Crowdsourcing a Compilation of Adjunct Working Conditions

Josh Boldt is a Writing Instructor and EdTech Consultant at the University of Georgia. This entry is cross-posted from his blog Copy & Paste.

Yesterday, Michael Bérubé, president of the Modern Language Association and newfound hero of contingent faculty everywhere, published the essay “Among the Majority” on the MLA website. The piece is a reflection on the New Faculty Majority’s 2012 Summit he attended last weekend in Washington, DC, as well as a recap of some of the MLA’s recently-released recommendations for fair standards concerning non-tenure track faculty. In the essay, Bérubé specifically cites this beauty of a quote:

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.

Almost $7K per course! Most adjuncts have never seen anything close to that figure. I personally have taught at schools that pay right at or below $2000 maximum per course. Feel free to do the math on that one (Hint: a 5/5 pays $20,000 annually). You can be a terrible human being and still recognize that a full-time teacher should earn much more than that. Just in case you’re not familiar with the usual procedure, full-time professors generally teach much less than 10 courses per year. Some teach as few as three. The MLA’s recommendation is based on the assumption of a 3/3 teaching load, which sounds about perfect. I would venture to say most adjuncts would agree. Three courses per semester is ideal because it allows teaching to be the primary focus (as it should be), and it also permits some time for research and professional development. So, about $40,000 a year. That isn’t too much to ask I don’t think. Especially considering all adjuncts have advanced degrees in their fields.

Sadly, though, as I have mentioned, this level of compensation is very, very rare. Most adjuncts are paid far less. And somehow the university system continues to justify it. Which brings me to my next point.

I am so sick of hearing people say, “Well, let the market determine salaries. As long as people accept the pay, it must be okay.” This logic is completely asinine, and frankly I am surprised that anyone who thinks of himself or herself as an intelligent person accepts it. According to this argument, the exploitative post-Civil War sharecropping system, and the oppressive factory conditions of the Industrial Revolution must also be okay because “people chose to work there.” It’s pretty much universally accepted now that both of these systems were unfair to the workers due to the ultimate power held by the corporations in a time that the economic state of the nation left little options for the worker.

As adjunct professors, we are in a similar situation. Not quite the same—I admit that. But, similar. We teach because we love to teach. This is what we are trained to do, and it’s what we want to do. And the jobs exist. It’s not as though we are trying to force ourselves into a flooded market. Most of us are employed as professors. The need exists. The problem is there are few options for those of us who do it. If we want to be teachers, we are forced to do it for peanuts. Why can’t the adjunct positions we all hold come with a living wage? I don’t want to start on this all-too-familiar rant; the point is the market has no conscience. Everything is not up to it. At least, it shouldn’t be.

I also attended the New Faculty Majority summit and I wrote a post in which I discussed many of the same issues as Bérubé. I can’t even begin to describe how happy I am that he and the MLA (in addition to other groups like the AAUP and the AAC&U) have begun to take up this cause. It is a very real problem and it is threatening to endanger the future of higher education. The problem extends far beyond the adjunct professors alone. If the adjunct wages are not brought closer to that of tenured professors, there will be no economic incentive to continue hiring full-time professors. Why pay someone $70K when they can pay someone to do it for less than $10K? Obviously this doesn’t at all take into consideration the work done by professors outside of the classroom. It reduces everyone to a number. This is really a terrible way to describe any profession, but it is especially flagrant in the context of education.

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. Apparently, Bérubé and the MLA agree.

In light of this new pay recommendation, I’ve decided to start collecting data about how many schools come close to this standard. By making this information public, we can recognize the schools that are doing a great job (like my school, the University of Georgia, for example). They deserve to be patted on the back for their good work. On the other hand, we will also be able expose those schools that have chosen to ignore the basic human rights of their employees and shortchange their students and their communities by devaluing the very education they pretend to celebrate.

In order to begin this process, I’ve created a Google Doc to crowdsource information from adjuncts about the conditions at their respective universities. Things like course pay, benefits, retirement, and contracts. Let’s combine forces and establish which schools are doing good work, and which are doing bad. Fill in as much information as you feel comfortable doing, and be sure to tweet this document and share it via Facebook, email, listserv, or anywhere else you can think of.

At the summit, we discussed the idea of creating a “Hall of Fame” of the best universities to work for. I would like to see hundreds of schools get added to this list. Eventually, faculty treatment might even become a standard in the accreditation process. This is a good start. If you have current information on the compensation practices for a school, check out the document and add it to the list.

One thought on “Crowdsourcing a Compilation of Adjunct Working Conditions

  1. So far as I can tell from the Unit 18 contracts and the official salary scales, the University of California is easily exceeding the rather low MLA standard.

    The hardest part seems to be getting lecturers Security of Employment status—I’ve argued for SoE status for one of our lecturers for about 10 years without success.

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