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Difficult conditions for contingent faculty may be linked to lower student success rates

Recently constructed office space for contingent faculty in Building 3 of Chemeketa’s Salem campus. Chemeketa continues to construct new spaces for contingent faculty as factors allow. Photo by Saul Rodriguez

Chemeketa’s contingent faculty do a lot for their students.

Much like their full-time counterparts, contingent faculty help students reach their goals in life by providing a foundation for the education that students need in order to succeed.

But unlike their full-time counterparts, these contingent faculty members can find themselves living paycheck to paycheck in a part-time job without benefits, earning 58 cents for every dollar that full-time instructors make. These disparities can lead to hardships that negatively affect both themselves and the students they teach.

Contingent faculty are either adjunct instructors who are given year-long contracts and one paid office hour, or part-time instructors who teach on a per-course basis with no guarantee of employment from term to term and no paid office hours.

In 2015, Matthew Davies, an adjunct instructor of Philosophy and Religion and the Vice-President for Part-Time Faculty of the Chemeketa Faculty Association (CFA), wrote a report titled An Examination of Chemeketa Community College’s Part-Time and Adjunct Faculty. In the report Davies described the employment conditions of many contingent faculty members at the college and the effects those conditions may have on their students.

In his report, Davies cited a document from 2014, titled The Just-In-Time Professor and written by the U.S. House Committee on Education and Workforce, which reported that 50% of all higher education faculty are adjunct or part-time. The rate for community colleges nationwide is much higher, with approximately 70-80% of instructors falling into one of these categories.

According to Jim Eustrom, Chemeketa’s Vice President of Instruction and Student Services, Chemeketa’s faculty ranks at the college deviate somewhat from that trend, being comprised of approximately 63% part-time and adjunct instructors. Eustrom said Chemeketa currently employs 240 full-time instructors and just under 400 part-time instructors.

“Over the past ten years there has been a significant interest on the part of the Chemeketa Faculty Association and academic program faculty to increase the number of full-time faculty and decrease the number of part-time and adjunct faculty, believing that this would enhance the learning environment for our students,” Eustrom said. “The college has worked from this perspective, and during this time we have increased the number of full-time faculty from approximately 200 to 240. This has in fact resulted in the decrease in the number of part-time and adjunct faculty hired to teach.”

While the college was able to provide data on the number of full-time faculty and contingent faculty employed by the college, no data was made available to the Courier regarding the total number of courses that are currently being taught by contingent faculty.

Although Chemeketa’s part-time and adjunct instructors have similar educations as the full-time instructors, with most having either a Master’s degree or a Ph.D., they are paid 58% of what full-time instructors are paid for teaching the exact same course.

“What they do is take a full-time salary – the starting scale for a full-time instructor, and they index it at 58%, and they divide [approximately by credit hour taught]. So the classes are the exact same, but what this tells us is that the college thinks that full-time instructors do 42% more work than part-time instructors when they are outside the classroom,” Davies said.

“Our pay scale is in line with part-time instruction across the state,” Eustrom said in an email. “Full-time faculty members have additional duties and college responsibilities (e.g. regular office hours, academic advising responsibilities, committee work) and therefore are compensated at a higher rate.”

But Davies doesn’t believe that the duties of a full-time instructor compared to a part-time instructor add up to a 42% gap in pay.

In the past, adjuncts were traditionally part-time instructors who had other careers, and brought their outside expertise into the classroom. Teaching was not their main career; instead, it was something they did in their off time. Currently, the majority of adjuncts and part-time instructors at Chemeketa, as well as at other higher education institutions nationwide, are primarily college instructors who have found themselves in need of additional jobs to supplement their income.

Claire Warnicke, a part-time communications instructor who teaches eight credits per term at the Yamhill Valley Campus, also has a full-time, 40 hour per week job working in the call center at Spirit Mountain Casino.

“At first it was a part-time job,” she said. “I had applied during the summer while I wasn’t teaching. It worked well to have two part-time jobs. [Spirit Mountain] asked me to be full-time and I’ve been doing it for almost three years.  Health care was the incentive because at the time I was paying out of pocket for health care.

“It’s frustrating; it’s definitely a job, not a career. It’s to make ends meet. I can’t keep working at Chemeketa and the casino, and I can’t just work at the casino, so something has to give. I have to possibly move on from both jobs. I would like to continue to work at Chemeketa, but it’s not enough by itself.”

Because of their employment situations, some contingent faculty even have to rely on government assistance to help meet basic needs such as food and housing.

“When I was just teaching at Chemeketa, and I didn’t have another position… especially in the summers, I would get food stamps,” Warnicke said.

According to Davies, Warnicke fits in among the 15% of Chemeketa’s contingent faculty who rely on government assistance for economic support.

