Adjuncts discuss wages, job security

Kent Part-Time Faculty Alliance

Editor’s Note: Rick is an alias for an adjunct professor at Kent State who asked not to be identified by his real name. The name was created to protect his identity. 

Rick, an adjunct professor at Kent State, puts a smile on his face as he enters his class. He loves teaching, he loves his students and he loves his discipline. But once his course is done and the semester is over, his smile fades, and the fear of not being offered classes to teach next semester hunts him down. He thinks of how he and his wife will manage to pay the rent, bills and put food on the table for his two daughters.

“We are all passionate about teaching,” Rick said. “But it shouldn’t be our only reward.”

Adjunct part-time faculty educators teach everything from introductory Kent Core classes to the occasional upper-division course and are often highly educated, many having earned doctoral degrees or other academic titles. But at colleges and universities across the country, adjuncts are systematically underpaid with no health insurance, overworked and socially isolated. 

Around four years ago, adjuncts started the Kent Part-Time Faculty Alliance (KPTFA) to address the adjunct crisis. One of the founders, Susan Moore, an adjunct from the English department, said the group’s goals are to have health benefits, job security, a proper raise and representation in the Faculty Senate. 

At Kent, most adjuncts get paid $3,000 per course before taxes and the State Teacher Retirement plan. Rick said he gets $600 twice a month in addition to taxes with no benefits. 

“With rent, mortgage and the cost of living, that is the minimum, but if you have kids, how can (you) survive?” Rick said. 

Some adjuncts have to take multiple teaching jobs across different campuses because they are allowed to teach only three courses a semester. If they taught more, they would then qualify for benefits like health care that the full-time faculty receives. 

After KPTFA failed to gain a seat in the Faculty Senate to have a voice in faculty’s decision making in 2016, the group unionized with the United Steelworkers (USW) to support its cause. 

Jessie Phlemons, a staff organizer for USW, said Kent State’s teaching faculty is made up of about half adjunct/part-time educators and half full-time educators, and about 50 percent of classes are taught by adjuncts.

A spreadsheet from the University Budget and Financial Analysis department at Kent State reported that 2.43 percent of the overall education budget went to paying the salaries and wages of part-time faculty, whereas full-time faculty received around 21.1 percent. Administrators also received about 20 percent of the education budget. 

“They do not value adjuncts, even though they are hired by hundreds,” Moore said. 

Job security is another issue that faces adjuncts, especially during summer, when they usually don’t get teaching offers. Also, class cancellations threaten their chances of getting unemployment benefits because they are notified their class is cancelled only two weeks before it is set to start. 

During summer vacation, Rick worked at Jimmy John’s and as an Uber driver, but since his daughters were born, he has to stay at home because he can’t afford to put them in daycare.

“My students think that I am in a prestigious position because I have a Ph.D.,” Rick said. “My car squeaks when I turn it on and I can’t fix it.”

Other adjuncts decided to find stable jobs rather than depend on a shaky foundation. 

“One of them told me, ‘I gave up what I love to do so I could make money and I am making money from something I don’t love to do,’” Moore said. 

After years of learning and hardworking, Moore said it is unfair to ask the adjunct to walk away because they cannot be paid enough for doing their job. 

“Paying adjuncts $7,000 a course could change lives on this campus,” she said. 

Associate Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences David Odell-Scott said there must be confusion in the definition of an adjunct because it is not the means for a career. 

“An adjunct faculty is a part-time, temporary, non-permanent position,” he said. 

In the College of Arts and Sciences, there are 185 adjuncts. Some of them are retired and already have benefits while others have full-time jobs. 

“We appreciate the experience that our adjuncts bring to the classroom and believe they are excellent instructors in their area,” Odell-Scott said. 

Unlike full-time professors, adjunct professors are not required to attend conferences or publish research papers.  

“I get many people coming to my office willing to teach just because they love teaching,” he said.

However, the university hires highly qualified instructors, especially in full-time positions, to maintain the standards of being an accredited institute, Odell-Scott said.  

“It is a highly competitive field, especially in some disciplines,” he said. “The university doesn’t only look at the degree that the professor received, but what contribution they add in their discipline.” 

Odell-Scott said the university attempts to solve some of the adjuncts’ problems, but those like class cancellations are unavoidable. 

“We try to set a particular date to inform our instructors if they are going to teach the class or not, but sometimes it is hard to know,” Odell-Scott said. 

The university relies on the students’ decisions to enroll in classes and abide by a certain number to have the class. 

“If I sensed that one of the classes are not getting enough students, I inform the instructor that this class may be cancelled this semester,” he said. 

Although adjuncts with stable income may not be affected by low pay rates and a lack of benefits, Moore said many of them still support KPTFA. 

“We try to talk to adjuncts individually every week and we are gaining good traction,”she said. 

Adjuncts in different departments offered KPTFA help with designing posters and utilizing social media like InstagramFacebook and Twitter.

“We created the hashtag #KSUadjunctcrisis, so other adjuncts reach out to us and tell their stories,” Rick said. 

KPTFA, inspired by the West Virginia teachers strike, is working through social media to unify adjuncts across Kent State campuses. Once the group builds a majority, its members plan to take their voices to the streets.  

“We have to make major changes here,” Moore said. “It is only going to take a couple of major universities like Kent shifting and saying ‘we have to do something about this’ to cause other universities to say the same thing.” 

Contact Shams Mustafa at [email protected]

Contact Madison Patterson at [email protected].

Correction: An earlier version of this story said that Rick makes $900 twice a month. He makes $600.