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November 2016
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In This Issue
  • Special Feature: The Plight of Contingent and Adjunct Faculty
  • GWIS Fellowship Applications Now Open
  • Postdoctoral Research Fellowships Available in Germany
  • GWIS Book Club and TED Discussion Group
  • In the News: New Studies on Gender Inequality in STEM Careers
The Plight of Contingent and Adjunct Faculty

Contributed by Catherine Steffel, Medical Physics Graduate Student, University of Wisconsin-Madison

At 83 years of age, Margaret Mary Vojtko lost her job as an adjunct at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. She was nearly destitute, unable to afford to heat her house, after paying for cancer treatments with no health insurance. Vojtko died after suffering from a heart attack near her home on September 1, 2013.  

Vojtko’s death prompted conversations about the role of unions and adjunct faculty at American universities after her lawyer, Daniel Kovalik, published an op-ed in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette detailing Vojtko’s professional history with her employer. Vojtko had ardently proclaimed in a campus publication some years earlier, “Teaching is not a profession or a career…It is a devotion – a dedication. Too many people look upon it as a job, a source of income.”  

Vojtko adhered to her teaching philosophy, engaging students for 25 years at Duquesne. For many years, she earned less than $25,000 from teaching eight French classes a year. But when Duquesne terminated Vojtko’s contract, she was not entitled to severance pay or a pension.  Kovalik asserted that Duquesne’s refusal to recognize an adjunct union compounded Vojtko’s financial situation and contributed to her death.  

The extent to which employment circumstances contributed to Vojtko’s death is under debate. Nonetheless, among the class of the “hyper-educated poor” in academia, higher education booms while problems plague institutions. Faculty juggle improving student learning outcomes with research activities, while higher tuition plunges students into debt without the promise of an enhanced college experience. Contingency workers, like full-time faculty, tend to hold terminal degrees. They toiled through graduate school alongside now-tenured professors, but in contrast to their counterparts, they often teach heavy course loads at several institutions for little pay, few benefits, and limited academic independence. Unlike a tenured professor, an adjunct’s institution makes little or no long-term commitment to them, and in this way, job security is tenuous. Another difference? They are not actually the minority.

Today, 76 percent of all instructional staff appointments in American higher education today are adjunct, non-tenure, or part-time. In 1969, about 20 percent of faculty fit that description []. This startling change suggests how the mission of colleges and universities has shifted from teaching and learning to other activities, such as conducting research or supporting athletics.  

The apparent exploitation of non-tenure track faculty can be viewed within the context of history. Some people contend that adjuncts were associated with female instructors from the beginning, because before women were permitted to hold positions as full professors, they were hired as adjuncts. These contingent faculty members, Syracuse University Associate Professor Eileen Schell, author of Gypsy Academics and Mother-Teachers: Gender, Contingent Labor, and Writing Instruction (1997), says, were referred to as “the housewives of higher education.”  Teaching had become a woman’s “true profession…[in] a natural outgrowth of women’s maternal calling.” The long-standing stereotypes, biases, and social constraints against women have held to this day, particularly in the so-called “old guard” of STEM disciplines. 

A disproportionate number of adjuncts are still women. A National Science Foundation (NSF) survey released in 2015 reports that the number of female science and engineering doctorates nearly doubled between 1994 and 2014, reaching 42 percent in 2009 and remaining relatively stable thereafter. And in 2014, nearly half of all doctorate recipients reported that their first position would be in education, primarily academia.  

There is a paucity of data on adjunct faculty representation within STEM. A Portrait of Part-Time Faculty Members, released by The Coalition on the Academic Workforce (CAW) in 2012, received 62 percent of its survey responses from female adjuncts. Only 0.9 and 0.3 percent of the CAW survey’s respondents work in the engineering and science fields, respectively. It might be understandable how adjuncts could be disproportionately represented in the humanities and social sciences relative to STEM fields, but whether this sample accurately depicts circumstances is uncertain. After accounting for the increasing responsibilities handed to adjuncts, even this partial representation of adjuncts can be put into perspective.  

Adjuncts are largely responsible for encouraging the critical thought and the way courses are taught at their universities. Yet, they lack the independence to develop their own curriculum and teaching style. Adjuncts are hired often just days before a class begins, giving them little time for preparation or orientation to the school, the students, other instructors, and institutional policies. 

