"My Brilliant Friend" by Elena Ferrante is the first of the mysterious Italian author's Neapolitan novels. The series tells the story of a life-long friendship between two working class girls in Naples. Critics have called Ferrante “one of the greatest novelists of our time.” Yet nobody knows her true identity. Join Diane and her guests for a discussion of “My Brilliant Friend.”
Guest Host: Susan Page
For a number of years American colleges and universities have increasingly relied on adjunct professors. As full professors retire, they’re often replaced with part timers – who typically earn less, receive no benefits and have little say in academic affairs. Today part-time instructors account for about half of all faculty at the nation’s public and private higher education institutions. Administrators defend the trend as a necessary cost-cutting measure amid rising expenses and reduced revenues. But many adjuncts have begun to fight for better pay and benefits. Guest host Susan Page and a panel of experts talk about the growing reliance on adjunct professors.
- William LeoGrande associate vice provost for academic affairs, American University.
- April Mason president of The Association of Chief Academic Officers; provost and senior vice president, Kansas State University.
- Peter Schmidt senior writer, The Chronicle of Higher Education.
- Maria Maisto president and executive director, New Faculty Majority.
Speak Out: Adjuncts In Academia
Listeners weighed in on the debate over adjuncts on social media. Join in the conversation
MS. SUSAN PAGEThanks for joining us. I'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. She's visiting station KRCU in Cape Girardeau, MO. Faced with the need to cut costs, the nation's colleges and universities increasingly have turned to part-time professors. Today, about half of all professors are part-time adjuncts. Many adjuncts have begun to agitate for better pay and benefits and unions actively are seeking to organize them.
MS. SUSAN PAGEJoining me in the studio to talk about the causes and consequences of the swelling ranks of adjunct professors. Maria Maisto of the New Faculty Majority, Peter Schmidt of the Chronicle of Higher Education and William LeoGrande of American University. Thank you all for being with us.
MS. MARIA MAISTOThanks for having us.
MR. PETER SCHMIDTThank you.
PAGEWe invite our listeners to join our conversation later in this hour. You can call our toll-free number, 1-800-433-8850 or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or find us on Facebook or Twitter. In fact, we've already gotten some comments from adjuncts and others on this topic. So, Peter Schmidt, half of college professors are now part-time adjuncts. How did this happen?
SCHMIDTWell, it's a reflection of several long-term trends in the field. One is among public colleges we've seen a steady decline in state support and colleges dealing with tight budgets. All colleges are watching cost rise in a lot of different areas kind of across the board, but certainly their personnel costs have gone up. Higher education is not something you can outsource to another country to keep your labor cost down, so you're paying people here.
SCHMIDTAnd the marketplace in higher education has become so competitive. People are concerned about being nimble and being able to establish new programs and to make decisions a lot faster than you will if you're dealing strictly with a tenured workforce. So all of these things have over time contributed to tenure track faculty members declining in their share of the workforce. They're now down to about a fourth of people teaching throughout higher education. And part-timers growing is a share of people who provide instruction.
PAGESo if somebody's part-time adjuncts are soon to be Ph.D.s?
PAGEAs a general rule? So you yourself Maria has worked as an adjunct and are now?
PAGEPretty great job? Great job pay? Great benefits?
MAISTOI tell you, working with the students is absolutely fabulous. It's very rewarding, but it's a very difficult job to do because of the lack of professional support that we need in order to do our job.
PAGESo what kind of professional support are you talking about?
MAISTOWell, for one thing, we need to have access to offices. There's a federally protected right to privacy for students and I've had to meet with students in hallways and tell them, you know, don't tell me personal information here because you have a right to have a private space in which to talk to your professor. Access to things like libraries, to funding for conferences in order to continue to develop in your area of expertise.
MAISTOAny number of supports that, you know, anything from copying services to access to facilities on campus. All of these things can be very difficult for adjuncts to get. And so that really affects our ability to provide the support that we need to provide to our students.
PAGESo, Peter, how much do adjuncts usually make?
SCHMIDTSo I think the median pay per course is about $2,700. And your typical adjunct, your median pay for an adjunct is around $20 -- and Maria can probably confirm this -- around 22,000, $23,000 a year.
PAGETwenty two thousand or $23,000 a year in your total pay.
MAISTOTeaching the equivalent of a full-time load. Although I should point out that there are no -- there's no federally mandated data collection on salaries for -- on pay for adjunct faculty. And that's something that we would really like to see start happening.
