ORONO, Maine — Jason Canniff teaches 4½ college courses at the University of Maine: two freshman composition classes, one upper-level persuasive writing class and two courses in the honors college, one of which he co-teaches. Typically he works 60 hours a week instructing, grading papers and preparing lessons.
This week he has set up individual conferences with each of his 40 composition students to give them personal feedback on their writing.
“For the composition classes in particular, students benefit from a lot of one-on-one interaction,” he said on Friday. “That’s where the real teaching happens.”
For two semesters’ worth of work, plus one summer course that he will teach only if enough students sign up, Canniff will be paid $26,200.
The average full-time faculty salary at UMaine is around $80,000, according to Director of Public Relations Margaret Nagle. That includes lecturers, who work under an Associated Faculties of the Universities of Maine contract, though they are not tenure-eligible.
“The pay is OK for the area,” said Canniff, who holds a master’s degree in poetry from UMaine. The adjunct faculty member is in debt and cannot make interest payments on his student loans, he said.
As the budget shrinks and the number of freshmen grows, UMaine is relying more on faculty members like Canniff, who are not on a path to tenure and are paid less than professors. This trend has been exacerbated by a $36 million budget shortfall systemwide, $9.7 million of which UMaine must come up with in order to pass a balanced budget for fiscal year 2015.
As part of that effort, 30 faculty members at UMaine who have left or are leaving teaching positions will not be replaced. Most of those positions were tenured, according to Jeffrey Hecker, provost and vice president for academic affairs. He identified music and English as departments that will be hit particularly hard as a result of the budget cuts.
To help serve a freshman class that is expected to grow for the third straight year, the university will hire eight teaching fellows, four lecturers and 10 graduate teaching assistants on fixed-length contracts.
“UMaine is part of the national conversation about how we keep education affordable,” said Hecker.
“We’ve responded to these factors by developing a plan that would get us through FY ’15,” he said, referring to the university’s plan to pass a balanced budget. He said the university is attempting to “meet our needs and commitments, while we develop a more thoughtful, longer-range plan.”
That will include hiring more tenure-track faculty in fiscal year 2016.
Hecker pointed out that as part of the university’s regular hiring cycle, 12 tenure-track faculty also will be added next year, though he would have liked to add a number closer to 20.
UMaine is far from alone. Non-tenure-track faculty account for 76 percent of all instructional staff members at higher education institutions in the United States, up from about 58 percent in 1993, according to the American Association of University Professors.
At UMaine, the portion of non-tenure-track faculty has gone up in recent years, but not to the national level. In the 2012-13 school year, 40 percent of faculty did not have tenure, up from 36.2 percent in 2008-2009, according to a report by the Office of Institutional Research. The number of non-tenure-track faculty for this school year was not available on Monday.
In January, Democratic staff of the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce released a report describing an increasing trend of university faculty members receiving low wages, heavy workloads and no job security.
“Traditionally, adjuncts were experienced professionals who were still working in or recently retired from their industry outside of academia, with time on their hands to teach a class,” the report stated. That type of adjunct still exists, “but national trends indicate that schools are increasingly relying on adjuncts and other contingent faculty members, rather than full-time, tenure-track professors, to do the bulk of the work of educating students.”
The English department at UMaine, which has 33 adjunct faculty and 24 professors, according to the department’s website, will see two tenured faculty begin a phased retirement next fall. They will not be replaced, one full-time lecturer who will not be on the tenure track will be hired.
Pat Burnes is an English professor who coordinates the department’s composition courses, which nearly all UMaine freshmen are required to take. She said that against the better judgment of her and her superiors, budget constraints have forced the department to depend increasingly on non-tenure-track faculty to deliver the curriculum.
“Most of our adjuncts are fantastic,” she said on Friday. “They work much harder than we have any right to expect.”
Burnes is one of the professors who is starting a phased retirement, meaning she will work part-time next semester. She didn’t know on Friday how the department would handle an increased number of freshmen next year.
In the music department, four professors are retiring and will not be replaced, on top of two who retired last year, leaving the department with seven professors next year. There were 141 students majoring in music in the fall of 2013.
Music department chairman Ludlow Hallman said holes will be plugged by hiring more adjuncts.
“We get more income by attracting more students, and we save money by reducing the faculty,” he said. “At some point that doesn’t work.”
Canniff said he has had a lifelong goal of getting a doctorate and becoming an English professor.
“It was my intent to apply to programs last fall,” he said. “I made a decision to wait a little. I need to educate myself more.”
He said he loves teaching but he is not confident that there will be a job waiting for him when he finishes his degree.