Letter to the Editor: The higher education treadmill; adjunct faculty frustrations

Stock image, St. George News

OPINION – Five years ago while I was an undergraduate, I wrote a scholarship essay in which I shared an anecdote of a time at the gym while running on a treadmill. As I looked around at my fellow gym-mates covered in sweat with determined expressions engraved upon their faces, I realized we were giving our all yet, ultimately, going nowhere. I likened this experience to my life up to that point: I had worked at dead-end jobs, eking out an existence for my family, giving my all yet going nowhere.

I then made the connection that education was my pathway off my treadmill and that I made the sacrifices necessary – accumulating mountains of student debt, taking time away from family, overcoming personal insecurity – because I could not bear to run on my treadmill yet another day.

Furthermore, I promised the scholarship committee that I would teach with passion and poise, treating my students with the utmost respect, serving them with tireless devotion, and helping them step off their own treadmills, just as my former teachers had helped me.

Here I am five years later, two of which have been spent teaching as an adjunct at Dixie State University, and my earlier romantic view of education and my role in the system has suffered a fatal blow.

This year, the administration of Dixie State – without consulting faculty – raised class sizes campus-wide. Therefore, when I started fall semester this year, my class sizes were 10 percent larger than I had anticipated when I agreed to teach my current workload.

Although the university did raise wages, the increased class sizes essentially negated the increased earnings, and despite the increased class sizes, students still clambered to be added into already overflowing classes, often languishing for months on wait lists.

But the troubling aspects of higher education for 40 percent of the faculty on the Dixie State campus do not end there. The dismal plight of the college adjunct has been voiced in national publications such as the Washington Post, “Adjunct professors get poverty-level wages. Should their pay quintuple?” and Huffington Post, “9 Reasons Why Being An Adjunct Faculty Member Is Terrible.”

Additionally, adjuncts endure the condescending and even occasionally hostile attitudes embraced by some of their tenured colleagues, such as Catherine Stukel’s as expressed in her contemptuous letter to the editor published on the Chronicles of Higher Education website in which she asks, “Is That Whining Adjunct Someone We Want Teaching Our Young?

Fortunately, not all tenured faculty share Ms. Stukel’s view, and the spectrum of opinion also extends from indifferent to empathetic, with many opposing reliance upon underpaid adjunct labor in lieu of hiring full-time, non-tenure-track faculty.

Regarding the particular conditions adjuncts face at Dixie State, they are required to possess, at minimum, a master’s degree (or be enrolled in a graduate program) and have limited opportunity for advancement with little hope of making a livable wage or procuring benefits. They are limited to teaching 10 credits or less per semester, so as to exempt them from receiving benefits assured in the Affordable Care Act.

At DSU’s current rate of $650 per credit hour, any adjunct fortunate enough to teach 10 credits (due to course structures, usually only 8 to 9 credits are possible), then that adjunct will be compensated $6,500 for the semester, a meager $13,000 annually, roughly equivalent to the annual sum of the student loan payments I will soon begin making.

Indeed, if a solution to this quandary will be instituted, it must be demanded by the adjuncts themselves, for as long as people are willing to accept the status quo and receive far less compensation than they are worth, administration will unabashedly let them.

And so here I stand today, five years after penning my heartfelt scholarship essay, assessing my current situation, and I discover, alas, I have stepped off of one treadmill only to step onto another. So I will bid the world of higher education Adieu! at the end of this semester, for as much as I would like to be part of a solution, I cannot bear to run on my treadmill yet another semester.

Submitted by Stephanie Millett, English Department instructor, Dixie State University

Letters to the editor are not the product of St. George News, its editors, staff or contributors and are published “as is” without edit. The matters stated and opinions given are the responsibility of the person submitting them; they do not reflect the product or opinion of St. George News

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Letters to the Editor are not the product of St. George News, its editors, staff or news contributors. The matters stated and opinions given are the responsibility of the person submitting them. They do not reflect the product or opinion of St. George News and are given only light edit for technical style and formatting.

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  • fun bag September 1, 2015 at 12:55 pm

    I have two questions for the author here: 1-what is your worthiness status in ‘the one true church’? 2- i was gonna say “if u don’t like it then leave” but seeing as you’re already leaving… The problem is that so many of the tenured professors are just like NOLAN, and once they work into that old boy network that is DSU THEY ARE THERE FOREVER! NO MATTER HOW POOR OF TEACHERS THEY ARE! WE WILL AWAIT NOLAN’S THOUGHTS ON THE MATTER!!!

    • DR.P September 1, 2015 at 1:29 pm

      hahahahaha! Wow you are soo funny!

      • fun bag September 1, 2015 at 2:50 pm


      • mesaman September 1, 2015 at 6:42 pm

        He is as sick as you are Doctor. Doctor of what proctology, idirology, fecal surgery? Don’t paternize scumbag, he has enough trouble getting his five whiney juvenile comments each day.

        • Chris September 1, 2015 at 9:38 pm

          “paternize”?? Do you mean patronize, Ashman? Of course, who expects UNLV degree holders to be proficient with the English language? Is “paternize” how they pronounce it in Scipio?

  • BIG GUY September 1, 2015 at 3:08 pm

    Ms. Millett would benefit from a microeconomics class. Her statement that “…people…receive far less compensation than they are worth” flies in the face of common sense and economic reality. At any point in time, people are paid exactly what they are worth to those who employ them at any given time. Ms. Millett appears to sympathize with the liberal progressive throng who insist that government should evaluate what every job is worth and require employers to pay that wage. Oh, but wait, Dixie State IS the government. Oops!
    Ms. Millett, you are making the right choice: find another job. And I’m sorry that you are the victim of the Federal government’s student loan program which allows universities to raise tuition much faster than inflation year after year. This results in a transfer of student loan dollars to colleges and universities where it is used to pay exorbitant salaries to tenured professors, hire bloated administrative staff, and to build glitzy facilities to attract more customers, a.k.a. students.

    • fun bag September 1, 2015 at 4:21 pm

      omg, BG actually makes some valid points,,, a rarity…

  • fun bag September 1, 2015 at 4:27 pm

    that’s a big problem is that these colleges are not accountable in the ways they spend public $$$, and end up with systemic corruption and have trouble getting rid of their old burned out tenured staff than no longer possess the skills to teach effectively.. Nolan, we are still waiting for you to weigh in on this…

  • Dexter September 1, 2015 at 10:28 pm

    the pay scale in southern Utah is low regardless of what anybody does for a living

    • sagemoon September 2, 2015 at 8:26 am

      Ain’t that the truth.

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