DePaul’s associate provost addresses concerns from adjuncts


Bianca Cseke | The DePaulia

DePaul University Lincoln Park campus.

Lucy Rinehart, DePaul University’s associate provost, addressed concerns of adjunct professors that were brought to light in a previous story reported by The DePaulia. Rinehart, who also spoke on the university’s behalf in the previous report, discussed major concerns, like student impact, health care benefits, the university’s budget and where DePaul stands on its commitment to improve working conditions.

Student impact and heavy workloads

Adjuncts are frequently teaching introductory courses. As previously reported by The DePaulia, DePaul’s retention rate of 85 percent has caused faculty members to believe there is a relationship between retention and adjunct faculty’s workload. Rinehart said she thinks DePaul’s retention rate is associated with adjunct faculty, but not in the way that they think.

“That is actually a really strong retention rate,” she said. “I think adjunct faculty and first-year instruction do a fantastic job.”

She believes retention is more associated with affordability. “When you look at that 15 percent drop, and you talk to those students about why they left, some is failure to thrive, but most of it’s affordability,” she said.

According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, the national retention rate for universities was 74 percent in Fall 2017. For private nonprofit universities like DePaul, the retention was 74.1 percent.

Although introductory courses can have larger class sizes, Rinehart said those course sizes are still small.

“Twenty-two is not a big class; 22 is a small class,” she said. The courses have a class size cap that was previously 22, but has been increased to 23. She said as an English professor she understands that “if you have 23 students and 23 papers to grade, there’s no doubt that it’s a heavy workload.”

Some students and parents who go all-in financially could be concerned that heavy workloads affect a professor’s ability to go all-in in return.

“I don’t think that’s something that a parent or a student should be concerned about that that adjunct faculty member is not as committed as that full-time faculty member,” she said.

Adjuncts have reported stress associated with heavy workloads.

“Just so you know, we’re all stressed,” Rinehart said. “That’s important to remember that adjunct faculty’s responsibilities are about teaching. Full-time faculty members’ are about teaching and then all these roles of shared governance. So, everybody is in the pinch of a term. We all have moments of feeling stretched.”

Health care and benefits

As reported by the 2019 Faculty Climate Survey, 62.4 percent of part-time faculty members said health benefits related to their part-time positions are important to them. Adjunct faculty need to teach six 4-credit courses in a 12-month measurement period, must be credited with at least 1,000 hours of service in a 12-month measurement period or a combination of both.

Rinehart said that the threshold for medical eligibility under the Affordable Care Act requires that for every hour in the classroom, there must be 1.25 hours credited.

“And then DePaul took one hour in the classroom and gave four hours credit,” she said. “That’s a gesture that DePaul made.”

According to the National Association of College and University Business Officers, that isn’t exactly the case. The regulation says adjunct faculty would get credited with 2.25 hours of service per week for each hour teaching in the classroom. In addition, adjunct faculty would get credited “an hour of service per week for each additional hour outside of the classroom the faculty member spends performing duties he or she is required to perform (such as required office hours or required attendance at a faculty meeting).”

For adjunct faculty who face serious health concerns or lose their courses due to declining enrollment, there is not a policy in place to protect them from losing their health benefits. Rinehart said that “within the confines of the policies, that is something that happens. People will lose eligibility if their classes are canceled year-to-year. Currently, within our system, there is nothing that we can do in that circumstance.”

DePaul does not have plans to change health care eligibility. “The threshold is already generous,” Rinehart said. “I don’t know any plan to change the calculation of which that’s done.”

The budget deficit

As previously reported by The DePaulia, DePaul University faces a $11 million budget deficit after shortcomings in enrollment in recent years. Since adjunct faculty do not receive an annual salary or consistently receive benefits, adjuncts can be perceived as cost-efficient compared to their full-time counterparts.

Rinehart said she doesn’t think  the use of part-time faculty is primarily driven by budget considerations. “But it’s also acknowledged that the budget crisis is a result of enrollment. Shifting enrollment has consequences for staffing and unit,” she said.

She said the university does not have plans to replace tenure positions with part-time positions. Instead, positions are moved to units that have growing enrollment and taken from units where enrollment is declining.

“These proportions are staying pretty steady,” she said. “I can’t see into the future, but I can tell you that looking backwards, we have a pretty steady trend all the way through.”

Moving forward

Rinehart said the changes that DePaul is making for its adjuncts is coming through the Workplace Environment Committee (WEC), a committee established in 2016 to voice the concerns of adjuncts. According to Rinehart, the WEC has brought new things to DePaul, like a Faculty Council liaison for part-time faculty, creating an adjunct faculty appeal process, adding an adjunct resource website and resource fair.

Adjunct faculty currently do not have voting rights. Nathan DeWitt, the WEC’s Chairman, previously said in a DePaulia report that the WEC is an advisory committee and that they do not have leverage. However, Rinehart said voting power is “under discussion now.”

Rinehart said adjunct faculty members should not fear being retaliated against.

“I totally understand the feeling of being vulnerable, given that they are hired by course, by quarter, by year,” she said. “But I don’t think they should feel that way.”

There is an adjunct faculty appeals process protected by the Code of Conduct to protect adjunct faculty who feel they have been wrongfully terminated, but it only applies during the course contract period. So far, she said, no one has appealed a wrongful termination due to speaking out that she is aware of.

There is not a specific goal or plan that faculty can anticipate but when asked what the WEC’s end goal is, Rinehart said to “support part-time faculty as best as we can, within our resources and within their expectations.”