How much do Nebraska colleges rely on adjuncts?

Adjunct professors are part-time faculty. They aren’t tenured and typically jump from campus-to-campus teaching several courses as a way to make ends meet. (Photo by Ben Bohall, NET News).
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July 6, 2016 - 6:44am

Universities across the country are relying more on part-time professors to teach college courses. But what does that mean for Nebraska adjuncts trying to find full-time work in higher education?


Alex Portilla loves to teach.

In his college chemistry lab, he huddles near a group of his students watching minerals change color as they interact with fire.

This is only one of several courses he’ll be teaching this summer. However, this won’t be the only college he’ll be teaching at.

“I’m an adjunct instructor at Metro Community College. I also hold appointments at College of Saint Mary and Iowa Western Community College in Council Bluffs, Iowa," Portilla says.

Alex has had a tough time finding a full-time teaching job since he received his PhD two years. So he became an adjunct. Adjunct professors are part-time faculty. They aren’t tenured and typically jump from campus-to-campus teaching several courses as a way to make ends meet. Adjuncts typically make between 20 to 25 thousand dollars a year.

“So unless you’re married to someone who has a stable job, or you have a full-time job and you teach part-time, it can be hard,” Portilla says.

 

Meet adjunct professor Alex Portilla. We pay a visit to his college chemistry lab.

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Joseph Fruscione is the co-founder and Communications Director for PrecariCorps, a national nonprofit that financially supports adjuncts through donations.

“They are essentially full-time, part-time employees through their variation universities," Fruscione says.

Since the 1970’s, universities have come to rely more on adjuncts to teach courses.

“They’re an exploited labor class and universities keep overusing them because financially, of course, the make sense with universities having different budget priorities… At least 50 percent of professors in American high er education are adjuncts,” Fruscione says.

Susan Fritz is the Executive Vice President and Provost with the University of Nebraska system, and a former adjunct.

“As you might imagine, the engagements of adjuncts is somewhat related to the size of the campus,” Fritz says.

While the University of Nebraska-Lincoln reports only 5 percent of undergraduate classes being taught by adjuncts, a major metropolitan campus like the University of Nebraska Omaha reports 32 percent. The salaries for those adjuncts vary significantly, depending on the campus and department.

“I will tell you that the salaries for the adjunct faculty are really dependent on the disciplines that they come from," Fritz says. "It’s fairly market driven. We would say the same thing about our salaries for our faculty”

For example, average salaries for adjuncts in the UNO College of Information Science & Technology are about $3,500 per course. Adjuncts who teach in the UNL College of Business make nearly twice that.

Larry Bradley is an adjunct professor teaching geology courses at the University of Nebraska Omaha. The pay disparity bothers Bradley.

Social media have spawned several adjunct awareness movements across the US. This banner represents the "National Adjunct Walkout Day" encouraging adjuncts to stage walkouts on February 25th 2015. The movement had limited participation at the University of Nebraska Omaha and University of Nebraska at Kearney. (Courtesy Photo).
 

 

 

“You know, why is the person in the English Department getting paid less than the person in the Business College? They’re both just as important," Bradley says. “I think there should be a base salary that everybody gets paid the same. Especially if you’ve been here as part-time, adjunct faculty for (x) amount of years. Let’s say a new person comes in. We’re all happy for them; but the person who’s been here laboring, putting their heart and soul into this campus, should earn just as much.”

To address that pay gap, Bradley and several adjuncts have been looking at the possibility of unionizing. They’ve been in talks with the Nebraska Association of Public Employees. But it isn’t without challenges. State law would require at least 30 percent of all eligible adjuncts in each of NU’s four colleges to sign letters of interest showing their willingness to join or form a union. But, Bradley says he’s optimistic by the adjunct movements he’s seeing around the country. Most are driven by social media.

“Facebook, Twitter, and so forth. It might be somewhat not as hard as you think it is to organize all four campuses,” Bradley says.

In the meantime, Alex Portilla says he’ll continue to look for a full-time in teaching, but will also turn to odd jobs to supplement his income. Most recently, he took a two week acting job for a training film on natural disasters. Not exactly science-related, but he says right now he’ll take what he can get.

“The thing about it is, I don’t know from month-to-month how many classes I’m going to get..." Portilla says. "A lot of uncertainty as an adjunct if you’re relying on it as your main source of income. But it’s better than nothing.”

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