Adjunct faculty members suffer low wages, unequal treatment 

click to enlarge Tracy Donhardt has been at the forefront of efforts to secure better working conditions for part-time faculty. Photo by Sean Morrison
  • Tracy Donhardt has been at the forefront of efforts to secure better working conditions for part-time faculty. Photo by Sean Morrison

Updated version, June 14, 2010

When Tracy Donhardt attended the Outstanding Distinguished Faculty Awards ceremony for IUPUI's School of Liberal Arts (SLA) late last month, she, like only a handful of select others, readied herself in advance for what she would say when she went up to receive an award.

Despite her myriad accomplishments, she was not accepting the award for her own work as a writer, editor or writing instructor: She was accepting it on behalf of a friend.

John Wieland, an associate – or, adjunct – faculty member at IUPUI's School of Liberal Arts (SLA) since 1984, had received IUPUI's award for Outstanding Distinguished Associate Faculty Member of 2010 for his teaching in writing and English. The awards ceremony, to which all the most distinguished of the SLA's faculty and administration had been invited to attend, was held on a Friday afternoon, when most of those invited could attend.

Most, but not all. Wieland, for starters, was busy that night teaching IVY Tech students in Kokomo, Ind. – one of five other jobs he juggles during the school year to support himself and his family, and to receive affordable health insurance. Despite a distinguished, 26-year teaching history at the school, neither a livable wage nor access to group health insurance is available to him through IUPUI.

Wieland's other jobs include teaching gigs at four different IVY Tech campuses all over the state – Indianapolis, Kokomo, Anderson and Lafayette – and a grounds-keeping job at a local golf course. [Editor's Note: Wieland is the writer's step-father.]

Donhardt, president of what was then known as the SLA's Associate Faculty Advisory Board – recently renamed the Associate Faculty Coalition (AFC) – admitted she was nervous to accept on Wieland's behalf, given the illustrious assembly and auditorium setting, despite her history advocating for adjuncts at IUPUI.

"We thought it [the acceptance speech] would be funny – or pointed," Donhardt explained. "Our advisor, a full-time tenured faculty member who sits on the board with us, said, 'just don't turn this into a Marlon Brando,' although even he said this was a good idea for us to do. So I just went down there and said that, yes, I was accepting for John, who was teaching for IVY Tech in Kokomo.

"You could hear – I don't know what the name of the noise was, but there was a collective something from the audience," she said. "People know that plenty of part-time faculty teach at more than one school and work more than one job, but I think they choose to not think about it a lot of the time, or they simply don't realize it and it doesn't really sink in."

It was what President Barack Obama could have called a "teachable moment." Adjunct faculty have long gotten the short end of the stick around the marbled halls of academia –a form of simply paying one's dues, some say, from which few are exempt. But advocates like Donhardt are speaking out about what some consider second-class treatment of adjuncts at IUPUI, even by relative standards, by which 26-year veterans like Wieland are forced to crisscross the state and mow grass to make ends meet and get insurance.

A big issue is pay. According to information provided by the AFC, experienced SLA adjuncts with terminal degrees – in most cases a Ph.D., but in some, like creative writing, a Master of Fine Arts – earn about $2,475 per class. First-year SLA adjuncts holding terminal degrees earn about $2,100 a class. Wieland, who has a master's degree in English, said non-terminal degree-holders like him only earn about $2,250 a class.

Associate pay is determined separately by the administrations of each school or college within the university. In comparison, English department adjuncts at Indianan University Bloomington typically earn about $4,600 per class, according to Kathy Overhulse Smith, composition program Coordinator at IU-Bloomington.

A spokesperson for the IUPUI Chancellor's office attributed the discrepancy to "a number of factors, such as industry standards, market saturation, school budget, recruitment," and other things.

The SLA's Web site announced news of Wieland's accolades a few weeks after the awards ceremony. The announcement praised his "versatility," and his "willingness to improve his teaching by attending workshops and seminars." It did not mention his five other jobs, the cost of continuing his education over the years by taking classes at IUPUI without fee remission, or his absence from the awards ceremony.

