Adjuncts vital to Washburn education, faculty

Jena Dean

Washburn University is home to a multitude of instructors that teach undergraduate and graduate classes, conduct research through the university and are involved in the daily lives of students. But more than 260 of these instructors are forgotten among full-time faculty and administration.

“A lot of adjuncts are invisible. Unless someone bothers to look at our student evaluations, I think the large part of other full-time instructors and administration doesn’t know what we do for Washburn,” said Carla Tilghman, art department adjunct.

For Tilghman, the majority of the work that adjunct instructors do is largely ignored by the university and by students. The university’s predominate focus on administration leaves part-time educators working equal hours to full-time as tenured professors but with less pay, recognition and professional involvement.

Qualified adjuncts at Washburn possess at least a master’s degree in their respective fields and meet the requirements of the department they teach in. 

“There are 500 to 600 total adjuncts that can teach here at Washburn at any given time,” said Brie Geffre, faculty employment coordinator. “Each individual department is in charge of getting qualified adjuncts to teach.” 

There is a variety of reasons lecturers decide to become adjuncts, including the ambition of becoming a full-time tenured professor. However, becoming full-time is a struggle for most adjunct instructors.

“I haven’t been able to be hired full-time. There are fewer positions, especially since I’m not able to up and move around the country,” said Tilghman. “I’m very limited geographically and if I want to teach, my only alternative is to be an adjunct.”

Tilghman, who has been an adjunct at Washburn since 2005, teaches courses at three institutions, including Washburn, the University of Kansas and Johnson County Community College. Currently, Tilghman teaches two Washburn courses online.

“Most adjuncts don’t teach at just one university or college. They teach at three or four. That makes time management tricky. Online classes allow more opportunity to save time instead of going teaching gig to teaching gig. But online classes are not a solution for adjuncts,” said Tilghman.

One of the most difficult aspects of being an adjunct Tilghman faces involves juggling time, whether it be on a daily basis from institution to institution or planning for the future.

“Time management can be tricky. You can’t plan far in advance,” said Tilghman. “Adjuncts don’t know what next semester will be like. It’s all depending on if classes make their enrollment numbers or not. If they don’t, then you have to scramble to find something else.

You have to be flexible in time management and having the willingness to commute. We’re not compensated for travel time at all.”

Through her time as an adjunct instructor, Tilghman has experienced different responses to her position at Washburn, including treatment from within the art department and from the university as a whole.

“My experience has been colored as an adjunct,” Tilghman said. “There is part of my time as an adjunct that I worked under Glenda Taylor of the art department. She was an amazing mentor and made the position of being an adjunct relevant to the department and was always responsive to adjuncts.”

Adjunct instructors range in experience and in education. Some adjuncts who instruct at Washburn are local retired professionals. Most, however, hold a master’s degree and have had teaching experience in the past.

“I see there is a place for part-time faculty. There are those who retire but still want to share knowledge with students. I get that,” said Tilghman. “But there has to be a solution for other adjuncts who are using working in the position for a living.”

One improvement Tilghman thinks will help the university treat adjuncts fairly and retain adjuncts is longer contracts for job security.

“Right now, all there is for adjuncts are semester-to-semester contracts. Even just offering someone a three-year contract would make the entire situation better.”

In addition to new contracts, involving adjunct instructors in Washburn’s professional development classes may help to improve the overall image and treatment of the position on campus. C-TEL, or the Center for Teaching Excellence and Learning, provides Washburn faculty with professional development relevant to the events happening on campus and within the Washburn community.

“These professional development classes compensate full-time faculty for their time. But for part-time people like me, we have to somehow go out of our way to get involved in the classes and the events,” said Tilghman. “It’s so important for adjuncts to feel included. If all faculty members don’t feel connected, it doesn’t benefit students in the least.”