SCHMIDTAnd these are people who are actually spending a lot of money to make that money, too. They're often driving back and forth to several colleges. I've talked to adjuncts who will put 100 miles on their car every week. And so...
PAGEKind of cobbling together jobs at various places, yeah.
SCHMIDTCobbling together jobs.
PAGEWell, Bill LeoGrande we've seen some effort to unionized adjuncts and that's something you've had experience with at American University. Tell us what happened there.
MR. WILLIAM LEOGRANDESo the Service Employees International Union local 500 became the bargaining agent for adjunct faculty at American University about a year and a half -- well, it's actually about two years ago now. We spent a year negotiating a collective bargaining agreement that went into effect last June. And the experience for American University has been generally a positive one.
MR. WILLIAM LEOGRANDEOur attitude in the election campaign for certification of the union was not an antagonistic one. We made a conscious decision not to aggressively oppose unionization. That I think created a really good atmosphere for negotiations, which unfolded in a very collegial fashion.
PAGENow, a lot of colleges, as I understand it, have opposed unionization and said, among other things, it is against the culture of a university. Why did American decide not to take that course?
LEOGRANDEWell, we had some institutional concerns about having a union be involved in our negotiations, our relationship with our adjunct faculty. But the adjuncts voted to be represented. And so we wanted to respect the decision that they made. And in the end, as I said, I think we were able to reach an agreement that satisfied the core interest of both sides.
PAGESo when this agreement is fully implemented, what will it do that's different for adjuncts than their situation before?
LEOGRANDEIt will provide them with a couple of benefits. It gives them greater assurance that they will be treated fairly. That they won't be dismissed arbitrarily, for example. It gives them some additional pay and it gives them some job security in the sense that a long-term adjunct who's been teaching with us for a long time has a reasonable expectation of being able to continue to teach those same courses in most situations.
PAGEAnd Peter mentioned the desire of universities and colleges to be very nimble and able to change courses, change course perhaps. Have you lost some of that ability because of this agreement?
LEOGRANDENo, I don't think we have. In fact, a lot of the adjuncts at American University, more than half of them, are actually full-time working professionals. So in the D.C. market, I think, things are a little different than they are in a lot of the country. We do have adjuncts who are trying to make a full-time living, adjuncting at a lot of different universities. But most of our adjuncts -- for most of our adjuncts, working at AU is supplemental to the job -- to their daytime job.
PAGESo it's like a journalist who works full-time and then teaches a course.
LEOGRANDEExactly. And that's the model we prefer actually. We see adjuncts as being able to bring their professional experience into the classroom and share it with our students. Over the last few years, we've actually reduced the number of adjuncts who are trying to make a full-time living and replaced those positions with some full-time positions. And some of the people who were adjuncts are now full-time faculty.
PAGESo, Peter, this experience worked out. It sounds like it has worked out pretty well for American. What about nationwide in other places where there's been an effort to unionize adjuncts?
SCHMIDTWell, it's interesting. Service Employees International Union which organized the adjuncts in American is trying to organize adjuncts around the country using what they call a metro organizing strategy. They are trying to organize enough adjunct and enough colleges in cities to influence the local labor markets and put colleges that do not pay their adjuncts well at a competitive disadvantage in terms of attracting good talent.
SCHMIDTThe SEIU has done similar organizing in other fields -- janitorial services, health care. This has led to citywide agreements in cases or the establishment of organizations that bargain on behalf of hospitals and things like that. So they're really taking a very ambitious approach. I have not heard of much conflict where they have established unions so far. But this organization effort is still fairly new.
SCHMIDTThey're farthest along in Washington, D.C. About 70 percent of the adjuncts working in the District are now unionized and they're trying to organize at Howard University and the University of the District of Columbia. If they pull that off, it'll be about 80 percent. They're going for Boston and they have made some progress there, organizing people at Tufts and Lesley and going for Northeastern University. And they've also made some progress in Los Angeles.
SCHMIDTAnd so far, there hasn't been a lot of pushback where they have unions, although a lot of the things that they're asking for have been fairly incremental in nature -- job security. You know, there are some things that a college can provide that don't cost it anything such giving adjuncts some assurance that they'll be giving due notice when they're being hired for a class instead of calling them the week before or something like that. But as this effort keeps going and they push for more, there may be more pushback.
PAGEMaria, what's been your experience?
MAISTOIn terms of?
