Adjunct Faculty a.k.a. 'Academic Sharecroppers' - page 2

by TheCommuter 8,777 Views | 25 Comments Senior Moderator

'Academic sharecropper' is a label that is usually applied to adjunct faculty members due to their status in the educational system and the backbreaking nature of their employment situations. Adjunct professors are also known as... Read More


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    Fantastic article, and timely based on a conversation I just had recently with a good friend. I agree wholeheartedly that adjunct faculty members are by and large wonderful instructors making the most with what they have to work with, but how sad that a respected position such as this is paid so little. I doubt the VAST majority of students realize just how little adjunct faculty make, esp. at the community college level. The friend I am referring to received her PhD. from U. of Texas in Austin in communications a few years ago after many years of hard work. Granted, she could have majored in something more salary-focused than communications, but she was following her heart and what truly interested her (as just about every commencement speaker in the history of the world recommends students do), and figured that with a PhD. she would be able to make something out of it.

    She currently teaches a full time schedule for part-time pay and no benefits at my local community college and yes, she scours the trade journals for more desirable teaching positions on a continual basis with no luck. The school carefully assigns classes to her so that she is not full-time, and then supplements her hours with tutoring, which is another pay track and scale, and thus, not counted towards her teaching hours. So she does work full-time, which is a blessing and for which she is grateful, but with zero benefits. She has been teaching for three years. Granted, she enjoys the job immensely and puts in all kinds of extra effort. She is "Miss Above & Beyond" -- pouring her heart and soul into her lectures, grading papers meticulously, writing detailed lesson plans, and even insisting on dressing up for every lecture though it is not required. She is also happy to be back in her home town, because her mom is not well and she can keep an eye on her. Basically, she is making the most out of her current situation.

    I originally typed what she made last year here, but it is so shocking and pathetic and SAD that I decided not to include it. I just couldn't. I was embarrassed for her. Yes, it is THAT LOW!! It is totally and truly unacceptable what she makes. I did not believe her when she told me. A person could easily make more at a certain coffee chain -- easily, and I don't mean as a manager, either. Yes, the cost of living in our area is low, but still, this is unacceptable! There is no way anyone can convince me that in a society that claims to value education, it is okay that a college-level instructor with a PhD. teaching in her subject area should be making the kind of salary she makes. And again, no benefits -- no retirement, no 401k, no health insurance, no life insurance, nada.

    The dean of students really likes her, and so was kind enough to inform her at the end of the Spring semester that they will NEVER hire her full-time -- no chance of it no matter how long she stays. He wanted her to know this, fearing she might be sticking around in the hopes that this might eventually happen. The college knows they can find adjunct communications instructions to fill their roster, so they have zero incentive to hire anyone full-time.

    So kudos to the OP for the article. It is high time more people are made away of this situation. And to the person who was offended by the article's use of the term "academic sharecroppers," I believe you should be much more offended and incensed by the state of affairs in our college system as it relates to adjunct professors. I believe it is a wonderful thing to feel one has been called to a profession, and the selfless dedication many teachers exhibit is admirable. But we live and function in a society that operates as part of a mixed capitalist economy.

    To expect people to perform a vital service in our economy out of a sense of service or dedication or calling, or whatever one wants to name it, really almost kind of borders on communism if one thinks about it. So the line of thinking goes: "I'll do this job because it is good for the communal whole...but I won't expect much pay in return. I realize I should make more for the work I do, but I'll take my pay in part through the satisfaction of knowing I have helped others and performed a beneficial service that will help all of society in the long run." Noble to be sure, and admirable, but certainly not very capitalistic. And yes, as long as people are willing to accept this pay, benefits, and scheduling situation out of a sense of calling and service to one's community and society, the salaries will remain stagnant. That's just supply and demand.

