The Struggle of the Adjunct

At IU Southeast, more than half of the classes are taught by adjunct professors

Haley Warwick, News Editor

Go teach two classes at University A. Rush from your last class and teach two more at University B. Then grade, grade, grade. Go to bed. Wake up hours later and grade some more. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

Though a slight exaggeration, this is the life of some adjunct instructors, who teach classes at universities on an ad hoc basis. They lack full-time status, often meaning their jobs come with no benefits. Stringing together different teaching gigs from different colleges, they sometimes earn wages barely above the poverty line. And it’s a growing problem.

According to the American Association of University Professors, more than

50 percent

of all university faculty nationwide are “contingent,” meaning they lack full-time status. At IU Southeast, more than half of the classes are taught by such faculty.

With the rise in dependence upon part-time faculty, some adjuncts have fostered talks on forming unions or demonstrating.

On National Walkout Day, walking-out or teaching-in—adjunct professors nationally took at stance on Feb. 25 to demonstrate against the work load adjuncts are responsible for, along with a lack of job security, lack of job benefits normally offered to full-time faculty, and what they feel is unequal pay for the skills that they bring to the university.

While there was not a demonstration at IU Southeast during the National Adjunct Walkout Day, one IU Southeast adjunct instructor used this day to hold a teach-in at another campus where he also lectures.

Daniel Runnels, adjunct lecturer of Spanish, said creating awareness and encouraging people to talk about adjunct professors was the goal of the National Adjunct Walkout Day.

Runnels said many adjuncts around the nation spent time that day not just walking out of their classroom, but holding sit-ins or teach-ins such as the one he and his colleagues at the University of Louisville held.

While participation of students was low that day at his teach-in event, he said they did accomplish having a rich discussion about adjunct positions at local universities and what could be improved.

“We had a great group discussion among the students, graduate students, faculty and even some administrators that were in attendance,” Runnels said.

In addition, Runnels said adjunct faculty are continuously working to raise awareness about the imbalance of duties adjuncts hold in comparison to compensation and benefits.

“Adjunct professors are teaching the vast majority of courses,” said Runnels. “I am a single man, and I’m getting by alright, but those with families, that can be a problem for them.”

Runnels said IU Southeast, like a lot of other institutions, relies heavily on adjunct faculty to teach their entry level and core classes. With all the weight upon them standing within the four walls of a classroom is an adjunct professor spread thin—often teaching at two or three college campuses in one semester, if not more.

“It is not uncommon for someone [an adjunct professor] to be teaching five classes a semester, if not more,” said Runnels. “I knew one guy who was even teaching seven classes in one semester.”

Runnels said the reason these adjunct professors are spreading themselves thin is because they are seeking adequate compensation in this career path of being a college professor.

“I think most of the time you’re paid about $2,000 to $2,500 per class, per semester, but that can depend on [the] college,” he said.

Runnels pointed out that this movement is not about pitting full-time faculty against part-time faculty, but rather this issue stems from pay, time off, lack of opportunity for advancement and job benefits.

“Full-time faculty are very hard working people, and they don’t just teach, they have other responsibilities such as research and boards they serve on.”

He also said that job benefit issues that adjuncts are creating awareness about are not new.

“This has been going on for a long time, this is not a new issue,” said Runnels.

Steve Bowman, adjunct lecturer of English and faculty senate member, said with the rise in rebuttal, if the entirety of the adjunct faculty at IU Southeast walked out, it would take over half of the faculty out of the teaching equation.

Bowman said according to the Office of Institutional Research and Assessment, the number of adjunct faculty
seems to fluctuate around

60 to 70 percent

as of 2014 at IU Southeast.

He said the main reason he believes there is such a large number of adjuncts, is a flood of applicants with few full-time positions.

Bowman said often in an adjunct position there stands a professor holding a doctorate degree in their field.

“It’s often that the field is crowded and there are just not any full-time positions open, so you take an adjunct position, even if you qualify for more” Bowman said.

In addition, Bowman said, like many teaching professionals, he wants to help students grow—and like Runnels, he sees himself in this as a career, not just a stop along the way.

Bowman said he and many other professors he knows took time before and on National Adjunct Walkout Day at IU Southeast to talk to their classes about adjunct professors, and what they are hoping to accomplish.

“We talked about this issue to raise awareness, because honestly some students do not know this is even an issue,” Bowman said.

Bowman said that not only is the vast majority of classes at IU Southeast taught by adjunct faculty, but also these part-time facilitators are the ones giving the first impression of the campus and the programs it offers.

“A lot of classes they teach are the first impression students get, that’s a big responsibility,” said Bowman.

Ashley Neal, sociology senior, said many of her classes at IU Southeast have been taught by adjunct faculty and currently she is a student of Runnels. She said Runnels talked to her class about the issues adjuncts are currently facing.

“He talked to us about what he and some other professors planned to do at UofL,” said Neal. “I have some friends that go to UofL, and their professors participated in different ways, they said it was a part of their freedom of speech, and freedom of the press.”

Neal said she has had adjunct professors at IU Southeast in the past, and said she could tell they were spread out among several campuses. She said they talked about how many different universities they taught at, and she feels this might hinder their ability to focus and teach their classes.

Uric Dufrene, executive vice chancellor for academic affairs, said there are practical reasons for hiring adjunct professors to teach courses at IU Southeast.

“Adjuncts bring to the classroom field experience and job experience that some full-time faculty members may not have,” Dufrene said.

Dufrene said these unique experiences that adjuncts offer make valuable contributions at IU Southeast, which is a heavy factor in deciding what credentials a professor should have for specific classes.

“As we grow students, we do want to develop new programs, where we would hire more full-time [professors],” he said.

Dufrene cited the recent addition of the full-time public relations professor in the journalism program, and said other programs will continue to grow as well.

While some feel there is a purpose for adjunct professors, others feel that universities may use the resource of adjuncts to a point of dependence.

Jacob Babb, assistant professor of English, said while there are many practical and important reasons for hiring adjunct professors to teach courses, sometimes it is easy to slip into dependence.

With so many positions filled by adjuncts, Babb said he talks to his students every semester about it, and many are still surprised so many classes at IU Southeast are being taught by adjuncts.

“I told the class this semester about the walkout, and about how many professors teaching that are adjuncts, and they were surprised,” he said.

Babb said recent retention research has shown that having more full-time faculty reaching students at the beginning of their college career is better for retention rates, which means more students graduate under a more controlled environment of full-time faculty.

Jazmin Bader, double major English and Spanish junior, said Runnels is one of the most involved professors she has had in regards to either full-time or part-time status, but she said due to him not solely working at IU Southeast, his office hours are shorter than that of a full-time professor.

Bader said while this has not affected Runnels performance or reliably, she feels having a stronger staff of full-time faculty would benefit IU Southeast.