching position soon. Others might believe that we are adjuncts because we are second-rate scholars. Full-time faculty point to their extensive research and the numbers of articles they have published without considering the impact of poor working conditions upon the scholarship of adjunct faculty. Barbara Ramusack notes "there is a growing disparity in the research and publication achievements of these two segments of the professoriate." [5] It is difficult to do research, publish and teach in two or three institutions at the same time. And as Jill Carroll points out "many full-timers are simply ignorant of the scholarship that adjuncts do manage to produce despite the lack of support." [6] At some institutions adjunct faculty are encouraged to attend faculty functions. Even then, adjuncts often feel like the distant relative that is invited to the holiday dinner--but not really treated as family. For example, this year I was invited to the faculty Christmas party that is scheduled immediately following the December faculty meeting, but I am not expected to attend the actual faculty meeting itself. This dualism of being included and excluded continues the split between adjunct and full-time faculty. As noted by David Moberg, faculty are sympathetic, but often feel toward adjuncts much as they do in encounters with the homeless, wanting to give them something but feeling relatively powerless to change lives. [7]

Do adjunct issues affect staff?. Often it is the support staff of an institution that bridge the known and the unknown for an adjunct instructor. Support staff are the first ones we call with our unending questions. As Richard Lyons notes it is "the administrative assistant who supports each decision maker. She is probably grounded in everything of any consequence that impacts the operation, and if properly treated has the potential to help eliminate barriers to your success." [8] The administrative assistant at one school indicated that it is her job to provide adjuncts with resources, space to work, a mailbox, etc. She even gives tours of the campus to new adjunct faculty. This suggests that staff may use a large portion of their time addressing the needs of part-time instructors.

What about the academy? Are adjunct issues addressed within the American Academy of Religion? It seems we have only begun to address issues of adjunct teaching. There have also been articles published within the Religious Studies News and The Chronicle for Higher Education that examine the use and abuse of adjunct instructors. However, we have a long way to go. We may be a part of the academy, but our interests continue to be labeled "special topics". How might we broaden this venue to include administrators and full-time faculty? When will this topic become a "regular" part of research and scholarship? And importantly, we must not fail to ask--do adjunct issues concern the students? Yes and No. Overall, students are aware of some of the differences between full-time and adjunct faculty. For example, students recognize that often, adjunct faculty do not have their own office or a meeting space for student conferences. However, I am not convinced that students are well informed about the many problems facing adjuncts. How do students learn about this situation? After all, it would be unprofessional for adjuncts to lecture to each class about the use and abuse of adjunct faculty at their own institutions.

So, whose problem is this? Adjuncts seem to be the only ones taking these issues seriously. I think change will only occur when adjuncts are able to convince others that the problems for adjunct faculty reach much further than the lowest rung of the academy. How might adjuncts continue to evoke change while inviting others to become interested and invested in this important discussion? I suggest that adjuncts must challenge administrators and full-time faculty members of the colleges and the academy in four key ways.

First, we must keep administration informed about the current situation of adjunct faculty. It seems that more often than not we assume the state of adjunct faculty is static, as if the problems of adjunct faculty remain the same year after year. The pay remains low, there is never enough space, et cetera. However, in many institutions this is not true. For example, pay scales and space issues are reviewed regularly. Thus, it is very important for adjuncts to express their needs to administration. Admittedly, this is not always easy. One does not want to appear as unappreciative or as a compulsive complainer. And having the recommendations accepted is just the first step. Convincing those in power to actually make changes is more difficult. Yet, I think many administrators would value regular input about these important issues. One might argue in response to this suggestion that in reality, budgetary limitations make change almost impossible. The problem as Fulton notes is that we have hit the " bottom-of-the-barrel realities" [9] Administrators will never make substantial changes unless funding is increased. However, some of the needs of adjuncts can be addressed without heavily impacting the budget. For example, at some schools office space can be provided, parking spaces allocated and invitations extended to faculty meetings.

Secondly, adjuncts can ask chairpersons of the department to address their concerns. This too can at first appear as politically damaging. Adjuncts are always on the edge of their seat waiting to be asked to teach another class. Yet, if concerns are presented in a professional manner and specific and creative solutions offered, department chairpersons may be willing to work with us. Jill Carroll claims that, "Sometimes all it takes is an appeal from one adjunct--or even better, from several--to raise the awareness of a problem." [10] We must stand up for ourselves. As Carroll writes "Some things we should get regardless of adjunct status simply because we can't otherwise do our job: adequate classrooms, space to hold office hours, a mailbox, access to a telephone, copying privileges, basic office supplies, and vehicle parking are not even 'perks' - they are job necessities." [11] Carroll even goes on to say that, "adjuncts shouldn't even sign the contract if those things aren't provided, unless of course they aren't provided to the full-time faculty members either." [12] Yet, we must be careful to remain professional at all times--or we may put our jobs at risk. We want to be viewed as "reasonable, convincing and deserving, not as whining, griping, or threatening." [13]

Third, we need to be involved in the life of the college and the academy in order to establish relationships. This, I think, is a primary key in bringing about change. It may be true that we are members of a faculty, but our presence on each campus continues to be minimalized or ignored. I know that I have often felt invisible. It is also easy to think of ourselves as temporary employees. This leads to a lack of engagement with the community. Why should we get involved if we'll be leaving soon? Few of us have the spare time to be attending yet another meeting. However, at committee and board meetings full-time faculty members work together, discuss ideas and generally fight to get things done. Only when we become involved in the running of the college or university will we become regular members of the discussion. Thus, I think it helpful for adjuncts to volunteer to be on one committee or board to share expertise and ideas, as one of the family.

