November 18, 2018

Adjunct faculty push for equality nationwide

Maria Maisto raises three children and now teaches a single English class at Cuyahoga Community College in Ohio. In 2005 she worked as an adjunct instructor in higher education. In 2008, after three years working as an adjunct, she decided to take a stand.

On top of teaching and being a mother, Maisto serves as the New Faculty Majority’s (NFM) president. (This year she gave a congressional committee testimony at a House Committee on Education and the Workforce hearing on “The Effects of Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act on schools, colleges and universities.”) Maisto, one of four invited to testify at the Nov. 14 hearing, focused on colleges and universities efforts to avoid giving health benefits to adjuncts and contingent faculty under the Affordable Care Act. 

Maisto was elected president of the NFM in 2009. Since it was a paid position, she decided to only teach one class to stay connected to the adjunct issue. 

“For me, personally, it’s an issue as I have three kids who are not quite at college age yet, but practically college age,” Maisto said. “I believe students and families who are getting ready to pay exuberant amounts of money for college and college education need to be educated about what their money is going to and what colleges and universities are not spending their money on.”

The Journal contacted the university for information on how many adjunct professors the university employed, what benefits they are offered and how much representation they receive from the school. The university did not answer these questions by publication. 

Adjunct instructors do not hold full-time or permanent positions at universities. Contingent faculty are members of faculty who are not protected by tenure or signed to contracts. Tenure is a part of a faculty member’s contract that assures their position is not eliminated without just cause. Maisto said contingent contracts are a core part of the problem with higher education. She said the contracts put contingent faculty in unfit working conditions. 

According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, faculty on contingent pay make up roughly 55 percent of instructors at universities nationwide. 

Her testimony resulted in an e-forum directed by Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) The forum collected data and anecdotes from more than 800 adjuncts in 41 states.

The information collected from the forum resulted in a staff report presented to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce dubbed The report covered the small probability of full-time employment for adjuncts, low pay, long hours, lack of access to benefits and lack of advancement at institutions. 

Adjuncts or faculty on contingent contracts (contracts that rely on administrative decision making, rather than collective bargaining or long-term contracts) now make up the majority of faculty at colleges and universities, Maisto said. She said contingent contracts deny adjuncts professional pay, benefits and working conditions.

Maisto said with more contingent employment, faculty ­— adjunct or not — will have less time to spend on their students due to a large work load.

“This whole move to a contingent employment model means that both full-time faculty, and contingent faculty have less time and resources available for students,” Maisto said. 

According to the report, more than one million people work as contingent faculty and instructors in higher education institutions. The report states these instructors provide a cheap labor source for colleges, as students’ tuition “skyrockets.” 

The Coalition of the Academic Workforce (CAW) estimated the average pay for a typical three-hour course is $2,700. Adjunct faculty income depends on the number of courses they teach each year. According to the 2013 report, of the 152 adjunct faculty who shared their annual teaching salary, the average salary was $24,926. The average pay of a full-time professor at Webster University is $92,000 a year, according to American Association of University Professors. The average pay rate for an adjunct professor at Webster,  is teaching three credit hours is $3,500 according to Webster University’s compensation rates. 

The “Just-in-Time Professor” report also states adjuncts rarely receive benefits from their institutions. CAW found, in 2010, only 22.6 percent of respondents said they had access to health benefits through their academic employer. Maisto said one of the main issues in the adjunct movement is the restricted access to benefits. 

Adjuncts across the country have been fighting for their right to unionize. On April 23, the Seattle Labor Board gave Seattle adjunct instructors the right to vote to form a union. In Minnesota, Macalester University and Hamline University adjunct faculty members filed to vote to install a union on April 25. 

“This is an important national issue,” Maisto said. “Our objective is to publicize the issue, to work in coalitions with lots of constituency groups, to try to figure out solutions and also to support organizing, both in union context and outside of union context.

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