Federal officials inject themselves in the debate over Metro safety. Maryland state lawmakers spar over early voting sites in Montgomery County. And Pope Francis' representatives in D.C. make a last-minute plea for a death row inmate in Virginia.
Colleges and universities increasingly rely on part-time and non-tenure track faculty, who now teach half or more of all classes on many campuses. Many adjunct faculty complain of low salaries and little respect, including those who have been teaching full time for years. Some adjuncts are turning to labor unions to negotiate better pay and benefits, including adjuncts at George Washington University and American University. We explore the issues.
- Maria Maisto President, New Faculty Majority; Adjunct Faculty, English Department, Cuyahoga Community College, Cleveland, Ohio.
- Peter Schmidt Senior Writer for the Chronicle of Higher Education
- Kip Lornell Adjunct Professor of Africana Studies and Music, George Washington University; Vice President for Higher Education, Service Employees International Union Local 500
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Colleges and universities increasingly rely on part-time and non-tenure-track faculty. Adjuncts are contingent faculty, now teach half or more of all classes on many campuses, and the trend is growing. Most are paid on a per course basis, often at very low salaries, typically with no benefits or job security. Over the past decade or so, adjuncts at universities around the country have begun turning to labor unions.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIThey hope to negotiate better pay and benefits and generally more respect. Here in D.C., adjuncts have voted to form unions at George Washington University, Montgomery College and American University with rumblings at other campuses that may soon follow suit. Joining us to discuss this is Peter Schmidt. He covers academic freedom and labor related issues as a senior writer for the Chronicle of Higher Education. Peter Schmidt, thank you for joining us.
MR. PETER SCHMIDTThank you.
NNAMDIAlso in studio with us is Kip Lornell. He is an adjunct professor of music at George Washington University and vice president for higher education at SEIU Local 500. Kip Lornell, thank you for joining us.
PROF. KIP LORNELLNice to see you again, Kojo.
NNAMDIIf you'd like to join the conversation, call us at 800-433-8850. As a university student or the parent of a student, were you aware of which faculty or adjuncts and which were permanent, tenured faculty, and did it make a difference to you? 800-433-8850. Peter, let's start with some basics. We know what -- that kinds of positions vary, but what is an adjunct or contingent faculty member?
SCHMIDTWell, we're actually talking about several different populations here. A contingent faculty member, that term is used for anyone who works off the tenure track, basically. So it can be people who are employed on a full-time basis but on contracts that go year to year or maybe for a couple years, and then it can also include part-time faculty members who are paid by the class. And, according to the American Association of University Professors, the typical pay is about $2,700 per course.
SCHMIDTWithin these populations, you can have people doing this work for a variety of different motives. They can be people who are earning an income in other fields, successful lawyers or business people or what have you who just want to work with young people and see it as a rewarding way to spend a few evenings a week or what have you, and you have the phenomena of people who are trying to make a living doing this.
SCHMIDTAnd they've been through universities. They have doctorates. They've spent a lot of time and money getting an academic credential. And in some cases, many cases, they're basically living out of the trunks of their cars, running from campus to campus, trying to cobble together enough jobs to make a decent income. And at the Chronicle, we did a story recently on the phenomena of people with doctorates who are living on food stamps. It can be very, very difficult to make even a lower middle-class income off this work.
NNAMDIKip Lornell, how has the adjunct faculty idea evolved? What's the idea behind the contingent or adjunct position, and what was it originally?
LORNELLWell, I think the term adjunct is very well put in this case, because even if you have a large faculty, you can't possibly cover every different specialty that might come up. And in a place like Washington, D.C., you might have an expert on Middle Eastern affairs working on the State Department where you have them come in and teach a class a year in an area that their full-time faculty is not able to really cover in the same depth.
LORNELLWhat's happened, of course, is the use of contingent faculty of all sorts, but, particularly people who are paid by the course, they look at the bottom-line and said, mm hmm, we have 60 people in this class. Right now, they're paying $3,000 per class. That's a lot of money. We're paying the instructors $3,000. That's a cash cow for the universities. So it became a financial issue particularly in the last 20 to 25 years as well as an issue of covering academic fields.
NNAMDIJoining us from studios at WKSU at Kent State Ohio to talk about adjuncts and labor unions is Maria Maisto, president of the New Faculty Majority. That's a national coalition for adjunct and contingent faculty. She's also an adjunct faculty member at the -- in the English Department at Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland, Ohio. Maria Maisto, thank you for joining us.
PROF. MARIA MAISTOThank you for having me.
NNAMDIThe trend toward colleges and universities relying on adjuncts is not new, as Kip Lornell just indicated, but it's been increasing for decades. What's the estimate today of the percentage of adjunct instructors that make up teaching faculty?
