Tulane adjunct professor hiring practices oppose national trends

Lydia Woolley, Staff Reporter

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“Twenty percent less funds will be spent on adjunct faculty next year than last year,” Brian Edwards, dean of the School of Liberal Arts and professor of English, said. “That’s actually a huge number given the scale of our operation, and all of that money is being shifted into hiring more full-time faculty and tenure-track professors of practice and enhancing graduate student stipends.”

This budgetary shift in the School of Liberal Arts comes in the midst of a national debate over the status of adjunct professor positions in the United States. Tulane hires well below the average number of adjunct professors at universities in the U.S. and SLA is looking forward to bolstering its percentage of full-time tenure-track positions even further. For those hoping to see more investment in tenure-track faculty, this is a step in the right direction. There also exists support for adjuncts staying in Tulane classrooms and gaining financial support and job security.

In 1969, tenure-track and tenured employees made up almost 80% of U.S. college faculty members. Today, over 70% of university instructor positions are non-tenure-track and over half of them are adjunct professors. The median salary of adjuncts is $2,700 per 3-credit-hour course while the median salary of a tenured professor is $104,820 per year, making it far cheaper to hire adjuncts than tenure-track professors. Even as more universities opt for the cheaper option, however, Tulane has not seen drastic differences in hiring practices.

“They don’t apply to Tulane,” Edwards said, regarding the statistics that document these hiring shifts.

Edwards’ assertion appears to be well-supported – Tulane is generally reported to hire well above the national average of tenure-track and tenured professors – though Tulane’s private university status makes it difficult to track hiring practices.

Jana Lipman, associate professor of history and Louisiana chapter president of the American Association of University Professors, recognizes that Tulane is not among the worst offenders of adjunct-hiring universities but hopes to see further investment in tenure-track and tenured faculty.

“I think that there are many people in the university, maybe even in the administration as well, who are committed to tenure lines and tenured faculty and research lines, but I would argue that we need to be even more so,” Lipman said. “Tenure-track faculty and full-time faculty are the ones who can invest in students long-term.”

She also believes, however, that advocating for investment in tenure-track and tenured faculty is not mutually exclusive with advocating for increased support for existing adjuncts.

“I want adjuncts to get paid better and have more benefits,” Lipman said. “The goal is to create an intellectual community with good jobs and academic freedom.”

Ronna Burger, professor of philosophy, Sizeler Professor of Jewish Studies, Catherine and Henry J. Gaisman Chair, and director of the religious studies minor, also supports raises for adjuncts. According to Burger, the low pay and uncertainty are especially concerning given the value she sees in adjunct instruction, which often allows for smaller class sizes.

“Adjunct teaching is hard, not just because of earning so little, but also not knowing in advance whether you’re going to have work or not,” Burger said. “You can have regular tenure-track professors teaching your courses as much as possible but then there will have to be many bigger classes.”

Michael Pickering, adjunct professor of political science and Ph.D. candidate, also believes that adjunct positions can be useful, especially for adjunct professors who are seeking to become better teachers.

“‘[At] graduate school, you don’t always necessarily get an opportunity to teach,” Pickering said. “And the more you teach, the better you see what works and what doesn’t.”

Pickering declined to comment on the salary he earns for adjunct teaching. At Tulane, adjuncts salaries are generally reported to be approximately $4,000 per class, though it differs between departments. He also declined to comment on whether or not he receives benefits. He did, however, report that he does not work a second job in addition to being an adjunct professor and teaches two classes per semester.

“I love teaching,” Pickering said. “In my situation, being an adjunct is really beneficial for me,” he said, but also expressed sympathy for adjuncts who are treated unjustly.

While Edwards agrees that certain adjunct positions have a positive impact on undergraduate education and is not seeking to phase out adjuncts altogether, he believes that reducing the budget for adjunct teaching and shifting it toward tenure-track and tenured professors is “the right value.”

According to Edwards, the adjunct-to-tenure ratio is in a good place.

“I am very proud of Tulane for striking that balance and that’s what I’m committing to maintaining,” Edwards said.