What is an adjunct, and why should I care?
If you’re a college student or if you’re paying for your children’s college education, you should care.
Adjunct faculty are non-voting, non-tenure-track instructors, lecturers, and other lower-level teaching staff. As state legislatures have cut higher education budgets nationwide, universities and community colleges have shifted to employing more adjunct faculty to teach because
they’re cheap contract labor it’s more cost effective. To put it simply: As budgets have been slashed and as tuition has gone up, universities and community colleges have replaced full-time tenure-track professors with part-time piece-workers adjunct or contingent non-tenure-track faculty.
Over the past 30 years, there has been a dramatic shift from 75% of teaching faculty being tenure-track professors to 75% being non-tenure-track. A full professor can make between $72,000 – $160,000 per year (more on the medical campus), while adjuncts make $22,000 – $27,000 per year, according to NPR. Part-time adjuncts make far less than that because they often teach only one or two classes for as little as $2000-3000/class… and live on the edge of poverty.
You Get What You Pay For
Do students receive the same education from a full professor who is an expert in her field and who has a stable job making $100,000 + benefits as they would from an adjunct who was handed a book and hired to teach one class for one semester for $3000 with no benefits and no job security? Of course not.
The Tucson Weekly reports that while in-state tuition has risen 188% in the past 10 years, only 24% of the UA’s budget is spent on teaching, and according to KVOA, 40% of the UA teaching staff are adjunct (no mention how many are grad students or full professors.) At for-profit colleges like the University of Phoenix, only 12% of the budget is spent on teaching. These figures are staggering. What is the money being spent on? The president’s six-figure salary and fancy office?
Don’t get me wrong; I am not putting down adjunct faculty. I was one! Adjuncts are hard working folks who deserve to be paid appropriately for the important work they do. At the UA, I taught a class with 53 students as an adjunct and received no extra pay above what I earned as an appointed non-voting faculty member running a grant-funded program with 40 employees. I also taught basically the same class at Pima Community College for ~$2500 per class, no benefits.
Talk about wage theft. On average, I’d estimate that I spent 2-3 hours outside of the class room preparing for each class or doing related work. It takes a lot of time, knowledge, and skill to study the text and determine the key lessons, create lesson plans, design fair tests, compile a syllabus, grade papers, answer student questions, create a class website, go to faculty meetings, navigate institutional politics, and actually teach. I really liked teaching at Pima– small classes, friendly faculty, no-drama students– but I quit when they wanted me to switch to a different text book, re-work the focus of the class in two weeks (for no extra money), and teach it as a 4-week compressed class that met daily. My experience was not unusual, but I was more fortunate than many because I was not trying to make a living as an adjunct.
From The Just In Time Professor, a 2014 report by the House Committee on Education and the Workforce Democratic staff…
The post-secondary academic workforce has undergone a remarkable change over the last several decades. The tenure-track college professor with a stable salary, firmly grounded in the middle or upper-middle class, is becoming rare. Taking her place is the contingent faculty: nontenure-track teachers, such as part-time adjuncts or graduate instructors, with no job security from one semester to the next, working at a piece rate with few or no benefits across multiple workplaces, and far too often struggling to make ends meet…
These [adjunct] instructors are highly educated workers who overwhelmingly have postgraduate degrees. They perform work critical to our national efforts to lift the next generation’s economic prospects. In 2009, CNN Money ranked college professor as the third best job in America, citing increasing job growth prospects.2 The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts postsecondary teachers as having faster than average employment growth over the next decade.3 Having played by the rules and obtained employment in a highly skilled, in-demand field, these workers should be living middle-class lives. But, as will be seen in this report, many often live on the edge of poverty. More than one million people are now working as contingent faculty and instructors at U.S. institutions of higher education, providing a cheap labor source even while students’ tuition has skyrocketed…
As others have reported on why adjuncts remain in the profession despite poor working conditions, a recurring theme throughout the responses was the instructors’ dedication to their students. Adjunct faculty are often not adjunct in the purest form of the word, meaning they are not hoping to teach in a purely temporary or auxiliary capacity with their institution. Teaching is often their core passion and career goal. “I believe in what I’m doing,” “I love my students,” and “we love teaching and helping our students succeed,” were common refrains from respondents. [That was me.]
Academia’s Pink Collar Ghetto
Academia’s dirty little secret is that behind the ivy-covered walls, there is a pink collar ghetto filled with underpaid and underemployed women who are adjunct faculty, program coordinators, project managers, and miscellaneous office workers. According to The Nation, it is estimated that 51 – 61% of adjunct faculty are women and 59% of tenured faculty are men.
In The Rise of the Lady Adjuncts, author Kate Bahn reports that the proportion of women obtaining advanced degrees has been increasing over the past few decades, but they are less likely to advance than men.
From the The Rise of the Lady Adjuncts…
… While women are indeed earning more Ph.D.’s, they’re greatly overrepresented among adjuncts.
We already know from my last column that women are less likely than men to move up the professorial ladder. So it seems like a lot of really smart ladies are stuck on the bottom academic rung in lower-paying jobs, often without benefits. While some women (and men, too) gladly take adjunct jobs because such jobs may afford them more flexibility and time with family, or because they were offered a part-time position as a trailing spouse, what’s alarming is that many of them remain trapped indefinitely in adjunct purgatory.
