Underpaid and Overworked: The Truth About Adjuncts at MC

By Zoe DeFazio and Rebecca Kranich, Asst. Arts and Entertainment Editor & Asst. Social Media Editor

As Manhattan College welcomed in new administrative faculty, a long-standing faculty crisis regarding adjunct professors continues to grip the community. Overshadowed by the pandemic, students are left with little information regarding the truth of the situation. 

The college struggles to find faculty willing to work for low pay rates, as low as just under $4,000 per three-credit class. Comparatively, adjuncts at CUNY are paid at least $5,500 per three-credit class.

Before the start of the semester, Pamela Chasek, chairperson of the political science department, discussed with Manhattan College administration the difficulties of finding adjuncts with proper credentials under the current wages.

“I raised this issue with him [Provost Clyde], at the beginning of the semester because I was having trouble finding adjuncts. I needed last minute ones that I hadn’t planned on, and I was having a lot of trouble. One of the biggest problems was that we don’t pay much and it’s tough to get people if they can earn more elsewhere,” Chasek said. 

Jeff Horn, a professor in the history department, experienced similar issues during his time as chair, which ended in 2015.

“It was a very difficult thing to find quality adjuncts and certainly keep them and we try very hard to limit the number of courses we offer to limit the number of adjuncts. We spend a lot of time thinking about ‘alright, we can only offer X number, let’s use them to our best ability,’” Horn said. 

In instances where classes are canceled due to the inability to find professors, students receive the short end of the stick. This is a constant issue department chairs juggle, choosing between unqualified professors or class cancellations.

“The question that every department has is: do we offer fewer classes and just not deal with adjuncts? Do you cancel classes because you just can’t find people to teach them? Or do you just teach with what you have?,” Chasek said. 

Helene Tyler, the chair of the mathematics department, expressed her dedication to consider adjunct faculty in departmental issues. 

“This department works extremely hard to show our adjunct faculty that we respect them as professionals,” Tyler said. “Our adjunct faculty who are teaching these [entry level] courses have a voice which is counted just as much as the full time faculty voices in the creation of the common final exam. That doesn’t make up for being paid properly, but it’s the best that we can offer people.”

According to Tyler, 47.5% of all classes in the math department are taught by adjunct faculty. During the 2021-2022 academic year, 37.9% of those classes were taught by adjuncts. Currently, the math department employs over 18 adjuncts to teach a wide range of classes. Tyler emphasized the effort she makes to provide students with instructors for courses. 

“One of my colleagues and I spent more than 100 hours each this summer, looking to hire eight new adjuncts so that we wouldn’t have to cancel courses,” Tyler said. 

The recently re-appointed interim provost, William Clyde, told The Quadrangle he recognizes the crucial role adjunct professors play within the institution and what Manhattan College does to aid them in their careers.

“Adjuncts provide an important service and are part of our community,” Clyde said. “I’m working on trying to get that [salaries] increased. We also engage adjuncts in a lot of other ways. We do an orientation for them at the beginning of the term. We provide laptop loaners and we invite them to participate in faculty development. We have workshops on how to be a better teacher, how to further your career and things like that. So we definitely try to engage them in a lot of different parts of campus life.”

Chasek explained that the issues caused by the low pay runs deeper than fair treatment for adjunct faculty. Chasek shares her recent experience in the hiring process.

“This has now become an economic issue, not just an equity issue, we can’t work [with] paying so low, we can’t get decent people to teach in the classroom,” Chasek said. “The one [candidate] who I really liked, I told him, ‘here’s the salary and I recognize it’s low; the provost is looking at it and I’m hoping he will increase it for the spring.’ I said ‘beyond that, I can’t promise anything more. But I can promise nice colleagues and great students.’” 

In regards to the wages for adjuncts, the salary slightly increases with higher educational credentials; however, for adjuncts looking for a tenure-track position, the process includes more than having a Ph.D.

“There’s the three legged stool for tenure, and it consists of teaching, research and service to the institution. This is a universal thing and every institution determines its own balance among those three to determine their priorities” Tyler said.

However, Clyde expressed that not all adjuncts want tenure. Some are professionals in the work force and teach on the side. 

“Our adjunct pool is really dynamic and it’s really diverse. We have some adjuncts who [teach]. That’s what they do for a living, they teach with us and they teach other places,” Clyde said.

Clyde emphasized the concept of shared governance regarding the decision to hire new faculty.

“The administration plays the most significant role in deciding where new lines are going and deciding which positions are going to be there,” Clyde said. “The faculty are the ones that post the position. They do the main interview process and I’m just in the conversation, and then they make a recommendation.”

However, the administration holds the power to give the green light to start the hiring process, which has slowed in recent years. 

“I have an ad ready to hire someone for Dr. Downie’s line because she’s retiring at the end of this year. I found out last October. I put in a request and the response was ‘Oh, no. We have to let you know,’” Chasek said. “Right before Provost Schreiner left. He approved four of the eight lines requested in the school of Liberal Arts. I was afraid our lines might be given to another place, but I was told they were frozen, which means they haven’t been taken. So, we still have her line that I need to fill.”

A full year later, Chasek has yet to receive permission to start the hiring process.

Clyde is aware of the state of the frozen lines, stating that this is a result of the pandemic. 

“During the COVID-19 period, there was a lot of freezing of lines to see where we ended up,” Clyde said. “There have definitely been a lot of unfreezing of positions happening both to faculty and other lines. We are making sure that we have the people that we need to teach the classes and do all the other things that we need done at Manhattan College.”

The expectations to resolve ongoing issues puts pressure on the administration. Nonetheless, the college community remains hopeful for future change. 

“I think that the fact that there was so much difficulty in hiring adjuncts for this semester has brought new impetus to the question, and I am extremely confident that the administration will do something. The question is whether it will be adequate,” Horn said.