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Editorial: For adjunct professors, a hard job about to get harder

Adjunct professor. It’s one of the fastest growing and most poorly-paid occupations in America. Adjuncts, part-time employees paid a national average of $3,000 per course, often work for one or more colleges simultaneously. They rarely get office space or a phone, let alone health insurance, job security or other benefits. Few earn what could be considered a living wage, yet adjuncts now teach more than 70 percent of all college courses. Without them, higher education would be even less affordable. According to the American Association of University Professors, while a full professor at a public university with a doctorate earns $120,000 per year plus benefits, an adjunct, even one with a doctorate and a full course load, makes $20,000 with no benefits.

There is no easy answer to the adjunct conundrum. Online education that allows students to take classes taught by professors at elite colleges could ultimately shrink the need for adjuncts, but at the expense of student face-time with teachers. The bad lot of the part-time academic, who was hurt by the recession and government cuts to higher education far more than tenured faculty, is about to get much worse. In fact, one has to wonder whether the heavy reliance on adjuncts in American higher education is moral or sustainable.

Colleges have begun notifying adjuncts that their course load will be limited next fall in response to the Affordable Care Act. The law requires that employers with more than 50 part-time employees either provide health insurance to those who work 30 hours or more or pay a penalty.

By limiting the hours of adjuncts and hiring more part-time help to teach a course or two, colleges hope to escape both the penalty and the need to provide insurance coverage. For adjuncts, that means their income will go down at the same time they’ll be required to purchase health insurance or pay a penalty. Whether that move succeeds could depend on what ultimately counts as hours worked by adjuncts: class time alone or time spent preparing for courses, grading papers and meeting with students as well.

Concord Rep. Rick Watrous, a longtime adjunct professor of English at NHTI, described the plight of adjuncts in the April 7 Sunday Monitor. Because this is New Hampshire, where state support for higher education is the lowest in the land, adjunct pay is among the lowest in the nation. It’s not unusual to hear of an adjunct professor on food stamps.

Adjuncts also teach one-third to one-half or more of the courses at many four-year schools. Parents with pen poised over tuition checks are right to wonder if they’re really getting what they’re paying for, though the results, at least in the New Hampshire community college system, suggests they are.

Locally and nationally, adjunct professors – some insist on being called lecturers to underline their low status in academia – are banding together in unions in hopes of winning better pay and working conditions. The adjuncts in New Hampshire’s community college system did so two years ago, but they’ve so far failed to reach a contract agreement with the system’s administrators. In some states, there has been talk of a strike by adjuncts, an act that would cripple many colleges and disrupt the education of countless students.

Before that happens, it would be far better if state funding for higher education increases enough to treat adjuncts, if not well, at least fairly.

Legacy Comments11

OK, so we believe in the Free Market, and under that belief system if the market demands lower pay, a shrinking middle class, and Adjuncts, then adjuncts are what we get. OK so what do you get? You get professors afraid to stand up to students who perform badly because their tuition check is more valuable than the schools academic integrity. Go ahead and give junior a passing grade he/she does not deserve! After all, if you do not, as an adjunct, your administrator will simply not renew your contract next term. At least in the past with the full time professors of the past there was a think called academic freedom that protected a professor who had the integrity to wed out those who had poor academic performance. Now there is no academic integrity, only desperate adjuncts forced to pass their students whether their academic performance justifies it or not. So go ahead, by your cheap products made by slave labor in foreign lands, and send junior to get his/her worthless degree, at the cost of a life-time burden under student loans. And just be warned, that his/her degree it will be worth exactly the paper it is printed on and nothing more. In the future the paper from institutions that lost their academic integrity will be just that …paper. In the future, it will be demonstrate knowledge that will be king….thank you Washington…one and all for you have failed us all!

Beginning with the fact that today HIgher Ed is taught by more than 70% of contingent workers --or 1 million of the 1.5 million instructors in the US today-- that gives you an idea of how many educators really abuse their sabbaticals or out of whack salaries, as we don't have them. To begin, the average compensation, and I don't even say salary because that is a slap in the face, is $2700/course, without healthcare benefits for most (I was paid $1800/course, in the south!). Add to this the fact that many colleges now are balking at the fact that they have to add healthcare: what is happening to education? If over 70% of students today are taught by a precarious population, no matter how devoted we are --and many of us are-- we will burn out. As RCB so rightly says, equal pay for equal work. Let me put it another way: teacher working conditions become student learning solutions. If you want an educated population, you better begin to pay attention to what you are doing to today's instructors; we are fleeing in droves. And what is left, presently, is not a pretty picture. Education as we know it is a broken system. PLEASE help fix it. Ana M. Fores Tamayo Adjunct Justice Petition: Facebook Page:

I don't understand why anyone would take an adjunct position job at all. Adjunct professors may talk about unionizing, but what they really need is a boycott.

