Fourth Estate | October 29, 2013
by Niki Papadogiannakis
While adjunct professors are an essential facet of the instructional faculty at Mason, they are hired per-class, meaning they do not receive all of the benefits nor the pay of full-time faculty.
“[Adjunct professors are] considered part time and it’s usually course by course,” said Linda Harber, the associate vice president of human resources and payroll. “So I need someone to teach English 101 and you go out and then get someone just to teach that course or a couple courses like that. It’s not salaried, it’s not benefited, it’s just teaching a course or a few courses.”
According to the faculty handbook, adjunct professors are “Faculty on temporary appointments contract for and teach a particular course or courses on a part-time basis. Part-time faculty are appointed one semester at a time, have no permanent status and are not eligible for benefits.”
Adjunct professors often cannot dedicate time to an entire workload due to having another full-time job or other obligations.
“Many of our adjunct professors have full time jobs working for the government, working in business, working in the community, in some way and they are teaching a course at Mason weekends and evening, some parts during the week on top of their full time job,” said Michelle Marks, the vice provost of academic affairs.
Kris Smith, associate provost for institutional research and reporting, said that hiring adjunct faculty allows for flexibility.
“It allows us to respond to student growth in certain areas that we may not have anticipated so we can bring in adjuncts to help fill a need on a short-term basis,” Smith said.
Harber noted that universities often use adjunct professors instead of full-time professors because they receive a lower pay and it’s cheaper to accommodate classes because they are paid as part-time.
According to the Provost website, a “qualified/experienced” adjunct faculty member that is equivalent to an instructor receives a minimum salary of $837 per didactic hour for a 100 to 200 level course. The actual pay of professors depends on the college or department, but the minimum for graduate courses taught by an adjunct professor whose experience is equivalent to an associate or full-time professor is $1,326 per didactic hour.
Some adjunct faculty, however, do not have a full-time job and have other obligations where they cannot work full-time as a professor.
This makes their situation so that they do not receive healthcare benefits or a livable wage because they are part-time.
The Chronicle for Higher Education has a user-created database called The Adjunct Project that shows how much adjunct professors across the country get paid per class.
According to the Adjunct Project, adjunct faculty salaries at Mason can range from $2,439 to $5,000 per course. An adjunct professor who teaches English at Mason receives between $3,480 and $5,000 per course. For the same class at the University of Virginia, an adjunct professor gets paid $8,000 per course.
“I think we may be a little lower,” Marks said on how adjunct faculty are paid at Mason compared to other universities. “We may also be consistent but one thing I know for sure is that the cost of living in the Washington D.C. area and its suburbs is more expensive so it’s certainly harder to make ends meet than if you were an adjunct professor at Virginia Tech.”
Marks said that the reason why the salaries are at the rate that they are is because of the lack of funding to increase pay.
“Our adjunct faculty are part of our faculty and we want to pay them comparatively as well,” Marks said. “Where will the money come from? Boy, that’s a good question and we are working through some scenarios that look at ways.”
Marks said that getting to the point of providing adjunct faculty with higher pay will require long-term investments that will provide revenue for the university.
“Adjuncts here tend to be extremely well-qualified,” said Guilbert Brown, assistant vice president and chief budget officer of the Office of Budget and Planning.. “They’re in the real world. Arguable it’s one of the strengths of our program that we have such highly qualified [instructors]. Depending on what program you’re in, but say engineering, you’re going to get great faculty who are out in the field and so they bring that into the classroom. And they are less expensive.”
Some adjunct faculty have the flexibility to work part-time without benefits because they work full-time in the public and private sector in the community. ] “They want to give back. They want to have the opportunity to interact with our students and we are able to because we are in the metro areas, an area with so many educated people who are talented in their careers and also want to teach,” Marks said. “We are in the position in getting our students exposed to some remarkable folks who, again, do other things for a living, but who come here and spend a part of their week educating students.
Adjunct professors are of the lowest-paid faculty at Mason and in many institutions. “That’s not just a Mason thing, It’s everywhere,” said Marisa Allison a graduate sociology student, who does research with New Majority Faculty, an advocacy group for adjunct faculty, on the growing number of contingent faculty and their inequality in higher education. Allison also researches with the Public Sociology Association, the graduate sociology student group, on contingent faculty at Mason.
Allison uses the term “contingent” to describe not only adjunct faculty but also lecturers, graduate lecturers, part-time faculty and instructors. Allison said “contingent” is more of an umbrella term than “adjunct” because “adjunct” implies teaching for a short time.
“Ultimately my hope is that people would be paid at an equal level in these contingent positions as tenure-track faculty are per class,” Allison said