This is a guest post from an instructor at Louisiana Tech, who writes anonymously for fear of retribution.
I see so many of my colleagues suffering, mostly in silence because what else can they do? They fear losing their job every day as it is. Their stories are painful to hear—increasing debt, depending upon parents to make ends meet, wishing they could meet the requirements for food stamps, all while trying to hold on to that calling to teach. We have good students here at Louisiana Tech. For the most part they are smart and polite, and, as many teachers through the years have seen and been touched by, there are those moments when a student “gets it.” You see the light bulb moment, or they come to you later and thank you for your class, for your help. That is what keeps many instructors going, and what makes them buy supplies from their own pockets so that their students are not shortchanged. But when the bills increase, when yet another year goes by with no pay raise, when you tape the broken window instead of replacing it …. well, you cannot feed your family on moving moments.
At Louisiana Tech, instructors and adjuncts (who outnumber the professors) carry most of the teaching load, and are paid poorly for it. Most professor pay is low as well. Tech professors and instructors are paid far below the national level. Over 90% of the professors and instructors in the U.S. are paid more than LA Tech professors and instructors. With only one small pay raise since 2008, our low pay has not kept up with inflation. We get poorer, even as our work load increases (some departments have seen a 30% decrease in faculty, while student enrollment has increased).
Some instructors survive by receiving money from their parents. Others are not so lucky, and see their credit card debt increase. A couple have told me they actually tried to apply for food stamps because at the end of the month they had no money, and were slowly going deeper in debt. Some have cancelled cable and stopped eating out to trim the budget. I sold our second car, and now my family of drivers shares the one used car left. We got rid of a cell phone as well, and share phones. We patch our clothes and sheets, and glue the splitting soles of our shoes. A few colleagues are growing food in their yards to save on grocery bills. We put off yet again having the house painted, a small (so far) roof leak fixed, or a cracked window replaced. Like others, I keep my home cold in the winter and quite warm in the summer, to save energy costs. I am halving some of my medicine. Our health coverage sucks, partly because our leaders would not accept the Medicaid expansion, which means the rest of us have to pay for those who are uninsured, or less insured. That’s how all insurances work.
Because of constant budget cuts, many departments face increasing enrollments with fewer instructors to teach (859 faculty lost across the state so far). Like many instructors, I spend most of my free time grading or making lesson preps (textbooks change, technology changes, plus I like to try to improve my teaching). Many of us are taking on extra work in “spare” time where we can. A family needs to pay the bills, and more of us are running out of corners to cut.
At work, we are buying, out of our own dwindling pockets, more of our own supplies as our departments run ever shorter of funds. Most of us have computers that are 8 to 12 years old. One colleague tells me of a computer lab where they use glue guns, staples, and rubber bands to repair the lab furniture. Morale is terrible. Instructors feel like they are on borrowed time. Instructors who have been teaching more than 10 years have to wait until September, right before the fall quarter starts, to see if they still have a job—every single year. Newly hired faculty (a rarity now) make more than faculty who have dedicated many years to Tech. Many cracks are forming in the foundations—and they are getting worse.