• August 30, 2015

Surge in Adjunct Activism Is Spurred by Bad Economy and Hungry Unions

Institutions like Western Michigan University, Montana State University, and Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art are home to new adjunct unions. In Massachusetts a group of part-time faculty members sued the state on behalf of adjuncts who don't get health insurance at community colleges. And the part-timers' union at Rhode Island College has ratified the first contract for adjunct faculty members in the state.

This increasing activity is devoted to reversing the fortunes of the largest part of the professoriate, a population usually characterized by low pay and benefit levels and scant job security. Now a combination of factors has prompted adjuncts to organize, break new ground at the bargaining table, and embrace other forms of activism.

The battered economy has pushed adjuncts to seek protection in an environment where their jobs are more at risk than usual. National higher-education unions are paying new attention to these instructors, who make up an ever-growing pool of labor on the nation's college campuses. And some adjuncts report being energized by success stories from their unionized peers.

Breaking the Silence

"For too long, there was the prevailing feeling among many adjuncts that they were an invisible part of the profession," says Barbara Bowen, a vice president at the American Federation of Teachers. "But the silence in the profession about contingent faculty has been broken."

The result: Ready-to-organize part-time faculty members who, in significant ways, have nothing to lose.

"I don't see any evidence that university administrations and the powers-that-be are going to change their general trend—which is solving their economic problems by taking skin from their employees," says Joe T. Berry, an adjunct activist who works full time (but not on the tenure track) as a labor specialist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

At the same time, the economic downturn has made some instructors' jobs even more essential to them as other sources of income dry up, says Mr. Berry. Many adjuncts are reluctant to quit despite working conditions that might warrant their doing so, and instead have decided to "hang in and try to make it a better job," he says.

Adjunct professors at Rhode Island College did just that when they ratified their first contract this fall. The union, affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, gained a 3-percent pay increase and seniority and job-security rights, among other things.

At Eastern Michigan University, part-time faculty members last week filed for the right to vote for union representation, which full-time lecturers there already have. Some of the adjuncts have worked there for more than two decades and want a union to "have a determining voice about the conditions under which we work," says Mark Wenzel, a part-time lecturer in the department of history and philosophy, in a statement released by the federation.

Aware that adjuncts are finding reasons for wanting to organize, unions are wooing them—in no small part because the numbers of tenure-track faculty members that can be added to union rolls is shrinking.

"If you're going to organize faculty, you've got to organize contingent faculty," says Mr. Berry. "They're the majority of the faculty now."

Equal-Pay Campaign

Since the middle of last year, the American Federation of Teachers has organized eight contingent faculty unions, representing more than 4,000 instructors (not including graduate students and postdocs). The union is also working to get states to adopt "equal pay for equal work" for part-timers as part of its Faculty and College Excellence Campaign, which began in 2007.

The American Association of University Professors, too, is making efforts to organize adjuncts. This month it announced that enough of them at Suffolk University, in Boston—58 percent of the 360-member unit—had joined the union to allow for what the union calls "fair share" provisions to take effect: Adjuncts covered by the bargaining unit can join as full members or else pay a fee that covers union expenses.

With a majority of adjuncts as members, plus the fair-share provision, the chapter will have "a solid financial base," says Michael Mauer, the AAUP's national director of organizing and services.

"We ran a huge recruitment effort and started out with a very low number" at Suffolk, he says. "But once we got our first contract, people started signing up to join when they saw what was possible. And they're still signing up. "

Some groups of adjuncts affiliated with traditionally blue-collar labor unions have won significant victories as well. Part-timers at the New School have been represented by the United Auto Workers since 2002. for This month the union announced the ratification of its second contract for part-timers there. For the first time, it includes the right to take leave for a birth, adoption, or to care for a sick child; a greater say in curricular decisions; and the right to keep health benefits when classes are canceled for low enrollment.

Still, part-timers have a long way to go. In some states, such as Ohio, they are prohibited by law from forming collective-bargaining units. But adjuncts there remain hopeful. The New Faculty Majority, a national advocacy group, has helped persuade lawmakers to introduce a bill that would remove that restriction.

"We've been working with the AFT, the AAUP, and the NEA in Ohio on this issue and we're all on the same page about this," says Maria C. Maisto, president of the New Faculty Majority who teaches English composition in a full-time, non-tenure-track position at Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland. "I think we stand the best chance that we ever have of getting this passed."

Building Awareness

Also hopeful are part-time faculty members at Temple University. Last month they held an Adjunct Awareness Week to bring attention to a campaign to unionize adjuncts, who make up nearly half of the faculty.

