Adjunct instructors, the college’s silent majority, are about to make some noise.
Part-timers have scheduled a February 25 demonstration to protest low pay, poor benefits, lack of paid office hours and other hardships. Adjuncts across the state have been urged to walk out of classes, but SWC instructors decided not to, focusing instead on a rally-style protest.
Many students at SWC are unaware that their instructors are adjuncts, let alone the work conditions they face.
“I had no idea,” said Stephanie Hergert, 28, a child development major. “The professor who was the adjunct eventually (told us) on her own.”
An adjunct is an instructor designated by the state of California as a temporary worker intended to augment the workload of the institution’s full-time faculty. In the decades since the law was drafted, the educational landscape has shifted dramatically, with 70-80 percent of classes nationwide now taught by part-time adjunct faculty. At SWC, 617 of the 820 instructors on campus are adjuncts whose status and work conditions on campus differ drastically from their full-time colleagues.
Adjunct instructors have the same minimum qualifications as their full-time colleagues, and had either Master’s degrees or Doctorates in their fields. SWC adjuncts have included published authors, medical doctors, working lawyers, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, renown motivational speakers, a leading playwright and successful business owners. Some only want to teach a class or two, but most strive for full-time professorships.
Full-time faculty are hired on a contractual basis and, if they earn tenure within five years, their work is guaranteed and they are paid a fixed salary. Adjuncts are hired on a semester-to-semester basis at the pleasure of the district.
Geoffrey Johnson, the adjunct representative at SWC and San Diego Mesa College, said adjuncts are paid on an hourly basis with wages averaging $70 an hour.
“Adjuncts make approximately 50 percent of what full-time professors make with the same amount of work,” he said. “They are only paid for their time spent lecturing, not for grading homework, preparing lesson plans and meeting with students.”
Most adjuncts do not receive health insurance. Cobbling together enough work to survive
requires them to undertake lengthy commutes between colleges. Many spend several hours in traffic daily, “freeway flying” between SWC, Palomar, Cuyamaca and other regional colleges and universities. Some teach at three institutions.
Adjuncts usually do not have offices and are not paid for office hours, said Johnson, depriving students of out-of-class contact with their teachers.
Adjunct proliferation is linked to the defunding of California’s public education institutions, beginning with Proposition 13 in 1978, said Johnson. Full-time faculty hiring has decreased sharply, but there has been a statewide increase in administrative hiring.
Johnson said poor work conditions harm adjuncts as well as the school at large. Cohesiveness of the faculty as a body is damaged, he said, and entire departments often consist wholly of adjunct professors and with no full-time faculty. Students are often unable to schedule meetings with their professor, so the quality of students’ education is compromised.
Anthony Diez, 18, an exercise major, said it is difficult to speak to an adjunct outside of class.
“I thought it’d be easier to contact them,” he said. “But it’s not because it’s on their time and sometimes they are not able to get back to me. Or I’d try to schedule a meeting with them, but they’d never be able to.”
Johnson encouraged students to engage in signs of solidarity during the rally.
“(Students can help) by acknowledging and thanking an adjunct,” he said, “and by pressuring the governing board for more full-timers, student accessibility and paid office hours.”