A Note on What it Means to Have an Adjunct as an Instructor

Posted: February 17, 2013 in Academy

Did you know that more than half of all courses at CUNY are currently taught by adjunct instructors? This was not always the case. In 1975, for 250,784 students, CUNY employed 11,300 full-time faculty, and today, for 225,962 students, CUNY employs only 6,817. That’s almost half the amount of full-time faculty than in 1975. These statistics are even more shocking when considering that CUNY did not charge tuition before 1976.

CUNY’s growing reliance on adjuncts impairs the conditions under which courses are taught and the quality of your education. Adjuncts are not regular members of the faculty; we are paid an hourly rate for merely the time we spend in the classroom. We are only paid for one office hour per week if we teach two or more classes at the same college. We are not paid to communicate with students outside of class, grade papers, or prepare lectures for class, or write letters of recommendation. Out of dedication to our students, we regularly perform such tasks, but it is essentially volunteer, unpaid labor.

Also, adjuncts receive much less pay than full-time, tenure track faculty: salary for a full professor at CUNY rages from $56,664-$102,235; in comparison, an adjunct teaching full time (4 courses/semester) receives a starting annual income of $24,644. In other words, adjuncts represent a cheap labor force which is an attractive option for universities when considering budget constraints.
In addition, adjuncts have virtually no job security. Since they are hired on either a semester-by-semester or a yearly basis, they have little assurance that their job will be there in the future, even if they have been teaching at a school for many years! As with wages and job security, adjuncts receive far fewer benefits than full faculty members. For example, adjuncts at CUNY have to teach for two consecutive semesters just to become eligible for health insurance and if their teaching load drops below six hours they automatically lose their health coverage.

You might ask: Why should students care about the growing numbers of adjuncts at CUNY?
Although adjuncts are talented, committed professionals, their work conditions hurt students and the whole university: When adjuncts are overworked and underpaid, they have less time and energy to devote to each class and each student. A critical element in a functional university is fair compensation for comparable work – this will improve students’ experience along with that of adjunct faculty. When adjuncts’ academic freedom is threatened by limited job security, students suffer because they are exposed to a less diverse, less exciting set of ideas and approaches. When there is high turnover rate among adjunct faculty, students may be unable to take another course with (or even locate) an instructor they studied with in the past.

To ensure that we remain conscious of the ‘adjunctification’ of CUNY, I ask that you do not call me professor. I am hired as an adjunct lecturer and it is important that you remember that. You deserve to be taught by properly compensated professors whose full attention is to teaching and scholarship. Also, students should be aware that it is not in their best interest to ask an adjunct for a letter of recommendation. Institutions tend to take such letters less seriously than those written by full-time faculty.

I am part of a movement in the CUNY system that organizes to improve both adjunct working conditions and your learning conditions. I welcome you to talk to me about how you can join this ongoing, growing movement.

From the CUNY Adjunct Project.


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