The tenuous life of adjunct faculty

Steve Hill

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A San Jose City College student walks by the Adjunct Faculty Center on Dec. 8. The Center functions as a meeting spot for adjunct faculty members and their students.
She is up by 6 a.m. and on the road by 7 a.m. to get to her morning classes at college No. 1. During the course of her week, she will have taught at three different colleges.

She is a “freeway flyer,” a part-time faculty member who pieces together a full-time income, and she did not want to be named for this article.

“It’s my livelihood,” she said. “I can’t risk it. Potential employers can view this article online, and it may affect my chances for future full-time or even other part-time employment.” “My office is in my car, laptops, cameras, tripods, projects,” she said.

The freeway flyer is often cobbling together a full-time salary. “Depending on where they are, they could work almost 200 percent (of full-time schedule) to make exactly what a full-timer might make,” Executive Director of the Faculty Association Barbara Hanfling said.

Teachers work as adjuncts for a variety of reasons. They may be visiting or guest lecturers or they may be professionals who have another career away from college.

Many adjunct faculty seek full-time positions but are rarely hired. ESL instructor Fred Allen teaches at San Jose City College as well as Mission College.

“Part of the reason I’m a part-timer is because my daughter is a school-age kid, and I’m a stay-at-home parent,” Allen said. “The specter of financial pressure looms. My wife was laid off in June but recently found new employment. I could have been in the same situation where I was scrambling around trying to find more classes to teach for the income.”

Allen’s schedule includes long days of teaching and traveling. “Next semester, I start work at 8 a.m. here and finish my working
day at 9:20 p.m. It’s a long day,” Allen said. “The other days I have blocks of time where I can come home for an hour or two, try to rest, relax or prepare and mark papers.”

About 480 adjunct faculty members work in San Jose/Evergreen Community College District, and the percentage of adjunct faculty members has increased in the last decade.

“Ten years ago 72 percent of our classes were taught by full timers, and now it’s 58 percent,” Hanfling said. “It’s been a huge decrease. We have fewer classes because we’ve cut so much, but we have more classes being taught by adjunct.”

College administrators often prefer to hire adjunct personnel. They are paid less, can be easily fired and have fewer rights than a full-time faculty member. However, there are downsides to relying heavily on part-time faculty, and the education community has criticized this practice.

“The research indicates that student success is enhanced by full-time faculty more than adjunct, not because of the quality of their work, but because of their accessibility,” Hanfling said.

Part-time faculty often lack office space, which makes it hard to meet with students, but San Jose City College does provide an adjunct faculty office. However, part-timers are not always available outside of their office hours. “Full-timers are available even outside of their office hours, which makes it much easier for students to find their full-time faculty when they are struggling,” Hanfling said.

Traveling from school to school limits the amount of time part-time faculty spend with their students.

“If you have someone who is at four colleges that they work at, that’s why they’re freeway flyers,” Allen said. “They have to go from college A to college B, then they’re not going to be on campus and meetings with students become an issue.”

The question then becomes, if it’s such a difficult job situation, why do they continue to teach?

“People really want to be teachers,” Allen said. “One thing is that teachers in general love what they do.”