Tuesday, July 22, 2008


Caps on Adjuncts

My cc is gearing up for yet another discussion of the proper 'cap' on the number of credits taught by an adjunct in a single semester. It's one of those awful cases in which every option is wrong.

The theory, as near as I can tell, is that if you don't cap an adjunct's load at something below a full-timer's, then there's very little to stop a college from simply phasing out full-timers altogether. After all, if we can get good teachers at piecework rates, but our other costs aren't nearly so flexible, then the gravitational pull in that direction will be powerful. If you place an arbitrary cap on how much you can ask of a given adjunct, the theory goes, then you will force colleges to hire more full-timers.

There's something to that, even if it undercounts some of the other roles than traditional f-t faculty play (like student advisement). But it creates other issues.

For one obvious one, our 'cap' is campus-based, rather than statewide. That means that adjuncts will sometimes cobble together assignments at multiple campuses, the total of which is well over the usual full-time load. It defeats the intention of the cap, and imposes obvious transportation costs on the adjuncts. (In the age of four dollar a gallon gas, that's nothing to sneeze at.)

It also impacts different disciplines differently. Since we count credits, rather than classes, an adjunct in disciplines with lots of credits per section (like studio art or lab sciences) can bump up against the ceiling very quickly. Department chairs in those areas are constantly pushing for either exceptions or a general increase to the cap, since they want to staff their sections with the best available people.

(The danger in bumping ceilings, as I've learned the hard way, is that if someone at the absolute max bails on you, it's that much harder to replace them. At PU, the max was annual – as opposed to semesterly -- so someone hired in the Spring could teach more or less as much as anyone wanted. That worked fairly well until I had someone teaching far too much drop out the second week of class. Not pretty.)

Some adjuncts clamor for more hours at one college, to reduce their freeway flying to other colleges. I get it, and it makes sense from a particular angle, but it really raises the issue of what full-timers bring to the college to justify their higher salaries and benefits. Yes, they bring institutional memory and college service, but is that enough to justify a compensation package three to six times larger than what the adjuncts get? It seems like a stretch. And the idea of pro-rating, while it has a certain moral appeal, is a flat-out budget-buster. Without a serious, massive, sustained, predictable subvention from the state, or a herniating tuition increase, or both, it's just not gonna happen.

(Before the ritualistic “well then, just fire all the administrators and distribute their salaries!” attacks, I'll just note that colleges don't run themselves, money comes with oversight requirements, the money 'freed up' wouldn't even come close to being enough, and community colleges are administratively thinner than any other branch of higher education. We have more adjuncts, and fewer admins, than any other branch of higher ed. What this says about the Bousquet hypothesis – that the adjunct trend exists to feather administrative nests – I'll leave an as exercise for the reader.)

I don't have an elegant solution to all this, but I wish I did.

Interesting topic. Another might be the extent to which the credit crisis is impacting the availability of student loans and/or impacting enrollment at your CC.

Questions you never answer:

If you didn't have any f-t faculty, would there be ANY institutional memory to speak of at your CC, Dean Dad? What is the mean and s.d. of years at your college for f-t faculty and for Deans and above?

If you didn't have any f-t faculty, where would you get the department chairs and supervisors who schedule classes, update the curricular materials required for accreditations, establish the common content for large courses, and check on the adjuncts? All of that is done by f-t faculty (including ones who do not get any admin release time) at our institution. You would have to expand "administration" if you didn't have faculty to do these things.

On the topic:

You are quite right about the cost of paying adjuncts equitably, since I looked at that issue while blogging about R1 budget bloat a week or so ago. Our CC could easily pay adjuncts at the piece rate of the lowest ranked prof (and give health benefits to the ones with more than a 50% load) if we got as much per student as the R1 you hear bitching about their state money only covering 25% of the cost of instruction. Or we could increase tuition by over 50%.

Finally, it is hard to comment on this issue without knowing your constraints compared to ours. Our college puts fewer $$$ into high pay-grade admin than into adjuncts, but more into staff than faculty. [I think it is in my college budget article, but we cover about half of the sections with adjuncts.]
The caps suck. They're the reason I have to go from one to another to another, and to another institution (yes, 4 in all) to earn a full time income. And then there's the scheduling. Trying to get every institution to fit can be hellish. Sometimes it feels like a delicate surgical procedure -- "please can I have this section and not that section" -- all to maintain a very delicate house of cards. Seriously, what's wrong with a little consistency?

