Is your college or university educating students with less-than-minimum-wage Adjunct Professors? Here is a measure by which to judge, as they are now at least 50% of American college faculty.
By the way, professors paid on the cheap do not equal cheapened education; not at least in the classroom. There certainly are consequences, for students and families who pay ever-higher tuition. But Adjuncts bring doctoral depth to their classes. I for one, with four published books/two documentary-films in my field and awards for articles and teaching, am only typical of Adjuncts with qualifications as good as those of full-time tenured faculty.
But we are not there to teach from our core expertise; rather, it’s to turn the great central wheel of low-level courses that only (ahem) enable college students to function. Even so, knowing how crucial that is, we embrace it with heart con gusto. So excuse this work’s approach to teaching which I myself dislike—reducing this vocation to units of time and money. I have to find a way to see past the people for a moment, and into the skeletal economic structure by which I work. It seems to be a broken system that keeps an Adjunct broke.
One other note of crazy context. I write from the Massachusetts cradle of American learning, in a New England as rife as it gets with college rivalry for reputation and real-world achievement. Graduate schools just keep turning out first-rate teachers (because they just keep wanting to use them in the process). And yet a few years ago, we had a “teacher shortage.” So the Commonwealth somehow imported ambitious young teachers from the Philippines and splashed their pluck all over the media. It was much more quiet when they all went home. They’d found that they couldn’t afford to live here. At the time I was passing through post-grad bankruptcy.
So—You be the judge of the facts of an Adjunct Professor’s circumstances.
What if a school paid an Adjunct Professor the minimum wage of $7.75/hour per student? If you will imagine that rate rounded up to $8.00/hour per student, I’ll forget that each class is actually 1¼ hours. But let’s put every bit of this on the classroom clock: no paid prep-time or student meetings. If I’m not directly teaching a class, I’m not paid.
I teach 40 students in 1-hour classes, twice a week. Let’s say that each student pays me $8.00 for each 1-hour class. Each week of the course, then, each student pays $16.00 for our 2 classes.
A full-semester course totals 15 weeks. So each student pays $240.00 for the course (15 weeks x $16.00). This (40 students x $240) leads to a grand total of $9,600 before taxes.
(By the way—From a student’s point of view this might not be a bad idea: paying $240 per course as opposed to the actual present price of Thirty-Eight Hundred Dollars, which you can check for truth on Bentley’s own website.)
Now, double that total (because I teach 2 semesters per year), and my annual income before taxes would be $19,200.
Hold those figures. Now the reality check.
In 2012, Bentley University paid me $4600 per course. Double that—as we did with the 2-course total just above—to $9200. And we see that this is $400 less than what I’d make at .25 cents above minimum wage per student.
With the same numbers laid out above in 4 courses per year, my actual last year’s pay totaled $18,400 before taxes. So for last year, I received $800 less than what I’d make at .25 cents above minimum wage per student.
How about one more approach? In 2012 I was paid $4600 per course. Divide that by 20 students per course ($230 per student, before taxes); and then, divide again by 30 classes per course-semester (that is, 29 classes plus the required Exam Period). The result is: just over $7.00 per student per hour, before taxes. So we’re back more or less to the American minimum wage.
None of these figures include course design or class planning; regular detailed student feedback, grading, student meetings or mentoring; course improvements based on semester evaluations; recommendation letters that launch students forward into careers or graduate programs; teaching-skills development, course-related research, or faculty contributions.
Much less do they value my education, training, or experience. My employer and I rightly agree that a professor who does not do all those things shouldn’t last one year. And yet, like the bi-annual contract that on my end is meaningless if they cancel it, those pillars of teaching count for zero, while schools increase tuition and self-promotion every year. The only field of education jobs growing faster than the haggard but profitable hordes of Adjuncts is—administration.
I can’t explain how frustration and anger turn into even more dedication to my students, but they do. If I can’t be on campus every day for them because I have survival-bills to pay, they have my cell-phone number and email. I do hours of meetings before and after classes, and they never wait long for help. The truth is, I’m hooked on pushing them forward to success, but something is picking my pocket and theirs too while we work.
Now this is irony. If our schools paid Adjuncts a living wage, we’d be there on the weekends building with our own hammers and nails.
Bentley University is considered part of the “higher end” of Adjunct compensation. So most Adjunct Professors at American schools are paid and supported in their work far less.
This is why, to me, Adjunct Action—a New England regional effort to create a union, working with the SEIU—means something new is in the air.
We are not our employers’ foes or service-workers’ rivals: we are enabling partners to both, and to full-time faculty alike. Yet, clearly, we cannot hope even for enforcement of existing Labor Relations laws. Resolutions from the MLA and sympathies from AAUP have cut no ice for decades. And it’s Adjunct Professors who are out in the cold on every level of American higher education. Our only choice is to cooperate on a regional, mutually-supportive scale, to re-establish rightful control on the value of our labor.
Our struggle must come to the same realm of hard-ball economics that we have faced. Our strength is a choice for self-respect over the fear of speaking and moving to help ourselves. In that, we’re going to find many allies unlooked-for, and students have come forward as the first.
Just as strong are the demonstrable facts of how much core value we contribute to the schools we want to build. But you can’t build lasting value on short-term poverty and long-term invisible hopelessness.
Enough? The power we truly possess, as more than 50% of college faculty, has got to act. And because it’s real, it can be clearly demonstrated. Maybe we’ve had enough serfdom, and fear. Maybe it’s time for a different kind of Parents Day on every campus. We are our schools, and we can prove it.
Here (from our Adjunct Action/SEIU symposium last weekend) is the activizing question: Do you want things to change or remain the same?
As I add this news on October 8, 2013, we Adjuncts at Bentley are waiting for the National Labor Relations Board to count our votes to form a union with SEIU. (We’ve been told that we “professionals” shouldn’t be rubbing shoulders with unionized janitors, and you know where “they” can stick that.) So, although we’re waiting for Republicans to stop wrecking the house of democracy altogether with their government shutdown against a new law of the land called the ACA, our “exit polls” indicate a strong majority voting YES, just as it happened recently at Tufts University. We are building, we are doing it, and the day of our second-rate status is coming to an end—because together we believe in the value of our labor.
One other note—Bentley currently employs about 185 Adjuncts. At Northeastern University, the school relies on about 1400 of them. So there are very serious profit-margins at stake. And Northeastern has hired the famous union-busting law firm of Jackson Lewis to begin to combat any unionizing movement there.
What does it say that Northeastern chooses to pay lawyers millions of dollars to keep people in their place—rather than simply paying their teachers a living wage?