Saturday, January 19th, 2019

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.”

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