Oregon Makes Full-time and Adjunct Faculty at Public Universities Earn the Same Amount

The Oregon Education Association reports that part-time community college professors’ median salary is much lower than their full-time colleagues. “Can you think of another job classification where someone does the same work and gets paid 53 cents on the dollar?

If approved, the measure would make it such that adjunct professors at Oregon’s public institutions get the same per-hour wage as their full-time counterparts, regardless of whether they teach more or fewer hours per week. That is not the situation at now for the vast majority of establishments.

According to data presented to the Legislature by the Oregon Education Association, part-time faculty members get salaries nearly half those of full-time professors at the state’s seventeen community colleges.

More than a dozen adjunct professors from different institutions around the state spoke in favor of the wage equity measure, and many more submitted written evidence in the same vein. However, others in higher education administration have voiced concerns that the law would be too cumbersome to enact and that they currently compensate adjunct faculty members properly in light of their work.

Oregon Makes Full-time and Adjunct Faculty at Public Universities Earn the Same Amount

“Most of us realize that we are not going to get rich from working in schools. However, we do expect to be treated fairly,” Ciara Van Velsor told legislators last week. Van Velsor said she has taught part-time at Clatsop Community College for seven years.

“With the onset of the pandemic, the cost of living has changed drastically, with my family’s child care bill increasing by 80%, which we have been struggling to pay,” Van Velsor said. “We are at a point where my job does not earn us enough to pay for the required child care, and when student loan payments are due again, I am not sure that I will be able to continue teaching.”

Part-time faculty members considering leaving academia have shared their experiences with lawmakers. Nicholas Nash teaches philosophy part-time at Blue Mountain Community College in Pendleton. He performed the math lately to determine his hourly rate and discovered he earns about $20.

“I work a second job that’s flexible enough to work around my teaching schedule, but to make everything balance at the end of the month, I work a lot,” Nash told legislators.

“It’s become obvious that I can’t continue to live like this. But honestly, I feel trapped. The only thing that makes sense to give up is teaching, but if I do, my rural community college students lose, my community loses, and I lose what I most care about and enjoy in my professional life.”

Legislators were informed by experts in higher education that there were “serious problems” with the plan. Linn-Benton Community College’s v.p. of finance and operations, Sheldon Flom, expressed severe worry about the impending cutbacks to the college’s budget.

According to reports, Flom said-

“Like many of the community colleges, we’re facing a revenue shortfall, and any impact on our expenses is going to hit us very hard.”

The president of Linn-Benton, Lisa Avery, recently revealed that the institution would have to make $2.5 million in cutbacks to try to balance its budget for the next academic year. The public universities and colleges would get funding under SB 416 to help them adjust to the new salary structure, although the exact amount is unknown.

Flom warned that community institutions, many already suffering financially, might suffer significantly if funding fluctuates. Former Portland Community College professor and current head of the Senate Education Committee Michael Dembrow, D-Portland, is the primary sponsor of Senate Bill 416. Part-time professors at PCC, he added, performed around 82% of full-time faculty obligations while working fewer hours each week.

“If you’re calculating that part-timers are doing 82% of the work, then why not pay them 82% of the pay? I don’t know if you’ve had that conversation at your college,” Dembrow said to Flom. Flom said they have not.

The Oregon Education Association reports that the hourly wages of Linn-part-time Benton’s teachers are somewhat less than those of their full-time counterparts. Oregon’s vice provost for academic operations and strategy, Cassandra Moseley, voiced similar concerns about the “unintended effects” the measure would have for colleges.

“This bill seems to envision that university faculty are only teachers,” Moseley said. “Our tenure-line faculty have duties around research and teaching and service, and even our instructional faculty have duties beyond the classroom such as advising and program management.”

Oregon Makes Full-time and Adjunct Faculty at Public Universities Earn the Same Amount

Moseley said that university administrators are worried that SB 416 would create a redundant set of regulations about equal pay for equal labor, which the colleges now adhere to.

“We evaluate the job duties of every position, including considering whether faculty are teaching similar courses, and then use a prescribed set of bonafide factors as required under the law to set pay. Pay must either be differentiated by those bonafide factors or paid the same. That’s the principle that we follow,” she said.

Moseley said that the law might require institutions to pay all faculty members hourly, which could be difficult given that full-time teachers are often paid salaries. Several professors teaching at Portland State University are on part-time or adjunct contracts. According to PSU, more than 44% of teachers at the university were adjuncts in the 2016–2017 academic year. Almost 38% of university courses were taught by adjuncts at that time.

“At PSU, our part-time faculty are essential partners in meeting the needs of our diverse student population,” Kevin Neely, vice president for university relations at PSU, told OPB in a statement.

“The proposed legislation does not acknowledge or consider the wide variety of research and instructional roles that exist across Oregon’s universities. These discussions are best conducted at the individual institutions as part of the full range of issues generally considered through bargaining.”

Portland State University has Erica Thomas on staff as an adjunct professor. She also serves as the adjunct faculty union’s political action chair. Thomas said that salary parity with full-time teachers is one of the topics the union is fighting for as it enters negotiating for the economic element of its contract.

Thomas claims that at PSU, part-time teachers may make no more than $25,000 per year between the amount they are paid per credit hour and the number of hours they can work before being considered full-time.

“What this is doing is preventing working-class people from ascending in academia in a really harsh way,” Thomas told OPB. “Either you have a wealthy family or a wealthy enough family so that your family can somehow support that, or you have a spouse that makes a lot of money or something … That’s bad for higher education.”

Thomas said she could get by with part-time work, freelance work, and the income from her partner’s employment. She argued that many adjunct faculty members, including herself, do research and other extra-classroom tasks equally often as full-time faculty members but are not compensated similarly for this work.

Thomas is a creative type. Without funding from PSU, she must engage in professional development activities such as art residencies and grant writing for her initiatives. “Then they [PSU] get to buy my expertise for much cheaper,” she said. Thomas said that she is contemplating quitting PSU due to the lesser compensation she receives as an adjunct faculty member.

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“I don’t really want to leave where I live. I am rooted in Portland at this point. I’ve lived there for 15 years, and my professional community is based in that city. It’s a hub for the kind of art-making I do,” she said. “But I don’t see a future … It’s exhausting to constantly be looking for tiny morsels of money.”

Thomas says she is a finalist for a full-time, tenure-track position outside of Oregon. She compared the remuneration to her current salary at PSU and found that it was around 30% more.

“I think  that there is going to be a trend of people being tired of the wages, the wage stagnation, that is created by PSU and by the lack of funding from the state,” she said, “and people who can find employment elsewhere, who are qualified elsewhere, are going to leave.”

On Tuesday (April 4, 2023), the Senate Education Committee will have a work session to continue debating the measure.

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