Editorial: Fast-food faculty
Published: Wednesday, September 25, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, September 24, 2013 at 2:37 p.m.
Colleges and universities have been treating some of their adjunct professors like fast-food workers for years.
It took the story of an adjunct who died sick, alone and penniless to bring national attention to the issue.
A recent column in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette told the story of Margaret Mary Vojtko, an adjunct professor who taught French at Duquesne University for 25 years before she died Sept. 1 at the age of 83.
She had worked on a contract basis from semester to semester, made between about $3,000 and $3,500 per course and lacked benefits. Bills for cancer treatment left her unable to afford electricity and sleeping in her campus office in the winter, according to the column.
While Vojtko's story might be extreme, the lack of job security and a living wage for adjuncts is not unique. And with adjunct instructors now accounting for 75 percent of all faculty, according to a federal survey, it's an issue that deserves closer scrutiny.
Adjuncts have long had an important role in academia. They've traditionally included working professionals who teach classes on the side and bring real-world experience to teaching.
As universities dedicate more resources to research and cope with budget cuts, adjunct faculty are handling much of the teaching load. The University of Florida cut full-time tenured and tenure-track faculty by 9.4 percent and increased adjunct and other non-tenure faculty by 9.8 percent over five years of budget cuts, The Sun reported this summer.
Santa Fe College relies so much on adjuncts that it held its first job fair for them in June. That same month, the college's board of trustees approved a cap on the hours of part-time workers and teaching load of adjunct faculty — keeping them under the 30 hours a week at which health insurance coverage is required under the Affordable Care Act.
Some adjunct professors have other full-time jobs. But three quarters of adjuncts responding to a Coalition of the Academic Workforce survey said they'd accept a full-time position, suggesting that universities are now employing many would-be tenure-track faculty in those positions.
While concerns have been raised about the quality of instruction by adjuncts, a recent Northwestern University study found that non-tenure track faculty are actually more effective than their tenured peers. That's a reason to work to improve the teaching of tenured faculty, rather than turning even more to adjuncts.
Adjuncts who teach as a second-job or a way to stay busy during retirement offer a good way to supplement full-time faculty. But at a time when administrators make hundreds of thousands of dollars annually, people who want to teach for a living should have an opportunity to earn a living wage and benefits.