St. Edward’s adjuncts lack benefits, job security

Jacob Rogers

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St. Edward’s University students spending most of their time completing courses required in the core curriculum is not news. Fifty-seven of the 120 credit hours required for a degree come from courses in the General Education curriculum. That’s a reality any senior who somehow skipped American Dilemmas realizes with horror as May approaches.

What many, if not most, students may not know is that most of the people teaching these courses make low pay, get no major benefits such as health insurance and are hired by the course. That means they could be out of a job the next semester.

“It’s every semester, it’s in the back of my mind: Am I going to have a class?” Mary Reilly said, an adjunct instructor at St. Edward’s since 1996.

The widespread use of adjunct and other non-tenure track instructors is not limited to St. Edward’s. A national conversation about pay, working conditions and the extent to which universities rely on these instructors has been underway for the past few years. In 1975, 30 percent of the nation’s professors were part-time. That number jumped to 51 percent by 2011, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

“The university system, the country, America right now, has a system where universities have created this contingent class of faculty who aren’t compensated particularly well and don’t get benefits,” Assistant Professor Alex Barron, director of the Freshman Studies program at St. Edward’s, said.

Barron spent one year as an adjunct faculty member at St. Edward’s before leaving to fill a temporary position at Texas A&M University. She then applied to come back to St. Edward’s and was hired full-time for her current tenure track position.

Adjuncts are hired to teach specific courses. At St. Edward’s, adjuncts or, as they are also called, contingent faculty members, teach three or fewer courses in each semester and may teach two courses in the summer according to Mary Boyd, vice president of Academic Affairs.

This past fall semester, adjunct pay at St. Edward’s rose six percent, to $3,700 per course, up from $3,500. That $3,700 is prorated — or cut — if enrollment in a course falls below 10. The university does not increase per course pay if a class is overloaded.

The 2014-15 academic year included 202 full-time faculty and 268 adjunct faculty/lecturer, Assistant Vice President of Human Resources Rosemary Rudnicki said. Thirty-five percent of undergraduate courses are taught by adjuncts, Associate Professor Cory Lock said, who is also the director of General Education.

Seventy five percent of first year writing courses for the Fall 2015 semester were taught by adjunct faculty, Lock said. This semester, 71 percent of the science in perspective courses, 69 percent of contemporary world issues courses and 60 percent of Capstone courses are taught by adjuncts.

“They don’t get paid as well as tenure-track faculty; they don’t have the benefits,” Lock said. “And I think that is a significant challenge of being an adjunct faculty member.”

Money

Veteran adjunct Reilly said she was gratified by the raise, but wishes she had more job security.

“Hey, those are the ground rules, and I play by them,” she said. “But, you know, it still would be nice to have something where people’s experience, and I would say loyalty to St. Ed’s, were recognized, maybe more financially or give us more security. But I don’t really see that changing.”

Amy Adams, who teaches rhetoric and composition in the Freshman Studies program, has been an adjunct instructor at St. Edward’s for 10 years.

“I’m paid for two classes, so that’s $7,400,” she said. “In the spring, I teach one class, so, I make about $11,000 a year, before taxes.”

Until this semester, adjunct instructors were not paid for weeks after the first day of classes. The delay came from the wait for final enrollment numbers, which was not sent until the 12th class day of each semester. When Hilltop Views asked Academic Affairs and Human Resources about the issue in the fall of 2015, Boyd and Rosemary Rudnicki, vice president of Human Resources, said they weren’t sure if there was a way to change the delay.

“Classes had been in session for six weeks,” before adjuncts were paid in previous semesters, Adjunct Instructor Leslie Dovale said. “That does not include meetings that we attend, departmentally, to prepare for any kind of changes in the curriculum the coming year we have to know.”

However, this was changed for the spring semester. Adjuncts now have the option to receive their first paycheck earlier in the semester. All adjunct faculty received information about the payroll process before the semester started, Boyd said.

“Requests received by Jan. 15 [were] paid on Jan. 21, and requests received by Jan. 22 will be paid on Jan. 29,” Boyd said.

However, adjuncts are only required to hold a minimum of one office hour per week for each course, according to the Faculty Manual.

“Many departments invite adjunct faculty to attend meetings, but attendance is optional,” Boyd said.

Another issue Dovale brings up is that the signing of contracts each semester can vary widely, which Adams and Reilly said they have also experienced.

“For example, this [past fall] semester, they said the contracts got, quote unquote, screwed up,” Adams said. “I didn’t have a contract for the class I’m teaching until after I started teaching. One of them for weeks.”

Despite the three adjuncts Hilltop Views interviewed saying they’ve taught at the beginning of the semester without a contract, Rudnicki wasn’t aware of the issue being common.

“I don’t know what that’s about. That’s not the norm. That is not the norm,” Rudnicki said. “So, I don’t know if there is something else going on.”

Benefits

Adjuncts are not considered benefits-eligible employees. While they are given discounted parking permits, they are not eligible for other benefits, like tuition remission, or a reduction in tuition for the spouse and child(ren) of faculty members.

There is an optional 50 percent reduction in tuition during the eligible faculty member’s first three years of employment. After three years, the benefit increases to a 100 percent reduction in tuition, according to the Faculty Manual.

“I don’t think my daughter wants to go here, and she’s not because we could never afford it, at this price,” Reilly said. “But they have a nice arrangement where you can trade [tuition remission] with other Holy Cross schools, and I’d think she’d love the opportunity to go somewhere else.”

Another benefit adjuncts miss out on is the annual faculty Christmas party. Adjuncts used to receive invitations. That stopped three years ago, Dovale said.

The decision to no longer include adjuncts at the Christmas party was made at the highest administrative level, likely including President George E. Martin, Mischelle Diaz, director of communications said. Diaz does not know why the decision was made in the past.

When asked if she thinks the adjuncts should be included again, Boyd said: “I think that there could be an opportunity to discuss what kind of Christmas party do we want to have? And if we want all employees, including contingent faculty, to participate, then let’s discuss what kind of Christmas party that should look like.”

The debate on the treatment and pay of adjunct faculty continues around the nation, and it’s a question St. Edward’s should be asking, Barron said.

“Are we always compensating them fairly? That’s a question as a university, with a Holy Cross mission, we should always be asking; are we treating everyone who works here, from somebody who is cleaning the office or landscaping the grounds, to the president,” Barron said. “Are we treating people fairly, and can we do better?”