Adjunct instructors have become an increasingly important component of the faculty in colleges and universities. With the expected financial savings that adjuncts bring to an institution come numerous issues that affect the bottom line: equitable pay, access to benefits, job satisfaction and security, curricular fragmentation, fairness, and heavier administrative loads for full-time faculty. In this paper I will address these issues, examine the financial implications, and present a series of recommendations that institutions may consider in their efforts to improve working conditions for part-time faculty members.


"Large-scale use of part-time faculty creates all of the problems connected with an invisible workforce which turns over continuously" (Leslie, Kellams, & Gunne, 1982, p. 72).

Recent negotiations between the University of Illinois at Chicago and Stanley Fish, a leading critical theorist in Duke's Department of English (Rubin 1998), highlighted the lucrative salaries that high-profile academicians are now commanding. Other "academic superstars" (Burgan, 1988) playing the free-agent market include Harvard's Robert Barro, who was offered (and subsequently rejected) $300,000 a year plus perks to join Columbia; Johns Hopkins' Mark Strand, $150,000 by the University of Chicago; and Sanford Levinson of the University of Texas, a reported $250,000 by Boston University (Schneider, 1998b). While such tantalizing offers by flagship institutions certainly have had a negative impact on morale among the professoriate in general (Burgan, 1988), the current bidding wars only serve as a sobering contrast with what Wayne Booth calls "the major scandal in higher education today" (Lovitt, 1986, p. i), the increasing use and abuse of part-time (or "adjunct") faculty on campuses across the country. In this paper I will focus on adjuncts who teach undergraduate students, by far the largest contingent of part-time faculty (Crannell, 1998). I will trace the recent changes in the composition of the faculty, provide a review of the literature on the financial implications of hiring part-timers, discuss the central issues as they pertain to institutional budgeting, provide the results of a survey of local institutions' policies on the treatment of adjuncts, summarize current developments in institutional hiring practices, and analyze the financial implications of these policies. I will close with a list of recommendations.

There is little question that this issue is of paramount importance to budgeting in higher education, given the fact that its "largest component is in personnel expenditures, and faculty comprise the largest portion of personnel expenditures" (Jordan & Layzell, 1992, p. 15), cited between 35% and 50% of an institution's operating costs (McCabe & Brezner, 1978; Mumper, 1996).

Adjuncts are a valuable and increasingly necessary resource in the current higher education environment, one that is in a state of flux with shifting demographics, greater numbers of nontraditional students (Fuller, 1993; Hodgkinson, 1993), and changes in demand for certain disciplines (McCabe & Brezner, 1978). Full-time faculty face downsizing, retrenchment, calls for tenure reform (Fischer, 1997; Gilliland, 1997; Yarmolinsky, 1996), and developments in distance learning and may see their jobs significantly restructured over the next decades (Guskin, 1994).

Historical context

With the emergence of the college teaching profession in the late nineteenth century, educational preparation and classroom performance took a radical turn from the classical model taught by an assortment of clergymen-cum-professors. The most important development in this area, thanks to the German research model and the Morrill Act, was disciplinary specialization: there were new subjects to teach, which required specialized faculty. The Ph.D. became the requisite credential as career academics replaced clergy in faculty positions. Research led to the production of knowledge rather than merely its transmission, and new classroom techniques, such as lectures and laboratories, quickly replaced recitations as favored methods of delivery. The faculty viewed themselves as professional educators and demanded lighter teaching loads in order to conduct research and publish. Although not substantially better off economically than their clerical predecessors, professional faculty were poised to tap into state and federal sources for research funds, particularly in the early twentieth century.

The issue of academic freedom emerged during this period of transition. An American variation on the German concept of Lehrfreiheit, academic freedom was an argument to protect a professor from persecution for divergent thought within his chosen discipline. Test cases involving Edward Ross, Richard Ely, and Scott Naering fueled the tenure movement, which was designed to provide instructors with job security (Brubacher & Rudy, 1976; Rudolph, 1962/1990; Veysey, 1965) and eventually evolved into full-time, and virtually lifetime, employment for professors. However, "since World War II, the use of part-time faculty has been vastly extended, for various reasons" (Gappa, 1984, p. 3), including rapid growth in enrollments without a concomitant growth in scholars to teach this new constituency.

With the advent of the community college system in the early 1960s, adjuncts served as a temporary solution to an acute teacher shortage. Part-time faculty members were pressed into service from business, industry, and local high schools (Gappa, 1984) in response to "an expanding population and a decreasing number of comprehensively prepared persons available for full-time college teaching positions" (Gowin, 1961, p.1).

