adjunct professors

From left: Armelle Denis, Lori A. Cramer and Kathleen Stanley answer questions after presenting the results of their survey of non-tenure track faculty at Oregon State University on Wednesday afternoon. The union representing faculty members at OSU is protesting the heavy workload and low pay of adjunct professors. (Andy Cripe | Corvallis Gazette-Times)

Non-tenure track faculty members at Oregon State University often are overworked and underpaid, and they deserve better treatment, officials of the American Association of University Professors chapter at OSU said Wednesday.

Some 68 percent of all OSU faculty members — from instructors to researchers to professional employees — are adjuncts. They work under fixed-term contracts, with none of the job security of tenured professors, and they often earn far less money, AAUP leaders said during a lunchtime presentation to discuss the findings of a campus-wide survey.

“Like much of the rest of the American economy, American universities have come to rely on a large pool of cheap migrant labor,” said philosophy professor Jose-Antonio Orosco, president of the Oregon State chapter of AAUP.

“OSU is not different from these national trends.”

The study, titled “We Power Orange” in reference to an OSU promotional slogan, was conducted last spring. Questionnaires went out to 2,771 non-tenure track faculty members, with 1,262 responding.

Top concerns varied somewhat among instructional, research and professional faculty, but in general the biggest issues were low pay, lack of job security and limited prospects for advancement.

Three of the study’s authors spoke at Wednesday’s presentation, attended by about 50 people in the student union.

Many of the respondents complained that they don’t get as much credit for their contributions as their tenured colleagues receive, and that sense is reflected in the study’s title, co-author Lori Cramer noted.

“We are the ones behind this university, making it run,” she summarized. “We also power orange.”

The study found that more than half of non-tenure track instructors (both full- and part-time) make less than $40,000 a year and more than three-quarters make less than $50,000 — far less than their tenured counterparts.

The vast majority are on one-year contracts, and some don’t know from term to term whether their position will continue, even though more than half have been with OSU for five years or longer.

Co-author Kathleen Stanley noted that instructors typically earn the same salary they were hired at, no matter how many years of service they have with the university.

“They sometimes operate without offices, without computers — it makes it extremely difficult for people to do their jobs,” she said.

“They sometimes operate without offices, without computers — it makes it extremely difficult for people to do their jobs.”

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The study offered a number of recommendations, including:

• Offer longer-term contracts for long-serving faculty members.

• Aim for pay equity based on workload and qualifications.

• Reward seniority with merit raises, full-time vacancies and tenure-track positions.

• Create tenure lines for non-tenure-track instructors.

• Develop a progressive career path for all non-tenure track faculty.

An OSU spokesman said the university is taking the AAUP's concerns seriously.

“The president and the provost have committed to evaluate this and make it part of our evaluation process for all employees,” said Steve Clark, vice president for university relations and marketing.

But he also took issue with some of the study’s conclusions and said they could be easily misconstrued by the public. The word “faculty,” he pointed out, has a very broad meaning at OSU, including not only classroom instructors but researchers and administrators who do no teaching, so people might be confused by the statement that 68 percent of faculty members are adjuncts.

“We have to be careful there,” he said.

Clark also noted that pay for research faculty frequently is tied directly to grant funding from industry or government agencies, making long-term employment contracts problematic.

“For some people it becomes an apples-to-oranges comparison,” he said.

Still, he said, the university is trying to ease some of the difficulties facing its adjunct work force, including moving toward multiyear contracts for some employees and recently announcing $750,000 in additional compensation for non-tenure track instructors.

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Reporter Bennett Hall can be contacted at 541-758-9529 or bennett.hall@gazettetimes.com.


Special Projects Editor

Special Projects Editor, Corvallis Gazette-Times and Albany Democrat-Herald