Identifying part-timers

"The concept of part-time faculty as a contingency work force is the most important economic consideration in the use of part-time faculty" (McCabe & Brezner, 1978, p. 63).

The first dilemma facing any researcher who delves into the topic of adjunct faculty is that of defining part-timers, a very difficult task given the fact that "they are a highly fluid work force" (Leslie et al., 1982, p. vi). There is the semantic approach of accumulating colorful euphemisms and analogies: Banachowski's (1996) review of the literature on adjuncts at community colleges yielded an array of less-than-flattering terms, such as "the academic underclass... a corps of unregulated personnel... anchorless street-corner men... M.I.A.'s... [and] gypsy scholars" (p. 2). The list is even longer and more colorful: "pedagogical peonage... docile educational migratory workers... 'homeless' of the academic world" (Spangler, 1990, p. 4) that make up "faceless departments" (Leatherman, 1997, p. A12).

Perhaps more practical is the legalistic approach of deciding which term to use: Spangler (1990) and Gappa (1984) divided faculty into three classes, depending on the employer-employee relationship: permanent (tenure), probationary (tenure-track), and temporary (non-tenure track).

In one of the earliest and best-known studies on adjuncts, Tuckman (1978) developed a classification of part-time instructors according to their aspirations:
* Semiretireds (2.8%): former academics who continue teaching;
* Graduate students (21.2%): teaching assistants;
* Hopeful full-timers (16.6%): those who wanted but could not find full-time work;
* Full-mooners (27.6%): those already full-time elsewhere; this category also includes full-time faculty teaching overloads;
* Homeworkers (6.4%): those who were also primary caregivers at home;
* Part-mooners (13.6%): those working more than one part-time job for various reasons;
* Part-unknowners (11.8%): those who did not fit into the other six categories (i.e., their reasons for holding part-time positions were not known).

Quayle (1978) offered a similar typology:
* educational professionals (35.5%): full-time instructors at other institutions;
* noneducational professionals (26.1%): full-time employees working outside the teaching profession;
* permanent part-timers (38.5%): similar to Tuckman's hopeful full-timers.

Leslie, Kellams, and Gunne (1982) classified "hopefuls" as "careerists," those who want full-time work but are unable to land such a position. This study concentrates on the hopeful full-timers because this group is the most susceptible to exploitation:

Our studies indicate that the percentage of hopeful full-timers is field sensitive and that fields with an excess supply of full-time faculty also tend to have the largest percentage of hopeful full-timers. Our research also shows that this group is one of the most dissatisfied with a part-time position. (Tuckman & Pickerill, 1988, p. 108)

Even after settling on a single definition of part-timers, it is no small task to count them. Taken as a whole, adjuncts account for 40-50% of all faculty members across all institution types (E. Benjamin, 1998; Lee, 1997), a trend which is increasing (Chronicle of Higher Education, 1995). The figures have also been disaggregated by institutional type: community college faculties consist of 60-75% adjuncts (Lee, 1997; Palmer, 1987; USDE/NCES, 1996; Williamson & Mulholland, 1993) -- an increase of 210% from 1970 to 1995 (Schneider, 1998a). In contrast, part-timers at four-year institutions account for 29% (USDE/NCES, 1996), which is still a 69% rise over that same period (Schneider, 1998a). The numbers are even more staggering when teaching and research assistants are included: 48% at four-year public and 44% at private institutions (Lee, 1997). Counted by classroom hours, part-time instructors do 58% of all noncredit teaching, 53% of off-campus instruction, 28% of all undergraduate, and 21% of all graduate instruction (Leslie et al., 1982). Nagy (1993) cautioned that most censuses of part-time faculty count heads rather than positions and teaching loads, so that the percentages in other studies may misrepresent the amount of teaching actually provided by full-timers.
Some research has attempted to analyze the use of adjuncts by discipline. As a rule, part-time teaching varies by discipline but has been increasing across the board (Franklin et al., 1988; Leslie et al., 1982). Adjuncts are used most in the humanities (CGU, 1998), although there is projected growth in fields catering to non-traditional students, such as cooperative instruction and noncredit courses (Leslie et al., 1982).

