Faculty members, advocates decry adjuncts’ working conditions
Robert Whitman, center, testified that an adjunct instructor he knows lost two teeth because he could not afford dental care. He and colleagues Michael Dubson, left, and Eric Estevez, right, teach at Bunker Hill Community College.
The Legislature’s Joint Committee on Higher Education heard from faculty members and education advocates during a hearing on Wednesday, June 17, about the harsh working conditions many adjunct instructors at public colleges and universities endure and how those conditions affect students.
“Adjuncts are the sweatshop workers of the higher education system,” said Kate Archard, a full-time faculty member at the UMass Boston campus, during her testimony in support of House Bill 1055, An Act to Invest in Higher Education Faculty.
“Adjuncts are the sweatshop workers of the higher education system.”
- Kate Archard, UMass faculty member
Representative Paul Mark (D-Peru) is the lead sponsor of the bill, which is priority legislation for the MTA. Mark has two public higher education campuses in his district. He told the committee about the low pay attached to adjunct faculty members’ work and described that adjuncts sometimes have to work out of their cars because they lack office space and shuttle between multiple campuses.
“They are serving our students with great dedication, and it is our responsibility to make sure they are paid fairly and given opportunities to advance,” Mark said.
H. 1055 calls for adjunct faculty members to be paid at a rate commensurate with that of their full-time colleagues. The bill also lays out pathways to benefits, such as health insurance, and requires public colleges and universities to increase over time the number of full-time faculty, ending over-reliance on adjuncts. At community colleges, for example, part-time faculty members teach more than two-thirds of the courses.
Faculty members from the UMass system, state universities and community colleges told the committee that adjuncts are typically unable to provide support services to students. Without access to office space, for example, adjuncts often have no obligation or expectation that they will meet with students outside of class. The faculty members also testified that the increased use of part-time instructors in the UMass system has reduced the number of professors engaged in research.
“When you exploit adjuncts and there are not enough full-time professors, you are not building a high-quality, accessible higher-education system,” said Max Page, a professor at UMass Amherst and a member of the Public Higher Education Network of Massachusetts, or PHENOM.
A panel of full- and part-time faculty members from Bunker Hill Community College brought a number of concerns before the committee. They described the financial struggles of part-time faculty and the devastating impact on those part-time instructors who have no access to health insurance.
English professor Michael Dubson described how differently he is treated since he became a full-time instructor after years of part-time work.
“No longer do I have to fear or tolerate insult and abuse, swallowing things that no dean or chair would dare say to me today,” said Dubson, who now has a role in shaping department policy and participating in programs vital to the college. “Most importantly, I am able to be there, on campus all day, all week for my students.”
MTA President Barbara Madeloni also testified. She praised the work that adjunct faculty members do across the public higher education system, but lamented their exploitation. She said that H. 1055 will correct an imbalance in higher education staffing and address poor treatment of highly trained workers, but she said the Legislature must make the corrections without increasing tuition and fees for students.
“The public clearly knows the value of — and in fact demands — high-quality public higher education. It is your job, and ours, to find the courage to generate the revenue necessary to achieve this goal,” she said.