To the parents of CCSNH students: The people who have dedicated their lives to educating this generation, young and old, are at risk of losing everything they've gained across three years of discussion re: equal pay for equal work. All professionals donate some of their time. I now work as a theatre, film, and television producer. I don't get paid by the hour. Sometimes I go weeks without a check. But, thankfully the returns are much larger than in higher education. This wasn't the case 2003-2011 when I adjuncted for CCSNH. But, name a single contracted employee, like say a carpenter or plumber, who does not expect full compensation for services rendered? Same for the lawyer who bills his/her clients by the hour for emailing, conferencing, letter writing, brief filing, court appearances, etc. As a society, we have charged our college teachers with raising up a new generation of students with global knowledge, technological skills, and learning skills that embrace the re/un-learning of the 21st century innovators expect in all sorts of professional, vocational, and academic endeavors. This strikes me as a priority we can all embrace. Republican. Democrat. Libertarian. Progressive. And so forth. We are in this together. This sentiment is the exacty opposite of what you hear from Chancellor Gittell and the System administrators who see "equal pay for equal work" as a threat to their own salaries. They work for the people on NH. Same as adjuncts. The people will decide.

Obama's and the democrats massive assault on the livelihood of the middle class has now become apparent to even the adjunct faculty that now face devastating salary cuts as a direct result of ObamaCare. In addition, because of budget cuts which originated with Obama, cancer clinics are now turning away thousands of Medicare cancer patients ....that is the world brought to you by Obama and the democrats

Rubbish. Years before Obama, my school---with a teaching limit of 2 courses a semester---asked me to teach a third course to deal with a scheduling error they made. We agreed. A week later they called back and canceled, because "the dean" was worried that I'd accrue even nearly-enough hours to "sue for health insurance." So this latest move by administrations to protect their profit-margins is of a piece with pre-Obama circumstances. If anything we owe it to the right-wing smashing of hope for a public option, which would have brought down everybody's health costs. But in America what matters is money, not medicine. Good luck with that.

Talk about rubbish..You said "If anything we owe it to the right-wing smashing of hope for a public option, which would have brought down everybody's health costs." Bruce Currie...can we have a fact check on this?

The Monitor editors write: "There is no easy answer to the adjunct conundrum". Well, what about having professors do their job and let them earn that $120,000 rather than teach one class per week? See UNH for examples. I think that sabbaticals and taking the semester to study some authors impact on 20th century society could wait in light of our children getting an education.

Here we go again. Look, nobody says pitchers should only get paid for the hours they're pitching in a game. Similarly, what professors do is not reducible to the number of hours a week they spend in class, any more than a pitcher only works a few hours a year. Anyone who says it is just blatantly misunderstands the job. It's really several jobs in one, and classroom teaching is just a small piece of it. Professors run the curriculum and advise the students, which can take half the hours in the week. Professors also have to publish, so those doing research, whether on sabbatical or fitting it in at 5 am or midnight as most do, ARE doing their jobs. Professors at PhD-granting institutions like UNH may teach fewer courses than at PSU or Keene, but that's because they are working with graduate students, which includes preparing and giving comprehensive exams, reading and advising master's and doctoral theses (which are each hundreds of pages long), and keeping up with constant reams of new research so they can educate graduate students in the state of the field. If you want there to be new medical breakthroughs, new History Channel documentaries, new novels, new movies, new insight into politics, new knowledge in any field, stop saying that professors are only working when they're lecturing. And by the way, most professors earn much, much, much less than $120K. I have no idea where that number came from, but it is at least double the actual salary of most professors in the University System of New Hampshire.

their pay is commensurate with the product they produce

Many adjunct professors are highly qualified and excellent educators. Your comment shows your ignorance. You might want to start your sentence with a capital letter and end it with a period. Perhaps you should contact an adjunct English professor for help.

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