Some say Kent State could improve adjuncts’ experience despite Forbes No. 4 employer ranking

Infographic Credit: American Federation of Teachers

Infographic Credit: American Federation of Teachers

Josie Bixler Reporter

Employees felt Kent State was better than other employers they’ve worked for in the past, according to a Forbes survey. However, is “better than” good enough?

Some employees argue that Kent State does not do enough to provide the “total package” or “big picture” for all employees, especially for part-time instructors.

“The weakest link in our profile as an employer is in our relationship with our adjunct faculty,” said Pam Grimm, the chair of Faculty Senate and a professor of marketing and entrepreneurship. “We rely on adjunct faculty to teach so many of our students and courses, but adjunct faculty are not paid well. They don’t have benefits or they have very limited access to benefits and that makes their life very difficult.”

Full-time employees have access to benefits and have the option of making a “comfortable” career working at Kent State, making a world of difference between a full-time position and a part-time position, Grimm said. 

“I mean I think that everybody would always like to see a little bit more (compensation), but I think that it has always been fair,” said Larry Emling, the manager of Parking Services. “As a university employee you look at the total package. It’s not just the salary, but it’s the benefits, the health care, the vacation time, the ability for my wife and kids to go to school for free. It’s the big picture of the entirety of the compensation.”

Part-time instructors average a yearly salary of $20,000 to $25,000 nationwide, while full-time professors are making over $80,000, according to the HuffPost.

Kent State’s teaching faculty is made up of 44% part-time instructors or adjuncts, a much lower percentage than most universities who have a part-time teaching staff over 50%, which “could be indicative of Kent State University’s commitment to building a strong, long-term instructional team,” according to College Factual.

“A person who has 100% of their work doing adjunct work, which means they aren’t doing full-time work at any one place, has it difficult because you’re paid by the course,” Provost Melody Tankersley said. “That’s different from how we pay our full-time employees because it’s not just the classroom teaching, but for our full-time tenure tract faculty it is also research.

It’s about building curriculum, it’s sitting in those committees making policies and decisions, so the full-time work looks a lot different from the work of our adjunct faculty everywhere except in that classroom.”

The support and collaboration that Randi Hoy-Rappach, an adjunct professor at the School of Communication Studies has had at Kent State is an “experience you just don’t get anywhere else.” 

“I really like Kent (State). I feel like even the adjunct professors are treated very well. For example, the pay is much higher than other areas, as well as the support. Kent is a lot more welcoming and a lot easier to integrate,” Hoy-Rappach said, “at least that has been my experience.”

But while Kent State treats and pays its adjunct faculty better than the other two universities Roy-Happach has taught at, it is not a career option and does not have much room for advancement, Hoy-Rappach said. 

“Kent (State) has always been really good about letting current faculty know about job openings before they go up for public view, but unless you’re going for a Ph.D., especially in the School of Communications, it’s not really a career opportunity,” Hoy-Rappach said. “It’s just the nature of the beast. It’s like that everywhere.”

But Grimm doesn’t believe Kent State should settle for the way things are, but hopes the question becomes “what can I do better” instead of “am I better than so-and-so.” 

“We’ve fallen into a bad place, I don’t know how else to say it,” Grimm said. “As an industry we have created a highly structured, tiered, hierarchical, caste system, and at the top of that caste system are tenured faculty, sort of below that are full time non-tenured faculty and then the lowliest of the academic caste system are the adjunct faculty.”

This caste system seems to have been in place for quite a while and has left some adjuncts feeling disconnected and disrespected, according to a Kent Stater article from last year.

“I think that there is a lot less respect for adjuncts, but that’s everywhere, not necessarily a Kent issue,” Hoy-Rappach said. “I feel more respected at Kent than I do other places, but still there is a big disconnect with a lot of communication between adjuncts and tenured faculty. There are not a lot of adjuncts being asked to participate in research projects and if Kent wanted to get ahead of the curve on that and make those efforts as far as bringing the adjunct professors into the realm that would be better.”

Grimm would like to see Kent State open up more full time positions to give opportunities for adjunct professors who wish to move up in a teaching career, she said.

“I think that Kent is a wonderful employer,” Grimm said, “but Kent is doing what all the other universities are doing by creating this pool of adjuncts. It scares me to think we could lose some of our best adjuncts because we are not treating them well.”

Hoy-Rappach does not foresee leaving Kent State anytime soon, but views her adjunct position as a fun job she can do on the side to connect with students.

“I can see where some people might say (to me) that your experience is not my experience, and that I’m just trying to sound good or kiss up saying that I like (working as an adjunct at Kent) so much, but honestly I really like it,” Hoy-Rappach said. “The experience I’ve had at Kent is a lot better than the experience I’ve had anywhere else.”

Although not afraid to point out where Kent State can do better, Grimm has watched the university change and grow the last few decades to be better and do better for its employees, especially in the last year.

“I think our experience during COVID has really put to the forefront the genuine concern and interest the university has for the health and wellbeing of its employees,” Grimm said. “I have to say that in the 29 years I’ve worked at Kent, I have never been prouder of being a Kent State employee than I am today. We are a better institution than we were ten to 15 years ago in virtually all respects, and I hope we can continue to grow and give more opportunities to employees part time or otherwise.”

Josie Bixler covers jobs and money. Contact her at [email protected].