The Plight of Adjunct Faculty

Written by: Jessica Landgraf

Primary Source:  Green & Write, March30, 2017


While reading about the state of the adjunct teaching force on college campuses recently, I began to see some parallels between college adjuncts and early childhood teachers.

Just a few weeks ago I discussed the deplorable amount of money that early childhood teachers bring home, leading to a large portion of them to depend on federal and state support services such as Medicaid and food stamps. To my surprise, I found that adjunct faculty face many of the same challenges.

Adjunct Reality

Adjunct faculty, sometimes referred to as contingent faculty, include all part- and full-time non-tenure track faculty at colleges and universities. The biggest thing that unites them is the lack of a long-term contract of employment. Currently, contingent faculty make up more then 70% of all instructional staff in U.S. higher education institutions. Fifty per cent of these faculty appointments are part-time; without a full-time appointment, many of these positions aren’t eligible for benefits. This fact, combined with a standard that pays by the course, puts contingent faculty into a no-win situation for several reasons. First, although many faculty are considered part-time on paper, their workload may still be equivalent to that of full-time faculty. Second, whether or not the hiring institution explicitly limits their paid hours, part-timers are likely to seek out a second job. Some contingent faculty work at several universities, commuting between them during the day. Third, as non-tenure track staff with short contracts, contingent faculty likely don’t have office space or access to services provided to tenure track faculty such as training and support. Without these supports, contingent faculty often have to do the same job as tenure-track faculty without the resources that allow them to function effectively. Additionally, even within the same university, the compensation and benefits they receive can vary greatly based on department.

Regional Labor Panels

At a conference on academic labor negotiations this week, the topic of forming associations similar to city construction unions came up. These union associations would provide the hiring pool for cooperating higher education institutions within a given geographic area and allow for the members’ workplace concerns to be addressed collaboratively by a single united entity.

Although there are no examples of this type of entity in higher education, the idea is spreading. As support grows, it will be interesting to see how the landscape for contingent faculty changes. There hasn’t been any conclusive research about the student outcomes contingent faculty produce; rather, it’s often mixed. These results are likely due to every university having a different standard for hiring, contracting, and paying contingent faculty. If these standards are stabilized within a given region, it could provide a richer sample to study and make comparisons with other regions. Will any increases in pay or benefits cause a shift in the number of positions offered? Will studies on student outcomes show more consistent results? Only time will tell.

Contact Jessica:

The following two tabs change content below.
Jessica Landgraf

Latest posts by Jessica Landgraf (see all)