MAISTOToday, 75.5 or so percent of college faculty are off-the-tenure track, meaning they have no access to tenure. That's about 1.3 million people out of 1.8 million faculty members. And of these, 700,000 or 70 percent are so-called part-time faculty members, what we commonly call adjuncts.
NNAMDIDoes that number include graduate student instructors?
MAISTOThe one -- the 75.5 percent does include graduate student employees, yes.
NNAMDIOne issue with getting an exact number is that there are a variety of titles and titles and positions that could qualify, correct?
MAISTOThat's correct, yes.
NNAMDIYou can be...
MAISTOIt's very confusing, yeah.
NNAMDIYou can be a lecturer, an adjunct, a clinical associate professor and a number of other titles. Maria, which institutions tend to rely most heavily on part-time teaching staff? Are we talking mainly about community colleges that need to save money?
MAISTORight. It's community colleges where the average is 70 percent part-time faculty, in many cases more. We know of community colleges that have 85 to 90 percent part-time faculty.
NNAMDIKip, you're an adjunct professor in the Music Department at George Washington University. What are some of the biggest issues for adjuncts there?
LORNELLWell, let me piggyback on something that Maria just said. The Music Department in particular, we have -- I believe it is six full-time faculty members and 56 part-time faculty members. So if you're taking a class in the Music Department at GW, approximately 85 percent of all the courses and classes are taught by non-full-time faculty. So that gives you some sense of at least in one department the percentages at GW in the Music Department.
NNAMDIMaria, you started as an adjunct at the University of Akron. What did you expect when you started out, and what was the reality that you encountered?
MAISTOWell, I think, like a lot of adjuncts who come in to this work, I was under the mistaken impression -- I like to call it now foot-in-door disease or the foot-in-door delusion that working as an adjunct would get my foot in the door and allow me -- give me a leg up on getting a full-time position. But the reality was I soon discovered that not only was the pay abominable, there was very little support.
MAISTOThere was really no opportunity for advancement. There are just far too many people vying for far too few positions. So that experience was extremely eye-opening, disillusioning and also motivating because it forced me to take some action.
NNAMDIWe're talking about adjunct faculty at colleges and universities and their attempts in higher numbers than ever to unionize. Are you an adjunct faculty member or a permanent tenured faculty member? Do you think adjuncts are paid and treated fairly at your university? Give us a call, 800-433-8850. We'll start with Andrew in Annandale, Va. Andrew, your turn.
ANDREWHello. I'm an adjunct instructor at a state university, and I should point out that my state is Virginia where we have a right to work law which I would characterize as right to be poor, or...
ANDREW...you know, we have no right to strike per se. Now, we can organize, and we can ask for things to change. But it's absolutely illegal for us to strike. And not only could we be, you know, fired for that, but, you know, criminal penalties could be involved as well. I also want to point out that, you know, adjuncts are in a very tough position because sometimes they can't even share information with other adjuncts.
ANDREWIn other words, you know, it's expected that if you publish some work, you teach well, you do what your department wants, you're likely to get into another position where you'll be paid more and probably exploited further. But, you know, there's sort of a psychological barrier there that's quite huge. In other words, you have to play ball with these folks if you want a recommendation for advancement.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call -- I should say your testimony, Andrew. Peter Schmidt, salary tends to top the list of issues for most adjuncts, and it's why some have turned to unions to help negotiate better pay and benefits. Can you talk a little bit about the trend towards adjuncts unionizing nationally and here in our region?
SCHMIDTSure. So initially, faculty members, decades ago, were hesitant to unionize. There was a perception among tenure-track faculty members that they're professional. They're, you know, that they have this elevated role. Unions are something that the ordinary worker gets involved in. That changed over time, but then there was still resistance to organizing part-time or adjunct faculty members.
SCHMIDTAnd there was -- there's been a little bit of difficult in doing it still because often the interests of full-time and part-time faculty members can seem different. There can be issues of how they assign teaching hours at a college. There can be a question of, you know, full-time tenure-track faculty members will push a college to turn jobs into tenure-track jobs when adjunct faculty members will lose jobs conceivably without happening.
SCHMIDTSo it's taken a while for the main education unions to reach out to this population. In the last 10 years or so, they have pretty substantially, at this point, about 30 to 40 percent of the National Education Association's members, who aren't collectively bargaining units, are contingent faculty. It's more than 40 percent at the American Federation of Teachers, and the American Association of University Professors tracks how many members are part-timers.
SCHMIDTAnd it says about a 10th of its members and collective bargaining units work on that basis. But with the main education unions taking a while to get to the game, this created an opportunity for unions that are not typically associated with education to step in. So we have...
