[Marxism] Adjunct Professors: Low Pay and Hard Going
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Thu Jun 19 09:56:06 MDT 2008
NY Times, May 7, 2000
Adjunct Professors: Low Pay and Hard Going
By ROBBIE WOLIVER
THEY travel from place to place for work. They never know if they'll be
wanted by those same places the following season. They rarely have
health plans and their employment status is ceaselessly insecure. This
summer, some might not have any work at all.
Migrant farm workers? No, adjunct college professors.
Barbara Lynch is looking forward to the end of the school year. She
teaches nine courses in communications and public speaking at five
different colleges. She teaches 27 hours a week at Hofstra University in
Hempstead, Polytechnic University in Farmingdale, Nassau Community
College in East Garden City, Suffolk C.C. in Brentwood and Queensborough
C.C. in Douglaston. The commute is about 200 miles a week. She spends a
minimum of 35 hours a week preparing lessons and grading papers. To
improve her teaching status, she is earning a doctorate, for which she
researches, studies and writes papers for several hours a day, and she
attends C. W. Post's Palmer School of Library and Information Science
for seven hours on Saturdays.
"It leaves me exhilarated, but very, very tired," she said. "It's almost
impossible to do."
As she described her daily schedule, she added, "You notice, I didn't
say, 'clean the house.' "
Her small Plainview Cape Cod is a swirl of papers and books. Ms. Lynch,
who refers to herself as a "young-thinking baby boomer," is a divorced
mother of two teenage children, Thomas and Elise. They live in her
childhood home with her 79-year-old father.
"I use different colored folders for each school," she said. "I've
brought the wrong papers to school, but I have not yet gone to the wrong
Ms. Lynch may be an extreme example. But adjuncts, or part-timers, make
up the majority of higher-education teachers on Long Island, and their
numbers are growing.
Experts agree that the main reason adjuncts are in demand is that they
are cheap labor.
In Hofstra's department of speech communications and rhetorical studies,
where Ms. Lynch works, adjuncts account for 70 percent of faculty, and
Charles Fleischman, the department's acting chairman, readily admitted,
"The primary benefits of adjuncts is economic."
While a typical full-time assistant professor earns about $35,000, an
adjunct who teaches one course might earn $3,000. At Hofstra, the
typical pay for adjuncts is $2,751 a course compared with a full-timers'
rate of $3,210. Southampton College pays $2,163 to adjuncts and $3,021
to full-timers. At Nassau Community, the typical rate for adjuncts is
$2,238, and a full-time professor can make $2,000 more than that. At
SUNY-Farmingdale, a typical adjunct salary is $1,785 per course, and at
SUNY-Stony Brook they receive between $2,500 and $5,000 per course.
"Part-timers are an exploited work force," said Bill Scheuerman,
president of United University Professions, the faculty union of the
State University of New York. "They get the least desirable courses and
times. Their conditions are really intolerable sometimes, but they have
this hope of getting a full-time position, and that is just not going to
Even college administrators who must watch the bottom line admit that
the system has drawbacks.
"Adjuncts are a valuable asset to the university community, but they
can't possibly have the same commitment as a full-time faculty member,"
Dr. Fleischman said. "It's not a reflection upon them, it's the nature
of the part-time worker. They are long-term temps, in a sense.
"The adjunct pool is well-trained to teach the courses we assign them,
he continued, "but they don't bring the level of expertise we require
from full-time faculty. I'm not suggesting they are inferior, but they
certainly have less experience. It's an epidemic in higher education."
Jack Ostling, vice president of academic affairs at Nassau Community
College, said, "Adjuncts' availability to their students, to other
faculty, to each other, and the opportunity to get involved with the
university is minimal at best."
Judith Gappa and David Leslie, authors of "The Invisible Faculty," say
the use of part-timers brings down the quality of education, but not
because they are less qualified or less capable than full-timers. "It
is, instead," they write, "a direct result of institutional practices
that deny part-time faculty the basic conditions under which good
teaching can take place."
Dr. Scheuerman said those conditions ranged from mentoring to learning
about grants that could enable them to further their scholarship.
Adjuncts do not receive benefits ranging from office space to
scholarship eligibility for their dependents. Often, they don't receive
medical benefits either, although SUNY part-timers do qualify if they
teach two or more courses.
Ms. Lynch has enrolled in Queensborough Community College's health plan,
to which she must contribute $900 a quarter. She is required to teach
two courses there to remain eligible. "I teach one course at
Queensborough just to cover the benefits," she said. (Not quite: Those
courses pay an average of $2,500, and the health coverage costs $3,600.)
This year, she will earn $53,000 and hopes that figure will rise when
she finishes her doctorate. But Polytech has announced it will close its
Farmingdale campus in 2002, and Ms. Lynch may have to find another
position to take its place. After almost 11 years there, she will earn
$3,500 this semester at Polytech.
"Adjunct work isn't hard to find," she said. But full-time work is,
especially in her field. Ms. Lynch has a masters in communication from
Columbia University, more than a decade of experience and excellent
recommendations, and she has not yet found a full-time work.
"Being an adjunct can be a very good recruiting tool for both the
institution and the adjunct," Dr. Ostling said. "When you have a search
for a full-time position, and there's someone already who's already
known to you professionally, it's reciprocally beneficial."
Dr. Fleischman disagreed, saying, "It's very difficult for an adjunct to
progress to full-time" and adding that he couldn't recall anyone who had
made the transition from adjunct to full time. He said that despite her
nine years of service at Hofstra, Ms. Lynch would probably not even be
considered for full-time work in her department because her doctorate
was not in the specific field.
Nevertheless, Dr. Fleischman said, "I am very pleased with Barbara's
performance," and he called her "a warrior."
"I just don't know how they do it," he continued. "Barbara always has a
smile on her face. We ask a great deal of them for very little
compensation. I don't know how they afford it. Especially on Long
Island. I would never be one. It's too unstable. There is no guarantee
of continued service."
He has another concern: "I'm worried about them feeling like a
second-class work force."
Ms. Lynch said she does feel like a second-class citizen in some
schools. At Polytech, where she said she was treated fairly, she shares
a small four-desk office with 17 other adjuncts. That's a step above
Queensborough, where she doesn't have an office at all. "Everywhere, I
have a drawer," she said, laughing.
"I'd love to be full-time," she said, "but adjuncting has one major
advantage. You're out of the political fray. I come in, teach my
classes, advise my students and go home.
"I know it seems like a difficult way to make a living, but I love
this," Ms. Lynch said, gulping down her lunch in the Polytech cafeteria.
"I have freedom, and the aspects that seem difficult, like running from
place to place, actually keep it very interesting. I love teaching. I
love the students, and in a weird way, I'm in control of my life."
But there is too little time. She said she wishes she had more time for
school activities, adding, "I'd love to be involved with a drama club or
And they're always scrambling.
It's a Thursday afternoon and Ms. Lynch arrives at Polytech a little
early. She needs to make photocopies, eat, sign out an overhead
projector for a public-speaking class and pick up her paycheck in the
finance office. The checks aren't in; she's mixed up her days.
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