TOO MUCH FOR TOO LITTLE: Adjuncts make poverty level wages

Paola Marizan

Adjunct graphic

A teacher on USI’s campus is $100 shy of qualifying for food stamps.

“It really upsets me when I hear about another administrator being added on or someone’s salary going up when there are so many adjuncts that are not making it,” said the adjunct instructor, who preferred to remain anonymous.

A study released by the U.S. House of Representatives in January 2014 revealed that the majority of adjuncts live below the poverty line.

The Coalition on the Academic Workforce (CAW) estimated in fall 2010 that the median pay for a standard three-credit hour course is $2,700. Those who hold a bachelor’s degree earned a median per course of $2,225, those with a master’s degree earned $2,400, those with professional or terminal degrees earned between $2,800 and $2,937 and those with doctorates earned $3,200.

Adjuncts earn ‘poverty level wages’ for ‘dirty work’

Adjunct A has a Ph.D., but said the rate of adjuncts who move into higher positions is very low because universities would rather hire someone from the outside who has never had to do “that dirty work.”

“If I apply for a job and they know I’ve been an adjunct, it’s basically saying that I’m worthless, and it’s hard to get a job,” said A, who teaches in the College of Liberal Arts. “People become an adjunct and never get out of the adjunct hole.”

Adjunct A said adjuncts used to be wealthy retired scholars who could afford to work for low pay. But for someone who’s doing it for a living, $10,000 a year is not enough, and adjuncts do not receive benefits.

“I have the same sort of role as everyone else around here. I mentor students. I’m active in publications and presentations. But yet I’m not treated as an equal on campus,” the adjunct said.

Adjunct A said sometimes it’s weird to mentor students, though.

“They find out through the course of time that I am an adjunct and that I am making poverty level wages. Sometimes they’ll joke with me that I would do better if I just worked at McDonald’s,” A said.

But there’s no time for a second job, the adjunct said.

“Teaching, mentoring and trying to do research takes all of it,” A said.

The adjunct said the university holds many idealistic goals, but does not execute them fairly.

“If (the university) wants to talk about being a good citizen, it ought to pay its workers a fair wage,” A said.

The adjunct said full time faculty also treat adjuncts differently.

“The other people don’t associate with you. You don’t get invited to department meetings. You’re not really a part of the university system,” A said. “You’re kind of in the shadows. No one wants to really (interact) with you because you’re kind of this stigmatized thing on campus.”

Another adjunct said they struggle with depression.

Adjunct B, who also preferred to remain anonymous, has worked at USI for eight years.

“I do what I have to, but I’m fundamentally unhappy and miserable,” adjunct B said. “I have a Ph.D. We help students (get) degrees, but we don’t make what they will make.”

Adjunct B, who also teaches in the College of Liberal Arts, said financial problems influence adjunct performance.

“My experience here has not been positive. First you have the financial problem. We are simply paid very poorly,” B said. “We play a vital role in this institution and yet we are not compensated accordingly. There’s money for all types of things like decorations, landscaping and new buildings, and this is where USI tries to save money.”

It’s easy for the university to say adjuncts are needed, B said. But the adjunct would like to see some proof.

“I need some tangible value to believe I exist,” B said. “You end up having people who are unhappy. Is this a healthy environment for teaching and learning?”

The adjunct said adjuncts are invisible at USI.

“We teach a large portion of classes, but we are really an invisible group. We don’t have any voice,” B said. “Our achievements don’t make it to the annual report. The university doesn’t seem to care about (our) scholarly achievements.”

Adjunct B said adjuncts don’t get the same information full time faculty gets, and added that adjuncts don’t participate in any decision making at USI.

“We are highly qualified individuals and yet the university does not seem to care about any of that,” adjunct B said.

The adjunct said adjuncts are treated like cheap labor.

“If we did not exist, the university would not exist,”B said. “If we decide to go on a strike, the university will collapse.”

Degree level, course load influences pay

Adjuncts are paid based on ranking, and it can change over time. They are also evaluated by degree.

An adjunct with a Ph.D. would have a higher pay rate than an adjunct with a master’s degree.

Human Resources Director Donna Evinger said the biggest factor in adjunct pay is how many credit hours they teach.

Evinger said the higher the degree, the more an adjunct gets paid. The rate is then multiplied by how many credit hours the adjunct teaches.

Some of the fluctuation throughout the year is influenced by how the academic year works, she said. Sometimes the numbers are seasonal and it all depends on what courses are needed.

“For a variety of reasons, and I’m not sure I know them all, the largest number of adjuncts is always in the fall,” Evinger said.

‘Adjuncts are necessary’

College of Liberal Arts Dean Michael Aakhus said adjuncts are necessary to achieve the required courses needed to be given at USI.

Liberal Arts has 132 adjunct instructors this semester and 129 full-time faculty, Aakhus said.

He said adjuncts teach classes professors can’t fit into their teaching load, which is referred to as the Four Four Teaching load, meaning they teach four courses in the fall and four courses in the spring.

“The one figure that I need to get, and we’re going to be working on that, is how many courses does that 132 actually (teach),” Aakhus said. “What would be interesting to know is how close that comes to the actual percentage of courses taught by full time faculty as opposed to adjunct faculty.”

Aakhus said the numbers can be misleading. Liberal Arts employs many adjuncts, but that doesn’t mean they teach as many credit hours as full-time faculty.

“Every university across this country hires adjuncts,” Aakhus said.

A report by the American Association of University Professors released in April 2014 showed that adjuncts now constitute 76.4 percent of U.S. faculty across all institutional types, from liberal arts colleges to research universities to community colleges.

Mohammed Khayum, dean of the Romain College of Business, said the college employs 12 adjuncts per semester, and in some cases, the adjuncts have been teaching at USI for a long period of time.

“Over the years, we’ve sought to retain most of them. Sometimes we may have in a semester one or two new ones, but on average it’s about 12 adjuncts,” Khayum said.

He said the college offers about 200 course sections in a semester and adjuncts represent 10 percent of those sections.

“I think (this low number) has a lot to do with our accreditation,” Khayum said.

Full time faculty need a terminal degree, such as a Ph.D. or an equivalent, which is a master’s degree with executive experience for a certain amount of time at a certain level.

Khayum said it is hard to find individuals who meet the requirements and agree to work as adjuncts, but he said adjuncts bring practicality and expertise to the classroom.

“They can give insights as to what works and what doesn’t work well in the industries, so I think it’s a positive thing for the students,” Khayum said. “(Adjuncts) are connected to enterprises already out there, so they provide a good bridge for our students.”

He said he tries to integrate the adjuncts into the college life as much as possible by involving them in faculty activities, such as curriculum meetings, and by allowing them to advise student organizations or conduct research projects within the community.

“Because of that, we’ve established good relationships with several of them who we repeatedly bring back semester after semester,” Khayum said.

Business adjuncts earn between $600 and just over $3,000 per course.

Some not ‘in it for the money’

Retiree Paul McAuliffe said he enjoys being an adjunct.

McAuliffe, who served as editor-in-chief at the Evansville Courier and Press, has been an adjunct at USI since 2009. He started his work as an adjunct after a friend recommended the job to him.

“The good thing is that I stay mostly retired,” McAuliffe said. “My other commitments…take a little bit of time, (but) I’m still able to juggle both. The best thing, I think, is working with students, which I enjoy very much.”

McAuliffe said being a journalism instructor allows him to continue his influence in the journalism field.

“I feel very strongly about the need for good journalists in our society. It helps me, maybe, make a small contribution to creating journalists that will sustain our way of life,” McAuliffe said.

He said adjuncts “cannot be in it for the money” because they are not paid enough.