SCHMIDTSEIU, the United Autoworkers who have stepped in. Communications Workers of America are organizing. More recently, the United Steel Workers up in Pittsburgh organized adjuncts at Duquesne. And up in New York, a newspaper guild has stepped in and organized people at the Kaplan Center there, stepping into the for-profit realm.
SCHMIDTSo SEIU is probably the biggest of the nontraditional education unions that have stepped in or the unions that aren't typically thought of as being education unions. They've organized -- the latest figure I have is about 14,000 adjuncts, mainly in Maryland, D.C., California, North Carolina and New England.
NNAMDICouple of questions, the first having to do with, why should this matter to students? Maria, you note, as...
NNAMDI...many people active on behalf of adjuncts do, that students and parents are often unaware of the situation of the faculty teaching a particular class. Can you talk about that and why is should matter to students?
MAISTOYeah, absolutely. In fact, the main reason that I became active in working to improve adjunct faculty working conditions is because I'm a parent. I have three kids. And I was really concerned about what my kids were going to be dealing with when they got to college, based on what I was witnessing first-hand. Essentially, part-time faculty have very little access to the basic kinds of professional support that they need in order to teach to the best of their abilities.
MAISTOThey don't have access to computers. Offices tend to be shared. Office space -- I had to share my office at the University of Akron with about six or seven other adjuncts. That raises concerns because faculty need to be able to consult with students in private. There's federal law that mandates that, and we're not able to do that. Oftentimes, I had to meet with students at McDonald's. I had to tell students not to tell me extremely personal information in the middle of the hallway because they had a right to privacy.
MAISTOThey don't have access, many times, to the materials that they need to prepare for class. We -- our foundation, which is our 501 (c)(3) nonprofit affiliated with our membership organization, did a survey last fall, the fall of 2011, and discovered that even in the best situations -- we surveyed mostly unionized faculty members, and we discovered that even in the best-case scenarios, up to 30 percent of faculty were getting their teaching assignments with three weeks or fewer before classes were to start, which, of course, means that it's very difficult to prepare.
MAISTOOftentimes, they didn't get access to textbooks and other materials that they needed, syllabi, contact with other faculty members, textbooks, that kind of thing. And, of course, this translates into the classroom as, you know, not being able to support students, not having paid office hours so that they can consult with students. So this is, you know, of major concern, and there has been research that has shown that, in spite of faculty being very well-qualified, very dedicated, they can't sustain, you know, in heroic measures, trying to do their work under these conditions.
MAISTOI like to compare it to doctors working in more timed conditions. Good doctors, very well-qualified, but they're not going to be able to do very well when their conditions are so terrible.
NNAMDIKip Lornell, I don't know if you'd like to add anything, basic resources, like access to a printer or an office may sound to some people like minor issues. But we just heard Maria talk about the kind of effect it can have. Can you talk a little why you see those things as being so important?
LORNELLOh, they absolutely are important. You can't do a job like this without the basic tools. And I know from my own experience at GW, it's all over the place. There are some departments where it's very easy to gain access to basic things like being able to photocopy things, having access to computers. My own situation is probably better than most. I actually have an office that's shared with only two other people where there are different times. There's a laptop that folks use.
LORNELLSo for my particular situation at GW, I'm living high on the hog compared to most other people. I don't have problems like that partly because the nature of the department, but also we just finished negotiating our third contract. And as part of that, part of the contractual agreement was access for all adjuncts to basic services like that. And I think that the contract has helped to improve that as well.
NNAMDIPeter Schmidt, hold that thought. I've got to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue this conversation on adjunct unions. The phone lines are busy. So if you'd like to join the conversation, send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Do you think university faculty, including adjuncts, should be allowed to unionize? You can also send us a tweet, @kojoshow, or go to our website, kojoshow.org, and join the conversation there. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking about adjunct faculty at colleges and universities and their increasing attempts to unionize. Our guests are Kip Lornell. He is an adjunct professor of music art George Washington University and vice president for higher education at SEIU Local 500. Maria Maisto is the president of the New Faculty Majority, which is a national coalition for adjunct and contingent faculty.
NNAMDIShe's also an adjunct faculty member in the English Department at Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland, Ohio. And Peter Schmidt covers academic freedom and labor related issues as a senior writer for the Chronicle of Higher Education. Peter Schmidt, I interrupted you.
SCHMIDTYes. So we were talking about education quality concerns and the job of teaching students. And there is some research out there that is showing that student's education can suffer as a result of the working conditions of adjuncts. You know, often, these people are very dedicated, but they don't have time to spend on campus. They're rushing from job to job. They're in a much different position than a full-time salaried professor who can spend a lot of time outside class with students.