MAISTOOf organizing. Well, I live in Ohio where part-time faculty are excluded from the definition of public employee for the specific purpose of collective bargaining. So I have direct experience of what it's like to be in an environment where you don't have access to a union. And I can say that there's a very strong feeling that the very challenging working conditions that we face are in part a result of that.
MAISTOSo we do have this experience where we don't have access to health care. We don't have access to retirement. We don't have professional pay, the supports that I talked about. You know, this is the kind of thing that organizing -- these are the kinds of conditions that lead to organizing. And in Ohio there is now an Ohio Part-Time Faculty Association that is actively looking to organize adjuncts whether within or outside of union contexts.
PAGEYou know, you are a Ph.D. yourself?
MAISTOI am not actually. And actually that is one thing that I should point out that at the undergraduate level, teaching first and second year courses in particular, I think English composition, actually the majority of adjuncts are not Ph.D.s, so that's just a little correction.
PAGEDo you want to teach at the college level?
MAISTOWell, that was my ambition. I am what they call, ABD, all but dissertation. I couldn't finish my dissertation in part because I had children and that's a whole other story about women in academia. But, yes, I was hoping to teach as a full-time academic and to do research, but those jobs are no longer available.
PAGEWe're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll talk about the consequences for students and the quality of teaching and we'll take your calls. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. With me in the studio, William LeoGrande, associate vice provost for academic affairs at American University. And Peter Schmidt. He's a senior writer at The Chronicle of Higher Education. And Maria Maisto. She's president and executive director of the New Faculty Majority, a national advocacy group for adjuncts. And she herself is an adjunct professor at Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland.
PAGELet's go to the phones and let some of our listeners join our conversation. We'll go first to Megan who's calling us from Salina, Texas. Megan, hi, you're on the air.
MEGANHi. Thanks for this opportunity to ask a question.
PAGESure, go ahead.
MEGANOkay. Well, first of all, I'd like to commiserate that I am a doctoral candidate as well and facing this job market and extremely nervous, extremely frightened that I've gotten myself into what I thought was a profession based on the love of teaching and academia. And now I don't know, will I be able to take care of myself and pay my bills? Also I've had to take out a great deal of loans to pay for all of my education. I have almost $100,000 in loans. And so I'm very frightened about what's going to come next. Will I be able to pay off these loans?
MEGANBut I thought misguidedly, I suppose, I assumed I'd be able to get a full time job and be able to do that. But my question really goes back to why do we have this problem? I've read, you know, on Chronicle of Higher Education as well as on Slate, on health codes and things like that, but a lot of the problems stem from the increase in university bureaucracy and that the more and more management positions and fac positions that are created are taking away from the money that was given to senior faculty in the past. So I'm curious to hear from your panel whether or not that is true.
PAGEMegan, before you leave us, what area are you studying?
MEGANI'm studying musicology, which is a fascinating topic, the history of music. However, it is not a lucrative topic. So that also is a problem.
PAGESo Megan, thank you very much for your call. Peter, let me ask you, does the area of specialization make a big difference in terms of your ability to get a full time, even tenure track kind of position, or is this situation true for all sorts of different areas?
SCHMIDTNo. It absolutely depends on specialty. The irony here, though, is that typically if you can get a job teaching fairly easily in your specialty, you can get a job making more money doing something else in that specialty.
PAGEOr doing something like that, something like what?
SCHMIDTAccounting, forensics, science. There are just certain hot fields that are really taking -- nursing. They have a very hard time finding nursing instructors.
PAGEHow about musicology? Is that one of those hot fields?
SCHMIDTI really don't know. I...
PAGEMy guess would be not, that it's one of the tough ones, but...
SCHMIDTProbably not. I'm guessing so as well.
LEOGRANDEI think the humanities in particular have really been hurting in recent years in terms of the shrinking job market. And universities tend to be producing more people with higher degrees in those areas than the job market can really absorb.
PAGEWhat about Megan's main question really which was, is there a growing bureaucracy of administrators at universities that are making it harder to actually employ full time professors as teachers?
LEOGRANDEI think it's true that there are -- universities have to provide today a range of services to students that they didn't have to provide in the past in order to remain competitive in the market for students. So you have to have state of the art gym facilities and you have to have state of the art IT. And you have to have all kinds of amenities that when I went to college a generation ago, colleges didn't have to provide.
LEOGRANDEYou add those additional costs to the rising costs of health care, for example, and universities are really hurting from an economic point of view. I don't know that that money necessarily comes out of the instructional program but it competes with the instructional program certainly.
