by Angela Fortuna
Dozens of academic departments at Central Connecticut State University employ hundreds of faculty members, but not many students know their credentials or status.
All colleges and universities employ a mixture of full-time and part-time faculty. The academic rank of professors ranges from adjuncts to assistants and associates. At CCSU, the majority of professors are part-time and many of these professors are known as adjuncts.
An adjunct professor is described to be at an “academic rank below the highest level of professorship,” according to the Huffington Post.
“We’re there to kind of fill in the blanks in our departments. If somebody who is a 10 year track professor is ill, or they’re on sabbatical, or there just happens to be a flush of students who want to take a course and they don’t have full-timers to cover it, then we are assigned to cover it,” Adjunct English Professor Leslie McGrath Taylor said.
Taylor instructs creative nonfiction writing, in which she describes as “incredibly fun,” and composition, which she says is “really hard to teach” at CCSU. In her time outside of teaching, she is a poet and a writer. Taylor became a poet and writer in her mid-40s and started teaching at Central at 52.
Adjuncts make up a big portion of professors at CCSU, and some would say their salary does not reflect the work they put forth in and out of the classroom.
“Would I rather be a 10 year track professor? Yes. A beginning 10 year track professor generally makes about three times what an adjunct makes,” Taylor said.
“The way our situation is in the state of Connecticut, and the way our situation is nationally, there’s a lot that they could do, but there’s no means to do it,” said Christine Kirk, Adjunct MSN, RN and CEN in the Nursing Department.
Kirk is currently going to school to obtain her Doctor of Nursing Practice, DNP, which she will have by next fall. She instructs the clinical and laboratory component of nursing and is a Central alumna.
Both Kirk and Taylor say that being an adjunct can affect one’s emotional stability.
“I’ve been practicing emergency department nursing for 42 years, and I say to them [my students], ‘you are what keeps me sane,’ so I can continue to do this because there are some days that I say ‘I cannot do this another day’ because it’s hard work, it’s emotionally hard and physically hard,” Kirk explained.
“I have a reputation as a literary person that’s totally separate from my teaching and that really helps my self confidence. If I was only teaching classes here and classes there, it would really weigh heavy on me,” Taylor said.
While adjuncts may not have a prominent presence in their departments, it allows them to have an increased focus on personal matters and interests in their time away from teaching.
“It means I have more freedom than a lot of professors do in terms of my schedule because I’m primarily a writer and a poet. So, I am a poet who teaches part time, that’s how I see myself, rather than an English professor who also writes on the side,” Taylor said.
Being a part of the higher education system can be difficult in a time like this, where there are cuts happening left and right to the state budget.
“During the semester, you can be technically working six days a week. But then in the summer and when you’re on break, not so much,” Kirk said. “The way our economy is right now, and this happens to be a state institution, I am grateful that the school is still open and that we all still have jobs.”
Kevin Kean, Professor in the Department of Psychological Science, has been an adjunct at Central for 11 to 12 years. He teaches between four to eight credits every semester, most of which are 100 level introductory courses. He is a social psychologist by training, but does not instruct social psychology courses at CCSU.
“[I teach] what the full-time or part-time faculty don’t want to or can’t teach,” Kean said. “Some of the classes I teach, I never had a graduate class in. The things I had the most graduate classes in, I’ve never taught which is very strange.”
“There are a lot of things I think we [adjuncts] should be compensated for [that we aren’t],” Kean continued. “They [Central] needs to figure out what we do for free [outside of the classroom]. We don’t just instruct during classroom hours.”
Associate and assistant professors differ from adjuncts when it comes to office hours; adjunct professors are not required to have office hours.
“Technically, we don’t have to have office hours in our department [psychological sciences]. We’re not compensated for them, but about half of us [adjuncts] decide we are going to have some set office hours,” Kean informed.
“It is really hard for students who generally don’t know the difference between whether a professor is an adjunct or 10 year track. I don’t want students to suffer because they are taking a class with an adjunct professor,” Taylor said.
While being an adjunct may be difficult financially for many professors in higher education, many would say it is worth it because teaching is what they like to do.
“I have a clinical group every semester that I take to Middlesex Hospital and there’s usually about seven or eight in the group and I guide them through their clinical practice, which I absolutely love, and the reason I love it is because the transformation from the beginning of the semester until we are complete is so profound,” Kirk explained.
“I’m really someone who is on the happy side of being an adjunct. Because I’ve been here for nine years, I get to teach what I was trained to do, so I’ll be teaching a lot more poetry and writing. [They] don’t make me teach anything I don’t want to,” Taylor said.
With the fewer benefits that adjuncts receive, it is important to recognize that they still play a key role in the educational process.
“We don’t get vacation time, sick time, health insurance or anything like that,” Kirk said.
“It’s never enough for either job [Central and the emergency department], we’re saving lives here!” Kirk emphasized.