Adjunct professors struggle for better working conditions

Members of the University of Connecticut graduate union, graduate senate, faculty, and graduate programs gathered outside of Wilbur Cross on Wed., Nov. 18 for academic freedom as defined by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP). (Courtesy/GEU-UAW UConn Graduate Employee Union Facebook page)

Members of the University of Connecticut graduate union, graduate senate, faculty, and graduate programs gathered outside of Wilbur Cross on Wed., Nov. 18 for academic freedom as defined by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP). (Courtesy/GEU-UAW UConn Graduate Employee Union Facebook page)

Mary Gallucci is an adjunct professor of English at the University of Connecticut, and she needs 10 consecutive semesters teaching in order to be promoted. How close is Gallucci to those 10 semesters?

“I probably had almost 10 and then I had a baby,” Gallucci said. “There’s no family leave when you’re an adjunct. You just don’t get paid. You stay at home and you don’t get paid. So I had gone off and on the track, and then when I got bumped for the rescission, I had to start all over again.”

This means that the university has the power, by law, to keep adjuncts in a stasis of temporary work without promotion, by letting go and bringing back adjunct professors before they reach their 10-semester landmark.

Gallucci said that she has heard of this practice taking place both at Storrs and at regional campuses. She also said that APIRs (Assistant Professors in Residence), who are strictly teaching faculty with a higher salary than adjuncts (between $40,000 and $50,000 a year) have been dropped and then called back as adjuncts.

Essentially, demoted.

Gallucci is also an adjunct professor at Eastern Connecticut State University (ECSU). Her story is indicative of a common plight for adjunct professors.

With a Masters from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and a PhD from UConn, Gallucci has been a long-time, part-time professor, teaching as a graduate student and defending her thesis in 1997.

With UConn’s AAUP (American Association of University Professors) currently in negotiations with the university for a new contract, Gallucci comes from a place of experience as an adjunct and authority as an executive board member of the AAUP.

So what’s it like being an adjunct professor? The first thing that came to mind for Gallucci was her office space, which she shares with her husband.

“To me, a crucial part of teaching is having a great office,” Gallucci said. “I need all my books around, I like to meet students and even though adjuncts in the English department do have it better at UConn than some institutions – because they do get an office space – they often share, like three people in a small space.”

There is no guarantee in the existing contract that professors will have adequate office space. In addition, many adjunct professors are not able to easily obtain research opportunities, as well as support for writing essays, articles and books, significantly hindering any efforts to advance their career.

A survey conducted last year by UConn’s AAUP chapter of 900 faculty members found that: “Adjunct faculty spoke out loud and clear about their poor pay and working conditions and the need for improvements to be made.”

For the administration’s part, spokesperson Stephanie Reitz reflected the university’s wish to refrain from commenting on a developing contract, saying “we won’t be at liberty to discuss specifics.”

“There is a proposal on the table by the university that pertains to adjuncts, and which would extend certain rights under the contract,” Reitz said. “These include the right to advance notice for non-renewal of their services, the opportunity for multi-year contracts and some other new benefits.”

Christopher Henderson, an internal organizer for UConn’s AAUP chapter, denied the idea that adjunct professors are not as capable as full time professors.

“There is an increase nationally and at UConn in hiring adjunct faculty members to cover courses particularly as a cost-saving measure,” Henderson said. “Adjunct faculty provide an on-par educational experience for students equal to any tenured or full time instructor. Many of them are equally academically credentialed.”

Gallucci argued a point that colleagues of hers agree on: at the University of Connecticut, there is a significant group of “long-term adjuncts,” which sounds paradoxical, and, according to Gallucci, “signifies that there needs to be more full-time positions” because “we’re not just temps that come on and off as there’s a need – there’s a constant need.”

When asked if she felt a sense of job security, Gallucci laughed.

“No. In fact, the last time they had a big rescission, I got dropped, because they upped the numbers in all courses for full-timers and the longest term adjuncts,” Gallucci said.

Gallucci recognized a positive practice within the English department, which is their recognition of longer-term adjuncts first. She went on to criticize UConn’s “ten consecutive semesters” rule for adjunct professors. In effect, this means that adjunct professors who teach for ten semesters in a row qualify for a three-year-contract keeping them at the top of the pecking order for classes, although their salary doesn’t change, and they are still technically adjuncts, meaning they can be dropped at any time.

According to the standing contract, adjuncts are paid per credit taught. The number, which the AAUP is hoping to increase in their negotiations for the new contract, is presently, at minimum, $1,556 per credit. This means, for Gallucci in particular, who teaches two classes at UConn per semester, around $5,000 a class and $20,000 a year with no benefits. These earnings fall considerably short of the median $31,357 yearly salary for adjunct professors nationwide, according to PayScale.

Henderson made clear that UConn adjunct faculty have a limit on the number of credits they can teach in a semester: eight. This has made it necessary for employees like Gallucci to take other jobs.

“At UConn so many adjunct faculty make a living by working at multiple institutions of higher learning,” Henderson said. “They may teach two three-credit classes at UConn and another two three-credit classes at ECSU.”

