The growing national revolt among college and university adjunct professors — driven by complaints of awful pay and frustrating working conditions — officially arrived in South Florida on Tuesday.
At Broward College’s downtown Fort Lauderdale mini-campus, a group of frustrated adjuncts spoke out to the college’s president and board of trustees, and demanded pay raises.
“Why should we not be paid the same as a full-time professor teaching in the classroom next door?” asked Kim Laffont, an adjunct English professor and the North campus representative for a new adjuncts’ group, the South Florida Part-time Faculty Professional Association.
“We have all earned our qualifications and want to carry the message that higher education is equal to higher earnings,” Laffont continued. “But how can we do this when so many of us highly educated people are suffering at poverty level?”
Adjuncts are part-time teachers who receive pay but no benefits, and have no guarantee of future employment.
Visual arts adjunct professor Rod Appleton said his work has been shown in galleries and museums around the country, but his meager pay leaves him feeling unappreciated.
Appleton questioned the college’s ability to maintain a strong academic reputation “when two-thirds of its faculty are essentially working poor.”
Some adjuncts earn so little — Broward College pays between $1,850 and $2,130 to teach a three-credit class — that they must apply for food stamps, Laffont said later, during a sit-down interview.
The average full-time professor at the college earns $56,300, according to a National Education Association report published last year.
For now, the Broward College group, formed a few months ago, is not trying to unionize. Instead, the association is holding informal talks with college administrators in the hope of improving conditions for Broward College adjuncts.
At colleges across the country, adjuncts are increasingly forming unions to demand better pay. The adjuncts at Northeastern University in Boston voted in favor of unionizing earlier this month, and the part-time professors at Howard University in Washington, D.C., did the same in April.
Broward College leaders are, for now, pledging to hold an open dialogue with their adjuncts. The college said it is at least exploring the possibility of raises for adjuncts.
“We do very much depend on our part-time adjunct faculty members,” Broward College President J. David Armstrong Jr. told the frustrated professors after listening to Tuesday’s complaints. “We want to strengthen that relationship.”
At community colleges, which have seen years of state funding reductions, it is common for most faculty members to be adjuncts.
About 63 percent of Broward College faculty members are adjuncts, according to the college’s new adjunct association, though college administrators say a slight majority of courses are still taught by full-time faculty.
Laffont acknowledged that she and other adjuncts took the low-paying jobs willingly, but she says it has become basically impossible to teach at a community college in any other capacity.
“The only door in is the adjunct door,” she said. “That’s part of the problem.”
Linda Howdyshell, the college’s provost and senior vice president, noted that Broward College already provides some services for its adjuncts — such as a professional orientation and access to training opportunities — that other colleges do not.
The college’s graduation ceremonies recognize an outstanding full-time faculty member from each campus, but they also have an award for an outstanding adjunct faculty professor, Howdyshell said.
“They receive checks for, I think, $500,” she said.
Adjunct pay has always been low — teaching one class is essentially part-time work. For a salaried professional who is merely teaching on the side, the small paycheck may not be an issue.
But there are also adjuncts who eke out a living teaching multiple courses, sometimes at multiple institutions simultaneously. They work without the convenience of on-campus office space, and Broward College adjuncts complain they can be bumped from a class they have been assigned at the last minute.
Laffont spoke of one adjunct who taught the first class of a semester and was then removed so a full-time professor who needed a class could have it. That adjunct, Laffont said, was never paid for the time spent on course preparation and the one day of class she taught.
Howdyshell said professor changes are not supposed to occur in such 11th-hour fashion.
As recently as 1991, U.S. full-time faculty members outnumbered part-timers by about 2-to-1.
That’s not the case anymore. Colleges are now leaning so heavily on adjuncts that part-timers account for about half of all faculty members, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Only about a quarter of professors are tenured, or on the track to tenure.
Laffont said she is “optimistic” that things will get better for Broward College’s adjuncts.
“I hope that they can see that this is not sustainable,” she said, “that this is something that will destroy the foundation of education if it continues . . . any teacher of any value will have to leave the profession.”