Adjunct professors press for more full-time higher ed jobs

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STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, JUNE 17, 2015…..Relaying stories of adjunct faculty at community colleges unable to pay for dental work or more than one meal in a day, members of the higher education community on Wednesday pushed lawmakers to increase the job prospects for part-time college educators.

Advocacy for better pay and job security for part-time college educators has gained traction, Higher Education Committee member Rep. Smitty Pignatelli told advocates, while saying he wanted firm figures on the subject.

“When I came out of graduate school with my master’s degree I slid right into the adjunct track,” said Mike Dubson, whose experience attending community college made him want to teach there. Of his more than a decade as an adjunct, Dubson said, “What that meant was eight classes at four different campuses; working out of the back of my car as my office; taking abuse and insult from administrators and deans… always being afraid of not having enough work.”

“I ended up running up what I now call my adjunct debt,” said Dubson, whose experience brightened after he was hired fulltime at Bunker Hill Community College in 2006. Listing his subsequent accomplishments, Dubson said, “I have made a lot of people eat their words: The people who said, ‘You’re not good enough.’ ”

Legislation sponsored by Rep. Paul Mark, a Peru Democrat, would require public higher education institutions to increase fulltime faculty so that by 2021 three quarters of substantial undergraduate courses on each campus are taught by tenured or tenure-track faculty. The bill (H 1055) would also tie adjunct faculty pay to a prorated amount of what fulltime faculty make.

“It is shameful that the Commonwealth allows this exploitation of highly trained men and women to continue,” said Massachusetts Teachers Association President Barbara Madeloni, who taught labor studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and said adjuncts make “poverty wages” without benefits.

UMass Amherst architecture and history professor Max Page said his father was a UMass Amherst faculty member and 90 percent of the faculty were in the tenure system for most of his father’s career. Page said that now 70 percent of the faculty at UMass Amherst are tenured or tenure-track, while at community colleges about 70 percent are adjuncts. The ratio at state universities is in between that of community colleges and UMass, Madeloni said, and she said there are far fewer adjunct educators in private colleges.

Higher Education House Chairman Tom Sannicandro, an Ashland Democrat, said he has had discussions with committee members and advocates and hopes to take an “incremental” step toward addressing the issue.

“I’d like to be able to put something out of the committee that makes some incremental move to fix that problem,” Sannicandro told the News Service after the hearing. “I think it is a problem. I think we’re treating adjuncts unfairly in a lot of ways, and I think if we can improve their lives we can improve the lives of our students, but it’s a big lift financially and we’ve got to figure out how do we do that.”

Pignatelli, a Lenox Democrat, said he wanted more data on how extensively adjunct faculty is used throughout the public and private higher education system.

“I think there’s some momentum going here, but we really need to get into the weeds,” Pignatelli said.

Robert Whitman, an English professor at Bunker Hill Community College, said he saw an adjunct teacher cry after her lunch went missing from the refrigerator because it was her only meal of the day, and another adjunct showed him two rotting teeth – the result, Whitman said, of no dental coverage for years.

New Hampshire Rep. Eric Estevez, a Pelham Republican who is an adjunct at Bunker Hill, said educators like him are “being exploited in both pay and respect.” Elected last year, Estevez, who said he gives away the small stipend he receives for his legislative position, said he views the New Hampshire House as a fulltime job and a “public service.”

Bunker Hill pays $3,200 per course, Estevez told the News Service.

Madeloni said she does not want student fees and tuition to shoulder the burden of funding fulltime faculty hires.

“We are currently in an austerity narrative, which is inaccurate. There are funds out there. We just need to look at a more equitable tax system,” Madeloni told the News Service after the hearing. She said, “In an austerity context, which is where public higher ed is right now, there is an incentive to have more courses that are going to feed money back into the department. There’s also an incentive to not pay the people who teach those courses very much money.”

Copyright 2015 State House News Service

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