Understanding the Concerns of Adjunct Faculty

By Alyssa Pawluk


With the role of part-time faculty members evolving throughout campuses in Ohio, issues of worker’s benefits, unionization and proper compensation have grown more and more pressing.


The American Association of University Professors — a professional association, labor union and foundation with a mission to advance the standards of higher education — stated that more than 50 percent of all faculties hold part-time positions across universities.


It also reported that part-time faculty in these institutions teaching the equivalent of a full-time course load is not uncommon.


Johanna Slivinske, a part-time faculty member in the department of social work, said that adjunct instructors make up 60 percent, around 540-570, of the faculty at YSU.


Slivinske said some concerns of adjunct faculty members are the rate of pay at YSU, working conditions and a lack of recognition.


“There hasn’t been an increase [in rate of pay] in over 23 years. … It would be nice if we had some advanced notice with the courses we would be teaching. It allows us to better prepare for courses and it’s difficult too when a course gets canceled and you’re put in a lot of time for that course and you don’t get any pay for that,” Slivinske said.


Thomas Sabatini, YSU part-time faculty member in the history department, agreed.


“Everybody has their own personal concerns that have to do with their own career admission. In the situation of their field and job perks in general have just dried up dramatically after 2008, even though they were never that great to begin with. I think that there is a better set of concerns that have to do with the structure of higher education in general and the situation that adjunct faculty are dealing with is merely the tip of the iceberg on a sort of stemming ship that American Higher Education,” Sabatini said.


Sabatini said that the issues with adjunct faculty are representative of greater issues — pointing toward a faltering focus on education in universities.


“[The] situation of adjuncts has everything to do with the situation of students and has everything to do about refocusing the higher education, sort of back toward its primary objective of educating students,” he said. “In terms of doing the classroom over the other ancillary parts of the university that have taken the lead, not only at YSU but across the nation.”


Tom Maraffa, professor emeritus in the department of geography and employee of YSU since 1985, said universities have been increasingly relying on adjunct faculty recently.


“I think universities, not just YSU, have to think about what part-time faculty are in the bigger picture of the university, and does it hurt the university to have so many classes taught by part-time faculty and is there another way to do it? To teach classes, to engage more full-time faculty and fewer part-time faculty, and that means we have to decide what we have to do less of. Anything you increase, you have to decrease something else. It’s a hard problem for a university to deal with,” Maraffa said.


He suggested creating a new class of full-time faculty, despite the increased cost, to solve this concern.


“They aren’t on a tenure track. They’re hired year-to-year. They are full-time faculty, but they teach higher loads than the regular full-time faculties. It’s a way to bring these part-time faculties, make some of them anyway, full-time faculty and maybe address some of this issue. I think it needs to be looked at in its entirety, not just in the perspective of this one issue,” Maraffa said.


Some part-time faculty have been vying for greater representation in the YSU administration.


James Zupanic, a retired full-time professor and current part-time professor in the department of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, proposed extending a voting membership to one part-time faculty member to the Academic Senate at the university — a discussion which is still underway in the Senate.


Harry Meshel, YSU Board of Trustees member, sympathized with part-time faculty.


“The adjunct professors and faculty are a very important feature at many, many universities across the state of Ohio. We’re not alone and have been around for a long time. Adjuncts were created in the first place to save money and second place, to get a faculty together to the needs of Youngstown College,” Meshel said.“[Youngstown College] needed adjunct faculty because becoming full-time faculty at the beginning was very difficult. Not that they didn’t deserve it, but they were a college just beginning.”


Meshel said that adjunct faculty members need greater recognition.


“There is validity to adjuncts that began way back when. I used to teach at the university during the ‘50s and ‘60s and I was teaching almost full-time as an adjunct. I had two or three jobs in that day. Adjuncts filled the void at YSU at that time. Many of them teach one course, two courses, that’s it,” Meshel said. “Adjuncts have served the university in a variety of ways and still do. They save the university money. Full-time faculty cost more. I think [adjunct faculty] need to be given more recognition and more money.”


Maraffa said part-time faculty were originally sparingly used experts who provided supplementary instruction in a specific subject of a field.


“Now what’s happened at universities is that there is a demand for more classes and university budgets have been cut. The way to provide those classes at lower cost is to use part-time faculty members and graduate students. So they just do that more and more. The environment has changed. That’s why we are where we are today,” he said. “It’s kind of moved away from what it was intended to be and what it was originally because of budgets and demands for classes and to be honest, the fact that full-time faculty don’t want to teach a lot of these classes. Somebody has to teach these classes so what do universities do? They do it in a way that’s as inexpensive as they can be.”


Slivinske suggested some ways that YSU might solve the issue of fairer working conditions for adjunct faculty at the school.


“One of the ways would be to have a step system. If they had a step system that could be implemented where raises and possibly benefits and promotions that were tied to years of service would be a fair way to solve some of the problems that were risen,” Slivinske said.


Slivinske added that adjunct faculty could be made permanent employees after working at the university for a period of time, and their years of service be recognized with a ceremony or certificate as well as more of an advanced notice when courses are assigned to them.


“Again, if adjunct faculty work together collectively with the support of the administration and full-time faculty, positive change can occur. What we do matters. Educating our students’ matters. We must value education. Without the student and the teacher, there is no university,” Slivinske said.


Andrew LaVogue, a student at YSU, said an adjunct faculty union would benefit students.


“I have yet to have a negative experience with an adjunct faculty member,” LaVogue said. “Adjuncts, I believe, teach a third of the classes at YSU so the way I see it if students are getting a positive return on their education because adjuncts have greater financial and workplace security with less outside stress affecting their job performance then allowing their unionization would be in the interest of the YSU students.”