Posted on: March 26, 2021 Posted by: Glacier Staff Comments: 0

Featured image and graphic by Sarah Kauffman

By Yunuen Perez and Mariam Itani

Over the past year, many people have been on a rollercoaster of worry, fear, and uncertainty, wondering if they might lose their income or be hit with high health care costs. Some of those people are right here at Moraine, working alongside full-time professors as adjunct faculty.

Adjuncts are part-time professors who often jump among two or more different colleges, juggling up to nine classes just to make ends meet. They are paid by the course, so they piece together their income from different sources–a challenge in normal times, but especially during a pandemic.

Students may be surprised to find that adjuncts make up 76 percent of Moraine faculty, according to data compiled by College Factual–a higher percentage than the nation’s average of 51.4 percent. 

“There’s no difference in the teaching. Students don’t even notice,” says Sue Frankson, an adjunct professor in the communications department at Moraine Valley. Like her full-time counterparts, she misses teaching in a pre-COVID normal. “I miss face-to-face, the actual engagement and facial expression.”

Though they teach the same courses as full-time professors and usually have the same degrees, adjuncts receive fewer benefits in terms of health insurance, pay, and security. At any time, they may lose courses, and income, due to factors out of their control.

“Many MVCC face-to-face courses are taught by adjunct professors, many of whom are struggling financially and do not have the option of not working.” says Ann Marie Renfree, a microbiology professor at Moraine. This disparity becomes more evident when looking at the effect not only Covid-19 has had on adjunct professors, but also the state’s decision to not include higher education faculty in the 1B category for the vaccines. “This adjunct group is also less likely to have good health insurance coverage should they contract a severe infection.”

Enrollment decline creates instability

Fluctuations in enrollment directly influence an adjunct’s income. As enrollment increases, more adjuncts are needed to cover courses that full-time faculty cannot fit into their schedules.

“There is no denying the value of a full-time tenured faculty,” says an article published by the Association of American Colleges & Universities, “but when institutions are faced with tough economic times, larger-than-expected enrollments, and new programs. . .institutions will turn to adjunct faculty.”

However, since COVID-19 and the restrictions we’ve had to instill, Moraine Valley, like other colleges, has experienced a drop in enrollment compared to last year. 

“Community college enrollment saw the sharpest declines, and freshman enrollment is down 13.1 percent and community college enrollment is down 10.1 percent,” according to Inside Higher Ed.

For adjuncts, lower enrollment means fewer classes, fewer job opportunities, and therefore, a less stable income. 

Colleges hire adjuncts because they are less expensive; this subsequently helps make tuition more affordable for community college students. However, adjuncts like Frankson, who has been teaching at Moraine for more than 15 years, still have to worry about the chances of their filled courses being taken away. This can happen even a day before the semester starts, usually because a full-time professor’s course didn’t fill.

“You have to be flexible, which is a good skill,” she says.

Full-time faculty members create fund to help

To help adjunct faculty at Moraine who are facing difficulties due to the pandemic, four full-time professors created a GoFundMe campaign. The fundraiser, called the Moraine Valley Mutual Aid Network raised a total of about $5,000. The four women who created this fundraiser privately, as it wasn’t directed by the college, are political science professor Merri Fefles, librarian Tish Hayes, counselor Teresa Hannon, and biology professor Michelle Zurawski.

“Moraine Valley did a good job in helping adjuncts,” says Frankson.

Before receiving a full-time position at Moraine Valley, Erika Deiters was an adjunct at Moraine for three years. She is now adjunct coordinator of the communications and literature department.

“I’ve been so happy at Moraine because we really do have a great faculty,” says Deiters. “Our instructors are wonderful and they deserve full-time benefits and pay.”

Deiters works with an adjunct advancement program, offering assistance in areas such as hiring adjuncts, looking over their teaching experience, and providing orientation.

Upon finding out about the role of adjuncts, Patricia Tichy, a student majoring in liberal arts, expressed appreciation.

“I’m glad to have learned more about my professors and their different roles,” she said. “I’ve always felt like they worried so much about their students. Being able to understand what our professors can possibly go through is needed to be a better student and I feel more obligated to make sure my professors know that I am thankful for all their hard work too during this pandemic.”