Number of non-tenure professors makes half of faculty, continues to rise

Luisa Venegoni, Senior Staff Reporter

The House Committee on Education and the Workforce Democratic Staff released a report in January indicating that non-tenure track faculty now represent half of college and university faculty. The number of adjunct professors at Tulane has continued to rise, as well. 

Non-tenure track faculty include adjunct professors and graduate instructors who both hold limited contract positions offering low wages, limited job security and often no benefits. They are frequently hired on a per-semester basis.

Individuals accepting adjunct positions are often recent graduates of Ph.D. programs looking to become full-time professors, retired from full-time teaching or other careers, or work in technical fields and teach courses to supplement income. 

Political science professor Jennifer Richard worked as an adjunct at Tulane University and LSU for several years upon graduating from a doctoral program, before being offered a full-time position at Tulane. She said individuals completing Ph.D. programs often use adjunct work as a way of breaking into academia. 

“You have to stay in academia if you want a job in academia,” Richard said. “If you don’t get a tenure-track position, then you will take any type of job that you can get, and a lot of times that will end up being an adjunct job.”

Nationally, the number of full-time positions has fallen in higher education, and the number of part-time positions has risen. Individuals seeking tenure-track positions find it difficult to secure a long-term job. Newcomb-Tulane College Dean James MacLaren said, however, the number of full-time positions at Tulane has not decreased. 

Political science adjunct professor Lou Campomenosi said he could not find work as a full-time professor after getting his Ph.D. in 1994, so he took adjunct positions while doing other work. He continues to teach classes as an adjunct after his retirement because he enjoys the job. 

“For me, adjunct work really is a means to an end,” Campomenosi said. “At this point in life, it enables me to do what I do very well, which is to teach, and I like doing it. It’s pressure-free as far as career-type things.”

Full-time communications professor Vicki Mayer said adjuncts often have little voice in university policies and governance.

“I think adjuncts get a pretty raw deal,” Mayer said. “They’re teaching a lot of students, and they’re dedicated to their classrooms. Yet, they are treated like second-class citizens with regards to the operations, with departments, how courses are scheduled and what they get to teach.”

The Coalition on the Academic Workforce reported the median per-course pay for adjuncts working at four-year doctoral and research universities was $3,400 in 2010. According to The House Committee on Education and the Workforce Democratic Staff, 95 percent of adjuncts feel they have little job security, and coupled with low wages, this means most adjuncts teach for supplementing income or teach at multiple institutions. 

Tulane pays adjuncts around $4,000 per course. The university recently raised the salaries of adjuncts teaching four-credit foreign language classes, but MacLaren said he would like to see a raise in adjunct compensation across all departments.

“I think we’ve not raised those rates in a while and are probably overdue,” MacLaren said.

As part of Tulane’s post-Hurricane Katrina renewal plan, the university made a move to supplement current faculty with professor of practice appointments, rather than with adjuncts contracted on a per-semester basis. Professors of practice are offered multiple-year contracts to teach, and are not expected to undertake regular service or research responsibilities.

MacLaren said he supported this plan’s implementation, and though it was passed by the University Senate, it was somewhat controversial because of faculty concerns about the erosion of tenure. 

“I thought it was better to give them the opportunity to teach at a full-time load and have a conversation with benefits,” MacLaren said.

According to a Coalition on the Academic Workforce survey released in June 2012, only 22.6 percent of about 21,000 part-time professors that responded reported having access to healthcare through their employers. Tulane offers benefits to anyone working half-time or greater, a policy common throughout the university’s peer institutions, but this practice generally excludes adjuncts. 

MacLaren said his support for the plan to introduce more professors of practice to the university greatly stems from his desire to provide employees with benefits. 

“If you value the people who are working at an institution, part of that is you don’t want a group of people to believe they’re on a second-class kind of track,” MacLaren said. “Benefits are really important.”

Mayer said the university’s effort to hire more professors of practice indicates awareness about the issues adjuncts face.

“It’s not a lifetime position, but these five-year contracts are far more stable than semester-to-semester contracts,” Mayer said. “They can provide a living wage and benefits. I think Tulane has made great strides with the professor of practice program, but there is of course more to be done. I think the national pressure around it can only help the administration recognize the importance.” 

Despite the fact that the plan was put in place in December 2005, the number of adjunct professors at Tulane has continued to increase, reflecting national trends. 

Richard said that though the quality of teaching depends on the individual professor’s abilities, student evaluations force adjuncts to work harder even when they have other responsibilities.

“[Adjuncts are] fighting to get into the game, still,” Richard said. “They’re dependent upon their evaluations, and if they want to keep their job at the university as an adjunct or even potentially something more, they need their evaluations to be good.”

Junior Greg Brousse said the adjunct professors who taught him appeared isolated from the larger Tulane community. 

“A lot of full-time faculty seem connected, but the adjuncts don’t talk to each other,” Brousse said. “They don’t talk to any of the current faculty. From an outsider’s perspective, I think it negatively impacts their experience and the quality of their work.” 

Ross Bryan, adjunct professor and assistant vice president for Housing and Residence Life, originally intended to become a full-time professor, but after a full-time position fell through, he made the decision to continue his career in administration and teach courses as an adjunct on the side.

“In some places I’ve been I felt like I was being fit into a cog in the wheel,” Bryan said. “At Tulane, I’ve always felt like I’ve had really good opportunities. It’s nice to feel a part of the faculty. Life for some adjuncts can be kind of miserable and a little thankless from time to time.”

Richard said she does not believe there is enough momentum to generate immediate change. 

“It’s definitely something universities and academia itself are aware of,” Richard said. “I think that the more of us that come up through the system and had to adjunct, the more that voice will grow and get louder.”