Regina Bannan, chair of Temple's adjunct-organizing committee, pointed to the full-time faculty union's recent success at the bargaining table, after protracted negotiations,­ as one source of inspiration. The four-year pact calls for pay raises, bonuses, and eligibility for merit pay.

Another motivator for adjuncts at Temple, says Ms. Bannan, an adjunct who teaches American studies, is that every other professional group of employees there—full-time faculty members, administrators, and professional and technical staff—is represented by a union. "In a lot of ways, we just want space at the table," she says.

But even in a union hotbed like Temple, there is still one tough obstacle. Although adjuncts are "receptive to unionization," Ms. Bannan says, "the hard work is in identifying them." Adjuncts are often poorly counted by administrations and are difficult to round up because they often go from campus to campus to work.

Once organizers get beyond that barrier, says Mr. Berry, the labor specialist at Urbana-Champaign, "it's never difficult to convince contingent faculty to join a union. Getting to an election is basically a matter of finding the people."

If that's the case, some say, what is happening now among adjuncts could be the beginning of a movement. Says Ms. Maisto: "I think there's been a lot of momentum, although things never happen as fast as people would like. There are still some horrible things happening, but I feel like there's definitely been some progress made."

Ms. Bowen, the AFT official, agrees. "This is not just about one individual adjunct or one group of adjuncts at one place," says Ms. Bowen, who is an associate professor of English at the City University of New York's Queens College and president of the Professional Staff Congress, a union that represents faculty and staff members in the CUNY system. "I think this is a movement that has a big task, and that's to transform higher education. The two-tier labor system in higher education needs to be undone."


1. chemmilt - December 15, 2009 at 05:24 am

If a cheap alternative is no longer available, some professors who shirk the classroom may actually have to teach.

2. observer001 - December 15, 2009 at 05:44 am

I'd love to see this work but institutions that exploit adjuncts (many are middling to low quality institutions like the ones listed above, but don't forget places like Harvard exploit them heavily too) do it fundamentally because they are cheap and expendable.

But, unfortunately, it looks like the administrators already have an eager cadre of senior citizen scabs lined up to break any nascent adjunct unions:


3. renji - December 15, 2009 at 05:47 am

Teaching is the easiest part of my job. With teaching, you work hard and you see tangible results. You spend a few hours and you have a solid lecture.

However, with research, you can work hard and do everything right and still not see results for years.

I am glad that the adjuncts are getting better pay -- put I spend less than 1/6 of my working time on teaching -- so, for me "fair pay" would be my pay divided by 6.

The job of a university professor is much much more than just teaching.

4. renji - December 15, 2009 at 05:55 am

I am up at 4:54am -- I have not been up and working for almost 20 hours -- and my semester is over, my grades are in -- I am not working on my teaching.

I am working on my research.

BTW, I am not the only one working in my building this late.

So few here seems to have any notion about what a professor actually does.

5. hikerwoman7 - December 15, 2009 at 06:30 am

Please look into the New Faculty Majority web site for support, information, and networking.Consider being part of this exciting new effort.

6. drpopejoy - December 15, 2009 at 09:04 am

I have spent nearly half of my 22 year teaching career as an adjunct; however, I have also maintained currency in my fields by active membership in academic associations, annual attendance at academic conferences presenting papers and chairing panels, and continuing to publish an acceptable amount of peer reviewed work as well as earning additional academic graduate credits becoming just short of abd in a second doctorate and including another masters degree to go with my original masters and Ph.D. degree. So, I am an adjunct instructor, but I am as current in my fields as most of my full time tenured colleagues. I have worked for nearly 15 years as an adjunct for Central Michigan University who recertifies their adjuncts as associate graduate faculty every three years which assures the university that their adjunct staff are demonstrating some scholarly activity during each term of appointment before they are renewed. Further, CMU sponsored an academic teaching conference on campus last summer in which they paid for their adjuncts to attend including travel and lodging for the conference. I believe that if adjuncts can show academic currency in their disciplines and the universities can show their expectations with stronger financial support, then both parties are winners with the ultimate beneficiaries being the students. But, I have met quite a few adjuncts with 20-40 year old Ph.D. degrees who have not shown much recent academic activity. Is that the best person to put in the classroom? I don't think full time professors will ever show respect as peers to adjuncts if we are not attending the same conferences and publishing in the same journals as they are.

Michael W. Popejoy, M.B.A., Ph.D., M.P.H.

