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Adjunct Faculty at Community Colleges
By Arthur Katz


Adjunct Faculty at Community CollegesAccording to the American Association of University Professors (“AAUP”), more than half of all university faculty appointments are part-time. At four-year colleges, such faculty may be classified as adjuncts, part-time lecturers or graduate assistants.  These positions are non-tenured and contingent.  According to the AAUP: (i) non-tenured appointments are increasing and now account for over 70% of all instructional staff appointments; (ii) the majority of such faculty do not have professional careers outside of academe; and (iii) as a result of their contingent positions, such faculty are paid less than a proportionate amount of what they otherwise would be paid for a comparable full-time position.

The published newspaper articles concerning adjuncts at community colleges are legend.  Adjuncts are stifled in the performance of their obligations by a lack of professional treatment and status at their institutions and, in most instances, a lack of support. Many institutions do not even provide basic facilities such as office space, computer support, photocopying services, classroom and teaching supplies or temporary storage space.  Moreover, the work itself is contingent and, in most instances, finally determined and confirmed only at the last instance, based upon the number of students who register for a class, resulting in job insecurity, among other things.  The qualifications for an adjunct, in most instances, are higher than for a high school teacher, and adjuncts usually are required to have one or more advanced degrees.

Institutions classify their adjuncts either as “employees” or “independent contractors”.  Such legal classification depends upon the amount of oversight and control exercised by the institution.  Independent contractors are paid a fee for their work and are not entitled to employee benefits.  In an institution’s effort to minimize costs, most adjuncts who are treated as “employees” intentionally are not offered 30 hours of work a week at any one institution which otherwise would enable them to be eligible under the Affordable Care Act for health benefits.  The issue of inadequate compensation is exacerbated at the community college level, especially when the community college is publicly funded.

Adjuncts are paid less than other teaching staff for the same work, and it is not uncommon for adjuncts to receive $600 to $950 per credit hour (which translates to $1,800 to $2,850 for a three-credit course).  Yet, adjuncts do the same amount of work in preparing for and teaching a course as full-time tenured faculty.  This is alarming in that adjuncts teach the same courses in most institutions as full-time tenured faculty and, in many instances, the students are not even aware of the differences.

It is difficult to earn a living wage as an adjunct, and even when the adjunct is able to cobble together full-time employment, the adjunct would obtain aggregate annual compensation of only $18,000 to $28,500.  However, most community colleges will not employ an adjunct even for 30 hours a week, and many adjuncts end up commuting to several college campuses  in an attempt to obtain full-time work.  The compensation paid to an adjunct makes it difficult for the adjunct to teach if the adjunct is the family’s principal wage earner and, in many instances, teaching as an adjunct has become a luxury afforded to a family member in instances in which another family member is the principal wage earner.

A major cause of the alarming situation is that the supply of trained professionals wanting to teach far outweighs the demand in most specialties and, since there are no state or federal regulations regarding the minimum amount to pay an adjunct, as long as the compensation exceeds the minimum hourly wage for the location, the cheaper contingent labor made available by adjuncts are a way for community colleges, all of whom charge limited tuition and have been suffering budget cuts and have inadequate government funding, to meet a fiscal shortfall.  The issue is being addressed more frequently, albeit with glacially slow progress, as adjuncts become unionized and the force of collective bargaining begins to address the problem.  However, it still is not enough to overcome the inertia, for there always will be available non-unionized professionals willing to fill the role. 

So, why do adjuncts want to teach under these circumstances? 

In some instances, obtaining work as an adjunct for a teacher just starting out is a potential pathway to tenured employment as the teacher becomes seasoned and if and when full-time openings occur.  However, in many more instances, the adjunct considers teaching not as a “job”, but as a calling, irrespective of the difficulties and inadequate pay, and without any opportunity for advancement.

A 2016 article in the Journal of Business Ethics, entitled “Estimating the Cost of Justice for Adjuncts: A Case Study in University Business Ethics”, points out that adjuncts choose their profession over their other, “possibly quite bad options”, including unemployment, and that institutions “do not literally enslave adjuncts.”  As the authors of the article succinctly state the conundrum “Due to budget constraints and other factors, many proposed solutions to the adjunct crisis are likely to harm rather than help most current adjuncts.  Even if adjuncts deserve much more, it may not be possible to give them what they deserve.”

Adequate pay for teaching professionals at community colleges has become a moral issue, which needs to be prioritized by the governmental entities paying the bills.  Unfortunately, there are many conflicting needs to be addressed, and it seems that adequate pay for community college adjuncts is near the bottom of the list. #

Arthur Katz is of Counsel to Otterbourg P.C.



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