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Campus Equity Week: standing up for adjunct faculty rights

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by Tim Reed

Educators, community members and college students are coming together to stand up for adjunct faculty rights during Campus Equity Week.

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Find out more about Campus Equity Week at nea.org/cew. Click here ›

It’s a growing problem. Many higher learning institutions, especially community colleges, are replacing full-time faculty jobs with adjuncts as federal funds for higher education begin to dry up. Across the country, adjunct faculty now represent almost two-thirds of all faculty, with that figure reaching 70% at community colleges.

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While adjunct faculty are expected to perform the job of a full professor, these hard-working educators are only given temporary contracts and must deal with horrible working conditions. Although most adjunct faculty have spent years of their lives and tens of thousands of dollars obtaining doctorates or other terminal degrees, the average salary of adjunct faculty is only $16,200 a year, more than $4,000 dollars less than the average retail cashier in America. In the majority of campuses where adjunct faculty are not unionized, health insurance and other benefits are almost unheard of.

Beyond the compensation problems, however, lie more insidious concerns that deeply impact student learning at many of our country’s campuses:

 

  • Most adjunct faculty are not given offices, making it impossible for them to hold office hours and work with struggling students.
  • “Just-in-time” hiring practices means that adjunct faculty are often told what classes they will be teaching mere days before students arrive, leaving them unable to appropriately plan their instruction.
  • Adjunct faculty are often denied the opportunity to participate in campus training sessions, departmental meetings and advising sessions, meaning they have no way to bring their students’ concerns to the attention of management.

As Gary Rhoades, professor and director of the University of Arizona’s Center for the Study of Higher Education, said in a recent Thought and Action article:

One key to success for students is ‘institutional agents,’ often faculty, who mentor and help students navigate the confusing and foreign territory of higher education. Leaving large proportions of the faculty invisible and unavailable to students until the last minute serves no good educational purpose.

Further exacerbating the problem, far more first-generation students, low-income students and minorities are being served by adjunct faculty than their more affluent peers whose families have a long history of higher education. Students of families that have no experience navigating the higher education system are often most at risk of dropping out after getting “lost in the system.” These students desperately need mentors to help them achieve their full potential, not educators whose temporary contracts mean they could be disappearing from a student’s life forever with little or no notice.

 

It’s time to make our voices heard and stand up for the rights of adjunct faculty who want nothing more than to be allowed to teach to the best of their abilities and help every student shine.

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