Adjunct instructors, part-time professors who are not eligible for tenure, make up about 40 percent of faculty in American higher education, according to a 2014 report by the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce. They are the answer for universities facing tighter budgets, but are often the “working poor” of a university due to lack of benefits, job security, or livable wages.
Last year, one in five part-time faculty members nationally lived below the poverty line — pegged at $24,250 for a family of four — and one in four families of part-time faculty were enrolled in one or more public assistance programs, according to information provided by the Service Employees International Union.
“The job market is becoming more and more diffused because of the Affordable Care Act,” said Jeni Hart, associate division director of the MU College of Education Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis. “You may have someone who used to be able to get five classes at one institution, and that doesn’t happen anymore.”
The Affordable Care Act required universities to offer health care to most full-time employees. Many universities now limit their part-time professors to below three-quarters time — two or three three-credit classes a semester, for example — to avoid paying benefits. That forces adjuncts to pick up other part-time jobs to make sufficient income.
In response to these conditions, part-time professors at St. Louis-area schools have been organizing over the past two years. But adjuncts are a disparate, transient group and hard to organize. Currently, there are no plans to unionize adjuncts at universities in central Missouri.
Read more: Columbia Missourian