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Teaching on the cheap

Colleges and universities lean heavily on part-time faculty.


Pulaski Tech image

College students heading back to the classroom this fall are probably unaware that many of their instructors are adjunct, or part-time, faculty. These faculty members are held to the same standards and requirements as their full-time counterparts, but are paid much less and do not receive benefits.

Adjuncts are a college's "sweatshop labor force," said a former adjunct instructor for Pulaski Tech, who is now a full-time faculty member at another Arkansas institution of higher education. She asked to remain anonymous to avoid jeopardizing her employment. She said colleges and universities exploit adjuncts.

"It's a strange conflict," she said. "The rate of pay is so low, the only way to make a living is to teach an obscene amount of classes. Adjuncts accept that only because they have to. They are expected to give a top-notch education and not get paid a lot. It's a problem that people don't want to talk about, but there should be an outcry."

Like full-time faculty, adjuncts must have at least a master's degree, said Brandi Hinkle, Arkansas Department of Higher Education communications coordinator. For technical or industrial classes, instructors may have other types of certifications or licenses, according to Tim Jones, public relations and marketing director at Pulaski Technical College.

"We would like to have more full-time faculty, but we are not funded at the level we need to be to maintain them," Jones said.  

Hinkle said the process for hiring and evaluating all faculty types is up to an institution's individual department. Administrators at the University of Central Arkansas, the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and PTC said their processes are the same for adjunct and full-time instructors.

The adjunct this reporter talked to told a different story. She said her first semester as an adjunct she was asked via e-mail to teach 12 hours, "sight unseen," after the department chair reviewed her resume. There was no job interview or teaching demonstration, which was required when she received her full-time position.

"Schools are pretty desperate to fill a bunch of sections very cheaply," she said. "Education is a consumer's market. It's about how much money we can get from how many students."

Adjuncts are paid considerably less than full-time faculty, who are paid annual salaries based on classification. Adjuncts receive a flat fee per class. No Arkansas institution offers benefits or tenure to adjuncts.

Full-time annual salaries average $43,000 for instructors to $85,000 for tenured professors at UALR; $42,100 for instructors to $78,800 for full professors at UCA, and from about $37,000 to $66,000 at PTC. (PTC does not have classifications or tenured positions for full-time faculty.)

Adjuncts are paid per class — $2,600 at UALR, $2,500 at UCA and $2,025 at PTC — or about half the full-time faculty pay.

Despite the large pay disparity, the former adjunct instructor said adjuncts work just as hard as full-time faculty, if not harder. As an adjunct, she said, she taught a combined 18 hours a semester at several different schools and worked about 80 hours a week preparing for class, assisting students, grading and teaching.

"It's an insane amount of work and pretty grueling. Adjuncts have to work harder to prove themselves," she said.

At Pulaski Tech, adjuncts teach about half the classes offered, said Jones. PTC's official policy is to limit all instructors to five classes a semester, but exceptions can be requested, he said.

Both UALR and UCA limit adjuncts to two classes a semester. Full-time faculty usually teach four classes a semester. UCA adjuncts teach 13 percent of classes offered, and UALR adjuncts teach 17 percent of classes, school spokesmen said.

UALR Interim Provost Sandra Robertson said that because of "superior budget" and steady enrollment, there hasn't been a significant increase in adjuncts over the past several years at UALR.

Adjuncts often do not get "a lot of respect behind closed doors" from full-time faculty and administrators who should be supporting them, the former adjunct said. She said department heads often "brushed off" any concerns or complaints she expressed when she was an adjunct, unless it involved cases of cheating.

Ruthann Curry Browne, a theater adjunct at UCA and Hendrix College for eight years, said often adjuncts have more professional work experience in their teaching field than full-time faculty.

"People sometimes think we're not professionals," said Browne, also a professional director and actress. "I love that I can bring a real-world experience, not just book learning."

Not all adjuncts complain.

"I know the pay isn't great, but the nonmonetary benefits make it worth it," says Mark Isbell, a Composition II adjunct at UALR. "The low pay doesn't change how hard we work." 

Isbell also works full-time on his family's rice farm. He says teaching gives him an "important balance" and he enjoys the opportunity to interact with students.

Some adjuncts are professionals who teach for personal fulfillment, Robertson said. For example, Dr. Kaleem Sayyed, a neurology and histology adjunct at UALR, was a full-time instructor in UALR's biology department who became an adjunct after he took a full-time job with the Veterans Administration. He teaches classes that might have otherwise been discontinued. "I love to teach," Sayyed said.

Many others teach at several institutions, hoping to someday land a full-time position, but the possibility is rare. Robertson said fewer than one percent of adjuncts are hired full time at UALR. PTC and UCA do not track the rate.

"I'm not an adjunct by choice," Browne said. "I would love to be full time if the possibility is there but I recognize the reality."

The former adjunct instructor said she has seen many instances where adjuncts are overlooked when full-time positions open up. She recognizes that her transition from adjunct to full-time is uncommon.

The instructor said she always wanted a career in higher education and a love of teaching kept her going, despite the "horrible pay." Now full-time, she is able to make more money teaching fewer classes at just one school. She also receives benefits, but does not have tenure.

An instructor for 11 years, she said people who work outside of higher education often don't understand the situation of adjunct faculty. "People think, 'you're a college professor; you should be doing well,' " she said.

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