UNION COUNTY, NJ — The role of adjunct professors in higher education is continually expanding, but these non-tenured employees at both Kean University and Union County College claim while their numbers continue to grow, they are not respected or valued by administration.
The percentage of adjunct professors versus full-time faculty at universities and colleges in New Jersey and throughout the nation has increased from 22 percent in 1970 to 43 percent in 1999. Although there were no recent updates available, locally educators expect recent percentages to be even higher, but that does little to quell the rising tide of resentment felt by Kean and Union County College adjuncts.
Like most full-time tenured professors, whose positions are guaranteed, adjunct professors usually have a Ph.D. but they are hired by universities and colleges on a contractual, part-time basis opposed to the traditional role of full-time tenured professors.
Typically, the only difference between adjuncts and tenured faculty members is that part-time educators spend all their time teaching while tenured professors have other duties, including conducting research, publishing papers, attending staff meetings and events.
Adjuncts also share offices with tenured professors, if they have offices at all, and are paid by the course so their income is considerably lower than a tenured professor.
The role of adjunct professors is important because colleges and universities always need instructors and taking a position that is contractual allows qualified educators the opportunity to try out the role of professor.
While the role of an adjunct professor may be a perfect fit for some because it may be the only path to teaching at an institution of higher education, more often than not these part-time faculty members are not treated the same as tenured members of the staff by administration. Finding a way to bridge this gap, though, has been an uphill battle.
At Kean University the relationship between administration and adjunct professors can only be described as strained at best.
Kate Henderson, president of the Kean Adjunct Professors Union, and also a professor at the University for more than 20 years, has fought for improved relations and respect for her fellow professors.
Henderson is outspoken and does not hold back when it comes to letting the board of trustees know how Kean has treated adjunct professors.
Recently she stepped to the podium to tell the Kean Board of Trustees their reputation is continuing down a very slippery slope.
“It is my pleasure to announce to the board that Kean now holds yet another first among all its global accolades – the first in the state of New Jersey in having the highest number of adjunct faculty employment turnovers in any statewide institution,” she said, adding the Union based university has turned over 2,970 adjuncts since the AFT national and local union began to track employment turnovers in the fall of 2001.
“That averages to about 112 adjunct employee turnovers each academic year,” said Henderson, who readily admits Kean has outstanding full-time tenured and adjunct faculty. A rare few, she said, have even been recognized by University President Dawood Farahi, holding the title of “Distinguished Teaching Professor.”
But even those that are honored with such titles, she said, feel this is not enough, especially at Kean.
“Titles do not guarantee that even the best employees, including those with excellent evaluations, will be hired again,” Henderson said, adding “one can wonder why this is so.”
“It couldn’t be because adjunct faculty are not academically qualified, teaching competent, classroom ready, dedicated, student driven and technologically up to date,” the AFT union president said, noting she believed that was why the university keeps hiring adjuncts semester after semester for the last 38 years.
Still, animosity and lack of respect by the administration continues to smolder at Kean, Henderson said, with these dedicated employees not getting the benefit of the best administrative practices.
At issue is that Kean is forcing many good and extremely qualified faculty members out and she fears the only ones that will really suffer in the end are students and the state university’s declining reputation.
With more than 1,000 adjuncts on the payroll at Kean, and less than 400 tenured professors, the state university fits into the growing trend of using adjuncts in lieu of tenured staff. Nevertheless, in the end, public universities and colleges rely on a large pool of part-time people who earn considerably less money and do not receive the health and other benefits tenured staff do.
To be clear, not every adjunct professor desires tenure. The role of a the adjunct professor was, and still often is, sought by people who want the teaching experience without taking on all the responsibility of a full-time career in education.
About half of all course credits at community colleges are taught by part-time or adjunct faculty who make up approximately 80 percent of the faculty, according to information compiled by the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System. The ratio is less at most four-year colleges but it is increasing. And students pay the same tuition regardless of who teaches the course.
The move to hire more adjuncts saves money for state universities like Kean and also for two-year institutions, including Union County College.
Statewide, in the fall of 2011 semester there were 8,077 full-time and 7,894 part-time faculty at New Jersey public four-year colleges. That number did not include Thomas Edison State College, which has no faculty of its own but contracts with professors from other colleges.
