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State Higher Education Relies Heavily on Adjunct Teachers

By Martin Salazar
Copyright © 2009 Albuquerque Journal
Journal Staff Writer

          Until recently, Bill Nevins taught an average of five classes a term at Central New Mexico Community College just to eke out a modest living.
        "I was happy for the work," Nevins said. But he added that it often meant commuting to several different campuses and teaching whatever writing and composition classes were offered to him.
        Despite his heavy course load, Nevins was a part-time CNM employee. He made between $25,000 and $30,000 a year.
        Nevins' story isn't unique. Across the country, colleges and universities are using more part-time faculty. And many of those part-timers take on large course loads just to make a middle-class living.
        Colleges say the practice gives them flexibility to keep up with student needs and to hire professionals who are experienced and up-to-date in their fields.
        In New Mexico, a study commissioned by the Legislature and issued in December 2007 by the Higher Education Department found that 54 percent of faculty at the state's colleges and universities are classified as part-time.
        The study also found that part-time instructors in this state earn about $880 per credit hour, just above half of what full-time, non-tenure track instructors make at four-year institutions.
        State Rep. Danice Picraux, D-Albuquerque, sponsored the legislation calling for the study.
        "I wanted the study done so we could see where we were at and we could make a plan ...," said Picraux, who teaches at the College of Santa Fe. "We're using them in a regular way. Let's regularize their employment status in some way."
        The ranks of part-time faculty are swelling rapidly as colleges reach for the cheaper alternative to hiring permanent instructors or tenured and tenure-track faculty, according to a national report released last month by the Modern Language Association.
        It cautions that the unprecedented shift toward more poorly paid, part-time instructors may compromise the learning experiences of students and contribute to higher college dropout rates.
        The report states that part-time faculty now make up 40 percent of those teaching English in four-year institutions and 68 percent in two-year institutions.
        At CNM — the state's largest community college — 66 percent of faculty in all fields are part-time and 67 percent who teach freshmen and sophomore English classes are part time.
        "Since most of CNM's programs are designed to meet the needs of business and industry in the region, many of CNM's part-time instructors are current full-time professionals in the fields they are teaching at CNM, which provides CNM students with the most current and relevant instruction in their field," spokesman Brad Moore said.
        At the University of New Mexico, tenured and tenure-track faculty made up 38.9 percent of total faculty in 2006, the most recent year available. Temporary faculty, or part-timers, comprise 27.9 percent. That figure doesn't include graduate teaching assistants or lecturers hired on a permanent basis just to teach.
        UNM's English department had 31 part-time or adjunct faculty, excluding graduate students, and 30.5 tenure track faculty.
        At the College of Arts & Sciences, senior associate dean Phillip Gonzales said the hiring of adjuncts has been a creative way to provide classes that students need.
        "What has happened is that the entrance of students to universities has outstripped the ability of universities to be able to keep up in terms of tenure-track hires," Gonzales said. "There are budgetary reasons for that."
        He said another benefit of hiring part-time instructors is flexibility, because they can be hired as needed.
        "As long as the people who are doing the contract teaching are well-trained, then, on the level of the instruction (students) get, there is no disadvantage," Gonzales said. "At UNM, we have adjunct instructors that have (doctorates), and so on the level of classroom experience itself, I don't believe there is a negative loss."
        Adjunct faculty members who teach on semester-to-semester contracts are frequently paid less than their full-time counterparts, and they have fewer rights.
        Two weeks before the semester that just ended, Nevins received a letter notifying him that his services were no longer needed. He had been scheduled to teach five courses.
        CNM won't discuss the case publicly, but college officials maintain that they were within their rights to handle the case as they did. The American Association of University Professors, a national faculty group, is investigating. Meanwhile, Nevins is scheduled to start teaching part-time writing classes at UNM's Valencia campus later this month.
        Christine Rack, a part-time sociology instructor at UNM who has a doctorate, is paid $3,500 for each course she teaches. She said she survives on about $21,000 a year.
        "It's really a heck of a lot of work for very little money," she said. Rack said that, during the first five years she taught at UNM, part-time faculty received no raises.
        "It was weird because the whole university would get a raise, and I wouldn't get a cent," she said. The university has provided modest raises to part-time instructors for the last two years, she said.
        "Pay us like real employees," she said. "We are state employees. We work hard. We deserve to be compensated."

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