It is perhaps quite accurate that many adjunct faculty members in Minnesota universities and colleges (and nationally) are paid minimally, have no job security and benefits, and/or no place they can call their office (“Teaching college courses for a barista’s pay,” March 30).
Having served as a dean, I know firsthand there are many reasons — other than just accommodating the needs due to an increase in student demand, as stated by a spokesman for the state universities system — that necessitate the hiring of temporary and part-time adjuncts. Examples include regular faculty members going on leave of absence unexpectedly due to long-term illness, accepting another job and/or being reassigned. Under these circumstances, the institutions have to hire part- or full-time adjunct faculty members to keep the classes going without interruption and inconvenience to the students. Budget pressures also account for the hiring of some adjunct faculty members, as was rightly pointed out in the article.
I fully sympathize with the argument that adjunct faculty members are paid lowly for the good job they do. That should change to include a better compensation package and a respectable workplace environment. However, just the salary comparison between tenure-track or tenured and adjunct faculty members is incomplete without understanding the job expectations of both categories. While I fully support the principle of equal pay for equal work, it is important to realize that in academia, the former (tenure-track/tenured) is generally expected to contribute to teaching and learning, research, and service, while the latter is hired only to teach. Regular faculty members are engaged in scholarly and research work; they advise and mentor students; they supervise students’ research and creative activities and projects, and they provide other services to the department, the institution and the community. Having said all that, I must add that not all regular senior faculty members (particularly tenured ones) necessarily contribute in all categories.
It is alarming to note that about 70 percent of faculty members in colleges and universities nationally are part-time and nontenure track. This likely will have an adverse long-term impact on students’ learning, because no matter how you slice it, generally adjunct faculty members are not engaged with students beyond the classroom — and learning does not end there. Rather, the true learning occurs when a faculty member is a lifelong learner and serves as a mentor to her or his pupils even beyond the classroom.
Adjuncts serve an important and critical function, and academia cannot do without them. However, we must devise policies and practices to offer appropriate compensation and work environment to them, and in return they must serve as mentors to the students, as opposed to just classroom teachers. As Minnesota legislators debate equal pay for equal work, they also should lead the worthwhile effort of studying adjunct salaries, because our students deserve the best educators and best education.
Vijendra Agarwal, of Inver Grove Heights, is a consultant.