California State University faculty members march on strike in 2016 over contract disputes . Photo courtesy of California Faculty Association Facebook
Across the network of universities in California, little job security and low wages for adjunct faculty remain an issue in higher education.
An adjunct professor position is essentially a contractual, part-time job. Some challenges for adjuncts include low salaries, often on a per-course or hourly basis; non-permanent positions; inability to receive employee benefits like health insurance or retirement plans; long hours and less academic freedom.
Adjunct positions differ from tenured positions, which is an indefinite academic appointment that can be terminated only under extraordinary circumstances, according to the American Association of University Professors. At Pepperdine, adjuncts are specifically hired to teach at most two classes, said Dean of Seaver College Michael Feltner.
“The educational experience you’re getting is dependent on the quality of the faculty, among other factors,” Feltner said. “So one of my highest concerns is to make sure that the quality of our faculty is literally world class, and they are. And so in order to have a world class faculty, one of the things we have to do is pay a salary that’s going to enable us to recruit those faculty to come to Pepperdine.”
Part-time, non-tenure-track faculty not only comprise roughly one third of all faculty at academic institutions, according to the TIAA Institute, but also are paid an average of $3,000 per course. At Pepperdine, an adjunct professor earns an average of $24,068, ranging from $19,625 at the 25th percentile to $27,665 at the 75th percentile, according to data based on 161 profiles on Paysa. This salary is reflective of adjunct professors who teach two to three classes per semester, not including summer courses.
“Ultimately, salary is determined by market,” Feltner said. “We have a scale at Seaver College that determines the salary for the vast majority of our faculty.”
Pepperdine looks to some norming criteria [an evaluation tool that describes the criteria for performance at various levels] which includes local salaries and regional salaries, to determine pay for adjuncts, especially for disciplines that traditionally have to pay more to recruit faculty. Pepperdine will also refer to a national database from the American Association of Collegiate Schools of Business to obtain salary information for business faculty salaries, Feltner said.
Media Law Professor Jon Pfeiffer has taught the same media law class in the Communication Division since 2006, but he is also an entertainment and copyright trial attorney operating out of his own law firm in Santa Monica.
“I don’t know how you could survive as an adjunct professor if that were your only job,” Pfeiffer said.
He said on Thursdays, he usually gets into his office at 7 a.m. for his legal job and doesn’t finish class until 10 p.m.
“My first probably two or three semesters, it was like a second job because you’re learning the material, and you’re learning the material in a way you can teach it,” Pfeiffer said.
He said his favorite thing about teaching the class is the connections with students and having the classroom be more interactive once students “loosen up” and realize he is not there for the paycheck.
“I tell each class, because it’s true — I don’t do this for the money, I do it because it’s fun,” he said. “The first several semesters, I took my check and put it on my Starbucks card. Again, because I don’t do it for the money. If I did it for the money, it would be a real poor investment of time.”
The California Faculty Association is a union of 29,000 professors, lecturers, librarians, counselors and coaches who teach in the California State University system, which spans 23 campuses. One of its goals is to work to strengthen and to improve the status of adjuncts.
Anthony Ratcliff is the Los Angeles CFA Chapter President and assistant professor of Pan-African Studies at California State University, Los Angeles.
The number of faculty on the tenure track is declining, Ratcliff said. In fact, tenure track faculty have not made up a majority of all faculty in the U.S. since the late 1970s or 1980s, according to the American Association of University Professor’s “Contingent Faculty Index.”
“Today, it’s like the inverse,” Ratcliff said. “The majority of the faculty at Cal State LA — and actually around the country — are adjuncts or lecturers. And really what that does is it gives the university more flexibility, and that’s kind of the word they use. We see it as a way to exploit certain groups of faculty, because a lot of those adjuncts have no year-to-year contract — they’re just kind of at-will employees — and so they can be let go after one semester of teaching.”
The California Faculty Association bargains for wages, hours of employment and other terms and conditions of employment for members of the bargaining unit. This culminates in a Faculty Contract, the collective bargaining agreement between CFA and CSU Management. The current contract expires in 2020.
“We’ve [the union] really organized to try to get people to talk more to each other and to get more active and involved and recognize that the only way we could ever stop what’s been happening is by beginning to call it out and using the contract as a way to file grievances,” Ratcliff said.
Another recent trend in higher education that views the student more as a consumer. As the number of higher education administrators increases, the money allocated to reducing student-to-teacher ratios and hiring more tenure-track faculty now goes toward the salaries of administrators who have the power to determine which divisions will continue to exist, according to Inside Higher Ed. Ultimately, this could lead to a decreased emphasis on the arts and other creative disciplines, according to the article.
At Cal State LA, there has been a 55% increase in the number of administrators, while the number of tenure-track faculty members has stayed the same or dropped a little, Ratcliff said.
“So they’re [administrators] making, you know, $150,000 to $200,000 starting when they come in the door,” Ratcliff said. “That’s definitely twice as much as a new tenure-track faculty member is getting paid, but that’s, like, three or four times as much as lecturers get paid, so you can hire a lot more people for the amount of money that they hire a lot of the administrators. That’s another part of this neoliberal push.”
Ratcliff also said while these administrators have fewer interactions with students, the faculty takes on larger class sizes. Research shows that larger class sizes can negatively impact student achievement. At Seaver College, however, the average class size is 17 students, so as to ensure that each student “receives personal attention and participates in lively, thought-provoking group discussions with peers and faculty,” according to the Pepperdine website.
“That [class size] changes the dynamic,” Ratcliff said. “I can’t engage with my students as much when I’m teaching 50 of them. It’s been a while that [this has] been going on, but definitely in the 2000s, it really kicked into high gear.”
Unions can provide a space for adjuncts to share their experiences with others so they do not come to accept the status quo, Ratcliff said.
“Most students assume all faculty are the same, right, like everybody gets paid the same,” Ratcliff said. “But no, there’s a lot of hierarchy and a lot of dichotomies between what certain people get paid versus other people. So I do feel more optimistic, but there’s still a lot of work to do.”
As adjunct faculty across the nation step up their efforts to increase their pay, whether through joining unions or working at more than one school, the hope is that more schools realize the importance of supporting their adjunct faculty to improve teaching and learning, according to Inside Higher Ed.
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