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Adjunct Faculty: Their Voices Are Being Heard

Written by // 02/23/2015 // College News // No

Colleges and universities across the nation rely on adjunct faculty to varying degrees. That reliance typically follows an alleged need to manage costs as adjunct instructors cost far less than full-time, tenured professors.

However, adjunct faculty are often underpaid and in many cases have little to no job security. Indeed, SayCampusLife.com focused on their plight last month, noting that such instructors receive at least 25 percent less per year than tenured staff despite providing the equivalent instruction to students. (seePush to Unionize Adjunct Faculty Gains Steam)

The Adjunct Commodity

Essentially, adjunct faculty are treated as a commodity and are hired or disposed of at whim. It isn’t uncommon for instructors to teach at two or more schools concurrently, balancing a schedule that is often not known until the semester begins. Even then, if a class is canceled, the college will more likely than not refuse to reimburse the teacher. This has put a tremendous burden on educators, with some clamoring for union representation to advance their rights.

Unionization is making inroads in academia amongst adjunct faculty. Since last fall, adjuncts at eight colleges have won union representation, including Boston University and Dominican University in California. Over the past two years, more than 15,000 instructors at 40 schools have won union backing according to the Wall Street Journal.

National Labor Relations Board Backing

In December, the National Labor Relations Board threw its support for union action at private religious schools. Further, a National Adjunct Walkout Day is scheduled for Feb. 25, when adjuncts across the country (and internationally too) will advocate for fair wages and better working conditions. Not all instructors will boycott classes, with some advocates participating in rallies and other forms of action to raise awareness.

Over the past decade and more, colleges and universities have been increasingly relying on adjunct and other non tenure-track professors in a bid to manage costs. Indeed, according to the American Association of University Professors, more than 50 percent of so-called “contingent faculty” hold part-time appointments, despite many teaching the equivalent of a full-time load. Moreover, such instructors are paid by the course, and lack such benefits as health care and retirement funds. Contingent faculty now comprises three out of four instructional staff at America’s colleges and universities.

While university administrators may argue that contingent faculty are an economic necessity, the AAUP contends otherwise. Most schools have increased the number of adjuncts during prosperous times, choosing to invest in facilities and technologies instead of instructional spending. Students suffer too because constrained adjuncts have little time or the resources available (such as an office) to meet with students. The AAUP says that learning is damaged and that both faculty governance and academic freedom are undermined.

Spotlight on Contingent Faculty

Regardless of what happens on Wed. as adjunct faculty walks out of classes, perform teach-ins or hold rallies, the plight of contingent faculty is likely to remain under the spotlight. Ironically, instructors are battling with administrators, the same professionals who advocate for “social justice” but are hesitant to help educators who should benefit from the same.

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