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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.)

Legacy Comments30

Sounds like the semester off noted below is a good idea. If your being paid 25% of a professors wage as noted below, then ask the school why that is. Are you underpaid or are they overpaid.

hello- Most Adjunct Profs teach in addition to another job.... obviously the pay is not enough to live on. Part of being a Professor is that you must maintain an active role in your field, publish, speak at conferences, lecture at other schools..... it is not the same as teaching at a high school.... other activities take up a lot of time outside of the classroom. I quit my adjunct teaching job a year ago. The money I was making outside of the classroom was more than enough, and the paycheck from the school was humiliating. I wish more adjuncts would do the same. Just don't take the work. The problem is that it is rewarding to be in a classroom and it is satisfying to help students grow. Community College students NEED help, they are often beginners in a college setting. You get attached. You want to help. The school takes advantage....... but they no longer take advantage of me.

the pay is commensurate with the quality of the product they produce

It gets very difficult to urge students to chase their dreams, and to stick with education, to tell them it’s all worth it – when you-the-instructor had to borrow money for gas to get to campus. It’s harder yet to stay focused when you’re outright hungry because it’s been 5 weeks since starting work, and you haven’t gotten one dollar or pay yet and the food pantry supplements have been used up. It’s harder still to keep up with online requirements of the job (posting assignments, grades, and answering questions via email) when you’re stuck “borrowing” neighbor’s wi-fi because your own cable and landline phone has been disconnected. So, some of the smarty-pants commenters on here will gripe back, “get a real job!” To that I say: the only “up” side to this whole scenario is at least we have some money coming in some time. That doesn’t make it any easier, though. We’re stuck. Can’t move out because “of the economy” and so the System takes advantage of a CAPTIVE workforce that’s held in place by bonds, which may be metaphoric, but are certainly real. There’s a comparison there…

How many hours do you work a week..and be honest. We hear teachers are so busy, yet there are at least 2 teachers that regularly comment here, one with quite a bit of detail and quite often.

Yes, please, yes! Let us blame them, the lazy lot! (let me grab a tissue now to wipe the sarcasm off my lips) At some point, adjuncts will have to recognize their strength-in-numbers and take action against this sort of ignorance. GWTW, you bring up an old, tired stereotype. I haven't met one adjunct who fits the mold you're trying to cast. To be good teachers in today's world, you bet we're on top of daily happenings - and contributing to discussions that impact us is part of that.

While you were busy wiping the sarcasm off your lips, my question of how many hours you work per week went unanswered. I'll ask it again. How many hours a week do you work???

GWTW, this is not a personal discussion yet you make personal comments and attacks. No one, not even the CCSNH system, disputes the harmful practices, borderline unethical principles and sad implications being discussed. Bully-like ignorance IS at the root of this discussion however, and I thank you for providing classic examples through your posts of the mentality against which we adjuncts are poised. It is none of your personal business how many hours a particular adjunct works; since your request is designed to give more ammunition to your own pecking, many have chosen not to engage.

I went to a community college. 2 years full time and earned a degree. The instructors I had tended to be older, established, worked in the field, had common sense, were calm and collected. You don't strike me as any of these. Maybe thats a better model anyway. Older, established people that want to do this. Nice talking with you.

I teach as an adjunct for MCC and for SNHU, and for the most part I teach online. Teaching online means I have approx 20 students per class and each one needs to be dealt with on an individual basis. I need to be online five out of seven days, comment on discussion boards, correct assignments, respond to journal entries, etc. Because I teach composition as well as creative writing and critical thinking, I cannot give T/F quizzes. Every assignment is time consuming. If I teach 3 courses, I spent 8 hours / day, 6 days a week on my computer. 48 hrs/wk for 15 weeks plus 1-2 full weeks prep. For this I will get just over $6000/gross. At $400 / week approximately, that means I make less than $10 / hour with a master's degree. I am paying student loans and my half of our health insurance premium is $550 / month. My husband is self-employed, so there are no benefits coming from that end either. Nationwide adjuncts teach approximately 70% of all classes. Most students have no idea that the professor in front of the room is an adjunct (yes, I've spent a lot of time in the classroom), yet people feel that we all have the ivory tower existence. I believe that all adjuncts should refuse to work for one semester, and it would become very clear how valuable we are to the system. Adjuncts can be their own worst enemies because we continue to work under these conditions, but it's work or starve.

