How do you judge the value of a professor? Is it how engaging they are? Their prestige? Maybe it’s their work outside of the classroom or their ability to connect with their students. Maybe it’s if they make you laugh. But have you ever considered how much your professors get paid? How does the school judge their value, and why? Students pay the same tuition regardless of how much the professor is paid. We expect quality education from every professor. Behind the scenes, however, faculty compensation is drastically different, and it isn’t exactly clear how that compensation is determined. Particularly when it comes to visiting professors, or “contingent faculty,” compensation and interpersonal treatment remain far from uniform, relative both to other visiting professors and to tenured faculty.
Contingent faculty are any faculty who are hired off the tenure track, either full-time or part-time. The brevity of blocks at Colorado College means the school has the opportunity to bring in people who do not have the time to teach on semester programs. NPR’s Peter Breslow, for example, teaches a Radio Journalism class. Professors like Breslow are only brought in to teach one block a year. Other part-time visitors teach up to four blocks per year, while full-time visiting professors teach six. Visiting professors can only work full-time for four years before they are either considered for a tenure-track position or forced to move on to another institution. Even if you aren’t aware of it, you have almost certainly had or will have a visiting professor teach one of your courses at CC. In an academic year, CC employs about 20 full-time visitors and around 100 one-block visitors. Some visiting professors are a very temporary presence on campus, coming and going without much influence on the CC community. Others offer the school a lot more.
Rashna Singh has been a visiting professor at CC for 13 years—long enough that the title of “visitor” has become somewhat complicated. Working in both the English and Race, Ethnicity and Migration Departments, she has offered 15 courses, specializing in literature and film of the British Empire, postcolonial literature, global Anglophone literature, African literature and Asian and Asian American Literature. In her time at CC, she has moved between full-time and part-time visiting professor, allowing her to skirt the four-year cap.
I first met Singh earlier this semester during her Block Six course, “Asian American Literature: Memory and Migration.” Anybody who has taken a class with her can attest to the intense classroom environment she cultivates. She expects a lot from her pupils—I was cautioned as much by a few of her former students leading up to the course—but that in no way means she doesn’t care about them immensely.
Born in India, Singh earned her B.A. from the University of Calcutta before moving to the United States to earn an M.A. in English from Mount Holyoke College and a Ph.D. in English from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Literature was her passion when receiving her own education, and that passion soon translated to a career in educating others.
Since earning her Ph.D., Singh has enjoyed a long and diverse career, teaching at a variety of institutions, both public and private. After graduating from UMass Amherst in 1976, she returned to India to teach at the Central Institute of English and Foreign Languages, now known as EFL University, for three years. Later, she taught graduate students at New York University for two years before finding herself back in Massachusetts, where she achieved tenure at Holyoke Community College in 1991.
Singh and her husband moved to Colorado Springs in 2003, after her husband was reassigned here, but they already had a connection to CC and the Springs through their children. Singh’s son had just graduated from CC in 2002, and her daughter would graduatde from CC in 2005.
A year after Singh and her husband moved to Colorado Springs, she started teaching at CC. During her first two years and last two years teaching at the college, Singh was employed as a full-time visiting professor. In between, she taught anywhere from one to four blocks annually. From 2007 to 2012, Singh also offered courses at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, though the majority of her time teaching in Colorado Springs has been at CC. However, she elected not to pursue a tenure-track position at CC. Now, after 13 years at the college, she has announced her intention to retire at the end of the 2016-17 academic year. She plans to continue researching and writing after her retirement, currently working on a book exploring Asian identities in Uganda.
Singh’s professional teaching career, spanning decades, has also spanned the globe. Just as she elected not to pursue tenure at CC, she also elected not to pursue American citizenship, maintaining her Indian citizenship to this day. Her career in the United States has required her to navigate her identity as a foreign woman of color in a field dominated by white men. As she prepares to leave CC, she now reflects on her experience as a “visiting professor” who isn’t quite a visitor anymore.
“Overall, my experience teaching at CC as both a full-year visitor and as a block visitor has been extremely positive,” commented Singh. But she says her time here has also raised questions about the way visiting professors, particularly long-term visiting professors, are treated at the college.
“The visiting professor system is meant for sabbatical replacements and enrichment blocks where a visitor can fill a gap. . . I feel that if someone’s services are harnessed for a period of 13 years as a block visitor, there must be a way to regularize them and pay them a regular wage,” Singh said.
Part-time visiting professors at CC are paid anywhere between $5,000-$7,000 per block. For full-time visiting professors, the annual salary is around $55,000. Compensation is determined by a number of variables based on the professor’s experience, but there is no definitive formula. The wage structure for tenure-track professors is clearer, with a base salary and procedures for salary increases. For the 2013-2014 academic year, assistant professors at CC earned an average salary of $71,400 with an average of an 8.1 percent increase in salary from the previous year. CC previously released annual reports regarding faculty compensation and wage increases (visiting professors not included), but there hasn’t been a report released since May of 2014. If full-time visiting professors are making about $55,000 per academic year, what exactly explains the difference in compensation between full-time assistant professors and full-time visitors?
I contacted CC’s HR Department for answers regarding recruitment and compensation, and they directed me to Mike Siddoway, Associate Dean of the Faculty. In addition to his position as Dean, Siddoway has been a faculty member of the Mathematics & Computer Science Department since 1988.
One of Siddoway’s main responsibilities as Dean is faculty development and support, which entails hiring and mentoring both single-block and full-year visiting faculty. He says it’s sometimes difficult to talk about compensation. “Somebody will say, you know, ‘I don’t get 7,000 [dollars per block].’ Well, you’re not a Pulitzer Prize winner. This is why it’s tricky to have some of these numbers out there because it’s quite a range, and it’s quite a range of people. We have people we get at CC who will not teach anywhere else because they can’t be gone for an entire semester. So we will maybe end up paying them more.”
