Adjunct Professors in High Demand, but at What Cost?

Byline: by Lesley Eichelberger

Posted: April 20, 2013

Students scheduling classes for next semester will notice that one-third of the professors who teach those courses have adjunct status.

Adjunct instructors are part-time employees of the institution and are hired on a contract-to-contract basis. Wilson’s reliance upon adjuncts indicates a growing trend of institutions that use part-timers to fill their faculty positions. Institutions gain benefits from hiring adjunct instructors, but critics charge that this practice hurts the teaching profession, the adjuncts and the students.

According to the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) article, Looking the Other Way? Accreditation Standards and Part-Time Faculty, “As the numbers of part-time faculty have risen steadily over the past two decades, questions have inevitably arisen about the qualifications of individuals who work amid constant turnover and who are appointed at the last minute.”

Mary Hendrickson, Office of the Dean, Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of Faculty, identifies the flexibility that adjuncts provide as one of their greatest assets. Their temporary status is a necessary condition of employment, since many adjuncts have full time professions outside of Wilson.

“Many of our adjuncts are currently working or have retired from a profession. They bring expertise into the classroom,” said Hendrickson.

An anonymous student relates a different experience. from her first adjunct instructor. “It has been difficult. In comparison to faculty that have been here longer she lacks empathy and doesn’t understand how to handle the classroom,” said the student. “Her teaching method is confusing and she expects everyone to be on her level,” the student says.

Wilson College receives accreditation by Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE). Regardless of a faculty member’s expertise, MSCHE’s accreditation guidelines state that all faculty members should be evaluated. According to their Requirements of Affiliation and Standards for Accreditation policy, “Articulated and equitable procedures and criteria for periodic evaluation of all faculty contribute significantly to sustaining an appropriate level of growth and excellence.”

Evaluation requirements for tenure-seeking professors

The evaluation process for tenure-seeking professors (permanent positions with full benefits) requires three evaluations along Wilson’s tenure track, occurring after one, four and six years of employment. Professors are reviewed in three areas: dedication to teaching, service to the institution and the community and scholarship (research and sharing of knowledge with a broader audience). This process begins with the professor’s colleagues and is finalized with a letter from the President of Wilson to the Board of Trustees for a vote.

Wilson’s evaluation process for adjunct professors is less structured. The chairperson of each department oversees the adjuncts that instruct for them. Evaluations occur mostly when a problem arises.

Larry Shillock, Professor of English and Assistant Academic Dean, who started as an adjunct professor at Wilson, explains the concern over informal evaluations left to other faculty.“The faculty is very stretched. How well does each department supervise its adjuncts?” said Shillock.

Critics of this evaluating system say this practice degrades the teaching profession. Anonymous student evaluations are the only feedback that the institution receives for its adjuncts, causing instructors to tiptoe around sensitive issues in class lectures or to inflate grades in order to please students and avoid a bad evaluation.

Shillock agrees that these problems occur, but he adds, “Student evaluations may actually lead to a greater investment from the adjunct.”

Students are aware of these issues. “The classes are easier from an adjunct. If I would’ve known this from day one, I would have picked all of my classes with adjuncts,” said Dale Eberle ‘14.

Although there are differing opinions over an adjunct’s value to students’ education, no one argues over their value to the institution. An adjunct professor teaching an undergraduate course earns $2,500.00 per course, split into monthly paychecks, each of which is taxed. Full professors must teach at least seven courses, earning a salary of about $9,200.00 per course.

Five permanent positions still unfulfilled

Wilson presently has five unfilled permanent faculty positions. Without the support of adjuncts, student choices and program offerings would suffer.

“Basic courses are offered by adjuncts. This frees up the rest of the faculty to teach the specialized courses,” said Hendrickson. “We are not too cheap to hire more faculty. That is not what is going on here.”

Paula Kellinger, Professor of Dance admits that she is not the best source for providing insight into these issues, but she does share some of these concerns.

“I do not feel like adjuncts get the recognition that they deserve. It is easy to take advantage of a staff that is temporary with low pay and no benefits,” said Kellinger.

Last Updated: April 20, 2013

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