As universities nationwide increase their reliance on adjunct professors, some are raising concerns about the shrinking number of full-time professors and the way adjuncts are often treated, including at USC.
Adjuncts, for the most part, are part-time faculty who come in on a semester-by-semester basis to teach one course, taking time out of their professional schedule to do so. Adjunct professors are paid less than full-time or tenured staff at USC, and don’t receive full benefits.
Each school, especially the pre-professional schools, brings on adjunct faculty to supplement the textbook teaching and academic education with the real-world experience of a professional in a classroom setting.
The Chronicle of Higher Education recently reported that part-time adjuncts have grown to make up about 50 percent of the teaching staff nationwide.
The concern nationwide is that the down economy is causing schools to hire more adjuncts, since they cost less and have short-term contracts. But administrators claim that at USC, the economy is not a factor in hiring of adjuncts. Instead, adjuncts are hired in response to a student demand or their specific insight.
“We might have an emergency, somebody gets sick, or we bring in an adjunct who is a leading expert,” said John Matsusaka, the vice dean for faculty and academic affairs at the Marshall School of Business. “Money is not a factor. The question is whether there is a sudden surge in demand for a certain class, or a tenured professor has to go off for a year, and we don’t want to hire full-time for a year or two.”
At USC, adjuncts make up just 29 percent of the faculty. Still, that number has grown — last year there were 14 more adjunct professors than the 2007-2008 school year, even as the total number of faculty members decreased.
Imre Meszaros, assistant director of the Annenberg School of Communication, said finances are not restricting the school’s hiring process. Though hiring a larger proportion of adjuncts would save the school money, Meszaros said the school tries to hire full-time faculty because they play a greater role in the university community.
“If every class was taught by adjuncts, we would save money, but what you have to realize is what full-time faculty are paid for is more than just teaching,” Meszaros said.
This difference in university involvement outside of the classroom is seen as both a benefit and a drawback to adjuncts. Many adjuncts, as professionals, have little time to be on campus. They often aren’t required to attend faculty meetings and don’t hold much weight in administrative decisions.
“The cool thing about being an adjunct is that it’s like being an uncle. You get to come in, fire people up, do the work, and then leave. No heavy lifting of the administrative part of being a member of the faculty,” said David Belasco, an adjunct professor in the USC entrepreneurship program.
But there is often a disconnect between adjuncts and the university, said Julio Moran, an adjunct professor who is the executive director for a Latino journalists advocacy group and who worked for the Los Angeles Times for 14 years and has been teaching journalism news writing and reporting for more than 10 years at the Annenberg School of Communication & Journalism.
“We’re on campus one day a week, and it’s difficult to establish relationships when you’re only there one day. Not many attend faculty or staff events, not because we’re not invited, but because many people just don’t have the time. They have their full-time job,” Moran said.
Amy Murphy, the vice dean of the School of Architecture, said that her school is at least taking steps to keep adjuncts involved as valued staff members.
“We use the term ‘adjunct’ as a distinction of part-time faculty for the professionals we really love,” she said. “We’ve been trying to distinguish them and appreciate them more. We’ve offered some multi-year contracts and reinstated voting rights at faculty meetings.”
Disconnect from the university is not the only cause for concern among the school’s growing number of adjunct professors. Salaries are low, and benefits and job security are nonexistent.
“It’s probably minimum wage when you break down the hours spent preparing, teaching [and] grading to teach a class well,” Moran said. “No one’s doing it for the money. It’s something you’re interested in, something you enjoy, and you hope you’re making a difference.”
Belasco, who spent time building and selling companies before coming to Marshall to teach, said despite the designation as “part-time,” the job of an adjunct professor is a full-time commitment.
“There’s no such thing as a part-time professor, with the amount of time it takes to prepare, arrange speakers, grade assignments, meet with students — it’s a full-time job with part-time pay,” Belasco said. “And the students want that commitment.”
Jerry Swerling, a professor of professional practice and the director of public relations studies at the USC Annenberg Strategic Communication and Public Relations Center, said these factors — low pay and contracts that only last a semester — can affect students and adjuncts alike.
“There’s a term, ‘freeway flyers,’ that refers to folks — to adjuncts — who run from school to school, from USC to UCLA, for example, trying to piece together a living,” Swerling said. “That’s just not fair for them, for students or for anyone … The adjuncts we use are for the most part senior level practitioners who are working at PR firms or big companies.”
Some students find the use of adjuncts in certain classes beneficial.
“It is nice that they can bring their own personal experience into the classroom — for example, my Journalism 203 teacher was able to schedule a tour of a broadcast studio during a prime newscast because of her position there, which is something a tenured professor wouldn’t be able to provide,” said Kara Hansell, a sophomore majoring in public relations.
Others, however, said they don’t know which of their professors are adjuncts and which aren’t — though that may be a good thing.
“Honestly, I don’t know what that is. I wouldn’t be able to tell if I have taken a class by an adjunct,” said Matt Held, a sophomore majoring in business administration.