Why Adjuncts Can’t Replace Full-Time Faculty

We knew this day would come: Washington Adventist University (WAU) is trying to fill the gaps in their faculty ranks with adjuncts—lots of them. The NAD Employment site is filled with listings for openings at WAU. In fact, there is an Adjunct Faculty Career Fair coming up on June 4 on campus in which prospective adjuncts can meet with representatives of various departments to discover “what it’s like to teach at WAU” (see a copy of the Email with more information here: WAU_Today’s News (05.28.2014).

“We are currently seeking to expand our pool of qualified adjunct faculty,” says the announcement, “and to fill several openings in key discipline areas, such as English, Math, Business, Computer Studies, Nursing, Biology, and Chemistry.” (Full details are also on the WAU website)

We here at WAC thought those were “key discipline areas” too. And we thought that those areas were being covered pretty well by the full-time faculty who not only taught in their disciplines with expertise, insight, and dedication, but advised, served on committees, participated in research, coordinated on-campus and off-campus events, found internships for students, led out in worship and spiritual events, were available to students during office hours and more, and generally provided not only information but experience and wisdom to students year after year.

But now those classes will be covered by adjuncts. Covering the instructional material is all an adjunct can generally do. One of us here at WAC is a full-time adjunct. Whereas some adjuncts have steady jobs from 9 – 5 and teach in the evenings, many of us do this full-time.

Nationwide, adjunct faculty now make up 76% of college instructors. They make on average $20,000 to $27,000 per year, with no benefits (NPR, Feb. 3, 2014) . This trend began in the 1970s when adjuncts were few, but usually professionals who wanted to share their expertise with students and pick up some extra money on the side. They brought their “real-world” experience to the classroom in business, criminal justice, health care, vocational, and social work.

The difference now is that most of the part-time instructors are of two types: either they were cut from full-time teaching or they are just out of graduate school and hoping to hang on long enough for a full-time position to open up.

That almost never happens.

As long as administrators can hire a competent instructor for less than a third of what they would have to pay an associate or full professor—and no costly medical or retirement benefits—they have no incentive to change.

Colleges and universities have differing attitudes toward adjuncts. Some go out of their way to make them feel part of the campus by offering orientation sessions at the beginning of each school year, parking privileges, access to the library, recreational and dining facilities, and invitations to campus events.

Other colleges are late with contracts, don’t provide information about schedules, important dates, access to copy machines, or remedial services on campus that a teacher might refer students to. Information that the teacher needs is difficult to find or is contradictory or is simply not available, all of which is frustrating for someone on a schedule that is sometimes calculated down to the minute.

Adjuncting full-time means juggling schedules on two, sometimes three or four campuses, with five to seven different preparations for classes that can begin at 8 am on a campus an hour away and conclude that night at 10 pm on another campus—usually with two to three other classes in between on yet another campus.

When you’re racing from one campus to another there isn’t much time for face-to-face advising with students, even if you can find a place on campus that offers some privacy. Advising must be done through email, throughout the day, between classes on one’s phone or at the end of the day after hours of preparation, teaching, driving, and grading.

The reason why most full-time adjuncts teach overloads is because most campuses will not give an adjunct more than two classes a semester, lest they have to pay them benefits. So in order to make a living wage one has to teach as many courses as possible. I know adjuncts who not only teach three or four courses a week, but have another job as well.

When you read the comments after articles or podcasts about the grind of adjunct teaching, it’s clear that many people have no idea what teaching is really about. They can’t understand why anyone would work so hard for such low wages. “Get another job!” they say. “Nobody needs your sacrifice.” The full-time adjuncts I know live with these conditions because as stressful as it can be at times, all of that usually fades away once we step into the classroom. There’s an excitement and anticipation that just can’t be found in a lot of other jobs.

But this is not an ideal situation for anyone but the financial officers of a campus. No matter how dedicated and innovative an adjunct may be, they can rarely replace a full-time faculty member who has more resources, more time, better facilities, and a fuller sense of the mission of the college.

As WAU tries to fill these positions they will quickly find that there are precious few qualified Adventist instructors who are willing and able to meet the schedules and to work for the wages that WAU offers. They may be hiring people who are content experts in their respective fields, but who will be unfamiliar with the unique culture and ethos of an Adventist campus. Fitting into that culture will not only take explaining but coaching. Given the fact that most faculty at WAU are already overworked, not much time and attention can be given to adjunct faculty beyond basic instruction.

Fasten your seat belts and lower your expectations. This could be a bumpy flight come September.