Part-Time Faculty Face Obstacles Towards Benefits and Promotions

Tuesday, Apr 25, 2017 at 6:59 pm by CitrusTV I-team

They say that teaching is its own reward, but for Part-Time Music Instructor Jonathan English, that reward isn’t enough to make ends meet.

“I am doing almost greater than a full-time load for a tenured faculty member,” he said. “But it’s not enough to pay my bills,” he added.

English has been a part-time instructor at Syracuse University or more than a decade but works an additional three jobs to support his family. Outside of the classroom, English works as an independent vocalist and voice teacher, the director of a church music program in Syracuse, and he works for another choir 70 miles north in Watertown.

According to a 2014 Congressional report, 89 percent of
part-time faculty members nationally work at multiple institutions to make ends meet, and 13 percent work at least 4 jobs. English falls under the realm of these statistics. At Syracuse University, adjunct professors and part-time instructors fall under the umbrella term of part-time faculty.

According to English, part-timers are more dedicated to teaching than adjuncts. He said they are more dedicated to students but did not get a doctorate.

“They may have gotten only 1 or 2 master’s degrees and then went into their profession,” said English. “That is the main difference,” he added.

English said he usually teaches five days a week. A part-time
faculty member who teaches 92 percent of a full-time load is the maximum an individual can teach without the university having to provide benefits, according to English.

“One of my administrators said I’m embarrassed you’re
not an associate professor full-time and tenured,” he said. “But the fact of the matter is that we would have to cut your hours in half and double or triple your pay,” English continued.

English feels that many underestimate how much work is
done by part-time faculty. He said he has served on committees to hire tenure-track professors and committees to increase the number of courses offered by the school of music.

According to the part-time faculty members we spoke to, these educators face obstacles such as securing basic health insurance and advancing in their careers. This is even the case for some educators who have been at SU for up to 40 years.

Syracuse University has a union, Adjuncts United, to help
adjuncts and part-time professors have more success when negotiating with the university. It was created in 2008 to help adjuncts and part-time professors attain higher salaries, according to Part-Time Instructor Laurel Morton, the union’s president.

Almost a decade later, Adjuncts United is still fighting the very battle that spurred its formation.

According to public records obtained by the CitrusTV I-Team from SUNY Albany, the average salary of a part-time faculty member is slightly less than $10,000 at SUNY Albany. The I-Team was unable to compare this to Syracuse University with any reliable data because SU is a private institution.

We reached out to Syracuse University’s Human Resources department for two months, but they refused to comment on any aspect of our story in time for our story’s airing.

When it comes to benefits, many part-time faculty members have trouble getting them from the university, with few exceptions. Morton said this is especially an issue in the College of Visual and Performing Arts.

“In the arts school there are 5 out of well over 120 part-time faculty who have standard benefits,” she said.

To qualify for standard health benefits with the university, part-time faculty members must teach at least 15 credit hours an academic year, and have a multi-year contract with the school, Morton said. These thresholds are almost impossible to meet for most part-time faculty members, who are either employed by the university on a year-to-year basis or only teach one or two classes a semester.

According to English, the Setnor School of Music has been
treating part-time faculty unfairly. At Setnor, accompanying musicians are often required for student exams and auditions. The accompanist is compensated for their work.

According to English, the Setnor School pays students
more than it pays part-time faculty for these sessions as an accompanist.

A student, English said, will receive $50 an hour for the time he or she works. However, a part-time instructor like English receives a flat fee of $50, regardless of the number of hours of work, English added.

The situation for part-time instructors and adjuncts may worsen if hiring rates continue to increase. According to the American Association of University Professors, employment of part-time faculty increased by more than 70 percent nationwide from 1975 to 2014.

At SU, this is compounded by a growing tendency to hire highly paid administrative roles. According to the New England Center for Investigative Reporting, from 1987 to 2011, Syracuse University increased its number of administrators by 417 percent, more than double the national average.

A 2014 report by Bain and Company on behalf of the university found that Syracuse University had 211 administrators at the time, with only one person reporting directly to them.

Part-time Instructor Maryanne Patulski is one of the few
part-time faculty members with benefits. She received health insurance because of the advocacy of her program’s coordinator about a decade ago.

Once achieved, benefits for part time instructors did not become a staple of future contracts in her program, she said. Patulski and the other professors who received benefits were thankful.

“We got a line item on the budget,” she said.

Patulski has been a part-time faculty member for about 40 years. She started as an adjunct and is now considered a part-time professor.

According to English, very few adjuncts end up being able
to advance their careers. Numerous people have been teaching at SU for decades as adjuncts or part-time instructors, English said. Many of these professors have taught classes, served on committees to hire deans, and helped hire directors, he continued. However, the university never considered these efforts, according to English.

“They were always just adjunct,” English said.

Physics Lecturer Walter Freeman came to Syracuse as a
visiting assistant professor, an alternative to being an adjunct or a part-time instructor. The difference between these two types of educators is that a visiting assistant professor is considered a full-time employee, and both benefits and pay are better, he said.

According to Freeman, adjunct professors and other part-time faculty are being taken advantage of under the current system.

“It’s not just them that get hurt,” he said. “But their students that get hurt,” he added.

Freeman was an adjunct professor at George Washington University earlier in his career. He said he knows the pressures placed on adjuncts and part-time instructors under poor financial conditions. These professors often have “less dedication” to their roles as teachers due to the need to travel long distances and work multiple jobs, Freeman added.

Despite the complicated situation faced by part-time and adjunct faculty, the faculty we spoke with seem to have a positive effect on students.

Freshman Josie Hannum has had English as a music professor this semester. She said the class has not only taught her about music, but about life.

“We definitely go beyond the syllabus,” she said.

The CitrusTV Investigative team contacted the Human Resources
Department at Syracuse University repeatedly for comment for almost two months. They were not willing to comment by our deadline despite multiple emails, phone calls, and our team of journalists showing up in person.

Freeman did his best to describe the thinking of the university when it comes to hiring adjuncts. Universities need people to cover classes but do not anticipate a need for labor in the longer term, he said. This is likely because faculty members could be out on sabbatical, on family leave, or taking a leave of absence for research, according to Freeman.

“A department may find itself in the situation of needing to cover some classes,” he said.

Freeman adds that adjuncts are not respected or paid well. When he worked at George Washington University, adjuncts were not given space for their books.

“They had lockers like high school lockers,” he continued.

English said he understands the university’s perspective when it comes to hiring part-time faculty. Still, English said he would like to give even more of himself to Syracuse.

“A part-time instructor is a professional educator,” he said. “That is what they want to do.”

In the version of this story broadcast, the percent increase for the information cited from the American Association of University Professors was misstated. The hiring increase of part-time faculty is 70%, not 170%.