7. physicsprof - December 15, 2009 at 10:28 am

I am saddened by working conditions of many adjuncts. Still, I do not see a clear acceptable solution. As already pointed out by Renji above, in most flagship universities teaching is not considered to be the main part of job. Let us face it -- doing top-notch research is way more difficult than top-notch teaching. Adjuncts usually come from the ranks of academics who failed to land a tenure-track job and missed their opportunity window for hiring (places like to hire future stars, not past). Sad? May be, but not everyone is going to become a professor. I would like adjuncts to be paid more, but I am aware that what they do is a support job (at least in Research I institutions I am more familiar with). Extra pay and benefits must come from somewhere, right? Where from? University budgets are already stretched, so this is not very likely. Taking resources from tenured faculty? Administrators believe (and rightly so) that it is research that makes modern university and are not willing to go down this road. Besides, making adjunct jobs more attractive is only going to attract more failed academics to the profession with the result of more competition among adjuncts. Market forces are at here as in any other profession. Sorry, but "Professorship for everybody!" is not going to work.

8. tom_washingtondc - December 15, 2009 at 11:18 am

There's discrepancy in work expectations within the adjunct pool. Young, female, and minority adjuncts have the expectation to deliver more personalized attention to students, to drive further out to remote locations, and to use all the latest technology in the classroom while providing entertainment and food. There's more grunt work expectation placed on them but not on their male counterpart.

What are the older, white male adjuncts or program managers doing? They teach unencumbered, priviledged white male style. They do not have to wheel in the technology in the classroom and have to do set up. They stand and lecture at the podium because they love to hear themselves talk. There is no prepared power point presentation or video/audio selections. I don't see them pressured to buy pizza or create entertainment. I don't see them give personalized attention to students.

We need to address equality in work expectations. Who wouldn't want to teach unencumbered white male style? A lot less work and you get to walk out of the class without having to put anything away or do clean up.

9. wilkenslibrary - December 15, 2009 at 12:09 pm

One of the reasons it is so difficult to address the issues facing contingent faculty uniformly is the lack of uniformity within our group. We teach at everything from R1 universities to community colleges, and at both private and public institutions, and the expectations are different in each place. Renji above noted that at an R1, teaching is only 1/6 of the workload. At community colleges, however, it is more often 3/4 of the job. When, in a recent bargaining session for community college contingent faculty, our union asked for salary parity for just the teaching portion of a full-time position, it would have meant pay increases of between 20-50%, depending on pay scale step. Management was horrified, but there is no justification for ignoring the principle of equal pay for equal work. Many of us have qualifications--degrees, years of teaching experience, participation at conferences--that are equal to, and sometimes better than those of our full-time colleagues. To deny us benefits and a living wage because an institution has more money for discretionary purposes when it limits the number of tenure-track slots and fills classes with part-timers is unconscionable.

10. johnvknapp - December 15, 2009 at 12:26 pm

Dear PhysicsProf --

Apparently your university administration need do little more than hire you to keep promoting an "us vs them" agenda, thus insuring the sorry status quo. Get the senior profs and adjuncts fighting among themselves for the few crumbs left-over from unusually large salaries for adminstrators, sports coaches, and money for the academostars who are never seen by an undergraduate, and let starve those who carry a major share of the teaching load for the first two years' students. It's a variation of "I've got mine; screw you Jack."

To compare "top notch research" to "top notch teaching is a fool's errand since, ideally, they should be synergistic. But how can an adjunct do even mid-notch research with teaching loads that are often more than twice what any given prof's are with NO benefits, little support (not even an office or phone with which to contact students), and the likes of you shilling for the administrators who love to play the zero-sum game with all of the faculty? I have been a "senior faculty" (tenured) for over 30 years and have been disgusted with the so-called "business model" applied to U. faculty. Your views only reinforce all that is wrong and heartless with that model.


11. physicsprof - December 15, 2009 at 12:31 pm

Now, wilkenslibrary, I am confused about "equal work for equal pay" principle. In a typical middle-rank university new tenure-track faculty are usually told to spend 40% time or research, 40% time on teaching, and 20% time on service. Now suppose I am a new assistant professor who's paid $65k. I look up at a distinguished colleague (NAS member, international prize winner, famous board member, etc.) who earns $250k. If equal work for equal pay principle is used and I accept that my research is negligibly less worth than hers, shouldn't I still be entitled to 0.40x$250k=$100k a year?

