The Life of an Adjunct

By Santino Scalici

Portions of this article, originally published online on May 11, were removed due to unclear comments from Beau Bledsoe regarding his communication with the UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance and the status of the guitar performance program. Mr. Bledsoe did receive a response from the department regarding his request to set up a meeting to discuss the future of the program. UNews apologizes for the publication of this incorrect information.

With the recent cuts in federal and state spending for higher education, adjunct faculty at public universities and community colleges are now more vulnerable than ever.

Beau Bledsoe, a former adjunct professor of music at UMKC, taught classes in guitar and music entrepreneurship.

After graduating from the University of Arkansas, Bledsoe moved to Kansas City in 1993 to get his master’s degree at the UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance. He continued his studies and started teaching guitar to supplement his income at Rockhurst University and Kansas City Kansas Community College before taking an adjunct position at UMKC in 2016.

Already then, Bledsoe began to notice signs the department was in trouble.

“I received my Master’s in Music from this program, and it was a very different environment then,” Bledsoe said.

At UMKC, there are four faculty classifications: adjunct (part-time, not benefits eligible, usually on a semester-to-semester contract), lecturers or non-ranked, “Non-Tenure Track” (full-time, benefits eligible, but not eligible for promotion), ranked NTT (full-time, benefits eligible, and eligible for promotion), and tenure-line faculty.

Crystal Gorham Doss, Ph.D., was a lecturer at UMKC before accepting an assistant teaching position in the English department. As a ranked “NTT,” Dr. Doss is eligible for promotion and benefits, unlike her adjunct colleagues, but she maintains anything outside secure and full-time employment is a problem.

“Any contingent position is more precarious than a tenure-line position, and often (some or all) contingent faculty are excluded from faculty governance, depending on the institution,” Doss said. “Nationwide, institutions are moving from tenure-line faculty towards contingent faculty of various sorts.”

Doss is no longer an adjunct at UMKC, but her experiences at other institutions tell a story echoed by many who teach part-time at public universities and community colleges.

“I didn’t feel respected or valued by the administration or my colleagues, but I did feel respected and valued by most of my students, who had no idea I was an adjunct or what that meant if they did see that title by my name,” Doss said. “There was a strong sense at those institutions (and I suspect most other places) that we shouldn’t burden students with reality of our working conditions.”

Erik Olsen, Associate Professor of Economics at UMKC, said that working conditions for faculty, even at the full-time level, are strenuous.

“Most of these classifications are salaried and exempt from overtime law. But many of us, especially tenure and tenure-track, work 50, 60, 70 hours per week, with maybe a week off total during the year,” Olsen said. “This can be necessary to have a robust research program, which is required as part of the job. I know of few, if any, faculty members who work a 40-hour week.”

In addition to these extra hours, faculty must also meet the special needs and expectations of the students they teach—which can sometimes be a slippery slope for those educators already on the margin of the university system.

Student Evaluations

Olsen said student evaluations are a difficult metric for evaluating adjunct faculty.

“If the student evaluations are not good, then an adjunct faculty member will likely face the loss of employment. But, as you point out, adjuncts are typically very low-paid and under a lot of economic stress,” Olsen said. “Furthermore, if a faculty member has high standards and is a difficult grader, the student evaluations will usually be adversely affected. So this gives the adjunct an adverse incentive to be lenient in grading.”

Doss echoes this concern, saying that student evaluations are not an effective metric of how well a professor teaches, citing a paper published by Science Open author Philip B. Stark in 2016.

Breakdown of UMKC Faculty

UMKC has 710 full-time instructional staff (consisting of 318 tenure faculty, 99 tenure-track faculty, 291 not on tenure track but with annual contracts and 2 others) and 594 part-time instructional staff. 46% of the instructional staff are part-time. However, this does not mean that 46% of the courses are taught by part-timers because a part-timer may only teach one course.

On a full-time equivalent (FTE) basis UMKC has 908 FTE Instructional staff, which means that those 594 part-timers constitute 908 – 710 = 198 FTE. This means that part-timers as a group represent 22% of the FTE Instructional staff, according to a Human Resources Survey at the University of Missouri System.

And there is an increasing reliance on the part-time instructors, like Bledsoe, who feel this is just not a sustainable path for university students or instructors.

“I can just tell you that the pay is not very good. I recently quit in an email citing that I did not think it was a valid career path for someone of my age with a family,” Bledsoe said.

The worst part, according to Bledsoe, was that students were suffering. 

“I felt sorry for the students at the Conservatory that were paying real money and getting a substandard education. I feel that they (UMKC) are much more excited about the new campus building than having a professional faculty and strong departments,” said Bledsoe. “I did have young students inquire about the program, but I could not recommend they relocate to UMKC in good conscience—even though I’m an alumnus of the program.”

As of this writing, Bledsoe will have taught his last student at UMKC. Dr. Doss, Assistant Professor of English will stay on. Dr. Olsen, Assistant Professor of Economics, will continue his work in a new position on the East Coast.



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