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Maine Adjunct Professors Are More Than Just Cash Cows

Maine Adjunct Professors Are More Than Just Cash Cows
By: Nikky Raney

After taking a long drag off his cigarette Ralph Parks gets into his car and closes the door. "Welcome to my office," he says with a smirk on his face.

Parks is an adjunct professor for the fourth year at New England School of Communications (NESCom) as well as University of Maine, Husson University, and Eastern Maine Community College (EMCC).

"I deliver the same quality and the same amount of work, but the [full time] faculty get to leave the building at night and not have to take all their stuff back home with them," Parks says.

An adjunct professor is a part-time professor who is hired on a semester by semester basis instead of being hired as a full on faculty member. More and more schools are hiring adjunct professors rather than full time faculty because they are flexible and cheaper. Most adjuncts are able to create their own syllabus and are able to choose how they teach the courses.

Ben Haskell, Academic Dean at NESCom, is in charge of hiring adjuncts for the core classes and oversees whom department heads chose to hire for adjunct faculty.

"This school was built on dedication, loyalty and abilities of our adjunct teachers. We have had adjuncts here since 1981," Haskell says.

Haskell explains the difference between the majority NESCom's adjuncts in comparison with the adjuncts at schools in the nation.

"Most of our adjuncts are specialists in the field; they have a career in what they teach." He continues, "These adjunct teachers are able to help students get a better sense of what the career they are aspiring to is really like in the real world."

An adjunct who fits Haskell's description of being a specialist in the field perfectly is Katy England.

England has been an adjunct at NESCom for three years and teaches Web Reporting during the spring semester. England may be better known as the Editor in Chief of The Maine Edge, the free weekly entertainment based news publication for the greater Bangor area. In addition to this she also has a blog called "Maine Blues" which keeps up to date with the crime and punishment in Maine.

"With my position it's perfect and fits into my schedule." England continues, "I feel like I bring something new to the table. I like the contact with the students as opposed to just talking with the same peers. I like looking at things with fresh eyes, and students are always keeping me on my toes."

Alicia Strusa, NESCom senior, took England's Web Reporting course in the Spring 2010 semester and thinks that England's experience makes her the perfect teacher:

"[England] fits in with the NESCom staff, and I think her teaching skills definitely prove that she is the right person to take on classes that deal with web reporting. It's the wave of the future, and I think she's well equipped to manage a class like that."

Department heads are responsible for hiring adjuncts that fit into their specific concentration.

Nancy Roberts, Director of Marketing Communications Program at NESCom, currently advises several adjuncts; she is the only full time faculty member in Marketing Communications. She believes that adjuncts are "extremely valuable members" of the NESCom community.

"I have the authority to hire and fire. I choose per semester and in October I start planning for the next semester and talking to instructors. I meet once a semester to see how things are going," Roberts explains.

The student evaluations really contribute to how the adjunct is viewed, and starting next year it has been discussed having a department head or administration sit in on one of the classes to see how things are going within the classroom.

Roberts finds adjuncts through applications submitted as well as people that she knows in the field who may seem like a perfect match for a course, like adjunct Susan Kaye who teaches a marketing course as well as Interpersonal Communications.

"I look at classes and determine curriculum and look at a set skill experience. I knew Susan from when I worked at an ad agency and I knew that she taught at the University of Maine so I offered her the opportunity to teach a course. Susan is also able to get students in her class internships at her place of work," Roberts says.

Kaye is teaching at NESCom for her third semester, and although she may be working for Roberts she sees it differently:

"When you're an adjunct you work for the students."

Ericka Yorke, NESCom junior, speaks fondly of Kaye, "I had susan as a teacher for my Advertising 2 class and I must say she is one of the best teachers at NESCom I have ever had."

Anne O'Reilly is an adjunct who was once working specialized within the field of journalism, but now she teaches several courses per semester at NESCom as well as other schools in the area. O'Reilly has been a loyal adjunct for a long time, and was once full time faculty at University of Maine.

"Back in 1988 I worked at channel 5. Another adjunct at NESCom had just felt and I was offered to teach a course in Writing for Media." O'Reilly elaborates, "I have been working here since 1988 when the school was still New England School of Broadcasting. The tv programs were put on in the gym and The Spectator (the campus paper at Husson) was part of the curriculum. Now I am teaching English Comp, every journalism class, writing for all sorts of media, etc."

