Since 1969, when the number of part-time professors working at higher education institutions represented only 18.5 percent of academic staff, colleges and universities have continued to increase their use of adjunct professors, raising the number of part-time professors 300 percent by 2011, according to a congressional report released by the House Committee on Education.
Over time, this trend has severely limited the amount of full-time, tenured positions offered to professors. As a result, many adjuncts must find other means to supplement their income in order to earn a livable wage.
Adjunct professors, including Plattsburgh State adjuncts, are usually paid according to how many credits they teach per semester. Though they are not held to an hourly requirement like salaried professors, part-time professors are paid only for the time they teach, and are not compensated for any time they work outside of the classroom.
According to the Coalition on the Academic Workforce, the average pay an adjunct professor receives for a standard three-credit course is $2,700. Based on this number, an adjunct teaching a full course load, usually considered to be eight courses per academic year, would make $21,600 annually.
The median annual salary for a full-time professor is $47,500, according to the Coalition.
“I don’t think adjunct pay has had a good increase in a long time,” said full-time PSUC Assistant Professor of Journalism Luke Cyphers, who previously worked as an adjunct. “There is a real problem in education with the amount people are being paid.”
Aside from the wage gap, the benefits that part-time professors receive are an issue for many.
Adjunct benefits differ at each, but at many colleges part-time professors are eligible for few or no benefits. PSUC adjuncts receive health benefits, including dental and vision, if they are teaching at least two courses. They also have the option to enroll in classes free of charge in exchange for classes that they teach.
PSUC Adjunct Lecturer Jennifer Meschinelli, who is a graduate of PSUC and has been working part-time at the college for six years, will be finishing her master’s degree in May and said that because of the opportunity she had to take free courses in return for teaching, she has spent less than $2,000 total on her degree.
Although she finds other aspects of the relationship between adjunct professors and colleges to be flawed, Meschinelli mentioned her flexible schedule, lack of research requirement and short list of obligations to the school outside of the classroom, and went on to say the benefits she receives as an adjunct are “fair for the job.”
The growing wage gap between full-time faculty and adjunct professors may also help to explain the sometimes precarious relationship between the two, and why some adjuncts, like Meschinelli, feel they “have to be self-motivating” to be successful.
“Certain people will look down on you because you’re not full-time,” Meschinelli said. “It’s the positive feedback from students and messages from alumni that keeps me going.”
The way adjuncts negotiate their terms of employment is not a standardized process, and it varies depending on the college.
Discussion about forming a national union that would include all adjunct professors has become more frequent, even though PSUC adjuncts are already represented by the United University Professions Union, which was specifically started for SUNY employees.
To PSUC Adjunct Lecturer of Mathematics Susan Kenoyer, joining a national union does not sound like the best option. “I prefer belonging to a union for the faculty of the college that I am teaching at,” Kenoyer said.
Although a national union may be considered a “double layer” for SUNY adjuncts as Meschinelli said, it would serve as another platform from which part-time professors could express their growing concerns.
“Any form of standing up for rights is to be applauded; it’s necessary,” Cyphers said.
Despite holding different positions, both Meschinelli and Cyphers agree becoming a professor solely to make a lot of money is not realistic, and to make teaching work, it must be something that a person loves doing.
“The only problem,” Cyphers said, “is you can’t eat love.”
Email Thomas Marble at firstname.lastname@example.org.