Opinion - Why are adjuncts treated like junk?

Georgia's higher ed. values reflected in failure to pay part-time profs a living wage

Last week, at Kennesaw State University, freshmen students who had maintained a 4.0 grade point average during their first semester in college were invited to a luncheon to celebrate their accomplishment. Each student who attended was asked to invite the professor who had most influenced them in their first semester to join them at the luncheon. Of those professors recognized for positively impacting the lives of these first-year students, 40 percent were part-time faculty members.

At universities across the United States, part-time (often known as adjunct) professors are playing increasingly important roles in educating students. At Kennesaw State University there are more than 1,000 part-time faculty members; I am one of them. As part-timers, we are in the trenches of higher education, so to speak. Part-timers are teaching the majority of general education (core) courses and therefore are reaching large numbers of students every semester. These part-time faculty members have advanced degrees, and often hold PhDs, in their fields of study. Some are bringing years of professional experience into the classroom. Most importantly, they are all qualified, capable teachers who are working for low pay, no benefits, and little job security.

As part-time faculty, we are paid by the credit hour for each class taught; most courses are three credit hours. If you calculate our hourly rate using the amount of time that the Georgia Board of Regents estimates we work, the figure is quite low when compared with our full-time colleagues. While pay can vary by department, I make $13 an hour. And as most people know about teachers in general, we are often working far more hours than we are being paid for, lowering that hourly rate even more.

Last year, the Georgia Board of Regents placed stricter limitations on the number of courses part-time instructors can teach per semester. Part-timers can work no more than 19.25 hours per week. This limitation extends across all University System of Georgia institutions, making it difficult for part-time faculty to cobble together "full-time" jobs by teaching at multiple colleges and universities, a common job strategy of adjuncts. In order to make ends meet, many part-timers are driving far distances to teach at various public and private universities to get around this limitation. Even so, many part-timers are not receiving a living wage, leaving some to rely on various forms of public assistance, from PeachCare for their children (since we don't receive benefits like health insurance) to food stamps.

Furthermore, part-time faculty has no job security. We are contracted on a per semester basis and are not guaranteed that we will be assigned classes to teach, regardless of our job performance. I know two excellent part-time professors who have been teaching for more than 10 years and who were recently notified that there is not a need for them this fall. My colleagues, at least, received a good bit of notice; many part-timers believe they have secured a position only to have their classes canceled due to low enrollment numbers a day or two before the start of the semester. When a class fails to "make" and sections are consolidated, those sections are taught by full-timers, leaving the part-timer without a job (and without a voice or organization to advocate for them). On the flip side, I know other part-timers who were contacted at the very last minute, sometimes even after the start of the semester, to teach classes they weren’t expecting to teach because of course demand. To teach a class under this kind of pressure takes a great deal of dedication and skill — and part-timers are doing it all the time.

As I sit here writing this piece, I keep receiving texts from my students on my personal cell phone. I don't have an office phone, so to be available to my students outside of class, I give them my cell phone number. I share an office with other part-timers from several departments, so if a student wants to speak in private, I have to borrow an office from one of my sympathetic full-time colleagues, or stroll the campus with the student; neither of these options is ideal. My students are giving major presentations this week and have lots of last-minute questions. So I answer them via text on the weekend because that is what a good instructor does — and I take great pride in what I do and I work very hard at it, as do all of the part-time professors I know.

Last month, KSU's Part-time Faculty Council (the first such university organization in the state that represents the interests of part-timers) organized a Faculty Awareness Day to occur in conjunction with National Adjunct Walkout Day to draw attention to the circumstances and efforts of part-time faculty on campus. KSU President Daniel Papp was going to speak in support of part-time faculty. Full-time faculty and students were set to join us and show solidarity with their part-time colleagues and professors. Unfortunately, our event was postponed due to snow, but has been rescheduled for April 15. We will continue raising awareness of the positive impact that part-timers are having across our university.

The students who attended that 4.0 Luncheon recognized the efforts and skills of their part-time instructors. Throughout Georgia, there are thousands of part-time faculty members doing their part to provide a quality education to their students, despite the obstacles they face in doing their jobs. We ask that our efforts be appreciated and valued for what they are — the efforts of professional educators who take their work seriously and are devoted to the quality of education their students receive.

Mandy McGrew, M.A., is a part-time instructor of American Studies at Kennesaw State University.