Adjuncts’ responsibilities outweigh pay

Illustration by Dan Nacu.

Matt Shenker
Guest Columnist 

When we think of our professors, we usually don’t think about their financial well-being. We’re too busy thinking about how we’re going to earn a decent grade in the course. We may even look at some professors as an obstacle to getting an ‘A’ in a class.

Unfortunately, the financial well-being of our instructors is becoming a more prevalent concern both at VCU and throughout the nation.

At VCU, roughly 30 percent of the faculty are part-time, as stated in the provost’s 2014 “State of the Faculty” address. These numbers are considerably less than the national average percentage for adjunct professors, which is roughly around 35 percent, according to the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges. The organization also found that salary differences range from 25 to 45 percent when comparing full-time professor pay to part-time professor pay (on a national level), with a part-time professor being defined as someone working less than 29 hours a week.

This means many professors, who may have long dreamed of becoming full-time university instructors and may hold doctorate degrees, have to work multiple part-time jobs and still make less than many maintenance workers. A maintenance worker in Virginia earns between $20,000 and $47,000 on an average annual salary, according to a salary report published by Simply Hired. This is not to say that maintenance workers do not deserve fair wages, but I think someone who holds several degrees should make more than someone who may not have attended college.

According to Timothy L. Davey, VCU’s associate vice provost for faculty requirement and retention, adjunct professors are an asset to the university because they provide a “workplace” perspective.

If adjuncts work somewhere else in addition to their hours at VCU, they may be commuting between jobs, which takes up more of their time. Yet, even with the combined hours earned from multiple institutions, an adjunct professor still may not make what they would with the same hours as a full-time or tenured faculty member.

This coincides with a similar problem adjunct professors at VCU face. Davey says the university aspires to recruit, retain and support talented and diverse faculty and would like to have more full-time and tenured professors. The trouble is, as state and federal funding decreases, tuition rates and expenses increase. Throughout the past decade, the university has faced the dilemma of hiring more faculty to meet the needs of the student body, while trying to avoid raising tuition rates.

The most cost-effective way to provide instructors would be to hire more part-time instructors. These adjunct professors can be a tremendous advantage for the university because they are provided with the opportunity to give experience from the workforce, as they are part-time, and they are relatively cost-effective in the eyes of the university.

Except these part-time instructors come with a downside.

While it may be more cost-effective to hire adjunct professors, it also means that such professors are unable to provide extra time toward student advising, committee participation and other responsibilities that come along with being a full-time faculty member.

Despite these challenges, the university has been able to raise the number of full-time employees and lower their adjunct numbers during the past year more effectively than other institutions around the country. The numbers for non-tenure track and part-time professors in 1969-72 was around 21 percent of the teaching faculty, whereas the amount from 2009-13 are around 66 percent, according to the AGB.

The university has actually made many part-time faculty members into full-time members.The number of adjunct instructors decreased from 1,205 in 2012 to 1,143 in 2013. We can compare that to an increase in full-time and tenured professors from 919 tenured in 2012 to 955 in 2013, with term or full-time faculty numbers rising from 1,071 in 2012 to 1,215 in 2013. The diminishing amount of adjunct can be attributed to the Affordable Care Act and Virginia Manpower Control Program.

Although the Affordable Care Act has certainly garnered plenty of attention, the accompanying Manpower Control Program has made it a requirement for any state universities to give benefits and full-time status to any of employees who work more than 29 hours a week. Thanks to this, VCU adjunct professors are seeing positive results.

The percentage of adjunct faculty at VCU is lower than the nationwide average. There may be more that needs to be done on behalf of these adjunct faculty members, but it is clear that VCU is making an effort.

It probably doesn’t occur to students, but it may be nice to consider the struggles of an adjunct professor, who is probably receiving less-than-adequate pay in order to contribute to the education of their students.

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