SCHMIDTAnd it's interesting because the pressure is being brought to bear on colleges in two respects here. One, the American Federation of Teachers has mounted a campaign where they are trying to get parents to ask colleges as they're doing campus tours and what have you exactly what share of their students' classes will be taught by adjuncts, and how are these adjuncts paid and what are their working conditions because, you know, if you tour a college with your son or daughter, you'll hear about all the Nobel Prize winners or what have you they have on the faculty.
SCHMIDTBut it's a little bit of a bait-and-switch often in terms of the faculty members they describe on the tours and who your student ends up being taught by. So that has arisen as an issue. The other thing -- and Maria can probably talk more about this -- but organizations such as hers are making some effort to get accreditors of colleges to think about these issues as well and if the working conditions of faculty members are absolutely terrible at a given college for making it…
NNAMDIAre you having any significant success at all with that, Maria Maisto?
MAISTOWell, we've been working in conjunction with Adrianna Kezar, who's a professor at USC, on a project called The Changing Faculty and Student Success in which she has brought in a number of representatives of crediting agencies. She's discovered in her research that a great deal of education needs to take place of administrators, accreditors, others in positions of power who, you know, have the resources to be able to address these problems more directly.
MAISTOSo we're very happy that we've been able to work in conjunction with her. And we know that there's concern. It's just a question of figuring out solutions. And, you know, unions are one way to begin to bring those solutions to bear. I live in Ohio where a part-time faculty cannot unionize by law. So I know firsthand what the effects are of not having access to unions.
NNAMDIHere in the Washington area, George Washington unionized back in 2006, something that Kip can talk a little bit more about shortly. American University adjuncts voted this past spring to unionize, both with the Service Employees International Union and Montgomery County Community College, also recognize and -- recognizes an adjunct faculty union which, I guess, is what Jason in Silver Spring, Md. would like to talk about. Jason, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JASONYeah, Kojo, thanks for the show. Yes, I am an adjunct faculty member at Montgomery College where I've been for the past five or six years. And I did just decide to join a union and am proud of my week-long membership. There's so many frustrations, and so many people have covered, you know, already with, I would say, three weeks out is a lot. You know, I was given my course's final approval a week before they started this past semester. You know, obviously, we don't get benefits.
JASONWe get really lousy pay and, you know, and I would say the biggest frustration has to do with the quality of education, in terms of what the kids are getting. And the schools are run a lot more like a factory than they are like, you know, in a higher institution of learning. I've gone and suggested courses, all of which have been turned -- you know, summarily turned down. And there's just -- there's nowhere to go when you just have to teach the same course over and over and over. And I've taught -- the current class I'm teaching, I've taught about 40 semesters worth of.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Jason. Peter, I mentioned that American University just voted to unionize this past February. But you know that the -- that AU had already been working to address some of the concerns of adjuncts in recent years. How?
SCHMIDTWell, they had been strongest in trying to address the concerns of their full-time contract faculty members, and they actually had been doing some very innovative things there, creating new career tracks for people off the tenure track where they could get titles that were fairly professorial and would have some ability to engage in research and other activities, giving them a much stronger voice in faculty governance, ensuring them seats on the faculty senate, what have you.
SCHMIDTSo with that population, they had made some strides. And they'd be making some small steps with adjuncts, but the unionization, I think, is a watershed there.
NNAMDIKip, you've been involved in the union that now represents adjuncts at George Washington, the SEIU, Service Employees International Union. You're the union vice president. Can you talk a little bit about how SEIU came to GW?
LORNELLSure. When we started off -- and I started doing this, well, exactly 12 years ago, in 2000. And when we started off the meeting, we quickly realized that we probably couldn't do this on our own, that we needed to affiliate with a union of some sort. And at that time, UAW was organizing at a new school in NYU. And so we approached them. They agreed that they would help us organize.
LORNELLAfter a year or so, it became clear that, because of the distance between New York and Washington, D.C., as well as the fact that they were organizing two major campaigns, we dissolved mutually and very agreeably that the affiliation between GW and UAW. We approached AFT, among others. AFT was astonishingly blasé. They just didn't really care at all, and we went -- I was at the meeting when we met with them there by Union Station at their headquarters, and they weren't very interested.
LORNELLAnd we knew that SEIU Local 500 had been representing folks in education, particularly Montgomery County Public School employees. And when I went to the meeting, they said, what do you need? What do you want to do? We said, this is what we think we need. This is where we are. They came back a week later and said, you got it. And within about six months, we had enough signatures and were able to move forward with a vote, which the -- which we won. It was a fairly close vote.
