Use of adjuncts increases across state

Courtesy Photo /
Professor John Reifel

Courtesy Photo / Professor John Reifel

Anya Zentmeyer

No matter the size or location, colleges around the nation are still feeling the bite of a plagued economy that keeps on taking. In Michigan, universities are carrying the weight of a flailing state on their shoulders and, as a result, so are their faculty and staff.

Across the state, the employment of adjunct professors brought in to teach one or two courses are inching upward.

However, Joe Godwin, associate vice president for Academic Affairs, said he does not believe Grand Valley State University’s increase can be attributed to that. Projected numbers, Godwin said, can be “a bit volatile” for a number of reasons.

“For example, if a regular faculty member leaves, it usually takes over a year to recruit another one,” he said. “During that year, it is likely that an adjunct will teach some classes left open by the departing faculty member.”

Institutional analysis shows a total of 512 adjuncts are employed at GVSU across all academic units. Out of the 3,978 sections taught at GVSU, adjunct faculty teaches about 20 percent, or 941 of those sections.

In fall of 2008, adjuncts taught a total of 849 sections out of 3,718 – an increase of 92 percent of sections taught by adjuncts. Rate of pay, Godwin said, often involves market conditions as a factor when initially set but remains level once determined by the individual college’s dean.

GVSU’s neighboring school, Grand Rapids Community College, employed about 678 adjuncts for this fall semester, said Deborah Bryde from GRCC’s labor relations. The average pay per credit hour at GRCC grows in conjunction with degrees held. At GRCC, adjuncts without a degree make a starting rate of $650 per credit hour while those with a bachelor’s degree make $855 per credit hour and those with master’s degrees make $937 per credit hour on average.

At GVSU, the faculty handbook’s faculty compensation schedule dictates “the minimum rate will normally apply for persons possession qualifications not significantly above the minimum. The starting rates will be administratively set by the appointing officer at a level judged to be commensurate with the applicant’s educational credentials, prior experience, special skills and promising qualities.”

Varying compensation stretches across colleges and disciplines, a disparity that the representatives from each individual academic unit attribute to the same factors mentioned in the faculty compensation schedule.

Some adjuncts, such as the ones employed in the College of Heath Professions, see as little as $600 per credit hour, the minimum going rate for all adjuncts at GVSU. Others, such as select adjuncts in the Seidman College of Business, make up to $1,366 per credit hour.

Godwin said he believes that GVSU’s method for determining compensation is fair, at least in light of the current market.

“We’re in a competitive market for faculty members, both tenured and adjuncts, and in some cases we just have to pay more to get the right faculty in here,” he said.

John Riefel, associate dean of the Seidman College of Business, said that although there is a large wage gap for adjuncts in the Seidman College, only one of the college’s adjuncts make that $1,366 per credit hour. The rest, he said, average in the $2,500 to $3,000 range per three-credit course, or $834 to $1,000 per credit hour taught.

His explanation for the wage gap match Godwin’s — you get what you pay for.

“Depending on the discipline, it can be more difficult to find adjunct instructions,” Riefel said. “For example, it’s almost impossible to find accounting for less than $3,000, and some areas in finance are difficult as well. But lets say for marketing — there are enough people in the community who are willing to work for a little less.”

In the Kirkhof College of Nursing, increase in adjunct numbers per term have been due largely in part to state mandate for faculty to student ratio in the clinical courses, said Elaine Van Doren, associate dean for undergraduate programs at the Kirkhof College of Nursing.

“We have a large number of adjuncts because they teach primarily in the clinical courses where our faculty to student ratio is usually 1:8. The State Of Michigan mandates we go no higher than 1:10,” said Van Doren.

Although full-time professors are the goal, Godwin maintained that adjuncts are a necessity.

“We need the skills of a lot of the adjuncts; we need the skills of a lot of affiliates to do the things that they do,” he said. “The way we use them takes advantage of their different skills. If people have Ph.D.s, it would suggest that they should be teaching certain kinds of classes and if they don’t then other courses might be more appropriate.”

Similarly to the Seidman College, Godwin said that although there is a minimum and maximum, those numbers are outliers to the average of $867 per credit hour across the board.

“Most of the payments to adjuncts are going to be around that $1,800 (per 3-credit course) and maybe up to about $3,000 (per 3-credit course) for adjuncts,” he said.

While GRCC is only left with 264 full-time faculty, GVSU has managed a total of 836 tenured or tenure-track full-time faculty members, something Godwin said has remained an outstanding focus for the university.

“I would like to emphasize that the economic downturn has not caused us to focus on hiring adjunct faculty. We are still intent on hiring tenure track faculty where possible,” Godwin said. “There is a lot that goes on here in terms of balancing the classes, departments and tasks in terms of individuals but for the most part we’d like to have a hundred more (full-time faculty members).”

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