Opinions, Editorials

The State Of Adjunct Faculty

There are three tiers of faculty in modern academia—full-time, tenure-track faculty; full-time, non-tenure-track faculty; and part-time faculty. Tenure-track faculty members—assistant, associate, and (full) professors—are hired and promoted based on their research output, their teaching, and their service to universities through membership on committees. Non-tenure-track faculty members—assistant, associate, and (full) professors of the practice, as well as lecturers and senior lecturers—are hired primarily to teach, but they also participate in the service component. Part-time faculty members—lecturers, senior lecturers, and adjunct professors—are hired on a per-class basis to handle temporary manpower shortages.

Recently, adjunct faculty members across the country have expressed their discontent with the conditions of employment. The pay is low, the benefits scant, and the job security virtually nonexistent. This has become problematic as universities have reduced the positions for tenure-track faculty and replaced them with non-tenure-track and adjunct positions. Nationwide, only one-fourth of faculty members at the end of 2013 were tenure-track, as opposed to one-third in 1995, according to The New York Times. Adjunct faculty members at colleges across the U.S. have responded with attempts to unionize, achieving success at Tufts and Georgetown universities, among others.

At Boston College, there are approximately 570 faculty members paid on a part-time schedule, excluding field nurses, teachers, and social workers, who are paid a stipend to supervise BC students on practicums. Many of the 570 are specialists in law, nursing, and business, who teach a course or two at BC, but are employed full time elsewhere. Those part-time faculty members who do not have full-time employment elsewhere find an environment at BC that is more hospitable than at most universities. At an average of $6,000 per class, BC pays adjuncts more than double the national rate for a three-credit class. The University gives adjuncts raises based on the number of classes taught at BC, and after teaching four classes per year for five years, adjuncts are eligible for medical and dental insurance.

Even teaching four classes per year, though, adjuncts at BC only receive on average a salary of $24,000 per year, which is not a living wage in Boston, where the cost of living is high. As a result, many adjuncts also teach classes at other area colleges, which is only possible in cities like Boston with many universities.

The situation of adjunct faculty nationwide is also detrimental to the students taught by these part-time faculty. Those adjunct professors who must split their time between schools in order to support themselves have less time outside of class for counseling and advising their students.

Universities justify their use of part-time faculty by claiming that they need the flexibility that faculty on a one-semester contract offer. Full-time non-tenure-track faculty, however, are generally employed on short-term contracts. At BC, these contracts are for three years—not so long that colleges lack the time to adjust for changing student demand for different majors, as these changes usually happen over time.

This trend toward employing more adjunct faculty members, while decreasing the number of tenure-track faculty members, is detrimental to higher education. Inevitably, some students will have professors who, while trying to make a living, are not around for long enough to be as effective as they could be. Students seeking higher education deserve to be taught and mentored by faculty members who have the time to devote to the students. The faculty members deserve a way to make a decent livelihood. Although it is reasonable that universities want to budget their resources effectively, using adjunct faculty instead of full-time professors—whether tenure-track or non-tenure-track—is not the right way to do so.

November 2, 2014