UPDATE (2/21/2012): Welcome, and thanks for all the retweets! If you’d like to see pieces similar to this one, check out the “Grad Life” category. For a whole archive of great posts on all things adjunct / grad student / academia, click on the postacademic.org link in my blogroll (the blog is sadly discontinued, but a lot of the posts are still very relevant).
Two great pieces came to my attention this week on the subject of adjunct teaching in the university system. First, there’s this wonderful article from current MLA president Michael Bérubé, on the New Faculty Majority (NFM) summit held in Washington, D.C. on January 28. The summit itself was a long-overdue acknowledgement of the fact that adjunct and contingent faculty now make up a huge chunk of the university teaching force:
“Adjunct, contingent faculty members now make up over 1 million of the 1.5 million people teaching in American colleges and universities. Many of them are working at or under the poverty line, without health insurance; they have no academic freedom worthy of the name, because they can be fired at will; and, when fired, many remain ineligible for unemployment benefits, because institutions routinely invoke the “reasonable assurance of continued employment” clause in federal unemployment law even for faculty members on yearly contracts who have no reasonable assurance of anything.”
A few other key points from Bérubé’s article:
- The myth that escalating professor salaries are responsible for nationwide tuition increases persists, when in fact tenure-track faculty now make up less than thirty percent of the university teaching force. The remaining 70% of adjunct and contingent faculty can make as little as $20,000 a year without benefits.
- The problem won’t be solved simply by converting all non-tenure-track positions to tenure-track–rather, universities need to work to ensure fair pay, benefits, and basic respect for all faculty. The image of adjunct faculty as “bright, energetic thirty-year-olds who enliven their departments and disciplines, working in the trenches for a few years before getting their first tenure-track job” is misleading, given that many adjuncts are in their forties, fifties, and sixties, and in some cases have been working in the same position for fifteen or twenty years (though they’re forced to re-apply for the job every year).
- Beyond salary and benefits, the summit addressed the need for a major change in attitude, calling on tenure-track faculty to treat adjunct faculty with the respect and dignity they deserve. At the same time, the general consensus seemed to be that, while respect and recognition are a good place to start, everything needs to be on the table at once–including the more difficult to obtain changes in salary and benefits. The MLA’s recommendation on per-course compensation is truly astonishing because a) it’s such a modest demand, and b) it’s three times what most adjuncts actually make:
“Following a review of best practices in various institutions, the MLA recommends minimum compensation for 2011–12 of $6,800 for a standard 3-credit-hour semester course or $4,530 for a standard 3-credit-hour quarter or trimester course. These recommendations are based on a full-time load of 3 courses per semester (6 per year) or 3 courses per quarter or trimester (9 per year); annual full-time equivalent thus falls in a range of $40,770 to $40,800.”
$40,800. Seriously, that’s all. When you’ve spent seven to nine years getting your PhD and are truly dedicated to your job, is this really an unreasonable salary to demand?
Well, when you’ve been paying your adjuncts $20,000 a year without benefits or job security, then yes, I suppose it is. I just need to do the math on that for a minute. Let’s say the average adjunct makes $2000 per course (not uncommon) and teaches four courses in a semester (what most would consider a very full load). Each course meets three hours a week, and the professor holds two hours’ worth of office hours per week. A semester is 15 weeks. For each course, the students (about 20 of them) hand in two ten-page papers and take two essay-based exams–figure on at least eight hours of grading work per group of exams / papers per class. Then at least another 2 hours per week per class of prep time. When you add it all up, your adjunct is making $17 an hour. With no health insurance or overtime pay, and with no hope of a severance package if their contract is not renewed next semester or next year.
In response to the NFM summit, Josh Boldt has created this great Google Doc which asks anyone in the know to provide basic information about how universities treat their adjunct faculty. One of the goals is to create a “hall of fame” of the best schools to work for, with the hope that faculty treatment might one day become a standard in the accreditation process. As Josh puts it,
“I call attention to this flagrancy because ultimately, it comes down to the students. I have colleagues who go to work every day to teach young minds. To make them better writers, better thinkers, and better people. And then they go home and eat Ramen noodles for dinner, and worry about whether or not they have enough gas in the tank to coast to work the rest of the week. Ramen is no longer cool in your thirties. Trust me.
“All I’m asking for is a very modest salary to do a job that I love, and for which there is a clear demand or else we wouldn’t be having this discussion.”
Amen to that. Spread the word and check out the Google doc.