LORNELLThen the university proceeded to tie us up for abut 18 months for the appeals to the National Labor Relations Board on every single level to the District Court of Appeals. And finally they decided their last level of appeal, which was the United States Supreme Court, was not a wise move. So they finally capitulated, and we negotiated a contract.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones again. Here now is Sarah in Prince Frederick, Md. Sarah, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
SARAHHi. I attended Prince George's Community College for a nursing program. And I'm an adult student, so I've had a, you know, previous career. And I had a lot of sympathy with some of my adjunct professors because sometimes it seemed like they were professionals trapped in a rough spot. But the overall result of two of my classes taught by adjunct professors is that they either didn't have the materials or the support to make the classes function the way they could have functioned. And ultimately, it ended up affecting my GPA in two different classes.
SARAHYou know, syllabus not being handed out until almost the end of the semester, grades being rated differently and that changing throughout the semester, professors being late for classes, you know, because they were teaching in another class. You know, from what I understand from the conversation, that was -- that's not that unusual. So there were sometimes I had a lot of sympathy with them, other times, very frustrating, and I couldn't really get a lot of support from the college itself.
SARAHWhen I was in the nursing program, I had clinical instructors, and I don't know how they possibly could've done the nursing program without having adjunct faculty teaching clinicals. There were just too many students and too many places to be at the same time. Overall, I felt like my experience was really positive, especially in some -- like my math and my science classes, my adjunct professors, I felt, like, were excellent. And I think that they had a lot more support, and maybe that was just because of a strong foundation of math and science at that particular college.
NNAMDII'm interested in hearing what Maria Maisto is taking from -- taking away from what you're hearing Sarah say.
MAISTOWell, I appreciate her testimony essentially because it really confirms what we know actually happens. I mean, adjunct faculty feel very frustrated by the fact that they can't do their best work. It's like trying to do your work with your hand tied behind your back, as one of my colleagues once put it. So I appreciate the fact that she recognizes that it wasn't the professionalism of the people involved but the conditions in which they were working. And that's, you know, that's confirmed.
MAISTOAnd when one thing that's -- that I'd like to point out, too, is that adjuncts overwhelmingly teach the most vulnerable students on campuses. They teach developmental courses. They teach foundational first and second unit courses. So it ends up being that the most vulnerable students on college campuses get taught by the least supported faculty, which is really fundamentally unfair to students.
NNAMDIAnd, Maria, women often have some of the biggest issues with the tenure track. Can you talk a little bit about that...
NNAMDI...and why adjuncting can offer the flexibility that many women want which is how, I guess, a lot of women get involved in being adjuncts?
MAISTOSure. Absolutely. I mean, we know that, you know, half of the adjunct faculty population is female, and they're overrepresented in some disciplines like English, where I teach. And a lot of the reason for that is that women who are overwhelmingly caregivers have a need for flexible work. Our position is that the need for flexible work should not then justify being paid less than a professional wage. So, yes, I mean, women are overwhelmingly affected, and that's one of our big concerns.
MAISTOIt's something that ought to be pointed out to administrators, and we try. The Association of American Colleges and Universities has done some work on this issue as well. So we're making a concerted effort to make people aware of the gendered nature of the problem.
NNAMDISarah, thank you very much for your call. We got this email from Mike in Baltimore, Peter Schmidt: "Iowa State University says my -- created a kind of a tenured, long-term contract form of adjunct a number of years ago. This was done after the university realized that it has a core of excellent long-term adjuncts who did not want or need tenure but who wanted better job security and access to benefits.
NNAMDI"So a kind of senior adjunct was created. They don't vote with the faculty and have no service duties but otherwise are in the department as similar to associate professors. I think the contracts are renewed every seven or so years, and a review of the person does happen." How widespread is that as far as you know?
SCHMIDTIt's fairly uncommon. Yeah, in fact, the typical situation in colleges is that adjuncts have very little job security which has implications. In terms of my other beat at the Chronicle, academic freedom, people are afraid to say the wrong thing that'll cause them to run afoul their administration. They're often afraid to get involved in politics or campus governance.
SCHMIDTAnd there just really isn't much job security there. You know, people are trying to find some way to solve this issue of colleges being increasingly dependent on an adjunct workforce, what you've described as an innovative approach to that, but it's fairly uncommon.
NNAMDIAnd this email we got from Jonathan in D.C., Kip Lornell: "Students get into their major areas of focus. Do they get a higher percentage of tenured professors? Are adjunct professors used more for a 101-level introductory courses, or are students basically paying for sirloin while getting hamburger?
LORNELLSirloin and hamburger, right?
LORNELLOne could argue the way around in some cases, but that's another discussion.
LORNELLI think that that's all across the board. I teach two courses that are required for music majors. And I teach about as much in terms of upper division classes as I do introductory classes. So I think there is probably -- and, if you look in general, they'll probably get more tenure track, full-time faculty as they go through their programs. But there are going to be enough exceptions to that that I hesitate to state that as a very strong case.
