My Turn: Poor pay, conditions for community college faculty
Imagine a community college system where most of the professors earn less in a year than the maintenance staff. Imagine a community college system that responded to a state cut in funding by giving its administrators huge pay increases.
Welcome to the Community College System of New Hampshire.
The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that the teachers at New Hampshire’s community colleges are the lowest-paid faculty in New England, and among the lowest in the whole country. According to CCSNH records, 77 percent – well over 1,000 people – of the system’s faculty are adjunct professors. Most of these adjuncts barely earn a living wage.
I am an adjunct English professor at NHTI in Concord. Adjuncts are hired one semester at a time to teach specific courses. We receive no pension, no health care, no benefits and have zero job security. We often receive our teaching contracts only a few days before the semester begins. We don’t have offices, so our students have a hard time connecting with us outside of class.
Although we have advanced degrees, we can teach a full load of college courses and make less than $20,000 a year. We teach the lion’s share of the courses; without us the state’s community college system could not function.
In its recent “Information for Elected Officials” handout, the Community College System of New Hampshire states: “Our focus is on teaching, learning, and providing the support students need to achieve.” The most important people in any school
– other than the students themselves – are the teachers. Yet the actions of the community college leadership show a distinct lack of focus on the people who teach their students.
Both the adjunct and the full-time faculties have become painfully aware that the system office appears to view itself as the top priority. When I started working for NHTI in the mid-1980s, the system office consisted of the commissioner and three other people. Now there are 60 people in the system office in purely administrative roles – people who never set foot in a classroom. And each college still has its own administrative staff.
In the last state budget, the Legislature reduced community college system funding. However, while outwardly proclaiming financial hardship, the system’s board of trustees quietly awarded huge raises to its “executive officers, administrative officers, and confidential personnel” – according to minutes from a non-public October 2012 meeting.
The new chancellor, Ross Gittell, received a $36,136 raise, increasing his yearly salary to $244,504. The vice chancellor received a $27,663 raise. The president of NHTI received a $24,000 raise. And so forth.
Three-quarters of the faculty at the community college system don’t even make $24,000 in a year. The people who do the actual teaching haven’t seen a raise in years.
To improve working conditions, two years ago the adjunct faculty formed their union with the State Employees’ Association. After two years of negotiations with CCSNH officials, there is still no contract.
In fact, conditions for adjunct professors are going from bad to worse. Beginning this fall, we can teach no more than nine credits a semester, which means three three-credit classes or two four-credit classes.
What does that mean in dollars? A Level 1 adjunct instructor makes $1,359 for a 3-credit, 15-week course, while a top Level 4 adjunct professor (like myself) makes $2,028 for a three-credit course. So an adjunct who is limited to a nine-credit schedule in the spring and fall can only make – depending on their level – about $8,000 to $12,000 per year.
While the system is driving its existing adjuncts into poverty, the colleges will have to hire more adjuncts to take up the slack. At the NHTI English Department, there are now seven full-time professors and about 45 adjuncts. This fall they’ll probably have 60-plus adjuncts just in the English Department because of the course load restriction.
Increasingly, there will be a revolving door of teachers who spend less and less time interacting with students before going off to other jobs. How is this beneficial to students? They are less likely to receive a quality education from professors who are demoralized, impoverished and rarely on campus.
Community college system leaders have created a top-heavy system that drains resources better spent actually educating students. Our students deserve better.
(State Rep. Rick Watrous lives in Concord.)