College Adjunct Professors & Minimum Wage: You Be The Judge

Wall Street soars---How about a living wage job

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 about 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. In my teaching of two courses per semester (that is the limit, or I might qualify for health care!), each of 20 students per course 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 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? 

About Dr Jack Dempsey

Always good to hear from you! A life-long freelance writer/editor, Brown University Ph.D. (in Native & Early American Studies)---novelist ("Ariadne's Brother," "People of the Sea"), historian and biographer ("New English Canaan," "Thomas Morton," "Mystic Fiasco" and more), producer ("Nani: A Native New England Story"), Book Editor/Public Speaking Coach: Bentley University Adjunct Assistant Professor of English, Media Studies & Communications (Best Part Time Prof 2010). Latest works? Scientific nonfiction on the lunar/solar calendar of ancient Minoan Crete---"The Knossos Calendar: Minoan Cycles of the Sun, the Moon, the Soul & Political Power" (Iraklion, Mystis 2016), based on lectures drawn from "Calendar House: Clues to Minoan Time from Knossos Labyrinth" (2011). Come and enjoy multimedia resources including filmed Native American interviews at ANCIENTLIGHTS.ORG
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to College Adjunct Professors & Minimum Wage: You Be The Judge

  1. Ana M. Fores says:

    Hi Jack. A lot of us are in the same boat. In the south, we get paid $1800/course, and because I was vocal, because I cared about my students, because they felt threatened by me, they “fired” me two days into this fall semester. Of course, adjuncts can’t get fired. But you know what I mean. Anyway, sign and share my petition for adjunct justice: And come like my page for adjuncts, where we dialogue about what’s going on, maybe try to see if we can unite someday?

    Ana M. Fores Tamayo
    Adjunct Justice
    Facebook Page:

    • Hello Ana, and thanks for writing! Every connection counts and is one more bit of empowerment. I certainly will connect with your linked pages, and hope you will let people know about ADJUNCT ACTION, which is going to be the start of a New England-wide union movement for the two core goals of better pay and some kind of health care. I have no problem that SEIU (Service Employees International Union) has problems of its own: if their good track record for establishing unions and their organizing experience helps us to get there, so be it—and I feel they are right that a “regional” approach to collective power is the way to go, because schools are already too good at outflanking us. So hopefully Southern coalitions will also form soon, and may our new connection be part of it! If you think I have “the math” right in this piece, please do copy/share it around, because it may help all adjuncts to better-communicate their real situation. The time has come for change! Don’t give up, Ana—your love for students is going to win. And if we stand shoulder to shoulder for the value we bring to American education, we cannot lose.

      • Ana M. Fores says:

        Thanks, Jack. Your conference this weekend was all over my Adjunct Justice page, as you can see. Thanks for liking the page; also sign the petition, and please promote it. It’s gotten over 4000 signatures, and though it is nowhere near what signatures of the retail or food giants garner (education doesn’t cut it?), it has grown a bit lately. I am so glad you are organizing, and I wish we could as well. Here it has been hard, though I see subtle changes happening, and maybe your changes in the north will positively infect the south. I hope so. And if you don’t mind then, I will cut and paste your last column, and put it on AJ, with a note to the URL, so people come to your site. Good luck!

      • Very good on all points, Ana! What do you feel is the greatest obstacle to a Southern union effort? Here it seems the #1 is Adjuncts’ fear of losing what little they have for union talk—a situation that is already illegal under existing labor laws. But I think it’s beginning to dawn that, as 50%+ of college faculty, we cannot lose if we A) respect ourselves for the value we bring to schools and students, and B) come together and support each other in action that demonstrates our value. Glad for the discussion! Jack

        ********************** Stoneham, Massachusetts USA 781 438 3042 The secret of happiness is freedom, and the secret of freedom, courage. Thucydides

        > Date: Mon, 15 Apr 2013 12:56:26 +0000 > To: >

      • Ana M. Fores says:

        I think it’s the invisibility issue. Administrators keep us purposely indistinct from one another. They do not let us identify each other, in fear we will come together, and people who are not afraid of consequences (like me), will rise above that fear and unite others. Hence, they get rid of us, just like they did me, two days into the fall semester, I may add. They thought I had learned my lesson from the year before when they took half my courses away, but when they realized I was still questioning, they made a pretext and told me overnight not to show up the following morning. And of course, they have a continuous myriad of adjuncts to take over. Because no one knows. I went to a political breakfast this weekend, and the congressman had no idea how bad this situation is. I asked questions about Higher Ed and adjuncts, and told them the payment differential, and the public was shocked. Many came to me afterward asking me was it really true, did they make more money as students working part time than I did as their professor? Sad to say but true. And because we can just be fired at the drop of a hat, no one will come forward. I knew of two adjuncts that taught at my school (I was teaching dual credit, so we were assigned to outside campuses; therefore, we were even more marginalized). When I asked them to sign my petition, both refused. They were worried about retaliation. Can you blame them? And now, that they saw me “fired” with no just cause, can you understand that fear is very much real? This was my fourth year at the school, with excellent evaluations, including one from the present chair. Yet the dean had no qualms in “dismissing” me, and she said she had to give me no reason. Sadly, in this at-will, right-to-work state, this is true. After trying to have over 30 lawyers take my case, I know this is true. They will sympathize, but these facts are real. No one will touch this. As long as we don’t unite, we will remain downtrodden. And as long as that happens, education will fail.

      • Adjuncts including myself absolutely know the fear that permeates our workplace. We’re also beginning to realize that things will get only worse until we act on the value that we deliver. We’re being played off against each other and told that we’re lucky with what we get. Clearly, we cannot hope for enforcement of even existing Labor Relations laws, and MLA resolutions and AAUP sympathies cut no ice. So our struggle is in the bare-knuckle realm of economics, and the power we truly possess as 50%+ of college faculty has got to come from the “bottom,” meaning us. Here (from our Adjunct Action/SEIU symposium last weekend) is the activizing question: “Do you want things to change or remain the same?” Every time we give in to fear, we further disempower ourselves.

        ********************** Stoneham, Massachusetts USA 781 438 3042 The secret of happiness is freedom, and the secret of freedom, courage. Thucydides

        > Date: Mon, 15 Apr 2013 14:29:38 +0000 > To: >

      • Ana M. Fores says:

        Sooooo true! I saw the photos of the weekend, I followed the tweets, and I told Joe Ramsey to please post any articles that came up on the results of the weekend. These past two weeks there has been a flurry of activity and articles from main stream media concerning adjuncts, and no matter what they say, all press going out to the public is good in that it gets our plight out there. I always encourage everyone to go and comment on these articles too, so that our word keeps on being heard. Only in crying out will we be heard once and for all! And we have to do things ourselves; we cannot wait for others. It has to begin with us. For instance, right now in New Paltz, they are organizing a May Day event. Take a look on my page and let everyone know: You’re closer to it there, so maybe you can go. Sign their petition too; we need to stand in solidarity with all these initiatives. ONLY in this way will we go forward.

      • Boston Business Journal (affiliated with Boston University) will publish a feature story “this week” on New England’s Adjunct movement. I did an interview last week with their reporter who was very informed and open-minded, so we’ll follow Ana’s advice on that as with other coverage. Just present the math-basic facts wherever you can, and tell the other truth up front also—that Adjuncts try harder for their students and schools, and that their whole goal is to be able to build more value for both in what they do. We are not the enemies of Administration or business: we are all allies in giving every student a first-rate classroom. A union will make Adjuncts equal partners in that enterprise—and if that’s not acceptable, welcome to history.

        ********************** Stoneham, Massachusetts USA 781 438 3042 The secret of happiness is freedom, and the secret of freedom, courage. Thucydides

        > Date: Mon, 15 Apr 2013 14:53:28 +0000 > To: >

  2. Claude Renaud says:

    Hi Jack

    As a non-academic, and coming from a very different labour culture (Australia) I can’t help but be appalled by the figures you quote. It says a lot for the dedication of teachers such as yourself that you keep going, and keep putting your students’ interests first.

    By way of comparison, I’ve looked up a few figures for casual university teaching here:

    at Monash Univeristy in Melbourne, for example, a casual lecturer gets from $164 to $273 per lecture: calculated on the basis of one teaching hour plus two hours of associated work. Figures for other universities are comparable. I don’t know how many casual lecturers there are in Australia who only teach one or two hours per week – you wouldn’t get very far on that, and certainly would need to supplement your income from other sources. If academic work is your mainstay.

