Adjunct professors have become an increasingly important issue in recent years, both at Montana State and other universities. CNN recently published an article describing adjunct professors as “the working poor.” MSU has better conditions, as adjuncts receive health insurance for working half-time, are eligible for retirement benefits and make an average of $50,000 a year. However, the issue of universities hiring adjunct professors as they become the majority at MSU and universities in general deserves examination.
In order to understand adjunct professors, it is necessary to understand the politics and hierarchy of a university. You may think of your teacher as just a professor, but there are different categories of professors. There are adjunct professors and tenure-track professors. Tenure-track professors are given a contract and have job security. Adjunct professors normally work part time and are hired on a semester-to-semester or year-to-year basis. There are also assistant, associate and full professors. Professors start as assistant professors and work their way up to associate and then finally becoming full professors. All of these positions are tenure-track and receive all of the benefits of tenure. Adjunct professors, on the other hand, are paid less, constantly have to worry about job security and have no room for advancement.
Since 2009, the number of adjunct professors has increased by 30 percent. Now there is a virtually equivalent number of adjunct professors and tenure-track professors. At the University of Montana, many adjunct professors had their teaching hours reduced or lost their jobs after an $8 million budget cut. Peggy Kuhr, UM Vice President for Integrated Communication, told the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, “she didn’t know how many adjunct jobs ended up not being renewed.” Don Demetriades, adjunct instructor of philosophy said, “I feel like I’m a second-class, marginalized teacher.”
[pullquote align=”right”]“I feel like I’m a second-class, marginalized teacher.”-Don Demetriades, adjunct instructor of philosophy.[/pullquote]
So, why do people become adjunct professors? Teaching positions are competitive because the nature of tenure means professors keep their jobs for a long time. Universities, in order to save money, have been hiring more adjunct professors because they often have master’s degrees — instead of the doctorate required to become a tenure-track professor — and thus work for lower pay.
Having a master’s degree does not mean adjuncts are worse teachers. Oftentimes, adjunct professors are lauded as valuable members of the faculty. Tracy Ellig, MSU spokesperson, said about adjuncts, “They frequently win some of our highest teaching awards.” However, non-tenure track professors usually only teach introductory courses and not the advanced classes.
In addition, adjunct professors do less research work than tenure-track professors, leading Dan Wise, an MSU adjunct professor to say to the Chronicle, “I don’t think the university realizes how important we are…If not for non-tenure track professors, we would not be a tier-one research university. The tenure-track faculty could not do their research.” This essentially reduces the adjunct professors to a subclass of professor that teaches the lower level classes to free up time for the tenure-track professors to do research. The university system has begun to hire more adjunct professors as a way to teach lower level classes for less cost.
Adjunct-professor teaching positions give people who hold master’s degree the opportunity to go straight into teaching instead of completing a doctorate. The problem is adjunct professors constantly fight to renew their contracts and have no room for advancement without going back for a PhD. The administration might say they value adjunct professors, but until something changes it will always be a worse job than a tenure-track position.