Startling is that since 2001, although enrollment increased 15 percent at state colleges and universities, the number of full-time faculty increased by 1,021 professors, or 11 percent, while the number of part-time faculty increased by 3,334, or 73 percent. Nationwide that came to only 24 percent of faculty attaining tenure, a decrease of about 45 percent since the 1970s.
According to The Press of Atlantic City, at the 19 state community colleges there were 2,281 full-time faculty and 7,805 part-time faculty in 2011, an increase over a decade of 10 percent for full-time faculty and 58 percent for adjuncts. Enrollment during that same period increased 26 percent, though it dropped in 2012 and 2013.
Thanks to better representation by the state union during the last 15 years, adjuncts have been paid better, receiving $1,225 per credit, or $3,675 for a three-credit course and $4,900 for a four-credit course. But adjuncts are limited to teaching a certain number of courses and this has held true at Kean and Union County College.
In some cases adjuncts are only allowed to teach two courses each semester or three courses a year, which means the amount of money an adjunct professor can make is approximately $15,000. By comparison a newly tenured professor earns in the low $50,000 range annually.
Community college rates for adjunct faculty members are negotiated by each college, but part-time members of the faculty at Union County College maintain the workload is the same as tenured professors, but the pay is lower.
Until recently when their contract was settled, the 380 adjunct professors at Union County College spent close to two years negotiating, but in the end they were not happy.
William Lipkin, an adjunct professor at the college for many years and co-president of the local AFT faculty union, explained that the 375 adjunct faculty members at the college teach 50 percent of the courses. And even though their contract finally was settled, adjunct faculty readily admitted they continue to have the same complaints as their fellow adjuncts at Kean.
“Over the past few years the administration of Union County College has become quite disrespectful of the adjunct faculty, even refusing to refer to us as professors,” Lipkin said, pointing out that even though adjunct faculty makes up 70 percent of the faculty, they still have absolutely no say in college governance. And while the contract was settled, the entire process left a bitter aftertaste.
“After two years of negotiations and mediation the adjunct faculty finally settled our contract with very little gain other than a minimal pay increase,” he said, adding “we actually had our teaching load reduced by 25 percent, with no justification, which will create an economic hardship for many of the adjunct faculty.”
Lipkin said adjunct faculty are in the classroom every day teaching students at Union County College and are only paid a quarter of what the 163 full-time tenured professors receive. Adjuncts also do not receive health benefits or other perks, but are expected to respond as tenured professors do.
“We get minimal support from the college and are expected to interact with our students after class without being compensated for the time,” said the adjunct AFT co-president.
“Many of us do this because we have a passion for teaching and know we have something to offer our students, but we also have families to support and bills to pay,” Lipkin added, noting they “simply want the respect and equity that we deserve.”
Lipkin also mentioned that morale was at an all time low during the long negotiation process but the administration continued to arbitrarily reduce the number of classes they were eligible to teach.
Dave McClure, co-president of the local AFT, was just as bitter, if not more so than Lipkin.
“The administration at UCC is made up of vindictive, arrogant control freaks,” he said, adding that this attitude forced nine tenured professors to retire at the end of the spring semester, but none are being replaced.
Also adding to the tension is that UCC is changing how things are structured. For tenured professors and adjuncts, this reorganization has not fared well.
According to one Union County College faculty insider who preferred his name not be used, everything has changed since President Margaret McMenamin was appointed four years ago. He said the college president is at the center of the reorganization that will dissolve all departments now headed by tenured professors.
The reorganization eliminates seven or eight departments previously chaired and coordinated by tenured professors, in lieu of five divisions that will be overseen by Deans hired from the outside.
“This is a done deal,” said another tenured faculty member, who said it is expected everything will be in place as early as July.
“Why do we need deans?” asked another tenured professor, admitting he was perplexed by the college president’s move.
“Has she completely forgotten that Union County College is a two-year community college and not Harvard?” he added, noting the reorganization smacks of “a huge ego and power play.
McMenamin makes $226,000 annually as the president of Union County College.
LocalSource reached out to Kean University and Union County College for their comments on this issue but at press time had not heard back.