Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Sunday, April 30, 2017

Union reps, faculty discuss adjunct issues

No desk. No space to meet students. No extra salary to help students after hours. No guaranteed job.

AU Professorial Lecturer of History Claire Goldstene said most tenured professors do not face these issues very often. However, she said some adjunct professors face these problems every day.

“One of the features of being an adjunct is an incredible sense of isolation and disconnection from the university,” said Goldstene, who is not an adjunct professor. “Many of us adjuncts have PhDs just like some of the tenured professors.”

The Student Worker Alliance hosted a panel Feb. 28 in the School of International Service Founders Room to educate students about the issues faced by adjuncts across the nation.

Tiers and hierarchy exist among non-tenured AU professors as adjuncts receive $2,900 for teaching one course a semester and do not receive health care benefits, Goldstene said.

Some adjunct professors teach at multiple universities just to get by, Goldstene said. They are also not welcome to attend faculty meetings or social events and do not have a seat on the faculty senate, Goldstene said.

The University did not offer adjuncts a position on the Faculty Senate because they feel adjuncts have little time and interest in the University daily affairs, The Eagle previously reported.

AU has:

• 153 full-time professors, who have full benefits, must complete administrative duties and are often tenure professors

• 158 associate professors, who have multi-year contracts but do not need to complete administrative duties

• 236 assistant professors, who do not necessarily teach full-time

• Adjunct professors, who teach part time

The University does not list numbers for adjunct professors.

This issue is not only applicable to AU but is also an issue faced by many colleges nationwide, said Dr. Esther Merves, director of Research and Special Programs at the nonprofit New Faculty Majority and an adjunct professor at George Washington University.

Approximately 70 percent of public and private university faculty members are not tenured, Merves said. About 75 percent of AU faculty members are either not tenured or adjuncts, above the national average, she said.

“What hurts so much is the invisibility,” Merves said. “Why doesn’t everyone see or know about it?”

Adjuncts used to make up a small portion of university educators in the 1970s, said Anne McLeer, director of research and strategic planning for the union SEIU. Now adjuncts are the majority of most university faculties nationwide, she said.

Merves and McLeer helped establish the advocacy organization now called the New Faculty Majority since adjuncts have become the majority.

The group began as a Listserv forum for teachers to vent about the problems they faced as adjuncts and contingent faculty. Now, NFM has grown into an independent national nonprofit that supports adjuncts and contingent faculty at any type of university or college.

Merves said the group is also expanding to include students’ needs.

“When you say faculty, it also implies students,” she said. “It’s a reciprocal relationship.”

Student groups such as the Student Worker Alliance have been trying to change the tide on this front. The group advocates for the lives of all and any workers on campus, according to College of Arts and Sciences junior and panel event organizer Ethan Miller.

“We’re here at AU; this is our college,” Miller said. “To be able to help others realize what’s happening here with contingent faculty and adjunct professors’ struggles are significant.”

Other students feel the same way about their adjunct professors.

“Everyone is usually surprised because they don’t think adjuncts are qualified,” said Student Worker Alliance member and CAS sophomore Carmen Mason. “Sometimes my adjunct professors are my favorite [professors] because they are the most dedicated ones you can have.”

SIS and CAS junior Téa Sefer said only one of the 21 professors she has had so far has been a full time professor. Of the 20 adjunct professors she has had for classes, only a few disclosed they were adjuncts during teacher evaluations.

Sefer said some of her favorite professors have been adjuncts such as Dr. Leah Perry, who moved to New York after she was offered a full time, tenured position at State College of New York Empire State College. Perry taught Gender and Society classes at AU.

“How are we supposed to find mentors when these people leave because they don’t have time for office hours or have to leave because they find a better job?” Sefer said.