NNAMDIBack to the telephones. Here is Lucille in Boyds, Md., with her own experience. Lucille, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
LUCILLEHi. Kojo. Thanks for taking my call. I have an unusual perspective. I have been an adjunct at Montgomery College and, briefly, American University. But my experience is I came up for my doctoral orals. And I walked into a room, and I had never taken a course with the faculty members who were examining me. I have been almost entirely educated by adjuncts who were very good, incidentally, but they were adjuncts.
LUCILLEAnd we spent the first half hour trying to find some common ground. I mean, it was an unnerving experience, that, you know, here was the core faculty, qualifying me as a doctoral student...
NNAMDINone of whom you had ever met before.
LUCILLE...and, you know, the degree was being converted by the registrar, not by the faculty. They'd never taught me.
NNAMDIHow often does that happen, Kip Lornell?
LORNELLWell, hence my point. That's...
LUCILLEI don't know how often it happens. I know it shook me up. I did all right, but it's a little unnerving to find your -- you have never taken a course with the faculty members on your panel.
LORNELLYeah. I think that would be an extreme example. But, as I said before, the --these situations are all over the place. One of my colleagues in the Graduate School of Education emailed me this morning and said, well, I'm being asked this next year to serve on 12 dissertation committees because there's not enough full-time faculty to serve. So, you know, it varies from place to place how this will all be handled.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. We move on now to Danisha (sp?) in Washington, D.C. Danisha, your turn.
DANISHAHi, Kojo. Thanks for this great show. I just want to talk about the pay and the workload. I am an adjunct faculty right now at Howard University, and I have a Ph.D. And I'm fortunate that I teach three classes, and the pay is so not that great that I also work part-time as a waitress at a restaurant here in Washington, D.C. because I couldn't survive on just the pay. And teaching three courses is a full load. It's what a full-time faculty member with benefits and salary would teach.
DANISHAAnd so that's what I'm teaching as a part-time adjunct faculty. And it's a lot of work, and I really enjoy it and the students. And, fortunately, I have an office. I've been lucky to get that, and I do have access to some of the other materials that the other guests on your show mentioned. But it's still really stressful because I don't have the time to invest in my courses the way I would like to because I'm constantly having to work another job just so that I can stay afloat and pay my student loans and that sort of thing.
DANISHASo it is really stressful. But most adjunct faculties are really good at their job, and the students enjoy having them because they're dedicated to the teaching. They're not swamped with business -- you know, conference meetings and trying to publish. But we are -- I am trying to publish as a Ph.D. so that I can get a full-time position. So it's just a hard workload to balance at times, and I just want to thank you for bringing up this topic.
NNAMDIWhat do you think about the idea of adjunct faculty unions, Danisha?
DANISHAI haven't heard of unions. My other school where I was an adjunct in California, I did not hear unions out there either. I would definitely join a union. I like what the other email said. I'm not necessarily looking for tenure because I was on a tenure-track position, and I don't really care for the tenure hoops. I -- when you go for tenure, teaching is secondary, and researching and publishing becomes number one.
DANISHAAnd I engage in research, but my research is typically not funded because I do qualitative social justice research. And so the money for that is not out there. So I'm going to do research, but I'm going to do it out of my own pocket. And I'm going to publish, but it's not the type of research funding that a Research I institution is going to hire me based on.
DANISHASo I don't necessarily need tenure. I just want benefits, and I want to know that I have a job for the next one to three years. And then you can evaluate me every three years based on my teaching to see if I can come back.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Danisha. Peter Schmidt, sounds fairly typical to you of what the adjunct faculty member wants?
SCHMIDTYes. I mean, Maria can elaborate on that more, I'm sure, but certainly steady employment, benefits, you know, the idea that you're not one fall off your bicycle away from being absolutely destitute or what have you, you know, unable to have good income.
NNAMDISo the top priority, Maria, is not necessarily getting on a tenure track.
MS. MARIA MAISTORight. I think the adjuncts are fairly split on whether or not they really want access to tenure. And, really, when the conversation, you know, turns to tenure, I think people tend to think of a caricatured notion of tenure. And we have to remember that tenure refers to academic freedom. It refers to due process. It refers to basic job protections that all professionals should have. And so whether or not you have it in the form of tenure, every faculty member deserves it in order to do their job adequately.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue our conversation on adjunct faculty and unions and take your calls at 800-433-8850. Do you think adjuncts should be compensated proportionally to tenured faculty? You can also send email to email@example.com, send us a tweet @kojoshow, or go to our website, kojoshow.org, and make a comment or ask a question there. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking about adjunct faculty at colleges and universities and their unionizing in higher numbers. We're talking with Peter Schmidt. He covers academic freedom and labor-related issues as a senior writer for the Chronicle of Higher Education. Kip Lornell is an adjunct professor of music at George Washington University and vice president for higher education at SEIU Local 500. And Maria Maisto is the president of the New Faculty Majority: The National Coalition for Adjunct & Contingent Faculty.
