Adjunct professors try to adapt to COVID-19

Adjunct professors suffer a wide range of consequences as a result of COVID-19. 

Higher education is one of the areas that has been greatly impacted by the restrictions necessary in response to COVID-19. Colleges and universities have needed to implement new policies and procedures for students, as well as faculty and staff. One group that has been especially affected are the adjunct professors.

Students in a Classroom. Photo by Cabrini flickr

According to Diversity in Higher Education, adjunct professors are usually considered part-time employees of the institution and are not on a tenure track. In this way, they carry a lighter course load than full-time professors and have less administrative responsibilities at the school. In addition, adjunct professors may also teach at several colleges rather than remaining full-time in one institution. While this can be a highly desirable opportunity for those wishing to have a more flexible schedule, COVID-19 has introduced a lot of uncertainty surrounding the adjunct professor role.

One of the biggest concerns for institutions of higher education right now is financial stability. Since adjunct professors are part-time employees, they have been some of the first to not have their contracts renewed as schools try to stay afloat during COVID-19. In an article from the U.S. News and World Report, William Herbert, executive director of the National Center for the Study of Collective Bargaining in Higher Education and the Professions, was quoted describing these faculty as those who are “in the most precarious situation” right now.

Many adjunct professors have lost their jobs or had their hours cut down due to colleges needing to eliminate courses as a way to save costs. Even those who have not been impacted in this way have still suffered due to their part-time status. While each school is different, many adjunct professors do not receive benefits including paid sick leave or medical insurance from the school. This puts them in a dangerous position of needing to choose between risking their health to teach during a pandemic or keeping their jobs. 

“Creative Commons Distance Learning” by Marina Shemesh is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Those adjunct professors who do not have any changes to their contract still face challenges when it comes to restructuring their classes to make them appropriate for online learning. At Cabrini, many adjunct professors report feeling like they are responsible to handle a greater workload as they try to take their curriculum from an in-person class and turn it into something that can be used for virtual classes.

“During COVID, all of my classes are online so there is more work getting the course set up using best practices for online learning,” Carrie Grabowicz, adjunct professor in Natural Sciences and Allied Health, said.

Managing these online classes can be difficult as it is sometimes challenging to keep students engaged, encouraging them to keep their cameras on and to turn in their work on time.

“I suggest that turning on your cameras would really help with focusing during class time and everyone would benefit from this,” Grabowicz said.

Adjunct professors are working harder than ever to engage with their students in a way that is helpful to them. This includes working longer hours and making themselves as available as possible during this time.

“I am not required to have office hours, but still have meetings whenever I can to make connections with students, still have to prep course work and am grading a lot more assignments because of the online environment. I know that I am personally working 12-14 hour days between the 2 places I teach (I have 3 classes at Cabrini and 1 class at Montgomery County Community College),” Grabowicz said.

While the pandemic will likely continue to impact higher education for months to come, adjunct professors are finding new and creative ways to teach their students despite the uncertainties that surround higher education during COVID-19.