Making Adjuncts Part of the "Family"
One university's plan to support and reward part-timers
By Phyllis M. Frakt and James O. Castagnera

From the September 2000 AAHE Bulletin

 


As the use of part-time faculty on the nation’s campuses continues to grow, so does national attention to their use and treatment. The National Adjunct Faculty Guild reports that there are 450,000 temporary college faculty members in the United States. According to the National Education Association, part-time faculty exceed 43 percent of all U.S. postsecondary faculty and teach 25 percent of all college courses, a rate that has doubled since 1970 and that continues to grow.

In the fall of 1999, recognizing that adjunct faculty are permanent and often overlooked contributors to academic life, Rider University’s Board of Trustees, administration, and faculty agreed to review the status of part-time faculty. The result of this meeting of the minds is a three-tiered model — to our knowledge, unique in higher education today — for the employment of adjunct faculty.

Who Are Adjuncts?

Adjunct faculty vary in their particular contributions to the university and their motivations for teaching. Some are distinguished practitioners of law, accounting, science, medicine, and the like who bring their enthusiasm, expertise, and links to the community into university classrooms. Already employed in their chosen field, they bring real-world applications to the classroom but do not view teaching as a career.

But for many part-timers, college teaching is their primary occupation and they must struggle to stitch together a modest living by teaching classes on several different campuses. According to P.D. Lesko, executive director of the National Adjunct Faculty Guild, adjuncts are paid an average of $2,500 per course, and teach some six courses a year to about 200 students. Advocates for these multi-campus educators, citing that adjuncts teach at a fraction of the cost of full-time instructors, make public pleas to universities to cease and desist continued "adjunct exploitation."

Some institutions provide salaries and benefits to adjuncts who teach at least half-time and have accumulated a certain level of longevity. But the more typical absence of compensation beyond the per-course rate of pay has produced widespread discontent, occasional lawsuits, and national attention to the issue of treatment of adjunct faculty.

In addition to the burdens of low pay and limited benefits, many adjunct faculty are troubled by the uncertainty of being contingent workers. They typically remain outside the mainstream of campus life, and are often unavailable for or not invited to orientation programs for new faculty, department meetings, ongoing faculty development programs, or other campus or departmental events.

When we looked at our own university, we found that Rider’s overall record of adjunct usage and treatment was fairly typical. Of the approximately 450 faculty teaching in Rider classrooms each semester, about 200 were adjuncts. Carrying from one to three class sections per semester, adjuncts taught about 20 percent of all sections.

Rider’s Faculty Relations History

Rider University’s faculty has been represented in collective bargaining by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) since 1974. Our agreements cover not only full-time classroom faculty but also librarians, coaches, and — an unusual occurrence in higher education — adjunct faculty.

Past collective bargaining created a "priority appointment" status for some 18 long-term part-timers, many of them English composition instructors who had been teaching as many as three course sections a semester for a decade or more. The status is given to part-timers who teach an average of four course sections per year for at least three consecutive years, with satisfactory teaching evaluations by the relevant academic department and a dean’s approval.

This status grants them health care, life insurance, and retirement benefits, as well as limited job security. Priority adjuncts also receive first priority for teaching assignments not filled by full-time faculty (provided the department deems the priority adjuncts qualified to teach them).

Offering More Opportunities

The priority adjunct list always hovered around 20, which seemed to indicate that the ability of most part-timers to achieve this status was limited. In early 1999, the provost’s office and the AAUP’s chief contract administrator began to discuss creating a second, more easily achieved adjunct status. From the union’s perspective, improving the lot of the 90 percent of adjuncts not holding priority status was a way of better serving this significant segment of the bargaining unit. For the university, improving job security for adjuncts could produce a more dedicated and stable pool of qualified adjunct faculty.

During the late spring of 1999, as the time to negotiate the latest bargaining agreement drew near, the provost’s office presented the idea of a second category of long-time part-timers — which we called preferred adjuncts — to trustees and to the administrators most responsible for adjunct hiring. Initially, both groups expressed some reluctance. Loss of hiring flexibility, an inevitable outcome of providing job security to preferred adjuncts, was the usual objection voiced by the deans. Department chairs voiced the same concern, as well as worries over increased administrative complexity and supervisory responsibilities. The most negative among them even viewed the concept as a form of "creeping tenure" for adjuncts. The Board of Trustees’ Labor Relations Committee questioned the relative costs and benefits of the change.

