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A sign reads “Maricopa Community Colleges” in front of an administrative building.

Faculty members in the Maricopa County Community College District have been divided over an impending pay cut for a group of adjunct faculty.

Maricopa County Community College District

An impending pay cut for a group of adjunct faculty members has divided instructors in the Maricopa County Community College District for a second time. The roughly 20 percent cut, approved as part of a wider compensation plan at a Board of Governors meeting last week, will affect some adjunct faculty members who work as librarians and mental health counselors in the district.

The cut is part of an ongoing debate within the Arizona district about how to create pay parity between two groups of faculty members.

The district employs two kinds of faculty: service faculty, who teach and work as campus librarians and counselors, and instructional faculty, who only teach. Each group includes adjunct and full-time professors. Last year, a district-wide faculty agreement lowered wages for new adjunct service faculty members to about $32 an hour. The pay reduction was in response to some professors’ complaints about a pay disparity between adjunct service faculty and adjunct instructional faculty, who made $53 per hour and about $32 per hour respectively, based on a formula used by advocates for the pay reduction. (That formula is disputed by the cut’s critics.)

The agreement also lowered the pay full-time service faculty members earn when they work “overload,” or extra hours, and reduced their required regular hours from 35 to 30 hours, in line with their instructional faculty colleagues, but with the chance to work extra paid hours.

Adjunct service faculty hired prior to the agreement were spared from the initial pay cut, but the agreement noted that their exclusion would sunset on June 30, 2024 and the issue would be revisited in the Adjunct Faculty Handbook that summer.

As that date swiftly approaches, the proposal ultimately put forward by the district’s Strategic Compensation Plan Team, a group of faculty, staff and administrators, and approved by the board, reduced pay for “legacy” service adjuncts, those hired before May of last year, to $43 per hour for five years. Then, their pay is expected to be lowered again. Newer adjunct service faculty members are going to be paid between $34 and $38 per hour, based on a tiered system with a cost-of-living increase over last year.

The Strategic Compensation Plan Team is holding town halls in early June to explain the pay changes.

This dispute is occurring as part-time faculty salaries nationally have remained stagnant for several years at about $3,900 per each course taught, according to a recent report by the American Association of University Professors. Campus librarians in particular have also had their share of recent struggles across the country, including fears of budget cuts and understaffing post-pandemic.

A Divisive Lead Up

Some Maricopa service and instructional faculty members backed the pay change, while some affected faculty have avidly fought against it, launching a postcard campaign to the board in March and speaking up in board meetings for months.

Kandice Mickelsen, an adjunct faculty librarian for the district, was among those who called on the Board of Governors to consider other options. She noted that women historically and currently make up the majority of librarians and counselors, including at Maricopa where at least 80 percent of the adjunct librarians and counselors are women.

“The proposed 20 percent cut for our legacy employees returns us to 2007 wages wiping out the last 17 years of advocacy while, additionally, constructing a perception that we should be thankful to have escaped the 37 percent wage cut experienced by our new hires,” which would have effectively been a return to 1997 wages, she told the board at an April meeting. “… While we may believe these actions are not intentional, in truth, such a drastic wage cut and lack of respect and collegiality in communication is troubling.”

The district’s Adjunct Faculty Group initially proposed the current iteration of the pay reduction in February as an alternative to the steeper cut adjunct service faculty members would have faced come June.

Kim Boege, president of the Adjunct Faculty Group, said after conversations and meetings with adjunct service faculty members and others, she didn’t want to advocate for the faculty group to have their pay cut so extensively all at once. At the same time, she wanted to balance other considerations, including adjunct instructional faculty members’ concerns about pay parity. She also didn’t believe the district would raise wages for everyone else.

“This proposal really allows for internal pay equity, and the changes impact less than 2 percent of the faculty population,” she said of the legacy service adjuncts. She noted that most of the district’s roughly 4,000 adjuncts don’t fall within that group and have “strong opinions” about the pay parity issue.

She noted that service faculty members themselves are divided on the cut and some supported the move.

“We got a lot of feedback from department chairs and faculty in the library and counseling areas,” including some who favored the cut to $43 per hour over a deeper cut, “So this came from many, many people giving their input on this.”

Pam Gautier, a retired residential librarian at Glendale Community College and now a library adjunct within the district, said a faculty group backing a pay cut for some of its constituents is unheard of and “precedent setting.” She noted that adjunct service faculty members, a group of nearly 100 people, make up a small percentage of faculty in the sprawling 10-campus district, but their needs shouldn’t be overlooked.

“We dispute that there is a huge discrepancy,” she said of the current wages of legacy service adjuncts, but nonetheless, “if it had been reversed and instructional faculty was perceived as being paid more, they never would have cut [wages for] all of the instructional faculty to achieve ‘parity.’”

“It’s really fractured the library departments,” she added. “People feel demoralized, not valued.”

Mickelsen told Inside Higher Ed that she and others made alternate proposals, including one that would have raised pay for adjunct instructional faculty members and one that would have slightly lowered pay for some service faculty adjuncts and raised it for others, but those options weren’t taken up for consideration.

Meanwhile, as a retiree, Gautier now has reduced pay because she became an adjunct under the tiered pay scale.

“I went through the entire tenure process with my district, had outstanding evaluations for eight years and I’m now making less than somebody who was hired a year ago,” she said.

Some library department chairs in the district also expressed concerns about hiring adjuncts now that wages are lower.

Sheila Afnan-Manns, library department chair at Mesa Community College, said before the board vote that she feared the college’s disproportionately first-generation student body, would be negatively affected if it became hard to find library and counseling adjuncts.

“The impacts of these cuts that have already taken place, and that are now being proposed and feel imminent, are not only causing tremendous stress among the adjunct population …” said Afnan-Manns. It’ll be “very difficult for someone in my position to find the people to keep our buildings staffed adequately for proper student services."

“These rates do not reflect market rates,” she added.

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