Christian Wagner and Alex Downing have both been students of O'Reilly and they agree that she has such experience that she can share with her students and really prepare them for their careers.

O'Reilly is one teacher who may fall into the category of "full-time adjunct." A phrase that NESCom adjunct Ed Rice uses to describe what he and other adjuncts, such as Ralph Parks, have become.

The adjuncts who do not have careers on the side spend their time teaching multiple classes at multiple schools. Adjuncts primarily teach more classes than full time faculty, since they teach at a variety of schools, but without having a career on the side the disadvantages to being an adjunct are far more noticeable.

"I am 63 and teaching all he way until retirement with no retirement benefits."

Rice explains that adjuncts are paid per credit per hour equally for all classes. Rice has been a NESCom adjunct for four years, but before teaching he was a very active journalist in the field and he is considered to still be a specialist as he teaches Reporting and Writing for Print, Feature Writing and Editorial & Column Writing at NESCom; he has also taught courses at Eastern Maine Community College (EMCC), University of Maine, Husson and University College Bangor (UCB).

Rice was once a full time faculty member at the University of Maine in Orono before his decision to become a full time adjunct.

"I wasn't really planning on being a full time teacher. I liked 'moonlighting' using my Master's Degree to teach one evening class a term and have extra money for skiing and fun stuff. Then I closed two newspaper offices and decided I should go to option two and try to teach full time."

He would have died and gone to heaven if NESCom ever asked him to become a full time faculty member, but he doesn't see that happening:

"All of us here are taken advantage of the longer we have been here. They think 'he's been here so long why make him full time? He'll just keep coming back as an adjunct.' All of us want to teach full time positions, because we get to teach fewer class and are paid more and receive benefits."

Parks would also jump at the opportunity to be a full-time faculty member at NESCom:

"If the opportunity arose I'd grab at it. In the spring I teach four classes, but without benefits. At the university four classes is considered full time."

Recently, Rice had a hip replacement; if it wasn't for UCB's six year valued instructor's healthcare he would be "paying out of pocket" for the rest of his life. He notes that teachers in Maine do have the best health care in the state of Maine.

"There are benefits given to an incompetent full-time person while I'm scrambling to pay my dental insurance," he says. "Maybe the country will get over itself and get universal healthcare."

Besides the lack of healthcare adjuncts also aren't always guaranteed to teach the class they expect.

"If a full time teacher is a course with not enough students signed up, but an adjunct has a course that is filled with students the full time faculty is able to teach the course that the adjunct was originally signed up to teach," Rice explains.

Rice tells that most of the adjuncts are chosen to teach "100 level courses" which are the courses that all students are required to take. Teachers desire to teach the 300-400 level courses, but that is a luxury that is given out mostly to the full time faculty. Rice has started to refuse to teach English Composition classes, which is a 100 level course.

"I get paid far too little money to spend so much time per paper, on my own time, to do the proper grading required, the fair grading any student deserves. I don't want to cheat students, nor do I want to feel like a total 'victim' myself. Spending hour after hour in grading and making a small fraction of what the full-time [faculty] receive for doing the exact same job."

Rice feels very strongly that full-time faculty and adjuncts should be treated more as equals:

"[I am] working just as hard as the full time folks, probably harder having to do the 100-level classes that full timers can't be bothered with, for they want more mature students and upper level electives." He continues, "Plus not getting any benefits or vacation pay. It really stinks when a couple of good adjuncts actually help with a school's reputation yet are treated shabbily, treated like outright Second Class Citizens."

Since adjuncts are only paid for the time spent teaching all the time spent grading papers and doing work regarding courses outside of the classroom are not taken into account. This also means that over the summer they are not given any payment.

"I squirrel away money during the spring semester to save for over the summer," Rice confesses.

Another disadvantage is not being able to be there for the students as readily and easily as full time faculty members. NESCom recently created a mini office just for adjuncts, but Parks laughs that he'd "rather meet with students in his car."

"I work at several different place and I am not checking my e-mail every day on every single site. I check my personal e-mail on a regular basis, but that is not an address that I will give out to students," Parks admits.

