Adjuncts at ETSU make about $600 per credit hour per semester, and unlike tenured professors, they are contracted as part-time employees.
The pay, as well as the job security, leaves a lot to be desired, according to United Campus Workers union organizer Dennis Prater, an adjunct in the literature department and former Washington County Commission candidate.
“In my time as an adjunct at ETSU since 2011, I have worked as a gas station clerk, as a server and piece together parts of my budget sometimes from selling plasma,” he said. “They are the types of jobs that require some sort of supplemental income.”
For years, Prater said adjunct professors and members of the ETSU community have been raising their concerns to change this reality.
“We should be able to make a living off a job and not have to have three part-time jobs,” he said.
When adjunct professors like Prater aren’t working for supplemental income, they’re often working outside the classroom to grade papers and finish other administrative work for the university.
“One thing about teaching at the college level is that there’s a lot of behind-the-scenes work that goes into it, particularly with classes where we grade papers,” Prater said. “If we are going to do our duty to our students and bring their writing up to the level it’s supposed to be, it does require careful attention.”
More than 500 adjuncts teach about 25% of the courses at ETSU. They have not received raises in more than two decades.
“The improvement of faculty and staff salaries, including compensation for adjuncts, is a priority across the campus and it is a goal outlined in ETSU’s current strategic plan,” Michael Hoff, chief planning officer and associate vice president of planning and decision support, said in an emailed statement to the Johnson City Press.
“Since last fall, ETSU has been studying staffing related to the instructional mission of the university. The data we are gathering will include the percentage of instruction that is being delivered by each of the different faculty classifications, such as tenure-track professors, lecturers, temporary faculty and adjuncts, and also by course type, which includes traditional classes, course labs, clinical experiences and practicums,” he continued. “This data will be used to create an institutional profile related to instruction and to develop a strategy aligned with our strategic plan to enhance the quality of education and, wherever possible, increase faculty salaries.”
But when talking about faculty raises, Prater said adjunct professors are often left out of the equation.
To bring this issue to the attention of the campus community, organizers will be holding a rally on April 10 from 3-4 p.m. in Borchuck Plaza. The rally is the latest action in a larger campaign for pay raises on campus.
Austin Cable, a senator in ETSU's Student Government Association, said he co-sponsored a university-wide bill urging adjunct raises after learning more about their situation at ETSU.
“A couple of other senators and I saw this issue and understood it wasn’t just an adjunct issue, it’s a student issue as well,” he said. “Teacher working conditions, specifically adjunct conditions, correlate to learning conditions.”
Cable said he felt the issue of raising adjunct pay was put on the backburner by campus leadership before students began discussing the issue recently.
“That shows the power students have,” Cable said.
Cable said he believes raises for adjuncts should be a higher priority for campus officials.
“There’s a lot of things the university can spend money on. When we’re talking about budgets, we’re really talking about a list of priorities being set,” Cable said.
“If adjunct pay was a priority, then they would put it at the top of their priority list,” he continued. “The fact that they’re not doing that and putting other things on the list shows me it’s something they haven’t had at the forefront.”
While organizers are hoping to obtain pay raises for adjuncts at the university level, efforts to raise adjunct pay rates are also moving through the Tennessee General Assembly. If House Bill 0707 makes it through the legislature, adjuncts at ETSU will make $1,000 per credit hour.
“We’ve been speaking out as United Campus Workers at ETSU for a few years now. This year, UCW wanted to work with some legislative allies to introduce legislation to raise adjunct pay statewide, and that’s something that’s still in process, but we’re also working to address it on the campus level as we can.
“From what we understand now, we may have to continue the campaign into next semester, and we are certainly prepared to do that,” Prater said.
The campaign could last even longer than that, according to Cable.
“If nothing’s done up until when I leave, I know other students who are just as passionate as I am who have told me they don’t care to keep it going as long as it needs to,” he said.