Page 1 of 2

Adjunct Professor Trend in Higher Education: No Respect for Teachers?

PostPosted: Fri Aug 14, 2015 8:11 pm
by Nate W.
I suggested this topic for a Science magazine careers article. However, I think it should be discussed on the forum and that students should be aware of this issue as they consider employment options.

A controversial topic that comes to mind is the trend in higher education to hire more adjunct professors. What is really driving this trend?

In Dallas and Atlanta areas, 60-75% of all professors are hired as part time adjunct professors. The average compensation for an adjunct professor hired at Dallas colleges is about 3-5K per class per semester. In the public colleges if the class doesn't meet sufficient enrollment, the class and contract are cancelled. These positions offer no benefits like medical insurance or vacation time. To make matters worse, the colleges don't contribute 7.5% to social security; instead they take out 7.5% of one's pay and place the money in a 403b account that only pays 3% interest rate w/o any match. Also, the Texas public colleges place limits on the numbers of hours one can teach which is about 7 credit hours. It should be noted that the average price of a 3 hour class is in the range $175-750 at Texas public colleges. Yet, there is a reluctance to raise tuition for better teacher pay.

So, one can easily determine that adjunct professors make well below the poverty level. Starbuck's treats their baristas much better (i.e. pay, benefits, and advancement) than colleges treat their teachers. There is no respect for teachers by college administrators.

While this trend is occurring more, public colleges are hiring more administrators and the average compensation of these administrators is quite substantial even for rather insignificant positions. For example, a VP or Director of Student Development at a local community college will make in the range 75-150K with benefits. Don't the teachers contribute more to the mission of the colleges than most administrative positions?

Of note, adjuncts can't apply for unemployment benefits since they don't pay contribute to social security and they will pay a 10% plus taxes if they withdraw money from this 403b (IRS tax code 3121).

This is a national trend in higher education.

What are politicians and administrators thinking; this actually helps improve the quality of education?

Are adjuncts the Rodney Dangerfield (s) of higher education?

Re: Adjunct Professor Trend in Higher Education: No Respect for Teachers?

PostPosted: Mon Aug 24, 2015 12:06 pm
by J.B.
Nate, I don't agree with everything you say on this forum, but I think you're spot on with this one. It's abhorrent not only how many full-time positions have been replaced by adjuncts, but also how badly the salaries and benefits for adjuncts have been slashed. And the use of funds to instead create bogus administrative positions is sickening. There needs to be some type of reform here, I just have no idea where to go to start supporting that.

Re: Adjunct Professor Trend in Higher Education: No Respect for Teachers?

PostPosted: Mon Aug 24, 2015 1:44 pm
by RSD
I agree that the status of adjunct faculty is disconcerting, and that the administrative bloat of most universities is a serious issue. I would add to the conversation a follow-up question:

Why do highly educated people work for such low pay, and with so little job security? We aren't talking about naive young people getting swindled here; these are adult professionals willingly entering into the adjunct contracts. I don't have any experience here, so I'm curious to hear from anyone with some knowledge of the area.

Re: Adjunct Professor Trend in Higher Education: No Respect for Teachers?

PostPosted: Mon Aug 24, 2015 1:45 pm
by PACN
I think the creation of these types of positions is a positive sign:

https://www.insidehighered.com/news/201 ... and-offers

I've seen them in a few places-- full time, although not tenure track, positions that focus on teaching at major research universities. I think it is a recognition that great researchers are not necessarily the best teachers and vice versa. I don't think the compensation is equivalent for the two tracks, though.

Re: Adjunct Professor Trend in Higher Education: No Respect for Teachers?

PostPosted: Mon Aug 24, 2015 2:00 pm
by Nate W.
JB, thanks for your post. I don't think people truly understand how bad the problem is in some states. Last week, I interviewed for an adjunct position and turned it down because it didn't offer medical insurance. There was no opportunity for a full position within the next 2-3 years. Finally, I asked the department head what is going on with community colleges in Texas. The policy makers have written into Texas statues that state community colleges must maintain a headcount of 60-70% adjunct teachers. When schools are above the 70% threshold, they will start hiring more full time and letting go adjuncts. This is all done to save on medical insurance.

I informed the department head that they should hire more full time teachers (vs adjuncts) and required them to teach more classes as well as reduced capital expenditures and eliminate superfluous administrative positions. Tuition is also deliberately held down. After a year of this, I am convince this is a problem of financial mismanagement and a deliberate effort to protect cushy administrative positions that don't add value to student education. Further, it only helps deteriorate the quality of instruction a student receives.

My advice for those interviewing for these positions; I would ask medical insurance, if not, I would turn them down. It is also my opinion that those interested in teaching should avoid public community colleges and only apply to private colleges.

If Dave would allow me, I can find out who makes these policies in Texas and post his name (or the agency) plus the contact info here.

Re: Adjunct Professor Trend in Higher Education: No Respect for Teachers?

PostPosted: Mon Aug 24, 2015 2:09 pm
by Nate W.
RSD,

Answer: Because there are so few other options, especially if you are not certified to teach public high school.

The solution for candidates is to avoid public schools altogether. Frankly, they don't care about the BS that public schools are overly concerned about.

Starbucks is a better option that an adjunct position and these administrators are arrogantly clueless about this. They say they care about education but most don't; its about protecting their turf.

Re: Adjunct Professor Trend in Higher Education: No Respect for Teachers?

PostPosted: Mon Aug 24, 2015 3:17 pm
by Dave Jensen
Hi Forum,

I work with plenty of very senior level people -- these are directors, sometimes VP's of science-centric organizations. Many times I see the Adjunct Professor slot on their CV and ask them about it. They are highly rewarding, evidently, and many candidates will fight to keep their status at the U. Others will make job-change decisions based on keeping their Adjunct Professor role -- for example, choosing not to take a better job out of town because they like their role with the University.

So, there must be something stimulating about the work. For people who are employed in some hard-driving commercial business, it may be a stress relief.

Dave

Re: Adjunct Professor Trend in Higher Education: No Respect for Teachers?

PostPosted: Mon Aug 24, 2015 4:10 pm
by Dave Walker
Dave Jensen wrote:Hi Forum,

I work with plenty of very senior level people -- these are directors, sometimes VP's of science-centric organizations. Many times I see the Adjunct Professor slot on their CV and ask them about it. They are highly rewarding, evidently, and many candidates will fight to keep their status at the U. Others will make job-change decisions based on keeping their Adjunct Professor role -- for example, choosing not to take a better job out of town because they like their role with the University.

So, there must be something stimulating about the work. For people who are employed in some hard-driving commercial business, it may be a stress relief.

Dave


Hi Dave,

I have known several of the types of people you are referring to, but I think they are fundamentally different than the younger "adjunct" professor, even though they share the same title.

From my knowledge, senior level people who retain an adjunct position do so at the discretion of the school. They have a second (often, lucrative) source of income and generally cherry-pick their duties and responsibilities in the department. Schools like the prestige of having senior industry members as part of their staff. I can't speak for each adjunct here, but the few I have met do it to remain in academia generally, and specifically on previous grants and to advise the labs on the grants. At my graduate institution, teaching may not have even been the primary motivation for remaining an adjunct, but I am sure it is at teaching colleges.

I believe Nate's variety of adjunct is a PhD-holding scientist fresh out of grad school or postdoc who especially wants to teach. At large colleges, community colleges or understaffed institutions, adjuncts are hired to teach on a contractual basis. Despite doing the same thing as many tenured or tenure-track professors, these adjuncts are treated very differently.

I should note that this is applied across departments, and is most often seen in the humanities, where funding is smaller. I remember an article about adjunct professors in Maryland trying to unionize due to their working conditions: http://www.citypaper.com/news/features/ ... story.html

Re: Adjunct Professor Trend in Higher Education: No Respect for Teachers?

PostPosted: Mon Aug 24, 2015 4:36 pm
by Dick Woodward
Both Dave Walker and Dave Jensen are right as far as they go. There are certainly adjunct positions that are held by senior industry types who enjoy a certain amount of teaching. These are often special topics courses, or more advanced seminars. (I actually lecture - for free - in entrepreneurship at a local university, merely because I enjoy it.)

A bigger concern is the type of adjunct that Nate W. wrote about, who are teaching more general classes. These adjuncts generally don't have the time to work individually with students, and have to focus on teaching the class and grading the tests. A friend of mine (an excellent chemist) pointed out that when he went to college, he had no real idea what he wanted to major in, and put down chemistry because he did well in it in high school. It was his interactions with a particular professor that cemented his career in chemistry.

In my case, I was seriously considering transferring to a more business-related field until I had the opportunity to work independently with a professor in her lab. This led to work in another lab, and ultimately to my going on to get the PhD. (I ended up in business anyway, but from a totally different direction!)

In both my case and that of my friend, it was direct interaction with a professor that was critical in our choice of careers. This interaction is unlikely to be as readily available with the type of adjunct that Nate W. describes due to the constraints on their time, and additionally due to the fact that they do not do research.

This actually brings up a parallel issue - the prevalence of online courses. I have seen a tendency at some universities to push for a larger number of online courses. In the online courses, there is an additional degree of separation between the teacher and student, and I fear that this does not bode well for helping the student determine where they want their career to go. Online courses certainly have their place, but I do not see them helping a student choose between a career in science or a career in accounting or some such.

One man's opinion...

Dick

Re: Adjunct Professor Trend in Higher Education: No Respect for Teachers?

