No apple for the teacher

Fund for Investigative Reporting

Part-time college instructors in Asheville say local colleges are exploiting their considerable talents, in exchange for low pay, meager benefits and little chance for advancement. “We’re like vendors, or freelance teachers,” said Wayne Robbins, who makes more per hour waiting tables than he does teaching part-time at A-B Tech and UNCA.

“The pay and benefits are ridiculous — crazy,” Robbins says. “I can’t make enough to live on, even with a second job. [Part-time] teachers come in new and excited, but eventually the reality of needing money sinks in, and they’re gone — and nobody seems to care.”

Administrators at both schools respond that the part-time-instructor jobs (sometimes called adjuncts) are not meant to provide a living wage — or a career track. “Most of our adjuncts have a full-time job elsewhere,” explained Olin Wood, vice president for instructional services at A-B Tech. “The few who are criticizing the part-time contract want to be full-time, but we don’t have the money to hire more full-time teachers.”

Administrators at the two colleges admit they’re dependent on adjuncts, because they can’t afford to pay full-time teachers’ salaries. More than half of A-B Tech’s classes are taught by part-time instructors, according to the Personnel Department. More than 40 percent of UNCA’s teachers are part-time. “For the same amount of money, UNCA can get a lot more classes taught by hiring part-time teachers,” said Dean of Faculty Development Merritt Moseley. “Should we pay them more? Yes. But we can’t right now.”

Unhappy adjuncts, however, say the colleges always find plenty of money for full-time teachers’ and administrators’ salaries. A-B Tech administrators are “doing just fine, earning up to $16,000 more than the national median for community college administrators,” wrote adjunct Lisa Cohen in the Adjunct Alliance, a newsletter she founded several months ago for part-time instructors in western North Carolina. Circulation has grown to 600 subscribers in the region.

According to Cohen, who is an adjunct at both local colleges, A-B Tech adjuncts who teach six classes per semester — essentially the same class load as full-time instructors — earn less than $12,000 per year, while full-time teachers earn about $30,000 annually, plus benefits. A-B Tech administrators dispute her calculations, and they argue that full-time teachers have many more duties than adjuncts.

Stung by perceived indifference or outright hostility toward their complaints, some adjuncts are organizing on both campuses to work for better pay and benefits. “I started the Adjunct Alliance because I was frustrated with the failure of local media to cover the story, and with the failure of instructors to realize the problem,” said Cohen, who edits the newsletter. “If adjuncts are the solution to the budget crunch at colleges, then adjuncts need to get something in return.”

Adjuncts in Asheville point to demands being made by their peers elsewhere — in Olympia, Wash., at Western Carolina University, at Chicago’s Columbia College and at the City University of New York — as evidence that local organizing is part of a national movement for better pay.

But administrators at UNCA and A-B Tech say they have no plans to change adjuncts’ job descriptions or compensation. “I’m not sure what they want,” said AB Tech’s Olin Wood. “We have no plans to increase pay, and the [adjunct] task force has addressed the issues raised in the Alliance.

Colleges depend on part-time instructors

A-B Tech and UNCA administrators say tight budgets force schools to depend on part-time teachers.

An adjunct is defined differently at each institution, but essentially, the title means a part-time instructor paid a flat rate per course and given few benefits. At UNCA, adjuncts make $1,620 per course per semester. At A-B Tech, they earn $996 per course.

A-B Tech President K. Ray Bailey said the college must hire adjuncts because the legislature consistently shortchanges the community colleges in favor of the public schools and the university system.

At A-B Tech, part-time instructors outnumber full-time teachers 185 to 90, according to personnel data. In the Guided Studies Department — where students can receive tutoring and other remedial help — 31 of 40 classes are taught by adjuncts, while 77 percent of the humanities classes are taught by part-time instructors. “If there are plenty of qualified adjuncts available in a discipline, we’ll hire more,” said A-B Tech’s Wood. “It’s purely a bottom-line decision. It would be nice to hire more full-time instructors, but we can’t afford it.”

At UNCA, in the fall of 1997, 42 percent of the teaching faculty was part-time, according to Cohen’s calculations. Dean Moseley said it’s simply the old law of supply and demand. “It’s not true in all departments, but in English, we’ve got plenty of qualified candidates who’re willing to be part-time,” he said.