National issue now hits home

Adjunct faculty members at IUPUI – and elsewhere – have long complained of low wages and unequal treatment on campus – conditions, some say, that make adjuncts feel undervalued, despite their large contribution to the overall volume of classes taught at the university.

According to statistics provided by the AFC, IUPUI's School of Liberal Arts alone employed 168 part-time faculty members in the fall of 2009. Roughly 38 percent of all SLA courses, and 47 percent of all first-year courses, were taught by part-time instructors – 81 percent of whom hold at least a masters degree, 30 percent of whom hold doctorates.

But IUPUI's adjunct struggles gained added prominence when an attempt by Liberal Arts adjuncts to secure an independent group insurance plan was rejected by IU-Bloomington.

"They said that us doing that violated IU policy because all benefits come from the top, and have to be initiated and managed by IU Bloomington," Donhardt said. "That means no individual group within the university system at all can get their own policy."

A spokesperson for the IUPUI chancellor told NUVO that group insurance plans of any kind must come directly from IU Bloomington, in accordance with state and federal law granting "corporate entities the authority to provide and responsibility to supervise group health policies" – an authority that lies not with individual campuses, schools or employees, but with Indiana University Trustees.

By the time they were rejected, the SFC had already secured an agreement on a group plan through a broker and carrier outside of IUPUI. The plan would have been a voluntary, affordable, minimum-coverage plan — paid in full by its members, requiring no employer premium share.

Still the school maintains that payment questions are irrelevant.

"Regardless of who pays or how the premium is collected, the university still has fiduciary and legal responsibility for oversight and compliance of any group plan," wrote Susan Brewer, university director for University Health Care and Welfare Program Services in Bloomington, part of IU's Human Resource Services (HRS) department, in an e-mail to Donhardt. "Review of plans for vendor selection and plan provisions, and then ongoing oversight, requires a meaningful amount of resources."

It remains unclear why, exactly, IU is obligated to provide so much review and oversight for an outside, independent plan. Questions sent to Brewer by NUVO went unanswered.

NUVO sent a similar set of questions to the office of IUPUI's chancellor, Charles Bantz. A spokesperson responded that "any group health benefit offered by Indiana University to its employees is administered and supervised by the Indiana University Human Resources unit."The spokesperson did not explain how a group plan purchased and administered without the university's financial or administrative input could be considered an "offered" benefit by the university.

"I know what fiduciary responsibility means, but I don't know why they'd still be responsible," Donhardt said. "From a personal standpoint, as an employee who needs health insurance, it doesn't seem like a big enough reason to not let us do it."

Donhardt said she had presented the plan to IUPUI human resources in good faith, not realizing such plans weren't allowed. She had actually approached HR in hopes that such coverage could be expanded eventually to all part-time employees, she said, not just within the school of Liberal Arts, and not just for teachers.

"We weren't trying to do anything secret," she said. "The eventual goal was to say, 'hey, all part-time employees at IUPUI, we have this new plan, and you can get in it.' It never occurred to me that we were breaking any policy."

Brewer asserted in an email to Donhardt that "limited medical plans have very limited value for most individuals" — a notion Donhardt contests on behalf of part-timers who have no insurance at all.

The alternative — that each part-time faculty member purchase an individual plan — tends to be more expensive than a group plan because the risk is not pooled among multiple members, Donhardt noted. She pointed to IVY Tech, for example, which allows adjunct instructors to buy into a group health insurance plan – the same, independent plan Donhardt found for SLA's adjuncts before the university rejected it.

The plan, though indeed "limited," as Brewer suggested they tend to be, is among the biggest reasons IUPUI instructors like Wieland also teach at IVY Tech, despite the fact that IVY Tech pays slightly less per course.

More than complaints

The immediacy of low pay notwithstanding, trouble getting health insurance may be the most prominent problem faced by IUPUI adjuncts–and perhaps the most timely, given the national health care debate of the past year or so. The fortuitous timing of IU's rejection notice – if also somewhat ironic – wasn't lost on adjunct advocates nor on local and national media outlets that drew public attention to the issue in news reports early last month.

"That was our ticket to getting noticed, I guess – not that we knew it, it was just luck," Donhardt said. "Health insurance is so big these days, you've got a president saying everybody should have health insurance, and you've got IU telling us we can't have it."

