Citing job insecurity, overall lack of respect, adjuncts in Maine Community College System ask for legislative study

MSEA-SEIU Retiree Member and longtime educator Luci Levesque testifies Jan. 23 before the Committee on Education and Cultural Affairs in support of LD 1878, Resolve to Establish the Commission to Study the Use of Adjunct Professors in Maine’s Public University and College System, sponsored by Representative Jan Dodge.

Jan. 23, 2020

Senator Millett, Representative Kornfield, distinguished committee members and guests. My name is Lucille Levesque but most people know me as Luci. I have been a science educator for the past 40 years, first, as a 7-12 public school employee, then, for eight years, as a science adjunct at Kennebec Valley Community College. Please support LD 1878, Resolve to Establish the Commission to Study the Use of Adjunct Professors in Maine’s Public University and College System.

This past fall, I was hired by MSEA-SEIU Local 1989 to meet with Maine Community College System adjunct faculty. I was fortunate to meet many different instructors at four of the seven campuses. One of my goals was to find out more about the number of hours that adjuncts work while not teaching classes. I also worked to answer their questions and to give them another avenue to share with their union negotiating team. It’s important to note they have been working without a contract since June of 2019. Here are some of the questions and comments adjunct instructors have shared with me:

“Today is the first day of the semester. It’s also the day that I received my contract. In it, I’m agreeing to provide a ‘quality syllabus and course outline(s) not later than one week prior to the first class meeting.’” This, of course, is unpaid time in preparation for the course in the even it might not be cancelled. Two other adjuncts said they would not be able to track their preparation time during the semester because a substantial portion of their prep time for their online courses occurs two weeks prior to the start of the semester. On average, adjuncts put in seven hours a week per three-credit class, which is more than the number of hours they spend in class.

Another adjunct instructor spoke of the licensing she is required to maintain in order to teach certain classes, which is an out-of-pocket expense along with the coursework required for her to maintain her license. She also spoke of the need for restructuring courses to better meet the needs of her students. However, in many cases, adjuncts have no input into the design and implementation of course objectives. One math/science instructor told me his curriculum is being revised by people in the humanities. My master’s degree is in science education and I can assure you that the approach and methodology in the sciences requires unique application and analysis, not always required in humanities classes.

This adjunct spoke to the change in course load. There was a time when adjuncts were allowed to teach up to five courses a semester. In the past few years, this was reduced to an unwritten rule that adjuncts should teach no more than six credits per semester. Another adjunct spoke to a rule which states they can only teach three courses in the fall semester and two in the spring semester for a total of five for the year. This is being told to them by department chairs. Interestingly, this practice seems to have come about around the time when the Affordable Care Act was enacted. Their concerns were echoed by several other adjuncts on more than one campus.

The number of courses taught by adjuncts differs greatly on the seven campuses. A department chairperson at one campus told me she had 47 adjuncts teaching in her department this past fall. Another adjunct estimated that 70 to 80 percent of math courses are taught by adjuncts. So while the report prepared by the Maine Community College System states that adjuncts teach 49 percent of courses, clearly that differs greatly when you look at each campus.

Another issue of concerns to adjuncts is the removal of essential classes for students whose first language is not English. These students are then placed in freshman classes and must repeat these classes because of their language difficulties. Since adjuncts often teach introductory classes, their retention rates are lower so they are made to look “bad” by their department chairs. They have to either lower their course standards or risk not being assigned classes the next semester.

In reading the MCCS report, I was glad to hear they were negotiating pay parity. In doing so, they have reversed a position they held firm on for the past three negotiations. However, adjuncts whom I have spoken to are asking for a living wage. If, as Governor Mills points out, beginning teachers should be paid $40,000 a year, shouldn’t an adjunct teaching eight to 10 courses a year be paid as much? Better yet, hire them as full-time instructors, making them eligible for health insurance. Provide them a 9-5 job so they might teach, work as student advisors, and develop and revise curriculum. Sure, many adjuncts don’t want full-time work. They like teaching one or two course. Because of health reasons, I was like that myself. However, for those who not only have a passion for education but devote their careers to that end, hire them. The colleges with be stronger and our students will greatly benefit.

Thank you for your time and I would be glad to answer any questions.

Updated: January 24, 2020 — 11:12 AM