Half the pay, all the work

Maria Nann

Adjunct faculty work less, but put in as much effort

Miriam Kahn lives in Columbus, but she makes the long drive to Kent every week for a job that pays little, offers few benefits and holds little power in her profession.

But despite the drawbacks, Kahn loves her job as an adjunct in the School of Library and Media Sciences at Kent State.

“The best professors are those that practice because they are in the field,” said Kahn, who has been teaching at Kent State since 1992. “(Other professors) provide theory. I’m providing practical experience.”

What is an adjunct?

An “adjunct” teaches part-time, or fewer than 12 credit hours a semester. At the Kent campus, such professors are called part-time instructors, and they teach 32 percent of all graded courses.

Denise Seachrist, director of the School of Music, said her school uses part-time instructors to teach specialized courses. In addition to teaching, adjuncts in her school also play for groups in the area, such as the Cleveland Orchestra.

Seachrist explained that students studying specific instruments need specific instruction. Since the school doesn’t have a lot of harp majors, she said, full-time professors can’t teach a lecture-size class of harp students. Instead, part-time instructors teach small groups or one-on-one lessons.

Dave Mitchell, a trombone instructor and part-time instructor in the School of Music, teaches a lot of one-on-one lessons with students.

By the numbers:

1,111 – the total number of part-time faculty members Kent State employs across all eight campuses

662 – the number of part-time instructors employed at the Kent campus

221 – the largest number of part-time instructors at the Kent campus in one college, the College of Arts and Sciences

135 – the number of part-time instructors employed at Cleveland State University

988 – the number of part-time instructors at the University of Akron

524 – the number of part-time instructors at Youngstown State University

Note: The above-listed figures are the most recent as given by each university.

“Part of me likes being an adjunct,” he said. “In the big picture, it would be nice to be offered a full-time position, but I have to wonder if it’s really for me.”

Mitchell said adjunct professors walk a tightrope between being team members and making sure their time isn’t taken advantage of.

“I don’t get paid to go to recitals,” he said. “I don’t get paid to listen to incoming auditions. But these are still part of my job. I make half as much as a full-time professor, but I do just as much work.”

Taking the good with the bad

The dynamic part-time professors bring to the educational scene varies from classroom to classroom.

Mitchell explained that sometimes, professors may not work as hard for their students because they don’t want to do more than they’re being paid to do. In such cases, students can suffer.

“I don’t think it was a good idea in the first place to hire adjuncts to replace full-time faculty,” Mitchell said, explaining that part-time instructors should be used to supplement the educational process, not take the place of full-time professors.

“You’re saving money in the short term,” he said, “but are the students going to be satisfied in the long term?”

Mitchell explained that he once had four students who wanted to start a trombone quartet. But because he was only part-time, the university wouldn’t pay him to coach the students, so they couldn’t form their group.

“It’s not like you can have a tuba instructor teach a trombone quartet,” he said. “The students do suffer. They don’t get what they need, always.”

Seachrist said part-time instructors could lower the standard or quality of education, but that it depended on the hiring process.

“The quality of education is based on having the highest quality of faculty in the classroom,” she said. “There’s an art to being a good teacher, as well, so you have to have someone who has not only the credentials, but the passion for the art of teaching.”

Part of this hiring process is accreditation, said Yank Heisler, dean of the College of Business. Accreditation is the process of a university being recognized as in good standing in the national community.

“The accreditation process says that not having enough full-time professors will put your accreditation in jeopardy,” Heisler said. “We have to keep a balance that leans heavily to full-time faculty.”

But he added that students could gain valuable information from part-time instructors working in fields they want to go into.

Seachrist also sees a benefit in the outside experience adjuncts can bring.

“Our teachers are really practitioners,” she said, “so they bring that practical skill to our students.”

Wayne Munson, director of the School of Exercise, Leisure and Sport, agreed.

“I think the part-time faculty are some of the best we have,” he said. “I think it’s often time a real treat for students to hear these people talk about their experiences.”

So much time, so little pay

Pay for adjuncts and part-time instructors at Kent State is decided on an individual basis, so there is no flat fee that is offered across the university. Instead, each college and department is responsible for setting and negotiating salaries.

“I think it’s driven by the market for the most part,” said Sue Averill, associate provost for faculty affairs. “It varies department to department and college to college. There’s not set per-credit hour rate through the whole university.

“It depends on how the market is driving those salaries at any given time.”

In the School of Library and Media Sciences, Kahn said, part-time professors are hired for a basic fee of $2,500 per course. After that, faculty members can negotiate with their specific departments for more money.

But this flat fee covers more than just the 12 or less credit hours part-time instructors are scheduled to teach. Just like full-time professors, adjuncts are expected to keep office hours and do preparatory work for class. And since more live in areas outside Kent, they have to travel to get to work.

In her 12 years at Kent State, Kahn only remembers receiving a pay raise once.

Mitchell said in the School of Music, he gives a lot of one-on-one lessons to students, and his pay is based on time. And although Kent State pays fairly compared to other universities, the pay difference between full-time and part-time faculty isn’t fair.

“Based on what full-time faculty do versus what I do,” he said, “I think I should be paid more (than I am).”

Benefits . or the lack thereof

Adjuncts have a hard time negotiating for benefits because they are not covered by the American Association of University Professors, the group that represents full-time faculty members in contract negotiations.

Averill, who served as executive director of Kent State’s AAUP chapter for 17 years, said part of the Ohio Collective Bargaining Law excludes part-time instructors from being covered by contracts.

Adjuncts do get some sick leave, but Kahn said she doesn’t even know how to take advantage of it.

“There are no perks,” she said. “There are some things the university offers, but you have to be around to take advantage of it.”

Mitchell said the university does contribute somewhat to a retirement package but offers no health benefits.

He also explained that although he is given time off for sick leave, it’s difficult to take advantage of it.

“The way my pay stub comes across is that I supposedly have sick leave, but when you are teaching lessons, you are making up the lesson,” he said. “The bureaucracy makes it difficult to take sick leave.”

Not exactly a stable position

Provost Robert Frank speculated last semester that if the state of the economy forced the university to let go faculty members, adjuncts and part-time instructors would be the first to go.

Tim Chandler, who was named senior associate provost at the beginning of the semester, will have input in university budget decisions.

“I think it’s very unfortunate when you have to cut anybody’s contract,” Chandler said. “But if you have to make a decision, I think it certainly makes sense that you want to keep (full-time faculty) first. It’s never good to lay anybody off, but it seems to me that the part-time people would be the people you let go first.”

Mitchell said he has survived from playing music before, and the prospect of losing his job in the fragile economy doesn’t worry him.

“Things like that don’t really bother me,” he said. “It would be a shock, but something would come along for me.”

Kahn said she really loves her job, but feels that adjuncts and part-time professors can be overlooked in the university.

“There sure are a hell of a lot of us,” she said. “But nobody really knows who we are because we’re invisible.”

Contact investigative reporter Maria Nann at [email protected].