Is UNO taking advantage of adjuncts?

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The Gateway is running an ongoing special feature on members of the University of Nebraska at Omaha adjunct staff. They are the underserved backbone of our University, and we thank them for their effort. These stories have been contributed to us by students within the UNO School of Communication.
–Jared Kennedy, Editor-in-chief

Brian Pomplun
CONTRIBUTOR

The University of Nebraska at Omaha has the highest percentage of part-time faculty in the University of Nebraska System. Many of the adjuncts teaching at UNO are community professionals, working every day in the areas that they instruct.

“These instructors bring a connection to the community,” said Deborah Smith-Howell, associate vice chancellor for academic affairs and graduate studies. “They are gifts to us to be able to teach our classes.”

Since UNO taps into a pool of part-time faculty to instruct nearly one-half of its classes, some instructors feel it’s a resource that is being abused.

According to the 2015-2016 UNO fact book, UNO employs 1,069 instructors, and roughly half of them are part-time, or adjunct faculty. Smith-Howell said adjunct instructors are critical members of the UNO community.

As adjunct employees, Smith-Howell said these instructors are paid per class, not eligible for benefits and are not offered raises with time.

According to Smith-Howell, the University’s standard base pay for an adjunct instructor is $2,700 per class. Because individual qualifications also factor into determining pay, the department in which the instructor will teach calculates the total pay, she said.

Photo Courtesy of neatoday.com
Photo Courtesy of neatoday.com

Smith-Howell said once adjuncts have been hired, and their pay has been set, there is little change to compensation with time or merit. Though there is a base requirement on a university-wide level, she said, adjunct pay can range significantly between departments.

This disparity has led to increased talk of organizing part-time faculty for more equality: a movement that part-time geology professor, Lawrence Bradley, supports. Bradley said he feels the university isn’t compensating part-time faculty fairly for the amount of work that is expected of them.

“Roughly 30 to 50 percent of the coursework at UNO is taught by adjuncts,” Bradley said. “It’s exploitation of human labor.”

Bradley has publicly advocated for the advancement of what he sees as an underappreciated part-time staff. Unionizing would be a step in the direction of equality, Bradley said.

The American Association of University Professors, an organization dedicated to maintaining and advancing professional standards within higher education, represents full-time UNO faculty. Part-time faculty is not eligible for this type of representation.

Currently, Nebraska law excludes part-time faculty and staff from unionizing unless there is a consensus from all four campuses. Bradley said an uneven reliance on adjunct faculty between campuses has been a roadblock.

Smith-Howell said a key factor that leads to the higher percentage of adjunct faculty at UNO is a limited number of doctoral programs. Many of the part-time instructors at UNL are Ph.D. students, she said. On faculty reports, they are listed as graduate teaching assistants, not adjunct faculty, Smith-Howell said.

Technicalities aside, Bradley said he has plans to address the pay disparity on a legislative level.

According to an article on the University of Nebraska Lincoln website, 37 percent of the 2009-2010 Nebraska at University budget was attained from state appropriated funds. Because this funding must be approved by the state, Bradley said, he plans to bring attention to the adjunct pay issue at a budget meeting between the university and the Nebraska Legislature.

“The current laws may prevent us from unionizing,” Bradley said. “But they cannot prevent us from participating in democracy.”

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