Adjunct faculty endures sub-par conditions at some schools

Because of recent budget cuts, part-time educators take the greatest blow. For many adults, framing one’s Bachelor’s degree after four, five or six years of higher education is the hammering of the proverbial final nail

Illustration Alexis Sachdev

Because of recent budget cuts, part-time educators take the greatest blow.

For many adults, framing one’s Bachelor’s degree after four, five or six years of higher education is the hammering of the proverbial final nail on a coffin of low-paying, benefit-less jobs that many college students settle for to make ends meet. But the same professors who guided America’s students through the land of  higher education are still receiving low pay, few or no benefits and a lack of economic security, despite their pivotal roles. They are adjunct professors, and they are the 68 percent.

Adjunct status at Temple–as well as at many other universities–is becoming more popular. According to a report by CNN, “The long halls of ivy: adjunct professors,” nearly half of America’s higher institution educators are adjunct, a figure up nearly 20 percent from only 20 years ago.

According to a report recently released by the Keystone Research Center, “contingent faculty members and instructors teach 42 percent of the courses at all public colleges and universities in Pennsylvania, comparable to the national figure of 49 percent.” At Temple, the report found adjunct faculty teaches 68 percent of courses offered.

According to the university’s current Adjunct Faculty Handbook, contingent faculty are “persons appointed to conduct the teaching, scholarship or creative work and/or service activities of the university on a less than full-time basis.”

Adjunct faculty are contracted out on a semester-by-semester basis while working side jobs to stay afloat financially. On average, part-time and adjunct faculty earn 63 percent as much per course as full-time and tenured faculty earn, KRC found.

At Temple, adjunct faculty do not receive health benefits, but do receive pension benefits. However, it is the only non-community college public institution to pay pension, the report added.

“It’s a difficult situation,” Will Esposito, an adjunct English professor said. “I’m less-costly labor and the rules for my compensation keep me cheap.”

“[I] had a four year contract [and] health insurance,” Esposito said of his time as a graduate student and throughout his fellowship.

Once his fellowship ended, he said he had no choice but to work as an adjunct professor if he wanted the job. Esposito added that because he did not complete his doctoral studies, he is ineligible to apply for a full-time teaching position.

Even if an adjunct professor was to apply for a full-time or tenured position, the credentials required for eligibility are becoming increasingly more demanding.

According to Esposito, one would need to finish their Ph. D., publish scholarly papers and go through an extensive application process in order to apply for the few jobs available in the field each year.

“A solid applicant probably has a one in 350 chance of landing a full-time position,” Esposito said, adding that there can be upwards of 700 applicants for one position.

“A lot of the application process has nothing to do with teaching,” he added. “It drives away many talented professors.”

Esposito teaches two classes at Temple and two at the Community College of Philadelphia each semester. If he taught more than two classes at either institution, he could be considered a full-time professor. However, he said that the university would rather have him as a part-time faculty member, in part because it keeps labor costs low.

According to Esposito, new university policies offer part-time positions to graduate students first instead of adjunct teachers, which he said is most likely because it shows Temple’s willingness to fund its graduate students. In the aftermath, however, adjunct professors are sometimes left with no courses to teach, he added.

According to KRC, graduates teach 12 percent of courses at Temple, compared to the approximate 68 percent taught by non-tenured, adjunct and part-time faculty.

“Some graduate students have no teaching experience,” Esposito said.

Even though the university provides graduate students with full funding, undergraduate students are sometimes left with teachers who lack an aptitude for teaching and have less experience than an adjunct professor who has been teaching for 10 years or more.

“It’s great for graduate students,” Esposito said. “It provides them with necessary teaching experience if they indeed want to become teachers. But it can also hurt undergraduate education.”

During the summer months, Esposito said to earn an income he applies for part-time work elsewhere, usually at simple, low-paying jobs, given the current economic recession.

“I’m surrounded by people who are 10 years younger than me,” he added.

Adjunct faculty members get paid during the months they teach, and many fight to make ends meet between  May and September.

“It’s like the starving period,” Esposito said of this lapse in pay.

While thousands of adjunct professors fall under the tires at Temple and elsewhere throughout the state and nation, many professors prove the road is not always as rough, and better conditions may come.

Debra Leigh Scott, a former adjunct English professor, took her experiences as a contingent faculty member at several institutions–including Temple–as an inspiration for several books and a documentary she has produced.

“This is a nationwide problem–an atrocity, really–of blatant labor exploitation and the ruination of a profession in this country,” Scott said in an email. “Very few know about how bad this is.  It is essential that our students and parents are aware of it, as part of the larger systemic breakdown of the university.”

Scott founded a blog, “The Homeless Adjunct,” which discusses various topics concerning and affecting adjunct professors throughout the country. She is also currently working on a documentary about the price adjunct faculty members pay in order to do what they went to school for: teaching.

“I don’t think the corporatized universities have any reason to listen,” Scott said. “Not to the faculty they’ve increasingly exploited for 25 years.”

According to Scott, teachers are not the only ones suffering in this situation. Students also suffer because of the mistreatment of adjunct faculty.

“A student in today’s university does not know what a university used to be,” Scott said. “They don’t know how badly they are being served, and how poorly they are being educated. The ridiculous tuitions, the staggering student loan debt, the growing mountain of statistics that prove American colleges are not educating our students, coupled with the jobless economy.”

“Who is benefitting from a system like this?” Scott added. “Not the students. Not the faculty. To uncover that would be the story beneath the story.”

Alexis Sachdev and Gina Villecco can be reached at


  1. At “Some” schools? Try ALL of them! Try raising a family on what we make. In order to scrape by, without benefits of any kind, we have to teach twice the number of courses that full-time faculty teach. We are not respected by our “colleagues.” We are academic untouchables. Many of us are losing our jobs because of budget cuts, and many of us are ending up homeless. The suicide rate among adjuncts has skyrocketed. Those who have jobs are subjected to deplorable working conditions that can literally be life-threatening – and we, as individuals, have no power to control our work environments.

    ALL WORKERS NEED DEMOCRATIC UNIONS, where WE call the shots.

    Perhaps it’s time for academic untouchables to occupy the colleges and universities.

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