Putting a Face on the Invisible Adjunct Instructor
As a way to shine a light on low-road practices in for-profit higher education, we issued a Call For Papers: Confronting the For-Profit College Culture. The positive response to the CFP shows that faculty want to be heard, and the forthcoming series of stories will highlight the unique set of circumstances that faculty face. It bears repeating that faculty working conditions are student learning conditions. Are you a for-profit faculty member? Join us here and submit your story.
As a professional in higher education for over ten years, I have served as an administrator, TRIO academic specialist and adjunct faculty. I have viewed both sides of the perspective. I started my first adjunct teaching assignment in 2005. I have a Master’s degree in Communication and extensive professional experience in both corporate and educational environments. When I was laid off from my administrator role in 2012 at a proprietary university, I returned to teaching adjunct assignments to supplement my income. Again, I am saddened to find the injustice suffered by adjunct faculty across the country. I join the ranks of the disillusioned and scarred veterans of adjunct experience. Adjunct instructors are underpaid. For the amount that I am paid per course, it is below minimum wage. In addition, I do not receive benefits, holiday or sick pay. Often, I bring my work with me to enjoy an unpaid vacation with my family. I am subject to preparing weeks in advance for courses that are canceled at the last minute, and other times I am called upon to teach a course at the last minute, one or two days prior to start date, on an unfavorable day or time, or, falls within a holiday schedule. This means that I am expected to prepare a course in little time, or risk losing an opportunity to gain income. I am offered the courses that full-time faculty are not asked or expected to accept. Yet, I am not valued.
A frustration that I have encountered since I started adjunct teaching in 2005 is that adjunct faculty members are considered “invisible” to the administration and full-time, tenured faculty, unless needed. Like many, we are exploited for our need to make money. With this being said, we are expected to walk into the classroom, do our work and leave. We are to be seen but not heard. If we voice our valid opinion, we are frowned upon, or worse, ignored. The worst case scenario? We will not be “invited” back to teach future classes.
Though I do not agree that adjunct faculty offer a less optimum learning experience for our students, it’s clear that our working conditions are unfavorable and this makes our job more difficult. Over time, the stress of working without job security and pay equity sets in. Considering the challenges adjuncts face, I feel that many of my fellow colleagues and I put forth more effort and passion into student engagement than tenured faculty.
This leads me to my next point. Currently, due to the reliance on adjunct faculty, there are instructors who cannot acquire tenured positions although they possess doctorate degrees. These professors are in competition with those of us who have Master’s degrees. This increased competition creates a highly competitive and cutthroat group of adjuncts who will do anything to get the assignment. Hence, if one tries to organize or fight for awareness and fair pay, we find ourselves in jeopardy due to our counterparts who remain silent and/or undermine the effort to professionalize by working unpaid holidays or pandering to management to ensure they will be invited back.
I leave you with one recent example which led to my resignation notice for a small, for-profit college where I delivered periodic teaching assignments since 2005. I was asked weeks prior to teach a three-credit hour, 10-week course. I prepared the syllabi, electronic grade book, and weekly lesson plans. Also, I was asked to visit the campus prior to reactivate my passwords and varied technologies. I spent two hours at the campus and many more hours of advanced preparation. I was called a day and half prior to the course and informed that it was canceled due to enrollment. I taught the same course a year before with fewer students; however, they are on a budget. This wasn’t the first time they did this to me and others. I contacted HR to be compensated for my time but received no response. I am paid hourly for the time spent in the classroom not outside of the classroom. The dean or supervisor never responded to me after years of optimum service. Do you want to be paid for the work that you perform? Adjunct instructors deserve to be paid and provided the same rights as all employees in the workplace.