NNAMDIShe's also an adjunct faculty member in the English department at Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland, Ohio. Peter, you note that one issue for adjuncts, that they're often -- is that they're often looking for organizations like the American Association of University Professors that are geared to represent tenured faculty who may have very different issues. Oh, I'm sorry. Peter Schmidt, you're the one who should be responding to that.
SCHMIDTWell, absolutely. I mean, these groups are changing over time, though, and they are becoming more alert to adjunct concerns and reaching out to these populations. But often, the tenure-track and adjunct faculty members don't have exactly the same objectives. They're -- you know, adjuncts have been used as a means of stretching university budgets. So there's some fighting over the pie that goes on.
SCHMIDTI think things are getting better in this respect, but there are some difficult issues. One thing it's worth looking at or keeping in mind is organizing adjuncts actually is a area of opportunity for these unions, especially at private colleges. There was a Supreme Court decision in 1980 that said private colleges could classify tenure-track faculty members as managers and preclude them from organizing, preclude them from becoming union members.
SCHMIDTAdjuncts are typically so excluded from shared governance and the managerial process it's impossible to argue that they have a managerial position. And so, as we're seeing in private institutions in Washington, D.C., the unions can come into private colleges and organize adjuncts in ways in which they haven't been able to organize the full-time, tenure-track people.
NNAMDIOur caller Steve in Rockville, Md. says he has walked both paths. He would like to shed some light. Steve, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
STEVEHi, Kojo. Thanks for the show. Yeah, I teach full-time English at Montgomery College. We don't actually have tenure at Montgomery College. A few people still have it, but they have taught here for years and years. But those of us who are relatively new to the school, we get to about the sixth year, and then we get on to what's called a six-year rolling term contract. It's kind of equivalent to tenure, but it's not quite the same thing.
STEVEBut before I was here, I taught at about seven different colleges part-time, mainly in Central New York, all over the place from Syracuse to Ithaca, N.Y. And, yeah, I feel it for all the people who have to do that, you know, the travel time and not having the office space and all that kind of thing. But I've also seen it from the other side where we're looking at trying to hire somebody for a full-time position.
STEVEWe're looking and we're saying, we've got -- you know, we're hiring somebody who might be here for 15, 20 years, 30 years. We have to be really careful. And we're looking at adjuncts, who sometimes -- we're sitting there thinking, we know you, we know you're smart, we know you work well, but it's like you didn't read the ad that we put up. And we're a public institution. We cannot just hire whoever we want.
STEVEWe have to be able to say that this person who applied for the job got the interview because they had, you know, they -- that we can check the little boxes that said, we asked for English as a second language experience, and they have that. We asked for computer technology experience, and they have that.
STEVEAnd a lot of times, we'll see them from the adjuncts, and it's like they're saying, you know us. We're not going to -- you know, I'm not going to bother to fill out all of this stuff, and you know that I've done this kind of thing. And it's frustrating because sometimes you think, you know, the -- they're not representing themselves as well as they could when the opportunities do arise.
NNAMDICare to comment on that, Kip Lornell?
LORNELLWell, that's an interesting issue. I know that in my own situation at GW, I published 14 books, which is more than any of the other -- any full-time faculty member in the arts and humanities. So in terms of academic of bona fides, that's not an issue for me. But there also is a stigma. I think that's part of what's at work here, a stigma.
LORNELLIf you've been an adjunct -- and I've been a visiting professor at University of Virginia, at Johns Hopkins, at College of William and Mary, but mostly, I've been teaching as an adjunct, which is -- puts you as a third or perhaps fourth-class citizen in the academic world, no matter where you've taught. So there's a certain stigma attached to that that's very difficult to overcome.
LORNELLAnd I know at GW, there are some people who have been part-time faculty, who have gone into full-time positions, particularly in the University writing program, but it's been the vast minority of people. May have less than 1 percent, I'm sure, of people who've been part-time faculty GW who've been able to obtained full-time positions there. And I think that's largely true elsewhere.
NNAMDISteve, thank you very much for your call. We got this email from Evan in Crofton, Md.: "Many tenured professors are hired to bring prestige to the college or university through research rather than for their ability to effectively teach. As a result, I found that many of my best teachers in college were the adjunct faculty." And I think Tamara in Bowie, Md. wants to say, well, amen to that. Tamara, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
TAMARAThank you. Amen to that, absolutely. My son goes to Anne Arundel Community College. He has gone there since he was 15, when he decided, why go to high school? I'm going to get a GED and just finish up at AACC when he was taking some classes (unintelligible) in classes at the community college. All his professors (unintelligible) adjunct, and they have been across the board fabulous. And I just wanted to say thank you because they -- I mean, he doubted himself, his academic prowess.
