Workload Limitations

At virtually every college in the country, adjunct faculty contracts limit or “cap” workloads below full time at any one college.48 In addition to the low pay, this is another one of the reasons for the so-called freeway flier phenomenon, where adjuncts are forced to teach at several colleges in order to put together a sufficient income.

In the Washington State community college system, each of the thirty-four campuses has set a different adjunct cap, ranging from 50 to 90 percent of a full-time teaching load. Neither the colleges nor the union leaders who regularly negotiate faculty contracts have ever provided a rationale for limiting adjunct workloads.

Yet it seems obvious that the major reason is to prevent contingent faculty from ever qualifying for tenure. The Washington State tenure law requires three years of full-time teaching to qualify for tenure. For this reason, in some cases the adjuncts, who are doing the same work as the full-timers, have successfully claimed they deserve de facto or “backdoor” tenure. In fact, a few adjuncts have made exactly this claim, and they have received tenure as a result, though it has rarely been achieved without the involvement of an attorney.

It is worth noting that the same colleges (and unions) that limit adjunct teaching to significantly below full time allow their full-time professors to teach significantly above full time, ranging from 167 percent to 200 percent of full time. Of course, the more courses taught by full-time faculty, who often have preference over part-timers in choosing courses, the fewer the classes available for the adjuncts to teach. The colleges benefit from full-timers who teach overloads because they are usually paid at the lower part-time rate, and the college avoids paying the additional health and retirement benefits if an adjunct were to teach these courses.

Furthermore, in both Washington and California the colleges and the unions have taken money intended by legislators to raise part-time salaries and diverted it to full-time faculty who moonlight, claiming that they are part-timers too. In 2001, California passed the Part-Time Faculty Equity Pay Law, awarding $57 million to increase part-time pay in the community colleges, though only $47.6 million had been distributed by 2004.

In “A Tale of Greed and Gluttony: The California Part-Time Faculty Equity Fund Boondoggle,” Adjunct Advocate reporters Chris Cumo and P. D. Lesko write, “Of that $47.6 million that officials did distribute to faculty, not all ended up in the paychecks of part-time faculty. Full-time faculty have pocketed millions of dollars of the equity pay the state’s legislators were led to believe would go toward bolstering the pay of the state’s temporary faculty.”49 In Washington State, we have been successful in convincing the state legislature to grant nearly $60 million in equity pay “solely to increase salaries and related benefits for part-time faculty” since 1996.50 Yet a significant, but unknown, amount of this money has gone to full-time faculty who teach overloads.

When Jack Longmate filed a “whistleblower” complaint with the state auditor over this diversion of funds, the auditor, after taking six months to investigate, wrongly concluded that the funds were not being used to pay full-timers and thanked the colleges, but not Longmate, for their cooperation with his investigation. Our repeated attempts to get state legislators and the governor to review the auditor’s work have been unsuccessful. The colleges and the unions are still diverting part-time faculty “equity” money to fulltime faculty who moonlight by falsely claiming that faculty who teach full time and have tenure are “part-timers” when they teach overtime.


Professional Leave

Many institutions go to great lengths to support the teaching and research of their tenure-stream professors, allowing them to take several days off to attend a teaching workshop, or to give a paper at a conference in another city, or even longer to do research.

Many contingent faculty may be ineligible for such paid leave time, or if eligible, may find most of the funds going to the tenure-stream faculty. Indeed, adjuncts may be hesitant to take such leave out of fear that the college may view them as shirking their commitment to their students.

Several years ago, I received an award from a national organization for scholarly work I had done. The college published an article about my award in their newsletter. I got advance approval from my division head, and arranged for my classes to be covered in my absence.

When I returned, I found out that the college had in fact docked my pay for three days, claiming that while I was eligible to take the time off, I was not eligible to be paid for it because I was an adjunct. When I mentioned this to a powerful state senator, she complained to the head of human resources for the state community college system, and he wrote the head of personnel for the college.

Ultimately, I was paid for the days I was away from campus. But soon thereafter I began to have some unusual run-ins with the division head. One quarter, she claimed to have made a mistake and not put one of my courses into the catalog. Since she claimed that it was too late to correct it, I lost the income for that class. Soon she ceased offering me any classes at all—after fifteen years of successful teaching.

Contingent faculty, all of whom teach off the tenure track, are not eligible for tenure. So in addition to teaching summers to make ends meet, adjuncts are forced to teach year after year without ever benefiting from a sabbatical.

In addition, tenure-stream faculty may often receive grants that allow for time off from teaching to either conduct research or else improve teaching. While not impossible to receive, it is still rare for contingent faculty to be awarded grants by foundations. In many cases, the foundations require the grantee to demonstrate support from the college for their work, usually in office and clerical help, and such support is lacking for most adjuncts.


Class Assignments

As with every other aspect of the two-track system, tenure-stream faculty are given preference in the assignment of courses. When departments prepare their term schedules, tenure-stream faculty have first choice in selecting which courses they will teach. They often choose the more advanced courses, or opt for a schedule where they have to do the least amount of preparation. They also tend to prefer the daytime classes over those held at night, so that they can have their evenings free either to conduct research or to spend with their families.

After the tenure-stream faculty have chosen their courses for the term, then classes are assigned to the contingent faculty. In practice, the contingents are often left with the lower division classes, the introductory classes, and the evening classes. Of course, adjuncts must often teach in the least desirable rooms as well.

The system that always prefers tenure-stream faculty over contingent faculty can lead to the assignment of a class to a tenure-stream faculty member who may in fact be less qualified than an adjunct to teach a particular class.



Throughout academe, full-time tenure stream faculty have priority over contingent faculty in virtually all aspects of employment. The presumption of the two-track system is that the tenure-track professors are better and more qualified than the adjuncts. So the tenure-track professors usually have first preference in choosing classes, even when a particular adjunct might have superior credentials.

There are a few colleges where adjuncts do have a seniority system and have the right of first refusal when courses in their field are assigned. Even where adjuncts do have seniority systems, they are often course by course, as opposed to the more normal date of hire.

But the vast majority of adjuncts teach for years without developing any seniority over other adjuncts, let alone tenure-stream faculty. This means that even long-term adjuncts can see their courses offered to newer professors with less experience.

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