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Before Free Community College, Meet Basic Needs of Workers

by Randall Martoccia
op-ed columnist

As more details emerge of President Barack Obama’s plan to provide community-college students two years of free tuition, I hope attention can be given to those who would be teaching a large portion of these students: adjunct faculty. (Adjuncts, as I’ll be calling them, are faculty members who are hired on a limited basis and have no chance of tenure.) My hunch is that the President’s plan would depend on continuing the absurdly low salaries paid to adjuncts.

And how low is the pay? Pitt Community College pays its adjuncts $1,500 per class, which comes out to about $100 per week, or nearly a third of the baseline pay for university professors. Using a conservative estimate of 10 hours per week per class, we are already down to $10 per hour (before taxes). In his 2015 State of the Union Address, President Obama issued Republicans with this memorable challenge: “If you truly believe you could work full-time and support a family on less than $15,000 a year, go try it.” Adjuncts working at Pitt Community College would need to teach 10 courses in a year to reach 15,000—again, in pre-tax dollars.

AAUP Faculty Employment Trends, 1975-2011And getting to that ten is no guarantee. While many adjuncts would gladly take on more classes, community colleges limit them to four classes a semester in order to maintain their part-time status and avoid having to provide benefits—a trend that’s worsened considerably since the Affordable Care Act took effect. Many adjuncts work multiple jobs and teach at one or sometimes two other colleges to make a living.

Four courses, by the way, is considered full time at East Carolina University. One might argue that university teachers have a greater workload and more responsibility. True, community college adjuncts have smaller classes and are not required to hold office hours. However, CCs have a higher percentage of nontraditional students and under-prepared students. In writing classes especially, where one-on-one instruction is crucial, the community college classroom can be even more challenging.

Adjunct faculty at PCC are not required to hold office hours because they do not have offices. Papers and tests still need grading, lessons still need planning, and students still need personalized teaching. The lack of an office just makes those responsibilities more difficult.

When President Obama introduced his plan, he said, “A college degree is the surest ticket to the middle class.” Surely the teachers who play such an essential role in helping students earn degrees should not be excluded from the middle class. The Modern Language Association reported in 2006 that the adjunct pay ranged from about $1400 per class to $3,000 per class. Pitt Community College is—a decade later—still at the poor end of that range.

But PCC is not to blame. As Daily Reflector’s Jane Dail reported, PCC President G. Dennis Massey recently argued that existing funds be redirected to provide a 5 percent pay raise for faculty and staff. A more dramatic shift is needed to bring adjunct salary to a reasonable level, and the General Assembly is the only force that can make that happen. I urge you to write to your state representatives. Challenge them to follow up on last year’s pay increase for public-school teachers. Challenge them to step up and enable community colleges to pay their adjunct faculty a salary that matches their great responsibilities.

Senator Don Davis: Don.Davis@ncleg.net
Senator Louis Pate: Louis.Pate@ncleg.net
Representative Brian Brown: Brian.Brown@ncleg.net
Representative Jean Farmer Butterfield: Jean.Farmer-Butterfield@ncleg.net
Representative Susan Martin: Susan.Martin@ncleg.net

Randall Martoccia is a university adjunct instructor. 

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Responses (2)

  1. Anonymous says:

    (The Greenville Guardian maintains a strict no-anonymous-comments policy. Given the personal information included in this comment, I’ve granted the writer anonymity. – Ed.)

    Thank you for this article. I teach at PCC as an adjunct. I’m paid just a few dollars under $1,500 per course. Teaching seven courses a semester (between two schools — I’m one of the lucky ones), I gross just over $15,000 a year, but I only clear about $11,000.

    I do not have an office where I can hold office hours, meet with students, or do any of the other work involved in instruction (like paperwork and planning). If I need to meet with students, we have to sit in the hallway during the business of class exchange or find a corner somewhere in one of the classroom buildings or outside — which is fine if they want to discuss why they were absent or find out what their homework is, but not helpful (and sometimes counterproductive) if they need to meet with me for anything else (like extra help with the coursework).

    I actually cannot even print or copy work for my students in my department because my department is charged something like 10 or 11 cents per page for the copy machine we have — which means that the burden falls entirely on my students. I am forced to either pay for copies myself (which I cannot afford) or upload all their work on Moodle for them to print. They, in turn, pay 10 or 11 cents at the school library to print their course material (which most of them also cannot afford). There are not any student computer labs or free places to print at PCC. Students do get a $10 credit for printing at the beginning of each term, but they exhaust that budget for my class alone.

