Adjunct Faculty Discuss Impact and Working Conditions

By Travis Olsen

Sun Star Reporter

A handful of adjunct faculty members met last month with union representatives to discuss how to address their lack of compensation for training required by the University of Alaska, as well as other issues such as the lack of employment consistency and not having offices to meet with students in private.

Adjunct faculty discuss issues at a union meeting. – Travis Olsen / Sun Star

Adjunct faculty members, who teach 35% of credits offered at UAF according to university data,  are hired on a semester-to-semester basis rather than the nine- or 12-month contracts common for fulltime faculty, are required to hold office hours for students, as well as attend any university required training, such as the recent Title IX training.

The recently mandated Title IX training “should be paid work time, outside the adjunct teaching assignment,” according to a letter submitted in June to the University of Alaska by Pete Ford, regional manager of the adjuncts’ union. Adjunct faculty are still having issues getting compensated for their time.

According to the UAF Planning, Analysis and Institutional Research (PAIR) data last updated in fall of 2013, UAF had employed 331 adjunct faculty that semester, compared to the listed 375 full-time instructional faculty. Many students are unaware of the large number of temporary faculty employed by UAF, and when that figure was heard by engineering student Kyle Milne, he said “that’s way more than I thought, I had no idea it was that many.”

Most adjunct faculty members are paid a flat rate to teach a course, which includes their preparation, teaching, grading and office hours. The amount adjuncts make is based on the number of classes they teach. “To make $28,000 last year as an adjunct, I taught five classes during the fall and spring semesters plus two summer session classes,” said Kate Quick, a term assistant professor in developmental English.

Michael Koskie, another adjuncts’ union manager, also attended last months adjunct meeting. He said he met with the UAF Human Resources Department to discuss training payment problems on Oct. 1 and was told that they would get back to him. Koskie said the Oct. 17 meeting that he, “still has had no response.”  The possibility of filing a grievance was discussed by union representatives and adjunct faculty if the response was delayed much longer. Koskie was contacted back on Nov. 13 in regards to the issue, with no resolution in sight.

Adjuncts who fall under the union taught approximately 23 percent of the credit hours during the 2011-2014 academic years according to PAIR data provided by UAF. However, the data doesn’t account for graduate students who teach classes, or other full time faculty members who hold non-teaching positions and teach classes as adjuncts. “The data only accounts for adjuncts whose primary role at UAF is as an adjunct instructor,” said UAF Senior Public Information Officer Marmian Grimes.

The battle for payment compensation is just one of many that adjunct faculty face. Employment consistency is difficult as well. “I’ve been lucky to get full time positions for a year here and there,” Quick said, “I’m in one of those lucky years right now. Next year, I will likely be back to adjunct status.”

In the adjunct contract, it states that their employment may be cancelled based upon the needs of the university, and that at the end of a semester-based appointment, an adjunct may or may not be offered another job assignment. In other words, an adjunct appointment is no guarantee of future employment at UAF. The position as an adjunct also leaves no room for professors to have pay raises. Former Journalism Professor Robyne said, “I made more per semester in the 1980s than now, especially if you factor in inflation.”

In addition to the lack of employment consistency and room for pay raises, adjunct faculty do not receive most of the benefits their tenure and non-tenure track coworkers do. This issue is not unique to UAF, and is starting to be highlighted in the political realm as well. Alaska Senator Mark Begich took a few moments to speak with UAF adjunct faculty on Oct. 17 while the union and faculty members took a recess. When asked about possible state-level assistance with these issues, Begich said, the state’s support of post-secondary education has been, “marginal at best,” but was, “not sure what can be done at the Senate level.”

Earlier this year, a staff report summary was submitted by the House of Education and Workforce Committee to the U.S. House of Representatives regarding the working conditions of adjunct faculty. The increase in adjunct faculty at universities nationwide has lawmakers worried about the quality of higher education, “because of what it means for the living standards and work lives of those individuals, we expect to educate the next generation of scientists, entrepreneurs and other highly skilled workers,” as well as the quality of the education as a whole. “National trends indicate that schools are increasingly relying on adjuncts and other contingent faculty members,” the report said, “rather than full-time, tenure-track professors, to do the bulk of the work of educating students.”

Despite increasing cost of tuition and attendance, the number of part-time faculty has grown more than 300 percent in the last 30 years, and the percent of full-time faculty has been on a decline, with adjunct faculty averaging 70 percent of the classes taught at universities nationwide, according to the staff report. UAF by itself does fair better than the national average, with PAIR data showing that approximately 35 percent of credits taught by adjuncts and the remaining 65 percent taught by full time faculty.

Currently, UAF is working to dispel the confusion for the required training payment. When it comes to the Title IX training, according to Grimes, “A lot of the confusion is because of the fast timeline.”  Grimes also noted that a mechanism is in place, and UAF Human Resources had planned to send out guidance during the first week of November, but no guidance has been sent out yet.


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3 Responses

  1. Robyne says:

    This was a good overview of the current issues adjunct lecturers face, especially given the streamlining challenges facing the university. Let’s all work to put students and their education first.

    Thanks, Sun Star, for your work informing the university community.

  2. Very good job with this report, Travis. Your ability to understand complex matters, convey them in an engaging way, while addressing important social issues in the process will take you far.

    Steven R. Van Hook, PhD
    University of California

  3. Fred Vreeman says:

    Thank you. I am considering serving in an Adjunct role at UAF after retirement. Your balanced overview here was very helpful and informative.

    Fred Vreeman
    Environmental Program Manager
    State of Alaska, DEC

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