For example, as an adjunct I began to regularly attend the Faculty Women's Caucus. I began to get to know the full-time faculty and they began to learn about me; to become familiar with my work and my areas of specialization. Jill Carroll claims that when it comes to scholarship we should "blow our own horns about [our] work". [14] She suggests submitting announcements of our accomplishments to the campus newsletter. Just being on campus more can also make a difference. By grading papers or preparing for class in a visible area of the department other faculty members are more likely to engage us in conversation, which may lead to other opportunities. I think it likely this process worked for me. I was invited to apply for my current position as a full-time administrator (with adjunct teaching responsibilities) after spending a semester making myself "visible" and available for conversation with full-time theology faculty. Of course, there is certainly no guarantee that making oneself more visible will lead to a full-time job. It is more likely that this will not occur. However, participating in campus life will help to make others aware of our unique situations, including any difficulties we experience as an adjunct faculty member.

Finally, I suggest that as adjuncts we must remind ourselves of our own worth. It is difficult to work under these conditions. Yet, each of us have worked very hard within our respective fields to reach this point in our careers. Our impact on students should not be underestimated. Despite challenging working conditions, we are good teachers and scholars. It is important to be conscious of our own gifts rather than always looking at ourselves through the eyes of others. Sometimes we need to remind ourselves, and others, of the gifts we bring to college settings. The use and abuse of adjunct faculty is a problem that affects everyone on campus. Change can occur and improvements can be made in the working conditions for part-time instructors. As Donald Grieve asks "Is in not time that we abandon the traditional institutional acceptance of the bifurcated faculty? Rather than a divided faculty should we not have 'one faculty'? [15] To reach this goal, we must share with administrators and full-time faculty our gifts, talents and resources in addition to our need for better pay, office space, benefits, etc. Then, the future can be shaped by all of us--to the benefit of everyone.

Endnotes

[1] A version of this paper was presented at the November 2003 American Academy of Religion Conference in Atlanta, Georgia.

[2] David Moberg, "Road scholars; Adjunct profs are like academic serfs, handling more of the teaching load, getting little in return", in the Chicago Tribune, April 30, 2002, p.1.

[3] Richard D. Fulton, "The Plight of Part-timers in Higher Education: Some Ruminations and Suggestions" in Change, Vol. 32, no. 3, May / June 2000, p. 29.

[4] Martin Naparsteck, "The Working Poor on Campus", The Chronicle of Higher Education, April 10, 1998, p. B 6, as quoted in Richard D. Fulton, "The Plight of Part-timers in Higher Education: Some Ruminations and Suggestions" in Change, Vol. 32, no. 3, May / June 2000, pp. 29.

[5] Barbara N. Ramusack, "Good Practices and Common Goals: The Conference on Part-Time and Adjunct Faculty" in Perspectives, January 1998, p. 2. http://www.theha.org/perspectives/issues/1998

[6] Jill Carroll, "How to Be One of the Gang When You're Not" in the Chronicle of Higher Education, February 18, 2002, p.1.

[7] David Moberg, "Road scholars; Adjunct profs are like academic serfs, handling more of the teaching load, getting little in return", in the Chicago Tribune, April 30, 2002, p.2.

[8] Lyons, Richard E., Marcella L. Kysilka and George E. Pawlas, The Adjunct Professors's Guide to Success, Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1999, p. 19.

[9] Richard D. Fulton, "The Plight of Part-timers in Higher Education: Some Ruminations and Suggestions" in Change, Vol. 32, no. 3, May / June 2000, p. 30.

[10] Jill Carroll, "Negotiating Perks: Getting More of What You Want" in the Chronicle of Higher Education, March 15, 2002, p.2.

[11] Ibid., p.1.

[12] Ibid., p.2.

[13] Ibid., p.2.

[14] Jill Carroll, "How to Be One of the Gang When You're Not" in the Chronicle of Higher Education, February 18, 2002, p.2.

[15] Grieve, Donald E and Catherine A. Worden, eds., Managing Adjunct & Part-time Faculty for the New Millennium, Elyria, Ohio: Info-Tec, 2000, p. 40.

References

Carroll, Jill, "How to Be One of the Gang When You're Not" in the Chronicle of Higher Education, February 18, 2002.

--, "Negotiating Perks: Getting More of What You Want" in the Chronicle of Higher Education, March 15, 2002.

Fulton, Richard D., "The Plight of Part-timers in Higher Education: Some Ruminations and Suggestions" in Change, Vol. 32, no. 3, May / June 2000, pp. 28-43.

Grieve, Donald E and Catherine A. Worden, eds., Managing Adjunct & Part-time Faculty for the New Millennium, Elyria, Ohio: Info-Tec, 2000.

Lyons, Richard E., Marcella L. Kysilka and George E. Pawlas, The Adjunct Professors's Guide to Success, Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1999.

Moberg, David, "Road scholars; Adjunct profs are like academic serfs, handling more of the teaching load, getting little in return", in the Chicago Tribune, April 30, 2002, p.1.

Ramusack, Barbara N., "Good Practices and Common Goals: The Conference on Part-Time and Adjunct Faculty" in Perspectives, January 1998, http://www.theha. org/perspectives/issues/1998

Julie J. Kilmer, Elmhurst College

Kilmer is the Associate Director of the Niebuhr Center. She is also a Ph.D. candidate in theology at Chicago Theological Seminary.
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Author:Kilmer, Julie J.
Publication:Academic Exchange Quarterly
Date:Mar 22, 2004
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