But the litany of issues adjuncts would like to see addressed extends much further. Examples range from the quotidian (lack of staplers) to the existential (even long-time adjuncts are hired just a semester at a time, with no guarantees of renewal).

Common complaints, as summarized by the AFC, include:

* Lack of access to faculty, staff or student counseling services

* Lack of long-term contracts

* Limited to no access to professional development grants or travel funds

* No fee remissions for part-timers seeking to continue their education at IUPUI in pursuit of more advanced degrees

* No transportation allowances for associates who commute between IU Bloomington and IUPUI

* Little to no budget for basic office supplies

* Overcrowded, unsecured office space

Regarding the last of these, SLA adjuncts complain that 107 part-time faculty members are made to share 23 cubicles – a space some jokingly refer to as "the zoo" – in Cavanaugh Hall. Advocates say there is a shortage of lockable desk drawers for securing personal belongings and course work like student papers and examinations – materials it is the adjuncts' responsibility to safeguard at risk of losing their jobs.

"We share one stapler, literally," Donhardt said. "We have to ask the admin in this room that we all share to borrow a three-hole punch. I mean, it's those kinds of things that we're trying to explain to them. We talk about feeling demeaned, this is an example."

Although some don't agree, other adjuncts say certain segments of the administration are being relatively receptive to their concerns, at least in their willingness to listen. Donhardt pointed to recent and upcoming meetings with the SLA's deans, and to the recent addition of shared consultation space for adjuncts at Cavanaugh Hall as examples of progress. Adjuncts can now use the space to meet privately with students to discuss sensitive issues from grades to plagiarism, as the job often demands. Though limited, the creation of the space was in direct response to concerns raised recently by adjuncts.

Still, some say such developments, though positive, are small compared with bigger issues like course remissions, which, they argue, could be easily and relatively cheaply resolved – unlike pay rates, perhaps.

click to enlarge Jennifer Price Mahoney is an associate English instructor and faculty tutor at IUPUI's University Writing Center. Photo by Sean Morrison
  • Jennifer Price Mahoney is an associate English instructor and faculty tutor at IUPUI's University Writing Center. Photo by Sean Morrison

Jennifer Price Mahoney, an associate English instructor and faculty tutor at the University Writing Center, said the remissions issue should be "kind of a no-brainer" for administrators seeking to improve education quality at IUPUI.

"If they want a solid, well-educated associate faculty, then it makes very good sense that they would contribute to that either by subsidizing the classes or letting us take them for free," Mahoney said. Remissions, she argued, would be among "the easiest things they could do with very little impact on their bottom line."

Still, Mahoney and others emphasized that middle management had been "very communicative and very supportive" with regard to adjuncts' efforts to organize for better treatment, even if that wasn't always the case higher up the administrative food chain. "They are very willing to sit down with us and talk," she said. "They remember what it was like. Many of them were associate faculty members themselves."

Though much higher up, William Blomquist, dean of the SLA at IUPUI, is among those administrators who started as adjuncts. Blomquist emphasized that he and other administrators highly valued adjuncts, and had "tried to be attentive to the needs of part-time faculty" at every step, in what he called a "very positive conversation" in tone and substance.

"We do rely, we have always relied and we will always rely a lot on part-time faculty to help meet (our) teaching needs," he said, which included evening classes, off-campus classes and other demands that couldn't be entirely met by full-time staff.

Blomquist argued that conditions have improved since he began as an adjunct instructor 23 years ago. Adjuncts didn't used to have parking permits, for example, he said. And, despite complaints, the shared office space in Cavanaugh Hall wasn't there at all until 10 to 15 years ago.

"The school has a history of trying to go from what was almost no space at all to better space, more space, improvements to the space," and other changes, Blomquist said. Other suggestions by associate faculty were all being taken into consideration, he said, although he admitted that larger questions, like increasing pay, "will take a little longer to do."

Some adjuncts disagreed, arguing that things had actually gotten worse for adjuncts in recent decades. In decades past, for example, fee remission was offered to IUPUI adjuncts.

