Adjunct professors featured in national study

Information regarding the benefits and salaries of adjunct professors has historically been difficult to run down, as many universities do not track or make public such details.

Now, adjunct professors are attempting to compile this info themselves through The Chronicle of Higher Education’s new Adjunct Project, which was created by adjunct professors seeking to report their working conditions for review by their peers and the public.

USC employs 1,825 part-time faculty in various fields. According to the Adjunct Project, pay for these professors varies from $3,840 to $8,000 per course, with teachers in the education field reporting the lowest pay and teachers in the field of comparative literature reporting the highest pay. The report does not show the pay for adjunct professors teaching in the math and science fields.

Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs Beth Meyerowitz said the discrepancy between the pay and benefits among adjunct professors can depend on the various university programs they work for.

“Some part-time faculty are paid a percentage of a full time salary and others are paid by the course,” Meyerowitz said in an email to the Daily Trojan. “Their compensation is set in the college or school in which they are appointed. All who work at least half-time qualify for benefits.”

Among reports for colleges nationwide, an adjunct professor’s average pay is $2,987 for a three-unit course. However, the reported median pay at USC among all departments was higher than the reported median for all of California, as well as for the specific departments and for all four-year private not-for-profit colleges, according to the Adjunct Project website.

Responses to adjunct professors’ working conditions — specifically their access to health insurance and retirement plans and ability to participate in faculty governance — were mixed, even among professors of the same department.

Assistant Professor of Linguistics Sandra Disner, all full-time employees receive full benefits at USC whether they are tenured or not. However, adjuncts are not included in all faculty meetings.

“Ever since I became a rank faculty member I’ve been included in meetings,” Disner said. “Before that, when I was a lecturer, I was not.”

USC also has other options for professors who are not on the tenure track. Disner was recently promoted from her position as  adjunct professor to a three-year full-time appointment as an assistant professor, a move she said isn’t necessarily the norm in campuses across the country.

“I’m very happy that USC is a pioneer in this,” Disner said. “Many other universities don’t have anything like this and just hire people semester to semester.”

Though some treat the role of adjunct professor as a full-time job, many adjuncts work in the industry and concurrently teach a course out of their love for education. USC hired Disner, who teaches courses involving linguistics and the law, partly because she served as a forensic linguist.

And Jon C. Smith, an adjunct professor of public relations and a partner at Musa Entertainment Consulting, Inc., has taught at USC since 2001. Before teaching, Smith worked at Channel 4 News, and he believes dividing time between industry work and teaching often leads to the best learning experiences for students.

“When I was in college, my best professors were people who were working journalists and in the real world,” Smith said.

Students often enjoy the expertise shared by those who both work in industry positions and also serve as adjunct professors. Steve Kearns, a freshman majoring public relations, said he benefited from being taught by adjunct professors.

“I enjoy that my PR professor is an industry professional because he can impart real-life work experience and field knowledge upon his students,” Kearns said.

With their unique skill sets in mind, many adjunct professors are using resources such as Adjunct Project  to not only refer to the working conditions and salaries of their peers but to advocate for ethical hiring practices and criticize exploitative faculty models.

“Many of these highly educated and passionate people are being forced to take jobs dramatically below their achievement and earning potential,” the Adjunct Project site explains.

And though it’s not clear where the future of college faculty hiring lies, the growth of resources like Adjunct Project points toward greater inquiry and discourse on the treatment of educators nationwide.