Pay adjunct faculty a decent salary
Received wisdom has it that the more education we acquire, the better our life prospects – the broader our vistas, the greater our earning potential, the longer our lives.
That easy assumption has come under serious question in the last couple of years, however, as the pitiable state of many of the adjunct instructors and professors who teach undergraduates in our colleges and universities has come to light. Despite toiling for years in the scholastic groves and attaining the highest of academic ranks, many are barely scraping by, having to cobble together a living through freelance, part-time teaching jobs that offer no security, no benefits and barely enough in salary to cover rent and food. Some of this learned horde have had to turn to SNAP or other forms of government assistance. In this region, the plight of many adjuncts has taken on an extra measure of importance following the death last month of Margaret Mary Vojtko, a Duquesne University adjunct professor who was impoverished when she died despite a long career in which she was held in high esteem by students and colleagues.
What makes this all the more troubling is that the use of “contingent faculty” has increased at the same time that the cost of tuition has skyrocketed. In 1970, part-time faculty had 22 percent of the teaching jobs at colleges and universities, according to the Service Employees International Union, which has been working to get union representation for part-time instructors. That number increased to 34 percent in 1987 and reached 50 percent in 2011. Health insurance is a rarity for this rootless corps, as are retirement benefits, and the average compensation rate for adjuncts is about $3,000 for a semester-long class. Given the effort that must be put into preparing a course, lecturing students, grading papers and tests and maintaining office hours, few would disagree that being paid a mere $3,000 is penurious.
It should be noted that, though the economy as a whole took a dive in the period, the number of graduate-degree holders receiving food stamps more than doubled from 2007 to 2010, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education. This is indeed a troubling trend.
Granted, some part-time faculty are people who hold full-time jobs outside the classroom and wish to lend their expertise in an educational setting, or they have retired from the 9-to-5 grind and are teaching because they aren’t yet ready to fill their days exclusively with gardening or golf. Many adjuncts are freshly minted Ph.D’s still clinging tenaciously to the dream that somehow, somewhere, a tenure-track job will open up and they will be able to rise up through the ranks of the professoriate. Clearly, they must have been aware that there is more of a market for systems analysts or web developers than for medieval historians or specialists in Bengali literature, so they do have to live with the choices they have made. But, as they hope to get a foothold on the academic ladder, they shouldn’t be exploited by the institutions they serve, many of which are quite wealthy.
Karen Kelsky, a former academic who runs a fund that offers financial assistance to graduate students and Ph.D’s, told the Chronicle of Higher Education, “It’s gone beyond the joke of the impoverished grad student to becoming something really dire and urgent. When I was a tenured professor, I had no idea that the Ph.D was a path to food stamps.”
It shouldn’t be. Given how much it costs for students to attend colleges and universities so they can enjoy a better life later on, their instructors should have a decent one right now.