Editorial: Adjunct professors deserve equal benefits, treatment

By The Pitt News Editorial Board

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Adjunct professors often get the short end of the stick when it comes to employment benefits. While they are neither tenured nor given any sense of job security, adjunct faculty have proven to work just as much, if not more, than their tenured, secured counterparts.

Why is this the case? Why have adjunct professors, who are considered part-time employees — even though they work long, unsubsidized hours — not received the equal treatment and benefits they deserve?

In light of this disparity and the traumatizing effects of poor employment standards, many universities in Pittsburgh have begun to change some of these trends, but not at the necessary pace.

The Adjunct Faculty Association, a group of adjunct professors at Duquesne University that was created in September 2012, is currently working toward supporting and enhancing the rights and working conditions of nontenure-track academic faculty in Pittsburgh.

Unfortunately, adjunct professors have noticed little change.

It is surprising that universities have not yet considered adjunct faculty to be on the same tier as full-time or tenured faculty members. According to “The Just-In-Time Professor,” a report released last month by the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, adjuncts represent half of all high-education faculty. In 1970, they represented 20 percent.

At Pitt, unlike at other institutions, adjunct faculty receive medical benefits and operate under better working conditions than adjunct faculty at other universities. Still, the disparity between adjunct lecturers and tenured professors is evident — salary is a primary indication of such a divide.

Pitt’s Office of the Provost is currently working with a relatively new ad hoc committee of the University Senate to address problems that many nontenured faculty face.

The intent of the ad hoc committee is to “examine policies, issues and concerns relating to nontenure stream faculty, both part-time and full-time, with an eye to making sure that whatever those issues might be — if any exist — are being covered by existing standing committees. And if something is not, potentially assigning it to a standing committee or seeing where else it might be handled,” according to University Senate president Michael Spring in a University Times article.

The Faculty Assembly  held a vote two months ago to accept a few recommendations by Irene Frieze, the chair of the nontenure stream faculty subcommittee. The recommendations included several beneficial policies, among which were guidelines to make public policies for nontenure stream faculty and more reviews and evaluations of nontenure stream faculty in accord with existing University policy. Evidently, none of the eight recommendations addressed any issues regarding increased pay or employee benefits.

“You’ve collected already-existing policies and are asking that we all be reminded that these have been the rules for a long time,” said Senate Council member Frank Wilson, president of Pitt-Greensburg’s Faculty Senate and a full-time nontenure stream faculty member, in an University Times article.

Ken Service, Pitt’s vice chancellor for communications, works with the ad hoc committee of the University Senate, examining issues related to adjunct and nontenure stream faculty. In January, Service noted that the University valued all of its faculty and is working to address these issues.

Cara Hayden Masset, director of University news at Pitt, said in an email that “the ad hoc committee for nontenure stream faculty is at work, but doesn’t expect to have any recommendations until spring.”

The committee has been working to solve this issue since its inception in early September 2013.

With no exception, adjunct faculty must receive benefits, a living wage and conditions that will benefit their students and their respective schools. These faculty members, who make up a significant portion of educators in the United States, cannot survive on current standards, and there need to be steps taken to ensure they are considered equal to tenured faculty.

Today’s college campuses are rife with adjuncts and tenured professors both, and their institutional administrations should treat them as one contingent, one body. Both are educational professionals after all, and if they cannot do their job accordingly because of low standards and poor wages, they cannot contribute to the mission of their institutions: to educate.

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