The Student News Site of Northern Michigan University

The North Wind

The North Wind

The North Wind

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Rachel Pott
Rachel Pott
News Writer

I am a marketing major about to start my second year at Northern Michigan University, however, this will be my third year in college. I previously attended a small community college...

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The North Wind is an independent student publication serving the Northern Michigan University community. It is partially funded by the Student Activity Fee. The North Wind digital paper is published daily during the fall and winter semesters except on university holidays and during exam weeks. The North Wind Board of Directors is composed of representatives of the student body, faculty, administration and area media.

Students protest against Israel-Hamas war with campus encampment
Students protest against Israel-Hamas war with campus encampment
Dallas WiertellaApril 30, 2024

Student support needed for adjuncts

What is an adjunct, and why should students care? These are common questions I hear as an NMU adjunct, and important ones to address while NMU faces economic difficulty.

Adjuncts teach higher education classes on a part-time basis, 1-11 credits per semester at NMU. They sign contracts for a semester at a time that require them only to teach, whereas full-time, tenure track faculty are contractually required to teach, serve on university committees, and engage in professional development (activities like research that further qualify them to teach you).

You should care because adjuncts teach your college courses under circumstances which make it unnecessarily challenging for them to be the best educators they can be. Adjuncts have no health insurance or retirement benefits. They do not always know if they will have a job from semester to semester, even if they’ve taught consistently at NMU for five, 10, even 15 years.

A typical yearly salary for an NMU adjunct is $13,232 (based on the minimum salary and a 16 credit teaching load per year). Some teach and then leave the university to work additional jobs when they could be serving on committees to improve the workings of NMU, learning more about their field, or working with the students.

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I know many adjuncts at NMU that do incredible work; I work very hard to do the same. But as you can see, it’s not easy. So how did this situation arise?

Historically, adjuncts filled brief gaps in a system that relied on full-time, tenure track positions. If a full-time professor could not be immediately replaced, an adjunct or two might be used temporarily. These adjuncts did not often rely on this position as their permanent, primary employment. According to the American Association of University Professors, only 3.3 percent of faculty appointments were non-tenure-track in 1969. With minimal pay, no benefits and a contract that only binds the college or university for a short time, adjuncts are much more affordable than full-time faculty. This has resulted in significantly more adjunct usage across higher education.

A study released by the American Federation of Teachers concluded that the percentage of full-time, tenured and tenure track positions declined at four year public colleges and universities from just over 50 percent in 1997 to just over 25 percent in 2007.

Many adjuncts now teach part-time because they have no choice in a saturated higher education job market, a result of the steady replacement of full-time positions with adjunct positions. This means that while some adjuncts still fit the historical definition, others rely on their positions as their permanent, primary employment. They are interested in serving their institutions and furthering their qualifications, but teaching in systems with little to no opportunity to do so.

NMU currently has a relatively low percentage of part-time faculty; according to our Office of Institutional Research, there were 332 full-time faculty here during Winter 2009 and 118 adjuncts. While facing tough budget decisions, though, the NMU administration may rely more heavily on part-time faculty. Several open searches for full-time positions were ceased during the Winter 2009 semester. Those full-time positions could permanently turn into adjunct positions. When adjunct
numbers increase, the circumstances challenging them will become more widespread.

The effects of those circumstances on your education will be magnified. You may already be familiar with the NMU adjuncts’ continual efforts to improve their working conditions on this campus, resulting so far in a 3 percent pay raise, a modest professional development fund, and an adjunct luncheon
series. Many of us feel these changes at NMU, while promising,
are not yet enough. We will continue to work until we feel we have everything we need in order to best serve our university, and you. I hope we do this with your support.

Editor’s note: The Professor’s Corner is a weekly column written
by various NMU faculty. Professors interested in appearing in The North Wind should contact the Opinion’s Editor at [email protected]

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