The [Margaret Mary] Vojtko story is a case in point: She was an adjunct at Duquesne University for 25 years without job security or benefits, and her longtime affiliation with the university didn’t stop officials there from dismissing her. In fact, according to a 2010 report by the American Federation of Teachers, 41 percent of all adjuncts have been at the same institution for 11 years or more! But that doesn’t make their employment any more secure…
Follow this link and read Margaret Mary Vojko’s story. She got a non-renewal of her adjunct faculty contract– that means they can get rid of you without giving a reason– after 25 years of adjunct teaching. She was let go with no retirement or health care benefits when she was in her 80s and had cancer! She died a pauper and was buried in a cardboard casket. (Shame on you, Duquesne. I’m gonna tell Pope Francis.) After her death, adjuncts at Duquesne overwhelmingly voted to join the United SteelWorkers, but Duquesne fought unionization on religious grounds. While Margaret Mary couldn’t clear $25,000 per year teaching three classes per semester and two in the summer (with no benefits), Duquesne’s president was raking in $900,000 with full benefits.
From The Nation…
Women have a long-running history as adjuncts. Before women were allowed to be full professors, colleges often allowed them to teach at the adjunct level and wives of professors often picked up extra work as adjunct instructors. As Eileen E. Schell, the author of the 1998 sociological work Gypsy Academics and Mother-Teachers: Gender, Contingent Labor, and Writing Instruction, said that the reputation for adjunct teaching as a women’s profession was so strong that adjuncts were dubbed “the housewives of higher education”…
“There’s a myth of meritocracy about higher education,” she [Schell] said. “There’s this idea that it doesn’t matter who you are, you’re going to succeed no matter what. You’ll land a very good tenure-track job.” For her colleagues at North Seattle not on tenure track, she quickly realized that wasn’t the case. She saw that many were stuck in these positions, often driving up and down the I-5 corridor, teaching classes at a number of community colleges just to make ends meet…
She realized was there were many reasons women got stuck off the tenure track, but one of the chief reasons she believed was that women were often given messages, whether subtle or overt, that they would be more satisfied with a lower-achieving teaching track that might offer more flexible hours to accommodate a family.
“It was expected that male part-time instructors would move on to something better and the women wouldn’t or they would be satisfied with less,” Schell said. She says this fits into the idea of women earning “psychic income” to make up for the lack monetary earnings.
Maria Maisto, the president of the New Faculty Majority, which advocates and litigates on behalf of adjunct faculty, says this “feminization of the profession” is a problem. “It’s not surprising that this profession that the conditions are the way that they are given that it’s been so closely aligned with women’s work,” she said.
As adjunct faculty fight for better wages and unionization through the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), university/college policies are working against their progress. Many cut hours for adjunct faculty to avoid providing health insurance through the Affordable Care Act. (What is this? Wal-Mart?) Many are also increasing their online class offerings, which dramatically reduce the cost of providing a class and reduce the personnel needs.
Adjunct Faculty, Wage Theft & the Tucson Economy
So, life sucks for adjuncts. They toil in obscurity and make a pittance, while trying to make ends meet, living on food stamps, paying for their own health insurance, and (most likely) paying off student loans.
Let’s step back a minute and think about the negative impact of the low-wage adjunct trend has on university towns like Tucson. Despite mediocre classified staff pay, Tucsonans traditionally have thought of the UA as a good place to work– relatively stable employment, clean working conditions, smart people, health care benefits, regular hours, and the middle class lifestyle that comes with all of that.
Does the three-decade shift from the majority of teaching faculty being full-time tenure-track faculty making $72,000 – $160,000 + benefits to a large percentage of teaching faculty being adjunct non-tenure-track faculty or grad students making $2000 – $3000, with no benefits + college debt, affect the Tucson economy at large? You betcha. That wage shift at one of the area’s largest employers represents thousands of dollars per year of lost income to the Tucson economy. Couple that 30-year trend with the lay-off of city, county, state, and school district workers thanks to the Wall Street crash and continued government-imposed austerity, and it’s no wonder Tucson’s economy is swirling the bowl.
Besides lost wages and benefits, think of the wage theft– all of those uncompensated hours doing class prep, grading, answering questions, helping students. In addition to adjuncts working for free, thousands of classified staff at the UA are office workers (probably, mostly women) who are “exempt” from being paid overtime— regardless of how many hours they work. When I was hired at the UA as an Information Specialist (making $10,000 per year less than my last Information Specialist job which paid national scale), I was required to sign a paper saying that I agreed to “work the hours required to get the job done” and that I understood I would not be paid for every hour I worked. Being the daughter of a proud member of the United SteelWorkers, I thought, “WTF?”, but I signed it because we had two little kids, and my husband was being threatened with lay-off. Along with thousands of other office workers, I worked hundreds of uncompensated hours during my 14 years at the University as classified staff and later appointed personnel. Again– think what a boon to the Tucson economy if everyone at the UA was paid a living wage and paid for every hour they worked.
When I was a program manager at the UA, my employees complained constantly about not getting overtime pay– or comp time or straight time– for working extra hours. I told them it was the University’s policy– not mine– and if they wanted a change, they should unionize. (Too bad they didn’t take my advice. I learned from one of my former employees that their jobs were downgraded in 2014, and they were forced to re-apply for their positions. Heavy sigh.)
I completely support the right of adjuncts or anyone else working for a college or university to unionize. I was heartened to see the videos of UA students standing with their faculty in solidarity. If the universities say they can’t afford to fair pay and benefits, I say give non-renewals to a few six-figure vice presidents.
It’s time for “women’s work” to be valued and fairly compensated.