Part-time faculty like Warnicke are not paid for time spent outside the classroom such as office hours, grading papers or meeting with students. Adjunct faculty are paid for one office hour per week.

“When I first started working at Chemeketa I was kind of shocked that they didn’t have office hours,” Warnicke said about part-time instructors. “Because my college experience at Oregon State was that office hours were very important; that is when you meet with your professor to have one-on-one time. Chemeketa students miss out on that with adjuncts. It’s a part of the culture that they’re not going to have, and perhaps even be unprepared for when they go to a four-year university.”

In addition to limited classes and unpaid office hours, contingent faculty find themselves with few areas to do office work or to meet with students.

“Most of the office space that is available is shared work space which is five computers laid out, maybe a table, but no private areas to meet with students,” Davies said. “In Building 1 we have two private offices and we have the shared workspace for 75 part-time faculty. That’s a problem across all of Chemeketa. There aren’t enough private workspaces for part-time faculty to meet with students.

“I’ve seen and heard confidential conferences about papers or about grades happening out in the hallway, and that’s a problem. That’s largely because there is not enough space; the college hasn’t provided private offices.”

Warnicke expressed concern over the lack of office and workspace for part-time faculty at the Yamhill Valley Campus.

“I feel like I work out of my car,” she said. “Like right now I have three different bags with books and papers, and I don’t have any place to really put stuff. Normally when I’m working in Building 1, I have a drawer in the shared office space that we have, but as we grow as a campus, there’s been more encroachment by full-time staff. Right now we have a small room with computers.”

“It is naive to think this does not negatively affect student learning and success,” Davies wrote in his report to the college about the lack of office and private meeting space for contingent faculty. “Students pick up very quickly on the contingent nature of their professors when searching for shared offices or hearing faculty ask their colleagues to step out so they can have a private and confidential meeting. While the college can cite spatial and financial problems in restricting these necessary resources, it must do so while acknowledging that student success and learning are suffering as a direct result.”

Eustrom said the college is aware that the part-time and adjunct faculty need more office space and places to meet confidentially with students. He said the college has added new office space for contingent faculty in some of the buildings, like Building 3 and Building 8, and will continue to add more each year.

Part-time and adjunct instructors aren’t the only ones who lose in this situation that Chemeketa and many other colleges find themselves. Studies show a correlation between higher numbers of contingent faculty and lower rates of student retention and graduation. In his report to the college on contingent faculty, Davies cited the U.S. House Committee on Education and Workforce report: “More than a handful of studies over the last 10 years examining outcomes for students taught by contingent faculty have found some consistent and disturbing trends. According to these studies, students who took more courses with non-tenure-track faculty experienced lower graduation rates, lower grade point averages, and fewer transfers from two-year to four-year colleges compared to other students.”

“This is not for lack of dedication by adjuncts for students, but instead due to a lack of resources, private meeting spaces, and paid time for meeting students outside the classroom,” Davies wrote in his report. Davies further stated that “due almost exclusively to low pay and compensation, many Chemeketa part-time and adjunct faculty are forced to divide their attention between multiple institutions, and sometimes must work other non-academic jobs. This has a negative impact on student learning and success, as many faculty must rush from institution to institution, spending time commuting, rather than meeting with students, preparing lessons or grading.”

Eustrom said that, at the request of Chemeketa’s Board of Education, the college’s Institutional Research Department conducted research that looked into grade inflation, student retention, and student completion. This request was in response to the 2015 report by Davies and a concern presented to the board by Traci Hodgson, who was at that time the president of the CFA.

According to Eustrom, Institutional Research looked at the same courses that were taught either by full-time instructors, part-time instructors, or adjunct sections taught by full-time faculty as overload work, and also whether they were day classes, evening classes or online classes at Chemeketa. Eustrom indicated there were no discernable differences between courses taught by full-time and part-time or adjunct instructors in relation to student retention and completion. However, Eustrom also said in regards to the benefit to students of having full-time faculty teaching overload courses:I think there is a benefit that if someone who is fully engaged at Chemeketa full-time, that’s their job, and so in addition their part-time job is here also. And they already have five office hours that are required by being a full-time faculty member. So you’ve got a higher presence, they’re connected, they’re more part of the program.”

Despite the circumstances surrounding their employment, Davies said that Chemeketa’s part-time and adjunct instructors enjoy their work.

“They like teaching here because of the students and because of their colleagues,” he said. “They’re extremely frustrated with their employment situation. The fact that there doesn’t seem to be any avenue built into a full time position; that we get paid 58% of what a full time instructor gets paid for doing the exact same job; that the administration doesn’t seem to care about improving the work situation of part timers – that diminishes morale. But if you ask them are they satisfied, they say yes.”