Musing on Adjuncts

Community College Dean has a post on limiting adjuncts to a certain number of classes.

I have been working on responding to it and writing about it here, but my mind goes in a dozen different directions so I haven’t been very coherent. I am starting over.

1. Why do we have adjuncts?

Originally, I believe, the adjunct position was created so that people who were professionals in their field could teach a few classes. So, for example, my father could teach a corporate law course and A’s husband could teach an engineering class.

This benefits the students by giving them “real world” teachers and benefits the school by adding some prestige to a department that cannot, perhaps, afford to hire a big name corporate attorney or a six figure engineer.

Now, however, adjuncts are a financial decision. As a college administrator, for example, I can pay Dr. Davis $1600 per course to teach eight courses a year and she makes $12,800. Or I can hire Dr. Davis full-time to teach ten courses and she makes $50,000, not including benefits. For the same cash cost, I can hire 2.5 part-time adjuncts and have almost 2.5 times the class coverage. That is great for the college.

2. Why the caps on course load for adjuncts?

Here’s what happens if the caps are on:
An adjunct who is trying to make a living takes three classes at college 1, because that is how many they allow. She teaches TTh afternoon and a T and a Th night.

Then she goes to college 2 where she teaches three classes. It is thirty minutes from her home instead of ten and she goes from 8 am TTh until 1:30 and then she eats lunch and heads for her other school.

She is now making $9600 a semester.

This is not enough to live on in any major city in the US, which is where she lives so that she can be around lots of colleges, so she goes to another and teaches three classes there…

And very soon you get “burnt out adjunct” who moves on to something else. Which is financially the best choice for the adjunct. But a motivated teacher is lost to the world. (Who else but a motivated teacher would live that way?)

Here’s what I’ve seen happen when the caps are taken off:
If the college hired full-time-part-time adjuncts (as one of my colleges calls it), giving them a full course load and office hours, and only paid $10,000 a semester, then the adjunct makes $20,000 and the full-time teacher makes $50,000. That’s good. The college has saved $30,000. But the adjunct can’t support her family on $20,000, so even though she has a full five-course load, she also has to teach somewhere else.

She takes an extra three classes at another college and makes an additional $5,000 a semester, which allows her to buy insurance for her family.

Now she’s working as an adjunct at two colleges and she’s surviving.

There’s no reason for either college to pay her more and there’s not a whole lot of an incentive for her to do something else.

So she does more work than her colleagues for a little bit more than half the money.

And when she gets the scut courses, the service courses, the classes at the odd times that no one else wants to teach, she knows that even the work she does isn’t valued.

Anyone would be welcome as long as they have a master’s and eighteen hours in her field. They don’t even have to be a good teacher.

3. If the pay bites so badly, why does anyone become an adjunct?

Some people become adjuncts to pass on their love for the field. These are people, again, like my father or my friend’s husband. They are the historical adjuncts and they are a blessing to any college.

Some people become adjuncts because they have a full-time job and want to make a little extra money. These are the people who are usually teachers at the local high school or at another college. They come and adjunct to have money to go out to eat or take a vacation. These people are also a blessing because they are already dedicated teachers.

Some people become adjuncts because they have a full-time avocation and want either the more adult interaction or some extra money. This is how I became an adjunct. As a full-time mother, I felt shut off from adults. Even eighteen year olds are more mature (usually) than six year olds. But I didn’t want a full-time position because I felt being a mother was my full-time work. These people are good for the college because they can bring the passion of a full-timer with the freshness of a part-timer.

And some people, the ones the caps most matter to, become adjuncts because they don’t have a full-time job. They might be in an area with lots of high credentials, such as a small town with a major university and faculty spouses abound, or they might be in a field where there is a surplus, such as English, or they might have a commitment to a certain area where full-time jobs are all filled by relatively young faculty and so there are no openings. These people want a full-time job. Perhaps they need the money and do not want to leave teaching. Perhaps they don’t know what else they could do. Perhaps there are no full-time jobs of any sort in their area, because of the demographics or the economy.

Taking away the caps won’t matter for these people because they need full-time pay and unless you as a college are willing to let them teach eight classes a semester and two or four in the summer, then they’re going to be teaching somewhere else anyway.

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