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Part-time faculty voice concerns about position

Graphic by Emily Study
Graphic by Emily Study
Graphic by Emily Study

One part-time instructor in the College of Arts and Sciences taught at Loyola for six years before recently resigning and changing professions completely, saying she wasn’t making ends meet.

Earning $4,500 per three-credit class at Loyola – in addition to teaching classes at two other Chicago-area universities – she said she could no longer afford to live off what schools were paying her to teach.

“Nobody can adjunct-teach without some sort of backup – a savings account, a spouse,” she said. “You can’t make a living as an adjunct. A lot of schools will candidly say, ‘That’s right. That’s what adjuncts are for,’ but the community doesn’t know that. … Very often, my students are living better than me.”

The former instructor, who didn’t want to be named, underscored a dilemma at Loyola and at campuses around the country: How the university can strike the right balance with part-time instructors – not just in terms of pay and benefits, but in how many to bring on board in comparison to full-time faculty.

It’s a debate with potentially high stakes for instructors and for students. And it’s a debate that doesn’t necessarily have easy answers.

Some part-time instructors interviewed by The Phoenix as part of a weekslong review see a heavy reliance on part-timers as exploitative, since, among other things, their pay is low, they receive no benefits and they have little job security.

But administrators noted that these instructors are crucial because they often bring real-world experience into the classroom, and their low pay helps universities keep costs – and, therefore, tuition – down.

Still, other experts question whether students are getting the same level of teaching from part-timers as with full-time professors, who presumably are better supported by the university and are more committed to the school and the student body.

Whatever the case, Loyola administrators say they’re cognizant of this issue, and plan to adjust staffing levels in coming years to better calibrate the mix of part- and full-time professors.

“My goal is to try to ensure that 75 percent of the courses that you take are taught by full-time faculty,” Loyola’s Provost John P. Pelissero said, speaking about the undergraduate student body. “And if we do that, then you’ll have both the exposure to some of the best experienced people and we can do so with a cost of instruction that tends to keep tuition from growing too rapidly.”

As The Phoenix reported in January, tuition has steadily risen in recent years and stands to jump 2.5 percent for the upcoming 2014-15 academic year, taking the tuition bill from $36,390 for students entering in fall 2013 to $37,270 for those entering in fall 2014, according to the Office of the Bursar.

Currently, 717 part-time faculty and 876 full-time faculty are employed at Loyola at all levels, including undergraduate and graduate, according to Pelissero. This means about 45 percent of Loyola’s faculty are part-time professors and 55 percent are full-time professors.

Six years ago, in 2008, Loyola had 763 part-timers and 722 full-timers, Pelissero said. This means about 51 percent of Loyola’s faculty were part-time instructors and 49 percent were full-time professors.

“We’re always going to have a certain percentage of part-timers,” said Dr. Reinhard Andress, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “Of the [part-time faculty], there are a lot that fall into the category of being practitioners, there’s a certain percentage of part-timers who aren’t interested in a full-time position [and] there’s a certain percentage of part-timers who I don’t think we’re ever going to make happy because we’re an enterprise that has an economic bottom line – the books have to balance.”

But for many part-time faculty, the university’s economic bottom line isn’t supporting their own financial stability.

The aforementioned former part-time instructor said her job carried no benefits and offered no guarantee from semester to semester whether she would be assigned a class to teach, and thus, whether she would receive a paycheck. This uncertainty, combined with the low pay, she said, were just two of the factors that contributed to her decision to leave academia.

The PHOENIX/ Emma Cook“It was a combination of things; I clearly wasn’t making enough money and I was living out of a savings account,” the former instructor said. “It’s unsustainable. There would be no way for me to [teach part time] and still be able to pay rent.”

For a traditional three-credit course, part-time instructors at Loyola at all levels, including undergraduate and graduate, make between $4,000 and $5,000 on average, according to Pelissero. While he said this range is fairly consistent across departments, part-time professors in the business school are likely receiving more – between $5,000 and $7,500 – because of the higher market demand for business professors.

“Admittedly, it’s still not a great wage, but it is sort of the going rate that’s offered to someone to teach a course. … When we set the salaries for the stipends [wage per course] for part-timers, we’re doing so on the basis of the marketplace and not on the basis of this being a living wage. Obviously no one can live off the wage of a $4,000 course,” Pelissero said.

