Increases in the number of part-time instructors at the University of Southern Maine are causing concerns and raising complaints.
“I’m concerned for the quality of education at the University,” said Briggs Seekins, a part-time English instructor. “It’s a scandal the way the administration treats the status of part-time workers.”
Seekins has expressed his concerns on numerous occasions, writing letters not only to the USM president’s office, but also the chancellor’s office, USM Board of Trustee members and to Governor Angus King, without any satisfying results.
“The use of part-time faculty has impacted educational quality for most, if not all, students who attended USM during the last decade or so,” said Seekins in a circulated memorandum last spring.
Seekins is not alone in his complaints. Last month, part-timers nationwide protested their status on college campuses. Demonstrations on the campuses of Temple University, the University of Massachusetts and the University of Pennsylvania emphasized the importance of the situation.
According to statistics from The American Federation of Teachers, nearly half of all college and university faculty in the United States is classified as part-time, an increase of nearly 15 percent in the past fifteen years. And nearly 80 percent of those part-timers are working without healthcare benefits or a subsidized retirement plan.
“This situation is occurring on a lot of campuses,” said Seekins, who accused the University of using that as an excuse for continuing part-time policy. “Every time they acknowledge the problems of part-time instructors, the administration points out that it occurs in other places as well. That is a weak answer. This is not a reason to not friggin’ do something about it here.”
Though acknowledging a national concern about the overuse of part-time faculty, USM President Richard Pattenaude disagrees with the fact that part-timers have a negative impact on education at the university.
“I think we’ve maintained the right mix of faculty to make sure that we’re offering students a quality education, while treating employees fairly,” said Pattenaude.
At USM there are currently 293 part-time instructors in comparison to 343 full-time professors. Almost half of the classes are taught by part-timers, with the majority teaching one class, though a number teach two or more, according to statistics from Media & Community Relations office.
In the fall of 1995, the University had 204 part-time instructors, which increased to 252 in 1998, an increase of approximately 25 percent. This is in comparison with the nearly 45 percent increase over the subsequent three years.
But despite the increases, Pattenaude says that the balance between the two faculties is a “good balance.”
“I disagree 100 percent (that part-timers hurt students’ education), I don’t think a part-time faculty member is a compromise,” said Pattenaude.
That balance gives students the access to other courses that could not be offered without the help of part-timers, he said.
“We feel that part-time faculty give students access to expertise that might otherwise be difficult to provide through regular tenure-track appoints,” said Pattenaude. “The judicious use of part-time appoints gives us the financial and programmatic flexibility to respond quickly to community and student demands for specific courses.”
“They’re a very valuable, great asset,” said Pattenaude. “They bring expertise (and) teach courses we can’t offer.”
Pattenaude said the University has tried to keep the ratio of faculty down by increasing the hiring of full-time professors in the past five years.
“We hire as many full-time faculty as we can afford,” said Pattenaude. “If we converted all our part-time professors to full-time, we’d lose hundreds of courses.”
Pattenaude said the increases nationally have led to questions on the impact of education in relation to part-timers, as well as concerns about working conditions, including pay and the level of benefits. He said that The University of Maine System is one of approximately 40 public systems or colleges in the country that offers a separate collective bargaining agreement with part-time faculty.
Part-timers earn between $2,007 and $2,646 per three-credit course. Those who have achieved professorship status working part-time make significantly more.
For a part-timer teaching four courses for two semesters, that adds up to $16,056 a year. Full-time professors at the university make $68,407.
“We’re paid what fast food workers are paid,” said Seekins.
In a study conducted by The American Federation of Teachers, the national average of hours worked by part-timers is 36.9 hours per week and earn, on average, 40 cents on the dollar compared to full-timers teaching comparable courses.
Students should know if they’re getting a part-time professor, said Seekins, calling the use of part-timers for the same price as borderline fraud. “It’s misleading to those purchasing an education.”
Seekins also cites the gap in income as a catalyst of class division within the University teaching structure. While professors are more in the middle income level, part-timers are near the poverty level, said Seekins.
