Monday, January 22nd, 2018

Number of adjunct professors on the rise at USM

Posted on January 27, 2015 in News
By Brian Gordon

The university has been firing tenured professors and replacing them with adjuncts or temporary workers as part of executing their vision of a “metropolitan university.” The administration has been carrying this out in the name of saving money.  The national average of adjuncts teaching is 50 percent  at 4-year public universities. USM uses more than 50 percent to teach their classes and is headed towards more as they let more full time professors go.

The adjuncts are paid per class, per semester. On average they are paid $3,215 per class, for a three credit course for a four month semester. Most adjuncts have to work second and third jobs to make ends meet. Still the adjuncts were adamant about their love of teaching and realized they wouldn’t become rich from it.

Michele Cheung has been teaching part time at USM for twenty years. She holds a master’s in Celtic languages and literatures and is also president of the Part Time Faculty Association union.

To make teaching adjunct work, she freelances, does marketing writing and has a share in a local cleaning company.

“It’s a stereotype that we’re not good enough to be full time faculty, this is a lurking attitude,” said Cheung “Most adjuncts don’t want to be full time; we want a life that’s a bit of this and a bit of that. However we do feel that we should be paid on par as full time.”

She used to teach four classes but now they’ve been done away with. This semester she’s only teaching one section of creative writing.

The administration has been pushing to get tenured professors teaching a full load of four classes, rather than two or three. But at the same time, the administration is cutting classes leaving the tenured professors fighting over classes with the adjuncts.

Cheung notes that adjuncts used to only teach introductory classes but now the tenured professors may need those courses to satisfy their own requirements set by the president and provost.

While some adjuncts are being brought in to replace full-time faculty who have been retrenched, in other departments they have been given fewer sections. This situation creates its own problems. As Cheung notes, adjuncts with the most seniority are the only ones left standing.

“The lesser temps can’t find work at USM. There’s no way for a person to make a living teaching one class; they’d have to pump gas or get government aid,” said Cheung.

Elizabeth Peavey was an USM adjunct teacher of public speaking for 20 years before her class was neutralized last fall.

“I knew I was going to dedicate an enormous amount of my week to this one class so then I had to find something to offset that,” said Peavey. “I did advertising work for years.”

“Anybody who goes into teaching, does it with their heart. It’s public service,” said Peavey. “You don’t aspire to teach for money or because it’s going to be easy.”

Andrew Barron just finished his master’s degree at USM in statistics. He is in his fourth semester as an adjunct teaching at USM. Barron would like to get hired on full time but knows that might not happen due to a campus-wide freeze of hiring tenured track professors. For now he’s content teaching adjunct as much as he can at USM and SMCC but realizes if he does want to get a full time job he might have to move out of state.

As for the pay, Barron isn’t complaining because he loves to teach but “you always pretty much have to do something else.” For Barron that something else was bartending and managing at local bar LFK.

“I can make more bartending two nights than a semester of teaching 12 credits.” said Barron. “It’s not the most efficient way to make money. So you have to like it.”

Susan Feiner professor of economics and women and gender studies thinks the use of adjuncts on campus is too prominent. She believes they are taking jobs that should go to tenured-track professors.

Feiner said there is a place for adjunct teachers on campus where they have a lot of experience in their field of expertise. For example, “A nurse, software designer, the judge in the law school,” said Feiner.

“I’m not saying they’re not good in the classrooms, but they are not teacher-scholars,” said Feiner, meaning they haven’t received their Ph.D and they don’t have a research background.

Do students notice a difference in the teaching quality between adjuncts and full time tenured track professors? “When I’m teaching, I’m teaching and my focus is on that. On the other hand I’m not teaching four courses so I can put more energy into the one or two I do,” said Cheung.

Crystal Lancaster, a Health Sciences major who notes she’s had nurses teaching her said, “I respect the adjuncts a lot more because they’re the ones that go out and do it, rather than someone that just blabs from a textbook.”

Some students have noticed a difference in teaching styles like Iris SanGiovanni, a political science sophomore. Her Spanish 201 class taught by an adjunct relied too heavily on English language Youtube videos, whereas a 202 Spanish class taught by a full time professor used more in class discussion taught in Spanish.

“I feel a little like Goldilocks because 201 was a little too relaxed and 202 was too strict. Perhaps if the adjunct professor had more time to commit to classroom preparation, they wouldn’t have needed to rely so heavily on videos,” said SanGiovanni.

Caleb Coleman, a senior economics major has had adjuncts with mixed success.