PAGEAnd Maria, let me ask you one other thing that Megan talked about, which was her big student loans. $100,000 in student loans.
PAGEThis must be a pretty common refrain (unintelligible) ...
MAISTOOh, I have student loans. I don't know anybody practically who doesn't have student loans. And it's a big concern. And actually with the colleges reducing adjunct hours because of the Affordable Care Act, that's also been affecting people's access to student loan forgiveness, which they're supposed to have access to working 30 hours a week. So, yeah, I mean, there's a multiplicity of issues that end up affecting adjuncts very directly.
MAISTOI do want to sort of point out though back to the question about the increase in administrative costs. The Delta Cost project, which is an independent nonprofit organization that looked into college and university finances, did conclude that there is -- that there has been a shift of resources away from direct instruction and into expenses that really we should think are questionable.
MAISTOI mean, in terms of marketing it certainly is apparent. I don't think that we need to be catering to people's needs for high luxury campuses and...
PAGELike what kinds of things are you talking about?
MAISTOWell, you know, the prototypical climbing wall is what people talk about all the time, right. But certainly, you know, we expect colleges and universities to be putting the bulk of their resources into instruction. And when that's not happening, that’s problematic and there needs to be a conversation about what those priorities are and where that money is going and why.
PAGELet's talk to April Mason. She's president of the Association of Chief Academic Officers. She's also a provost and senior vice president at Kansas State University there in my home state. April Mason, thank you so much for joining us.
MS. APRIL MASONIt's my pleasure.
PAGEWe were just talking about whether universities and colleges have begun to devote money to administration, to marketing, to the great rock climbing wall rather than to teaching. Is that a fair criticism?
MASONI would have to say that addressing specifically the climbing wall and athletic organizations, recreational facilities on many, many campuses, my own included, payment for those facilities actually has come out of a different pool. We're making some changes to our student union. We passed a student referendum of students are willing to pay a fee to do that. And we have just renovated our recreational facilities. And again, it was a student fee. So that was an extra cost to the student that they imposed on themselves. And it did not come out of the basic budget for instruction and other activities on the campus.
MASONI was listening in at the top of the hour and I think what was brought up in terms of state support is a huge issue. I represent a public university and the state support that has declined over a period of many years cannot be offset by increasing tuition costs. And for a public university, this puts our financial situation in a very tough spot as we want to continue providing excellent academic programs and for our students to be successful in them.
PAGEAnd is that the reason -- you think the primary reason that you've turned more to adjunct professors?
MASONWell, I've been at three different public line grant universities. Kansas State University does not have adjunct professors. We commit instructional monies in many, many departments for instructors. And they are full time. They receive orientation. They have a faculty status. They are not tenure track but they are instructors and do get benefits from the university like space, like professional development, like access to our library. We found this to be a more effective model.
MASONIt may be the case that we're in Kansas in a particularly rural area and there is not a large set of individuals who are willing to come in and teach course by course. It was stated previously that about the average adjunct salary for I'm assuming a three-credit course as $2700. At my previous institution there was a rule at the university that there was a minimum level for a three-credit course. And it was substantially above 2700. And in some cases, in some disciplines it was well, well above that.
MASONSo there's a variety of payment systems, there are a variety of adjuncts. And at my current institution we don't have adjuncts. We're dependent on instructors with quite a bit of status on our campus.
PAGEBut you're doing that because you can't really attract part time adjuncts because of your location. It's not a policy decision.
MASONWell, I think it's a little bit of both. There's a policy decision as well that we would prefer to have full time employees in our departments working with students so that they're available for advising and other activities with our students. One issue that is really a problem besides state support for institutions is enrollment pressures. And we continue to increase in enrollment. And we have not been able to make the investment in tenure track faculty to teach that increasing number of students.
MASONAnd I think that's a pressure that many institutions, especially public institutions, are feeling today, that as their enrollments increase with the downturn in the economy, they're needing to make quick decisions maybe over the summer, as was stated, to have an instructor in front of a classroom starting in the fall.
PAGEApril Mason, thanks so much for joining us on "The Diane Rehm Show." April Mason, she's president of the Association of Chief Academic Officers and provost and senior vice president at Kansas State University. Let's go back to the phones and let another caller join us. Jake is calling us from Detroit. Jake, thanks for holding on.
JAKEGood morning and what a wonderful topic today. Very excited to finally hear some coverage being given to this.
