When Vocal Performance Adjunct Professor Debby Lennon is not teaching jazz classes at Webster University, she’s giving vocal lessons to students at St. Joseph’s Academy, maintaining her own voice studio and performing as a freelance artist.
“Being an adjunct has allowed me to have a rich performing life,” Lennon said.
Lennon has worked at Webster for 13 years and teaches 20 hours a week. She is a member of the St. Louis Symphony, recently released a solo album called “I’m All Smiles” and performed in “Madama Butterfly” in the Union Avenue Opera.
“Life of a teacher and as a performer you find you are sort of piecing your life together. Trying to make this whole thing work,” Lennon said.
An adjunct is a professor who works part time and a maximum of 20 hours a week. The average pay rate for an adjunct professor who is teaching three credit hours is $3,500 according to Webster University’s compensation rates. Adjunct professors are not eligible for employee benefits.
Carolbeth True, an adjunct piano professor who has taught piano lessons for Webster students for 33 years, balances teaching and having a performing career.
“Every time I regret not having the benefits of pension and insurance, I think ‘I can handle that myself and I don’t have to attend meetings and write a lot of papers,’” True said.
The music department has 12 full-time faculty professors and 60 adjunct professors. There are 500 Webster students who take classes in the music department. Chair of the Department of Music Jeffrey Carter said adjunct professors are hired to teach very specific subjects to augment learning a full-time faculty cannot teach. An example Carter gave was an adjunct who teaches jazz violin. There are two students who are interested in jazz violin and once they graduate, unless there is more interest, the department won’t need a jazz violin professor.
Carter said he doesn’t expect adjunct professors to attend faculty meetings, sit on committees or advise students. He said if he were asking adjunct faculty members do the same amount as a full-time faculty member and receive less money, then he would be exploiting them. Carter said some professors set up office hours in an adjunct office so they can be more accessible to students.
Vocal performance major Alyssa Hegwood said Lennon gives out her cell phone number in case students have any questions. Hegwood said she’s able to contact Lennon at any time of day and knows Lennon would be available for her.
“You couldn’t even tell she works part time because she’s just so passionate about what she does and her students,” Hegwood said. “She throws herself into every student she has.”
Lennon grew up in Webster Groves. She has been performing since she was in grade school. After she graduated from Fontbonne University, she performed around the world. In her late 30s, due to a rigorous performing schedule. A doctor told her she had the early signs of vocal fold nodules. Lennon said the vocal fold injury gave her a breathy sound when she sang. The only way she could rehabilitate was through vocal training.
Lennon said it was a setback for her that was fortunate. It was through starting over she was inspired to teach students how to use their voice in the healthiest way possible so that they may have a long and healthy career.
“Debby is one of my teachers who has changed my life and changed my career,” Hegwood said. “She was the first professor that would not let me be mediocre or subpar.”
Carter said he was part of the Salary and Fringe Benefits Committee in the faculty senate. The committee advocates for faculty salary and benefits. He said the committee evaluates average living costs and current institution finance and proposes increases in faculty salary to the administration.
In the past, Carter was an adjunct professor at four other universities. He said the life of an adjunct is a lifestyle. Carter had to carry his office with him and budget the money he received during the year because during the summer his income was lean.
“Would Webster be better with more full-time faculty members? Yes. Would your tuition go up if we had more full-time faculty members? Absolutely,” Carter said.
Lennon said she likes her position as an adjunct and would not have it any other way.
“Adjuncts are a lot like performers; we are all just looking for a gig,” Lennon said.