He added, “As recently as a year ago, we took a look at the College of Arts and Sciences, and what we are paying is comparable to what other Chicago-area institutions are paying.”

According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, the average income of a part-time professor is $2,987 per three-credit course.

While making up to $5,000 per class at Loyola may seem like a decent amount of money, part-time faculty are only allowed to teach up to six credit hours per semester, according to Pelissero. This means that the average part-time professor could be earning as little as $8,000 per academic year (if he/she were making $4,000 per class and only teaching one class per semester) and as much as $20,000 per academic year (if he/she were making $5,000 per class and teaching two classes per semester), excluding part-time professors in the business school and the law school.

Although many part-time or adjunct professors use their teaching job to supplement the income they receive from another part- or full-time job, professors who specialize in the humanities (languages, literature, philosophy, religion, visual and performing arts) often rely mainly on the money they make from teaching, according to the former part-time instructor.

“It’s not easy; it’s very difficult. I think being a part-time faculty member in the [humanities] is a difficult life to have because they’re piecing so many things together,” said Dr. Sarah Gabel, chairperson of the Department of Fine and Performing Arts. “But I think the steady work is appreciated.”

In comparison to the amount of money part-time professors make, full-time faculty make an income ranging from $63,000, the average salary of instructors and lecturers, to $124,083, the average salary for “full” professors, the highest-ranking level of professors, according to Pelissero.

These full-time faculty are also eligible for a range of core benefits (health care, wellness and prescription drug benefits, dental care), along with elective and work-life benefits (vision care, tuition benefits, adoption assistance, a retirement plan), according to Loyola’s 2012 Faculty and Staff Benefits report.

However, part-time faculty are not eligible for benefits, according to Deborah Meister, Loyola’s director of compensation and benefits. She said working 20 hours per week is what makes a staff or faculty member benefits-eligible.

Not only are part-timers exempt from traditional benefits, but the former part-time instructor said they’re also excluded from other types of university community benefits.

“There’s no benefits of any kind, but also at Loyola, I didn’t get a parking pass, I didn’t get to go to the gym for free. You’re not a community member at all,” she said.

Another former part-time professor described a different set of problems part-timers face at Loyola.

“It gets extremely exhausting to be an adjunct professor, in terms of the work you’re doing and the lack of recognition you’re receiving. I felt that was a huge issue for me,” said the professor, who worked part time in the College of Arts and Sciences for seven years before being hired as a non-tenure-track full-time professor. “There’s a real lack of recognition or consideration on the part of universities that they’re actually allowing people to move up. They’re just utilizing the labor hours.”

The professor, who didn’t want to be named, said she was lucky to have transitioned from part-time to full-time faculty, and that the chance to do so rarely comes up, and even then, it’s hard to get it.

According to Gabel, when a full-time position opens up, there’s a national search for a candidate to fill the spot. While part-time faculty at Loyola can apply for the position, there’s no guarantee that they will receive it over another non-Loyola candidate.

“It can happen, but it is never guaranteed,” Gabel said. “I have to be very clear with my part-time faculty that there is no guarantee of full-time work. I don’t want them to limit themselves when maybe they need to make other arrangements.”

However, The Phoenix found that these issues are not unique to Loyola, but are part of a broader, nationwide problem in academia.

Universities’ practice of hiring part-time faculty as opposed to full-time faculty is an issue that is rife with controversy, with critics saying it capitalizes on professionals by underpaying them and creating a relatively high turnover, which, in effect, can also hurt the quality of students’ education.

“In most cases the individuals employed in [part-time] positions lack the institutional support necessary to do their jobs effectively, whether that be in the form of technology, private office space for consultation with students, or access to funds for travel to academic conferences,” according to the American Association of University Professors’ (AAUP) 2012-2013 faculty salary report. “The lack of support they receive from their institutions translates into a lower-quality educational experience for students: even the most dedicated and well-qualified faculty members find it difficult to challenge their students to exceed when they themselves are scrambling to piece together a living.”

Universities’ failure to provide support to part-time faculty, the report states, “deprives students of the highest-quality academic experience.”

