At any given university only 25 percent of the faculty are full time tenured professors. That leaves the rest of the 75 percent of the faculty to be comprised of adjunct or part time instructors. This state of conditions has led to several controversies. First, many students feel that they are being disadvantaged because they are not being taught by full professors although they are paying full tuition. Second, many adjunct professors are only paid minimum wage and they have no health insurance or job security. These are just a few of the issues surrounding the extensive use of adjunct faculty in university settings.
First, let's define some terms. Adjunct faculty members are part-time instructors. The term part-time can be misleading. These instructors teach an average of two to three courses a semester. They are also responsible for writing syllabi, and grading all assignments. To become an adjunct instructor you only need a Master's degree in the subject that you plan to teach. Most Master's programs are only 18 graduate credits. You don't even need prior teaching experience to secure a position as an Adjunct Faculty member. Most full time faculty members are tenured or tenure track professors. That means at a minimum that they hold a Ph.D or a terminal degree in the subject that they teach. Tenure also meas that they engage in research and regularly publish papers in their fields..
It has been asserted that Adjunct Faculty who are required to teach as much as full time professors are only considered part time faculty so that the universities can avoid having to consider them full time employees and providing them with health benefits. Adjunct Faculty members also are not protected by the faculty unions because those tend to be dominated by tenured faculty who often view adjuncts as a threat.
Adjunct Faculty are also not guaranteed courses each semester. In addition, when they are fortunate enough to have a full semester of teaching assignments (two to three courses) they are only paid about 6-7k a semester or 13k a year. To support themselves, many adjunct faculty are forced to work for multiple universities or to work a second job in a different industry. Even with income from another source, many adjunct faculty cannot afford a retirement plan or health insurance..
One story that made national news was the story of adjunct French instructor, Mary Vojtko. Vojtko had been teaching French at Pittsburgh's prestigious Duquesne University for 25 years. She only made about ten thousand dollars a year and could not afford health insurance. Duquesne decided not to renew her contract. Vojtko had cancer and could not afford to pay her enormous medical bills. Her death, at 83 and very nearly homeless, sparked a debate on Twitter and Facebook, and was featured on NPR..
While some adjunct faculty believe that adjuncting maybe the first step to a full time faculty position, most universities do not hire from their adjunct pool. Some believe that adjunct faculty possess a taint. They believe that if a person has been a part time teacher for so long that they do not possess the research skills necessary to be successful on the tenure track, which is dependent on research and the regular publishing of research papers. .
In her article, “A Manifesto for The Freelance Academic”, author and law professor, Katie Rosie Guest-Pryal, argues that adjunct instructors are often lured by the prospect that adjunct teaching will lead to a faculty position. “Stop hoping that the department where you are contingent is suddenly going to recognize that you are awesome (despite the fact that you are, indeed, awesome). So long as you hold out that glimmer of hope, they hold all the power. You will keep taking on more assignments, hoping that someone will tap you with a magic wand and make you a special fairy, too.” .
College professors should be making a stable income that they can live off. They are providing their time and effort in order to help students try and achieve their goals. They have a lot to do with preparing lessons and grading. The shift to using adjunct helps the schools save money. Yet, that savings is not passed on to the students. Students go into debt to take courses from adjunct faculty members that are just as expensive as the courses offered by tenured professors. Is that really fair? .
Some adjunct faculty have found a happy medium by teaching online courses. Online courses are often asynchronous. Students complete their work at their own pace and professors grade and respond to assignments in the same manner. While the pay for these positions is often as low as face to face positions, there are added benefits. Online professors don't have to worry about transportation costs to and from campus. They also don't have to worry about the cost of making physical copies of assignments for their students. They don't have the stress of working on campus amongst discontent facult. They also have the benefit of working whenever and wherever they wish. Of course, online instructors still find that they have to work other jobs in order to make a living wage. .
Online faculty are often not required to participate in professional development the way that their full time, face to face counterparts are. They often lack formal teaching experience and knowledge of learning theory. Another concern is the lack of supervision for adjunct faculty members. Tenure track professors are often required to have their teaching observed and evaluated by other faculty members. Adjunct faculty members often are not evaluated or observed. This would suggest that there is no authority that ensures that students are receiving a quality education in a course taught by an Adjunct Faculty member..
What does the overwhelming presence of adjunct faculty in our colleges and universities mean for the average student? Are college students really receiving a quality education if they are being taught mostly by adjunct faculty members? Can an adjunct faculty member who is teaching 9 different courses at 3 different universities across the city, while working a part time weekend job really give his/her students the attention and guidance that they need to learn? Also are students and parents getting their money's worth?.
It is hard to view higher education as a consumer relationship, but some argue that is exactly what it is. “The core of corruption is with the "business" model colleges and universities have adopted: rake in the tuition at all costs, reward the lifeblood of the institution, the faculty, with diminishing compensation and status, throw six or seven figures at the administrators and give athletic programs a virtual blank check.” Yet, a college degree is still seen as a ticket to the American Dream. The average college tuition at a private university is about $31,000. Yet most of the classes are taught by overworked and underpaid instructors, with little to no supervision to ensure standards..