    However, you cannot convince me that many highly qualified and capable people don't pass up the profession of teaching as a career choice all of the time because of salary and benefit issues, and that, with higher pay and benefits, colleges and universities (k-12, too, of course) would not be able to attract and retain even better quality adjunct teachers. Speaking of retention, my friend is researching a variety of professional programs (including nursing) to explore outside of teaching, because, especially as a single invidual, she realizes she cannot make a career out of being an adjunct professor when the prospects of finding full-time work are as dim as they currently appear.
    Last edit by norlns24 on Aug 8, '12
    June59, NRSKarenRN, Tragically Hip, and 1 other like this.
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    I have worked adjunct while maintaining a full time position elsewhere. I liked the freedom it offered. But I would not consider a full time position anyway since I earn far more outside academia.
    June59 and TheCommuter like this.
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    Quote from classicdame
    I have worked adjunct while maintaining a full time position elsewhere. I liked the freedom it offered. But I would not consider a full time position anyway since I earn far more outside academia.
    I do the same -- work full time for a hospital and adjunct 1 course per year for some extra cash and because I like teaching the subject I teach. As I near retirement and am not totally satisfied with my full time job, I might consider a full time faculty job if a really great opportunity came up. But it would have to be something pretty special to tempt me. I'd take quite a pay cut ... but I can afford it now that my house is almost paid off.

    In a few years, though, I would be interested in something part time that would give me a part time income and access to group health insurance. Then I would quit my full time job and ease gradually into retirement. That's my fantasy.
    Last edit by llg on Aug 8, '12
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    The Ph.D. Now Comes With Food Stamps, The Chroincle of Higher Education, 6 May 2012

    A few years ago an adjunct English instructor wrote a great essay on how hard it is to survive financially on the pay colleges offered, even given the large number of classes he taught. I'll try to find the article.
    KimberlyRN89 and TheCommuter like this.
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    Which really begs the question why is higher education so expensive? An undergraduate microbiology course I took 5 years ago at University of Memphis was 1300 dollars in tuition. There were 100 students in the class. The University raked in over 100 thousand dollars for this one course and it sure didn't go to the adjunct professor who taught the class. It didn't go for the buildings, which are over 50 years old or the crappy wooden desks we had to sit in.
    KimberlyRN89 and TheCommuter like this.
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    It's too bad your friend can't get a job in the public school system say high school, as I'm sure the pay would be better than she's getting now plus the benefits are excellent. Wouldn't that be an easier path to take and quicker and still be able to teach vs changing careers entirely like going into nursing?
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    I am new faculty for a PN program and my job is too assist in teaching 4 basic nursing skills, and instead of handing me 4 pages of paper on how and what they expect to be taught, they handed me a fundamentals nursing book. That was a little rude since I have no intention of reading a entry level book again, and two, they know I go to school full-time AND work a regular job. So yes, it's true, the support is talked about, but there is little to really explain what the expectations are and how they expect things to be taught. In any respect, I apologize to students for confusion and just explain that since I'm new to the school, I am not aware of their ways in doing things. It's like saying toma-ta or tomato...same thing, but not to everyone.
    June59 likes this.
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    I must be one of the fortunate ones. Yes, my parttime pay is extremely poor (fully a third less than I make at bedside with just the BSN). But I don't really want to do any more clinical hours than I do, and I really enjoy teaching. So, I teach one day a week, plus the grading stuff at home. But I do that in a comfy chair with a good movie running in the background.

    My director and my level lead treat me very well; I have excellent support and feel valued.

    Our community college has just lost a goodly amount of state funding (as have all the schools). Yes, I resent being paid at the same level as all adjunct faculty (who do not have to have masters degrees) but it is across the board; I am not being singled out. I get my bennies from my clinical job, which I also enjoy doing.
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    Quote from mookyjoe
    I am new faculty for a PN program and my job is too assist in teaching 4 basic nursing skills, and instead of handing me 4 pages of paper on how and what they expect to be taught, they handed me a fundamentals nursing book. That was a little rude since I have no intention of reading a entry level book again, and two, they know I go to school full-time AND work a regular job. So yes, it's true, the support is talked about, but there is little to really explain what the expectations are and how they expect things to be taught. In any respect, I apologize to students for confusion and just explain that since I'm new to the school, I am not aware of their ways in doing things. It's like saying toma-ta or tomato...same thing, but not to everyone.
    How in the world they thought you must read and then pick those 4 skills off of the thick fundamental book? I was considering teaching some clinicals for my local colleges since I enjoy precepting. They keep on saying, "there are not enough instructors"! Yes, if you don't pay them or help them ease into their role!. These classes are way higher now then 8 yrs ago (during my nursing degree time).
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    This is an old thread, but I think its really helpful. I am wondering if there is any difference in the outlook for nursing faculty. I read elsewhere that tenured positions are going away overall. But, is that also true for nurses? With all the talk of the need for nurse educators, it would seem there would be some incentive. Its deflating to think that after all the hard work and cost of graduate school, there may not be a reasonable full time position in the future.
    June59 likes this.


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