Central issues

"Part-time faculty offer us 'fine wine at discount prices'" (Gappa & Leslie, 1993, p. 141).

Nonfinancial implications

A number of key issues spring to the forefront when the use of adjunct faculty is discussed. The first issue is non-financial but has potential long-term implications for the institution as well as all of higher education: teaching quality. "Conventional wisdom" in the popular press suggests that a faculty consisting primarily of part-timers provides a mediocre educational experience (Grajewski, 1989; Simpson, 1991) and threatens the tenure system (Mangan, 1991). However, this is "a myth" (Gappa & Leslie, 1993, p. 125), given "a limited amount of evidence to support the contention that part-time instructors are less effective teachers" (Banachowski, 1996, p. 9). In fact, Iadevaia (1991) found no significant difference in student success rate between part- and full-time faculty. The nonfinancial issues that should be of most concern to college and university leaders include "the general loss of control and the inability of institutions to staff their programs with the faculty best able to accomplish the institution's goals" (Gappa & Leslie, 1993, p. 95); the exclusion of part-timers from shared governance, thereby giving adjuncts no say in how their conditions can be improved (Mangan, 1991); and a general lack of respect and recognition of the contributions of adjuncts (Bethke & Nelson, 1994).


"Pay for part-time teaching is well below any standard of equitable compensation" (Gappa & Leslie, 1993, p. 256).

Perhaps the most easily analyzed of all financial issues regarding part-timers in higher education is that of salaries. Both faculty and administrators can use a well-understood common denominator -- the dollar -- to compare this most basic form of compensation.
It would be instructive to begin with current salaries for full-time, tenure-track professors. Annual salaries vary greatly by discipline (Franklin et al., 1988), institutional type (Chronicle of Higher Education, 1995; CGU, 1998), rank, credentials, length of service (Bethke & Nelson, 1994), and gender (Schneider, 1998a). For purposes of comparison, I will note that salaries for assistant professors at Illinois colleges and universities range from $27,000 to $61,000, with an average of $39,900 for 51 institutions ("Faculty Salaries," 1998). Following periods of rather stagnant salary growth (Mumper, 1996), salaries increased 3.4% in 1997-98 -- the highest real gain in the past ten years -- which brought the average salary nationwide for assistant professors to $42,241 (Leatherman, 1998b). Compared to professionals in non-teaching fields, however, college professors earn 42% less (Leatherman, 1998b). It appears that those who pursue a career in higher education do so at a considerable opportunity cost.

That said, the lot of a full-timer is still significantly better than that of a part-timer, whose employment is more contingent on the institution's financial health than on its curricular needs. Economics is "the primary and obvious reason" (Thompson, 1995, p. 4) for using part-timers over full-timers: adjuncts provide a "hedge" or "buffer" against times of fiscal constraint or retrenchment (Gappa & Leslie, 1993; Leslie et al., 1982; Pfannestiel, 1998) while at the same time offering the institution a savings of 33 to 50% in salaries and benefits (Leslie et al., 1982; Thompson, 1995).

There is a veritable potpourri of pay scales for adjuncts (Gappa & Leslie, 1993), although most seem to fit into three types: contact hour, course, and prorated salary (Gappa, 1984; McCabe & Brezner, 1978). While the prorated salary would appear to be the most logical, "strict prorating of pay for part-time faculty is not equitable for full-time faculty" (Gappa, 1984, p. 71) given the range of nonteaching duties that a full-timer has.

Conversely, payment on a per-course basis "does not adequately support or encourage class preparation, office hours or other student contact, curricular or professional development, or collegial involvement" (CGU, 1998, p. 57).

It would be very cumbersome to synthesize the vast assortment of pay scales used for adjuncts; instead, I will let the following summary suffice for illustrative purposes:
* on a per-course basis: as low as $540 and as high as $5,000, with an average range of $800-1,450 overall and $1,000-1,500 at two-year institutions (Gappa & Leslie, 1993; Leslie et al., 1982). More recent data put the range at $1,000-3,000 per course (CGU, 1998);
* on a contact-hour basis: $10-26 per clock hour (Leslie et al., 1982; Spangler, 1990), as opposed to $77 per hour for full-timers (Spangler, 1990);
* on a credit-hour basis: $150-253 (Leslie et al., 1982).

