Treating part-time faculty with fairness

By Barry Edwards of Gresham, Oregon. Barry describes himself as "one of four founding members of the Oregon Coalition of Contingent Academic Labor (Oregon COCAL). We act as an unaffiliated umbrella group and communication nexus for contingent faculty in Oregon's community colleges."

On Bill Maher's HBO show, Real Time, he finishes the show with a segment called 'New Rules' that he uses to share his feelings and frustrations on the issues of the day. Well, contingent faculty in Oregon (also called part-time or adjunct) have a few feelings and frustrations of our own on the issues of OUR day, equity in pay, benefits, and working conditions for contingent faculty. Here are some of them. Learn more at

New Rule!
If you are a contingent faculty member and you are not given an assignment next term, you're unemployed and deserve unemployment compensation just like every other worker. It's called 'fair play'.

Oregon statues ORS 657.167 and ORS 657.221 are written to prevent full-time educational employees from double dipping -- that's fair, but their language conveniently does not make a distinction between full-time and contingent faculty. In other words, when it comes to receiving the benefit of unemployment compensation, a support enjoyed by every other qualifying American, contingent faculty are viewed as full-time faculty. But when it comes to paying contingent faculty equally, or hiring contingent faculty into full-time positions, it's "Sorry, Charlie. There's no money."

Administration can't have it both ways. If we are contingent and we don't get to work a term, we have been 'laid off' and deserve the unemployment compensation we have paid taxes to receive. If administrators don't want to accept that access to unemployment compensation, then they have to give us an assignment. 'Reasonable assurance' isn't reasonable, nor is it assured. Any other option isn't fair play, and one should be able to expect fair play in an American institution where we teach our future leaders. Wait, what am I thinking?

New Rule!
College administrators cannot say to legislators, "We really value our part-time faculty." Unless the administrators are willing to back that up with some serious cash!

I've heard that tired refrain so many times I want to spit! While it is true that contingent faculty want to be treated with respect by the administration and their colleagues, I'd put up with the abuse a little longer if my paycheck didn't make me retch. And I wonder if in this system, 'respect' isn't a function of income level. Perhaps if we were paid more than 40% to 60% of a full-time wage per course, we would be taken more seriously. So administrators, save the compliments, and pony up the equal pay! So I can pay for health insurance, or a mortgage, or groceries. You know, those things that other working professionals can afford

New Rule!
Contingent faculty at Oregon's community colleges are just as much the professional educators as are other faculty and must be compensated and treated fairly and equitably.

Contingent faculty members are approaching a 'flash point' where they are "mad as hell and not going to take it any more!" Aside from the frustration, there are far too many reasons that can be easily articulated to argue in favor of fair and equitable treatment of contingent faculty. The only reason NOT to do so is the well-worn phrase, "Sorry, but we just can't afford to pay you at that rate." For example, the rate that full-time faculty are paid. Even though contingent faculty teach as much as 80% of the course work taught in a discipline. Sometimes even more. Sometimes in this society, we do things because it is right, even though it costs more money. Equitable pay for contingent faculty ought to be one of those things.


  • Gary L (unverified)

    Thank you for writing's one of the best posts I've read here in a long time. This is a great example of why unions need to draw the line and demand "equal pay for equal work." Unfortunately, with the UFT in New York City accepting merit-based pay tied to test scores and the UAW recently allowing two-tiered pay at GM and Chrysler, much of organized labor is headed in the wrong direction around this issue.

    A good friend and comrade of mine is full-time faculty at a community college in Massachusetts, where he is trying to get his union to acknowledge that community college professors are workers, and that the interests of the professors and those of management are opposed. There seems to be this idea in education that "we're all professionals so we need to cooperate with management" (that was my experience with my "professional association" while I was teaching), as well as a hesitancy to stand up and fight for part-time professors.

    Faculty unions need to wake up and full-time faculty need to join arms with contingent faculty to demand equal pay and benefits for all. The trend has been to eliminate full-time positions and replace them with contingent positions, and this trend will continue as long as it's cheaper to do that (as long as contingent profs are paid less). Similarly, if more full-time profs are replaced with cheaper contingent profs, the government will cut funding for public higher education even more, and it will be more difficult to win gains in pay and benefits for contingents. What's good for contingent professors is good for full-time professors, and vice versa. It's time for them to unite and fight.

    The larger issue, I think, and one that full-time and contingent faculty can unite around, is more funding for public higher education. With the money wasted on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and on defense in general, there would be more than enough money to provide a college education to everyone who wants one, with higher pay and benefits for all faculty, as well as smaller class sizes (and a plethora of new jobs created as a result of that).

    Anyways, I could go on forever on this issue. Solidarity and good luck with your struggle!

  • David (unverified)

    I agree with this post completely. Adjunct faculty are a big issue at PSU, where I am currently a grad student. Although certainly at times they are used because they can less expensively teach a class than a FT faculty, my experience has generally been they have been used where they have important and applicable experience. Two quick examples. Last Spring I took a class on Program Evaluation taught by an adjunct whose professional career revolved around doing Program Evals of nonprofits and government. This fall I am taking a NP Management class taught by the head of a major PDX nonprofit. In both cases I believe I learned more and better than I would have with a regular faculty.

