Help Wanted: Low-Cost Adjuncts

To mark Campus Equity Week, part-timers in Vermont are using an unusual ad campaign.
October 31, 2005

"Appointments are part-time, but substantial opportunities exist to teach 90 to 100 percent full-time schedules at 40 percent or less of full-time pay, with no health care, subsidized pension or other benefits,” according to classified employment ads that are scheduled to run this week in Vermont’s Times-Argus, Burlington Free Press and Rutland Herald.

"In some cases, such appointments at one campus may be combined with appointments at other campuses so that one can buy food.… If hired, the individual may not be provided with a campus mailbox, computer, telephone, e-mail address or office (although office hours may be required, and federal law requires confidentiality in handling student information).”

Advertisements for adjunct faculty positions are never quite so blunt, but a new ad campaign sponsored by the American Federation of Teachers is utilizing a little sarcasm as part of this year’s Campus Equity Week, which starts today. Since 2001, a coalition of faculty groups and adjunct organizations throughout higher education has been carving out a week-long period each fall to draw attention to the low pay and long hours worked by professors off the tenure track.

Jamie Horwitz, a press officer with the national AFT, developed the concept for the campaign. He said that Vermont organizers have been especially interested in the idea, since an increasing number of adjuncts are being hired in the state. At the Community College of Vermont, for example, 100 percent of the faculty is composed of part-timers.

"We have run effective display advertising in the past,” he explained. “But it really occurred to me that want ads rarely tell it like it really is -- they don’t tell you all the pitfalls you’ll face. And we think adjuncts face this issue on an even greater scale."

The ads, which are being taken out alongside regular classified ads, are intended to highlight what Horwitz calls unfair working conditions for part-time and adjunct faculty members at public institutions nationwide. After they appear, they will be enlarged to poster size for display at various campuses in Vermont.

Dawn Saunders, a field representative with the United Professions of Vermont (an AFT affiliate) who works part-time at the University of Vermont and Castleton State College, said the campaign is a helpful and relatively low-cost way to shine a spotlight on “the dirty little secret of higher education.”

She is hopeful that the ads, in conjunction with publicity events scheduled to take place throughout this week at the University of Vermont, will help the public get more involved in supporting rights for adjunct faculty members. "We just don’t think that the public is aware that when their children go off to college -- even though they pay an extraordinary high rates of tuition -- that frequently colleges are using cheap labor to teach students,” she said. “The majority of faculty now are teaching part-time and the tenured track is shrinking.”

Michele Patenaude, a part-time lecturer at the University of Vermont, has calculated that of the tuition price students pay to take her writing composition course, she receives only 10 percent of the revenue. For a full-time faculty member that share is closer to 25 percent, according to the AFT, which represents about 50,000 part-timers nationwide.

"What’s most concerning is that frequently these people have absolutely no access to benefits, no access to professional development,” said Saunders. "And these are conditions occurring in our systems of higher education that simply would not be tolerated in our K-12 public schools."

The campaign’s message will be carried a frightening step further with a Halloween-inspired press event scheduled for this afternoon at the University of Vermont.  Saunders explained that "we are encouraging supporters to come in costume as ghosts or other frightening creatures to highlight just how scary a part-time faculty career can be."

Asked for comment on the Campus Equity Week plans, Enrique Corredera, a spokesman for the University of Vermont, said that officials “care deeply” about part-time employees. "We’re committed to working with the part-time union with the university," he said. "And we’re confident that we can find common ground."

Campus Equity Week 2005 is spurring action nationwide:

  • Arapahoe Community College faculty members will hold a bake sale where cookies and brownies will cost $300 -- the approximate amount of the state contribution to benefits for each full-time faculty member at the Colorado institution -- in order highlight the fact that part-timers receive no benefits at the institution.
  • Faculty at several colleges in Colorado plan creative activities, including honoring part-time faculty with awards, distributing biographies and pictures of part-time faculty, and staffing tables where students will be able to write thank you notes to adjuncts.
  • Central Connecticut State University faculty members plan to increase awareness by wearing ribbons identifying their status and working conditions.
  • In New Jersey and at Syracuse University, faculty members have organized contingent faculty rights boards modeled on the workers rights boards designed by the organization Jobs With Justice. Faculty and others will give testimony to a board of notables about how the increase in part-time faculty appointments affect them, and then the boards will issue statements.
  • The Community College of Philadelphia is sponsoring a talk with Joe Berry, author of Reclaiming the Ivory Tower. He currently teaches as a non-tenure track instructor at the University of Illinois in the Chicago Labor Education Program.


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