Legislators hear case for more full-time faculty in higher ed system

MTA higher education leaders and staff members testified July 17 in favor of a bill that would increase the number of full-time faculty at public higher education institutions and provide more benefits to adjunct faculty.

The bill, House 1086, sponsored by former Representative David Sullivan (D-Fall River), was heard by the Joint Committee on Higher Education.

“Do you want community colleges or don’t you?” asked DeAnna Putnam, an adjunct professor at Bunker Hill Community College, “because what we have now is chaos.”

Max Page, a professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, said the increased use of adjuncts affects all campuses, including UMass, though the situation is the worst at the community colleges.

An MTA report released July 16 documents that only 28 percent of all classes taught at the state’s 15 community colleges are taught by full-time professors. The remaining classes are taught by adjuncts, who do not have the time, the salary or the mandate to provide advising services to students. The MTA report concludes that the lack of advising and other support services provided by full-time faculty may be contributing to poor graduation rates. Only 17 percent of full-time students receive an associate’s degree or certificate within three years of enrolling.

Putnam also noted that  adjuncts do not have the office space to serve students, let alone other resources that professionals take for granted. “At my own school, 679 professors are assigned to a single office that is 34 feet by 34 feet – a situation that defies the laws of physics and is more ridiculous than the sight of clown cars at a circus,” she said.

“This proliferation of adjuncts is a problem in public and private institutions alike, but it most egregiously flies in the face of the mandate of all our community colleges, and especially here in a city that has taken pride in being the ‘Athens of America.’”

Committee members noted that adjuncts are hired as a cost-saving measure, since they earn significantly less than full-time faculty. Donnie McGee, a professor at Bristol Community College and vice president of the Massachusetts Community College Council, said that the median salary for a community college professor is about $61,000 a year. By contrast, an adjunct professor teaching a full load of five courses per semester earns about $30,000 a year and receives no health insurance or pension benefits.

Several who testified began by thanking the committee’s co-chairs, Representative Tom Sannicandro and Senator Michael Moore, for advocating increased funding for public higher education in this year’s recently enacted budget. They also noted that state funding for public higher education is still one-third lower than it was at its peak, in fiscal 2001, when adjusted for inflation.

The Legislature recently approved establishing a special commission to study issues related to funding, staffing and quality in the state’s public higher education system. MTA will have a seat on that commission.