    That being said, equal pay for equal work. I'm with you all the way!

  • Sally (unverified)

    David, you make a very logical and reasonable argument, and then end on a note that is less so. Your two examples are probably replicated many times across any University in the nation. Almost by definition, adjuncts are characterised by their specialty or expertise, and therefore their students (as you did) learn much more than from a run of the mill tenured faculty member.

    And then you end with "equal pay for equal work". Since the adjuncts are not providing equal work, but work that is superior, they should get "more pay for better work", should they not? Clearly, in a meritocracy, they would get more pay, since they performed better.

    But we are getting uncomfortably close to "pay for performance", which teachers within K-12 and also higher education, and their unions, seem to shy away from. It is better, they seem to argue, to keep the adjuncts underpaid while they over deliver, compared to the overpaid tenure professors who continue to under deliver.

  • Barry Edwards (unverified)

    As I read through some of the comments, I've noticed a couple of the many "myths" about contingent faculty creeping into the discussion.
    One myth is that contingent faculty are used to supplement professional educators with their specialized skills and experience. While that is an original reason for having contingent faculty when community colleges began more than four decades ago, the overwhelming majority are now use as a cost-cutting tactic for college administrators. Contingent faculty now teach much, if not the majority, of courses in nearly all departments of community colleges nation-wide. Some also argue that another purpose of contingent faculty is to decrease the power and influence of the tenured faculty and convert ALL faculty to contingent. Another very prevalent myth, whose "opposite" seems to be showing up in Sally's post, is that contingent faculty are "less than" tenured faculty. Usually, this is taken to mean they are less effective teachers. That is NOT TRUE. Contingent faculty are not (overall) better or worse than tenured faculty in their teaching abilities. Consider the words of Frank Brooks, a contingent faculty member of Roosevelt University, "Contingency is a threat to quality, not contingent faculty. It’s not who we are but how we are treated that undermines the quality of higher education." Contingent faculty leaders agree with leaders of other education groups that the "pay for performance" tactics of many right-wing politicians is wrong because 1) teachers have little or no control on the quality of the students we teach and 2) the outside arbiters of "performance" are very likely not to be motivated by true performance, but by other more selfish considerations. Only the teacher in the classroom can really know the performance of their students because the teacher is the one that is with that student each day.

  • Jack (unverified)

    I was doing the adjunct thing at PSU at the beginning of this fall term until I crunched the numbers. I was spending so much time on developing a new class that I ended up making $9/hr, and that's with zero benefits (including unemployment), zero union representation, and next to zero support from the department. I quit once I did the math---simple cost-benefit analysis. I won't be taking any more adjunct work. It's one thing if you're developing a course from scratch that you know you'll be teaching for the next X number of years, but as an adjunct, they can kick me to the curb whenever they want, and all that work will have been for naught. Screw that.

  • (Show?)


    Thanks for this post. From Oregon COCAL's site it looks like you work with AFT a fair bit, curious if this includes P.S.U.'s adjunct union. The situation there, where full-time faculty have AAUP as an actual collective bargaining entity, but not a lot of visible interaction or cooperation or solidarity with the adjunct union, differed from when I taught at Clark College in Vancouver, where adjuncts were part of the AFT bargaining unit. That union in turn had complex internal conflicts of interest to some degree, with low adjunct participation and limited f.t. solidarity it appeared (only there a year). Each situation seemed to have advantages and disadvantages.

    In addition to the excellent points you raise, Jack has touched on an issue that goes beyond time creating new classes: dishonest wage & hour accounting. In all of my adjunct jobs for public institutions I had a "salary" converted to a nominal hourly wage that was calculated purely on in-class hours. Of course, if I had only worked those hours I would have been utterly unprepared, left students to their own devices while grading, limited my evaluations to easiest-to-mark formats rather than any sort of written assignments, and held no office hours (despite the clearly stated expectation that I should hold such hours, even they were not part of the hour accounting).

    This method of wage/hour accounting played on the ideology of professionalism by asking for a "professional" commitment to worktime elasticity (as much as needed to get the job done) without the actual professional job structure of full-time benefitted salary. Combined with ethical commitment to teaching as a relationship to students it is a recipe for exploitation and self-exploitation. Combined further with excessive class sizes, and at P.S.U., lack of teaching assistance for classes of a size where full-time faculty would have a t.a., it was also a recipe for demoralization at structural ability to meet my own teaching ideals, in turn affecting student morale. The students were getting cheated and I felt rotten about being the vehicle of the cheat.

    Further to your observation about use of contingent instructors as a cost-cutting measure by administrators: when I was in grad school (the first time, I'm doing a radically different M.A. now to switch careers) in the 1980s, a couple of the big higher ed. policy foundations thought there was going to be a crisis of a Ph.D. shortage as the post-WWII expansion generation came to retirement. They put huge pressure on the univerities to expand the pipeline and push students through it faster. In fact the universities met the retirements by phasing out full-time jobs and replacing them with contingent ones.