PAGEOkay, good to hear. Go ahead.
JAKEOne of the concerns that I have being an adjunct professor myself in a suburb of Detroit here is that I've been an adjunct professor at my institution since 1997. So I'm the longest serving adjunct in my department. And it's a trades type program. And I notice that throughout the years we've seen a good number of adjuncts come and go. And the reason that they come is because a lot of them are hoping that it'll lead to a full time position. A lot of them go because number one, it doesn't and number two, the pay is so poor.
JAKEAnd the way that manifests itself in the quality of instruction is that a lot of these adjuncts, some of whom stay, have no vested interest in the success of the program. They take no ownership in their participation and the advancement of the institution. And as such we've seen a significant reduction in the quality of instruction. And I wanted to know if some of your panelists and people who are calling in have seen the same trend.
PAGEJake, thanks so much for your call. William LeoGrande, is that a concern?
LEOGRANDEI think the fact that adjunct faculty only have an obligation to be there to teach their individual course is a problem in the sense that they're not going to have a campus presence in the way a full time faculty member does. They're not going to be as available for advising students, writing letters of recommendation and so on. Now some adjuncts go out of their way to do those things anyway but it's not actually a requirement of the job. And the problem of not being as invested in the future of the institution, I think, is a real one when you have people who are really transient.
LEOGRANDENow, I will say though that when adjuncts are -- have professional careers, they can bring to the classroom their professional experience in a way that someone who's been an academic can't necessarily do.
PAGEI'm Susan Page and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're taking your calls, 1-800-433-8850. Well, Peter, have there been studies into the quality of education provided by part time adjuncts compared to tenured professors?
SCHMIDTThere have been. Educational research is kind of tricky because you can't really do experiments very easily. You have to do regression analysis and try to draw correlations between different things. So there's a substantial amount of debate about the studies. But generally the studies have found that because adjuncts have a hard time, for example, giving students extra time outside of class they're not incentivized to do that.
SCHMIDTThere have been some studies that show things like retention are hurt slightly by having reliance on adjuncts. But, you know, the -- you have to be kind of careful. It's not the instructors themselves. It's the conditions they're working under that are pushing this. And going back to the last point in terms of the curriculum and the shaping of the institution. Higher education has a history of shared governance and adjuncts often -- because they don't have any job security so they're afraid to speak out, they're often not allowed on faculty senates.
SCHMIDTA recent study of research universities found that about a sixth of them did not let adjuncts on their faculty senates at all. About a sixth are wide open and two-thirds, they had to meet some threshold but they don't have much voice in their institution. So they have a hard time even shaping things that will help improve the instruction for them. So overall the educational enterprise is being somewhat eroded by having a population that doesn't have a voice and is not really involved in producing the education.
PAGEMaria, do you think the quality of education is different with part time adjuncts than with full time tenured professors?
MAISTOYeah, and what I would say is that the conditions affect all of the faculty, not just the part time faculty. Because certainly we have heard from full time tenured faculty who are chafing under the pressure of not only their research obligations, but also the additional responsibilities that are pushed onto them because adjuncts can't share -- can't participate in it due to lack of access to shared governance in various other ways.
MAISTOSo it really is a structural problem. And all of the faculty are being affected and therefore all of the students are being affected. And frankly, you know, part of the reason that this problem has persisted is that adjuncts do a really good job in spite of the conditions not because of them. And that's something that really has to be paid attention to.
PAGEHere's a posting on Facebook from Cody who writes, "Perhaps the quality of education is higher and the practical experience more relevant because adjuncts typically bring a more diverse experience than a typical academic. I think there is a great opportunity to bring more and more practitioners into the classroom and be less reliant on academic researchers." William LeoGrande, that's a point similar to the one you were making.
LEOGRANDEIt is. And I think it's important to draw this distinction between people who are adjuncting as a supplement to their profession and can bring the experience of their profession to the classrooms and adjuncts who would like to be full time faculty but haven't been able to find a position, for whatever reason, and are trying to stitch together a full time position from adjunct.
MAISTOI would like to say though that I don't think it should be an either or. I mean, clearly practitioners often don't have the background or the expertise and pedagogy to be able to really help students effectively. And so we really should be trying to work toward providing the best most qualified faculty that we possibly can to students.
