Faculty Target Poor Conditions For Adjuncts With ‘Walk-In’

Susan Michalczyk motioned to a 2014-15 course catalog that was lying on a table in the Chocolate Bar. Try to find your favorite professor in this, she said, and see that many of them are adjuncts.

She did this recently with a sociology student, and found that just 12 of the 32 professors they looked at were tenure-track or tenured. On a national scale, 75 percent of all faculty at universities and colleges are adjuncts, according to NPR. Boston College does not have a number for how many of the University’s faculty members are adjunct, since they classify professors as full- or part-time, rather than tenured or non-tenured, said Lori Harrison-Kahan, a full-time adjunct professor of English. Harrison-Kahan acted as one of the organizers of a “walk-in” on Wednesday.

For several hours, faculty—both tenured and non-tenured—sat at couches in a walk-in in the Chocolate Bar in Stokes Hall to raise awareness of the problems adjunct faculty face, both at BC and across the country.

Feb. 25 was the first National Adjunct Day of Action. The BC chapter of the American Association of University Professors (BCAAUP) sent an email to all University faculty urging them to stop by Stokes Hall between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. to meet with one another or hold office hours. The email also suggested that professors spend a few minutes in class educating students about adjunct faculty.

Rather than staging a “walk-out,” BC faculty members opted to stay in a common area to demonstrate their desire to educate students and to raise awareness, said Michalczyk, the president of the BCAAUP and the second vice president of the AAUP.

“To walk out would perpetuate this culture that is all about money, that we don’t care about our students,” she said. “BC faculty cares so much about our students that they put their own well-being, their own financial security on the line for their BC students.”

There are key differences between tenured and non-tenured faculty. Adjunct faculty are contracted on a short-term basis: many of the full-time faculty have multi-year contracts, whereas short-term faculty are hired by the course. Full-time adjunct professors earn a salary and have benefits, whereas part-time adjunct professors are paid by the course.

Adjunct faculty members—known at BC as professors of the practice—are evaluated solely on their teaching. This means that they are not rewarded for their research or for their service, which can include independent studies, reading theses, and advising student groups, said Min Song, a tenured professor of English.

Full-time non-tenure track faculty tend to teach more classes and are not given time for research. For example, they are not eligible to go on sabbatical to conduct research.

Full-time tenure track faculty have the ability to go up for tenure, which would ensure job security until retirement. Tenured faculty members have more duties in school and are paid a greater salary. Tenured and tenure-track faculty members are evaluated by their teaching, service, and research.

Recently, the employment of adjunct professors has increased nationally. Song and Harrison-Kahan attributed several reasons to this change: Universities are trying to cut costs, which results in the hiring of cheaper adjunct faculty.

In addition, the competition for students has led universities to invest in infrastructure designed to attract students rather than in other aspects of the university. Tenure track jobs have declined while the number of applicants with Ph.D.s has remained the same—there is a glut in the labor market.

Hiring adjunct professors rather than tenure-track professors cheapens costs for universities because they do not have to provide services, like an office or computer, for these students, Michalczyk said.

When tenured faculty die, rather than replacing that person with another tenured faculty member, universities are converting that spot into a few adjunct positions, she said.

This shift is not limited to BC, nor to the Boston area. Rather, it is a nationwide movement. BC actually acts as a model in some aspects of the adjunct movement—the school provides office space and access to equipment for faculty, which is not the case at all other schools.

Part of the goal at Wednesday’s walk-in was to be in solidarity with faculty members across the country. A lot of part-time faculty are struggling financially, Harrison-Kahan said. One institution, for example, held a canned food drive for faculty members on the National Adjunct Day of Action.

BC, in addition, has pushed toward having full-time non-tenure track faculty—this means that these employees will hold multi-year contracts and will get benefits.

“That’s a real step in the right direction,” Harrison-Kahan said. “It’s a step that really benefits students because faculty who are on multiyear contracts are here for many years to work with students, to mentor students, to build relationships with students, which is something that part timers can’t do, because they are just here on a course by course basis.”

Though students would benefit from having more continuity with professors, they do not seem to notice the difference between tenured and nontenured faculty, she said. She has noticed a shift in the culture of respect between faculty members, however: Previously, tenured faculty members tended to look down upon their adjunct counterparts, but as awareness has increased, there is more of a sense of solidarity between all faculty members due to the knowledge that they are all working for the same issues.

“I think in many ways the devaluation of teaching, as it affects adjuncts, affects everybody,” she said. “If teaching isn’t valued the way that it should, or if research isn’t valued the way that it should, that affects every faculty members, not just depending on your status.”

Michalczyk has been an adjunct professor at BC for the past 23 years and has been president of the BCAAUP since 2012. In the latter role, and as the second vice president of the national AAUP, she receives no pay. As a prominent member of the executive board of the AAUP, she attends many education-related conferences. At the first conference she went to, she heard a line that stuck with her.

“What’s the difference between a tenured professor and a non-tenured professor?” she said. “50,000 dollars. It’s about the money.”

Non-tenured teachers have to be more careful about what they say in classes because of their lack of job security. Michalczyk said that compromises professors’ abilities to teach authentically—she believes this limits their ability to teach students for fear of their contract not being renewed.

Faculty members who try to speak up in defense of adjuncts are retaliated against, she said.

“If I am no longer here at Boston College, I think that people will make a connection between what I have done to try to speak up to support faculty and students and my position or lack thereof,” she said.

Michalczyk went on to explain that those who raise their voice about the divide in faculty and the lack of job and financial security are looked at as troublemakers. Those people are marginalized, isolated, and forced out, she said.

“When you’re forced to choose, like Sophie’s choice, it doesn’t end well,” she said. “And when you choose not to take a stand, then you look the other way. So either you choose, or you’re forced to choose. It divides all of us and it hurts everyone. I don’t know how to fix it. We are all in jeopardy.”

Featured Image by Arthur Bailin / Heights Editor

About Carolyn Freeman 155 Articles
Carolyn Freeman is the Editor-in-Chief for The Heights. You can follow her on Twitter at @carolynrfreeman. She drinks her coffee iced with chocolate soy milk.