Adjunct professors feel devalued by pay

After two and a half years of contract negotiations, the University of Rhode Island’s Part-Time Faculty Union received an offer last week from the university: a $200 per course pay increase over a five-year period.

“It’s an embarrassment,” said PTFU President Edward Inman III. Currently, the university’s part-time faculty make $3,538 per course. Professors teach an average of between one and three courses and when preparation and other out-of-class time are considered, adjunct professors across the country, as well as many at URI, argue that they are being paid less than the minimum wage. Just this January, the United States House of Representatives released a study stating that the majority of adjunct faculty across the country live below the poverty line. Most survive by working between numerous universities.

“They’re hungry people,” Inman said about many of the professors he represents.

This semester, 29 percent of URI courses are taught by some of the university’s 485 current part-time faculty, according to statistics compiled by the PTFU. Nationally, adjuncts make up more than 76 percent of all college faculty.

“We’re an integral part of the community here at URI, and yet we’re not treated like that,” said Inman, comparing part-time faculty to the university’s “invisible army.” “We’re doing the work, and we’re gladly doing it, but we want to be recognized,” he said.

The union is looking for an increase to $8,000 per course, as well as health benefits, tuition waivers and multi-year contracts. According to Dr. Dorothy F. Donnelly, who has been working with the union since it was founded in 2011, these are benefits that are offered by most other similar institutions in New England.

“It’s still a bargain for the institution,” Inman said. According to the American Association of University Professors, an average full professor’s salary at URI is $105,600, associate professors earn $77,900 and assistant professors receive $68,600. Extrapolating from those statistics, URI’s full-time professors who teach three classes each semester are paid between $11,433 and $17,600 per course.

“The university is making a significant amount of money on the work that we do,” Inman said.

“What am I going to be doing this time next year? What am I going to be doing this time next semester?” said adjunct English professor Robert Leuci. “I get paid the same amount of money as a guy who delivers pizza. Or less.”

On top of many adjunct professor’s financial concerns, they also worry about job security. Adjunct professors often do not learn that they either do or do not have a class until nearly 10 days before classes begin and, unlike full-time professors, they do not receive compensation if their class does not run. Similarly, retention from semester to semester is a question often on professor’s minds.

According to Inman, the constant fluctuation of adjunct professors harms the “continuity of knowledge” at the university, which in his mind has the largest impact on students. The increased travel and decreased compensation also cuts into the amount of time professors have to spend with students and the unpredictability of the courses they teach can even impact students who sign up for a class for that specific professor, Inman added.

It is the university’s policy not to comment on ongoing contract negotiations. When asked to comment generally on URI’s part-time faculty or to some of the facts presented by the PTFU, neither the provost’s office nor the human resources department would offer a statement.

In Inman’s opinion, the university’s offer was simply “further confirmation that the university does not recognize the contribution we make to the university.”