Others were more optimistic. Mahoney said she understood that pay issues were tougher and more complicated to resolve, and admitted that, in her experience, Blomquist had been "very supportive," "realistic," and "well-aware of what his colleagues have been going through."

Other adjuncts agreed, albeit cautiously. Charmayne Champion-Shaw, a part-time communications studies instructor and a Native American who teaches classes for IUPUI's American Indian Programs, argued that "perception is an interesting thing," when assessing whether conditions had actually improved for adjuncts over the years, as Blomquist claimed.

"As you progress up, each generation says, 'oh, you guys have it so much better than we had it,'" she said. "And it also is a much more comfortable position for an administrator to take to say, 'it's so much easier for you guys,' because he's not on the field playing."

She noted, for example, that in her years as an adjunct, cubicle space had not grown, though the size of the adjunct space had. Meanwhile, "amazing, well-published" part-timers are forced to leave as they get older because they find they can't go without the job security and health insurance.

"The deans are very sensitive, they're very open-minded and they have a real issue in dealing with logistics," Champion-Shaw said, admitting, like Mahoney, that issues like pay raises were difficult when even tenured faculty weren't getting raises these days.

"But things like health insurance, and space – those are things that, there is some work that can be done as long as people aren't saying things like, 'wow, they don't even know what they have now,'" she added. "It's a tough position, because things have to continue to grow and develop, or they get stagnant.'"

A wider problem

The problems faced by IUPUI's adjuncts are hardly unique to IUPUI, to Indiana University, or even to schools in this state. Research shows that the problem is widespread, in institutions both public and private– endemic to U.S. higher education as a whole, and reflective of a broader set of social and cultural values across American society that isn't particularly flattering.

At the center of the problem lies a fundamental paradox. According to the Heritage Foundation, a non-profit, conservative think tank based in Washington, D.C., college tuitions have risen by 439 percent nationwide since 1982 – roughly four times faster than the rate of inflation. Some estimates indicate that tuitions rocketed up by 38 percent between 2000 and 2005 alone.

Meanwhile, college enrollment rates nationwide continue to rise, which means even more money for colleges. The number of students enrolled in college rose 26 percent between 1997 and 2007, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, part of the United States Department of Education.At IUPUI, total enrollment for the fall 2009 semester had risen nearly 10 percent since ten years earlier.

Yet, despite those increases, postsecondary teacher wages have mostly stagnated. It begs the question: where is all that new money from tuitions and enrollments going?

"There's tons of research on the substantial degree to which tuition increases exceed inflation," said Marc Bousquet, an associate professor of English at Santa Clara University, in California, and a former visiting professor at Indiana University-Bloomington. "The money is not going into faculty salary and especially not into the salaries of faculty on contingent appointment."

Bousquet has spent much of his career researching and writing about academic labor issues and what he has called "the corporatization of the university." An active and eloquent advocate for increased equality and freedom within the academy, Bousquet also sits on the advisory board at New Faculty Majority, a national non-profit advocacy group for adjunct and contingent faculty.

According to his 2008 book, How the University Works: Higher Education and the Low-Wage Nation, the number of administrators at universities nationwide has "skyrocketed" in the last 30 years; administrator pay has "soared" likewise.

"There's a total contradiction between rising tuition costs and lowered costs of instruction – until you realize just how much expensive administrator time is required to squeeze teacher salaries," Bousquet told NUVO.

Concomitant with the rise in administrator numbers, the number of more affordable adjuncts employed as a percentage of overall faculty has risen dramatically across the country in recent decades. "Thirty-five years ago, nearly 75 percent of all college teachers were tenurable; only a quarter worked on an adjunct, part-time, or non-tenurable basis," Bousquet wrote in 2008. "Today, those proportions are reversed," he said, while about half of all faculty members nationwide are part-time.

A spokesperson for the chancellor said that IUPUI's "campus goal is to maintain an appropriate portion of tenured to non-tenured faculty," but could not say what percentage of faculty currently employed at IUPUI are part-time, nor whether that percentage was expected to increase. Yet in its 10-year accreditation evaluations, the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools has repeatedly noted that IUPUI needs to reduce its dependence on part-time faculty.

