Letter: Adjunct professors deserve pay, respect

Posted

To the editor:

On May 29, adjunct faculty from public colleges and universities across the Commonwealth testified about their working conditions to the Joint Committee on Public Service on Beacon Hill. They painted a grim picture.

One visited a food pantry and had to make up sick time. Another with teenage daughters cannot afford to retire: since adjuncts are not currently offered retirement benefits such as disability provisions and survivor benefits. "Dying isn't an option," she said. If nothing is done soon, some adjunct faculty, upon retirement will be eligible for food stamps, affordable housing and/or homeless shelters.

Adjunct faculty are highly educated professionals responsible for guiding thousands of Massachusetts college students toward successful futures. A cheap source of benefit-free labor, they have increasingly been relied upon to teach more and more classes over the past few decades. On average, adjunct faculty now teach 70 percent of the statewide course load. At Berkshire Community College, adjuncts have made up as much as 75 percent of the entire faculty. But they are paid considerably less than their full-time counterparts, and lack similar health and retirement benefits.

When students register for a class, they have no idea whether or not their professor is an adjunct; they assume professors will provide the necessary support that tuition dollars pay for. But adjunct faculty are not required to hold office hours, or to help students find appropriate ancillary services, or to steer them toward a fruitful career path. Those who do, out of a sense of responsibility and duty, do so on their own time, uncompensated. This drastically short-changes students of their educational investment.

Fortunately there are two bills now pending in the state legislature to remedy this unacceptable situation: H.2322 and S.1547, "An Act to ensure fair public education workplaces." These bills would require pro-rated parity in pay, health benefits, and pension contributions. They would provide timely notice and priority consideration for part-time and non-tenure track teaching assignments. They would eliminate an archaic 60-day waiting period for receiving benefits that pre-dates the computer era. They would make the funding of agreed-upon contracts automatic, currently not the case. In short, these bills would address the inadequate practices and environments which part-time, non-tenure track personnel are now subjected to within the Massachusetts public higher education system.

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A generation of underfunding public higher education has created an ever-growing underclass of professors, some of whom will age into poverty. It's time to give adjunct faculty the respect they have earned. It's time to pass "An Act to ensure fair public education workplaces," right now.

Rep. Paul Mark,

Peru

Paul Johansen,

Pittsfield

Rep. Mark represents the 2nd Berkshire District and is lead sponsor of H.2322. Paul Johansen is an adjunct faculty member (Mathematics) at Berkshire Community College.


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