Adjunct Faculty: Underpaid, but not under contract

The cost of attending a five-credit class for a quarter at Seattle University is around $5,000. The payment received by a part time adjunct professor at Seattle U is less than
this figure.

James Clune, a part time adjunct professor in the Communications department said that he makes $4,000 for each class he teaches. Clune started out as a full time non-tenure professor in the communications department, but cut back to part time when he realized what a hefty workload
this required.

“I have done a lot of corporate jobs; I ran communications for Pizza Hut for the entire western region of the United States,” Clune said. “I’ve never had a job quite as challenging as teaching full time. I thought, ‘Oh I’ll teach; I’ll get my tweed jacket and put some leather patches on the elbows and they will call me professor and it will be just fabulous.’ But then in my first quarter I thought, ‘Oh my god, this is a lot.’”

Clune noted that because he is retired, he doesn’t depend on the income from teaching to make a living. He described teaching as a sort of paid volunteer work that he does out of the joy of teaching and a love of interacting with other faculty
and students.

However, not all professors at Seattle U are able to say that low pay isn’t an issue for them. The large pay gap between part-time adjunct, full time non-tenure, and tenure is a profound one. Victor D’Shawn Evans, a professor in the communications department, was just hired to start as a tenure-track professor next fall. He started as part-time adjunct, moved to full time non-tenure and then got the tenure track position that he
applied for.

“It is quite competitive, from what I understand,” Evans said. “Not only do they look from the inside, but they accept applications from outside as well, and I hear they get hundreds of applicants.” Evans noted that there has been a large difference in pay between the three positions.

One part-time adjunct at Seattle U, who requested to remain anonymous due to concerns about their job security, works part time at Seattle U. He also works at another educational institution and has a third job. Even with three jobs, he sometimes struggles to make a livable wage.

“I choose to remain anonymous because my employment status in Seattle is uncertain from year to year at this point and I didn’t want my thoughts on adjunct labor to affect my job status at Seattle U or elsewhere,” he said, continuing to say that part-time non-tenure faculty members are the most marginalized of
the three groups.

“[The administration] doesn’t need a lot of reason to not renew my contract. There is no guarantee that you’re going to have a job next year or even in a couple of months,” he said.

He said that every year he considers doing something else and finding another job, but he stays for the love of academics and enriching the minds of students. He worries that the low pay and lack of job security will drive away quality professors, and he wants to do his part in insuring a fulfilling higher education to students who pay a lot of money to attend the university.

Part-time adjunct professors are not the only faculty who have to worry about money and job security; full time non-tenure folks grapple with similar issues. Julie Harms Cannon has a Ph.D. in sociology and makes around $53,000 a year teaching at Seattle U. Her husband has a masters degree in sociology and makes about $100,000 a year. She mentioned that some people assume that non-tenure faculty are less qualified, but that this is a misconception.

“You have excellent faculty at SU: tenure track, non-tenure track, and contingent and adjunct faculty. [Seattle] is an area where people want to live, so it is not like you have a bunch of substandard faculty working for SU, these are excellent faculty with Ph.Ds,” Harms Cannon said.

She has been highly involved in the faculty unionization efforts that have recently been put on hold. She continues to push for faculty rights, particularly for non-tenure faculty that feel unable to voice their concerns.
Film studies professor Benedict Stork experienced first hand this apprehension to seek help when he started his career at Seattle U as a part-time adjunct.

“The first year, I had no orientation and had to just kind of figure things out on my own,” Stork said. “Because I was reliant on reappointment, I certainly felt that I was at risk for non reappointment if I went and said I
was struggling.”

There is not one solution to the plethora of concerns of non-tenure faculty, but it begins with recognition and open conversation, in the opinion of the anonymous professor.
“SU just needs to do the right thing,” Harms Cannon said.

Bailee may be reached at
[email protected]