Adjunct walkout day

GVL / Archive
Professor John Kilbourne

GVL / Archive Professor John Kilbourne

Adjunct Walkout Day is a national movement that occurred on Feb. 25 to raise awareness about what the New Faculty Majority website calls “the contingent faculty crisis.” The movement works to ensure “that all faculty have equal access to the working conditions they need to help students acquire the education they need, not only to improve their own individual economic situations, but also to become thoughtful, active citizens.”

At Grand Valley State University, many faculty and staff are discussing this event and its impacts.

With so many categories, it can be hard to sort out who is an adjunct and who is not. Philip Batty, the director of Institutional Analysis, explained that there are part-time and full-time faculty members. Full time include tenured and non-tenured professors, as well as associate and visiting faculty. Adjuncts, Batty said, are “contracted on a course-by-course basis,” meaning that they are given money to teach specific courses.

“They staff courses from faculty under contract,” Batty said. “If they have courses they can’t get an instructor for, from full-time faculty, they need to arrange that with adjuncts. Hiring an adjunct is a much quicker solution than hiring a full-time faculty, which could take a year.”

Batty has heard of Adjunct Walkout Day, but said he does not think anyone actually left their classes at GVSU.

“Nationwide, there was relatively little walking out,” he said. “There was a lot of activism, but a lot of them can’t afford to take that stance.”

Jon Jellema, associate vice president of academic affairs, said as of Nov. 1, 2014, there were 1,145 benefit-eligible faculty – which includes visiting and affiliate faculty – and 575 part-time instructors. The number of part-time professors has increased since 2012, but has fluctuated since 2004.

“Overall, there’s not been much growth,” Jellema said. “Different from the national trend, GV has been intentional about trying to increase the number of full-time faculty and decreasing its reliance on part-time faculty.”

In addition, Jellema explained the benefits and drawbacks to employing part-time faculty. From a university standpoint, hiring adjuncts is necessary because it helps financially, responds to student demand for courses and provides new perspectives in the classroom.

For the professors themselves, the disadvantages seem to outweigh the benefits. Adjuncts may have the opportunity for what Jellema calls “pure teaching,” which means there is no research, committee work or advisees required.

“Some adjuncts like the life, and/or see it as building teaching experience for other jobs,” Jellema said. “Many others would much prefer a tenure position with benefits.”

The main drawbacks for adjuncts include course cancellations, low pay, no benefits and tight office space. Plus, Jellema said many of them do not feel part of their department because of irregular schedules.

Jellema added that comparing part time and full time professors’ salaries is often not adequate.

“Because of market forces, different disciplines pay differently – a beginning accounting prof will make much more than a beginning English prof, for example, and same is true of part-time faculty who teach accounting or English,” he said. “An adjunct might only teach one course, whereas a full-time faculty will teach three, plus be expected to do scholarship, handle advising, participate in committee work, etc.”

Mitchell Place is on the GVSU Allendale Campus four days per week to teach three German courses this winter semester. He has been in this position at the university since 2006.

As an affiliate professor in the modern languages and literature department, Place said he is on a contract that lasts three years at a time and goes through a review process whenever the contract is up for renewal.

Although the affiliate position includes a full benefits package, Place said he would consider taking part in a walkout event.

“I think it is important for adjuncts and affiliates to show support for each other and make sure our voices are heard in the university,” Place said. “Of course I wish I had a bigger salary – I think most people would say that – but one thing about the affiliate position is we are locked out of tenure and promotion, so there is really not much of a mechanism for upward mobility.”

John Kilbourne, GVSU movement science professor, has first-hand experience with part-time work because he has been in that capacity, and he is married to an adjunct faculty member.

Though he has been at GVSU for 11 years now, Kilbourne advocates for the walkout movement. He first heard about Adjunct Walkout Day in the fall when it was announced, but he said many full-time professors that he talks with were not aware of that day.

The professor has shown his interest through his Oct. 2013 blog for the Chronicle of Higher Education and Feb. 2015 column for the Lanthorn.

“I don’t know if I agree with walking out, but I support the increasing awareness, not just at this institution but also abroad,” Kilbourne said. “I’m concerned about it. I think more tenured faculty need to be raising this awareness because we can do it without worrying about whether or not we’ll have a job.”

He said the movement science department has seen an increase in the number of part-time faculty because of the increase in the number of movement science majors. This has a direct impact on the department because, as Kilbourne said, “only tenure-track faculty can advise students.”

As far as administrative involvement goes, Kilbourne said he would like to see a few things happen at GVSU – pay part-time professors a fair wage, allow them to have a voice in university governance and give them the option to take advantage of the healthcare program.

“I am proud to work here in so many ways, and I would like to see Grand Valley be a leader in this,” Kilbourne said. “The status quo is not satisfactory.”

For more information about Adjunct Walkout Day, visit