As it concerns the SLA, Dean Blomquist said the percentage of adjuncts had not shown a marked increase or decrease over time. At the same time, the number of majors at the SLA had increased by 50 percent in the last 10 years, and the number of full-time lecturers had increased from a handful to more than 50, Blomquist said; the number of administrators and student affairs staff had not increased. He could not speak for other schools in the university.

But administration sizes and salaries aren't the only factors in the losing paradox for adjuncts:According to Bousquet a big part of the problem is pet administration projects – including "corporate partnerships, distance learning ventures, big-time sports, and satellite campuses overseas – nearly all of which lose huge pots of money."

Critics at IUPUI have pointed to flashy capital expansion projects and costly sponsorship projects like the university's sponsorship of Indy Car driver, Sarah Fisher, as examples of money that would be better spent on faculty.

The HLC has likewise noted continued concern over long-term operating and maintenance costs associated with the operation of new buildings and expanded physical education facilities.

Not real faculty

Though efforts by adjunct advocates seem only to have begun, last semester ended positively – most notably with the "teach-in" held by participating SLA faculty, April 5 to 8. The teach-in was a voluntary effort whereby part-time and full-time SLA faculty — and their supporters — suspended curricula to incorporate the topic of part-time faculty issues into their regular class activities.

Donhardt said it was difficult to know how many faculty members participated. Anecdotally, however, all indications are the teach-in was a success, she said – having gone a long way to raise student, faculty and public awareness about issues faced by part-time IUPUI faculty.

It's a momentum she hopes to maintain next year. The AFC, known until recently as the SLA's Associate Faculty Advisory Board, is expanding next fall, with the hopes of one day representing part-time faculty in other schools across campus. As part of that expansion, the AFC is teaming up with New Faculty Majority (NFM), where Bousquet serves on the advisory board. Donhardt has recently joined the board of directors there.

"One of the other things we're trying to change for part-time faculty, it's not just the level of working conditions, it's the culture within which we work, which is very unprofessional," Donhardt said. "We're treated as if we have no status, we're treated as if we aren't professional, as if we're not real faculty."

Teaming up with NFM "give us the clout," of a nationally-recognized entity, she noted, a definite boon moving forward as the AFC looks to expand beyond Liberal Arts – and, indeed, beyond IUPUI.

As part of that collaboration, the AFC plans to turn its Web site,, into a base for a non-profit chapter of the NFM, where adjuncts from other schools at IUPUI – but also from other local universities like Butler, Marian, IVY Tech and University of Indianapolis – can become members and share teaching ideas and promote issues important to adjunct faculties.

"Hopefully as the chapter grows, we'll get faculty at the other schools interested in changing things at their school and will join the chapter leadership or just support the cause in central Indiana and join the chapter as a member," Donhardt said.

Donhardt said broader awareness because of recent news coverage and the success of the teach-in made it the right time for adjuncts to expand their efforts. She and others recently met with the dean's office at the dean's request to discuss plans for next year. A second meeting picking up where the last one left off is currently being scheduled.

"We were really encouraged that they asked to meet with us," Donhardt said. "We saw that as a huge step. We had expected to need to ask them to meet with us."

Dean Blomquist said that, although things like budgetary constraints had to be taken into consideration, he was open to any suggestions offered by adjuncts at the upcoming meeting.

"We've tried to listen to the part-time faculty to say 'what is it that you are interested in?'" he said. "And the things that we can do, we try to do."

Story update: This version has been updated to reflect the following corrections: 1) When the story was reported, John Wieland, an IUPUI adjunct, told NUVO he was only paid $1,800 per course. NUVO has since learned he was mistaken. He and veteran, non-terminal degree holders like him are paid $2,250. 2) A second adjunct told NUVO that office space in Cavanaugh Hall did not contain secure drawers or filing cabinets. While there is a significant shortage of lockable drawer space for course work and personal belongings, there are several lockable filing cabinets and two lockable drawers at each desk. 3) Finally, the Outstanding Distinguished Faculty Awards ceremony for IUPUI's School of Liberal Arts was held on an afternoon, not in the evening.


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