Adjunct faculty face financial injustice

By Sean Smith
Pulse Staff Reporter

Graphic of the percentage of workers who receive government benefits.
Click image to enlarge.

If you are a student attending the Alamo Colleges, chances are pretty good that you are being taught by at least one adjunct faculty, if not more.

An adjunct faculty member is a temporary, part-time employee. They work on an as-needed basis, filling in for whichever classes are available at the time. In most cases, this means having to teach different classes at different schools with no guaranteed available positions for each semester.

Sabra Booth, M.F.A., has been called a “Roads Scholar,” rather than a Rhodes (Oxford) Scholar. This semester, she is adjunct at Palo Alto College, Our Lady of the Lake University and the Southwest School of Art. She also sells her own art professionally, picks up work at museums and does workshops, as well. Despite all of this, she is still just scraping by.

“Recently, it’s been especially difficult because I have a dependent, an elderly parent, whose needs are greatly increasing each year. So it’s been a definite financial and time strain. Income gaps over the holidays and summers are especially difficult,” said Booth.

Adjuncts are only allowed to teach a maximum of three classes (up to 11 hours) per semester, even if they’re teaching at multiple Alamo Colleges. This qualifies them as part-time, so the College District does not have to pay their health benefits. An adjunct with a master’s degree receives an average pay of $2,388 per class, which is $7,164 per semester. That’s $16,716 per year, if they are actually able to teach three classes every semester plus one class in the summer.

Many adjuncts rely on public assistance, such as housing, food stamps, Medicaid, Communicare, etc. This means that the majority of adjuncts typically work another job, preferably one with health benefits.

Adjunct History Instructor Ted Villalon has worked for 19 years in the district as an adjunct. In the past seven of those years, he has also worked part-time at Starbucks, where he receives benefits. Villalon is one of the many adjunct instructors who would gladly take a full-time position at Palo Alto College, or any of the Alamo Colleges, should one become available. But according to him, that’s only happened twice in the 19 years he’s been working as an adjunct.

“The first one (FT position) opened up after about 10 years, and another is opening up just now, I hear,” said Villalon.

But this is not just happening on a local level. Former Clinton Cabinet Member Robert Reich recently posted on Facebook that “according to the American Association of University Professors, more than half of all faculty hold part-time appointments.”

At Palo Alto, it’s 50.45 percent adjunct, with 113 part-time faculty members out of a total of 224 faculty, 111 of whom are full time.

Adjunct Instructor of Biology Lance Sandberg has worked six years at Palo Alto as an adjunct and 10 years before that at St. Philip’s. He is currently one of only two professors who have full-time adjunct status at Palo Alto College. This entitles him to health benefits, but the maximum amount of time that he can be at full-time status is two years, after which the benefits are removed and he must re-apply as part-time adjunct. Before this, Sandberg tutored as his second part-time job. But that is not an option for adjuncts anymore.

“Between two part-time salaries, making ends meet was doable. Easy, I’m not so sure, but it was doable. With just one part-time job…because adjuncts can’t apply to be tutors anymore…with that, I’ll have to find something else to make ends meet,” said Sandberg.

Chancellor Bruce Leslie, whose salary is $450,000 per year, $50,000 more than the president of the United States, has recently pushed for more adjunct faculty positions because of increasing budget cuts by the State of Texas. This means that there could be even fewer permanent full-time faculty positions.

According to Vice President of Academic Success Elizabeth Tanner, the departments at Palo Alto are now asked by the college district to maintain a 50/50 ratio of full-time to part-time (adjunct) faculty. Previously, the ratio was 60 percent full-time, 40 percent part-time.

“How do we determine the need?” wrote Tanner in an email. “We are asked to maintain a ratio of 50 percent full-time and 50 percent adjunct faculty members, overall, for the college. We, therefore, attempt to adhere to that ratio, as a minimum number of full-time faculty, in each discipline.  Our accrediting agency, SACSCOC, does not require that the college have one ratio or another of FT to PT faculty, but they do say you must convince them that you have enough full-time faculty to support the curriculum…We have argued successfully in our reaffirmation application that the 50/50 ratio of full-time to part-time faculty meets the requirement as stated above.”

Tanner continued, “We hire full-time faculty in disciplines that have fallen below the 50 percent full-time faculty criterion.”

There is concern among faculty that the ratio could change again, perhaps to 40 FT and 60 PT, and that some of the tenured, full-time faculty could be pushed into early retirement and replaced with more part-time professors instead of new full-time professors.

Another concern is that the students may not receive the amount of attention they need for their education. If half of their professors are working two jobs, commuting from school to school, unable to advise students outside of class, have no offices where the students can reach them, no guaranteed job security or financial stability, then it’s that much harder for them to stay focused on the students’ needs.

The departments at Palo Alto do try and help adjuncts where they can with their scheduling and reaching their maximum class count because they realize how big of a part they play in student success and how hard the adjuncts work.

“Adjuncts go the extra mile and do a really good job for us and are completely dedicated,” said Tanner.

Adjunct Biology Instructor Krista Aguero said that she would like to be a full-time faculty member.

“I think it’s important to get more (FT) faculty members on board because when you’re an adjunct, you don’t really feel a part of the team,” she said.

These are the issues that adjuncts must contend with, and yet many of them still stay on for years, hoping to secure the increasingly rare, full-time, tenure-track position, so that they can finally make a living doing what they love. The reality is often quite different.

“Adjunct is hardly ever a step to a full-time position at the school,” said Booth.

You may find more information on adjunct faculty pay at: