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The DePaulia

The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

Adjunct agony: The uncertainty for part-time professors at DePaul

(Max Kleiner / The DePaulia)
(Max Kleiner / The DePaulia)


For one veteran adjunct professor at DePaul, the low pay, shaky benefits and the uncertainty that come with part-time status are a far cry from the rewarding academic career she imagined while earning the highest academic degree in her field.   During her undergraduate years, she looked at her professors’ lives and saw a way she could make her ambitions possible. But none of her professors warned her of the difficulties that can face professionals who teach at the college level.

“I saw my professors, and they were able to do their work and teach and have a nice life,”   she said.  “I wish my professors had talked to me more about this difference in the real world of teaching.”

This adjunct wished to remain anonymous for fear of endangering her job.  She has earned the top degree in her academic specialty, known as a terminal degree, and has been an adjunct for 18 years, but still doesn’t know if she will have a job at DePaul come September.  As The DePaulia previously reported, this lack of stability is just one issue that adjunct faculty at DePaul — and across the nation — are facing. Though they teach the same classes as their tenured peers, adjuncts are granted much less in terms of salary and benefits.  At DePaul, adjuncts are paid $3,000 to $6,000 per course, depending on their department.  Nationwide, the average is just under $3,000 for a three-credit course.

[quote]“I try to tell my classes, ‘Did you know that there are people here who have permanent, stable positions and people who don’t,’ ” she said. “It’s a two-tiered system.”[/quote]

John Culbert, the dean of the Theatre School and senior advisor for the Provost to Contingent Faculty said that having adjuncts teach is part of DePaul’s “academic quality strategy,” because adjuncts have up-to-date professional knowledge that is helpful to students.

“We are in Chicago and we have an amazing pool of talented and experienced professionals and people involved in the disciplines in all different ways in the city,” Culbert said. “We have a really rich pool of people who are interested in sharing that with our students.”

The conflict over adjunct professors is coming to a head at Columbia College Chicago, where faculty union representatives are launching a petition drive this week to remove the college president and provost over complaints the administration has reneged on promises to improve working conditions for part-time faculty.

In academia, the first tier is tenured or tenure-track faculty.  They have contracts, salaries, and benefits, usually including health care and retirement.  The second tier is adjunct or contingent faculty. Based on a national study done by the University of Minnesota, about one in five adjunct faculty are living below the poverty line.

For Wanda Evans-Brewer, that image is her reality. She has a Ph.D. in education and teaches courses at DeVry University and Concordia University.

Evans-Brewer took a circuitous route through her education, teaching preschool for a few years before teaching high school for 17 years. Then, she made the transition to higher education.

“I said, ‘I know what I want: a terminal degree. I want to be able to make a difference with policy makers. I want to be able to publish. I want to be respected,’ ” she said. “(As someone with a Ph.D.) you’ve joined an elite team of scholars and researchers, and you have a right to be heard.”

Evans-Brewer has been on welfare twice in her life: Once in childhood and the other after she earned her doctorate and began to teach as an adjunct. Today, she gets no health benefits and is paid at the end of her contract. Last year, Evans-Brewer earned less than $28,000.

“So here I am, 48 years old with just an incredible resume of work, published author, multi-degree, litany of degree, I’m on welfare,” she said. “And I’m working. I’m never not teaching a class. I’m always working, and I have a LINK (food stamps) card, I get medical from the state and Action for Children for my 4 year old.”

Despite the difficulties Evans-Brewer faces while trying to make ends meet, she is proud of the work she does with her students and feels for them, too.  However, she feels she is not able to be part of the fabric of the universities the same way that full-time faculty are.  Evans-Brewer says she and her fellow adjuncts will get classes last minute, and are sometimes not able to prepare adequately or are not informed of university events.

“I want my students to know that I’m (saying this) because I care about them,” she said. “They deserve to have professors who are invested in them. They should be able to come back and ask for a letter of recommendation.”

Martin Bernstein, an adjunct at DePaul and Columbia College, agreed that being available to all of his students is important, even if he isn’t getting paid for that time.  Considering the time he spends teaching, helping students during office hours and grading work, he said the amount adjuncts are paid looks even more paltry.

“Overall, the nature of adjunct faculty is very close to that of a fast food worker in terms of compensation for time spent,” Bernstein said. “Regardless of your level of education, there are adjunct faculty at this school and others with master’s and Ph.D. degrees that hardly make enough to live on.”

In addition to lackluster pay, adjuncts are not afforded the same benefits as tenured professors.  At DePaul, they have the option to pay into a retirement fund and have some subsidized health coverage, but can only qualify for health benefits after they have been teaching for one year and teach six full-credit courses during that time. And very often they have no control over the number of hours they teach.

“It certainly isn’t ideal, and having a part time job here and a part time job at another college does not equal a full-time job,” Bernstein said.

Moreover, if a class is cancelled last minute because of low enrollment, DePaul is only required to pay adjuncts 20 percent of the class fee, or 10 percent if it is cancelled up to a week before the class begins. This can be devastating for those only teaching two classes per quarter.

As for raises, adjuncts have no guarantees.

“There’s no standard for increase in salary at DePaul University. If you want an increase in salary, you have to ask for it,” Bernstein said. “You may be granted that, you may be not, depending on the evaluations you’ve gotten from your students, and how the deans at the various colleges within the university interpret that.”

Stability is another critical problem. Jobs and course loads are not guaranteed year-to-year, or even quarter-to-quarter. This, along with juggling classes at multiple universities means it can be hard to give students the attention they deserve.

Some adjuncts feel that DePaul treats them fairly.  Oftentimes, these are professors who only rely on teaching to provide supplemental income to their professional work. An informal Survey Monkey poll that reached 63 DePaul students revealed that almost 80 percent preferred to have teachers with industry experience over those with terminal degrees.

Dan Daniele, an adjunct at the School of Hospitality Leadership, began teaching at DePaul after 30 years in the industry with the hope of teaching at other schools after retiring from his full time position at Baymont-Inns.

“In my experience, adjuncts want to give back, and they have to be good at it.” Daniele said.  “Lots of adjuncts are young and are only getting their foot in the door. I’m definitely not doing this for the money. It’s pure pleasure. It’s all about perspective.”

DePaul’s Staff Council hasn’t yet broached the rising numbers of adjuncts, though both Robert T. Ryan and Kurtis Todd, council president and vice president respectively, have taught courses at DePaul. “DePaul University staff who teach are probably better employees because of their teaching experience,” Todd said.

Ryan too echoed the educational benefits that DePaul’s adjuncts bring to the classroom.

“I think that adjuncts bring a different view than tenured professors in some cases, but it depends entirely upon the course itself,” Ryan said. “I think that the use of adjuncts can build expertise into programs where needed, and when adjuncts are university staff this brings a developmental opportunity for staff.”

Many students notice the difference between adjunct and tenured professors, too.

“I find them to be better because they’ve been in the industry more, to the point where they can actually teach you about it,” said Sreejith Nair, a film student at Columbia College.

At Northwestern University, a 2013 study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that new students learn more when their instructors are adjuncts than when they are tenure-track professors. The focus of the study was to look at what most affects student learning. The study tracked freshman that entered from Fall 2001 through Fall 2008 and found that these students were more likely to enroll in a second course in the subject when the first course was taught by an adjunct professor.

“I am taking a class with (an adjunct) right now. I like him because I think he is teaching because he cares about what he studies,” Northwestern junior Caylor Arnold said. “(The class is) Asian American Arts. When he teaches, he is very passionate and he seems to know a lot. He is always trying to teach and expose us to new ideas and concepts we don’t know. His assignments incorporate outside learning, like field trips to different places, instead of a standard test.”

However, if an adjunct is at two colleges, it can lead to confusion for both instructors and students. Imani Flowers, an accounting student at DePaul, said that one of her instructors seemed to have a hard time juggling two schools.

“One day he missed class because he thought he was supposed to be at U of Chicago instead of DePaul,” Flowers said. “And sometimes some of the material would like, overlap. And by that, I mean he would be teaching the wrong stuff to the wrong class at the wrong school.”

During the 2013-14 academic year, DePaul employed 1,731 part-time professors and 977 full-time professors, about a 2-to-1 ratio. Ten years prior, 1,411 adjuncts were employed by the university in comparison with 876 full-time professors.

Yet while full-time faculty has increased as well, the amount of work they do in comparison to adjunct professors has decreased significantly. According to university budget documents, the average number of classes full-time faculty teach has gone down from 6.5 in 2004 to 5.3 in 2015, while adjuncts have seen their course load increase from 2.3 to 2.9 per academic year.

As a result, full-time faculty on average are in the classroom about 115 fewer hours per year while adjuncts have increased their share by about 60 hours in the same span.

Despite their increasing responsibilities and importance in students’ lives,  adjuncts  are often the first on the chopping block when things get tough. Given that DePaul relies on tuition dollars for nearly 80 percent of its budget, fluctuations in enrollment have a huge impact on personnel decisions.

With graduate and law school enrollment down significantly and undergraduate enrollment down slightly, the university had to make cuts. While a hiring freeze was placed on full-time faculty, none were laid off. For contingent faculty, such declines in enrollment can be devastating since they lack the protections that come with full-time employment. Over the past decade, the number of adjuncts have increased as enrollment climbed. But now that enrollment is on the slide, many contingent faculty are not needed.

