Adjunct professors fight for equality

By Liz Lavin
March 27, 2008

amy butler/photo staff

No job security, no benefits and pay that has been referred to as a “poverty wage.”

Sounds like a job a college student would hold, right? Wrong.

The people employed in these jobs are on college campuses but not as students. They are adjunct instructors, instructors who teach part-time and colleges across the nation rely on them every year so they can offer a variety of courses and keep their classrooms full.

Technically, adjunct instructors do not work full-time for the institutions that employ them; therefore they are not eligible for the higher salary and benefits their full-time counterparts receive.

There are approximately 500,000 adjunct instructors employed by higher-education institutes around the country, according to Keith Hoeller, co-founder of the Washington Part-Time Faculty Association and member of the American Association of University Professors.

Hoeller and other adjunct instructors across the country, including Doug Collins and Dana Rush, two adjunct professors in Washington, have started a fight for equal treatment for adjuncts; their argument is they do an equal amount of work as their full-time, tenured counterparts, so they should receive equal treatment.

In any other profession, two people doing the same job would be paid the same without question, Collins said. “For some reason, in academia, [unequal pay] is tolerated. We do the same work as our colleagues but we do not get equally compensated.”

When Collins first started teaching as an adjunct, he says it did not take long for him to realize that the union did not have his best interest in mind. When it comes to the full-time, tenured faculty’s interests over the interests of adjuncts, “nine times out of 10 the union will come down on the side of the full-timers,” he said.

Rush agreed, citing the union as the major roadblock in the way of better treatment for adjuncts.

“The union continues to tell us that we have representation with the people they have picked to represent us,” he said. However, “they have not been representing us fairly and the evidence is the current situation we’re in.”

Rush cited one example of the “current situation” of adjuncts. One of his adjunct positions is at a community college; his salary when he started there in 1992 was $13,000. During his years there he has taught three-quarters of a full-time, tenured faculty’s teaching load, yet he is now making $21,000, giving him a raise of $500 a year.

“If I was paid at a pro-rated share of my tenured colleagues’ rate, I would be making $36,000,” he said. “The concern is that we’re not only being short-changed for our salaries, we’re being short-changed for our future, for our retirement accounts and social security.”

According to Rush, adjunct instructors are also unwilling to compromise with the union because their unfair treatment extends past a smaller salary and no benefits. In one situation, the union claimed responsibility for an improvement made solely by Hoeller.

As part of an adjunct instructors’ contract, their accrued sick leave evaporates at the end of each semester they teach.

Hoeller wrote a bill enabling adjuncts to accrue their sick leave through all of their time teaching, so when they retire they have the option to sell it, an option that is given to full-time faculty.

Because Hoeller is one of the few adjunct instructors in the union, the union took credit for the bill, claiming it was an improvement that had come through because of the union’s involvement.

According to Collins, the fight for equal treatment is about more than money. Adjuncts have no job security because their job is not guaranteed from year to year.

“Job security and pay go hand-in-hand,” he said. “Adjuncts get stuck in a rut because if you speak up for higher pay, you’ll just lose your job.”

Adjunct instructors have seen a “15 percent improvement in the pay gap between adjuncts and full-time faculty in the past decade and that’s just not enough,” said Rush.

“If that’s the trend, it’ll take us at least 50 to 70 years to close the gap and some of us are too close to the end of our careers to wait for baby steps.”

Liz Lavin

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