The full-time adjuncts truly love teaching students and have passion to teach, or else they would try to find jobs elsewhere with security benefits. Rice even divulges that at EMCC the adjuncts are paid less than $100 a week once taxes are taken out. He knows that this is not just a problem in Maine, but an issue that is of concern in schools all over the country."

Justin Chamberlain, NESCom sophomore, took Ed Rice's Reporting and Writing for Print course and believes that it would not have been as fulfilling had anyone else taught it:

"I feel that I learned a lot from Ed's class. He's clearly an experienced teacher with great qualifications. It is his experience in the field that I really think gives him a good platform to teach from. I really enjoy his class, and I trust that every time I go to that class I'll learn something new."

The ideal situation, according to Rice, would be for the pay system to change so that the more years a teacher has taught the more the pay is raised.

"Adjuncts as a group do it because they like it. We don't make enough to be doing it just for the money," Parks says.

Some students did not even realize what adjuncts were. Zackary Childs, NEScom junior, stared with confusion and asked, "What is the difference between an adjunct and a regular?"

Once Childs was caught up he quickly saw that being an adjunct was had benefits:

"Adjuncts have a broad palette of students from different schools - the full time faculty are pigeon-holed. The faculty can't up and teach at other colleges, but adjuncts can teach every where and shop around."

Heather Megill, NESCom junior, is a strong advocate for the rights of adjuncts. She believes the biggest disadvantage to being an adjunct is "the lack of recognition for all they do. They teach a lot of difficult courses and have to balance other part time work at other schools."

"I would like to see adjunct professors receive adequate compensation for all tier hard work. if the school ever considers remodeling the first thing they should think about is adding more offices for adjuncts." She continues, "It has a negative impact on the students if there's no quiet place for them to meet with the professors. Adjuncts have the broad wealth of knowledge college students need to be well-rounded individuals."

Paul Wolfe, NESCom senior, has had great experiences with radio adjuncts, but acknowledges that not all adjuncts live up to the same standards.:

"There are some adjuncts who are not prepared to teach NESCom students and their teaching methods are pretty bad. Some of the adjuncts are not qualified. I know a couple of adjuncts who have questionable approaches, but there is a great faculty to help assist."

Parks recognizes that what truly matters is the quality of education the students are receiving:

"I believe what's really important is when students leave the class and feel like they truly have learned something. I don't care if they don't agree with me, I want students to be able to express their thoughts. I love my time in the classroom and the level of casualness I have with my students."

There is a need for an adjunct union. Higher Education online features an article written by Keith Hoeller, the co-founder of the Washington Part-Time Faculty Association. Within his article from December 9, 2010 he writes:

"Imagine if the civil rights movement had been led by white people, or the women's movement had been led by men, or the gay movement had been led by heterosexuals. Of course any social movement for the oppressed needs allies, but where would these movements be today if their primary leaders had not come from the oppressed class?"

Although his example may be a bit extreme he goes into specifics:

"There is a serious legal issue at the heart of the academic labor movement. Unions have long fought to avoid employers setting up and running their own labor unions. And federal labor law forbids "employer-dominated unions" in the private sector. But the three faculty unions have numerous chapters where adjunct faculty are in the same unions with the tenured faculty who serve as their direct supervisors. Everyone knows that people are loath to bite the hand that feeds them, even more so when that hand is protected by tenure. In their 100 years of existence, the NEA, AFT, and AAUP have failed to negotiate meaningful job security for nearly all of their adjuncts. Their monomaniacal devotion to tenure as an all-or-nothing idea has caused them to fail to seriously develop other forms of job security for adjuncts. Even now, in the midst of the Great Recession, with the wholesale massacre of thousands of adjunct faculty, the three unions are focused on protecting and increasing the number of tenured faculty."

The adjuncts who teach on the side are able to benefit in ways that the adjuncts who have made teaching their full time job are not. The majority of classes that students take are taught by adjuncts so it would make sense for the adjuncts who have chosen to dedicate their time to making this their full time career to be able to get the same benefits as those who are lucky enough to be hired as full time faculty.

Article originally written for Ed Rice's Print Writing & Reporting Class.. (received an A)
Also posted at Zennie62Media.

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