Thank you. Would you say that amount of hours is typical for 3 classes, or does it vary?

the semester off is a great idea.

GWTW: You seem determined to finger as workers who are somehow working the system. I have an MFA and student loans, and got that degree so I could teach. Contrary to the common "get a real job" rhetoric, there are some of us who view teaching as a very real, and rewarding, job. However, it is very hard to get into this field without starting as an adjunct, without "doing your time," so to speak, to earn the experience. The downside: with fewer and fewer full time positions opening up as the system realizes the cheap labor market adjuncts provide, the adjuncts are getting more and more disrespected. Because you asked, here is how this reality affects me: I teach three writing courses online and two in the classroom, for a combined total of 80 students. Each day I spend an average of an hour answering student emails to interact with my online students; I spend at least an hour a day prepping lessons or uploading documents for my online (three days as week) or my day (two days a week) classes. Because I teach writing, I need to spend about 5 hours per class, per week grading. If I'm doing my math correctly, that is an average of 7 hours per day that I spend on my computer before I even set foot into the classroom: each class meets for 2.5 hours a week, one of them on a Saturday morning. That's 7.5 hours per day averaged over the week; this does not include time for the faculty meetings, book writing, conferences with students, and pedagogy eduction (professional development) that I try to make time for. Anyone else working a full-time, 40 hour week would expect to have vacation time, health benefits, and some guarantee that after four months the job will still be there. I scramble each semester to get at least five classes because I support - on my own - my family of five. Online teaching allows me to be home with my littlest children for the hours that I don't have family help to watch them, because day care costs more than my income. We have lived simply and below poverty level for years without saying boo because I love my job and I have (blindly) assumed that at least I am valued and that this value will show for something when and if a full time position opens. I am an excellent teacher; my student and professional reviews say as much, and the fact that I can go home with my meager paycheck each month and still love my students says even more. But this cut back is the last straw. It is the one that will force me to tell my students that no, I will not be teaching another class they can take next semester, because my college doesn't value me, and it in turn doesn't value them. Because my five-course load - the equivalent to a full-time professor's but at 1/4 the pay - will be reduced to two courses, which means that I can no longer afford to be a teacher. I am not alone in this. At least half the adjuncts I work with have similar stories of sole-income and long hours. I wish the stereotype of teaching being an easy job would finally come to an end. It is its own reward for a teacher who loves teaching, but at the end of the day that's not enough if working 40+ hours a week puts me well below the cutoff for Food Stamps.

I asked a simple question. It should have been a simple answer. Btw, you made a grammatical error in your first sentence.

Hmmm...but you can afford a subscription to the Monitor???

Free clicks :)

100% the result of liberal democrats that 100% dominate the entire education system from head start to the reap what you sew

Here we go again, what about that 80/20 thingy. Perhaps there is not enough of a profit margin in education. Perhaps there is no interest by the GOP in education?? What we need are companies like Haliburton, or (insert any defense contractors name here), or perhaps someone from Wall Street to lead the poor educational system out of the dark. How does one make this stuff up????????

How about affirmative action ?

As a member of the adjunct faculty union contract negotiating committee since the unions’ inception, I can vouch that everything Rick has said is true. Since our contract negotiations started the CCSNH administration has done little more than stall on the major issues which are: 1. credit hours taught per semester 2. pay comparable to the national average 3. access to state health care and retirement benefits Regarding health care and retirement access -the administration has absolutely refused to allow adjuncts to contribute voluntarily into the state systems, even though we are designated as public employees. Notice I said voluntarily. We never asked for CCSNH to contribute anything, only just allow us access into the system. CCSNH administration and the Board of Trustees have absolutely refused us any access whatsoever even though it wouldn’t cost them a single penny! Is this any way to treat the faculty who teach over three fourths of all courses in the college community college system? I think not. Did you also know that the CCSNH Board of Trustees still refuses to acknowledge that the union even exists? Yes you heard it right; even though we have been bargaining in good faith with the administration for the last two years! They are in total denial, in ostrich mode, hoping that the union will just somehow fade away. Well we’re here to stay and our numbers are growing more each month! Prof. Michael F. Kenney SEA/SEIU Local 1984