A student’s assessment may be the only form of evaluation an adjunct receives. The impact this assessment may have on future employment is paramount, as most adjuncts are hired on a semester-by-semester basis. The potential effects of student evaluations may lead an adjunct to hold back from presenting unpopular opinions, critiquing ideas, or even giving out poor grades. 

Adjuncts often have minimal or no participation in shared governance, meaning that they are unable to advocate for themselves, which may partially explain their stubbornly consistent meager wages and working conditions relative to their full-time tenured counterparts. 

An American Association of University Professors (AAUP) report (2012) states that adjuncts receive anywhere from $18,000 at a community college to slightly above $30,000 at a private doctoral university per year. In engineering and the sciences, this corresponds to about $2,800-$4,000 per course for a typical teaching course load, which is slightly above a typical STEM graduate student’s living stipend. The pay of these faculty has not kept pace with inflation and is woefully small compared to a median salary of $70,000 per annum for entry-level tenure-track faculty. Work outside the classroom, such as holding office hours, is often unpaid, although the impact of union presence on these figures is uneven. 

This has resulted in 31 percent of part-time faculty living near or below the federal poverty line (American Community Survey, 2012). In addition, the University of California-Berkeley Labor Center (2013) shares that one in four families of part-time faculty are enrolled in at least one public assistance program like food stamps and Medicaid. Medical coverage and other benefits also are limited for contingent workers. Some colleges have even limited adjuncts’ teaching hours after passage of the Affordable Care Act so that health insurance is not a mandate, as it is for full-time faculty. 

Administrators and some adjuncts admit that this path makes financial sense for universities. These practices are abusive, however, since many institutions do not provide adjuncts with the basic support they need to perform their jobs. Adjunct faculty often have no access to private office space to work with students, and they often lack other institutional support like technology, access to travel funds for conference attendance, and support to secure grant funding for research or other academic pursuits. 

“I think we set up all adjuncts to fail,” Natalie Dorfeld, a former adjunct and current Assistant Professor of English at the Florida Institute of Technology. “They are the backbone of many departments, and yet they are expected to not rock the boat. Smile. Nod. Give Johnny a C, so he can play football.” Dorfeld plans to release a book expanding upon her dissertation, Broke, bohemian, and burned out: An in-depth analysis of the adjunct lifestyle (2007), soon.

This article is part one of a series examining the hurdles that adjunct faculty face and how they are trying to surmount them. Here, an overview of how adjunct faculty have quietly come to dominate the college learning scene is presented. Future articles will discuss how the unionization movement among adjuncts has or has not improved circumstances and working conditions for these teachers, and the broader impacts of adjunct teaching on student outcomes in STEM and higher education through interviews with GWIS members will be examined. 

What are your experiences regarding adjunct faculty?  If you are an adjunct, how do you think your students have benefited from your instruction, or do you feel the use of adjuncts at your institution is detrimental to students?  How does your institution handle governance?  As a tenure-track or tenured professor, do you choose to advocate for adjuncts?  Please contact us with your experiences to contribute to this series at with the subject "adjunct".

GWIS Fellowship Applications Open for Submissions

We are now accepting applications for the 2017-2018 GWIS Fellowships Program! Since 1941, the GWIS National Fellowships Program has awarded hundreds of thousands of dollars to empower women in the early stage of a STEM career. Please check our website for guidelines and application instructions, and make sure to read the FAQ section for further information. The deadline for all GWIS Fellowships will be 11:59 pm, Eastern Standard Time, January 13, 2017.
Postdoctoral Research Fellowships Available in Germany

A Humboldt Research Fellowship allows postdoctoral researchers to carry out long-term research (6-24 months) in Germany. Applicants choose their own topic of research and their academic host. Scientists and scholars of all nationalities and disciplines may apply if they have completed their doctorate within the last four years. The Humboldt Foundation grants approximately 500 Humboldt Research Fellowships for postdoctoral researchers and experienced researchers annually. Academics from developing and emerging countries may be eligible to apply for a Georg Forster Fellowship.
More Info
GWIS Book Club

The next book club is scheduled for Thursday, December 1 at 7pm EST. We will be discussing The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. For questions, contact Gina Moreno.

