It is in the nature of higher education for schools to interview and select faculty members that will do their very best in making that school’s students the best and brightest the nation has seen; however, what happens when costs are tight, yet the demand for faculty members remains high?
Universities hire adjunct faculty members to teach classes. These sorts of things have been happening for some time yet only recently has the spotlight turned towards adjunct professors, and as a staff report conducted by the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce found last January, the results were rather astounding.
The New York Times wrote in on the matter, citing the committee’s findings. Adjunct professors are paid by the course, at an average salary of under $3,000 per three-credit course. The highest per course salary maxed out around $5,000, with only ten percent of the people receiving the salary. That means, on average, a person would need to manage roughly 7-8 courses before making above $20,000, which would amount to spending less than $400 per week and making less than the average janitor.
Before becoming a Brittain Fellow with Tech in 2011, Tech English Professor John Harkey was an adjunct himself with a university system in the greater New York City area.
“I worked as an adjunct at LaGuardia Community College,” Harkey said. “It’s the most diverse and busiest community college in the nation. It’ an amazing place and I have only good things to say about that school in general.”
Harkey admitted his own experience wasn’t as bad as many of his peers.
“I had friends who were working at three colleges simultaneously, taking trains and buses, all over New York City, day after day, week after week to cover these classes,” Harkey said. “They might be teaching two sections up in the Bronx, a course out in Queens and then a course in Manhattan, and on top of all of that, studying to get their Ph.D. Some of them had artistic careers and did this on the side, but there were a lot of adjuncts and I witnessed a lot of the exhaustion of the system.”
Meanwhile, programs such as the Brittain Fellowship at Tech help create layers of separation between the current state of academia elsewhere and at Tech.
“There was an overhaul or redesign of the program, when Dr. Rebecca Burnett came in,” Harkey said. “Her vision was the program would be a truer doctoral program where you have projects, and committees, and we collaborate. There would be more active attempts to facilitate the research that people were doing; she’s negotiated an increase in the pay, and it’s definitely a solid post-doc salary.”
Contrary to many campuses, the Brittain Fellowship also offers its participants both health benefits, as well as a steadily increasing pay over the course of their three years of time at Tech.
In another light, having an adjunct or part-time lecturer can be beneficial to students. Those faculty can use something that many purely academic teachers lack to teach their students: experience.
Alan Flury is a part-time lecturer at Scheller College of Business. Flury used to work at Accenture before taking early retirement to come back to school to teach.
“I talked to the Dean of the Business School because I wanted to stay active,” Flury said. “My original aspiration was just to teach a couple of courses, but she had asked me if I would consider doing a little bit more of a full-time basis, so I originally came in as a director of the entrepreneurship center, but overtime, I sort of evolved more into this teaching role which I really enjoy doing.”
Flury then weighed in on the benefits of having part-time faculty as part of a university system.
“I think that there are some types of subjects that are actually better taught by adjuncts and part-time instructors because the subjects themselves require a good deal of practical perspective from being there and doing that,” Flury said.
There are more than a few classes at Tech, including Business Law and Entrepreneurial classes, in which the classroom focus is shifted from true academia to a more career-oriented setting.
In other circumstances, an adjunct professor would be a compromise or a way for a university to save money and time for research, but in these classes, a background in the real-world can benefit the students taking the class.
“Physics is an example where an academic is probably very well positioned to teach physics, but something like entrepreneurship is really difficult to [teach] because entrepreneurship is something you have to experience,” Flury said.
While problems may be brewing in higher education nationally, Tech seems manage both its students and its faculty well as it continues to deliver the very best.
Tech is a research and innovation focused school, and one where, according to Flury, “teaching can be an end to a means, and research is that means.”
Non-tenure track professors, in these situations, can provide the guidance for students who may be overlooked in the universities’ research-centered goals.