Adjuncts Feel “Disconnected” and “Undervalued”

A new survey of part-time instructors at U.S. colleges and universities underscores the challenges we all face regarding the place of adjuncts at our institutions. The survey is discussed in a “white paper” published by Cengage. Please have a look.

Here is a key passage from the narrative:

Adjuncts feel disconnected and undervalued in a number of ways. About one third of the adjuncts (at both 2- and 4-year schools) listed “feeling disrespected/ less valued than full-time faculty” as one of their primary challenges. Inadequate compensation ranked even higher, identified by 54% of the respondents as their top challenge. They also believe they try harder because they feel they have more to prove than their full-time counterparts. Lack of office space, irregular assignments, limited opportunities to select class times or to expand their role, and lack of adequate communications and support from colleagues are other ways that adjuncts feel disrespected or unappreciated. One adjunct at a 4-year institution said, “The adjuncts are prohibited from participating in administrative activities. The college does not recognize that adjuncts exist. . . . We are not even listed as faculty on the departmental websites.”

First, let’s assume this dire summary represents the worst-case scenario. Hopefully most colleges do a better job of including adjuncts than the above language suggests, and you can find an anecdote to support almost any claim if you look for it on any campus. All the same, we don’t want to be in denial about problems that do exist.

Money is part of the story, of course. Adjunct instruction is less expensive, to put it mildly. And full-timers understand that, if we were to raise the pay of part-timers significantly, the revenue would have to come from the same sources as full-time salaries and benefits. Some adjunct instructors don’t care about compensation, but many do. Office space is also a zero-sum enterprise much of the time, with only so much square footage available.

As individual faculty members, we don’t control the college budget. But what we can do is to be as welcoming as possible to our part-time colleagues. Simply saying hello and chatting about mutual concerns and disciplinary interests can make a big difference. To the degree that it’s practical, we should invite adjuncts to participate in departmental activities and decisions. Some part-timers simply want to teach their classes and leave, but others would welcome the chance to be part of the team.

Cengage is also sponsoring, along with NISOD and Adjunct Nation, an “Applaud an Adjunct” project. You might want to consider participating.. Here is a link for more information.