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Continued: Adjunct professors say they've become the 'temp workers' of college classrooms

  • Article by: MAURA LERNER , Star Tribune
  • Last update: March 31, 2014 - 2:19 PM

“It’s very hard to be a mentor,” said Winkler-Morey. “They need people with office hours. They need people who can give them letters of recommendation. ... That’s not there with people who are in the equivalent of temp jobs. You can’t give that kind of attention, [though] we try like crazy.”

A day as an adjunct

Three hours before class time, Winkler-Morey peeks into her classroom at Metro State’s Minneapolis campus on a Wednesday afternoon. She’s anxious to get in to do some prep work, but the room is in use. Frustrated, she retreats down the hall, hauling her backpack and winter coat, to wait it out in a student lounge.

The fact that she has no place to hang her coat, much less an office of her own, bothers her. “It’s a little thing, but it’s sort of symbolic,” she said.

Winkler-Morey started teaching history at Metro State seven years ago — one of half a dozen Minnesota colleges and universities where she’s spent her adjunct career. This one, she says, is her favorite, with its diverse and older student body. Her evening class, Race and Public Policy, is full, mostly with working adults. It’s one of three classes she’s teaching this semester — for some tenured faculty, a full-time course load.

Typically, adjuncts are paid by the class — an average of $2,700 for a typical three-credit course — though Minnesota is slightly higher, according to a 2012 survey by the Coalition on the Academic Workforce. There’s no extra pay for prep time, grading papers or student conferences, and she often dips into her own pocket to pay for guest speakers and incidentals.

When her classroom finally clears out at 4 p.m., she swoops in to cue up video clips for tonight’s discussion: civil rights and oppression. Then she dashes to a nearby Lunds to wolf down a quick dinner, sushi and tea, before rushing back a full hour before class. “I want to be there when they arrive,” she said. She calls this time her “unofficial office hours.” If anyone wants to chat, it’s either here or in a coffee shop on her own time.

As an undergraduate in the 1980s, Winkler-Morey remembers meeting with one of her favorite professors, surrounded by books in a cramped U office, and suddenly blurting out: “I want to be you.” The idea of immersing herself in a subject — in this case, history — and doing research and teaching for a living seemed irresistible.

But by the time she started looking for jobs in 1994, the pickings were slim. She taught classes at the U, St. Cloud State, Macalester, Augsburg, even the prison system, hoping a full-time job would emerge. Often, the ones that did proved to be mirages. More than once, she said, a school would post a full-time position with benefits, only to have a change of heart. “What they didn’t tell us is that they were going to take real jobs and tear them to pieces and create adjunct positions,” she said.

Now, like many adjuncts, she’ll get a call days before the semester begins, telling her a class is available. What she realized, she said, is that she had been typecast as someone willing to take low-paying jobs.

“It’s like a catch-22,” she said.

‘Foot-in-door disease’

Maisto, of the New Faculty Majority, is often asked why highly educated professionals would settle for adjunct work. “It’s ‘foot-in-door’ disease,” she said. “People really believe that if they get their foot in the door by working as an adjunct for a while, they’ll be able to prove themselves.”

Maisto, an adjunct herself in Ohio, said that was once true, but the landscape changed. In the past, she said, adjuncts were mainly people with jobs in other fields, who would moonlight teaching a class. But over time, she said, colleges discovered that they were a cheap way to fill teaching slots; and by limiting instructors to one or two classes, they could save on benefits. “[I] liken it to an addiction,” she said. “It grew and grew, and all of a sudden, it’s completely out of control and we’re the majority of the faculty.” A 2011 government study found that part-timers outnumbered tenure-track instructors by 762,000 to 445,000.

At the U, tenured faculty are still in the majority with 56 percent. But the number of temporary faculty members, which includes adjuncts, has climbed from 37 percent to 44 percent since 2005.

Arlene Carney, vice provost for faculty and academic affairs, said the university is not trying to shift to a temporary workforce. But realistically, she said, adjuncts fill a niche. “If we hired only tenured and tenure-track faculty members, then we would have a budget crisis on our hands very quickly,” she said.

At the seven Minnesota state universities, meanwhile, the number of adjuncts has nearly tripled since 1999, from 569 to 1,532, according to the faculty union, and now represent 38 percent of classroom instructors.

Doug Anderson, the system spokesman, said that schools often hire adjuncts “to accommodate increases in student demand that may not be permanent.” He noted that enrollment surged in the past few years during the recession, when many people went back to school after losing their jobs. “Now with the recovery, we’re seeing the use of adjunct instructors decrease,” he said.

  • related content

  • Student James David and Metro State University Prof. Anne Winkler-Morey talked about the assignment she had just handed back to him.

  • Without and office, professor Anne Winkler-Morey looked out the window as she waited in the lobby to meet a student before class. ] (KYNDELL HARKNESS/STAR TRIBUNE) Anne Winkler-Morey teaches as an adjunct professor at Metro State University in Minneapolis, MN Wednesday, March 5, 2014.

  • an adjunct’s catch-22: Anne Winkler-Morey, an adjunct professor at Metro State University in Minneapolis, gave her students instructions as she handed out their midterm. Winkler-Morey, who started teaching history at Metro State seven years ago, said she feels like she had been typecast as someone willing to accept low-paying jobs.

  • How much do professors earn?

    Adjunct (full-time equivalent): $18,000 to $30,000

    Assistant professor: $68,000

    Associate professor: $80,100

    Full professor: $116,400

    Source: American Association of University Professors, 2013 survey, average

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