Fighting for stability: some auxiliaries leave higher education in favor of full-time employment


As higher education continues to grapple with the economic challenges brought on by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, adjunct professors are among the hardest hit.

According to a recent report by the American Association of University Teachers, “a wealth of anecdotal evidence indicates that part-time faculty members – already the lowest paid in higher education – have suffered terrible economic hardship this past year. year “.

The “Annual report on the economic situation of the profession, 2020-2021” notes that it is difficult to monitor the workload of assistants. Payroll systems often do not provide information on the number of courses taught, so it is difficult to get a clear idea of ​​how much work is required to pay an assistant. Auxiliaries are generally remunerated on a per course basis. Some teach one or two courses per semester or term, while others have heavier teaching loads.

Using the information available, AAUP reports that the average amount paid to part-time faculty members for a standard course section, averaged across all types of institutions, is $ 4,519 for full instructors. a doctorate and $ 3,299 for instructors with a master’s degree.

There are no national data available on the number of people with doctorates currently working as adjunct professors, says Glenn T. Colby, senior research officer at AAUP. “Many institutions – especially four-year institutions – do not keep statistics on the number of adjunct professors employed, their teaching loads, remuneration, demographics, etc. He said. “At the large-scale university level… adjunct professors are typically hired and assigned to course sections by department heads or deans with no system to keep track of these people. “

Daily realities

In a blog for titled “The Plight of Adjunct Faculty on America’s Campuses,” writes Dr. Mark J. Drozdowski: meager income, no health insurance or retirement, and little hope for advancement.

Among the issues Colby has heard is the lack of stability. “In addition to concerns about low wages, our members are very concerned about (a) lack of social benefits, such as health insurance, (b) lack of job security and (c) working conditions. work, ”says Colby.

Dr Andrew Robinson has nicknamed himself the Precarious Physicist. “I taught at Carleton University [in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada] for almost 11 years, and they never offered me a permanent job despite excellent teaching evaluations, ”he says. “It’s a lot cheaper to have people teaching on contract than to hire people on a permanent basis. “

Robinson is currently teaching a course for which he is paid $ 7,500 in Canadian dollars. This is a flat rate with no adjustment for the number of students. He expects that next semester there will be 200-300 students in his course.

“If you’re trying to get a car loan, people aren’t very interested if you don’t have a good job,” says Robinson. “I know colleagues who teach in multiple schools – high schools, colleges and universities – to make ends meet.”

He says there’s another problem contract instructors face: “I did a good body of research when I was an active researcher in the ’80s and’ 90s,” he says. “In physics… until you get a permanent job, you can’t apply for funding. “

Dr Lee Skallerup BessetteDr Lee Skallerup Bessette, deputy director of digital learning at the Center for New Designs in Learning & Scholarship (CNDLS) at Georgetown University, says she switched to staff work around faculty development in technology academic because she was stuck in a contingent / contract faculty. posts.

When Bessette’s husband got a tenure-track position, she became a contract instructor. She felt lucky that it was a full-time position teaching first-year writing classes, but the pay was very low and there was no sense of being part of a college community.

“There was no possibility of advancement, career development or increase. It was really demoralizing, ”says Bessette who, even after five years on the job, says an administrator told her she was temporary.

This has boosted his activism around side issues – noting that women and people of color make up a large portion of the auxiliary workforce. As Bessette blogged about her experiences and those of other auxiliaries and adjunct professors, she received messages telling her to be grateful for what she had and theorizing that not having a tenure-track position reflected her abilities, not the system. She says an assistant has little academic freedom and no protection against dismissal if there is a disagreement with someone in a position of power.

Community college landscape

Colby says the AAUP is concerned about the tendency for institutions to hire more administrators and fewer full-time faculty. This is precisely what enrages Caprice Lawless, author of the AAUP booklet “An Auxiliary’s Guide to Working in the Colorado Community College System (CCCS)”. Lawless has taught first-year composition and advanced composition at Front Range Community College (FRCC) since 1999.

Caprice without lawCaprice without law“At CCCS, we have 64 presidents and vice-presidents in a system of 13 colleges [some of the colleges have multiple locations]Said Lawless, co-chair of the Colorado Conference of AAUP and member of the AAUP National Community College Committee. As written in the report [information obtained due to a Colorado Open Records Act request], these annual administrative salaries range from $ 87,748 to $ 244,082 and $ 437,650 for the chancellor. Each college president determines the salaries and other working conditions of adjunct professors.

In the brochure, Lawless writes that as of April 6, 2021, CCCS employed 4,519 adjunct faculty and 1,164 full-time faculty; thus, adjunct professors are three times more numerous than full-time professors. Full-time CCCS faculty received a 20% salary increase in 2014, spread over several years, but a line in the most recent annual audit refers to an overall increase of 3% in the “instruction” category. . A 3% increase for the average tutor ($ 1,138 / credit hour salary) would be $ 102 for a 3 credit hour course.

“We’re paid $ 10,000 less than a living wage, even when we teach as many courses as a full-time teacher would teach,” says Lawless, who also does freelance writing and editing work and has boarders at home. “It has become a completely and completely transactional environment. They want students, they want money for tuition fees, but in the meantime they are destroying the lives of teachers. “

Career change

“The only option at Carleton would be to stop being an instructor and become an instructional designer where you help other people teach, but you don’t teach yourself,” says Robinson. “It would be a little soul destroying not to teach and just trying to help others teach.”

After years of auxiliary and contractual work, Bessette held a position at CNDLS three years ago. She works with the faculty to develop programming around digital learning and teaches one course per semester as part of a Masters program in Learning Design and Technology at Georgetown. Being able to continue teaching was what made this full-time position so appealing, she says.

Dr Liana M. SilvaDr Liana M. SilvaDr Liana M. Silva obtained a PhD in English and imagined herself becoming a university professor, but after years of working as an associate editor and freelance writer, she decided to take a teaching certification program available at Houston and in 2016 became a high school English teacher. She enjoyed college education, including a bridging assignment to teach academic writing to science doctoral students, but “the bridging work was not going to be viable in the long run,” says Silva.

As she had mainly taught writing and composition in first year as an assistant, Silva thought this would be her main teaching assignment, but it was not. Today, she finds the joy of giving International Baccalaureate language and literature courses to high school students. She even does some college education with dual enrollment courses for a community college.

“I can do whatever I wanted to do as a teacher,” she says. “I have students who are looking for a challenge. I can teach whatever literature I want to teach. I can organize classes that I imagined I would one day teach.

Looking forward

“We have to have some kind of model where people can at least move forward,” Lawless says.

Colby says that, under AAUP policy, all teachers – whether employed part-time or full-time – should have the opportunity to obtain tenure. “That is, when faculty members are hired, they should have a probationary period, and after that they should be tenured,” he says. “Tenure is the best way to achieve academic freedom. “

Increased data on auxiliaries and other contingent teachers can strengthen advocacy.

“By making the information available, institutions can pressure boards, legislators and other policy makers to provide funds for a substantial readjustment of university salary levels to avoid irreparable damage to the system.” American higher education, ”explains Colby. “Unless colleges and universities start offering fair compensation – salary, benefits and working conditions – we will lose these faculty members to other professions. ”

This article originally appeared in the October 28, 2021 edition of Divers. Read it here.

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