By Denise Dick
They taught about 37 percent of Youngstown State University class sections last year, but part-time instructors often have to reach beyond campus to make ends meet.
It’s been at least 22 years since their last raise.
Some of them travel to other campuses to earn money in addition to what they make at YSU. Others rely on some type of assistance.
“I’m on energy assistance, and I’ve applied for two community grants to help me buy a house,” said Karen Schubert, a part-time instructor in the English department.
It’s not a position considered common for professionals with advanced degrees.
“It’s a psychological struggle,” Schubert said. “It’s embarrassing.”
She knows of one colleague who paid for a needed surgery using her credit card.
Adjuncts, as part-timers are called, with bachelor’s degrees earn $650 per work- load hour per semester while those with master’s degrees or doctorates earn $800 and $1,050 per workload hour, respectively. Typically, a workload hour equals a credit hour.
Adjuncts also receive free parking on campus and a discount at campus bookstores.
James Zupanic, a retired associate professor in drafting and design technology who now teaches part time, said the part-time ranks include people who work in the field or industry in which they’re instructing and bring that knowledge into the classroom.
Maryann Cama, another part-time English instructor, said the university relies on part-timers, particularly when money gets tight. In the English department, for example, part-timers teach the lower-level composition courses. But Cama is quick to say that the English department supports her.
As part-timers, they don’t qualify for health care, and though they’re part of the State Teachers Retirement System, the amount they’ll receive is a fraction of what their full-time counterparts earn. At the same time, as public employees, they don’t qualify for Social Security.
It makes planning for the future difficult.
Part-time instructors comprised about 35 percent of the faculty assigned as primary course instructors last spring with 55 percent full time and the remainder, externally funded part-timers, part-time faculty with other full-time YSU appointments or graduate assistants.
YSU President Randy Dunn said in an email that the university’s increasing use of part-time instructors is something that bears watching.
“The strength of an institution’s academic program is rooted in the full-time tenured and tenure-track faculty who, in addition to teaching, engage in a multitude of research, professional service and university service activities that allow a true university to operate,” he said. “There is no magic number, but when you get above the 50 percent mark in terms of total credit hours produced, I think that is concerning. At YSU, we are below that threshold for our credit hours generated by adjuncts.”
It’s an issue with which many universities are grappling.
Dunn said that to get a handle on institutions that are abusing the model, accreditation bodies will have to develop clearer standards.
“But all that being said, the judicious use of part-time faculty gives flexibility to an institution for dealing with the typical swings in enrollment and course- coverage demands in certain programs,” he said. “In addition, it provides the means to have outstanding professional people come in and share their real-life experience and expertise from the world of work. Adjunct teaching is by definition a part-time, contracted position, and the market will dictate compensation to a large degree, depending upon supply and demand.”
That’s what’s leading unionization efforts by part-time faculty on campuses across the country, he said, and in conjunction with universities’ funding challenges, why it’s likely to be a hot topic for a long time.
The Pittsburgh Post- Gazette ran an op-ed piece this week about an adjunct instructor who worked for 25 years at Duquesne University and died without health insurance and nearly homeless after the university let her go. The university disputed the piece, written by the senior associate general counsel of the union trying to organize Duquesne’s adjunct instructors, saying the campus community tried to help the instructor on many occasions and even invited her to live on campus.
Shannon Hodge, also a part-time faculty member in the English department, taught two courses each in English and another department up until this year. It changed when the university issued a memorandum late last year capping semester hours for part-time faculty members at 24 to comply with provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also called Obamacare.
Her hours were cut, and this semester the single mother is teaching only two English courses, earning $4,800.
“Obviously, it’s stressful,” Hodge said. “But I’m still completely dedicated to my students. I love my job.”
Zupanic said some of the adjuncts have been trying to form an association and began meeting last spring.
More gatherings are set for Monday and Tuesday with an open house at 6:30 p.m. followed by presentation at 7 p.m. in the Presidential Suites in Kilcawley Center.
The problems aren’t unique to YSU, Zupanic said. Adjunct faculty throughout the country face similar issues. Some YSU part- timers traveled earlier this year to a rally in Akron, and legislation to allow part-time faculty to unionize has been introduced in the Ohio Legislature.
But Zupanic says the group isn’t looking at forming a union right now. Many in the part-time ranks likely wouldn’t support that. A lot of them have jobs in other companies or are business owners, and joining a union could place them in an awkward position.
The professors don’t believe anyone at the university has deliberately tried to prevent them from earning more money.
“Part-time faculty has just fallen through the cracks,” Zupanic said.
Cama said the university relies on its part-time faculty even more when money is tight, as those professors don’t earn benefits.
Like Cama, both Hodge and Schubert say they feel supported by their department.
Part-time faculty fill an important role at YSU and want to be fully recognized by and integrated into the university community, however, Schubert said.
“We do professional work at the Walmart price,” Schubert said.