Part Time: The reality of Being Adjunct

Adjunct English teacher Karyn-Lynn Fisette pours over student essays at her home in Portland on Oct. 27, 2017. Fisette teaches at four schools and one prison to pay off her student loans, usually working up to 65-hour weeks. (Andy Bao/The Independent)

Adjunct English teacher Karyn-Lynn Fisette poses for a portrait at her home in Portland on Oct. 27, 2017.
(Andy Bao/The Independent)

It’s an unusually busy Friday afternoon in Cannel Library. Students are hurrying between bookcases, chatting with each other and typing away at computers.

Among the bustle, confused-looking students are bombarding a woman with questions before drifting back to their groups.

The woman is English instructor Karyn-Lynn Fisette. Fisette is an adjunct, a part-time instructor who usually only teaches one or two classes each quarter. And adjuncts like Fisette are on the rise.

From 1975 to 2015, the national percentage of part-time faculty in the academic labor force nearly doubled, jumping from 24 to 40 percent.  At Clark, adjuncts make up 65 percent of instructors.

Although Fisette said she enjoys being an adjunct for the change of scenery and long drives, there are problems too. She said it can be difficult to build relationships with other adjuncts, which makes it hard to find a sense of community.

While campus socials and events are available for adjuncts, Fisette said it can be hard to find time to participate. Still, Fisette said she’s lucky. “I’m not bartending [like] a lot of my colleagues are.”

Fisette said she works 60 to 65 hour weeks, and most of that is outside of the classroom. But adjuncts aren’t paid for outside work.

“If we are teaching a 101, it’s five days a week, 50 minutes, we get five hours of pay and that class is probably 15 hours of work on top of those five hours,” Fisette said.

According to Clark’s job postings, english adjuncts like Fisette are paid $60.30 per lecture hour and $51.50 per lab. Teaching a five credit lecture class will pay around $3,000 for the 10 week quarter.

A full-time instructor can be expected to teach an average of nine classes a year, but the least amount they can look to receive is about $46,000. If an adjunct worked the same load, they would receive around $27,000.

Vice President of Instruction Tim Cook said the college relies on adjuncts to balance the budget. He said that for the amount the school pays a full time instructor, they can hire adjuncts for three or four more classes.

“There’s a disparity between the pay an adjunct gets and that a full timer gets,” Cook said. “If an adjunct is teaching half time of what a full timer is, you’d think they would be getting half the pay, but they’re not. They’re getting less than that, and that’s an issue.”

Cook said the number of adjuncts peaked around 2012. “We had really high enrollment,” Cook said. “And a lot more classes.” However, as enrollment declined over the last five years, the number of adjuncts has gone down too.

English professor and Faculty Union President Kimberly Sullivan said that because adjuncts depend on enrollment in classes, many adjuncts work quarter to quarter and don’t always know if they have work until each quarter schedule is released for the public.

While adjuncts don’t have their own offices, Sullivan said there are shared office spaces available to adjuncts on campus. But they don’t work for everyone.

Jennifer Stone Hill, an English adjunct in her fifth year at Clark, said her department’s adjunct office is in Hanna Hall, but because she teaches in AA-4, she typically looks for other places to meet with students. Stone Hill also said that because the spaces are shared, it’s not always a good place to hold her office hours.  “I tried to do some day-time conferences in there,” Stone Hill it didn’t seem to be a very quiet place to work with students.”

To set office hours, Stone Hill looks at the schedule for the room she teaches in and the ones surrounding it, then checks if there will be a half-an-hour to hour before or after her class so she can use the room to grade and meet students in, setting her hours at those times.

Stone Hill said that she likes being an adjunct instructor because it gives her a lot of flexibility, but she hopes to become a full time instructor in the future.

“I don’t want to be in this position forever,” Stone Hill said.

Last week, The Indy staff surveyed two classes — one section of Introduction to Journalism and one section of Mass Media — about students’ feelings about taking courses from adjunct instructors.  An overwhelming majority of the respondents said they didn’t care if the instructor they had was a professor or adjunct, provided the faculty member was sufficiently qualified to teach the course.

Many said they haven’t been able to tell in classes which instructors were adjuncts and which were full time.

Only two of the more than 30 students surveyed came close to identifying that nearly two-thirds of all Clark faculty are adjuncts.

Three of the respondents said they believe it is unfair that adjuncts aren’t compensated to the degree that full-time faculty are.  “It just isn’t fair that that they aren’t paid for doing out of class curriculum planning,” one respondent wrote.

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