Rick, this is called "government", run by "administrators", not managers, ruled by political partisans, not the best people available. You will never hear a progressive complain about a university president making $300,000 but if a CEO earned that they are horrified. In the corporate world, most state employees and administrators would fail. Just because public service is not for profit does not mean that it does not have to efficiently and productively serve those who pay the bill. To the comment below of where the CEO's would be without education? Let's be honest, the piece of paper is what counts today. Anyone can get a Masters and be a leg up on the competition, even if they are not that talented. Sure, technical degrees measure one's ability but most degrees are just a piece of paper that someone paid tens of thousands of dollars to obtain to be able to get a job that they want, only to find out that what they learned in college is not that relevant. I remember that I hired a recent grad once from a college, Summa Cum Laude to manage a retail location. He tried to manage it from his text book, thought that what he learned in the classroom was applicable to the workplace and failed miserably. I now hire by "experience", NOT education. I look at that but it is not a primary consideration. I have worked for three very successful CEO's, two never graduated from college and one had a Bachelors in History. It is a piece of paper and the system is ineffective.

When it comes to administration - "....three other people. Now there are 60 people ...." A simple answer is that administrators and rabbits have something in common. There is no such thing as a couple of administrators or rabbits, pure and simple. It is clear that the rule concerning the number of credit/courses an adjunct may teach is a bit restrictive at best. To be clear, an adjunct professor is in layman's term a part time teacher, most courses meet for only several hours, several days a week. With 45 adjuncts in just the English Dept, exactly what are the responsibilities of the 6 full time professors??? Call me cynical, but I do wonder. As far as going with a full time paid House one issue would need to addressed. Presently our House is 2 to 4 times larger than any other State in the Country. We have 400, Calif. has 80, Penn. has 200, Wash. State has 98 and so on. I only looked at 15 States but the pattern was clear. How would one propose we pay for all this. I am content that we now get what we pay for.......

I agree with your first analysis about "what do the 6 full time professors do". The truth be told, they probably are enjoying their reading and their research, both of which are being done to no real benefit of those paying their way to do such insignificant things. We don't need a full time "paid" house. Look to Massachusetts and New York and look at the recent corruption and the one party system in control of, for instance Massachusetts where 43% of the population is not represented by the government in power. California is the same as is New York. The idea that a legislature is a "law making" body is a misnomer. In fact, it would make more sense if it was a body that met and passed few "new laws" but instead discussed and debated how to make things better for all people, not just those who elected them.

With all due respect State Rep. Rick Watrous, you are asking to work more hours. Is the pay scale reflective of the actual hours one works, lower pay due to less hours worked. One might also question why if the same "math" class is taught year after year, why would one teacher be paid $1359 and another paid $2028 for the same class. How many ways can one learn to teach Algebra 101, the laws of math don't change every year. I'm to the point NH needs to get away from part time Reps. How does a college teacher have time to make a living teaching full time and be a state Rep.

The pay scale referred to is based mainly on degrees held by the employee, with some credit also for number of credits taught in higher education.

We constantly hear that in order to attract and retain the best and brightest in business (in particluar CEOs) that only the highest salaries will do. Yet when we talk about education and teachers the sentiment is if the educator doesn't like the pay they can look for another job. Interesting how our society has decided to pit educators against business leaders. I wonder where all those high paid CEOs would be without their education. So while we argue about what the minimum wage should be, the real discussion should focus on how and why we determine value in our society and if all full time workers should receive a minimum wage or a living wage - Allan Herschlag

Jeez..I thought the real discussion should focus on why the admin went from 4 to 60 in recent history, and why some make 1/4 million a year. My guess is big govt demands bid admins. Only a guess though.

" I wonder where all those high paid CEOs would be without their education." ...Bill Gates and Steve Jobs could not be reached for comment, one for obvious reasons.

" 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." the $64,000 question is why are there so many Rick???

As to why there are so many administrators and an ever growing system office, I cannot say. From what I've seen, this does not seem to have had particularly beneficial results. Several years ago the community college system ceased being a state agency, becoming its own corporate body, so the CCSNH Board of Trustees control how its money is spent. Other than providing funding, the Legislature now has no direct say over how that money is spent. Perhaps that should change. Here is the RSA concerning the CCSNH:

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