Adjunct faculty feel a lack of support

Oct. 30 was Part-Time Faculty Appreciation Day, a statewide recognition for the thousands of faculty that work every year and every quarter to help bring higher education to college students. In commemoration, the Office of Instruction at Bellevue College set up a coffee bar in the Faculty Commons. Part-time faculty were able to come and get free espresso and pastries. The faculty response was, in general, indignant and underwhelmed.

As Tom Gibbons, an English instructor who recently stopped teaching at BC due to job insecurity put it: “Many part-time faculty feel that if we were truly appreciated, we would be paid more appropriately and given access to computing resources and office space that are adequate to the work that we do—for example, space to have a confidential conversation with a student. It’s not that we don’t appreciate free coffee, it’s that it seems like a small—and to some people, insulting—gesture in light of the larger, systemic problems.”

According to Gibbons, the population of BC is unaware of the problems adjunct faculty face. “Most students may not know that their instructor is a part-time faculty member. I usually tell my students that I’m technically a part-time faculty member, though I frequently teach a full-time course load.”

In emails sent to the BC faculty Listserv, Julianne Seeman, adjunct faculty at BC, stated publically that, “we are the Walmart of Education. We are NOT the Costco or the Nordstrom’s either. They have full time jobs, job security and a living wage.”

By many measures, almost three-quarters of the teaching body of BC is classified as part-time. The classification for what makes a faculty member adjunct, or part time, is in fact irrelevant to the amount of time that they work every day. Many adjunct faculty members work full-time hours or more, but do not get paid at the same rates or share the same job security that tenure faculty enjoy. In light of this, many adjunct faculty members believe that the best way for the administration to show its appreciation for the population without which, as economics instructor Chace Stiehl mentions, “the college could not operate,” is to give them full-time classification  and the benefits that come with it.

Gibbons, in describing the necessity for all professors to be given much needed resources, recalled that, “I once had a meeting with a student in which he asked to go someplace private, but there was no place for us to go, really. He broke down crying in the middle of a public office because his mother had just died.” Currently, adjunct faculty are not paid for office hours.

Stiehl goes forward to say that the problems that adjunct are now facing are faucets of a much larger problem with BC’s philosophy of being economically efficient to the point of neglecting the quality of human capital. He says that the only reason that adjunct are so prevalent, and  yet so underpaid, is because the current mindset of the college is that, “these people are cheaper” and can be used to “fill in the gaps.” He allows that this is to be expected, given that this is the general purpose to which any school would hire adjunct faculty over faculty with tenure, and says that a certain amount of flexibility must exist, but counters that the prevalence of the issue is counter-productive.

“You’d like to think that we’re paying a competitive wage so when there are really good adjunct faculty out there and they have to choose between [colleges], they say, I’ll take the BC job. We’re not doing that.”

Adjunct faculty are not sitting idly, and community talk of union movements is highly active. Resources for those wishing to get involved in this movement are available and those wishing to contact organizers may email the Bellevue College Association of Higher Education at bcahep@yahoo.com

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