TAMARAHe's got a 3.8, and he'll be going to Maryland -- in the University of Maryland in the fall to major in Chinese. But that was adjunct professors. I mean, I'm sure my son did the work, but it was the professor who did the hand-holding and the guidance and thank you so much.
NNAMDITamara, thank you very much for your call. And I'm sure the adjunct professors here appreciate it. But then I'd like to go to Tony in Washington, D.C., whom offers a slightly different perspective. Tony, your turn.
TONYHi. Thank you so much for taking my call. I guess I just wanted to say that there's a different type of adjunct that actually the system works pretty well, which is if you're a working professional with a master's degree and you teach a single three-credit course, you're probably fine under this system. And similarly, if you're pursuing a Ph.D. and you need a little extra money on the side and you teach an introductory course and you get some experience, it's also OK.
TONYBut most of the adjunct problems that are described are people who have Ph.D.s but enter a field in which it's almost impossible to get a professor job. And so they have to string all these jobs together. And I just wonder whether it's the responsibility of the university in the state of high tuitions to build new buildings, provide all these benefits for people who basically are trying to treat what is part-time work as full-time work.
MAISTOWell, I'd like to challenge that characterization because, you know, it's really not that these positions are not available. They are being deliberately not offered. There is definitely a need for these positions, but they're not being offered. And, you know, the fact is that as organizations, like the Independent Delta Cost Project has shown and various other studies have shown that colleges and universities have been disinvesting in direct instruction for quite a number of years.
MAISTOAnd so they're -- they've created an artificial scarcity of jobs. So, you know, we really have to challenge colleges and universities to, you know, reconnect with their core mission, which is undergraduate education. And for many of these disciplines, in which this is happening, these are not disciplines that are not peripheral. English, math, these are not peripheral disciplines. These are absolutely critical to the mission of the university.
LORNELLAnd can I add one thing to that? At GW, this last year, approximately 40 percent of the entire budget went towards instruction, the other 60 percent to other issues at GW, which is an educational intuition. And of that 40 percent, approximately 6 percent went to part-time faculty. And, according to the faculty senate, 48 percent of all the classes are taught by non-full-time faculty, so you can do that math on that.
NNAMDIAnd, of course, there are adjunct professors who may not necessarily agree with wanting to unionize. Let's talk with Beatrice in Washington, D.C. Beatrice, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
BEATRICEYes. I have a question primarily addressed to Kip. I am currently a adjunct professor at GW, and I have been an adjunct professor before. And I see no increase in salary. And one of the things that really stumps me is why adjunct professors are forced to join the union. If they don't join the union with the tiny little bit of money that's paid to them, if they don't join the union, then they have to pay a penalty.
BEATRICEAnd instead of joining the union, they still have to pay. I think this is the most incredible thing I've -- it's outrageous. And I'd like to know how Kip, who is the vice president of the SEIU 500, what he has to say about that.
LORNELLI could tell you that we would love to be able to negotiate larger increases from the university. This last increase overall was about 3.5 percent. And, believe me, if you'd been in the bargaining session as I have in the last three times, you know that we were actually suggesting a far larger increase per course. But, given particular circumstances, especially the fact that it's difficult in times like these to justify on the part -- if you're looking at it from the perspective of administrator -- increases above what they gave to us.
LORNELLLet me address the other issue. Part of the contract says, if you want to become a -- if you teach at GW part-time, you're correct, you have to either join the union, which is approximately $28 a month for the months that you are teaching, or you can pay an agency fee, which is approximately $25 a month for any month you're teaching. So the most you could be playing during the year will $25 a month times 12 months if you're teaching every single month out of the year, so it's a small amount of money.
NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid that's all the time we have. Is that because unions don't like what they call free riders?
LORNELLWe provide the same benefits to you, whether you're a union member or not a union member.
NNAMDIKip Lornell is an adjunct proffers of music at George Washington University and vice president for higher education as SEIU Local 500. Kip Lornell, thank you for joining us.
LORNELLThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIPeter Schmidt covers academic freedom and labor related issues as a senior writer for the Chronicle of Higher Education. Peter, thank you for joining us.
SCHMIDTThank you for having me.
NNAMDIAnd Maria Maisto is the president of the New Faculty Majority and National Coalition for Adjunct and Contingent Faculty. She's also an adjunct faculty member in the English department at Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland. Maria, thank you for joining us.
MAISTOThank you. And thank you for doing this show.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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