No matter how the figures are analyzed, adjuncts come up short when compared to their full-time colleagues. Part-timers earn "as low as one-tenth of the pro-rata full-time equivalent" (Thompson, 1992), although more studies indicate that the average prorated amount approaches one quarter (Franklin et al., 1988) to one-third (Tompkins et al., 1995) and even as high as one-half of what full-timers earn (CCC, 1996). In addition, part-time wages do not rise as much as those for full-timers, if at all (Leslie et al., 1982; Tuckman & Tuckman, 1981), thereby leading to increasing inequity. One particularly disturbing finding is that the rates cited in McCabe and Brezner's 1978 article were $1,000 per course and $21 to $32 per contact hour, which are not far afield of what is cited in more current literature.

In their battle for equitable pay, adjuncts may fight not only institutional limitations but also external restrictions. In some states, funding formulas for appropriations "constrain the use of part-time faculty... [by] impos[ing] ratios of part- to full-timers" (Leslie et al., 1982, p. 67); as a result, hopeful full-timers often struggle to piece together enough schedules in order to make ends meet (Bob, 1998, p. 10).


"The general rule is that only a minuscule fraction of part-timers qualify for benefits" (Leslie et al., 1982, p. 78).

An often underestimated financial aspect of using part-timers in higher education is the significant savings on the cost of benefits. The term "benefits" is understood to include a wide range of perks, but for the purposes of this study, I have limited its use to items that impact the operating budget. McCabe and Brezner (1978) found that fringe benefits for full-timers could amount to 20% of total direct cost; by extending pro-rata salaries and fringe benefits to part-timers, the added cost would range between 50% and 75%. As such, part-timers with few or no benefits have truly been a bargain.

"Nearly two-thirds of the 211 contracts in [the study] do not accord part-time faculty any of the rights/perquisites accorded full-time faculty" (Rhoades, 1996, p. 644). Institutions justify this practice by asserting that part-timers are getting benefits at their "other" job (Tuckman & Tuckman, 1981). When adjuncts began to populate college classrooms during the advent of two-year institutions, this may well have been a safe assumption, but administrators can no longer make this assertion with confidence.

If afforded benefits, part-timers are more likely to receive leave time, insurance, professional development, tuition waivers, and workspace (Rhoades, 1996). The level of benefits required depends on the state; however, benefits are not always extended to eligible part-timers even if their entire workload constitutes more than the equivalent of a full-time load (Gappa & Leslie, 1993).
Several benefits afforded part-timers may be required by federal or state law, such as worker's compensation, unemployment compensation, and retirement benefits (Gappa & Leslie, 1993; Tuckman & Vogler, 1978), although the latter two vary by state and may be based formulas on the number of hours worked per year (Gappa & Leslie, 1993). Other benefits, such as medical, are rare: as few as 16.6% (Gappa & Leslie, 1993) -- down from 31.9% in the 70s (Tuckman & Vogler, 1978) -- of the adjuncts receive health insurance, and only then if they work more than half-time.

The financial implications of not extending benefits to adjuncts are particularly significant given that they are "supplemental to and calculated on base salary, usually ranging from 5 to 40% [and] are often more susceptible to extra-academic economic influences than base salaries" (Moore & Amey, 1993, p. 2). To make matters worse, the cost of benefits is increasing faster than that of salaries. As such, the decision to offer even a limited array of benefits would carry with it a potentially exorbitant price tag.

Research and productivity

"Faculty productivity over a career is affected by security and by challenge (competition)" (Blackburn, 1979, p. 26).
In light of frequent complaints about how full-time faculty spend their time and how they are compensated for research and service, the issue of productivity of adjuncts merits serious consideration.