"From a single, abbreviated life grew a seemingly immortal line of cells that made some of the most crucial innovations in modern science possible. And from that same life, and those cells, Rebecca Skloot has fashioned in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks a fascinating and moving story of medicine and family, of how life is sustained in laboratories and in memory."  - Tom Nissley
Want to know the happy secret to better work? Interested in how great leaders inspire action? Curious to learn how to make stress your friend? Join us in our latest discussion series GWIS Talks TED where we will hold discussions (via UberConference and discussion forums) on popular TED Talks. A great way for members to connect without the commitment of reading a book! Series scheduled to begin early January. For more information or to submit a talk suggestion, please contact Gina Moreno.

Nominations are open for GWIS national offices. GWIS national officers gain valuable leadership experience working with dozens of other women to manage and promote an organization of over 800 women in science. Do not overlook nominating yourself. Nomination form deadline is 5:00 pm on January 15, 2017.  Nomination Form

Collision Conference. Limited number of free tickets available! Join thousands of attendees at America's fastest growing tech conference in New Orleans, May 2-4, 2017. Contact GWIS president, Stacey Kigar, for more details. More Info on Collision

Mid-Michigan Chapter participated in the Lansing River Cleanup, spending half a day helping to clean up rivers in the Greater Lansing area. They also held their annual fundraiser "Wine and Cheese Party" in October.
Five of the Biggest Stories About Women in STEM in 2016. Johns Hopkins Siebel scholars, gender parity in Carnegie Mellon’s 2016 Computer Science class, first U.S. Women's Summit, female applicants for tenure-track jobs in STEM are now more than twice as likely as men to be selected for hire at equal pay rates, and 2017 L’Oreal-Unesco Women in Science Awards round out the list. Huffington Post
New Studies on Gender Inequality in STEM careers.  A new University of Washington study published in the journal Psychological Bulletin analyzed more than 1,200 papers related to women's under-representation in STEM, and from those identified 10 factors that impact gender differences in students' interest and participation in STEM. The top three factors most likely to explain gendered patterns were a lack of pre-college experience, gender gaps in belief in one's abilities, and a masculine culture that discourages women from participating   Meanwhile, researchers at Cornell University are reporting in Social Science Research that women’s deliberate life choices (getting married, having children) are not responsible for keeping women from entering the workforce; even women with undergraduate STEM degrees who planned to delay marriage and child rearing were no more likely than other STEM women to land a job in the sciences two years after graduation. Inside Higher Ed   A recent study from Columbia University published in Nature Geoscience showed that women applying for geosciences fellowships are less likely to receive outstanding letters of recommendation in comparison to men, regardless of what region the letters came from or the recommender’s gender. Inside Higher Ed  Lastly, new evidence from Northwestern University published in the open-access journal PLOS Biology examined nearly 4,000 faculty members in six STEM disciplines at top research universities across the US. It found female collaborators are less likely to be working internationally and are more likely to collaborate locally which makes them also less likely to coauthor with top scholars. A commentary by Caroline Wagner of Ohio State University puts these new findings in context of other recent research. PLOS Biology
Metaphorically Speaking, Men Are Expected to be Struck by Genius, Women to Nurture It. Cornell University developmental and social psychologists have published a study in Social Psychological and Personality Science showing that we find an idea more or less exceptional depending on the metaphors used to describe it. Further, the metaphors had different effects depending on the gender of the idea’s creator. New York Times
Predicting Scientific Success.  Are there quantifiable patterns behind a successful scientific career? Roberta Sinatra and colleagues analyzed the publications of 2887 physicists, as well as data on scientists publishing in a variety of fields. When productivity (which is usually greatest early in the scientist's professional life) is accounted for, the paper with the greatest impact occurs randomly in a scientist's career. However, the process of generating a high-impact paper is not an entirely random one. The authors developed a quantitative model of impact, based on an element of randomness, productivity, and a factor Q that is particular to each scientist and remains constant during the scientist's career. The Scientist and Science
Re-examining Spatial Skills. New findings published in Psychological Science challenge long-standing perceptions of male superiority in spatial reasoning. Researchers found that women underperform on spatial tests when they don’t expect to do as well as men, but framing the tests as social tasks eliminates the gender gap in performance. Women performed just as well as their male peers when the spatial tests replaced objects with human-like figures. Science Daily
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Founded in 1921, Graduate Women in Science is an inter-disciplinary society of scientists who collectively seek to advance the participation and recognition of women in science and to foster research through grants, awards and fellowships. We comprise over 20 active chapters of more than 800 women who are "United in Friendship through Science" to support and inspire member professional goals and mutual appreciation of science. Learn more at

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