labor IN HER OWN WORDS: Adjuncts and the Academic Labor Force Campus Equity Week October 28-November 2, 2013
Although contingent faculty now represent more than 75% of higher education faculty across the United States, many on campus do not understand our living and working conditions.
Adjuncts are a varied group, defying generalization, in which women are hugely over-represented.
• Many teach the equivalency of full time, cobbling a living by teaching at several different colleges and universities, racking up frequent freeway miles as we commute between them.
• Some are lucky enough to teach the equivalent of full time at one school, but are not considered full time.
• A few actually enjoy the support of our school, with offices and some benefits.
• But most have no offices at all. Where might we hold office hours to do what other conscientious professors do? Where can students come to seek our advice? The joke is that at least six adjuncts share an office, unless we use the library, cafeteria, hallway or trunks of our cars.
• Some may choose to teach only one or two courses just to keep a foot in the door for whatever reason—be it to give back to the school that taught us well, or to lend our expertise to a young crop of students.
• A very few earn a living wage, more than $7,000 per three-credit course.
• But the vast majority earn far from a living wage. The average pay for adjunct faculty nationally is about $2,700 per course, without benefits, according to the latest survey by the Coalition on the Academic Workforce.
• Demands on adjuncts are excessive. It’s not just class time. We must also prep for our classes, do all the grading, answer email questions from students, hold office hours and write letters of recommendation. The list is exhaustive.
• Job security is non-existent. Each semester, we don’t know whether we’ll be assigned the same courses, or any course for that matter. How can we prepare when we don’t know what we will be teaching next semester, next week or even tomorrow? Is that fair to our students?
We in the New Faculty Majority say that working conditions for teachers are learning conditions for students. Schools’ treatment of adjuncts reflects how much they respect their students.
Since I live in Texas, I’ll describe the Lone Star State. We do everything big, including exploiting contingent faculty.
Like other states, Texas is big on holding adjunct fairs to hire part time faculty at indentured wages. Hiring fairs were multiplying like weeds this spring and summer: at Dallas County Community College District, San Antonio College/Alamo Colleges in Texas and my former school, Tarrant County College District, one of the largest systems in Texas.
Even the postponement of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) has not stopped adjunct fairs. To stay below the magic 30-hour threshold for required health insurance, schools have been cutting adjunct hours and courses like crazy. Now that each adjunct will teach fewer hours, they need more adjuncts.
Instead of offering permanent full-time positions, colleges are still bent on offering only temporary positions at low wages. They hire a majority of women because they think they can pay women less.
At Tarrant County College District, which has no tenure and only full-time and part-time status, I was earning $1,800 per course with no healthcare benefits.
Our contracts specified that we were paid only for contact hours, yet we were expected to do everything—hold office hours, do in-service, write recommendations, meet with other faculty— just like regular faculty. But unlike them, we had semester contracts and were paid only for teaching.
The result was that semester after semester, we were not paid equally for our work, and we could have our livelihood taken away at the blink of an eye.
Likewise, though Tarrant states that it has 650 full-time faculty, it still has 65% adjunct faculty, or more than 1,200 adjuncts. I went on an expedition to learn the stark disparity between full-time and part-time pay.
According to my analysis, in spring 2012 the English department paid $46,742 for a total of 28 English classes taught by adjuncts, an average of $1,669 each. At the same time it paid $74,504 for 16 classes taught by full-time teachers, an average of $4,656. So compensation for adjunct-taught classes averaged 36% of the total full-time pay—before considering benefits, which most adjuncts do not receive.
As an adjunct, I often put in weeks of more than 60 hours. Regular faculty at Tarrant County College averaged $59,000 per year; in 2012, I received $14,400 for teaching a full load, and another $3600 for teaching two summer courses.
As “Professor Staff,” I had up to 35 students in each of two classes; a female colleague at another school had 47 students in her writing composition class. This does not happen to full-time instructors. Although this contingency exploitation happens across the board, it’s not quite as blatant with men. How does this benefit students? How can we be expected to teach our students well, given these circumstances?
Everyone fares much worse in summer. Last summer a colleague didn’t get a summer gig: scrambling to make ends meet, he was selling his blood plasma. Tall and skinny as a rail, he was the picture of the lone Texas cowboy.
Another asked if I knew anywhere she could live. She had no job over the summer and had no money for a place. This woman had a PhD and was literally living in her car.
If these were flukes, maybe we could excuse them. But the sad thing is, these are not accidents. They happen repeatedly. Ask your school’s adjuncts to share their stories.
When I asked Dr. Homeless and Mr. Plasma to sign my petition asking for Adjunct Justice (http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/better-pay-for-adjuncts), both refused.
