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An unfair deal for part-time UMass faculty

THE UNIVERSITY of Massachusetts system has received much attention on Beacon Hill recently. The restructuring plan, the resignation of William Bulger, the former president, and the broken promise of the unfunded faculty contract have all claimed headlines.

However, one issue that is the responsibility of each campus's chancellor has a far greater impact on the quality of University of Massachusetts programs. UMass has quietly become addicted to part-time faculty.

The problem

is particularly acute at UMass-Dartmouth.

Today, 35 percent of the school's faculty are classified as part-time. Collectively, they shoulder so much of the teaching load that without them, the university could not fulfill its basic mission. Like their full-time colleagues, they are committed, well educated, successful in the world outside of teaching, and experienced. Unlike their full-time colleagues, they receive low pay without benefits. Although many have taught 10 years or more, they are classified as "visiting" and survive on annual or semester contracts that arrive two weeks before classes start.

Part-timers are paid at a rate roughly half that of the lowest-paid full-time professor. Most make under $20,000 a year. Many are limited to teaching one course a semester for as little as $3,000. Working "part time" can also mean teaching 100 percent of a full-time teaching load without full-time pay. Unlike their counterparts at the Amherst and Boston campuses, Dartmouth's part-time faculty members have no health or pension plan.

Twenty years ago professors with credentials similar to today's part-timers made a good living. Their positions included job protection through tenure, sabbatical leaves, funded research, and health and pension benefits. Today, part-time faculty have none of these benefits except a dental plan. Excluded from program and governance decisions, they are rarely welcomed to participate in the life of the university outside of their classes.

At UMass-Dartmouth, this is not a recent phenomenon caused by the state's fiscal crisis or declining enrollments. During the booming '90s, when the Legislature provided more aid, the school increased its reliance on part-time faculty to reduce costs and make itself seemingly a better value.

Now, in hard times, UMass-Dartmouth's chancellor, Jean MacCormack, has suggested becoming more dependent on part-time faculty to solve the funding shortfall. Enrollment is higher than ever, up 25 percent from 10 years ago, and applications in the same period have doubled.

UMass-Dartmouth's unfair practices are reflected nationally. According to a draft report of the American Association of University Professors, since 1986 college enrollments have increased 34 percent. Part-time faculty hires have increased 119 percent. Today, according to the association, 43 percent of all faculty are part-time, and more than half have nontenure positions.

Tenured jobs vanish with retirements only to be replaced with part-time positions.

Fortunate part-time faculty members have health insurance through a spouse; those who don't risk insolvency through illness.

This poor faculty compensation affects student learning conditions. Many part-time faculty cobble together an income by teaching at several schools and are harried by the perpetual hunt for teaching jobs. Outside of class, students can't interact with professors who are on the road in their "part-time faculty offices."

Part-time faculty members teach the introductory courses that full-time faculty often don't like to. These courses are considered so important that they are required for degree programs. Yet the administration does not seem to appreciate the irony that essential courses are being taught almost exclusively by a faculty it considers nonessential.

At Dartmouth, the part-time faculty are organizing around these issues and calling on the administration to reach parity with full-time professors in the next contract. A fair solution would be to make wages and benefits proportional to teaching workload. Pay should reflect rates paid full-time faculty.

Parity for part-time faculty is supported by the AAUP, the American Federation of Teachers, and the UMass-Dartmouth Faculty Federation. How can UMass-Dartmouth exploit those who teach while those in supporting roles -- administrators, janitors, and clerical workers -- receive better compensation? How can it increase enrollment, expand programs, and build new dormitories without supporting all its faculty? How can this institution that professes to value its part-time faculty treat them so poorly? Andrew Nixon is a part-time visiting lecturer in the Fine Arts Department at UMass-Dartmouth.

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