Senior Joe Realzola said he agrees with the report’s findings and recognizes that there is a disconnect between part-time faculty and students.

“We pay a pretty dollar to come here, and I would hope and find satisfaction in knowing that Loyola is allowing its professors to receive good pay as well as be recognized [for their work],” said the 22-year-old ad/PR major. “When a part-time professor is putting forth just as much effort as a full-time professor but, yet, has half of what the full-time professor has, it’s an unfair system.”

He added, “The greater issue lies in the fact that if a professor starts the year with a university that doesn’t support them, their mentality of being able to educate students is going to diminish.”

“People in administration don’t seem to be concerned or invested with providing people with stable jobs and that’s a huge problem,” the anonymous full-time professor told The Phoenix. “I see that as being a cultural trend. People are reduced from full time to part time at will since the recession, and that’s an unbelievable front.”

Since being hired full time, though, she said her experience at Loyola and the quality of her teaching have improved.

“I’ve become more involved in the Loyola community. I’m there more often, I feel more connected to my colleagues, I feel like I’m able to focus on my work and develop curriculum more effectively. … That’s improved the quality of my teaching a good deal,” she said.

Despite the issues involved in hiring part-time faculty, the AAUP reports that the number of part-time faculty positions in the nation is rapidly increasing. Part-time positions increased by 300 percent between 1975 and 2011, while full-time positions only increased by 26 percent during the same 36-year period, the AAUP reports.

In 2009, the most recent year for which national data was available, 60 percent of U.S. university faculty was employed part time, according to the AAUP’s 2013 “New Report on Contingent Faculty and Governance.”

This increased reliance on part-timers, coupled with the issues it creates, is causing some colleges to unionize. The Seattle Times reported Tuesday, Feb. 18, that adjunct instructors at two private colleges in the area were taking steps to unionize. Adjuncts at Bentley University, a private college in Waltham, Mass., are also looking to unionize, continuing their efforts from the fall semester, according to the university’s student newspaper, The Vanguard. And at Loyola Marymount University, adjuncts halted their vote to unionize two weeks ago after filing a complaint that the university interfered in the organizing process.

Inside Higher Ed reported Monday, Feb. 17, “The complaint says the university had ‘interfered with, restrained and coerced’ adjuncts by ‘soliciting employee grievances and expressly …  promising favorable resolution of these grievances.’”The PHOENIX/ Emma Cook

Despite the concerns of some part-time professors at LUC, there are currently no part-time or adjunct unions and no immediate plans of unionization, according to Pelissero.

One of the advantages of hiring part-time professors, according to Loyola administration, is that it allows universities to bring in people with real-world experience, while still keeping tuition relatively low.

According to Pelissero, 78 percent of net tuition and fee revenue goes toward salaries and benefits for personnel – including that of faculty, staff and students. Thus, if faculty wages increased, student tuition would likely increase.

“If we were to have all of our courses taught by full-time faculty, that would probably cause a significant increase in our operating costs and that would probably necessitate an increase in students’ tuition,” Pelissero said.

However, Realzola said he wouldn’t mind a tuition increase if he knew that some of the money were going to part-time faculty pay.

“If a tuition increase were to occur or budgets would change and they would allocate it for part-time [faculty] pay, even that would be satisfactory or beneficial for the entire campus,” he said. “I would find satisfaction in knowing that my tuition is going from a certain amount to another amount and that one of the main reasons is to make sure that all part-time professors are getting paid [better] and that they’re able to provide for their families. … That, for me, would be acceptable. I’d be willing to pay that certain amount.”

Loyola President and CEO Rev. Michael J. Garanzini, S.J., briefly commented on the topic during his Jan. 29 State of the University address.

He said, “When we [raise tuition], we pass that on almost directly to faculty and staff raises. Our faculty and staff are not overpaid; they would be the first ones to tell you that. Consequently, I think we do a really good job with recruiting good, high-caliber faculty and staff to come to the university because we’re paying a decent salary.”

While the issue of hiring part-time faculty instead of full-time faculty is packed with arguments on both sides, this much is clear: It’s a long-running debate that has both positives and negatives for students and faculty.

 

 

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