The reason for hiring adjuncts was educational rather than financial: due to the shortage in full-time faculty at that time, it was more feasible to recruit faculty from the ranks of local schools and businesses (Thompson, 1995).
During the economic crisis of the 1970s and early 80s, the teaching supply and demand relationship was tipped in the opposite direction: students (the demand) continued to enroll, while graduate programs (the supply) "continued... to churn out Ph.D.s in the humanities and social sciences, long after the market for academic employment was saturated" (Gappa, 1984, p. 4). The subsequent overabundance of instructors resulted in a buyer's market for institutions, which immediately capitalized on an inexpensive pool of talented labor to ease the current financial strain.

Despite the recent economic recovery of American higher education, there has been no return to the halcyon days of full-time employment. Instead, there has been "a concerted effort to replace full-time tenure-track faculty with part-time positions" (Franklin, Laurence, & Denham, 1988, p. 15). In fact, the "adjunct problem" has grown worse: whereas part-timers comprised 22% of the teaching cadre in 1970-1 and 32% in 1982-3, this percentage had soared to 42% in 1992 (Schuster, 1998; U.S. Department of Education/National Center for Education Statistics [USDE/NCES], 1996). By one estimate, part-timers may now represent 45% of all faculty -- and 64% of faculty in community colleges (USDE/NCES, 1996) -- and could account for 55% by the year 2010 (Schuster, 1998).

Literature review

The vast amount of literature on part-time employment in higher education can be grouped according to the type of sources. Professional studies comprise one major group and can be subdivided into two categories: those with a general focus and those that dwell on specific issues. Among the former category, many have been conducted at the institutional or statewide level, although three (Gappa, 1984; Gappa & Leslie, 1993; Leslie et al., 1982) are national in scope. Gappa's 1984 overview is a brief but excellent introduction into the world of part-time teaching. It synthesized earlier studies in an attempt to offer a national profile of adjuncts and advanced several areas in need of improvement. Gappa and Leslie's 1993 study is more comprehensive but focused more on the human resource development aspect than the financial impact, although fiscal matters are revisited throughout this excellent study. Leslie, Kellams, and Gunne (1982) provided a review of the literature on part-time employment in business. In an interesting observation, they noted that part-time work -- generally repetitive and unspecialized in nature -- should run contrary to "the fully professionalized environment of a major research university, with interlocking job responsibilities thrust upon the professor" (p. 12). The authors also analyzed trends in part-time employment as well as the legal and human resources aspects. This study is dated and both sparse and admittedly vague (p. 145) on recommendations, but its coverage of the issues is timeless. One other general study is worthy of mention: Banachowski's (1996) significant review of the literature on adjuncts at community colleges, the sector with the largest contingent of part-timers.

Among the second category, there are numerous articles, papers, and studies that target a variety of faculty issues related to finances: budgetary concerns (McCabe & Brezner, 1978; Simpson, 1991), legal aspects (Andes, 1981), unbalanced part- to full-time faculty ratios (Franklin et al., 1988; Williamson & Mulholland, 1993), fairness (Biles & Tuckman, 1986; Cassebaum, 1995; Cohen, 1992; Hamermesh, 1988; Spangler, 1990; Tompkins, Gaulding, & Gehr, 1995; Twigg, 1989), productivity (Jordan & Layzell, 1992), and staff development (Bagwell & Elioff, 1981; Banachowski, 1996; Emmet, 1981; Ostertag, 1991; Thompson, 1995; Todd, 1996; Yantz & Bechtold, 1994).

Another group of studies dwells exclusively on labor rights and tends to be politically charged. This category includes works by Rhoades (1996), the Conference on the Growing Use of Part-Time and Adjunct Faculty [CGU] (1998), and the California Community Colleges [CCC] (1996). Rhoades (1996), for example, looked at the problem from a labor protectionist standpoint, analyzing 211 faculty contracts for language on the use of part-timers. He found that full-time faculty had little say over the hiring of adjuncts; unions naturally fight conversions of full-time positions to part-time status in times of economic hardship or attrition; administrators have "extensive... managerial discretion" (p. 642) in making such conversions; and that part-timers receive inadequate -- or even no -- attention in faculty contracts.

The press is yet another source of data on adjuncts: the professional press, such as The Chronicle of Higher Education, provides news on current events in the labor market, particularly regarding appointments, teaching/research issues, unionization efforts, tenure, and academic freedom. The popular press (i.e., The Chicago Tribune) is more sporadic in its coverage; its feature articles in newspapers (Deardorff, 1997) and weekly magazines (Bob, 1998) focus almost exclusively on "hopeful full-timers" (see below).

The largest gap in the literature appears to be the dearth of concrete financial responses: most authors describe the need to provide more resources for the growing contingent of adjuncts, but few suggest where the resources to accomplish this will come from. One exception that did address a major financial initiative geared toward adjuncts was authored by Spangler (1990), who pointed to efforts such as California's $140 million commitment to fund tenured positions for 1,500 teachers as a potential model for ameliorating the part-time dilemma.