An Open Letter: From An Adjunct Faculty Member to Full-Time Faculty

February
2021
Chelsea Hull, Santa Monica College, ASCCC Part-time Committee

Note: The following article is not an official statement of the Academic Senate for California Community
Colleges. The article is intended to engender discussion and consideration by local colleges.

Whether they acknowledge it or not, adjunct faculty are aware of the dire state of their position. The academic market never truly recovered after the 2008 recession, an open secret that faculty and classified staff are aware of.

On the national level, the National Center for Education Statistics reports that in 2018, only 629,932 full-time instructional staff were employed by 3,879 degree-granting post-secondary institutions. By comparison, in 2008, 578,119 full-time instructional staff were reported, leaving an increase of only 51,813 positions (National Center for Education Statistics, 2018). The statistics for nationwide part-time instructional staff are not indicated.

The California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office Management Information Systems Data Mart provides abundant data on the California Community Colleges system. The 2019-2020 data shows that as of Fall 2020, the California Community Colleges system employs 41,237 academic, temporary positions. Academic, temporary is an equivalent title to the part-time faculty missing information from the National Center for Education Statistics. Over 41,000 positions seem like a positive number until it is compared to the 18,145 positions that constitute academic, tenured/tenure track (California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office, 2020). The system has far more temporary employees than permanent positions, and adjunct faculty are limited in the number of units they can teach and therefore must frequently be employed at more than one campus simultaneously.

Part-time, or adjunct, faculty know that finding tenure track positions is very difficult. Yet they remain devoted to their jobs, trapped in a cycle that validates their love of teaching yet ignores them as professionals. They are virtually powerless in their careers and are left to the mercy of the adjunct or part-time hiring pool. Some receive less than a week’s notice for classes they are hired to teach and in some cases are notified the day classes are scheduled to start. As a result, they are left to design curriculum as the course happens. They are often left to their own devices as far as an orientation is concerned, and they often operate in a vacuum. If they are assigned to an office, it is usually shared with a handful of other adjunct faculty who all have a rotating schedule of three to four people at a time, and many are not given an office at all.

Prior to COVID-19, adjuncts in larger metropolitan areas would easily spend more time commuting between campuses in a single day than actually being in a classroom. They spend the same amount of time teaching, grading, and holding office hours as do their fulltime colleagues, yet get paid a fraction of the percentage. Adjunct faculty labor is cheaper than full-time faculty, but this cheap labor has unseen costs. Adjunct faculty spend unpaid and uncompensated time doing extracurricular activities to boost their curriculum vitae. Conferences, student clubs, and academic governance work are often uncompensated, with expenses paid out of pocket. Some adjunct faculty have a robust support system where they network and share conference opportunities and full-time position openings, exchange syllabi, share teaching strategies, and provide emotional support. However, not all adjunct faculty are lucky enough to have such a resource. For all of these reasons, adjunct faculty’s passion for teaching, researching, and being involved in shaping the education of California’s diverse student population leaves colleges as breeding grounds for adjunct faculty exploitation.

The Faculty Association of California Community Colleges noted in its publication Why Faculty Matter: The Role of Faculty in the Success of Community College Students that recent governing boards are considering “new employment arrangements,” including “17% of presidents [saying] they would eliminate tenure, 11% would hire more adjuncts, 38% would increase teaching loads, and 66% preferred long-term contracts over tenure appointments” (Faculty Association of Community Colleges, 2018). Eliminating tenure-track positions in favor of hiring more adjuncts or transitioning people into long-term contract appointments would not solve any of the deeper issues that adjuncts face. Rising figures in adjunctifaction, combined with slowly increasing student enrollment up until 2020, only highlight systemic issues in academia.

This open letter is an informal plea to all tenured, tenure-track, or full-time faculty: please, treat adjunct faculty fairly. Performing extra work without compensation is unpleasant, so full-time faculty need not necessarily enter into formal mentorship relationships, even though formal mentorships should be more popular. Instead, full-time faculty can look for ways to increase camaraderie and close the part-time to full-time divide.

From the perspective of adjunct faculty, the following are some immediate things to consider regarding informal mentorship:

  1. Be a mentor. If your campus does not offer any formal mentorship programs, go out of your way to talk to the adjunct faculty in the department. Introduce yourself and engage them. Saying hello in the hallway is not mentorship; it is civility. Offer to help adjunct faculty understand how the campus works if they tell you that it is their first semester. Give them tips on whom to contact. Treat them like colleagues, rather than an independent contractor that will be in and out of your life in fifteen weeks.
  2. Do not patronize adjunct faculty if they come to you for advice. Do not try to water down criticism. Adjunct faculty went to graduate school, too; they are used to criticism. They are not coming to you for advice, help, or feedback to inflate their egos. If they ask you for a review of something or offer an idea, let them know what your true professional opinion is.
  3. Tell new adjuncts things they do not know. A lot of fresh graduates—master’s and Ph.D. holders included—are unaware of conference circuits, how to find conferences, or what publications are worth pursuing. They frequently do not know about academic governance and how it works. If you know of an opportunity that you would reach out to a tenured colleague about, include the adjunct faculty as well.
  4. Allow adjuncts to vote in department affairs and have a say in how things work. Some campuses allow for adjunct faculty to vote in department chair elections or participate in senate positions. However, other campuses do not allow for adjunct faculty participation, and some adjunct faculty contracts actively discourage academic governance. Encourage adjuncts to participate in curriculum development, program review, and department governance. If you refuse to do that, then you refuse to acknowledge them as colleagues. Some adjuncts have been in their departments for several years and warrant some decisionmaking authority.
  5. Fight alongside the adjuncts. If you claim to value adjuncts, show it. If you claim to want a diverse hiring pool, then make it happen. Plenty of resources are available from ChronicleVitae, HigherEd, and the ASCCC that discuss how to recruit a diverse faculty pool and support current adjunct faculty. Do more than just say you value and respect adjuncts: use your tenured position to advocate for change. If there were things you did not know when you started working as adjunct faculty or when you became tenure track that you wish someone would have told you so that you would have struggled less, reach out and help educate the adjunct faculty on those matters.

Academia preaches inclusivity, diversity, and collegiality, but a divisive hierarchy still exists within the faculty structure. If all faculty work together, they can start bridging this divide.

REFERENCES

California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office. (2020). Faculty and staff demographics
report. Management Information Systems Data Mart. Retrieved from https://datamart.cccco.edu/Faculty-Staff/Staff_Demo.aspx.
Faculty Association of Community Colleges. (2018). Why Faculty Matter: The Role of Faculty in the
Success of Community College Students. Retrieved from http://uf4cd.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Faculty-Research-Paper-1.pdf.
National Center for Education Statistics (2018). Trend Generator: Employees and Instructional Staff:
How many full-time instructional staff are employed by degree granting postsecondary institutions?
The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). Retrieved from https://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/TrendGenerator/app/trend-table/5/12?trending=c....

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