Case in point, enrollment and adjunct faculty employed by DePaul both hit a peak during the 2011-12 academic year. But when enrollment declined 6.3 percent over a span of two years, adjunct faculty saw a 7.8 percent decline in their ranks, nearly 150 fewer. At the same time, full- time professors saw modest increase in their ranks until the hiring freeze was put into place.

Adjunct professors at Columbia College Chicago, with the support of students, have unionized, seeking better pay, benefits and treatment from full-time faculty and administration. P-Fac, the union representing part-time faculty at Columbia College, now boasts more than 900 members.

In May, Columbia students, part-time and full-time faculty and staff rallied together against an administration plan to increase tuition and limit the number of courses while increasing class sizes. For DePaul and Columbia College Chicago adjunct Martin Bernstein, DePaul attempted to form a coalition to recognize issues adjuncts face, but were unsuccessful.

“It has a very limited application.” Bernstein said, “It only met a few times and then disbanded.”

At Loyola University, part-time faculty members make up 45 percent of the overall teaching staff.  Full-time professors earn about $63,000 to $124,083, while part-time professors earn about $2,987 per credit course. Although salaries vary across departments, adjunct professors typically make just $4,500 to $5,000 per three-credit course before taxes. According to Loyola’s provost John Pellissero, professors in the business school, for example, are likely to receive between $5,000 and $7,500 because of the higher market demand for business professors.

Loyola sociology adjunct Matthew Hoffmann has no guarantee that he will still have a job at the end of each semester. Hoffmann receives no benefits from the university and earns a paycheck that does not keep him financially stable.

“I believe if people with terminal degrees are good enough to be hired by major institutions and educate their students, that these teachers are also worth of benefits,” Hoffmann said.

Hoffmann is part of Faculty Forward, a group organizing to demand a national minimum payment of $15,000 per course, including benefits. As a group, Faculty Forward  plans to fight for healthcare and retirement benefits that his full-time/tenure counterparts do receive.

At the University of Illinois at Chicago, part-time faculty make up about a quarter of the overall workforce and the median pay, according to the Adjunct Project, is around $5,500 per course. Due to what they felt was unfair and non-transparent restructuring within the administration, both tenured and nontenured faculty worked together to unionize.

“Scholarship by itself, teaching by itself, service, are not considered tenurable activities,” said Gerry Gorman, the vice president for non-tenure faculty at UIC. “In the long run, I think many of us would like to see teaching be regarded as a tenurable activity, and that would only benefit the students.”

Gorman said that being a public university helped them to unionize in the long run.

The situation is a little different at the University of Chicago and at Northwestern University, Chicago’s most prestigious universities.  At both institutions, fewer than 20 percent of faculty are part time. While the University of Chicago hires relatively few adjuncts, National Adjunct Walkout Day did not go unnoticed on the Hyde Park campus.

“I spent some time talking to my two sections about some of the major shifts in higher education,” said Ashton Lazarus, collegiate assistant professor in the Humanities, in a Chicago Maroon article in March. “I think many of us saw this as a great opportunity to start a conversation with our students about the direction in which the academy is heading.”

According to Glassdoor, full-time professors at the University of Chicago make an average of $163,705 per year. Visiting assistant professors, as they are listed, earn an average of $13,955 per month, 184 percent above the national average.

Professionals who choose to become adjuncts certainly are interested in sharing their knowledge with students, but the time they spend doing so is still valuable to them.  And, while some adjuncts teach to share knowledge and supplement their income, not every adjunct has that luxury.  Certain fields simply don’t pay well professionally. Culbert insisted that DePaul’s adjuncts are compensated fairly, and that most of them are teaching out of love.

“I think that we are proud of the benefits that we offer to part time faculty from what I understand it is above what other institutions available to offer,” he said.

The DePaul adjunct who wished to remain anonymous took the position nearly two decades ago, intending to get teaching experience and then move on to a different school and a tenure track. She realized that teaching jobs in her department were so competitive that she would likely have to move to a rural school to get tenure. She says that despite the media attention, the situation for adjuncts is not improving.

“The broader picture is that things are going to get worse for contingent faculty,” she said.

Though DePaul does compensate its adjuncts better than other universities, she feels that fact is used to downplay the difficulties that adjuncts face and that it is in direct opposition to DePaul’s Vincentian mission.

“It seems very hypocritical to me when they talk about social justice,” she said. “The administration is so entrenched in the idea that ‘Well, we can get qualified people to teach for less, so why not?’”

View more in the investigation, Adjunct Agony.

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    UncleNoodleJul 2, 2015 at 3:10 pm

    Is financial uncertainty at DePaul worsened by threats to tax exemption status over gender issues as suggested this week in Inside Higher Ed?