At one of my schools, a proprietary one, which works on a 12 month schedule, I have become a very adept credit accountant. I'm often asked, say, in November, to teach an extra section, but I have to say no. When asked why, the answer is 'I'm saving my available credits for the late Spring/early Summer sessions so I can make it through the Summer'. And to the obvious rejoinder 'why not take the extra section when it's offered and just save for the Summer', there are complicated tax reasons to spread it out over the year.

Ah yes, DD, you should do a post on treating adjuncts as independent contractors (1099s instead of W-2s) and all of the IRS nightmares that can bring.
Sorry, I meant to say this in the above but forgot. At all of my schools, every one of them, if the adjuncts start to hit their credit caps, they do not even coinsider hiring more full-timers, nor do they cycle the full-timers into the needed areas. Instead, they just hire more adjuncts.
I wonder why we can't just be explicit about it: "Look, we appreciate the benefits of adjuncts, which include a training ground for n00bs; a way to bring in experts within the community who are full-time professionals, not teachers, to teach a few classes and bring the benefits of their experience; a way to try out new teachers; a way to create flexibility in scheduling. However, we think it's immoral and unreasonable to pay someone with an advanced degree and student loans below minimum wage to teach in higher education for a long period, and that job security and reasonable pay is important. There are benefits that come from full-timers that justify their cost, such as institutional memory and the ability to devote 100% of their work attention to OUR students, not to the six schools they're adjuncting at to make a living. Therefore, we're going to set a ratio of full timers to adjuncts of 50/50." (Or whatever.)

Not capping adjunct hours to prevent the lowest-cost solution, but merely saying, "The lowest-cost solution is unfair to those who learn and to those who teach and we refuse to let economic pressure make that decision for our students."

Then second line could at least adjunct in one place. :)
I'm a long-time lecturer at a 4-year CSU campus which not only has no cap, but is required to offer any available sections to existing lecturers. But I believe the CA Legislature has just passed a 67% cap for all CCs statewide--and that's a huge number. Adjuncts worked long and hard for this, and it seems all for the best.
We have more adjuncts, and fewer admins, than any other branch of higher ed. What this says about the Bousquet hypothesis – that the adjunct trend exists to feather administrative nests – I'll leave an as exercise for the reader.

In your case, the nest being feathered is the state's. If they forked over more $$$, you'd have the staff you need, at a salary they deserve.

It was interesting and informative watching your rhetorical contortions to justify abusing adjunct faculty.

What would happen if you just said "No"? No, we're capping CLASSES because we lack the money to appropriately pay faculty what they're worth. No, we cannot add a section and hire ANOTHER adjunct at 50% the compensation per course a full-timer would b paid to teach it. No, I'm not going to enable a broken system by continuing to abuse adjuncts and allow them to abuse themselves by encouraging freeway flying.

Ever consider NO as the answer?
I'm sure he has. And I'm equally sure he'd be fired were he to say "no" as you suggest.
Any discussion about having a new category, between adjuncts and tenured, of full-time teaching faculty? Some institutions have full-load "professeurs-enseignants" on multiple-year contracts renewed yearly. Given the current use of adjuncts (quite different from our original role), it could be the best solution for everyone involved ((including learners).
I think it is better to have a department or system cap vs. having a limit on the number of courses/hours an individual can teach. I'm in the former system now and fled the latter - it was a nightmare of budgeting and travel.

It makes little sense to have the same 6 adjuncts teaching at the same 3 schools to stay under the cap at each. If we each only taught at one school, we would have been more sane and the students would have benefitted --
I see someone has brought up the line"we lack the money to appropriately pay faculty what they're worth."

That is kind-of funny, actually. A few weeks back we had that discussion about allowing "market forces" to have their way with salaries. I think what we see here is just that. When there are sufficient numbers of qualified individuals that earn low, adjunct pay, the schools are tempted to use more adjuncts.

Why not realize that, if they simply lowered the pay of the FT faculty to something closer to the adjuncts, they can have the benefits of institutional memory at the lower costs of the adjuncts?

Is it "fair?" A silly question (I refer to all parents' responses when their kids say something "isn't fair.")

Is it "right?" Perhaps not, but if we get into THAT argument, we start pushing one person's morality onto another, and we all know that when anyone's morals are forced onto another that THAT is bad...