    Moreover, half of my students do not have home computers or printers, and so go to the public library (where they are limited on computer time and pay for printing) to try to do their work. What this amounts to for them is hardship (financial and otherwise) and poor performance. What it amounts to for me is working off the clock.

    I’m paid only for the time I spend in the classroom teaching. I am not given compensation for the time spent grading (and I’m in the humanities, so the grading load is high) or planning or meeting with students. I’m not paid for the time spent on paperwork I must complete or the time spent uploading work to Moodle and answering emails. I am not paid for departmental meetings (some of which require a commute). When it is all said and done, if we count all the hours I actually work per week against the hours I am paid to work each week, my pay rate is around $6.00 per hour (obviously, I am not even able to afford to make payments on my student loans).

    Of course, I could be a slacker and do the bare minimum — show up to class and lecture on the fly (since I’m not paid to plan) and never give homework (since I’m not paid to make it or grade it) and never answer student emails or meet with students who need help (since I’m not paid for that either) — but that isn’t possible for me (or anyone else who has a conscience).

    I do all the extra work I am not paid to do because I feel a sense of responsibility to my students and because I am trying to make the world a better place and America a better country by playing my part in educating the population.

    I also do it because, frankly, I have a sense of work ethic (and was, in fact, hired, at least in part, because of this). And I’m criticized for it! By the general population and by lawmakers and others who like to point out that I chose this line of work for myself; no one forced me. God forbid I actually want to be a teacher. And God forbid I actually want to be a good teacher. Most of all, God forbid I try to get experience in the classroom so that I can improve instruction and so that I might stand a chance of being hired on full-time somewhere.

    And don’t get me wrong, it’s not like full-time faculty in my department have it easy or make loads of money — starting out, the pay is $39,000 and some change (with few opportunities for raises in the current political climate). But they do have offices where they can meet with students, and they do have computers and printers where they can do their work, and they do have lighter course loads (four or five classes compared to my seven, 80 or 90 students compared to my 175), and they do have some job security, a retirement plan (however abysmal), and health benefits.

    Personally, while I would certainly like to see (and have a vested interest in) adjuncts being paid more, I would rather see a system overhaul, one where 80% of faculty are not adjuncts, and one where the new full time positions (and benefits) that are offered are actually offered for teaching faculty instead of administrators. Honestly, one full-timer can (and will) do more for a school and more for their students and more for the educational system than 10 of the most dedicated and experienced adjuncts can.

    Like many things happening lately, this new “business model” for education is extremely short-sighted, and I’m rather tired of being valued more for being a warm pulse in the room than I am for my expertise and ability. I am also rather tired of being told how to do my job by businessmen and administrators who have little or no experience in the classroom or in education. And frankly, my students are fed up with it also.

  2. Lisa Ellison says:

    See also the Letter to the Editor in response to the op-ed, copied below.

    The writer [Before Free Community College, Meet Basic Needs of Workers, Jan. 27, 2015 op-ed] concludes with an excellent suggestion: The General Assembly is key to any raise in salaries.

    However, some of the reasoning employed to reach that conclusion is misleading. Yes, many adjunct faculty receive no benefits (health insurance mainly), but not only do they have no chance for tenure, they never did. Nor do full-time faculty in the North Carolina Community College System, begun in 1957 and now the third largest in the US. Tenure has never been a possibility.

    Unlike community colleges in other states, those in NC were based on technical and occupational training and basic education to prepare adults for the job market. In addition, each community college now offers the first two years of a baccalaureate program. But this wasn’t always true. In fact, until fairly recently, the community colleges were restricted in the number of college transfer courses they could offer as a percentage of their total curriculum. Community colleges elsewhere are primarily “feeder institutions” which exist to funnel students into the university system.

    As to pay, not all adjunct faculty are paid by the course. Some are hired in that manner, but others are hired based on the number of credit hours they teach, and still others are hired by the hour.

    The graphs supporting the op-ed are totally inapplicable. They were prepared by the AAUP (American Association of University Professors), and have no bearing whatsoever on community college pay scales.

    But, please do communicate with your state legislators. They are indeed the only hope for change.

    Linda Leighty
    Greenville, NC

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