Adjunct faculty demand change


Mason’s Adjunct Faculty Task Force recently published a report recommending an increase in current adjunct faculty conditions.

Mason’s Provost, Davis S. Wu, established this task force back in March 2015 to identify issues in the adjunct faculty population, partly in response to a petition created by the Mason Coalition of Academic Labor and Service Employees International Union Local 500. The Mason Coalition of Academic Labor is a coalition of faculty, staff and students working to improve contingent faculty conditions, and the Service Employees International Union is an education and public service union.

Upon creation, the task force developed an Institutional Review Board survey, a committee established to review and approve research involving human subjects according to their website. This review board then sent the survey out to about 1,000 adjunct faculty members for the fall 2015 semester. According to the survey report, 535 adjunct faculty responded to the survey, although the specific number of responses varies slightly between questions.

“I think the survey is very well done. I think it’s a very thoughtful survey that gives a more accurate picture of our adjunct faculty population and it also provides a more balanced representation of what they are,” Wu said.

While some believe that this information is helpful, others say the report merely confirms information already known.

The study “Indispensable but Invisible,” published in 2014 by doctoral students and contingent faculty members Marisa Allison, Randy Lynn and Victoria Hoverman, found similar areas of concern in their study of the contingent faculty population at Mason, which consists of all non-tenure track faculty, not only adjunct faculty.

“I actually think that they [the Adjunct Faculty Task Force] list off a whole lot of recommendations that are very similar to the ones we came up with for our own research,” Allison, a doctoral candidate in Mason’s Sociology Department and one of the writers of the study, said.  

One such similarity between the two includes a desire for adjunct faculty to obtain a full-time teaching position and participate in research.

The task force found that 232 adjunct faculty members indicated an interest in full-time, non-tenure line positions and 174 indicated an interest in full-time, tenure-line positions. Additionally, 241 adjunct faculty are interested in conducting research with Mason colleagues and 235 are interested in writing scholarly articles.

“The goal for a lot of people is to work in academia… I don’t feel like a small raise is going to make me feel wanted anymore than what I get paid now, whereas some kind of path to employment would get me really excited,” Derek Sweetman, a graduate lecturer for the School of Conflict Analysis and Resolution, said.

Other issues the Adjunct Faculty Task Force report found included hiring difficulties, lack of support, lack of or confusing communication, lack of professional development and lack of respect/inclusion. The report provided a list of recommendations, for the university as a whole and for individual academic units, to go along with their findings.

“Anything that requires significant institutional investment from a financial perspective is something that feels like it’s hard to do right now… Things like putting together resources and creating information for people and being more visible about those kinds of things is something that we can definitely do this year with the resources we have,”  Kim Eby, associate provost for faculty development at Mason, said.

Eby and others are currently working on compiling information into a web page specifically devoted to adjunct faculty, which is in line with the task force’s recommendation. As for departmental changes, the task force recommends that all adjunct faculty have an online presence on their respective departments’ web pages and that academic units should be more inclusive of adjunct faculty members, whether that involves invitations to faculty meetings or special events. The report notes that respect averaged the lowest overall satisfaction among participants at 2.96 on a 5 point scale.

The report also addresses issues regarding compensation and recommends increasing “minimum salary figures, aligning adjunct faculty compensation with other comparable institutions in the area.”

The task force found that adjunct faculty who teach at other institutions in the area are less satisfied with their overall Mason experience (mean of 3.78) than the overall satisfaction of faculty who only teach at Mason (mean of 4.02). These respondents cite a number of benefits available for them at other institutions, some of which include free or reduced parking fare, discounts and the ability to work on research grants.

Although Mason has comparable pay to other institutions in the area, how much one is paid is determined at a college and departmental level, Wu said.

“The variation [in pay] is pretty significant, even within our own university… it is a lot of times driven by their specific disciplinary considerations, this is I guess in many ways the market at work,” Wu said.

According to Dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences and Task Force Co-Chair Deborah Boehm-Davis, the 41 percent of respondents who are not retired or do not work full time are impacted the most by low wages.

Wu said the university is looking to adjust the pay matrix over time since “there is a part of the adjunct population that is paid close to that minimal level,” and that increasing wages is “important to keep ourselves competitive.”

Much of the financial constraints Mason is experiencing is due to reduced state funding. Because of the state’s budget shortfalls, planned pay raises will not occur this year.

Public universities across the country have experience reduced state and federal funding in the past several decades and, as a result, universities have had to push the burden onto the consumers, students, staff and the faculty, Sweetman, who considers the corporate model of higher education “a symptom” of decreased governmental support, said.

“Mason could be integral in coming up with a solution, but to come up with a solution we need to be having those larger discussions that are far beyond ‘Do I get a faculty permit or not?’” Sweetman said.

Although Virginia prohibits collective bargaining for public employees, Anne McLeer, the director of research and strategic planning for Service Employees International Union Local 500, advises faculty members to organize and voice their concerns, “because you’re going to have to hold the university accountable for implementing these recommendations.”