Adjunct professors make poverty level wages while college tuition continues to rise annually.
Adjuncts, or part-time professors, make up around 76 percent of all college professors, according to the American Association of University Professors.
Adjuncts are typically allowed to teach two to four courses per semester for an average pay of $2,700 per three-credit course. At Oswego State, an adjunct professor is typically limited to teaching two courses a semester at $2,952 per course. That totals to an annual salary of less than $12,000, which is right along the lines of minimum wage employment.
A United University Professions contingent officer and visiting assistant professor at Oswego State’s campus, Cynthia Fuller graduated from Oswego State, started teaching on the campus in 1992 and is still not on the tenure line.
“I was asked to teach one class. Then it turned into two, three, and then four,” Fuller said. “So I am considered to be a full-time contingent faculty member… that means you can’t have tenure. So you’re going by semester or one year contracts as I’ve got.”
Oswego State’s teaching staff is comprised of 227 or about 39 percent adjunct professors who teach one to three classes per semester, about 12 percent are contingent or “visiting assistant professors” who teach four classes per semester and about 50 percent are tenured professors.
Fuller conducted a lunch-in and an online survey for National Adjunct Walk Out Day, which occurred on Feb. 25, in order to collect statistics from the adjuncts at Oswego State. No adjuncts participated in the walk-out because it is illegal for New York state public employees to strike due to the Taylor Law, which defines rights of New York unions. The survey demonstrates that adjunct professors often have to balance multiple jobs in order to make ends meet.
“Some of them go here, to Cayuga, Jefferson Community College, Onondaga Community College, and Syracuse… a lot of running around … [they] must be hoping in the future something will happen to make it a better place for them,” Fuller said.
Of the total 227 part-time professors, about half completed the survey. The survey shows that about 30 percent of adjuncts consider their position at Oswego State their main source of income. Of those respondents who have a separate job elsewhere, 15 percent work at a high school, 20 percent work at another college and 50 percent work in another field.
Each campus on the SUNY Network can determine how much an adjunct in their institution will get paid per course, but “there is no distinction between a Ph.D. and a bachelor’s degree,” Fuller said. “It should be across the board according to your degree and how many years of experience that should be the deciding factor of how much you get paid.”
The starting salary is the same for all adjunct professors who teach one or two courses a semester regardless of degree or years of experience.
The United University Professions President Lori Nash at Oswego State compared being an adjunct professor to being at the very bottom of the hierarchy. When tuition increased in the 2012-2013 academic year, the money was divided among various academic and nonacademic requirements. The $2.3 million from the tuition increases was used for the following:
$750,000 for nine new full-time faculty members
$500,000 for the difference that the College covered for the TAP students
$480,000 restored to utilities
$450,000 for student scholarships
$40,000 for one position added in admissions
$98,000 for increasing the starting salary of adjuncts from $2,604 to $2850
The $246 increase per course was appreciated; however, it was not enough to get adjunct professors out of poverty. Some adjunct professors live at home with their parents or apply for food stamps in order to get by.
“In my case, I make about $32,000 and that’s with teaching and [being] the chapter president, but for someone who is just teaching, they would make a lot less,” says Nash. “The goal is for $5,000 per course.”
Then there is the problem of where the money comes from.
“It is easier to get people to donate for a scholarship or for an endowed professorship,” Nash said. “It is not as easy to get people to donate for adjuncts. People look at the university as a whole. If the students are not directly being affected and the school continues to build its reputation, then why would anyone want to change the system that doesn’t seem to be broken?
“I had no idea my professor was an adjunct until it came up in conversation,” Oswego State student Natalie Santiago said. “She is very good professor, always willing to meet after hours for review sessions. She is very sweet and enjoys getting to know her students on a personal level. You would’ve never guessed that she makes such a lousy wage.”
Many students admit to not being aware that some of their professors are part time. The adjuncts work to prove that they can do the work of tenured professors even without the pay.
“They suffer in secret,” Nash said.
Nash also said when she first started teaching in 2002, she had to share a very small office space with three other instructors and that tenured professors would use the term “adjunct” degradingly. Overtime, adjuncts have earned the respect of their colleagues but they are still in a constant battle to protect their positions.
“There is no job security. You’re only given temporary appointments, if they don’t need you. You get 45 days notice and you’re done,” Fuller said.
Adjuncts are not allowed to be members of committees or advisers.
“[This adds] more work on the full-time professor,” Fuller said. “If they [adjunct professors] can’t serve on committees and they can’t advise students, then full-time professors have to take on that responsibility and have more to do as a result, which is not good for anyone.”
One benefit of being an adjunct at Oswego State versus another institution is that if he or she is in the SUNY system and teaches two courses, he or she has access to benefits like health and dental care.
“You’re going to find that at some colleges people don’t get any benefits at all,” Nash said.
Nash added that adjuncts are putting together a Contingent Employment Committee and are looking to try and increase the salary of adjuncts at SUNY Oswego.”
At the statewide level, UUP “is looking to press for more full-time positions,” Nash said. “It’s called The Higher Education Endowment. UUP wants to increase the number of full-time positions and move adjuncts into these positions.”
“As adjuncts we should be teaching the future generation that the world is equitable,” Nash said.
Both Nash and Fuller hope that bringing awareness to the matter will help people not only care for the university as a whole, but begin to care about the individuals who keep the campus whole as well.