All about adjuncts

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Illustration by Erin Carpenter.

Part-time professors cope with lower pay, fewer benefits

By Mackenzie Clark

Adjunct professors at the college, as well as at colleges and universities nationwide, face many issues and must decide whether teaching is worth it to them.

The title “adjunct” means a part-time professor who typically teaches no more than 10 credit hours per semester, whereas full time professors teach anywhere between 12 and 15. However, adjunct salaries do not necessarily reflect this change in credit hours. One of the biggest issues at the college is that these discrepancies are not spelled out in the contract adjuncts sign, and finding information about the contracts can be difficult.

“Human resources, you would think, is the natural, obvious place to go, but it just depends on the day and the person on how much information you get sometimes,” said Irene Schmidt, adjunct professor of Spanish. “There’s a lot of people with a lot of ill-conceived ideas, incorrect information and there is no centralized place where you can find out all this stuff.”

Upon hiring, Schmidt said, many are given a contract and simply told to read, sign and return it. Without some investigation, the contracts are difficult to interpret and do not really give much detail, she said.

Also not mentioned in the contracts are the benefits, which part-time faculty will receive. Like most part-time positions, adjuncts receive no health insurance or dental plan, which is particularly difficult for those who depend on part-time teaching positions at several institutions.

“I didn’t go to a doctor for ten years,” said Susie Sympson, associate adjunct professor of psychology. “We don’t have health insurance, we have no benefits. We can use the childcare center, and we can get reimbursement if we take a class. But my kids are grown, so it doesn’t help me for dependents.”

For many adjuncts, one of the biggest issues is their salaries. Pay increases nominally depending on how many semesters the adjunct has taught at the college, up to 11 semesters, and depends on the educational degree of the adjunct. At a maximum of 11 or more semesters taught with a doctorate degree, adjuncts make $993 per credit hour. Teaching 10 credit hours, that means they would make $9,930 per semester, or $29,790 teaching fall, spring, and summer semesters, whereas a full-time professor under the same circumstances can make up to $102,295 per year.

“I’m a good teacher, you know, but it’s really ridiculous that if I was not with someone, I could not live,” Sympson said. “I could not pay rent, buy gas and food and utilities, and work here.”

Judy Korb, executive vice president of human resources, said full-time professors are charged with greater responsibility toward the college and their departments.

“Full time faculty are expected to do some additional committee-type assignments, and there are always things that need to be done outside of the classroom than actually just teaching, so there are things like curriculum development, or serving on committees across the college,” Korb said. “We have adjuncts who volunteer and participate [serving committees], but it’s not actually a requirement of their job.”

However, counselor Jeff Anderson said this can make it easier for full-time professors to develop connections on campus.

“In my counseling role, when I’m talking to a student and recommending classes for them to take for the coming semester, or we’re talking about instructors I would recommend for the coming semester, I would likely recommend the full-time people over the part-time people because I know them,” Anderson said. “I have a connection to them, whereas the adjunct people, I just don’t know who they are.”

In addition, the adjunct contract includes a notice that “employment under this contract will not automatically be renewed for the next semester or school year.” This means that adjuncts teaching, for example, in the fall semester can not assume they will be teaching in the spring. They are considered temporary part-time employees.

“We never know [if we will have a job next semester],” Schmidt said. “It’s an at-will employment. It’s like you hire a plumber for your house and you may call him back again and you may not, ever.”

There are many other issues adjuncts must deal with, but Sympson said, for many, the love of their job and their students keeps them coming back.

“I teach because that is what I’m supposed to do,” Sympson said. “I am good at it, passionate about psychology and teaching. I really do love my students. That is why I am involved in so many different clubs, organizations, and committees. But I do these things because I am a professor, it is part of my chosen field, but all of it is volunteer, no compensation. It’s very disheartening, and you feel abused.”

Contact Mackenzie Clark, features editor, at mclark68@jccc.edu.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Although I knew that adjuncts were part-time professors, I never gave thought to the challenges they have to face. It’s important to learn about the discrepancies between the two, and be provided with this type of information. Without having the knowledge, there isn’t opportunity for things to improve. I hope that this serves as a good step towards bringing positive change.

  2. You might have mentioned adjuncts constitute nearly two-thirds of the faculty and teach well over 50% of the credit hours. This is quite a bargain for the college. Also note that adjuncts take all the risk. If a class does not meet minimum enrollment that adjunct is out of that work. No risk for the college.

    For some reason the state of Kansas will not allow adjuncts to be part of the union, the teacher’s bargaining unit.

    Students are the one getting hurt. The college should be embarrassed to take advantage in this way.

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