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Adjunct Cuts Adjunct professors feel the pain of budget cuts

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Posted: Thursday, April 25, 2013 12:21 am

The ripples of upcoming budget cuts are likely to rock University of Montana adjuncts – instructors who are the most vulnerable to not be rehired for upcoming semesters. 

“Adjuncts are the weakest force at the University, even with covering around 57 percent of UM classes,” said Bryan DiSalvatore, an adjunct professor in the English department. “They are cutting the lowest hanging fruit.”

Adjuncts are hired on a semester-to-semester basis with no real protections, DiSalvatore said. Adjuncts’ vulnerability varies from each department and changes annually due to the budget or needs of a university. 

According to the Office of Budget, Planning and Analysis, there were 359 adjunct professors employed in  fall 2012, with 82 working as full-time. 

DiSalvatore has been working as an adjunct professor at UM for six years and will not be rehired.

DiSalvatore said he is still unsure where other cuts are being made, especially within administrative positions. 

“The Dean of Communications is doing a piss-poor job of sharing information,” he said.  “Is administration going to take less trips? Will they be sharing the burden? Maybe that would make me feel better but right now I feel bad. I’m angry.” 

In response, Peggy Kuhr, Vice President for integrated communications, said everyone agrees that good communication is very important. 

“Budget decisions are difficult this spring and it’s understandable that people can be angry or upset,” Kuhr said. “It was difficult earlier on without precise information but with more clarity and less uncertainty about numbers, communication will be clearer.” 

Kuhr said the University Budget Committee will be hosting a series of open weeklymeetings to discuss pending budget cuts.  

James McKusick, the dean of the Davidson Honors College, began to define adjuncts as “temporary” faculty. But he changed that definition to “contingent.”

“Temporary implies they have only been here for a little while, but that’s not the case for a lot of adjuncts,” McKusick said. “Teaching is wonderful and noble, but they are contingent based on funding and enrollment.”  

McKusick said there are normally more adjuncts hired in the fall and the majority are used in beginning or required courses.

Within the honors college, McKusick said he does not expect to cut back on rehiring adjunct professors. 

DiSalvatore’s case is one of many, said Russ Van Paepeghem, an adjunct professor who has been teaching at UM since fall 2008. Though teaching is his passion, Van Paepeghem said he has not been contacted about teaching again and will not pursue it.  

“There are some things that are really good here, but I don’t give a s—t about that,” he said. “I care about the dignity of allowing a professional a professional wage, professional consistency, a professional livelihood, a profession. That’s it:  a profession.” 

Van Paepeghem said he has never known in advance what courses he will be teaching, sometimes even into a term. Several times he didn’t receive a contract until two weeks into a semester. 

“The system is fraudulent,” Van Paepeghem said, “How can I respond to  this missing piece of what I call my identity?”

Van Paepeghem said last year he was paid less than what he made at 14 years old. To the best of his knowledge, adjuncts are required to teach more than one semester at the equivalent of full- time before being able to meet with a representative to discuss better pay, he said. 

This means the majority of adjuncts are not unionized, since adjuncts cannot pick their hours, Van Paepeghem said. 

He once hoped to reach tenure. But, he said, the only way top do so is to publish a successful book or get a Ph.D. Even with two master’s degrees and a teaching background, he has not made it to round two of the nine tenure applications he has filled out. 

“I’m at an ethical and emotional junction. I want to maintain teaching, but I want to do it with dignity knowing that there is some value in my work,” Van Paepeghem said. 

He said students should be aware of how the adjunct system could affect them. 

He has only been observed in the classroom once during his time at UM, he said.

“There is almost zero oversight,” Van Paepeghem said. “It’s about quality control — who knows what’s going on in classrooms?” 

This is a nationwide issue and there are surely places worse than UM out there, he said. He also added deans’ hands are normally tied and he knows most have good intentions. 

Van Paepeghem said he had to be careful. To make a fuss could have resulted in having no contract. In the end, he said he felt he couldn’t change the institution. 

Van Paeghem said he has been taught more than he could ever teach — something many worn out adjuncts seem to have forgotten, he said. 

“I’m a firm believer that if you are not open to learning what your students can teach you, it’s time to quit,” Van Paepeghem said. “The real tension for me is I’m still open — I want to be here.” 

Brian Buckbee, an adjunct professor in the English department said overall there is an upward trend in hiring adjuncts across the educational board. 

“Students may be interested to know what they are paying for and how it affects their education,” he said. “A lot of money is spent on teachers with no job security (either with the employer or the employed) and a lot of them don’t give a f— about the student.” 

At the moment, Buckbee is set to work as an online instructor again. But, things change all the time, he said. 

No one seems sure what the fall semester will bring for adjunct instructors. 

“Unfortunately, as of today, I do not quite know how many adjuncts I will be able to hire in the fall of 2013,” Leonid Kalachev, the chair of the Department of Mathematical Sciences, said in an email. 

Budget negotiations are still ongoing, but Kalachev said he plans to do everything possible to reduce the impact of potential budget cuts on the students’ educational experience at UM.

Lise Lalonde, originally from France, fell in love with Montana from afar through movies and moved here when she was 22 to finish a master’s in English literature at UM. 

She paid for her master’s by being a TA. 


Now, Lalonde teaches three courses, one online and two at the Bitterroot College Program. She made more money teaching one class as a TA than she does now teaching two classes for the BCP, where she has between 30-40 students. Adding in the online class, she does make more money than she did as a TA. 

After graduation, she tried to find other jobs but could only get adjunct positions, which she took as a transitional job. She estimates that each class amounts to 20-25 hours of work a week. She says she does about 60 hours a week of teaching and teaching-related work. 

Lalonde is leaving Montana to get a Ph.D. in Seattle, which she hopes will make her more likely to become tenured, but she knows there is still no guarantee. 

“I love to teach and that’s what I want to do – just not this way,” Lalonde said. “Never getting recognized for your work financially gets really heavy.” 

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