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Just how bad are things for adjunct professors?

Posted by Christopher Shea  August 12, 2010 10:33 AM

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As a measure of just how bad things have gotten for part-time, non-tenured faculty members, consider this: Washtenaw Community College, in Michigan, has a plan to turn them, quite literally, into temps. And the move, which sounds like a professional insult, will be a financial step up.

Under the plan, the adjunct professors, who teach 40 percent of the college's classes, will be pushed off of the college payroll and handed over to a temporary-services agency, which will help them land teaching jobs when and if they are needed. No benefits, of course. The public college stands to save from $800,000 to $1 million annually.

But the move should actually put more money in the teachers' pockets. In the first place, they aren't getting benefits now, so nothing changes there. Also, Michigan law mandates that the college contribute 16 percent of the salary of each employee to a public pension fund, while the staff member contributes 3 percent (soon to rise to 6 percent), explains Inside Higher Ed. Since part-timers almost never vest in the pension--qualify for receiving benefits--they never see their contributions again. The college has promised to raise adjuncts' salaries by 3 percent, if the plan goes through, using the money it saves on its own retirement contributions (the 16 percent).

Last year, another community college in Michigan floated the same idea, but dropped it after a national outcry from advocates for adjuncts. These critics said that, if anything, the administrators should be helping adjuncts get access to the retirement pension they were helping pay for, however small the portion.

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