The Contractual Loopholes Haunting College Faculty

When you think of your past or present college professor, or one that you just happen to know, is your impression that they are pulling down a six-figure income with some awesome benefits and perks? What about the adjuncts? Those are the part-time professors and instructors. What type of package do you think they are working with? Do you or someone you know feel inclined to teach on the college-level because of your perception of these benefits and perks?

There are some full-time faculty, especially the tenured professors, who are earning a handsome income each year. Some of the salaries are mind-blowing. Adjuncts on the other hand, now that is a different story altogether, and even more staggering and alarming to read about. They are paid a fraction of the cost. Sometimes the reasoning behind this is:

  • Lack of terminal degree: PhD, MD, JD, etc.
  • Terminal degree not from a prestigious institution: yes, the snobbery can be real
  • Few or no published articles in “qualified” academic journals: they are picky about this
  • Not enough work experience as a professor

What is interesting is that you may find a lot of adjuncts who have industry-related experience, working for organizations in the fields that they teach, while many full-time faculty and tenured faculty are granted a “pass” from this experience if their professional journey has been academic from year one in college through graduate school. So, if all they know is academia, they are given a “pass” for not having real-world experience. You may not realize that some of the professors you know don’t even hold terminal degrees. They started their career more than 30 years ago when it was not required. So they can have Bachelors and Masters degrees, but because they have been teaching for 30+ years, that experience trumps the requirements needed by incoming faculty.

There may be faculty with previous industry experience but it could be from decades ago and not necessarily relevant today. But that doesn’t matter because if they are tenured, they are locked in, and can ride this wave into retirement. For non-tenured faculty there does seem to be a push, from some institutions, that they return to school to earn their terminal degrees. That can be a major shock to their system as they attempt to juggle school work as both a professor and student.

How Adjuncts Factor In

Adjuncts are held to the same standards as full-time faculty, except they teach fewer classes (by design), even if it is only one-less class. Imagine that. To be full-time at some institutions it means teaching three or more classes, while the adjunct teaches one to two courses. At another institution, the full-time instructor teaches five or more courses while the adjunct can teach upward of four. One or two additional classes per semester or term is the difference between higher pay and benefits. If the courses are online or hybrid, both the full-time and adjunct are expected to engage with their class the same number of hours, same amount of days per week, complete the same reporting, and meet the same academic and management standards. Full-time staff are expected to have office hours, usually on-campus (the pandemic adjusted that to virtual hours for awhile). However, students still expect adjuncts to hold office hours to help them through class work, speak about dilemmas, counsel them on educational and career goals, etc. Fail to make yourself available to students and watch your evaluations and reviews take a nose-dive. That customer feedback can make or break your career.

Follow The Money

Let’s cut to the chase—the institution maintains a greater profit margin on the adjunct. The adjunct is told that they are paid by the class, there is a set contract rate per class, and they are paid every two weeks or once per month, based on that rate—divided over the length of the semester, quarter, or term, which can be between eight and 16 weeks. So let’s say you are being paid $2000 for a class. Divide that number over 16 weeks (as the average) and you can see how much you are getting paid, before taxes, every two weeks.

Now pick your jaw off of the table.

College leadership knows that adjuncts are averaging 20 to 30 hours per week teaching, grading, engaging with students, responding to emails, taking phone calls, investing in professional development hours, and attending team or school-wide meetings— yet they are being paid a contract rate of 10-hours per week on average. While we also know, those of us who had professors with a teacher’s assistant (TA), many of our full-time professors weren’t the ones grading our assignments, and some students say that their professors rarely respond to emails or have flexible office hours. Some students could even tell that it was the TA, not the professor, replying to emails. Don’t believe me? Check out Twitter and Reddit. Oh, the comments will leave you shaking your head.

However, full-time faculty are paid as though they are working 40-plus hours per week. It’s not to say that some aren’t, but some aren’t. Some have mastered the art of delegation and time management to maneuver through their weeks in 20 hours, as a guesstimate. There are plenty of perks to being full-time and even more if you’re awarded tenure. They are expected to write plenty of academic books and articles, possibly conduct research, and do speaking engagements focused on their area of study. But, ironically, adjuncts are expected to do some of that too, especially if you’re employed by a big college or university. You just don’t get paid sabbaticals and other perks to do this. You have to manage your time to get it done or risk losing your job.

For most adjuncts, they have no choice but to seek gainful full-time employment outside of the institution. It’s the only way to pay all or most of your bills unless you’re splitting them with a spouse, roommate, significant other, or family member. Leadership knows this. Students on the other hand don’t. Students think that all of their professors are “big balling” in “boss mode”. Students have no clue that many of them make more money than their instructors and professors. Maybe if they knew, they would treat these academics with more respect. Or maybe not.

To limit the financial impact that shelling out top-dollar for full-time and tenured faculty has on colleges and universities, leadership on all levels hire three-to-four times more adjuncts, reducing the number of full-timers, hence reducing the outflow in payroll. You can have 10 full-timers and 40 adjuncts in one department, maybe a small handful of the full-timers are tenured. See that ratio? It’s all strategic, calculated, and transactional.

Non-Tenured Full-Timers Getting Sucker-Punched

There’s only so much room for full-timers as we see more institutions revamping contracts to have faculty pull a greater workload so that the school can feel like the cost-cutting their doing, by having an increased number of adjuncts, also balances the gap they feel having to pay full-time faculty more in salary and benefits. Some are offering full-timers early retirement buy-outs. An increasing number are doing massive layoffs of full-timers. All so they don’t have to pay adjuncts to be full-timers.

There is a Washington Post article by John Marcus that hints to this and more. The Marcus article shares interviews of full-time professors and their frustration with being asked to teach more classes, up from three to four, for instance. During the pandemic, many faculty faced unemployment which left remaining faculty to pick up the slack. Some also have issues with their class sizes increasing. Miami University of Ohio laid off half of their full-time faculty, so more than 100 employees were let go. They also cut-back on course releases which in many ways increases the workload for their full-timers. Some could argue that this balances out the amount of time they should actually be spending teaching, handling administrative work, etc.

Are they being unfairly targeted or have college administrators finally decided to reduce the cushion that full-time faculty have historically benefited from?

While college and university leadership notes that class sizes are not significantly increasing, with many still having class sizes with fewer than 30 students, many instructors have grown accustomed to small class sizes of less than 15 students. Compare that to some classes where adjuncts teach class sizes with 30 or more students. It is difficult to say what the academic standard is as it varies by school. How many classes are too many? How many students in a class are too many?

There are some full-time professors with lecture-style classes housed in auditorium designed classrooms with 100-plus students nestled inside. There is no way to properly manage multiple 50-plus or 100-plus student classes and give students the level of attention and care that they deserve as customers of the college/university. But is it fair that one professor can teach one course, no matter the size of the class, and be paid the same amount or more than a professor teaching three-plus courses? Is it fair that one professor can teach one class and be paid as full-time with benefits, while another professor can teach three classes and be paid as part-time without benefits? Is it fair that one class is the difference between an adjunct being designated full-time and in turn can receive higher pay and full benefits?

It seems as though full-time faculty are feeling the hit that adjuncts have been feeling for quite some time. Where there be solidarity? Will the colleges and universities realign their thinking? What will come of all of this “cost-cutting”? We will have to wait and see.

Article Source: Marcus, J. (30 April, 2021). Some universities’ response to budget woes: Make faculty teach more courses.

Copyright 2021. Foreman & Associates, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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