Similar to other professors, political science professor Christopher Counihan teaches three classes between the university’s Newark and Wilmington campuses. Yet unlike professors with tenure—who receive benefits and are paid over $95,000 a year—Counihan struggles to get by. Only through his wife is Counihan able to receive healthcare, and the low pay has forced him to face the decision to leave the university as an adjunct professor and build a new company.
“I can not continue to afford to work at the salary that I receive as an adjunct,” Counihan said.
Separate from full-time professors, adjunct professors are considered part-time employees compensated based on how many credits they teach. Though the university discloses salary bases for various professors, assistant professors, associate professors and instructors, compensation rates for adjunct professors are not listed on the university’s website. The Coalition of the Academic Workforce (CAW) estimates the nationwide median pay for adjunct professors is $2,700 per three-credit course.
Counihan, like other adjuncts, are overworked, underpaid and uninsured, according to mathematics Professor David Colton, former president of the American Association of University Professors. A full-time professor who receives benefits, Colton said he does not agree with how universities are using and treating their adjunct faculty.
“While they [adjuncts] are very talented people, the advantage for the university is that they are cheap labor and they don’t have to pay them benefits,” Colton said.
The implementation of the the Affordable Care Act has further impeded adjunct professors. It states that if an employee works more than 30 hours, the employee is considered full-time and the employer must provide healthcare benefits. As a result of the full-time employee criteria, Counihan said he noticed the university is placing stifling regulations on adjuncts to keep them as part-time, uninsured faculty.
“The belief is that college administrations—here and at other universities—are keeping adjuncts to a schedule of three class or less per semester so as to avoid the risk that they become de facto full-time employees that are required to be offered medical benefits,” Counihan said.
However, this does not necessarily indicate that professors are working under the 30 hour per week criteria, said English professor Phillip Bannowski. Bannowsky said he works well over 30 hours per week, but does not see the compensation or the benefits for it.
Luckily, Bannowsky said he does not have financial concerns, as he holds a pension and benefits from his previous job. However, he said he sympathizes with other adjuncts in different financial situations.
“How do you measure 30 hours per week?” Bannowsky said. “I work three courses right now and I put in a lot more than 30 hours this week and I’m sure many of my other colleagues do. I think the answer to this is representation.”
Bannowsky said there is an incongruity of how the education system treats adjuncts in comparison to full-time tenure or non-tenure professors.
“I don’t think they [adjuncts] are treated right,” Bannowsky said. “In my circumstance, I’m fine, but for these guys, they need representation so they can apply some collective power to secure economic, professional and the benefits side of the equation.”
Adjuncts also face the unfair nature of how the university is using them, Colton said. The University of Delaware’s Personnel Policies on adjunct professors says adjunct faculty are on staff for a “limited period of time during the year(s) in which they are actively involved in the teaching and research program of the University.” Adjuncts must be involved in the university through teaching, research or consultation, according to the policy.
Colton, however, said the University is taking advantage of adjuncts and using them to replace many of the full-time faculty so the university does not have to worry about giving them benefits or the salary of a full-time professor. A trend nationwide, the number of adjuncts at universities has risen. According to 2005 report by the Intergrated Postsecondary Education Data System, part-time instructors represent 48 percent of faculty.
“At one time, adjunct professors were hired to a certain need, but it’s become more and more a way of universities to provide cheap labor,” Colton said. “It’s like a business. You get cheap labor and don’t have to pay benefits. The university is working just like a company and they should not.“
Adjuncts spend time looking for a job and are at the mercy of the university administration to be hired on a year-to-year basis, Colton said. He said [the university] is “using control and they exploit it.”
Colton called for change, and said something needs to be done. The fairness of benefits and compensation must surface for adjuncts around the country. Adjunct professors are not the only ones facing the consequences, Colton said, as students too are affected by rise of adjunct professors.
“It’s really a disservice to the students,” Colton said. “Adjunct professors teach usually a great deal and they are busy trying to find another job probably after the year’s done, so they just don’t have the time and the energy to give full attention to students like full-time faculty can. They try, but they are just overworked and underpaid. Simple as that.”