In the end, we did manage to win over the Board and most of our administrative colleagues. The key to persuading them was the additional incentive to evaluate adjunct teaching. If departments do their jobs in evaluating adjunct performance, there is little argument against offering worthy adjuncts continued employment to teach available courses. Departments are not "locked into" rehiring adjuncts if courses are fully staffed with full-time faculty, if the adjuncts are not qualified to teach available courses, or if the adjuncts have received negative teaching evaluations. Otherwise, the preferred adjuncts are to be rehired.

Board Chair Joan Mazzotti, executive director of Philadelphia Futures, supported the change. "We believe in treating all employees fairly and rewarding good performance," she explained. "Our enhanced approach to adjunct faculty is consistent with this belief. By encouraging thorough evaluation of adjuncts, we will provide our students with better classroom instruction while offering rewards to the adjuncts themselves."

New Status: Preferred Adjunct

The concept of preferred adjuncts is simple. In the 1999-2002 collective bargaining agreement ratified by the Board of Trustees on October 7, 1999, adjuncts who have taught a total of at least 12 course sections over the past six years comprise the initial group of preferred adjuncts, numbering approximately 70. In the future, adjuncts who achieve this teaching record, together with satisfactory evaluation by their departments, will be added to the list. Preferred status can be lost by a hiatus in teaching at Rider (by choice, circumstance, or the unavailability of appropriate courses) or by poor teaching evaluations. Preferred adjuncts who remain may become eligible for priority adjunct status, with its increased employment stability and benefits.

As a result, Rider adjunct faculty now fall into three categories: priority adjuncts (whose eligibility requirements have not changed), preferred adjuncts, and all remaining adjuncts. In contrast to priority adjuncts, preferred adjuncts receive no employee benefits. But they do enjoy a new measure of job security. After departments determine teaching schedules for full-time faculty, they will select qualified adjunct faculty for any unstaffed courses in an established order: priority adjuncts first, preferred adjuncts second, and other adjuncts last.

Ongoing Implementation Issues

Politically speaking, the concept of preferred adjuncts may never be embraced by administrators who prefer managerial flexibility to the benefits of a stable, dedicated cadre of adjuncts. But beyond these continuing managerialdebates, some practical issues remain in the wake of the recent Board ratification of the concept:

  • We need to advise adjuncts about the benefits and procedures related to this new adjunct category, as well as the additional benefits of advancing to priority adjunct status. We need to remind full-time faculty of their responsibilities to evaluate adjunct faculty. Since department chairs are the key communicators to full- and part-time faculty, we will begin with workshops for chairs. But what are the most effective ways of providing convenient and accessible information to adjuncts, who by definition have more varied schedules and spend less time on campus?
  • The key to achieving a steady flow of qualified adjuncts is evaluation. To evaluate adjunct performance, a department must devise methods that are fair and realistic, taking into consideration the size of the department and its extent of adjunct usage. Spotty teaching evaluations at the department level might mean that some adjuncts achieve preferred status through benign neglect rather than evaluation of their qualifications and performance. How often should adjuncts be evaluated? Should the frequency and rigor of teaching evaluations by full-time faculty vary among priority, preferred, and "ordinary" adjuncts?
  • We need a system for allocating course assignments between or among adjuncts with equal status. Should departments select the adjunct with the longest service at the university? Should they select the adjunct with the best teaching evaluations (if this can be determined)? Should they establish a rotation system to distribute course assignments equitably?
  • Even if the pool of adjuncts becomes more stable, it will necessarily remain large. Maintaining three tiers of adjuncts adds administrative complexity. An administrative office or offices must keep track of adjunct teaching records and evaluations to monitor each adjunct’s status. Should adjunct faculty records be maintained at the department level or in our deans’ offices, and what information should each file contain?

We anticipate addressing these issues over the coming years as we gain experience with this new model.

National focus and campus debate on the use and treatment of adjunct faculty are likely to continue. It is in the interest of colleges and universities to devise ways of encouraging adjuncts to offer the best classroom instruction. The three-tiered model established at Rider University provides incentives for regular evaluation of adjunct teaching and rewards good teachers with more predictable and stable teaching assignments. In this way, adjunct faculty are more fully included as part of the campus scene.

The new plan should benefit everyone, according to Rider Board Chair Mazzotti. "With careful implementation and monitoring, our new model should increase fairness in adjunct hiring and assignment of adjunct workload, while providing the university with better classroom instruction," she explained.

But, as with any attempt to address a complex issue, the model is itself complex and will require continued refinement in the future.


Phyllis M. Frakt is vice president for academic affairs and provost at Rider University. Contact her at frakt@rider.edu.

James O. Castagnera is associate vice president for academic affairs and associate provost at Rider University. Contact him at castagne@rider.edu.






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