To compensate for UConn’s below-average salary, Gallucci continues to work as a longtime adjunct at ECSU, where, instead of ten consecutive semesters, the rule is 60 credits total. While this means that adjuncts can pick up where they left off, if, for example, they were pregnant, it’s also a more difficult milestone to attain if some of their classes are worth one credit, as is the case with Gallucci.

To this point, The Huffington Post writes “…among the more than 30,000 contingent professors with terminal degrees who are currently teaching part time but want a full-time academic position, more than 60 percent report having one or more other jobs.”

Part of the problem, Gallucci says, is the priorities of the university, which she contends is following a corporate model that prioritizes STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) over the humanities.

“They (the Board of Trustees) cut a database called Artstor,” Gallucci said. “When they cut it, one of the librarians said to me, ‘You’re at Eastern, they still have it.’ You’re going to tell me that Eastern’s got better resources than a research one university? This lawyer they hired to negotiate (the new contract), that’s ten years of Artstor. They’ve allotted a quarter of a million for the guy to negotiate our contract.”

An area of concern for the AAUP that coincides with contract negotiations is academic freedom, which Gallucci says is nonexistent for adjunct professors, since they can be fired without ramifications.

“It does seem that job security, and that’s what tenure is, preserves academic freedom, which is the right to criticize your own institution,” Gallucci said.

“I think people become afraid, and there’s a chilling effect,” Gallucci went on. “There’s a kind of corporate direction the university seems to be going in, and with that comes a kind of idea of loyalty, and don’t speak out against the Husky brand.”

This can be seen in an associate professor in the English department’s reluctance to go on the record for this article. Speaking under the condition of anonymity, the professor echoed a sentiment of Gallucci’s: UConn is shy about its characterization of their staff as adjuncts.

“The 2016 UConn fact sheet (disingenuously) lists 189 part-time ‘faculty and staff’ at UConn but then includes a tiny footnote that says, in fact, ‘an additional 679 adjunct lecturers teach one or more courses at Storrs and regional campuses,’” the professor wrote in an email.

Is restricting academic freedom a motivation for preventing professors from getting tenure and achieving some semblance of job security? Gallucci said it could be. Simultaneously, the AAUP is in a sensitive situation, as they want to promote full-time, tenure jobs, and they want to improve working conditions for adjunct professors; it may be impossible to do both.

“The thing that could be bad is it could enshrine adjuncts,” Gallucci said. “I think the AAUP’s position is they want to promote full-time, tenure track jobs, so they would hope that the adjunct numbers are small. It makes some adjuncts feel unprotected. Nobody’s advocating for them because the AAUP is maybe in denial.”

What can be done to improve the state of adjunct professors at UConn?

“It would help a great deal for distinctions to be made between a part-time person hired to fill a sudden gap and someone who is hired to fill a spot that will in all likelihood continue,” the anonymous professor wrote. “One way to do this, for example, would be to have a process where part-time faculty, after a number of semesters…would need to be considered for a permanent part-time position. This way, experienced part-time faculty could be assured of steady work…maybe they could have a raise at this point.”

Henderson mentioned other solutions, such as “adequate notice of non-reappointment.”

The Board of Trustees said that by 2019, the president will make over $800,000. I’d have to work 40 years to make what she (Herbst) makes in one year.
— Mary Gallucci

“Through negotiations we are looking to rectify some of this by providing a process by which non-reappointed adjunct faculty members will be notified of the reasons for non-reappointment or re-assignment,” Henderson said.

The idea would be to then have the adjunct faculty member meet with their department head to be provided the reasons for actions taken against them, whereupon they can make their case to the Dean, who would have the power to overturn a non-reappointment.

As of right now, Gallucci called being an adjunct professor “poison” on a job application. The anonymous professor also made note of the stigma attached to the word “adjunct.”

“I work with part-time faculty, and many or most would prefer you use the term ‘part-time faculty’ or something other than ‘adjunct,’ which increasingly has negative connotations,” the professor said.

With tuition set to increase 31 percent next year, administrative salaries continuing to rise and bonuses being distributed, Gallucci and others are noticing the disconnect between the salaries of adjunct professors/faculty and high-ranking university administrators.

“The Board of Trustees said that by 2019, the president will make over $800,000. I’d have to work 40 years to make what she (Herbst) makes in one year,” Gallucci said. “It used to be a feminist thing. How many years would a woman have to work to get what a man’s doing in the same job? I just think, how many years would an adjunct have to work to make what the president’s making?”

By the numbers, Herbst makes more than an adjunct makes teaching a semester’s worth of classes to students, and it would take 28 years for an adjunct professor at UConn to make what Herbst makes in one year. Furthermore, in 2014, the median yearly salary for high-ranking UConn administrators was $272,774. There has been no talk of reducing or freezing these salaries.

Henderson invoked student relationships on the matter of adjunct professor working conditions.

“You can imagine how disappointing it would be for a student in one semester to develop a deep and meaningful relationship with an adjunct faculty member only to find out when they are looking for a letter of recommendation to grad school that the adjunct faculty member has not been reappointed,” Henderson said. “UConn should continue to be a place that respects faculty working conditions and thus student learning conditions."

CORRECTION: An earlier edition of the story reported that adjunct professors were limited to eight courses per semester. They are limited to eight credits per semester, not eight courses.


Sten Spinella is a senior staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email atsten.spinella@uconn.edu.