Believing herself to be one of the more qualified visiting professors at CC, Singh contacted HR a few years back to compare her salary with other visiting professors at the college. She received no response.
Overall, Singh believes that the college can do more to compensate visiting professors. “I understand that visitors don’t do committee work or advising, at least not formal advising, and are not obliged to attend faculty meetings,” she said. “But a block visitor teaching three blocks or more per academic year should be considered half-time and paid half of a full-year visitor’s pay. And for full-year visitors, years of experience at CC and elsewhere, and publications, should be taken into consideration in deciding salary, as they are regular faculty.”
Even if, as a visiting professor, Singh is not required to perform the same duties as tenured professors, her role outside the classroom has gone beyond expectations. Singh has consistently arranged talks and panels, brought in speakers, screened films, participated in workshops, attended job talks and informally helped a number of students with their Watson Fellowship applications.
“Many colleagues have told me that they didn’t even realize that I am not ‘regular’ faculty,” Singh said.
Siddoway said that there is indeed a significant difference between full-time visiting professors and full-time assistant professors, first and foremost regarding research. CC is directly involved with the research of tenure-track faculty, meaning they check in and aid in the process, while visiting professors research independently. Then, there’s just the difference in tenure itself. “One person has the possibility of a lifetime commitment, the other does not,” he clarified. Many visiting professors work not to pursue tenure at CC, but to gain professional experience. “I also think that, for example from the math department, that [visiting professors] were in good tenure track jobs once they had left [CC],” he said. But for Singh, working as a visiting professor at CC was never about pursuing a tenure position, at CC or elsewhere.
In the past, albeit rarely, the position of adjunct professor was offered to certain part-time or full-time visiting professors. Adjunct professors, despite their name, do not teach adjuncts. Though technically still visiting professors, adjunct professors receive better compensation and job security than full-time visiting professors, but still remain subservient to tenure-track and tenured faculty.
“Many visiting professors used to transition from visitor status to adjunct status, but others did not. Why or why not remains a mystery to me,” said Singh. “The process should be well-defined and transparent, but it is not.”
Siddoway clarified that adjunct positions are not actively pursued at CC, like they are at many other colleges. At a large number of higher education institutions, adjunct positions outnumber tenure positions. At CC, the administration only creates adjunct positions when they find a candidate who can bring something to the department that other professors cannot.
“Adjuncts are very locally defined in their departments, and they reflect local pressures in those departments,” Siddoway said. “And then special needs that need to be addressed in those departments.”
Singh claims that most of her interactions with faculty and members of the administration have been cordial, but that some faculty have treated her less than respectfully. “I feel that they gave themselves permission to do so because I am contingent, and therefore not part of the college hierarchy, and thus disposable in their eyes,” she said. “That I am a foreign brown female further compounds the issue.”
During the 2016 presidential election, for example, one member of the faculty told her she shouldn’t express her opinion concerning United States politics because Singh “isn’t an American citizen.” In spite of such isolated incidents, Singh maintains that “most colleagues have been supportive, collegial and respectful.”
Students at CC seem to be just as respectful, if not more. “Students don’t seem to care about your status at the college, or your citizenship status, or ethnicity, or accent, as long as they learn in your classes and feel that you are a good professor,” she explained, noting that only “a couple” of students in all her years here have ever shown disrespect.
From Singh’s perspective, her visiting professor label doesn’t discount her extensive credentials and the subsequent hard work she has put into her career at CC. “I have a Ph.D. from a highly reputable university and have published two books, three book chapters and many scholarly articles in peer reviewed journals, some in leading journals of postcolonial studies where it is very difficult to get accepted,” she said.
CC compensates visiting faculty better than many schools—Singh doesn’t deny that. But relative to other faculty positions within the school, she sees room for improvement. As Singh consistently reminded me, “the students aren’t getting a discount for classes taught by contingent faculty.”
Another qualm Singh expressed was one of visibility. For many, if not most, single block visitors, there is no recognition on department websites or boards. Even for multi-block part-time visitors, recognition of this kind is uncommon. Most department webpages only offer profiles for full-year visiting faculty. Singh believes that all visiting professors should have profiles on department webpages, no matter how many blocks they teach in an academic year.
“Many parents like to look up their students’ professors and know their names and degrees,” she said. “There should be office space available for them to meet students between blocks, even shared office space. Students have often come looking for me between blocks. Visitors should not be spoken of as a throwaway cohort of professors, as has often been the case.”
Despite her critiques, Singh says she cherishes her time at CC for many reasons, particularly the students. She talks affectionately about them, praising their “curiosity, intelligence, involvement, and open-mindedness.”
“I will have fond memories of my CC students who have shown me so much respect and appreciation, whether through formal course evaluations, or cards left for me, or emailed messages with heartfelt thanks and appreciation,” Singh said. “As contingent faculty, I am not eligible for any awards or merit pay, so this has been my best award and reward, and I go back to these notes from time to time when I feel down, or unrecognized, or otherwise invisible.”
The student testimonials she showed me lauded Singh as an “inspiration,” and frequently said that they wanted to stay in touch with her. One student wrote, “I can honestly say I’ve learned more and worked harder in this class than any other block I’ve taken here at CC. It was well worth it.”
Beginning her teaching at CC as a visiting professor, Singh leaves the school with the same label but a history and relationship with the community that complicates it. She is assigned a value by the administration, but her value to her students cannot be so explicitly quantified. How long can a visiting professor teach at CC before they are no longer considered a visitor?
Part of the Obvious issue