“Almost every full-time professor I’ve had has seemed more passionate about the content they are teaching.”

Coleman noted he had a great adjunct professor last year but he left for more money.

“It feels like adjuncts are usually there to just teach the class and would rather avoid spending too much extra time helping students, understandable, given their pay.”

Feiner believes relying too heavily on underpaid workers isn’t fair to the adjuncts or the students.

“This is the problem of administrators seeing everyone as assembly line workers. It’s a very diminished view of education,” said Feiner. “To make the part time worker the norm, rather than the exception is very very detrimental to the academic enterprise.”

“As conditions for full time faculty grow worse and more like the conditions for adjuncts faculty, theres going to be more and more alliances and coalition building and backing each other up. I’m all for that,” said Cheung. “It’s just another way the university is not investing in the school by not investing in teachers.”

  • Adjunct

    As completely contingent workers Adjuncts have every incentive to offer easy courses. If you job depends on customer reviews then the customer is always right, even when they aren’t.

  • Adjunct teacher/scholar
  • Guest

    Don’t fault Prof. Feiner for sounding entitled. She can’t help it.

  • Guest

    Another rationalization for indolence by an entitled faculty member.

  • Guest

    Yes, it is indeed a delicious thought to contemplate the tenured entitled having to exert themselves. Academic
    freedom does not mean academic freeloading.

  • Anonymous

    Those of us with good Ph.D.s have always known that it’s attitudes like those expressed by Prof. Feiner that guarantee we will forever remain underpaid adjuncts. Once one is forced to take part-time work, one is forever tainted. I confess I do rather enjoy the thought of the remaining tenured faculty facing a 4 course teaching load filled with the big survey classes they’ve avoided for years thanks to the adjuncts’ willingness to work for poverty wages.

  • Commonweal

    “The market” is not a magical thing, either. It’s a question of the level of investment the state wants to make in quality education for those who can’t afford to go to Bates, Bowdoin or Colby, but still want a quality education rather than a Netflix U. No one is “standing in the way of the wave” as long as the tide offers students a legitimate university. However, if Metro U is going to be a euphemism for a Kaplan U, you bet there will be standing–and lots of it.

  • Guest

    Your question “Why do Mainers feel they have the expertise to judge academia?” implies that no one is entitled to “judge academia” except academia. The fact is that the market judges electricians and mechanics and academics–the market is telling USM that it needs to change. The AFUM can sneer at the expertise of the people who make the decisions all it wants, but the decisions will go forward. A more intelligent response would be to surf the wave of change instead of standing in the way of the wave. And no, I am not a university administrator, but I suspect you are a disgruntled faculty member.

  • Commonweal

    That’s not really how taxes work in the real world, is it, guest? All of our taxes go to pay for ALL of our public institutions. You, specifically–unless you are a university administrator (which I suspect you are)–do not pay my salary. That is a common right-wing linguistic distortion of the public sphere.

  • Dr.Adjunct

    See the comments by academics like Michael Berube or Karen Kelsky for an example of the tone and strategy used by your more progressive colleagues. Sentiment on the street is that only the old dinosaurs are still pitting adjuncts against tenureds. It doesn’t work, and better to see yourself as one retrenchment letter away from being in our boat, and so to work with us. Try for a fresh strategy that won’t seem so entitled and elitist. You’ll find parents in agreement about fair wages for their kids’ professors, but far fewer who care whether those professors have published in the leading journals. That argument simply doesn’t play well off campus, and so is an ineffective soundbite for you to be using. Good luck to you all.

  • Guest

    The people who are judging academia are the people who pay the salaries. If I hire an electrician, yes, I get to judge that person.

  • Guest

    Maine is a small and not wealthy state. The txapayers can afford but one flagship university, and that is UMO. USM needs to be remade. I speak for 80% of the taxpayers in Maine. What the administration is doing in terms of trimming jobs and moving to the metro model is exactly what people want. Your elitist vision of a school for philosopher kings is a thing of the past. Get real.

  • Anonymous

    What do you mean “few tenured faculty have achieved any prominence as scholars?” That’s just plain FALSE. There are nationally and internationally recognized scholars in virtually every USM department. The lists of books and articles is astounding.

  • Anonymous

    Dear Dr. Adjunct: I know many have the PhD. But after years of adjunct work the investment starts to decay. It’s a horrible situation. The model, teacher/scholar, is of greatest benefit to students.

  • Blundemeier

    Oh please, it’s all going on the internet. Let’s end this “metropolitan” charade.