Adjuncts say it’s unfair for the colleges to balance their budgets on the backs of those least able to afford it — the adjuncts. “With graduate degrees and more than 27 years of teaching experience — including more than 10 years at UNCA — I am paid at a rate equal to that of an instructor with a bachelor’s degree and no teaching experience,” wrote Trent Codd in the March issue of the Adjunct Alliance.

Not a living wage

Despite the fact that most adjuncts are required to have a master’s degree in their field, they wind up working more than one job — and still make only poverty wages.

At A-B Tech, even the most industrious adjuncts earn less than $12,000 a year, according to Cohen. “And that’s six courses a semester, which is a brutal work load, especially in departments where you have to grade a lot of papers,” she said.

Ticking off a list of grievances, Cohen said the only benefit adjuncts are offered at A-B Tech is free parking. She said that between three and 18 instructors share an office. Some didn’t get access to telephones until last year. For storage space, some get one file-cabinet drawer; some have no campus mailboxes. They enjoy no paid vacation and no health benefits. If they get sick, the school finds a substitute — and docks their salaries to pay the sub about 75 percent of the instructor’s wages.

“[Adjuncts’ contracts] are like being salaried with no benefits,” said Vice President Wood. “It’s a contract for services.”

A-B Tech adjuncts’ contracts list numerous duties they must perform outside of class: class preparation, record-keeping, meetings with students, class-related activities and professional responsibilities, such as faculty meetings. “I figure that after I’ve done all my duties outside the classroom, I make about $7 per hour for each class,” said A-B Tech adjunct Robbins. “It varies from class to class.”

A-B Tech can also cancel an adjunct’s contract or change the rate of pay, depending on enrollment and budget fluctuations. Adjuncts say their contracts are routinely canceled just before a semester begins.

At UNCA, adjuncts are limited to two courses per semester. Even if they could teach a full load of four courses per semester (at $1,620 per course), they would earn merely $12,960 annually — with meager benefits. They do enjoy voice mail, e-mail and adequate office space, according to Cohen. However, UNCA adjuncts are not paid for office hours, and they enjoy no vacation days, sick pay or health insurance. “At least if we’re sick, someone will cover, and we don’t have to pay a substitute,” Cohen said.

Administrators at both colleges defend the adjunct-compensation package by saying the positions are meant to be supplemental jobs, not a living wage. “We have a large pool of adjuncts and try to rotate classes among them,” said Wood of A-B Tech.

Who’s slicing that salary pie?

Some adjuncts question whether administrators have ever tried to find more adjunct pay in the colleges’ budgets.

According to Cohen’s salary comparison, A-B Tech administrators are earning more than their share of the budget. Seven of the college’s top 10 administrators and deans earn more than the national median for those positions, she said.

Wood responded that seniority explains the higher administrative salaries, in some cases. “Some of our administrators have been in the system for many years,” he said. “When you get enough percentage raises, it tends to snowball after a while.”

According to Cohen’s analysis, part-time instructors at A-B Tech earn an average of $10,000 less than their counterparts across the nation.

At a conference last year on the growing use of part-time and adjunct faculty, the American Association of University Professors issued the following statement: “Although the needs of students, faculty, institutions — even those of the community — may justify the use of many part-time and adjunct faculty appointments, the terms and conditions of these appointments, in many cases, weaken our capacity to provide essential educational experiences and resources. Too often the terms and conditions of such appointments are inadequate to support responsible teaching or, by extension, a career.”

Recently, adjuncts became especially upset after learning that A-B Tech was one of the North Carolina community colleges that diverted more than $25 million earmarked for teachers during 1996-’97.

According to a Feb. 20 Associated Press story, 54 of 58 state community colleges used money earmarked for salaries to buy equipment, reimburse travel, and cover other expenses at the colleges.

The diversions were legal, because the N.C. General Assembly gives the colleges flexibility with their budgets. The legislature provides salary money to community colleges based on the number of students enrolled annually.

A-B Tech diverted $558,255, according to the story.

A-B Tech President Bailey said he was disappointed by the way the story was reported. Although it’s true that a certain part of a college’s funding is designated for teachers, he said, there’s always the possibility that the college will have to use some of the money for other priorities. “You’ve got to move money around from one place to another to meet the college’s needs,” he asserted.

Bailey said he and the vice presidents meet with department heads to determine financial needs, then present a budget to the trustees for approval.

Salaries at UNCA appear to be closer to national averages, Cohen found. Three of its seven top administrators average more than their colleagues nationwide. Dean Moseley said UNCA administrators generally earn less than average, while faculty earn more.

