According to the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), more than 50 percent of those teaching at a college level are part- and full-time non-tenure track faculty, otherwise known as an adjunct instructor or contingent faculty.

What are the issues these instructors face since they are not afforded the same security and academic freedom that full-time college professors enjoy? What efforts are being made to help in overcoming challenges faced by adjuncts?

Changing face of college instructors

There are many different names used to describe an adjunct instructor, according to the AAUP such as adjuncts, postdocs, non-tenure-track faculty, clinical faculty, part-timers, lecturers, instructors, or nonsenate faculty. The issue is not only that an adjunct instructor lacks the same job security and benefits of full-time college professors, but also that the increase in non-tenure track instructors teaching at the college level results in more work for the full-time staff in terms of advising students, establishing curriculum and working on university-wide committees.

The AAUP compared the number of full-time college professors and adjuncts between 1975 and 2011. In 1975, 57 percent of college level instructors were tenure-track versus 30 percent in 2011. The same number of those teaching who identified as an adjunct instructor increased from 43 percent to 70 percent.

Overcoming challenges as an adjunct instructor

Not only is an adjunct instructor not guaranteed classes from semester to semester, but they also don’t earn the same pay. “The Adjunct Carousel: Part-Time Instructors Scramble to Patch Together Jobs, Provide Quality Education” by Adrienne Terrell Washington for the December 20, 2012 issue of Diverse Issues in Higher Education highlighted how hard overcoming challenges such as these can be for adjunct instructors.

Some schools are making an effort to level the playing field between college professors and an adjunct instructor teaching at the college level. One way is by creating more standardized syllabi and learning outcomes. This ensures that students receive equal instruction from adjuncts and full-time staff. Other colleges are working to ensure any adjunct instructor has office space to meet with students, something that is not always offered.

Teaching at a college level

Whether you are an adjunct instructor or full-time, college instructors often feel they have the ideal career. As Wilbert J. McKeachie and Marilla Svinicki explain in McKeachie’s Teaching Tips: Strategies, Research, and Theory for College and University Teachers, 13th edition, “There is infinite complexity and challenge. Each class is different, each student is unique, and there is always more to learn.” (McKeachie/Svinicki, 333)

For an adjunct instructor teaching at the college level that means overcoming challenges such as job insecurity and reduced pay, but it also offers flexibility and the opportunity to engage in an intellectually and socially stimulating career. With more faculty made up of adjunct professors, perhaps more colleges and universities will begin to address the concerns of part-time, non-tenure track college professors.

What other perks do you find associated with adjunct teaching? Let us know in the comments.

Reference: McKeachie, Wilbert J.; Svinicki, Marilla. 2011. McKeachie’s Teaching Tips: Strategies, Research, and Theory for College and University Teachers, 13th ed. Belmont, CA: Cengage Learning.