If you’re taking a college class, chances are your teacher is an adjunct professor.
Adjuncts are the fastest growing group of educators on college and university campuses across the country. These contingent employees — non-tenure track faculty and graduate students — now make up 75 percent of the nation’s faculty, according to a report by the American Association of University Professionals.
Though large in numbers, most adjuncts don’t have job security, earn considerably less than full-time professors and often don’t get benefits.
This week, National Adjunct Awareness Week, is an effort by the adjunct faculty to draw attention to those working conditions.
In Philadelphia, adjuncts from across the city, students and full-time faculty will march on Temple University’s campus as part of Adjunct Day of Action.
The United Academics of Philadelphia (UAP), a citywide umbrella group representing 15,000 adjuncts from the region’s colleges and universities, is sponsoring the event.
The local affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) is holding a march and vigil on Temple University’s campus at 11 a.m. Marchers will carry a 60-foot banner during the march to represent Temple’s estimated 1,300 adjuncts.
“Adjuncts who do the bulk of the teaching need to have a voice, right? People need to recognize that we carry a lot of the load,” said Temple adjunct Wende Marshall. “We’re treated completely disrespectfully, paid very low wages, have no job security or benefits.”
Marshall has been an adjunct for the past four years and is a member of UAP.
“As it’s been pointed out, we’re not really contingent because we’re absolutely necessary,” she said.
She says students are impacted as well. An example Marshall gave was a student asked for a letter of recommendation for a program at Temple, and the program’s response was letters are only accepted from full-time faculty.
“You trust me to teach your students, but it’s not okay for me to recommend them to you?” Marshall said. “What does that mean? I’m just this serf up in the mix of the faculty?”
Temple is Philadelphia’s largest employer of adjuncts, according to AFT, which is working to unionize those contingent adjuncts.
Elizabeth Spencer is an adjunct English instructor at Temple and a UAP member. Spencer’s lack of job security put her family in a precarious position after giving birth to her daughter. Her husband faced being the sole provider for an undetermined amount of time, so he took a job in North Carolina, and the family moved when their baby was six weeks old. They recently returned to the area.
“Not having any stability, a ladder to advancement drastically impacted my life,” said Spencer, who moved away with an infant from her family and support system. “Right now, I don’t know from semester to semester if I have any classes. It seems each year we find out later and later. It’s very hard to plan a budget or for childcare.”
Temple already has 11 unions, which represent nurses, clerical workers and graduate assistants, among others.
“You would think that it’s just another union. Why not just add one more union?” said Sharon Boyle, Temple’s associate vice president of human resources.
She says the adjuncts’ concerns could be lost amid the larger faculty union and possible conflicts of interest within a union that would represent tenure-track and non-tenure track faculty.
The university has improved conditions after meeting with adjuncts. Last May, Temple raised adjuncts’ minimum salary from $1,200 per class credit hour to $1,300. Administrators offer longer term appointments and pension benefits. For health insurance, adjuncts must work for four consecutive semesters or three years to be eligible.
“What we think is really important here is that adjuncts understand the complexities involved, they understand that this is a long-term commitment to, really, a group that provides a one-size-fits-all package,” she said.
But a single faculty union is standard practice in the state and common throughout the country, union officials say. Local examples include the community colleges of Philadelphia and Montgomery County, Moore College of Art & Design and the 14 schools in Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education.
Art Hochner is president of the Temple Association of University Professionals (Local 4531), the union that adjuncts hope to join.
“The problem is if you’re two different unions, you might be working at cross-purposes,” he said. “This way, we’re all working together.”
The university has said unionizing will also add additional bureaucracy and costs.
The adjuncts’ move to unionize stalled last week when Temple objected to the process.
The adjuncts’ next step is a hearing in Harrisburg in March.