University upgrade may not lead to adjunct salary increase

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Dixie State University may be moving up in the world, but some adjunct instructors feel as if they’ll be left in the dust.

Adjunct instructors are often used to teach general education classes as there are often not enough full-time faculty members to help meet the demand. They teach up to five classes a semester. Adjuncts are paid $550 per credit and do not receive benefits.

Don Hinton, the interim vice president of academics and dean of the school of arts and letters, said this is standard practice for universities. He said many part-time hires, even those with contracts, may not receive benefits as well. To work as an adjunct instructor, a bachelor’s degree is necessary, and applicants must be working toward, or already have, a master’s degree. 

However, some have doctorate degrees as well.  Rick Miller, an adjunct instructor of science, has a doctorate from the University of California-Los Angeles and currently teaches two classes. He said he is paid $1,650 per class per semester.

Miller said since the school is a university, administrators must increase incentives for higher quality faculty to come work as adjuncts.

Miller, who received his doctorate in 1965 and retired in 2001, said he didn’t care about his paycheck as he worked for the college out of a desire to continue teaching. However, after the step up to university, his opinion changed.

 “It would seem to me that if you’re talking about someone who has a master’s or a Ph.D. [who] is teaching at a university, they should be able to be paid more than somebody that is working part-time at a restaurant or a gas station,” Miller said.

Utah’s minimum wage is $7.25, and servers start out even lower, at $2.13 an hour.

Miller said he thought it was unfair that adjuncts were teaching students who may earn more money than the adjuncts themselves.

“Who is going to come teach here for $10 an hour with a master’s degree or a Ph.D?” Miller said. “They could go to work at McDonald’s for that much money with no experience whatsoever.”  

Hinton said that while administrators believe increasing adjunct pay is important, finding the funds will prove difficult. 

“The difficulty is the bill for that is huge,” Hinton said. “We pay $550. If I were to increase that to $650, that’s a hundred dollars of every credit hour. You times that by all the adjuncts, you will have a huge total in the multimillions. Getting the money for that is going to be a major, major task.”

Derk Olthof, an adjunct instructor of English, said despite the low pay, he would rather continue teaching at Dixie.

“[Teaching] is much better,” Olthof said. “I wouldn’t say it’s terrible pay; it’s actually fairly good pay if you compare it to most jobs you can get working minimum wage.”

However, Olthof said compared to most college jobs, adjunct pay is very low. He said he earned about $4,000 to teach two English 1010 classes. He also agreed with Miller about raising adjunct salaries because of DSU’s heavy reliance on adjunct instructors to teach general education classes.

“It’s a huge discrepancy for a minor difference in qualification,” he said. “It really keeps the university going, but they should be paid more. “

Hinton said the university administrators were aware of the low adjunct pay.

“We have felt at Dixie the need to increase it,” Hinton said. “The last increase went from $500 to $550. That was done three or four years ago.”

Hinton said during the summer, adjunct wages are raised to $750 a credit hour. He also said because full-time faculty contracts usually cover nine or ten months, full-time faculty who teach during the summer are paid the summer adjunct wage as well. During fall and spring semesters, an adjunct may be hired at that wage if there is critical need for a hire. 

“If we’ve done everything we would normally do to get a hire and can’t get one, then we would offer [that wage],” Hinton said. “It’s when there is a critical problem and a critical shortage.”

However, for Olthof, his biggest problem isn’t necessarily the amount he gets on his paychecks, but the date he gets them.

“What really bugs me about Dixie’s practice is that I started teaching at the beginning of January, and I won’t get it until the beginning of March,” he said. “If I didn’t work at [Southern Utah University), I would be homeless.”

Jennifer Gibb, an adjunct instructor of English, said the pay period became problematic for her as well. She said the long time between paychecks caused her to seek work at a hotel. Gibb refrained from sharing her salary amount.

“I have a family, and we do need my income,” she said. “If you’re looking at it just from the beginning of the semester, it’s not bad, but from semester to semester, it makes things difficult. For example, I got paid at the end of November, but I still haven’t gotten paid yet.”

Hinton said the adjunct pay schedule is due to the harum-scarum created by students switching from class to class during the first few weeks of the semester. Sending payrolls through as soon as classes filled up would become too confusing, partially because classes can easily empty out in the first few weeks of a semester, leaving the adjunct without a class to teach. He also said the confusion would be caused because of the number of adjunct instructors across the university’s five schools.

“We pull together a very complicated set where we list every teacher, every course they teach, and the number of credit hours,” Hinton said. “We bill out all the overloads, all the adjunct wages, the adjunct courses that are being taught, and when that stabilizes to where we can, for the most part, say this is what the adjunct and overload need is, we send it into payment.” 

Hinton said the university has been taking steps to improve the adjunct pay schedule. Administrators hope to implement a Banner module that generates the same report and works through the complicated formulas required to pay the adjuncts more frequently.

“We’ve been working very hard on that, and we expect the trial run of that module to be done this summer with the hope that by fall, it will be fully implementable,” Hinton said. “Our hope is that the adjuncts will be paid every two weeks once they start receiving checks. We want to get that up because we definitely have not been happy with that other system.” 

Like Miller, Gibb hasn’t reached out to administration. However, unlike Miller, who said he thought about the issue after the school achieved university status, Gibb said  she was unsure if being a university should affect adjunct pay, though personally she would like to see it raised.

“I think if you are going to fall in line with other universities and want to be competitive and draw people to your university, you have to be aware of what other universities are paying,” she said. 

Hinton said comparing adjunct wages to those of larger universities is harder than it appears. He said DSU’s Human Resources department has just barely begun compiling information. Part of the difficulty lies in just how much larger other schools are than Dixie.

“You take the University of Utah,” he said. “Every one of [its] colleges within the university has their own HR department, and they pay a different wage, so you can’t just say, ‘From University of Utah, this is what they pay.’ It’s not an easy thing to gather. But we’re in that process of doing that so we understand where we are relative to other institutions.” 

Gibb said even though she would like to see higher wages, instructors ultimately had to deal with their situations.

She said: “We all make different career choices, and if we chose to get an education, and we choose to be adjuncts, then we have to deal with whatever it is we’re getting paid.”