Not just money: Study shows adjuncts want respect

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Adjunct faculty lack many things: office space, opportunities for professional development, influence over course content and fair pay. But what rises to the top of this litany of deficits is respect, according to a new study published by the Journal of Higher Education.

Combining survey results with psychological research on the nature of job satisfaction, researchers concluded that when part-time faculty get no respect on the job, the added insult of what otherwise might be less consequential deprivations heighten their sense of dissatisfaction.

Some needs are categorized as "higher order," according to the report, "Supporting the Academic Majority: Policies and Practices Related to Part-Time Faculty's Job Satisfaction." Among those are satisfying relationships with administrators and colleagues—relationships that convey respect, inclusion and a sense of being valued for contributions—and opportunities for professional development and growth. These satisfy the desire for self-esteem, growth and self-actualization.

When these needs go unmet, "lower order" needs no longer feel inconsequential; they feel essential, and the lack of attention to them feels unjust. Such needs may include access to office space and computers, and to clerical and administrative support. Other areas of concern include job security and contract length, participation in campus governance, the ability to teach other subjects, and even access to parking.

The study uses data from the Higher Education Research Institute 2010-11 Faculty Survey and incorporates underemployment theory as well as existence, relatedness and growth (ERG) theory. And it teases out the important difference between job satisfaction among part-time faculty who would prefer to be working full time, and part-time faculty who prefer an abbreviated schedule: Those in the latter group are much more satisfied than those who would rather have a full-time job—and the full-time paycheck and job security that goes with it.

After analyzing the data, the report suggests improvements that could raise job satisfaction among part-time faculty. Among them:

  • Improve campus climate by including part-time faculty in departmental and institutional decision-making such as textbook and curriculum selection.
  • Recognize good teaching by inviting part-time faculty to apply for teaching awards.
  • Give part-time faculty access to professional growth opportunities.
  • Provide on-campus office space.

With an increasing percentage of faculty working part time—49.3 percent of all college faculty in 2009, according to the National Center for Education Statistics—such changes are particularly important. Without them, faculty cannot serve students as effectively as they might, and turnover will continue to plague college classrooms, disrupting the mission of public higher education: to provide a high-quality experience to students.

[Virginia Myers]