PostPosted: Sun Aug 30, 2015 3:56 pm
by Nate W.
Dick Woodward wrote:
A bigger concern is the type of adjunct that Nate W. wrote about, who are teaching more general classes. These adjuncts generally don't have the time to work individually with students, and have to focus on teaching the class and grading the tests. A friend of mine (an excellent chemist) pointed out that when he went to college, he had no real idea what he wanted to major in, and put down chemistry because he did well in it in high school. It was his interactions with a particular professor that cemented his career in chemistry.

In my case, I was seriously considering transferring to a more business-related field until I had the opportunity to work independently with a professor in her lab. This led to work in another lab, and ultimately to my going on to get the PhD. (I ended up in business anyway, but from a totally different direction!)

In both my case and that of my friend, it was direct interaction with a professor that was critical in our choice of careers. This interaction is unlikely to be as readily available with the type of adjunct that Nate W. describes due to the constraints on their time, and additionally due to the fact that they do not do research.

This actually brings up a parallel issue - the prevalence of online courses. I have seen a tendency at some universities to push for a larger number of online courses. In the online courses, there is an additional degree of separation between the teacher and student, and I fear that this does not bode well for helping the student determine where they want their career to go. Online courses certainly have their place, but I do not see them helping a student choose between a career in science or a career in accounting or some such.

One man's opinion...

Dick



Dick is absolutely right on this one. There are some adjuncts who are scientists that primarily work for a local organization and want to keep an academic affiliation given their expertise. Two examples come to mind: A distinguished scientist at the NIEHS or NIH that has an adjunct professorship at a local pharmacology department. A senior partner at a major law firm who has an adjunct position at a local law school. These are rare appointments and are often taken in the spirit of giving back to the community or profession.

However, the bulk of adjuncts are professors that teach introductory science classes for undergraduates at community colleges and small four year institutions. At the college where I teach, 70% of professors are adjuncts and can only teach a maximum of 3 classes. The compensation is less on an annual basis than what a post-doc or technician makes in academia and even less than what a Starbucks coffee server makes. Most of the adjuncts are over 60 and have already retired in some form or another. The rest are high school teachers doing this at night time. So, most adjuncts are doing this to supplement their retirement.

This is a terrible income stream because it doesn't pay into social security and doesn't provide for unemployment benefits. The aggravating part about this situation is that there has been an increase in well paying administrative positions that do provide benefits while more adjuncts are being hired. Since most adjuncts are older professors supplementing their retirement, there is a first in first out mindset when hiring adjuncts. This means the most senior faculty will be considered first for classes and the adjuncts get the remaining unfilled slots or nothing at all. Given this situation, the only way they can bring in younger more current faculty members are if the older faculty are forced out or they pass away. Personally, I know several faculty members that are hurting financially such that they can't even consider retiring.

Dick is also right about online classes and the time adjuncts can spend with their students if they need extra help. Several schools here have added online introductory science classes in order to increase their enrollment. Imagine biology 101 classes w/o a laboratory or a watered down home based lab (i.e. a home chemistry lab set). Students in the community colleges need in person interactions with their professors and a full complete laboratory experience. We are only doing the students a disservice by offering these types of classes and they will be ill-prepared for upper level classes when they transfer to a four year institution. The difficult part of my job is that many of my students are working full time and don't have the right high school preparation for a science majors class. Thus, they need extra attention and help in the classroom. However, many adjuncts just don’t have the extra time.

In an effort to commercialize higher education (to increase enrollment numbers), administrators have corrupted the teacher evaluation process and have lowered standards. Adjuncts are solely evaluated by student surveys. These surveys are used to determine whether contracts are going to be renewed; they have a profound impact on adjunct personnel decisions. Administrators have a tendency to over-accommodate students when students are unhappy about their grades because they are worried about enrollment numbers. Given this situation, I have seen adjuncts water down their classes in order to receive good student evaluations. This ultimately leads to grade inflation and students ill-prepared for higher level classes at four year institutions. Because of these trends, teachers often feel like baby sitters not trusted mentors that truly want to help their students.

Below I have referenced two articles about the adjunct situation. It is appalling that while there is a trend of hiring more high paying administrators; 60-70% of all teachers are making below the poverty level and have to depend on government assistance or welfare to live on. Of note, all adjunct positions require a MS or PhD and some teaching experience.

This is why I turned this position down, especially if it didn't offer medical insurance and social security benefits. When I asked about a full time position (making 35-40K), the dept head wanted 5 years teaching experience and a MS/PhD. What frustrates me is the absolute indifference and sometimes arrogance displayed by administrators when talking about this situation. Plus, many of the older teachers have given up on voicing their concerns and aspiring for a better learning environment.

Bottom line: Don't consider these positions. It is a bad situation. Stay in a technician or post-doc role if needed. If you are passionate about teaching, talk with private schools. Or change your post-doc in order to compete more effectively for grant money and ultimately a tenure track position. Or just leave academia behind; that's what I am going to do.

Articles:

http://www.salon.com/2014/03/17/profess ... _adjuncts/

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/making-sens ... -adjuncts/

https://chroniclevitae.com/news/292-an- ... unct-labor