  • Blundemeier

    The adjuncts are gonna be gone too. Netflix University here we come. Heck, why even have a campus when everything’s gonna be online?

  • Max Stewart

    I would like some evidence for Professor Cheung’s claim that most adjuncts don’t want full-time jobs. That may be true at USM (although I doubt it), but it is certainly not true across the country. Adjuncts cobbling two or three (or more) jobs together end up working much more than a full-time schedule, with little money and no benefits to show for it.

  • Dr.Adjunct

    Surprised to learn that Susan Feiner is unaware that many adjuncts all over the country share her credentials: doctorates from strong programs (not online, as one commenter argued) for which they received full funding (in other words, not vanity degrees). Would faculty like Feiner land jobs if they were on the market today? Maybe. Maybe not. And it’s time to stop framing contingent labor as “doing what you love.” Those statements facilitate wage exploitation

  • Trainedbyseals

    You’re just wrong, both about the students and faculty. But clearly the BOT shares your view. People make money then send their kids to private schools. I used to fault them for it. Given the lack of support for public education, however, I no longer do.

  • Guest

    The students you have in mind are at Harvard and Bowdoin. So are the faculty. USM is simply finding its niche, and it aint Harvard or Bowdoin.

  • Commonweal

    Mainers, please be advised: the term “Metropolitain U” is not magic; in fact, it is just a brand–a euphemism for the erasure of rigorous, PhD-trained research professors in favor of more adjuncts who cannot afford to be scholars, too. Is that where you want your tax dollars going? Also, please understand that in the unusual situation in which a USM professor is teaching fewer than three courses it is because he/she is the department CHAIR, or advising all the department’s students, or heading the faculty senate, or shouldering some other heavy committee/service role.

    Please, imagine what a doctor or a lawyer does–now imagine having 75 clients in your office ALL AT ONCE, each with different needs. Now you have a glimmering of an idea what teachers/professors do every day–except that doesn’t include all the work on curriculum and on their unit’s personnel advancement and on scholarship. Why do Mainers feel they have the expertise to judge academia? Academics don’t judge electricians or car mechanics, etc. on their professions.

  • Trainedbyseals

    I often hear this complaint. Rarely is it accompanied by the recognition that–at least before the advent of online PhDs–faculty spent on a average of 6-9 years past the BA or BS learning their field and demonstrating, through research, that they were capable of making contributions to it. They also had to go through a competitive, national job search, to publish in journals through blind reviews, to be evaluated by their peers for tenure and promotion, both inside and outside the university. University faculty are paid for their expertise, not by the hour. I realize that the system is changing. Now anybody who can afford it can get a PhD online–a popular choice for business people who want to become university administrators– and companies offer pre-prepared box courses with canned lectures, hiring part-time faculty to “present” them to students. By pushing software and devaluing scholarship, certain elements of the business community have found a way to make money off of public education. But in the midst of this regulatory capture, let’s not pretend that nothing is lost. What’s lost is respect for knowledge and the time it takes to acquire it. What’s lost is the relationship between a student who aspires to master a field, and the faculty member who can help. What lost is a system that enabled poor but intelligent people with curiosity and desire to be a part of a larger thinking world. The new Metro U will teach them, instead, how to buy more things from China.

  • Trainedbyseals

    Yes, since Page took over as Chancellor and signaled the future of USM, many faculty at USM left for schools that valued research and scholarship. Since then, USM has been hiring only faculty appropriate to (a much reduced definition) of Metro U, and most of them on short-term contracts. The purge conducted under Flanagan finished the job, shedding the only Guggenheim winner in the state of Maine, leaving precious few genuine research faculty at USM. As a southern Maine citizen, I wouldn’t be too happy about this change, though. For many students over the years, USM has served as an affordable avenue to genuine professional careers in medicine law, and higher education. That will no longer be the case, because the faculty won’t be part of a national network.

  • Guest

    Agreed–the reality is that few tenured faculty have achieved any prominence as scholars. As a metropolitan university, USM will be more oriented to meeting the needs of students in the classroom and in the student advisor role, and less on paying tenured people not to teach very much and to do precious little else.

  • Guest

    Tenured professors may teach two, three or four classes? Pretty cushy. No wonder USM is losing money.

  • Trainedbyseals

    Professor Cheung’s and Feiner’s final comments are right. The BOT has, moreover, further eroded the difference between tenure-track and part-time faculty at USM by erasing the traditional standard that tenured faculty stay active in their field of research. That change erases the difference between a university and a community college. USM should just combine with SMCC. SMCC has the better campus anyway.