Walking into a classroom at Bellevue College, students have no way of knowing whether the professor is tenure-track faculty or adjunct faculty. Many students wouldn’t know the difference, let alone care to ask. Adjunct faculty are part of the over 70 percent of BC’s instructors who work quarter-to-quarter, on a non-contract basis.
This situation is not unique to BC; in fact, BC’s hiring practices are consistent with the practices of national institutions for higher education as a whole. BC is part of a national downward trend in the hiring of tenure-track professors. In the 1980s, only 43 percent of professors were adjunct professors. By 2007, that number had risen to over 70 percent.
Depending on the quarter, between 60 and 70 percent of BC’s sections are taught by adjunct faculty. Douglas Brown, the president of the BC Association of Higher Education and a faculty member in the physics department, attributed this to the economic downturn. Currently, the state funds only 27 percent of the college’s needs, and since tenure-track faculty are paid as much as 30-40 percent higher salaries, BC can’t always afford to hire as many.
Despite the large number of adjunct faculty members, Vice President of Human Resources Cesar Portillo pointed out the high volume of full-time faculty: “We have an incredible number, so while we do have a large number of adjunct [faculty], we are committed to hiring full-time instructors…from a Human Resources perspective.”
In the Arts and Humanities division, the department chairs make the class schedule and therefore decides which faculty members each which classes. Katherine Oleson, the department chair for the communications division, said she gives tenure-track faculty priority because part of their contract states that they must teach three classes per quarter. After that, however, she considers the availability and specific areas of expertise that faculty members have, and not their status as adjunct or tenure-track. “We have part-timers and full-timers that really know their discipline, and that’s what I trust,” she said.
Despite the fact that many adjunct faculty and tenure-track faculty teach the same classes, their hiring practices are different. For tenure-track faculty, the search for people to fill positions begins a year in advance. Positions are advertised nationally, and after the application period ends, all the applications are screened for minimum qualifications. Those who meet minimum qualifications are invited to interview, and they are interviewed by a hiring committee that has undergone extensive diversity training. The goal of this process is to attract a faculty that more closely mirrors the student population. Different departments have different specific requirements that applicants must meet, and may or may not require a teaching demonstration, among other things. These applications are reviewed by not only the hiring committee, but by the Human Resources department and the Office of Instruction. “If it comes across as a very strenuous process, it’s simply with the intention of making sure we hire the best candidate possible,” said Portillo.
The process for hiring adjunct faculty is much simpler. According to Portillo, these hirings tend to be more last-minute and adjuncts receive little advance notice. Department deans play a larger part in making these decisions. There is still an interview process, but the search for adjunct faculty is a local one, not a national one, and there is no hiring committee.
The stricter hiring process for tenure-track faculty has been implemented because “tenured faculty may be part of the institution for decades,” said Brown. They also make more money because apart from teaching classes, tenure-track faculty have more responsibilities. They are required to keep office hours (at least 5 per week), sit on committees and mentor and review adjuncts in addition to their regular teaching duties. Many adjunct faculty members keep office hours as well because it is an expectation of students, but they aren’t paid for it like tenure-track faculty are. Also, despite the fact that many adjuncts teach full class loads, and more in some cases, they aren’t offered the same resources as tenured faculty. Tenure-track faculty have an office, desk, computer and phone provided by the school, whereas adjuncts share offices and desks, and aren’t provided with phones or computers.
Then there is the matter of salary. Adjunct faculty are paid only 70 percent, on average, of a tenure-track faculty member, despite the fact that they may teach the same courses and the same hours. “None of the faculty are paid adequately and the adjunct faculty are particularly underpaid,” said Brown. “To be completely candid, I’d have to say that the salary of adjuncts is scandalous.”