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4:30pm ET, 4/16


iconAdjunct professors -- who, by some counts, make up almost half the nationwide teaching staff at universities -- say they're faceless souls in the halls of ivy. Pay is low, benefits are thin and the stairway to full-time employment is hard to find. Click here for some details.  

Second-class careerists?

The long halls of ivy:
Adjunct professors

In this story:

Class system

Target: Emerson

'Love to teach'

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(CNN) -- How's this for the job not of your dreams: It typically requires an advanced degree, and a workweek somewhere in the 60-hour range, with work on weekends likely. The pay is low, there are no benefits, no job security. To get by, in the course of any given week, you'll likely have to commute to several, often widely-scattered job sites. At none of those places will you have an office -- or sometimes even a mailbox -- to call your own.

Welcome to the lowlands of higher education -- the growing realm of the so-called adjunct professor. And this is not some obscure sub-stratum of academia we're talking about here: Nearly half of all college and university teachers now are adjuncts, up from just 20 percent of professors 20 years ago. According to the U.S. Department of Education, between 1995 and 1997 more than two-thirds of new professors were hired as adjuncts.

graphic Do you think adjunct professors are stuck in a career from which they'll never graduate?

Yes. The universities have created a mortarboard ceiling and adjuncts are downstairs for good.
Not necessarily. This movement to organize adjuncts and present a united front has a chance of changing things.
No. A truly talented professor will be recognized and promoted to full-time status. Quality is what all college administrations need most.
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A growing segment of higher education, one that's now growing more militant.

This weekend at San Jose Community College in California, the Coalition of Contingent Academic Labor (COCAL) holds its fourth annual conference amid more calls than ever before for adjunct professors to organize, unionize -- not take it anymore.

Mike Dubson, an adjunct professor in Boston with a master's degree in English, is scheduled to speak at the conference. The author of "The Ghost in the Classroom" (Camel's Back Books, January), a new book about the plight of part-time professors, Dubson's what's jokingly known in the adjunct teacher trade as a Roads Scholar. To make ends meet, he teaches at -- and commutes among -- a number of different schools.

This spring semester, he'll teach at three Community Colleges, teaching six classes in all, for about $2500 per course, negotiating Boston's legendarily dense traffic, scrambling from one school to another. His office -- for his books, papers and the rest of his professorial paraphernalia -- will once again be a cardboard box transported in the back of his car.

He receives no medical benefits. He estimates, not including time commuting, he'll devote at least 60 hours per week to his job -- to teaching, planning, grading.


Class system

Dubson is one of the country's better paid adjuncts. Teaching right through the summer -- as almost all adjuncts do -- with 10 years' experience, he expects to earn about $40,000 this year, in one of the country's most expensive cities.

The average adjunct earns $10,000 to $15,000 less than that. Dubson's low salary and insecurity, he says, have discouraged him from starting a family. And he says his dream of a full-time position at just one college is probably now out of reach. Ironically, despite his years of experience, he says once you're branded in academia as a part-timer, you're likely to stay one. Dubson says adjuncts are considered second-tier, and full-time faculty members like to keep it that way.

But like a lot of adjuncts these days, Dubson's in a fighting mood.

Mike Dubson  

"The two-tier faculty system needs to be basically eliminated," he says. "Adjunct professors now teach about half of all college courses across the country, and that number gives us an enormous amount of power. Technically, adjuncts could shut down higher-ed, if we all just said we'd had enough -- and left."

Dubson's part of a movement among Boston's 10,000 adjunct professors to organize for better working conditions, one of the first such city-based efforts in the country. The American Association of University Professors -- this weekend working with other other such organizations to sponsor the conference in San Jose -- notes similar efforts in Washington and Chicago.

As for college and university administrations, he says, "They're hypocrites. That's all I can say. It's the most hypocritical situation anybody could come up with. If you ever hear an administrator pontificating at a commencement about equality and fairness and opportunity and 'work hard and it will pay off' -- and then you look at the people who are working hard, in their own backyard -- the things that they say just ring hollow.

"I think deep underneath all this is a whole value system, about how our culture values education, and how it values learning -- and how it values the students. If students are being sold a false bill of goods by an overworked teacher, then one of the messages that comes to me is that the students aren't valued."


Target: Emerson



The ratio of full-time and part-time instructional staff can vary according to what you're studying at a university. Here's a breakdown of some disciplines' faculty members, based on information from the Coalition on the Academic Workplace.


Sentiments echoed by Gary Zabal, an adjunct professor in Boston and a leader of the national movement to improve working conditions for part-time professors.

Zabal says one experience that galvanized him into advocacy for part-time teachers was working, several years ago, in New York City with an adjunct professor who was homeless -- so broke he'd come to class directly from the homeless shelter where he lived.

Two years ago, Zabal succeeded in unionizing part-time faculty members at the University of Massachusetts at Boston, winning health benefits for the first time. About 20 percent of adjunct professors nationwide are members of unions.


Zabal, like Mike Dubson, also worries not just about teachers, but students. He says because most part-time teachers live in fear of losing their tenuous ties to schools where they work, many fear poor evaluations from students. So teachers are tempted to take the easy way out -- inflating grades, not making waves, not challenging anyone too much.

At Emerson College in Boston, according to COCAL, two-thirds of the faculty is adjunct professors. The new effort to organize part-time teachers in Boston will soon focus on Emerson with picketing, says Zabal.

Emerson spokesman David Rosen says, "All teachers are treated well, and in all cases fairly." He disagrees with COCAL'S two-thirds assertion and says only about half of teachers at Emerson are adjuncts. And Rosen disputes the blanket description of adjunct professors as an exploited sub-class of academics.

At Emerson, Rosen says, as at many schools offering practical training in a variety of fields, adjuncts tend to be professionals without enough time or interest to teach full-time. A typical adjunct might be a filmmaker or writer or other professional, not available for full-time work.

Rosen says, sure, the ideal at any college might be to have only a full-time faculty. But he says that to bring multifaceted skills to a college, a fully full-time faculty simply isn't practical.

Rosen says Emerson has yet to hear from COCAL.


'Love to teach'

graphic The American Association of University Professors, or AAUP -- with more than 44,000 members at colleges and universities nationwide -- is one of the groups sponsoring the weekend's conference on the issue of part-time faculty members on campuses. Here are some details of the AAUP perspective.

Sandy Halland is a veteran of 10 years as an adjunct professor in the Boston area, a single mother raising a teen-age daughter. She says that like her colleagues, she feels overworked, underappreciated, underpaid.

So why does she do it?

"There have been many times when I've said to myself, 'This is absolutely stupid, I've got to be out of my mind to do this.' But I love to teach. And I think if you talk to any adjunct, that would be at the root of it. They simply love to teach."

In the world of the adjunct professor -- which is to say, about half of all higher education -- for love, not money, isn't a romantic ideal. It's reality.




'Working your degree' by CNN's Shelly Schwartz: Choose your concentration
Slackers need not apply: Stanford's dean of undergraduate admissions
December 15, 2000
Learning from the masters: Presidential biographies
November 7, 2000

American Association of University Professors
Boston COCAL
Emerson College: Boston - Los Angeles - Europe
University of Massachusetts President's Office Home Page

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