Still, noted Cohen, UNCA adjuncts fare poorly when compared with their full-time counterparts: If UNCA adjuncts were allowed to teach full-time (which they’re not), they would earn about one-third the salary of the lowest-paid full-time faculty members. A direct comparison is not possible, however, because full-time faculty have some additional responsibilities.

Which side are you on?

Some adjuncts are organizing for better pay and working conditions, but administrators say they don’t see any affordable solutions.

Led by the staff of the Adjunct Alliance, adjuncts have created a Web page (www.depth.net/adjunct/), organized an Adjunct Appreciation Week, surveyed adjuncts regarding job satisfaction, and pressed A-B Tech administrators for more complete and detailed budget information.

Last Dec. 3, the Alliance surveyed adjuncts informally during two receptions for adjuncts at A-B Tech. Forty-two adjuncts filled out questionnaires; the most common complaints were low pay (23) and no benefits (19).

“If A-B Tech is emerging as the Cinderella campus on the hill, she also has a terrible secret, a stepsister she is most reluctant to acknowledge: her part-time instructors,” wrote adjunct Nancy Dillingham in the February edition of the Alliance.

Adjunct Dave Meehan wrote, “Why don’t we as individuals see the potential we have as a group to address some of our concerns?”

Robbins wrote, “I am calling for a reevaluation of adjunct retention methods (or the lack thereof), based partly on the ridiculously low adjunct pay scale. …”

Cohen said A-B Tech faculty have been supportive, while some administrators seemed upset. Most adjuncts interviewed had heard rumors of reprisals against Alliance staff and the faculty who support them. “It’s been sort of a hectic day here at A-B Tech,” Cohen said recently, after she received her first-ever written reprimand for allegedly allowing a class to leave early. “Looks like they’re laying the paper trail for my dismissal.”

A-B Tech’s Wood said the college established a task force on adjuncts, but that the few critics of the school’s working conditions didn’t participate (Cohen said most adjuncts never heard about it). “I hope the critics will stand back and look at the big picture,” Wood said. “Adjunct contracts exceed what they will find in most academic settings.”

A-B Tech pays among the most of any community colleges, according to its administrators.

Not true, said Cohen. “For A-B Tech to say it pays the most to its adjuncts is like Nike saying it pays 6 cents an hour to Indonesian workers when Reebok pays only 5. If it’s not a living wage, it’s nothing to be proud of.”

Several A-B Tech adjuncts interviewed for this story also complained bitterly about being overlooked for full-time positions. “Administrators need to say, up front, [that an adjunct job] will not lead to a full-time position,” said A-B Tech adjunct Peggy Jackson. “Most of the part-time instructors I know are hoping that being an adjunct is a foot in the door to full-time.”

Administrators acknowledge that being an adjunct does not improve a person’s chances of being hired full-time. “Adjuncts tend not to have a Ph.D.,” said Dean Moseley. “Full-time instructors need a Ph.D.”

A-B Tech’s Wood said much the same thing. “Just because someone is an adjunct is no guarantee of a full-time position. The most qualified candidate gets the job, he added.

Cohen responded that the college should not overlook qualified, in-house adjuncts, who have proven their abilities, in favor of an unknown candidate from another school. “I think [A-B Tech’s] attitude is: If you’re willing to work for $972 a class, why should we consider hiring you for three times that much?” she observed.

Most adjuncts interviewed said they want higher pay, benefits, recognition and rewards for longevity, and a chance for advancement. “The only way to make changes is to organize and work toward creating more full-time positions,” Cohen declared.

Other adjuncts seem more resigned. “I’m thinking of waiting more tables and teaching fewer classes,” said Robbins. “The last person hired to be full-time was only teaching two classes [when hired], so why should I kill myself?”

Cohen has heard that one before. “That’s what keeps the system in place,” she contends; “we’re all so exhausted we can’t do anything about it.”

She’s not giving up, however. “Even if I lose my job, I’m going to keep working on this,” she said. “I’ve gotten too many messages from supporters to quit now. The next issue of the Alliance will examine our rights to organize a union. They would like to think that it’s only one or two of us — but they’re wrong.”

This report provided by the Fund for Investigative Reporting, a western North Carolina news service.

To receive a copy of the Adjunct Alliance, call Lisa Cohen at 254-8842.

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