Adjunct faculty take on a new role at Westminster

Hikmet Loe discusses a new project with her Art History: Emergence to the Renaissance students. Loe is an adjunct professor and the only upper division art history professor at Westminster. Photo by Jacqueline Dobbins

Hikmet Loe discusses a new project with her Art History: Emergence to the Renaissance students. Loe is an adjunct professor and the only upper division art history professor at Westminster. Photo by Jacqueline Dobbins

There’s a growing trend at colleges nationwide: Adjunct faculty. Over 40 percent of all faculty members in the United States are part-time, according to a report by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP).

“It’s an interesting national situation, and it’s been going on for a long time,” said Hikmet Loe, Westminster’s coordinator of adjunct faculty and an adjunct professor. “I just think we’re now in a new, interesting and enlightened era, where people are starting to admit that adjunct faculty are in the classroom at least equally, if not more.”

Westminster is part of this academic trend, employing up to almost 300 adjuncts throughout the year, Loe said.

“[The growth of adjuncts] doesn’t exist in isolation—there are a lot of factors,” Loe said. “Part of it is the changing face of academia, profit versus nonprofit, enrollment, tuition. There are so many different factors that come into play.”

One of the prominent factors is cost, Loe said.

“Are adjunct faculty cheaper to hire?” Loe asked. “Yes, they are, because they are not hired with a contract, and they are certainly not hired with benefits. The amount they make per class is in lower proportion to full-time faculty.”

Adjuncts earn between 22 and 40 percent less than full-time faculty on an hourly basis, according to a 2004 study by Cornell University, which looked into the earnings of adjunct faculty.

Because of the low wages associated with the job, many adjuncts are also working professionals who teach multiple classes, sometimes at different schools. With their many roles, some adjuncts said having time for everything can be difficult.

“The challenges as an adjunct are the same at any school,” said Adriana Pinegar, an adjunct teaching English. “No access to an office means that I am only on campus when I teach or if a student requests to meet, so I may seem less accessible to my students. I also have to balance my time between teaching and other jobs to supplement my income, which means that I can't always give my full attention to teaching.”

According to Loe, coordinator of adjunct faculty, Westminster has created a great environment for adjuncts.

“One of the reasons people want to work here is because we’re small and we have the opportunity to have a dialogue and contribute,” Loe said. “For the most part we, as adjuncts, don’t have very set ways we have to run every class. We can introduce new texts and new ways of teaching. This really benefits the students.”

Other adjuncts have echoed this sentiment.

The faculty and staff I have met [at Westminster] have been very welcoming and helpful,” said Kenneth Hartvigsen, an adjunct teaching art history. “The art department has been great at reaching out to me and making me feel like part of a larger team and not just someone filling an immediate need.”

Westminster is turning away from the trend of hiring more adjunct faculty with its new WCore curriculum. A large aspect of the new program is that full-time faculty will teach many—if not all—courses.

Adjuncts teach approximately 60 percent of all classes under the current liberal education program at Westminster. This means many students don’t have classes with full-time faculty until they begin taking classes for their major.

This negatively impacts student connections to full-time faculty and advising, according to Barbara Smith, a psychology professor and one of the initiators of WCore.

“Adjuncts do a wonderful job teaching the courses and what’s required, but it’s not their responsibility to know the ins and outs of Westminster and advising,” Smith said. “We want students to connect to full-time faculty from the beginning of their time at Westminster.”

The change to courses taught by full-time faculty is not a result of poor teaching by adjuncts, Smith said.

“I haven’t seen any difference in quality between adjunct and full-time faculty in terms of education,” said Sasha Ekshteyn, senior neuroscience major who’s had five adjuncts at Westminster. “Every professor I’ve had at Westminster, adjunct or not, all have the same level of investment in their students.”

Still, some students see problems in adjunct culture.

“My full-time professor last year was more willing to help during her free time compared to my adjunct,” said Abby Sebastian, senior nursing major. “The adjunct tended to just grade our stuff and move on and wasn’t available to help as much.”

The move to WCore, and its push for full-time faculty, will result in fewer adjunct positions at Westminster, Smith said.

“We’ll decrease the number of adjuncts who teach in the core program—that’s just going to happen,” Smith said. “I hope that those adjunct faculty and the departments try to work out, ‘Well you can’t teach this, but you could teach this instead.’”

However, due to a potential lack of full-time faculty, the WCore committee hasn’t taken adjunct teaching completely off the table, Smith said.

“Sometimes, because there isn’t a large enough faculty, we will use adjuncts,” Smith said. “Quite frankly, it’s not terrible if adjuncts teach—it’s terrible if they’re teaching 60 percent of your courses.”

Adjuncts are unsure of what role they will play in WCore.

“As for WCore, I'm afraid I just don't know what to expect,” said Matthew Heimburger, an adjunct teaching English. “I am hopeful that there will be a place for myself and other adjuncts. There are many excellent, dedicated adjuncts working here in the WCore program.”

Even as some adjuncts said they are concerned for their positions, they see WCore as a positive change.

“Giving students more contact with full-time faculty will help them immeasurably,” said Kurt Guner, an adjunct teaching history. “It hurts a little bit that I likely won't be retained past this summer as I've sincerely enjoyed the students here. This is bigger than me though, and I think it is a good long-term move.”