PAGEAnd as April Mason was saying, there might be communities where it's much harder to get adjuncts who offer that kind of professional background that you're seeking. We're going to take a short break and then we'll return to our conversation. We'll take more of your calls and questions. 1-800-433-8850 is our toll-free line. You can send us an email at email@example.com. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. I'm joined in the studio by: Peter Schmidt, senior writer for The Chronicle of Higher Education, Maria Maisto, president and executive director of the New Faculty Majority, and William LeoGrande, associate vice provost for academic affairs at American University.
PAGEYou know, we've talked in passing about the health insurance coverage for adjuncts and the impact of the Affordable Care Act on their situation. Peter, are adjuncts typically -- do they typically get healthcare benefits from universities and colleges?
SCHMIDTNo. The adjuncts who do get healthcare benefits are in a minority. Maria may have a better breakdown 'cause I think she's been focused on this issue heavily. But often adjuncts just do not get any pay at all -- no health, no -- or do not get any benefits at all, no health, no retirement. It's strictly a pay per course.
PAGESo, Maria, what's -- is there an impact with the Affordable Care Act on their situation?
MAISTOYeah, absolutely. Because the IRS has defined 30 hours as the cutoff for eligibility for healthcare, colleges and universities have been redefining adjunct faculty work or trying to figure out a way to calculate the number of hours that adjunct faculty work in order to keep them under that limit, in order to avoid having to provide healthcare.
MAISTOSo that has had some profound effects on faculty because they've had courses cut, or they've had pay reduced, or both. And so that's actually creating a need for more adjuncts to fill positions. And so people are working at more institutions in order to make up the lost income.
PAGESo the 30 hours a week would have to be at one institution, not at several?
MAISTOIt would have to be at one institution. Exactly.
PAGEAnd is that just the hours you spend standing in front of students and talking to them?
PAGEOr is it calculated in a different way?
MAISTOYeah. Well, that was the big debate around how that was going to be calculated. Colleges and universities lobbied hard to have a formula instituted that calculated one hour outside of class for every hour inside of class, which, for anyone who's ever taught, is absolutely ludicrous because it requires so much more work. So what ended up happening is that the IRS came up with a formula that increases that ration a little bit but also mandates that any work that is required by adjuncts must be credited to them.
PAGEWe know that adjuncts are a highly educated group, and many of them are listening to "The Diane Rehm Show" and have sent us emails. Here's -- let me just read two -- an email from a listener: "I have worked as an adjunct in eight different colleges and universities in Northeast Florida and Southeast Georgia. I have taught more classes in this period than a full-time professor teaches in a career. Adjunct faculty is modern slavery." And here's a tweet from Lisa who writes, "Most adjuncts are women."
PAGE"Wages are so low, and adjuncts and their kids are on food stamps."
PAGE"Are colleges and universities the new Wal-Mart, an exploitive employer?" Is that true, Maria, that most adjuncts are women?
MAISTOThat's absolutely true. I mean, one of the reasons that I am very active on this issue is because I'm very concerned about the feminization of this problem. When my husband lost his job, I had to try to support my entire family as an adjunct with no access to health insurance. I have kids. I know many adjuncts who have been on food stamps. You know, this problem has evolved in such a way that families and our society are subsidizing what colleges and universities won't provide.
PAGEWhat do you say to that, William LeoGrande?
LEOGRANDEI think it's inappropriate for colleges and universities to substitute adjuncts for full-time positions in order to save money. And at American University, we explicitly don't do that. And we have always limited the number of courses adjuncts could teach because we didn't feel like it was appropriate for an adjunct to be doing full-time work for part-time pay.
LEOGRANDEI think that the adjuncts can provide, as we talked about earlier, nimbleness in terms of programs. They can provide professional expertise that other faculty may not be able to provide. But it's how universities choose to use them. It's not inherent in the process of having part-time faculty. It's whether universities use them as a supplement to their curricular program to enhance it or whether they use them in ways simply to try to save money and exploit their expertise.
SCHMIDTOne of the themes that's been coming up again and again here -- I want to point out -- is the fact that we have competition over a single pie at these colleges. And this is a very thorny problem to deal with 'cause you have competing interests and limited resources. You know, here, we talked about a situation where the public is actually subsidizing adjuncts by -- through food stamp costs and other public services that, you know, the states aren't spending on colleges, but the public is paying that bill eventually.
SCHMIDTBut, you know, you also have things come up, such as, you know, Colorado is recently considering legislation which would have put adjunct faculty members on a similar pay basis, per hour worked, as a full-time instructor. In other words, if you worked two-thirds of a day, you'd get paid two-thirds as much as a full-timer did. And that was just killed in an Appropriations Committee there because people said it would cause tuition to spike if they passed this.