The literature indicates that "teaching activity and productivity are at best neutral factors in pay, and at worst, negative predictors of pay" (Fairweather, 1993, p. 46): faculty members who spend 72% of their time (teaching 12 hours or more in class per week) actually received the lowest base salary at all types of institutions, whereas those who spend 34% or more of their time engaged in research earn the highest. In other words, institutions appear to value the faculty's extramural activities more than their classroom performance. There is the danger that some colleges and universities will hire cheaper adjuncts to cover the teaching -- presumably because "part-timers seldom contribute anything to the instructional program beyond direct teaching" (Leslie et al., 1982, p. 4) -- so as to free up more expensive full-timers to conduct research.

Such an approach is a false economy on three accounts. First, it appears that institutions do not expect adjuncts to play the role of researcher. Because adjunct instructors are not eligible for research support at universities, few contribute to this part of academic life. Thus they are a "short-term convenience" because of their hidden costs and the inability of the institution to provide basic services. These include lower scholarly productivity, excessive course loads which impair the quality of teaching, and limited accessibility to students for normal advising. (Spangler, 1990, p. 21)

As a result, adjuncts cannot contribute to the institution's bottom line because they have received little or no financial support or
release time to pursue or apply their own research. This represents a loss of potential knowledge, experiences, and resources to the hiring institution.

Second, it is usually a "given" that teaching and research go together even though full-time faculty members might spend less time in the classroom. However, "research cannot enhance undergraduate teaching when the full-time faculty doing the research are not teaching undergraduate students" (Fairweather, 1993, p. 44). Whereas adjuncts spend too much time in class and not enough time in research, full-timers are unable to apply their research to classroom situations because of their lighter teaching loads. As such, the institutions do not benefit directly from the very research that they have underwritten.

There is yet a third cost to the institution, this one long-range: as the mix of faculty shifts more toward adjuncts, there will be a loss of faculty leadership in areas that require a deep understanding of the institutional mission. "The number of full-time faculty members must be adequate to provide effective teaching, advising, and scholarly or creative activity, as well as appropriate to participate in curriculum development, policy making, and institutional planning and programming" (Nagy, 1993, p. 1). Once this critical mass of full-timers is lost, the institution will be unable to recover this invaluable accumulation of culture, tradition, knowledge, and skills.
From an economic standpoint, it may make good sense to stock classrooms with low-cost part-timers and allow full-timers to engage in research that contributes to the bottom line. There may be short term benefits and savings from this strategy, but over time students, faculty, and the institution are all the losers in this vicious circle.

Support and services

The use of adjuncts does not only suppose direct savings on an institution's operating budget; there are significant savings on indirect costs as well. Aside from salaries and benefits, the major complaint among adjuncts is the lack of suitable office space for class planning and student conferences (CCC, 1996; Gappa & Leslie, 1993; Gappa, 1984). At best, part-timers share an office or work area with one or two colleagues; at worst, up to forty teaching assistants share one office (Crannell, 1998). There are horror stories of adjuncts using theater dressing rooms, departmental lounges, and even cars for holding conferences and storing materials (Bob, 1998; Crannell, 1998). Predictably, about half the part-time faculty have no scheduled office hours (E. Benjamin, 1998).

The issue of support goes beyond work space. Adjuncts seldom have access to even the most basic technology (Gappa, 1984) such as phones, computers, or e-mail. It should come as no surprise that part-timers rarely have secretarial support, despite the fact that administration has grown by 63% between 1976-1995, "almost four times greater than the 16% increase in 'nonprofessional' sectors [of colleges and universities], such as technical, clerical, secretarial, and maintenance work" (Schneider, 1998a, p. A14).
On a related note, institutions invest relatively little in professional development activities for adjuncts. In fact, adjuncts receive less attention than graduate teaching assistants (Crannell, 1998). When there is a program for staff development, such as in-services, these are usually found at the departmental level (Gappa & Leslie, 1993).

As was the case with benefits, some institutions justify the partial or total lack of support by arguing that part-timers must be working elsewhere. Office space, phones, and computers may be at a premium at most institutions, but the negative impact on morale, productivity, and student-teacher relations counteracts any potential savings.