The Bidens have not been a popular item with faculty types this year. First, the vice president made what many believe to be an ill-advised comment about how high faculty salaries are the reason for rising college costs . Then, this week, a listserv popular with adjunct faculty members lit up with comments after the couple’s 2011 tax returns  indicated that Jill Biden made $82,000 teaching at Northern Virginia Community College. The figure came as a shock because Biden has been identified regularly as an adjunct.
“I thought she was an adjunct. I would love to teach there,” said one member on the Adjunct L Listserv, a forum where part-time faculty discuss issues, commiserate and take part in occasional rants. "If her per course salary as a contingent faculty member is the same as mine, that means that she taught 25.4 classes last year," said another.
Biden’s pay, however, reflects her promotion to associate professor, college officials said, which comes with a heavier teaching load than her old adjunct gig.
When Biden was first hired as an adjunct in spring 2009, the college paid her an annual salary of $42,500. She taught two remedial English courses per semester. While the adjunct speculation was prompted by her new salary, most would say that her old salary placed her at the high end for those with her courseload.
Biden went through the standard hiring process for any faculty position, said George Gabriel, Northern Virginia's vice president of institutional research, planning and assessment. The assistant dean who oversees developmental English made a formal request for the position, based on student demand, and Biden made the cut.
Demand continued to increase that fall, Gabriel said, and "we needed a full-time professor." The college advertised for a new associate professor job. Biden applied and got the promotion, after her candidacy was reviewed by a faculty committee.
She now teaches three courses, said Gabriel, including two sections of a five-credit course that prepares students for college-level writing and one section of an English course for students who have progressed beyond the remedial level, but still need extra help.
When determining Biden's salary, Northern Virginia's human resources department factored in her experience, which includes about 15 years as a faculty member at Delaware Technical Community College. Northern Virginia's pay scale for associate professors ranges from $60,000 to $89,000, so "she falls right in there," Gabriel said.
"She does a full-time load," Gabriel said. "She never misses her office hours," or faculty committee meetings.
According to an annual salary survey  released last week by the American Association of University Professors, an associate professor at the college has an average salary of $67,100.
Jack Longmate, a member of the New Faculty Majority and an adjunct faculty member who teaches at Olympic College, said he wished Biden would use her visibility to highlight the “plight of adjuncts.”
Longmate said he applauded the Second Lady for her recent tour of community colleges around the county. “But there is a dysfunctional two-tiered system in place in our colleges and it impacts the quality of instruction. I wish she brought attention to that. ”
Jill Biden has been visiting community colleges  this year with U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis as part of a “Community College to Career” bus tour to bring attention to partnerships between local industries and the two-year college sector. On Wednesday, she will be visiting Reading Area Community College in Pennsylvania with Martha Kanter, the U.S. Under Secretary of Education.
Pamela Hanford, director of publications for the California Part-Time Faculty Association, said her organization had written to Biden when she was an adjunct to discuss issues facing part-time faculty members but had not heard from her office. “She could give voice to our concerns,” Hanford said.
Instead, Hanford said, Biden has sometimes painted an overly rosy picture of community colleges. “They are wonderful places, I agree. But there is one problem at most of these places – most of the teaching is done by part-time faculty members who are not paid enough,” Hanford said. “And I wonder how many other part-time faculty members at that college have been hired full-time."
Biden also differs from her former adjunct colleagues in one key way, albeit one beyond her control: Gabriel said his office sifted through 77 news articles about the Biden family's tax filing on Monday.