Part-time faculty around the country are being hit with reduced work loads — and in some cases are being left with no work at all — causing those same faculty to worry about the effect on their students.
The University of North Texas plans to eliminate its part-time faculty next year and replace them with full-timers. The move doesn’t necessarily mean that adjunct faculty will move into cozy full-time faculty slots. It may mean they will be left out in the cold instead.
Part-time faculty in states such as Indiana and Ohio are already feeling the chill. Scores of Ivy Tech Community College adjunct faculty across Indiana will be able to teach up to only nine credit hours this fall because of administrators’ plans to avoid paying an estimated $10 million for medical insurance once the Affordable Care Act goes into effect.
UA adjuncts pinched while Proenza lands golden parachute
Adjuncts at the University of Akron are experiencing the most severe cutbacks in the state. Their work loads have been limited to eight credit hours per semester, as administrators work to circumvent the intentions of the ACA. They use a budget deficit estimated at between $26 and $30 million as their excuse.
But UA Trustees still managed to find enough money to offer retiring president Luis Proenza a glittering golden parachute when he leaves next June 30. His salary will increase to $500K for his last six months on the job, he’ll be paid $125K in bonuses, and when he returns from a fully paid one-year sabbatical, he’ll land comfortably in a $375K tenured faculty slot, making him the highest paid faculty member on campus.
Meanwhile, UA has put new paperwork requirements into effect for its poorly paid adjuncts that make their working conditions more negative — and threaten their students’ college success as well. HR is now requiring adjuncts to disclose other teaching assignments and limit the hours they spend preparing, grading and interacting with students in order to avoid penalties.
The new policy, distributed by chairs and department heads, reads:
Part time faculty members are expected to work no more than twenty-nine hours per week in combination of all assignments at the University of Akron. Two (2) hours of preparation/grading time for each load hour assigned above can be credited toward the 29 hours per week limit. Weekly hours in excess of 29 must be pre-approved by the department chair or immediate supervisor. Actual hours worked per week must be reported to the department chair or immediate supervisor on a regular basis
Adjunct working conditions and student learning conditions
What do these cuts in part-time faculty workloads and limits on their work hours mean for students? They don’t mean success, especially at universities such as UA, which has the second highest percentage of part-time faculty in Ohio and one of the worst graduation rates in the state at 14 percent.
With UA’s part-time faculty teaching the bulk of general ed classes — those that fill the schedules of freshmen and sophomores — tuition-paying students will find it more difficult than ever to establish relationships with adjuncts who are forced by necessity to hustle off to their next teaching assignment just so they can avoid selling plasma to pay their bills.
They will also find those same faculty guiltily watching the clock — and realizing they must limit the time they spend working on their classes and engaging with their students. Once a part-time faculty member reaches his or her 29-hour limit, do they stop preparing a class lecture, grading student assignments, answering student emails, meeting with students, posting materials to the university’s online learning system?
Part-time faculty angst
Part-timers are a conscientious lot, and they are already asking those very questions — and lamenting the answers they feel compelled to give. Here are a few such sadly pragmatic answers, contributed by adjuncts themselves:
“If we truly follow this mandate, what will that mean to the students as far as the quality of our work? I have always used Springboard (UA’s online learning environment) in the past as a convenience to the students (posting handouts, grades, information), but this semester I have decided to go back to the old fashioned way (paper only) to save time posting information and updates and such on the computer. I already feel that my own teaching standards are being lowered.”
“I know right now that for several weeks, I’m going to go well over 8 hours (for a four-credit course) in just grading alone. And I only have 25 students. I’m concerned that the result would be to ‘lie’ and say I reach my 8-hour maximum each week, when in reality I go much beyond that.”
“When I teach my ____ courses, I spend almost 6 hours prepping alone for each class day! I can’t even begin to imagine the ramifications of this.”
“The thought of telling students that I have gone past my quota of work hours for my pay, almost makes my stomach ill. It makes me feel like such a failure as an instructor.”
“One of my students noticed me grading quizzes quickly as they came in and then on break, and asked why I turned quizzes around so quickly. I responded with a vague ‘I don’t have much time this week outside of class,’ which is technically true because I have family coming to visit. The brief conversation, however, got me thinking about why not point out the fact that all of my grading and class prep is done in my free time? Don’t students have a right to know why their instructors aren’t giving their full attention? By my calculations, with the time that I spend on the class and the pay, I’m close to if not below minimum wage this month.”
“You’re doing your job if you inform them that office hours are ‘by appointment only.’ They have a right to know why you’re not available everyday. You’re doing your job if you tell them what to expect concerning the grading of their assignments and tests and when to expect them to be returned and/or to be posted with comments. I’m doing nothing wrong in my approach when I present a very honest picture of what will take place during an academic semester.”
One blogger framed the situation this way, addressing his answer to the parents of potential college students:
All in all, this means that if your student wants to have an ongoing intellectual relationship with a professor—say, for a senior thesis, field study, or internship—he or she will have to make a conscious effort to find a faculty mentor and stay in touch with that person…Students can’t count on seeing the same professors in most of their major classes.
Local columnist: Convert adjuncts to full-time
And he gave UA some good advice: “Isn’t it time for UA to devote a big pile of money to, say, converting its faculty from predominantly part time — 59 percent! — to full time, rather than sprucing up the campus?”
Once he learns about UA’s latest moves to monitor and strictly limit the time part-time faculty spend serving students, he might feel led to write a follow-up. And members of the public may raise some ire as well.
After all, as Dyer put it, “Area taxpayers should be demanding to know why a university that has been constructing things faster than a post-World War II Levittown is foundering in one of the most important categories in higher education.”