Adjunct faculty rights are the subject of legislation that passed the U.S. House of Representatives earlier this month, requiring colleges to report certain data about adjuncts, including their working conditions and pay.
State & National Editor Sarah Brown spoke with Jean DeSaix, a UNC biology professor who has helped advocate for contract and fixed-term faculty on UNC’s campus.
The Daily Tar Heel: Who qualifies as adjunct faculty?
Jean DeSaix: The term “adjunct faculty” means about a dozen different things at different places. Quite often nationally what it refers to is temporary, part-time faculty — people brought in to teach one course every now and then.
The (UNC) policy now, which is sort of new, is that “adjunct” can only be used for somebody who has a full-time position somewhere else, but needs an affiliation with biology or history or (whichever department) so that they can teach a course, or be on a doctoral committee.
DTH: What is the situation for adjuncts nationwide now?
JD: A lot of schools around the country, with the budgets being cut, are seeing that the more courses you can get taught by people you don’t have to give benefits to, the better your financial situation.
There are people who have Ph.D.s who would like to be full-time faculty, but all they can find are these rotating, itinerant positions — teach a course at Elon, teach a course at Carolina ... They’re cobbling together these courses, none of which have benefits.
DTH: Who is working for adjunct benefits at UNC?
JD: When Holden Thorp was our chancellor, he had a priority of making those mainly teaching, lecturer positions attractive career positions — in other words, don’t hire people one course at a time, two courses at a time, with no benefits.
(UNC’s) Fixed-Term Faculty Committee ... has fought hard for benefits of all sorts — titles, benefits, mailboxes, parking passes and so forth.
DTH: How would this bill help adjunct faculty?
JD: If anybody high up, like the federal government, says, “You have to report to us what faculty you’re hiring who are not full-time faculty, and what benefits and all that they have,” that’s a good thing.
It keeps a department from hiring somebody year after year on one-year contracts without the world knowing it.
DTH: So are adjunct rights a problem at UNC?
JD: Our take has been, on this campus, most discrimination against these types of faculty has been benign rather than malevolent.
In an administrative unit, it won’t occur to them that fixed-term faculty aren’t getting computers, when all the rest of the faculty are. They just overlooked it.
Then one of us says, “Wait, wait, this isn’t fair. Why aren’t fixed-term faculty getting computers?” The administrators say, “Oh, we hadn’t even noticed that that was happening. Let us fix it.”
DTH: Anything you’re particularly proud of?
JD: In Arts and Sciences, (fixed-term faculty) have never had a professor title. But just last month the (UNC-system) Board of Governors approved the title of “teaching professor” for faculty on this campus who are not on the tenure track but whose jobs are mostly teaching .
I am technically now a teaching professor. I went from being a master lecturer, which is a tacky, awful name. For me ... it’s one of the best things that’s ever happened to me.