03/22/2010

AFT Survey Looks at Part-Time and Adjunct Faculty Issues

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One of the first national surveys of part-time and adjunct higher education faculty shows that there is widespread concern about working conditions, job security and opportunity for professional growth, although a majority are committed to their profession because they enjoy teaching.

The American Academic survey released March 22 by the AFT aims to address three fundamental questions: Who are part-time and adjunct faculty members? Under what conditions do they work? And, how do they view their work and the challenges they face on campus? The survey is a national sample of 500 part-time and adjunct faculty employed at two- and four-year public and private nonprofit higher education institutions.

"Because part-time and adjunct faculty now comprise three-quarters of the teaching force in our colleges and universities, their concerns cannot be ignored," says Sandra Schroeder, chair of the AFT Higher Education program and policy council, president of AFT Washington and an AFT vice president. "The concerns of part-time and adjunct faculty speak to the issue of the continued, harmful disinvestment in our higher education faculty, which, ultimately, will impact students."

AFT president Randi Weingarten says, "What is happening in our colleges and universities today is directly linked to our country's economic future. Adjunct and part-time faculty play such a critical role in educating our college students, and we must work to ensure that they are fully supported."

Says Guy Molyneux of Hart Research Associates, which conducted the survey on behalf of the AFT, "Throughout the survey, we find that there is considerable variation within the adjunct and part-time faculty ranks. We consistently see pronounced differences—in areas such as job satisfaction, for example—between those who prefer to teach part time and those who would like to teach full time."

Highlights of the survey are:

  • Most of those surveyed—57 percent—said they are in their jobs primarily because they like teaching and not primarily for the money. Still, most are not satisfied with their working conditions, which they believe are inadequate.
  • About 50 percent of part-time and adjunct faculty prefer part-time teaching, while 47 percent would like to have full-time teaching jobs. Differences in survey responses surfaced repeatedly between these two groups.
  • Job satisfaction is fairly high (about 60 percent overall), although satisfaction varies considerably between those who would prefer full-time employment (49 percent are very or mainly satisfied) and those who prefer to work part time (75 percent).
  • Bread-and-butter issues are a major concern—about 57 percent of those surveyed said their salaries fall short, 28 percent said they receive health insurance on the job, and only 39 percent said they have retirement benefits through their employment.
  • Job security is a major concern, with 41 percent saying their job security falls short of expectations.

Previous AFT reports have demonstrated that colleges and universities increasingly rely on contingent faculty and instructors who work without fair wages, job security and professional supports. Many part-time and adjunct faculty receive low wages and may have to teach at more than one institution to patch together a living, which may make them less available to students.

"The survey confirms something all of us who work side by side with adjunct colleagues know: They are committed teachers. But it also exposes how universities have exploited that commitment and imposed unacceptable, unprofessional conditions on the majority of the faculty," says Barbara Bowen, president of the Professional Staff Congress at the City University of New York and an AFT vice president.

This report is the second in a series on the higher education workforce in colleges and universities. Each issue in the AFT's American Academic series will explore different aspects of trends in hiring, compensation and working conditions among the increasingly diverse higher education workforce. More higher education data can be found on the AFT's Higher Education Data Center Web site.

The AFT is committed to building a stronger higher education system for students, faculty and the community. The AFT's Faculty and College Excellence (FACE) campaign aims to achieve pay and professional equity for contingent faculty, and to ensure more full-time tenure-track faculty jobs through legislative action, collective bargaining and public education. A full copy of this survey, as well as previously released reports, can be found on the FACE Web site. [AFT press release]

March 22, 2010