Adjunct jobs get more important for Ph.D students

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Part-time professors, known as adjuncts, are used at Lehigh much less than at other institutions, particularly those with fewer financial resources. Yet, the dramatic slowdown in the hiring of tenure-track faculty has great implications for Lehigh doctoral students who will soon be looking for full-time jobs in academia.

Unlike both tenure and non-tenure-track full-time faculty, adjunct professors are paid by the class, rather than with full salaries, and are given no benefits, such as health insurance or retirement.

At Lehigh, full-time faculty include tenure-track faculty, such as assistant, associate and full professors, and non-tenure-track faculty, such as lecturers and professors of practice. All full-time faculty receive a salary, however tenure-track faculty are required to teach and research, while non-tenure-track faculty are not.

According to Patrick Farrell, the provost and vice president for academic affairs, and Diane Hyland, the senior associate dean for faculty and staff in the College of Arts and Sciences, the use of adjunct professors is far less prevalent at Lehigh than at other institutions. Hyland said in the College of Arts and Sciences, 59 adjuncts were employed for undergraduate courses in the Fall 2014 semester and 67 in the Spring of 2015 semester. Of these instructors, 45 taught courses both semesters, 14 taught only in the fall and 22 only in the spring.

As a result, 81 undergraduate courses in the fall of 2014 and 94 in the spring of 2015 were taught by adjunct professors.

Farrell said most adjuncts across all four colleges are professionals with full-time jobs outside of academia. They, as a result, use their real world experience to teach specialized courses.

“Their experience in that field is really valuable to bring to the classroom,” Farrell said. “They’re not interested in becoming full-time faculty members and may not have the right credentials, but have great credentials to bring some of that practical experience into the classroom.”

Examples of adjunct professors at Lehigh can be found in the journalism department. Bill White, who is a columnist for The Morning Call, teaches Writing for the Media I, and the Baker Institute for Entrepreneurship’s Alan Jennings, who is the executive director of the Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley, taught a course called Social Entrepreneurship last fall.

Adjunct professors will also be used when there is an unusually high number of students in one particular subject. According to Hyland, due to the unusually large number of incoming first-year students this year, the university needed to hire adjuncts to teach English and math courses.

“There are some universities, not Lehigh, that have gone much further and have aggressively used adjuncts to replace a faculty, and we try to avoid that,” Farrell said.

Although an adjunct professor may teach a course usually taught by a tenure-track professor who is on leave or recently retired and a search for a replacement is being conducted, Lehigh does not see adjuncts as a long-term replacement for these faculty.

According to a PBS news report, 80 percent of all professors nationally in 1970 were tenure-track faculty, but today only about 30 percent are. Furthermore, about half of all professors nationally are adjunct professors.

Farrell said he attributes this trend — particularly in state institutions — to state government cutbacks toward education since the economic downturn. Farrell said this can negatively affect the quality of instruction a student may get.

Christine Pense, the dean of humanities and social sciences at Northampton Community College and a Lehigh alumnus, said the college began increasingly using adjuncts around the 2008 economic downturn due to declining enrollment and the need for expertise. Pense said Northampton’s proportion of adjunct faculty is about the same as other community colleges, and it often uses adjuncts to teach multiple sections of a given class.

However, while the school still conducts searches for full-time faculty, she said reduced funding from the state does increase the need to use adjuncts.

Because adjuncts are paid by the course, their pay is often insufficient to support a family. They often have to teach at several different colleges to make a sufficient living. According to the PBS report, some adjunct professors make as little as $20,000 annually and often need public financial assistance. Lehigh’s College of Arts and Sciences’ pay scale for adjuncts is as follows:

  • Adjunct Lecturers- 0 to 3 years of experience: $1,250/credit
  • Adjunct Lecturers- over 3 years of experience: $1,350-$2,000/credit
  • Adjunct Professors- 0 to 3 years of experience: $1,350/credit
  • Adjunct Professors- over 3 years of experience: $1,700-$2,700/credit
  • Distinguished Professors or individuals with equivalent professional experience hired as adjuncts: negotiable.

Adjunct professors have a terminal degree in their field, which is the highest academic degree one can obtain in a field, while adjunct lecturers typically do not.

John Savage, an associate professor of history, said while Lehigh is known to pay better than other institutions in the Lehigh Valley because of its financial resources, it should pay adjuncts better wages.

“Even though our budgets have been under pressure from all different sides, we have to recognize that teaching as an adjunct is not just a temporary and supplementary type of activity for Ph.Ds or soon to be Ph.Ds, but also a main source of income over a longer period of time for many people,” Savage said. “Given that reality, that its not associated with benefits, with job security. Therefore it seems the least we could do is offset some of that insecurity with somewhat higher pay scale.”

There have been efforts to unionize adjuncts nationally in order to increase their pay, but professors and administrators interviewed declined to weigh in.

This decline in hiring tenure-track faculty across the country does worry many in graduate programs at Lehigh. This affects graduate students getting tenure-track jobs.

According to the English department website, of the 48 students who received a doctorate’s degree in English from 2006-2014, 13 received tenure-track positions, five renewable full-time academic positions, 13 are temporary adjuncts, 10 have found alternate academic positions, and seven have left academia or are currently looking for work.

The majority of the 13 students who did receive tenure-track positions are at smaller state universities such as Kutztown University, Sheppard University and Austin Peay State University. Savage said the department goes to great lengths to help inform graduates of this reality and help put them in a position in which employment is obtainable.

This includes making them pass qualifying exams in a wide range of topics, so they will be prepared to teach a wide variety of courses at a college, as well as informing them of other career options outside academia.

Patrick Grubbs, a Lehigh doctoral student, who has finished his coursework and is now working on his dissertation, has been an adjunct professor at Lehigh and Northampton Community College for the last three years. He is currently applying for tenure-track jobs at various universities across the country.

He said his adjunct position has greatly helped him by giving him opportunities to teach a wide variety of courses.

“To get a job in this field now, the expectation is that not only do you have a Ph.D, but also teaching experience,” Grubbs said. “So by the time I’ve completed my Ph.D, I can easily check both things off.”

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