So--recognize that large numbers of qualified people are willing to work for less that you currently pay, offer them that pay scale with full time jobs, and sit back and enjoy "Nirvana."
I am not sure what I am missing, but in equilibrium, this should not be a problem (I know that individually for any particular f-t or adj., this does not make any solution more palatable, but still), so what is the market failure?

If there are indeed long-term benefits of having ft faculty (instituttional memory, having students or ranking agencies prefer ft teachers to adjuncts, etc.) then this should self-regulate - adjuncts are cheaper, but increasing their numbers too much comes at a future cost to the university, thus self-limiting.

Perhaps there is something particular about cc's vs research schools that I don't really get. But if what you mention as problems from having too many adjuncts are indeed problems (iow, if students are not really willing to pay the premium that ft-faculty cost in order to be taught at "ft-faculty schools", then... can they honestly say they have that preference? Everyone loves stuff for free, that is not a preference), it should be optimal for a school not to have very many.

At my school, we have sth similar to what enkerli mentioned, pure teaching faculty. And they, together with true adjuncts, make up about 10% of all faculty. Teaching load is not capped for anyone (the adjuncts/teaching fac I personally know teach about 3-5 times as much as I do, and I could not care less). But new hiring decisions for teaching faculty are made based on the risk to f-t faculty being able to fill their required load.

For cc's there must also be some self-regulating process that limits the optimal amount of adjuncts. If not, what prevents it from working? And if there is nothing that would prevent it from working, I would be hesitant to assume the optimal limit really is as low as is claimed... no?
As an adjunct at multiple schools, I have dealt with this issue personally and seen others deal with it.

First, it is not right, ethically, to hire someone to do the same or more work for less money. This is the position that adjuncting without caps or "full-time-part-time" (as one of my colleges calls it).

I could work full-time, hired on a semester by semester basis, teaching a full load and having office hours and make 1/3 of the full-time faculty who have only an additional 2 committees. Now I know that committees can be atrocious, but I think it would be preferable to take two committees and make the money that the full-timers get. But that is not an option.

At my other adjunct college, there is a 25-75 level. 25% of the faculty are full-time. 75% of the faculty are adjuncts. This makes the cost quite reasonable. And many of the adjuncts have other full-time jobs. But, for example, in the English department this year, there was a single opening and there were eight adjuncts who applied for the position. They are not voluntarily adjuncting; they are doing it and hope to be full-time later.

It keeps the cost down for the college, which is why colleges do it.

And, truthfully, why would a college hire someone full-time if they could hire two part-timers for half the money?

What is the point/benefit of full-time faculty? That's the issue, I think.

Full-time faculty have the time to dedicate to improving their courses, taking other classes, learning more, doing research, and spending more time with their students.

Those are the benefits.

But those don't show up on a spreadsheet.
Many disciplines don't have such an overabundance of Ph.D.'s, so universities are not going to be able to replace their full-time faculty base in the forseeable future. In my field, it's difficult to find an adjunct with an M.S. degree and my university has never been able to find one with a Ph.D. in my discipline.
Yes, I do believe there should be caps on adjuncts, bright blue caps with a scarlet A embroidered on the bill.
"increasing their numbers too much comes at a future cost to the university, thus self-limiting."

This assumes that the university -- or the state -- is capable of looking to the future and making sound planning decisions that cost money now but pay off in spades later.

I don't know about YOUR state, but mine is totally and utterly incapable of doing that. The CC I'm at wants more full timers. The state won't give them. Instead, my state's raiding the inviolate teacher's pension fund not to make budget but to achieve a palatable deficit. But then, half the governors of my state in the last 30 years have ended up indicted anyway.

Convincing my state to fund something useful like education when it could fund something moronic-but-trendy is a waste of energy.
As an adjunct my compensation works out to the tuition paid by one student taking my course. I normally teach 21 students per class. Where does the other 95% of the student's cost go!!!!! Buildings (?), administration (?) ?????????
Let us not forget something else of interest. Universities just keep pumping out more qualified workers for them to hire at slave wages without benefits.
Next time one of your students shows interest in teaching (higher education) be sure to encourage them to do so like my professors encouraged me to. I love being so overly educated and getting paid half of what a full timer makes and with no benefits or sick leave to boot. Universities have become like the medical field, all about money and not people. SAD.
The problem I am facing as an adjunct in art is that there are no extra classes to teach at the neighboring colleges. I am teaching only two classes and may have to quit mid-semester if I am offered full time job in another field.
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