Adjunct Professors Deserve a Raise in Pay

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Part-time adjunct faculty pay has not increased in a decade

The last time that adjunct professors at Pacific University received a pay raise, Barack Obama had just begun his second term as president—which is to say, it has been a full decade. More keenly, at the time, minimum wages in Oregon were 65% what they are today; yet over those past ten years, wages for adjunct professors—those instructors who teach one or two classes essentially as a freelancer—haven’t budged a single penny at Pacific University.

   In early November, though, dozens of full-time faculty set out to change that, and added their signatures to a letter to the administration expressing concern; all told, more than 60 undergraduate college full-time faculty signed the letter of support.

   The letter was first initiated by Ellen Margolis, Chair for Theatre & Dance Department. “I was very surprised when I realized that adjunct pay had been stalled for ten years,” explained Professor Margolis. “In that time, adjuncts hadn’t even gotten a cost-of-living increase. Even at two percent a year, their pay should be about 22 percent higher than it is now.”

   Unlike faculty members, adjunct instructors are paid per class, and not guaranteed a contract renewal afterward. At Pacific University, adjuncts receive $1250 per credit, $5,000 for a four-credit course. With an eye on tight budgets, it is understandable why universities are increasingly interested in employing adjunct faculty, as opposed to full-time faculty who receive $50,000-plus for carrying an annual five-course load, or more than double or triple adjunct pay, as well as health benefits.

   But, explained Professor Margolis, education is more than budgets, and retaining quality instructors is critical to the quality of Pacific University. “It’s not just we need to cover these classes,” she voiced, “but these are important people in our educational community, and they matter.”

   The vulnerability with flat-lined pay rates for adjuncts is that most simply cannot afford to continue teaching at Pacific, especially as wages at other nearby colleges steadily outpace those at Pacific University; eventually, it becomes a simple exercise in the free market. 

   “Often when adjuncts are part-time, explained Ramano Ilea, Professor of philosophy, “they often teach at multiple universities.” She went on, “we have had people teaching at three different universities in one semester; they would teach at Lewis & Clark, Portland State, and Pacific, and then they would have to commute between all these schools. They try to do a really good job, but sometimes it’s a lot to manage.”

   That hustle puts extra strain on the instructors—and minimizes their ability to spend time outside the classroom, and with students. “When students feel like ‘oh, this person is not really around,’ well yeah, they aren’t getting paid to be around at all,” explained Professor Ilea.

   Professor Ilea and Margolis expect a positive response from the administration to support the adjunct professors. Their goal—and the dozens of other professors who have lobbied the administration—is to bring attention and speak up for their colleagues, and ultimately create an educational environment at Pacific University that is more robust and sustainable.

   “I think it will be increasingly hard to find good adjuncts and attract them here,” said Professor Ilea. “We have definitely found that to be the case recently, so certainly paying them more would help, and it would be the right thing to do.” — Emily Rutkowski

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