The stereotypical image of a well-dressed college professor with round glasses and an elbow-patch jacket implies a high salary, likely a tenured position and stability in the world of academia. However, for many instructors, this is far from reality.
Derek Michaud, a lecturer of philosophy at the University of Maine, presented this week’s installment in the Socialist and Marxist Studies Series, a talk titled “Contingent/Adjunct Faculty as an Economic Justice Issue.”
Michaud’s path to his current title was a long and convoluted one, as is the case for many instructors. He alternated between “teaching assistant” and “adjunct instructor” at various institutions from 2000-13 before coming to the University of Maine, where he was an adjunct lecturer from 2012-18.
All adjuncts are contingent faculty, but not all contingent faculty are adjuncts. Adjunct refers to a higher education instructor who is hired on a part-time basis, often teaching a full course load. Contingent, however, can be part-time or full-time, and includes adjuncts as well as graduate students who are instructing classes on their own.
Michaud noted that there are misconceptions surrounding contingent and adjunct faculty. One is that adjuncts only make up a small percentage of a school’s faculty and that they only teach one class here and there. According to the Government Accountability Office, as of 2017 approximately two-thirds of all courses in the United States are taught by contingent faculty. In fall 2017, within the UMaine system, around 867 adjunct professors collectively taught 4,667 credit hours of coursework, which equals around five credits per professor.
Another misconception is that adjuncts are either fresh out of school or retired. The majority of adjuncts, according to Michaud, range in age from 36 to 65. Many of these part-time professors have a master’s degree or a doctorate — Michaud himself earned his doctorate in theology at Boston University in 2015 — but are denied the privileges that come with being a tenure-track professor, including the salary.
In a 2015 article for the Guardian, adjunct professor for the Legal Education Institute at Widener University Lee Hall wrote: “This year I’m teaching five classes (15 credit hours, roughly comparable to the teaching loads of some tenure-track law or business school instructors.) At $3,000 per course, I’ll pull in $15,000 for the year … I receive no benefits, no office, no phone or stipend for the basic communication demands of teaching.”
Hall has to carefully manage her data usage, because her personal cell phone is her only method of communicating with her students.
Hall isn’t alone. In his presentation, Michaud said that only 7.9 percent of adjuncts are paid for work outside the classroom, which includes class preparation and office hours. 40.4 percent attend faculty meetings without pay, while over 50 percent aren’t allowed to attend faculty meetings at all.