As universities offer increasingly fewer tenure and tenure-track positions, adjunct professors are proliferating.
Today, adjunct faculty make up the largest percentage of all college faculty.
Hired on a one year contractual basis, adjuncts face significantly lower pay and job security than their tenured counterparts.
Originally created as an opportunity to gain on-campus experience, adjunct professors are now protesting working conditions publicly, often unionizing to voice concerns.
"Adjunct faculty get paid poverty wages. It's a crime," said Thomas Anderson, president of the United Campus Workers. "There's a moral imperative that a university support the people who make the university work."
An anonymous former adjunct faculty at the University of Tennessee disclosed he was paid $4,000 per course. Granted a maximum of four courses a semester, the most this professor could make with a master's degree was $32,000 a year.
"This means it's very difficult for a single person to make ends meet as a lecturer at UT," they said. "By comparison, public school teachers with masters degrees make considerably more.
"I miss working at UT like crazy, but the low pay drove me away."
According to a recent report by the American Association of University Professors, this former UT adjunct professor earned more than the average adjunct. The median pay of a part-time faculty member with a master's degree is $2,467 per course. Full-time non-tenure track faculty with a master's degree earns, on average, $44,500.
By contrast, the median salary of a full-time tenured professor with a master's degree is $95,267. Each year, adjuncts are evaluated by their respective university to determine contract renewal. This allows colleges to release adjunct faculty with little accountability, rendering adjuncts unable to openly petition for change.
"If you have complaints, the likelihood of having your contract being renewed is slim to none," Anderson said.
Frequently attributed to the lack of state funding, universities often claim they cannot afford to offer tenure positions.
But the former UT adjunct feels the University of Tennessee cannot make such claims.
"I think UT spends an enormous amount of money on administration that should be spent on instruction," they said. "UT's enrollment has remained flat for about 30 years, yet look how many more administrators there are today than there were 30 years ago. The money spent on all those various administrators and their support staff is ridiculous."
However, Lynn Wright, a current adjunct in the UT Institute of Agriculture, disagreed, stating adjunct professors should not accept employment without expecting certain pitfalls.
"An individual who applies for and accepts the position of adjunct faculty on the basis of obtaining salary through research grants should be fully aware in advance that it is a risky venture," Wright said.
"Myself and some of the other adjunct faculty that I am aware of did not apply for the position expecting to receive any type of salary," Wright continued. "Most of us either have full time jobs, or are working as consultants, or perhaps may even be retired but continuing some activity in our field of expertise."
In some cases, a tenured professor in one department will also serve as an adjunct professor in another department. With fewer tenure positions available, those who wish to teach full-time must take positions at multiple colleges and universities to make ends meet.
Thomas Walker, executive board member for United Campus Workers, has witnessed adjunct professors search for second and third jobs at local community colleges.
"I think it's lamentable," Walker said. "It's part of an overall trend. Workers are facing more casual, temporary, part-time positions."