Mr. Plasma examined its message, noted the signatures and agreed that it was a step in the right direction. But he was afraid to sign it.
What if they found out that he’d signed a document asking for his rights as a citizen, equal pay for equal work and job security? What if they fired him for speaking the truth?
He must have felt some vindication when, only a few months after our conversation, I lost my job two days into the semester—after three years of teaching there.
My glowing student evaluations and great review from the chair just last spring didn’t matter. Nor did students being interrupted in their new classes, having their learning conditions sabotaged because administration felt threatened.
They thought they had “handled” me the year before by cutting my course load in half just days before the start of school; thinking I’d “learned my lesson,” they again gave me a full load this year. When they realized I was still up to my “activist” ways—still rabble rousing— they decided to get rid of me quickly.
What about Dr. Homeless? Obviously this woman is smart. Yet year after year, she teaches for slave wages and seems unmotivated to improve her situation. She said documents like our petition did nothing to alter our existence; we were only starting trouble.
Does that mean she accepted and would do nothing to change her status? Are many of us like her? Do we accept our exploitation? Are we complicit in this quandary?
What can we do?
What can I do as a new board member of the New Faculty Majority? I’m a passionate advocate for educators. I believe there is a purpose to our lives that is more than earning a living, though it’s nice to be able to make ends meet.
I strongly believe in the New Faculty Majority’s mission, which includes seven tenets:
• Compensation: equal pay for equal work
• Job security: automatic contract renewal after probation
• Academic freedom, with no retaliation
• Equal participation in faculty governance
• Equal access to professional development
• Access to health and retirement benefits
• Unemployment insurance like other faculty
I like to believe that as educators and students, we are in higher education out of a love of learning. Indeed, at some point we want the dollars we’ve spent on our educations to pay off, to show something for our efforts.
But education is not a business. The university is not a corporation, and we do not pay into it to get X dollars and cents back, which is what the government wants us to believe. This is wrong.
We go to school to learn to think, analyze, look for the big picture, and yes, make connections to the world around us. When the university bundles diplomas to revenues, then the Ivory Tower as a great place of thinking and learning stops working. And great reasoning stops.
This is what has been happening in the university, due in part to the increasing replacement of tenured faculty with tenuous faculty. We are tenuous, unsubstantiated and fragile. Are we also weak, as the name might imply, as the lack of power shows, as Dr. Homeless reverberates, as Mr. Plasma suggests? Are we afraid? Are we invisible?
The very word adjunct implies that we are something added to the main, but not really a part of it. As the administration would like to think of us, an arm to help schools make money but not really valuable. The salary levels of 75% of faculty in higher education—the tenuous faculty— do not coincide with schools’ unconscionable tuition hikes.
New Faculty Majority
It is our job as members of the New Faculty Majority to advocate for contingent and tenuous faculty everywhere. Our most recent strategy has been to help adjuncts to collect unemployment insurance during the summer. If a college says it is a corporation in some things, then it must be so in all. Colleges are open year round; if they have no teaching jobs for us in the summer but they are open year round, the onus falls on them to compensate us.
Already several successful grievances have brought adjuncts unemployment compensation from their schools, and more cases are pending.
Campus Equity Week
During Campus Equity Week, October 28 to November 2, we draw national attention to the unfair working conditions of tenuous faculty. We can focus on anything—academic quality, student success, public policy, including pay equity, security, benefits—to show the public what is really happening in higher education.
From the skyrocketing rise in tuitions to the sabotage of loan repayments through predatory banks to the unprecedented rise of tenuous faculty, students and adjunct faculty are always on the losing end. Campus Equity Week shows the public that we are fighting back.
I suggest something that we can all do together, to send a message loud and clear without putting any instructors at risk. It’s called Rate Your School! Done successfully at the local level, we are bringing it to the national level. We are giving all our schools “Report Cards,” rating universities, community colleges, state colleges— on the basis of pay, benefits, job security, access to offices, copiers, telephones, desks—anything we want. Check the “Report Card” on the Adjunct Justice page on Facebook or the New Faculty Majority page at http:// adjunctjustice.tumblr.com/image/61259259133
You can download and use this template to rate your own school and share with others: teachers, workers, parents and students. Tell them all about Campus Equity Week and Rate Your School! When universities continue to attack tenure, shared governance and academic freedom, when they underhandedly fight against women, adjuncts, contingent instructors, freeway flyers, tenuous faculty and more, we can all fight back.
When they dismiss the contingent academic labor force as weak, we can show them what we are really made of by starting our own 21st education revolution!
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