SCHMIDTSo you run into very difficult problems. The tenure track faculty members can be threatened or can feel threatened by efforts to help adjuncts. Sometimes they'll compete over courses taught. Some, you know, tenure track people teach overtime classes. There's a big fight among those two camps over that issue.
SCHMIDTYou know, the whole question, how you pay adjuncts, well, where you get the money to do that is a big one. You hear faculty member say administrations are bloated, and they point to the president who's making -- you know, some -- fair number of college presidents are making more than a million dollars a year -- and say, you know, why are we spending so much on this person?
SCHMIDTOr why are we spending so much on the football coach or the athletic director? That said, I don't know if you brought all those pays -- you know, all those salaries down, if you would still begin to free up the money to have adjuncts paid a wage that somebody who gets a doctorate would want to make. But...
PAGEYou -- we have a tweet from someone who wrote: "As I told HR when they warned us against unionizing, give me a job I'm afraid to lose, and I won't vote for a union."
PAGEAnd here's another. Here's an email from an adjunct at Lesley University, the most recent school in Boston to form a union. He writes that 84 percent of the adjunct faculty voted yes, 359 to 67. He writes, "Our win at Lesley was certainly a mandate for better working conditions in terms of pay and benefits and also to be recognized for our scholarship, our excellence in teaching, and our desire to be more fully integrated into the academy. We are a necessary component to the quality and diversity in higher education. To call us adjunct is a poor representation. We are not adjunct. We are essential to the system of academia."
PAGEBut I wonder, Maria, if you don't -- if it is difficult in some places to get unionization of adjuncts who may be concerned that they are a replaceable commodity in this system, that there are a lot of other people who'd be willing to take their jobs, even at the low wages.
MAISTOWell, that would certainly be an incentive to unionize, I would think, because certainly job security and due process are one of the first things that come out of union contracts. So I certainly know from being in Ohio that a lot of adjuncts who would normally have not been interested in unionization are now very interested in unionization because we've given it 25 years.
MAISTOYou might occasionally have an enlightened administration that realizes the need to improve conditions, but the thing about a union is that it keeps people accountable on both sides. And I think that that's something that is increasingly appealing to people on both sides of the aisle.
MAISTOI have certainly talked to administrators who have said that.
SCHMIDTBut your question does get at a point. There are adjuncts who are afraid of being outspoken in terms of being labor organized just because they are afraid of being fired. They don't have job security.
SCHMIDTThere have been cases before the National Labor Relations Board where they have been terminated after trying to form a union.
SCHMIDTAnd even when they form unions, some of them are still afraid 'cause they may still lack the job security. You know, they'll be sitting at the bargaining table knowing that they could be denied work the next semester if they're seen as a source of trouble. So, you know, the lack of job security in the field, the fact that people are often hired on a semester or a term basis or, you know, that best off in a year leaves people afraid to speak out.
SCHMIDTAnd, you know, that affects a shared governance thing as well because faculty -- tenure track faculty members are afraid to have adjuncts in their faculty senates because they're afraid these people can be intimidated by the administrations, you know, with the threat of being terminated if they raise a fuss about one issue or another.
PAGEWilliam LeoGrande, have you found -- what have you found in attitudes by the tenured faculty toward the part-time adjuncts?
LEOGRANDEWe really haven't had these kinds of conflicts at American University. The tension -- there was some limited tension in terms of an initiative we took a couple of years ago, which was to integrate more fully our non-tenured full-time faculty. We provide them now with multi-year contracts so that a person who, even though they don't have tenure, may be able to be reappointed for 10 years or 5 years, rather, at a time.
LEOGRANDEAnd that caused some concern among the tenured faculty that the university was trying to replace tenured positions with non-tenured ones. Fact of the matter, though, is that we have been increasing the number of full-time faculty, more than a hundred positions in the last five years, both tenured positions and non-tenured positions.
PAGEAnd yet we've seen this really steady diminishment in the number of tenure positions generally. Today, I guess about three in 10 professors are tenured. That was six in 10 in the 1970s. Why has that gone down, Peter?
SCHMIDTWell, for some of the reasons I talked about earlier. I mean, as people have aged out of these tenure track jobs, they haven't been replaced with tenure track people. And it's -- you know, it's a limited resources issue. It's colleges, you know, wanting to expand into different areas. I mean, higher education is very, very cyclical in terms of the economy. Enrollments can spike actually in an economic downturn. At the same time, state support will plummet in an economic downturn. It's one of the first things state governments look to to cut money or cut spending on.