“We can’t afford the types of restaurants they bring visiting writers (to),” said Seekins, giving an example of the division. Such separation leads to gaps in relations between all instructors. “The whole faculty doesn’t really know each other.”
Don Anspach, acting president of the Association of Faculty of the University of Maine, the full-time faculty union, agrees that the two faculties rarely interact regarding University issues.
“We never join forces because our issues of different,” said Anspach, who is also a full-time sociology professor at USM. He also cited that the full-time faculty is forty-seventh in the nation in pay. “We have our own battles to fight.”
However Anspach acknowledged the difficulties part-timers are faced with, saying that with no job security, they are usually the first to go and are probably misused by the university.
Another issue with low pay is the need of some instructors to find other work while teaching classes. This may conflict with their duties, said Seekins. He has supplemented his USM income with positions helping homeless teenagers, freelance writing and tutoring.
“There are upsides and downsides,” said Justin LaBerge, a political science/communication double major and treasurer of the USM Student Senate. “Sometimes you wonder what qualifications they have, but there are plenty of full-time professors I thought stunk too.”
LaBerge said that part-timers have neither a positive or negative impact on the education at USM in comparison to other schools.
“Any big school has them,” he said. “If they are good enough for Harvard and Berkley, they’re good enough for USM.”
On the grounds that pay may affect the job performance or the quality of the part-time faculty, LaBerge said there was no correlation in the mind of students on campus.
“Everyone is low paid,” said LaBerge. “Any job in a state institution will be wholly inadequate in regards to pay. They could be paid more, but who is going to pay for it? Students, with higher tuition, the taxpayers of the state. We could do a lot of things if we increased tuition.”
“I receive comments both positive and negative about faculty, both part-time and full-time,” said Joseph Wood, USM Provost
The situation for part-timers depends on their individual situations, said Wood. While some have full-time jobs in addition to teaching at the university, those who depend on part-time teaching as their primary source of income are probably dissatisfied.
Wood said that USM’s part-time pay is comparable with other institutions around the country, although private colleges pay better than public institutions like USM.
“Are salaries fair? That depends on whether one teaches to extend one’s professional experience or one teaches to earn a living,” said Wood, who also acknowledged that benefits for part-timers are “limited at best.”
Nationwide the majority of part-time college instructors are hired by English Departments. Lucinda Cole, chair of the English department, acknowledges that that is probably true of this campus.
“Our department is absolutely dependent on part-time faculty to teach our service courses,” said Cole. “We couldn’t deliver our major and the CORE courses without them.”
The major reason for the number of workers is the requirement of college writing for every student at the university. That workload is usually handled by part-timers.
“As USM increases the number of traditional students, unless the administration gives us more full-time lines, we will probably have to rely even more heavily on part-time faculty,” said Cole.
While acknowledging the complaints of part-timers, Cole blames the decrease in state support for the university’s current system of hiring. This decrease in funding is usually dealt with by increasing tuition costs or by controlling faculty costs by hiring part-time instructors.
Cole admits that part-timers are “ridiculously underpaid,” at a little over $2,000 a class. “That’s less than I got in graduate school,” said Cole.
But she is quick in praising the faculty in her department.
“They’re usually very smart, talented, and dedicated teachers who either chose not to pursue a Ph.D. or who got the degree but, for whatever reason, were unable to accept a tenure-trackjob.”
But the overuse of part-timers can also lead to a decrease in the worth of an institution, as national accreditation boards often use the full-time/part-time ratio as a criteria in judging colleges.
Cole proposes that part-time problems and complaints may be addressed through the regulation of appointments of long-term part-time faculty by creating a series of instructorships involving a full-time workload, which could pay a living wage.
“While instructorships would be an added expense for the administration, the benefits would be endless. Students would have more regular access to their teachers, the teachers could count on ongoing employment, and the department could benefit from the wisdom and experience of the part-time faculty,” said Cole. “I think it’s the humane and intelligent thing to do. Not everyone agrees with me, of course.”
Staff Writer Stephan Allan can be contacted at [email protected]