However, to improve the quality of treatment adjuncts receive at Washburn, the financial factors of the position must improve. On average, tuition for a single credit hour at Washburn University is $248. With the average university course consisting of three credit hours, one course costs about $744. With a university student-to-instructor ratio of 15 to 1, the semester-long, three credit hour course amounts to $11,160. For adjunct professors, the average semester long class only pays $2,000, leaving more than $9,160 for the university itself.

“Students are paying for road, infrastructure and administration. Not for my position,” said Tilghman. “I have all of the same qualifications that someone who’s full-time has. I’m still called doctor. But I only make $2,000 a semester for a class.”

Changing professions and acquiring another job is not something Tilghman looks to do. Instead, she hopes to continue working for adjunct instructors’ benefits and treatment on campus.

“Do I continue to struggle and advocate to help improve the system? Or do I find a new job and ignore that the problem was ever there?” said Tilghman. “This is what I want to do. But I just think it could all be done so much better.”

For students, the subject of adjunct instructor’s roles and struggles on campus is generally unknown. Catherine Klaske, sophomore physical therapy assistant, has had several adjunct instructors at Washburn and has found it difficult to initially tell if an instructor is full-time or part-time.

“Teachers don’t usually tell students whether or not they are adjuncts,” said Klaske. “There’s not really a difference in the way that adjuncts teach. Some people say that adjuncts tend to be more committed to what they teach but I’ve had a lot of positive experiences at Washburn with both adjuncts and full-time professors.”

Although Klaske has seen equal commitment to students from adjunct instructors in what they teach and how they teach, she is aware that adjuncts must place their focus on multiple classes at multiple institutions to make end’s meet.

“If you’re an adjunct, you probably know you’ll have to work at more than one school, trying to make the same salary as full-time instructors get,” said Klaske. “I don’t think that it’s really fair for adjuncts to make less money than some of the other full-time professors at Washburn. They teach the same material in the same amount of time.”

For Maribeth Emmert, senior English education major, distinguishing between adjunct and full-time instructors is difficult. Emmert has had several adjunct instructors, including instructors in classes such as College Algebra and Introduction to Astronomy.

“It’s always hard to tell who is an adjunct and who is a full-time professor. My astronomy instructor who was an adjunct was always prepared and invested in the class. He never once mentioned that he was an adjunct,” said Emmert.

The idea of not knowing what background the person set in charge to instruct a course for which a student is paying tuition is also troubling for Emmert.

“You don’t usually get to know what credentials the adjunct has going into a class. You know what you are usually getting with a full-time professor with a Ph.D.,” said Emmert. “It’s sort of up to the student to trust that Washburn is hiring qualified adjuncts.”

As many adjuncts struggle with the financial factors of the position, there are a variety of benefits to teaching part time. Sonja Fay, modern languages adjunct instructor, has enjoyed the position because of the flexibility.

“Being flexible is a positive aspect of being an adjunct. They work with your schedule and make sure that the classes are at a time where you can do it,” said Fay. “For me, teaching always fit with my schedule because my kids are little. I needed something flexible.”

In addition to the flexibility, Fay enjoys staying involved with other Washburn faculty and campus life while also maintaining a part-time position. Last semester, both full-time faculty and adjunct instructors were recognized through employee awards, highlighting contributions  to teaching and education.

“They’re starting to do more for adjuncts. I appreciated that they had teaching excellence awards for full-time faculty and adjuncts. They acknowledged that we exist. We teach so many classes – why not acknowledge that we are here?” said Fay.

Although improvements in recognizing the commitment and hard work of adjuncts at Washburn has begun to improve, the financial aspects of the position are still limiting, with Washburn ranking among the lowest paying Board of Regents universities for adjunct instructors.  

“If you’re doing it because you love doing it, then go for it. If you’re in it for the money, it’s not going to work out. Once you begin as an adjunct, what’s the incentive for the institution to make you a lecturer or full-time? You’re doing the same job for the fraction of the payment others would get paid,” said Fay.