While state colleges in Oklahoma brace for budget cuts and colleges nationwide are under increased scrutiny about tuition, amenities and sexual assault — there is another issue at hand that needs attention: the overuse of part-time professors.
OCCC has 258 part-time professors compared to 157 full-time. President Paul Sechrist said at the May 19 OCCC Regents meeting there was a time when that ratio would have affected the college’s accreditation.
“That’s no longer the case, but it does indicate that we’re relying heavily on part-time faculty for teaching students, which is not terrible but it’s something that we always need to consider,” Sechrist said.
Adjunct professors make about $680 per credit hour and typically teach six credit hours, with some teaching up to nine if necessary. A full-time professor’s course load is usually 15 credit hours per semester. Adjuncts average $22,403 in annual salary at OCCC according to the 2014-15 FY Budget and Staffing plan — that is, if they worked full-time which they are not allowed to do.
Without much divergence nationwide, even taking into account Oklahoma’s low cost of living, adjuncts make about double the poverty line of $11,770 for a single individual and $20,090 for a family of three by the standards of the U.S. Department of Health.
Adjunct Union and many other activist groups such as New Faculty Majority are working to improve what they consider sub-standard pay and working conditions for part-time professors.
A U.S. Department of Education statistic shows 75.5 percent of the 1.8 million professors in the U.S. are off the tenure track, and half of those are part-time adjunct professors.
Some part-time professors will say the pay isn’t their reason for teaching. Instead, it’s their passion for the work. In a small survey of some adjuncts at OCCC one professor reflected that very feeling:
“I have found my brief tenure at OCCC to be rewarding beyond my highest expectations. I knew this academic institution is highly regarded in the community but I had no idea how committed the college is to our students. We truly make students the priority here! … I love teaching. I love that magical moment when a person experiences an insight that changes their life or makes life more fulfilling.
“I am grateful to have the opportunity to work as an adjunct and potentially leave someone better off than they were previously. OCCC is the perfect environment to offer wisdom and guidance to students who are open and receptive.”
Such professors are passionate about what they do, and the higher education system in general is taking advantage of them. Indentured servitude was the practice of temporary debt slavery to someone capable of paying for your passage from Europe to pre-Revolution America.
The process of taking out massive college loans and then overworking, underpaying, and under-employing people working on or possessing master’s and doctorate degrees is an open problem that everybody who works in higher education is aware of.
Major systemic reform is the only solution but since Congress is not known for being proactive, the best thing adjuncts can do is join together and speak up.