    The demand for contingent teachers was further exacerbated by ever increasing publication demands for tenurable jobs and tenure. These were often administered by senior faculty who never could have met the criteria they were applying. They resulted in arcane, overspecialized, ultimately not very interesting or significant research thrown together hurriedly and/or subdivided minutely to meet publication quantity requirements. So, while the professoriate was being artificially divided into people who increasingly saw themselves primarily as researchers, since that was the work that was rewarded and used to exclude people in the shrinking full-time market, and "mere" teachers, both the quality of teaching and the quality of research were being degraded.

  • (Show?)

    Equal pay for equal work can be problematic in this context. Tenured and tenure track faculty at many institutions have service and research obligations that are not required of adjunct or part time faculty.

    It is correct to point to cost-cutting as part of the reason for the poor treatment of adjuncts, but the finger has to be pointed at state legislatures rather than college administrators. I don't know any administrators who like hiring (and firing) part time faculty, but they are in a tight spot given declining public dollars for higher education.

    The ultimate solution to this is to make more permanent, full time positions available, and not rely on part timers. As long as their is an oversupply of people willing to take these jobs, however, the wages will continue to be low.

  • Barry Edwards (unverified)

    Paul makes some interesting points. And I must say that this conversation is most informative and collegial. Thanks to Paul and the others for their comments. Let me address Paul's points. While it is true that contingents of four-year institutions do not have service or research obligations, it is becoming more prevalent for contingents at community colleges to have service obligations, either contractual or implied. An example of an implied obligation is unpaid office hours contingents feel forced to hold due to fear of not getting as many (or any) course assignments in later terms. Research is not a significant issue at Oregon's community colleges. Now about the finger pointing. Administrators and boards decide HOW the funding is spent, the legislators generally focus on the amount of funding. Perhaps there is enough blame for all, to varying degrees. Some might argue that the funding cuts are much more likely when the legislators in power lean towards the "conservative" side of the aisle. Note that it was true that community college funding increased significantly last year under a Democratic Oregon House and Senate, although not nearly enough to get community colleges back to the pre-2001 levels in real dollars. Correcting past mistakes takes time, as I'm sure the mistake of contingent faculty abuse will take time to correct. Having said that, it doesn't mean we don't try, it just means we have to start the fight now. I'd like to agree with Paul on the ultimate solution, that is one of the main points of the AFT-backed FACE legislation. However, accepting the so-called "market forces" approach to fund and run our educational system just plays into the hands of those that want to destroy public education. Education for all citizens is much too important to trust to "market forces" that have too often proven to be untrustworthy and inappropriate. As I said in the guest column, "Sometimes ... we do things because it is right, even though it costs more money."

  • Sally (unverified)

    If this discussion is specific to only one college or system, then the claim of equal work may be fair, but it is not true when you consider all the places adjuncts work. At four-year colleges, holding extra office hours would not be comparable to the burden of service and research expected. Office hours are mandated and not considered service at all. Service refers to committee work and participation at events, sponsorship of student organizations, attendance at workshops and other training sessions, and community involvement. Research includes involving undergrads and grad students in projects suitable to their learning needs, helping them present at conferences, mentoring McNair, honors, theses and other student projects. Adjunct are not expected to do this at all. Someone above describes the work of creating a new course. Tenure track faculty are expected to prepare new courses and to propose additions to the curriculum, as well as to oversee what adjuncts do through peer review and periodic oversight of course content. Committee work includes the routine stuff like searches and promotions, but also the many new initiatives, like "21 days of advising" and "enhancing student involvement" and "improving the first year experience" or adding accessibility to course webpages. Tenure-track faculty are expected to incorporate new technology in the classroom. This year it is pod-casting and clickers -- well beyond simple Powerpoint or Blackboard (WebCT) usage. Adjuncts skip all this stuff yet seem to consider their work to be "equal." I just don't buy it, and I've been an adjunct and tenure track at various places. The claim of equal work might fly at a community college, but not anywhere else in my opinion.

  • Terminal Degree (unverified)

    I'd like to address the comment that adjuncts are not expected to do research or service. ("Adjunct are not expected to do this at all.")

    In my seven years as an adjunct in music (at several four-year universities), I prepped new courses as a last-minute hire; overhauled existing courses; was expected to attend training sessions; was expected to attend student performances; helped students present at national conferences; hosted several visiting professors; mentored students in their senior recitals (the equivalent of a senior thesis, except that the extra work did not count towards my teaching load); met with prospective students; incorporated new technology in my teaching; published articles; presented papers at conferences; and gave regular performances. Heck, at one university I ended up fixing broken windows and buying my own light bulbs for my shared office space. I once flew to a national conference at which a student and I were both presenting. The university paid for her expenses--but I was expected to pay my own way.

    Most of my fellow music adjuncts at those universities did the same kinds of work as I did. One colleague kept a log of all of his university service, teaching, and professional development, and he realized he would have made more at Burger King.

    I'll stand behind a claim that my work as an adjunct was most certainly "equal." But the pay sure wasn't.

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