Why this UNH Adjunct Quit After a Decade in the Classroom

Dec 23, 2015

Credit NHPR/Michael Brindley

  Colleges and universities are increasingly relying on adjunct professors. In New Hampshire, nearly 60% of college teaching positions are filled by part-time, adjunct faculty.  But increasingly, adjuncts are complaining that low pay and poor working conditions are making the job difficult to keep.

Dana Biscotti Myskowski received the University of New Hampshire's Outstanding Adjunct Faculty award in 2009, but now, after eleven years in the classroom, she's decided to call it quits, something she wrote about on a blog titled, "A letter to my students as I leave adjunct teaching."

She joined NHPR's Morning Edition to talk about her decision.

You've been vocal with your concerns about the treatment of adjunct professors - you actually appeared on NHPR's The Exchange back in February to talk about some of those issues. What happened to make you finally decide enough was enough?

Well, I didn't see any changes. I didn't see any beginnings of changes.

What changes were you expecting?

Well, I was hoping to start small, with just a lounge, a meeting room for adjuncts, but of course they don't want adjuncts to meet because we might unionize. So I was told that would be looked in to, I haven't seen any of that evidence. I was hoping that maybe - somebody in my department had left in January - I was hoping that maybe a spot would come open and it would be advertised so I could throw my hat into the ring, and nothing happened.

Can you tell us about your experience as an adjunct professor especially as it relates to somebody who is a full-time faculty member?

So my experience is that I roll for my one or two classes - I've been teaching two classes a semester for probably nine and a half years out of the decade I've been there - and I roll in for just my classes and am back out again. So I'm not on campus for students to meet with me. I think that right there should change, that with better pay, with some offices...this year they've provided some new offices in the new space that we're in, but there are no locks on the doors so we don't keep materials there, so really it's just a semi-private room to meet with students. 

And adjuncts just aren't as available as a full-time faculty member would be.

Right, exactly.

Now you wrote a blog recently that was essentially a letter to your students explaining why it was you were leaving teaching. What was the response to that?

My goodness, the response was overwhelming. Several of my students found their way to the blog and put just remarkable comments that made me feel good about what I've done...

Are they surprised that you want to leave teaching and the way adjunct professors are generally regarded and treated?

They've been surprised to hear about adjuncts and how they're treated, and many of them didn't even know the term "adjunct professor." But once they found out how I was treated, I've been getting high-five emails and "you go, girl," and absolutely, you need to leave and it's the right decision.

So why do universities rely on them so much?

Costs.

It comes down to just simply money?

It does, it does. We're cheap. There's no benefits, absolutely zero, not even education benefits which just floors me, because that's their stock and trade. Nationwide, $2700 dollars is the average adjunct fee for a three-credit course, that's per semester.

What's your response to UNH administrators who say they're doing what they can for adjuncts given tight budgets and now limited state funding as well?

I laugh. They're not doing what they can. This isn't a New Hampshire problem, this is a country-wide problem, this is actually a problem in other countries as well.

Have you talked to any lawmakers about possible changes or solutions...what do you want to see happen? 

What I envisioned first is that some university would take the lead on this and become the game-changer.  I don't think that's going to happen, because it requires some heavy cutting at the top levels. And so maybe legislation is the next step. I have met with the governor's education policy advisor just to get the conversation open.

Do you think there's any appetite for that?

No, there doesn't seem to be.