Taking a course taught by a part-time faculty member is almost as much of the college experience as relaxing on the quad.
Adjunct faculty help plug in the gaps in coverage, taking weekend or night shifts that tenured professors don’t want, or offer a particular area of professional or scholarly expertise, college officials say.
But some union officials criticize the use of part-time workers, saying they are a way to save money by not hiring full-time staff.
About 45 percent of the University at Albany’s faculty in the fall of 2011 was part-time, according to university spokesman Karl Luntta. This number does not include teaching assistants or graduate assistants, a breakdown that was not available. For the fall semester, there were 591 full-time faculty and 485 part time. In the fall of 2010, there were 625 full-time faculty and 442 part time.
“I think our numbers have been fairly consistent over the last seven or eight years,” Luntta said.
Luntta said it is common for universities like UAlbany to bring in adjunct instructors who have a specific set of skills. It allows the institution to offer a wider range of classes and at a variety of times, including evenings.
The minimum requirements for adjuncts depend on the program in which they are teaching and level of instruction. Many have master’s and doctoral degrees or professional certification or licenses. Some are Ph.D. students who are at their dissertation stage.
Teaching assistants, on the other hand, often work in laboratory settings and are under the supervision of the department, which offers orientation and training.
The stipend for an adjunct at UAlbany starts at $2,800 per course but often ranges from $3,000 to $4,000, according to Luntta. A full-time faculty member could make between about $45,000 and $65,000, depending on experience, according to the 2011 contract.
Full-time faculty make more money because in addition to teaching, Luntta said, they have office hours to meet with students, and are expected to publish, conduct research and serve on university boards, committees and community outreach groups.
“They have a larger role and a larger responsibility for the curriculum they teach, and in mentoring and in student advisement,” he said.
UAlbany’s use of part-time faculty is slightly above the state average. Across SUNY’s state-operated campuses as of the fall of 2010, a total of 11,199 — or 60 percent — of the faculty was employed full time compared with 7,337 part time.
Use of part-time faculty has caught the attention of United University Professions, the 35,000-member union for college faculty, which is lobbying for more full-time staff.
UUP spokeswoman Denyce Duncan Lacy said the union would ideally like the split to be closer to 70 percent full time and 30 percent part time. Certain factors work to take class time away from full professors, however: Some graduate students have to teach as part of their degree requirements, and medical students often have to do some teaching.
Like Luntta, Lacy agreed that adjuncts are necessary. “There are some positions that are harder to fill and people who want to be just part time. They’re not necessarily making a career out of teaching at the college level. They’re doing it because they may have the expertise and time,” he said.
Also, some of the adjuncts might be working in their fields and thus have more current knowledge of the subject. But adjuncts don’t have a lot of time for office hours and aren’t able to develop as close a relationship with their students.
Luntta said the university has no requirement for a set number of office hours, but there is an expectation that both full-time and part-time faculty will keep hours proportionate to the number of students they have.
“They are expected to be available to students outside of scheduled class time at a reasonable level. Most faculty schedule several hours each week,” he said.
Teachers are also to make themselves available to students outside of their office hours by appointment, according to Luntta.
Lacy said relying on adjuncts and part-timers is common in many states looking to cut costs of their public sector universities. Often a full-time faculty member will retire and be replaced by a part-time person to save money. That could limit the number of sections or courses offered, which hurts the students. “It takes them longer to get what they need to graduate,” she said.
Community colleges also use adjuncts and part-time staff.
About 35 percent of the course sections at Schenectady County Community College are taught by adjuncts, according to Ralf Schauer, spokesman for the SCCC Faculty Association.
College spokeswoman Heather Meaney said about 61 percent of the staff during what she termed “traditional” hours of operation are full time.
Schauer said adjuncts are needed because there is not enough coverage by full-time faculty in the evenings, Saturdays and summer sections.
“There is a certain amount of flexibility in the sense that you’re trying to make a schedule. Sometimes you just have slots that your faculty is already committed,” he said.
Schauer said the college wants to have professors from a wide range of disciplines, so they don’t want to have many full-time staff just to teach basic courses. Some of those can be handled by adjuncts.
Some adjuncts stay on for many years and become de facto members of the department.
But their duties often don’t extend beyond the classroom. “They don’t do some of the other academic work that has to be done and that load goes onto the full-timers,” Schauer said.
Adjuncts are not required to hold office hours but most come in early or stay after class to speak with students, according Meaney. They can also stay in touch with students using email or the college’s online course management system ANGEL. Full-time faculty must keep at least six office hours per week.
At SCCC, adjuncts are required to have at least a master’s degree in a relevant field or a master’s degree plus 18 graduate credits in the field they are instructing, Meaney said. Some exceptions are made for people to teach with a bachelor’s degree and 18 hours of advanced credit.
Meaney said the average salary for a full-time faculty member is $54,122. Adjuncts are paid anywhere between $750 and $825 per credit hour, depending on experience and degree level, she said.
Another reason to have adjuncts is they may have an area of expertise such as a special musical instrument, according to Schauer. “Sometimes, it’s easier to bring in that one person to teach that one course or two courses.”
At Skidmore College, about 60 percent of its adjunct faculty is in the performing arts — music, dance, theater and art, according to Dan Forbush, executive director of strategic communications.
Forbush said this allows the college to offer a wider variety of classes. For example, adjunct faculty teach classes in such instruments as sitar, banjo, harp and bassoon.
Other private institutions rely on part-time staff as well. Siena College, a private school in Loudonville, has 209 full-time faculty members, about 62 percent of its faculty.
They have not had a drastic increase or decrease in recent years, according to spokesman Ken Jubie.
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute has 386 full-time instructional faculty, which make up about 81 percent of instructional staff, said RPI spokesman Michael Mullaney.
Union College spokesman Phillip Wajda said the college has 224 full-time equivalent staff members to teach 1,344 courses. Full-time professors are required to teach six courses per year. So far, they have 41 adjunct professors to teach 80 courses for the spring term that begins March 26.
The adjunct numbers have been constant for a number of years, Wajda said.