By Karin Kapsidelis, with the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
"Jennifer Garvin-Sanchez’s doctoral degree earns her a subsistence-level salary of about $18,500 a year.
"Garvin-Sanchez teaches seven religious studies courses a year — three each semester and one in the summer — for her adjunct’s pay at Virginia Commonwealth University.
"“Not to say that maintenance workers shouldn’t earn a good living,” she said, “but they don’t have a Ph.D. and they make more than I do.”
"The old joke about a Ph.D. being the union card for academia has given way to grumblings about Ph.D.s on food stamps.
"“Luckily I have a husband who works,” Garvin-Sanchez said, but she sympathizes with the plight of colleagues teaching classes at multiple institutions and still not earning a living wage.
"Garvin-Sanchez is part of the temporary workforce that now makes up a majority of the faculty members on college campuses nationwide.
"About 76 percent of instructional positions are filled either by part-timers like Garvin-Sanchez or full-time instructors working off the tenure track on short-term contracts, the American Association of University Professors reports.
"VCU follows the national trend — only 35 percent of the full-time faculty members held tenure or tenure-track positions in 2012, according to a report by the provost’s office for the faculty senate in January.
"“I do think we’re at a transformational moment in higher education,” said VCU Provost Beverly J. Warren.
"The university added 8,500 students in the early 2000s without a comparable increase in the faculty, she said. That was followed by cuts in funding for public education “and yet we still have the same expectations to deliver a quality education to our students.”
"VCU, with an enrollment of more than 31,000, had 2,048 full-time instructional faculty members for the last academic year and 686 administrative and professional faculty members, such as deans and department chairs. It also had 1,205 adjuncts working part time.
"Of the full-time faculty members, 704 had tenure and 247 were in tenure-track positions. An additional 1,097 were full-time collateral or “term” faculty members working under contract.
"Final numbers for this year were not available, but Warren said the university gave 35 adjuncts full-time positions as the result of new health-benefit rules limiting part-timers to fewer than 30 hours.
"“We thought that would be much more advantageous than having to go out and find more adjuncts to teach fewer hours,” she said.
"One beneficiary of that change was Jonathan W. Waybright, who this year was hired under a two-year contract in the School of World Studies after teaching for 15 years as an adjunct at VCU.
"As an adjunct he earned $2,500 per three-credit course, he said. Now working under contract his salary is $34,000, plus benefits and “a peg to hang your hat on.”
"Previously he taught as many as six courses a semester as an adjunct — three or four at VCU and two dual enrollment courses for Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School.
"He has seen class sizes grow along with the reliance on adjuncts. Now instead of the old days of teaching 40 students in a survey course, he said, an adjunct likely teaches 145 or more.
"“The workload has increased, but the money has never changed,” he said.
"Every hour in the classroom requires several hours of work outside class to do the job right, he and other adjuncts said.
"The federal Affordable Care Act and action last session by the General Assembly reinforcing existing part-time rules will make it more difficult for adjuncts to piece together a living by teaching at multiple schools.
"But that could have a silver lining if it forces higher education to confront a situation that is harmful to both student and teacher, Waybright said.
"“The quality suffers in the classroom,” he said. “You can never be fully prepared when you’re running around scrambling from here to there trying to teach all that you need to teach in the adjunct world.”
"Academia has long relied on adjuncts for specialized or technical instruction, with many spots filled by moonlighting professionals or retirees supplementing their income.
"VCU, Warren said, is fortunate in the number of professionals who want to teach. “They bring a grounded, real-world expertise that I think our students benefit from,” Warren said.
"James Alessio, who recently retired from the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, said the benefit works both ways.
"He has been an adjunct for 38 years, primarily because he enjoys the work. But when he went to work for SCHEV in 1978, he said, he found “it was also a good opportunity for me not to get isolated” from what really was happening in higher education.
"Alessio, who is teaching three courses this semester in VCU’s School of Business, said that while adjuncts help fill a void, there’s a danger in relying too heavily on them.
"It means there are fewer full-time faculty members to oversee the curriculum, advise students and take on other departmental responsibilities, he said. “I can show up, teach my classes and I leave.”
"Warren agrees that increasing the number of adjuncts has put a greater workload on the full-time faculty. “That’s where I see the burden,” she said.
"A university’s reputation “often resides in the reputation” of its tenured professors, she said. She said VCU’s goal is to increase the number of faculty members with tenure or on the tenure track to above 50 percent over the next three years.
"But keeping those professors when their salaries now are well below those at peer institutions and their workloads heavier is another challenge for VCU, she said.
"Others, however, also blame the shift of resources away from teaching for at least part of the problem confronting VCU.
"“However you look at it, higher education is about the knowledge business,” said Robert Andrews, a tenured associate professor of business who has taught for 35 years at VCU.
"He said he understands the business model has changed — “students would find totally unacceptable the types of dormitory space I moved into and thought was fine in the ’60s.”
"But the shift of employees and funding to auxiliary and administrative functions concerns him.
"Andrews recounts a recent faculty meeting in which another professor questioned VCU President Michael Rao receiving a $50,000 performance bonus this year.
"When the president’s bonus is more than what some faculty members earn in a year, “you wonder are we fairly paying people,” Andrews said.
"A professor with tenure can speak out more freely on such issues than collateral or adjunct faculty members, Andrews noted.
"But there’s a sense that tenure is under attack, Andrews said, criticized as protecting “old guys with yellowed notes just doing the same old thing they’ve been doing and not staying up to date.”
"According to the American Association of University Professors, full-time tenured or tenure-track positions grew nationally by 26 percent between 1975 and 2011 while the number of part-time faculty appointments increased by more than 300 percent.
"Tenure underlies academic freedom, protecting faculty members from the whims of administrators and governing boards.
"Adjuncts and full-time collateral faculty members have no such guarantee.
"Isaac Sweeney says he can’t prove it, but he believes that lack of protection cost him his adjunct job at James Madison University.
"In 2007 he started work as a full-time adjunct — a description he says is “a little oxymoronic.”
"He had a full workload teaching four courses at JMU and two at Blue Ridge Community College, but lost the JMU position after the fall semester of 2010 without explanation.
"He suspects it was retribution for columns he wrote about how the stressful life of an adjunct translates to the classroom.
"One column for The Chronicle of Higher Education was titled, “If colleges valued students, they’d value adjuncts.”
"Two years ago Sweeney landed a full-time tenure-track position at the two-year Richard Bland College in Petersburg, where he is adviser for the honors program.
"But Sweeney, who blogs about his experiences at sweenglish.blogspot.com, said he still feels the repercussions from his years trying to make it as an adjunct.
"“It still affects me,” he said. “We ran up credit cards that we’re still paying off.”
"He had to put his student loans in forbearance, he said. “I owe more than I’ve ever borrowed.”
"The declining demand for tenure-track faculty members has been felt especially in the humanities, as schools have stepped up hiring in the sciences and technology fields. At VCU, Warren said, the need is for engineering faculty members.
"Waybright, who has a master’s degree, said no one goes into teaching to make money.
"But when he talks with people with doctoral or master’s degrees trying to make it as adjuncts and hoping to get hired full time, “I almost want to say, ‘You need to see a therapist to make sure this is the right move in your life.’ ”
"Garvin-Sanchez, who is in her eighth year as an adjunct at VCU, said she initially blamed herself for not advancing until she realized she was part of a national trend.
"“It’s systemic. I feel like it’s a crisis for higher ed,” she said. “Students are paying more and more and they’re getting less and less.”