The Adjunct Professor
With the debates over education ensnared in details over budgets, classroom sizes and teachers, there is one actor in the higher education system whose role demands closer attention. The adjunct professor, responsible for teaching classes on a semester-by-semester basis without job security or health benefits, has become an important part of budget talks.
Last year, officials in Texas attempted to buy out the contracts of over 130 tenured professors at two of its state schools. The aim was to replace these tenured-track professors with adjuncts in a move that could have saved the state nearly $20 million. The costs savings is due in large part to the fact that adjunct professors teach more classes on lower salaries.
Writing for the Boston Globe, adjunct professor, Nick Parker notes that there are over 19,000 adjuncts employed in Massachusetts alone as of 2006–making up 60 percent of the faculty members in that state. At NYU, the adjunct faculty union recently signed new contracts that included salary increases. Details of the contract explore how adjunct faculty members are paid and how semesters are counted.
The role of adjuncts has come into focus because of budget issues faced by many states in their higher education systems. Those who fill these roles are on shaky ground for job security. In February, the Colorado state House Education Committee killed a bill that would have given adjunct faculty job security. The bill would have required that institutions provide a legitimate reason, in writing, for terminating or forgoing renewal of a teacher’s contract. Advocates for adjunct professors say the Colorado bill would have provided protection for both the employer and employee in large part because of an arbitration process. This process seeks out mutually-beneficial remedies should either party violate the terms of a contract.