Adjunct Professors Struggle with Job Insecurity and Low Pay

By Kaleigh Cortez, News Editor-

A former UTC adjunct professor discussed the widespread struggles many non-tenure-track faculty face in the US.

Philosophy professor Robert Austin Kippes, who taught at UTC from fall 2018 to spring 2019, said the most concerning aspect for adjuncts is job security.

Around 70 percent of university faculty is not tenure-track and serve on a semester-by-semester contract basis, according to Kippes.

“There’s a window of about seven weeks before the class begins where you are in limbo,” Kippes said. 

An adjunct can prepare to teach a class that may ultimately be canceled due to low enrollment, and the adjunct is left unemployed. 

“It isn’t guaranteed for sure until about a week before it begins,” Kippes said. “That’s extreme job insecurity.”

Non-tenure-track professors also face low wages, even if they are teaching the same courseload as tenure-track faculty.

Kippes earned $1,500 per month after taxes for teaching three courses during a semester at UTC.

“That’s not a whole lot to live on, so I had to find another job as well to get more income,” he said.

He said he was lucky to only require enough income for one person. He knew of an adjunct in the Spanish department who taught four courses at UTC and four courses at Chattanooga State Community College per semester, effectively working two full-time jobs, to earn enough income to support his family.

The stress placed on adjuncts has effects on their students as well.

“I think adjunct really care about their students, but if you have to work multiple jobs or you’re not given the full amount of resources, that trickles down to the students,” Kippes said. 

Kippes said many adjuncts do not receive office spaces on campus, eliminating face-to-face office hours and reducing interaction between students and professors to email communication.

He believes the issues regarding non-tenure-track faculty are systematic and require monumental changes to solve them.

“One thing that could solve this is probably doing away with tuition as the main funder of colleges and universities,” Kippes said.

He mentioned how most universities are under constant construction, but most of the work being done is for aesthetic purposes to draw in new students and not necessarily for the advancement of education or supporting the educators.

A more practical approach is much simpler, according to Kippes.

“It would be amazing if UTC went out of their way to raise adjunct pay and to be really competitive and set an example,” Kippes said. “It could hopefully set off a chain of events around the country to bring awareness to the problems of being an adjunct.”

Kippes was grateful for his time as an adjunct at UTC and hopes to return to teach after acquiring his doctorate in philosophy. 

He believes UTC is not only to blame, but is one piece in the game of higher education. 

“Sympathy, or really solidarity, would be great,” he said. “Solidarity for adjuncts from students.”

A recent debate on the representation of adjuncts in UTC’s Faculty Senate can be found here.  

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