Hiring adjunct instructors to meet student demand, bring new ideas into the classroom and save money makes good sense for Northwestern Michigan College. NMC's ability to respond to student needs by quickly adding new offerings is key to its future as a vital, close-to-home educational alternative.
But the college can't allow the lure of savings or the administrative advantage of having faculty it can hire and fire at will or not having to offer them benefits blur its long-term commitment to maintaining a strong full-time faculty as the backbone of its academic life.
The number of adjunct, or part-time faculty has risen dramatically over recent years, to 209 today, compared to 92 full-time instructors. And the administrative advantage of part-time instructors is obvious.
They have no real job security, no health benefits and no way to buy into them.
Adjuncts earn about $10,000 a year for teaching a half-time load of classes, a bargain for the college when compared to full-time faculty, who earn $40,772 to $81,546 with health benefits, sick pay, tuition benefits, and vacation.
Many adjuncts say such a huge pay and benefits gap is unfair, and they worry that the college is leaning too far toward part-time instructors. NMC President Tim Nelson says adjuncts allow NMC the flexibility to respond to peaks and valleys of enrollment by hiring — or not rehiring — adjuncts as needed. Many adjuncts come from the professional or business world and bring an up-to-date, unique perspective full-time staff can't provide, he said.
In specific areas, Nelson said, there are not enough students to support a full-time instructor, but an adjunct allows the college to offer classes and lure students. Fulfilling needs for even a limited number of students is one of NMC's primary advantages over four-year schools,
But rumblings about pay and benefits have grown to the point where NMC has created a Faculty Compensation Review Committee, which is expected to announce its findings in the spring.
There's no all right or all wrong here. The college is in the business of education and having adjunct instructors available to meet fluctuating demand is important. But the college also has an obligation — as other businesses do — to offer employees fair compensation, which is more than just pay.
The committee, then, must model its recommendations on what the private sector offers to its full-time, part-time employees in terms of pay, health insurance and other benefits.
Using part-time faculty as needed makes sense; to use them as a strategy to keep costs down — particularly at a time when administrative wages at the college don't appear to be in jeopardy — is unfair.