MAISTOCan I jump in? I think the political question, though, has to be asked. I mean, the move away from tenure track positions, I think, is a reflection of administrations' unwillingness to participate in shared governance, to have the faculty actively involved in the governance of the college or university. And whether you justify it in terms of the need for economic flexibility, I think some of those political questions really need to be asked because the faculty really have the expertise to help determine curricula. And when you see what's going on nationally, in terms of education policy, I think this is a really important question that needs to be addressed.
PAGEI'm Susan Page, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Well, Peter, let me ask you, what are the consequences that you see from the reduction in the number of the proportion of professors with tenure?
SCHMIDTWell, there's a lot of them. Those who remain -- those tenure tracked faculty members who remain have a lot more work on them because a lot more service responsibility, a lot more administrative work, because they no longer have other people around to help them do it. The faculty relations -- relations between faculty members and administrators are affected.
SCHMIDTYou know, we did a survey at The Chronicle last year, and nearly half of the faculty members we surveyed saw the rise in part-time faculty members as something that's eroding relations between the administration and faculty. There's educational questions that arise here, in terms of the quality of instruction and the amount of support students receive.
SCHMIDTAnd, you know, eventually, I mean, I -- back to your caller who had just gotten a degree in musicology, you know, I hear some people say, stop going in to these programs with the expectation of getting a teaching job because you're not going to get a teaching job. Well, eventually, the market may self-correct in that respect. People may stop going into these programs, and then we're going to have a whole new problem to deal with because colleges aren't going to find people willing to work for what they're paying.
MAISTOWe should point out, though, that, I mean, it's not a real market. I mean, the same entities that control the supply control the demand. So it's really not that accurate to say that it could self-correct.
PAGEBut you could say that if you're studying musicology, you need to kind of figure out how you're going to make a living after you get your PhD...
PAGE...if this is the situation that musicology PhDs face.
MAISTOAbsolutely. Absolutely. And so then it's the responsibility of colleges and universities to be absolutely transparent with potential students about what those prospects are. But at the same time, one of the big worries in this situation is the fact that the humanities have been so denigrated. And the fact that adjuncts are predominantly in the humanities is a reflection of our inability to value the role of the humanities in our educational system today.
LEOGRANDEWell, I'm not sure it's that. I think the bigger problem is that we're just producing more faculty or more PhDs in the humanities than there are job positions for them.
MAISTONo. I think it's a manufactured scarcity, frankly, because, I mean, when people have -- there are more than enough classes for people to teach. They're clamoring for people to teach classes. So it's clear that there's a demand for these classes to be taught. It's just that they want them to be taught at a much lower rate.
LEOGRANDEWell, it seems to me that one of the issues -- I'd like to change the subject just a little bit. One of the issues that was brought up by one of the callers, that I think's an important one -- certainly was at American University when we were negotiating our contract -- was this feeling of adjuncts of not being an integral part of the university community and not being respected as members of the profession. That's something that universities can deal with at relatively low cost actually by simply including adjuncts in more in the way of university activities, university governance, and so on.
LEOGRANDEAnd I think it would do a lot to make adjuncts feel -- not that it would substitute for improved working conditions materially, but I think it would do a lot to improve the general climate of the relationship between adjuncts and the rest of the faculty and the administration.
MAISTORight. Absolutely. But the paradox is that they're uncompensated for that time that they're then asked to spend, so...
PAGEPeter, do students care?
SCHMIDTA lot of students don't notice, to be honest with you. And they have no idea their faculty members are adjuncts. I think, you know, they would care and their parents would care, especially if they realized how little many of their instructors are paid.
SCHMIDTThe American Federation of Teachers a few years ago was trying to get parents touring campuses to ask about adjunct instructors and how much they're paid because, you know, you can spend a lot of money to send your kid to an elite private college. And the faculty member teaching that student may be driving up from the community college 10 miles away and teaching the exact same class and making $3,000 to do it. So, you know, I mean, so students often are oblivious to this issue. That said, a lot of student groups have started to advocate for their adjunct faculty members.
PAGEPeter Schmidt, Maria Maisto, and William LeoGrande, thanks so much for being with us this hour on "The Diane Rehm Show."
MAISTOThank you for having us.
PAGEI'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. Thanks for listening.
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