    At the same university, a permanent lecturer (on contract – I don’t know how often the contracts are renewed – maybe annually?) gets from $82000 to $113000 p.a. These are Australian dollars of course, currently worth a bit more than the greenback. A full professor (head of a department) gets around $155000. Against this you have to balance the fact that we have a very different tax structure from yours – higher rates of income tax for a start. A senior public servant in Canberra would get about that, or more.

    The median wage (for full-time employment) is I think around the $60,000 mark.But many people of course earn far less than that. Our basic wage is somewhere around $15 an hour, but unscrupulous restaurant owners often pay less, if they can get away with it.

    We also have I think a different approach to unionism, which is an accepted fact of life here, for academics as well as so-called blue collar workers. (Given our climate, they’re more likely to be wearing sweaty singlets.)

    I guess none of this helps you very much. But I wish you well in your and your colleagues’ fight to get a decent living wage more in keeping with your quaiifications and experience.

    All the best

    Claude Renaud, Melbourne

    • Hello Claude! Thanks very much for sharing so much international perspective here—starting with the fact of the $15/hour minimum wage in Australia, and to the amazement of many media-blinded Americans, Australia has not collapsed!

      I based my study of Adjunct pay on one large assumption—That if we used U.S. minimum wage as an anchoring reference point for understanding Adjunct professors’ pay, it would have to be applied on a Per Student basis. For surely, we couldn’t even talk about such a rate Per Class….or could we?

      Well, here’s another approach to “Adjunct Math” that seems to corroborate the article’s findings. I teach 80 students per year, for $18,400 before taxes. That yields $230 per student. Now divide that by the number of classes (29) for each student. (And Bentley has been increasing the number of classes/semester as part of improving its own Accreditation standing). $230 divided by 29 yields between $7 and $8 per student per class. So we’re back more or less to the American minimum wage.

      Finally, here is a link to a very broad, detailed and clear chart from The Chronicle of Higher Education, showing the average salaries of full-time professors from Agriculture to Visual Arts in U.S. colleges. Yes, they are full-time, and Adjuncts are part-time—but our total hours are closer to theirs than anybody realizes yet. And for that, look at the chart’s least-paid “Instructors'” salaries, and compare that to Adjunct pay. No wonder Adjuncts are not even on the chart.

      Thanks again for your wishes and contributions here, my friend!

  3. Bob Cable says:

    There are no “illegitimate” children or “junk” professors. Go, Adjunct Justice (on FB)!

  4. Debra says:

    Hi Jack,
    I took classes at Bentley several years ago and know that the school classifies its adjuncts as “Adjunct Lecturers” and “Adjunct Assistant Professors.” Out of curiosity, are adjuncts in both classifications paid $4600 per course, or are Adjunct Lecturers paid less? Considering that Bentley’s annual tuition is now $39,600 for full-time students, I’m very surprised that adjuncts are not paid more!

    • Hello Debra, and thanks for reading and writing here—Bentley has Adjunct Asst. Prof’s like myself and Adjunct Lecturers who are paid at “a good deal higher” rate. Meanwhile, having started openly organizing this past February for an Adjuncts’ union at Bentley, Adjuncts perhaps-coincidentally received in May the biggest pay increase in memory, to $5000 per course. But this is still well below what Lecturers receive, and brings our rate of pay increases over the last 10 years (there are Adjuncts who’ve taught there for 20) only to about 3/5% or so; while any time-based accounting also leaves us well below even the Boston Liveable Wage (which I think is $13.76/hour). Like yourself, many of our students have expressed shock once they know our circumstances—so believe me, your and their support is greatly appreciated. We’ll be having a vote in September by which all Adjuncts will decide whether or not to unionize, while before the vote there will be some open-to-all meetings, and maybe that will create student buzz. Thank you very much again for your discussion!

  5. Nora says:

    Looks like $ 5,000 per course is heavenly pay…Here is the copy of the Bank statement by which you can see that FIU pays me $ 955.96 as total payment for the Summer B (2013) 40 hours course:FLORIDA INTL UNI DES:DIR DEP ID:1400xxx, deposit 955.96.

    • Hi Nora, and thanks for your perspective—Between our various teaching figures maybe the word is “fly paper”—something just enough to attract people with qualifications but certainly nothing that will sustain a life beyond living in the car. And certainly, after 40 years of this “adjunct assistant” status that was created simply to answer a former shortage of PhDs, colleges have made enough pure profit on us—and now it’s time for us to band together, take pride in what we deliver to students, and demand better. I hope you have found or soon will find your allies for doing so!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s