12. dogood1776 - December 15, 2009 at 12:41 pm

I know many of you won't agree, and that's OK, but it makes no sense in the larger scheme of things to increase adjunct pay by 50% as long as there are qualified people out there who are willing to teach at the current salary levels. It's called the "free market." I was an adjunct before I landed the full time teaching job I now have. When I was an adjunct, did I wish I made more than the $2500 per 3 credit-hour course (before taxes) that I made then? Of course. Did I know what the job paid before I took it? Yep. I did it anyway, because I understood that I was a part time instructor, and that my livelihood came from another source. It had nothing whatsoever to do with my credentials or my capabilities - it had to do with the fact that the college could only afford to pay so many full time folks, and that they had enough enrollment to offer additional courses if adjuncts were willing to teach the additional sections.

Why must we always whine about what is fair and what is not? It's not about that. It's about what someone is willing to pay for.

13. watermarkup - December 15, 2009 at 01:08 pm

Hey, I like the numbers. 40% x $65,000 = $26,000/4 classes per year = $6,500 per course. So we can all agree that this would represent fair pay for equal work, right? Ka-ka-ka-ching! I would love to earn $52,000 per year for a 4-4 load. We won't even have to discuss the financial value of stability of employment, or research funding, or other benefits.

By the way, when I'm on the market for tenure-track jobs (even as a non-star failed academic whose time has clearly passed), I take a good, hard look at the publications of the tenured professors at R1s. Some have very impressive publication lists. But you'd be surprised how many were hired and tenured with just a dissertation and a few articles, and haven't published much or anything at all since. Let's just say that my publication record compares favorably to many of the SC members who are rejecting me. But I guess they're stars, so that's OK.

Organizing is not equal to whining.

14. atana09 - December 15, 2009 at 01:18 pm

Well yes, the adjunct situation is partially premised on the some free market aspects. But that in itself could be detrimental to academe. If colleges, and Universities operate premised on the ability to get highly qualified people for little pay, it's a matter of time before those same people must redirect their efforts elsewhere. The dilemma is that in the long term academe is selling high ticket degrees, but at the same time exploiting those who go for those high ticket degrees.
Many of the current generation of adjuncts do so from lack of choice, or economic desperation resultant from educational debt, the limited venue of their degrees and etc. And also do so out of desire to serve or teach. But either way it's a unsustainable situation eventually economic demands trap them.
And although at the larger schools the qualifications of adjuncts are often equal to their full time compatriots within smaller systems the trend is reversing. Cheap also is driving a trend to lesser qualifications amongst the adjunct teaching cadre-this trend is most clearly marked at rural institutions. The better adjuncts simply cannot afford to come to Prairie U.
In the long term, academe is setting itself on the rocks by reliance and exploitation of adjuncts. Either by feeding upon its own progeny, or by driving them out, or by compromising quality. So a generational cheap by academe may ensure there will not be another generation to make money from or pay little money to...

15. physicsprof - December 15, 2009 at 01:25 pm

JVK, I hear you, and dividing us is the last thing on my mind. Presently I teach big freshmen classes so I am not hiding behind the backs of adjuncts in order to teach easy small graduate courses. Top-notch research and teaching shold be synergistic, of course, but they are so only in a dream world. Einstein was a bad teacher, Feynman was a horrible teacher, and the list goes on. Accept it. Excellent researchers are not always excellent teachers. These two accomplishments are almost uncorrelated.

"But how can an adjunct do even mid-notch research with teaching loads that are often more than twice what any given prof's are with NO benefits, little support (not even an office or phone with which to contact students), and the likes of you shilling for the administrators who love to play the zero-sum game with all of the faculty?"

First of all they happened to be in that situation because they did not make the first cut. Please don't blame me for stating things as they are -- you know it too, everybody cannot make the cut, especially if the field is competitive enough. Based on my own experience (and don't tell me only sociological research is what conclusions should be based upon -- everybody uses his/her own anecdotal experience to make decisions and pass judgements in course of life), those who end up as adjuncts are less innovative, independent, possess less leadership skills, are less charismatic than those who are selected for tenure-track. Interestingly, I noticed that future academic stars always had ideas for second-choice careers in case their faculty quest went south. NOONE of them was content with adjunct careers. Contrary, I have seen scores of adjuncts who did not have courage to start a new career, always whining and making people to avoid them. Bottomline -- more teaching, less benefits and less money exist but they have an explanation. Unfair? Yes. But life is never fair. Society without competition is stagnant.

16. atana09 - December 15, 2009 at 02:17 pm

"those who end up as adjuncts are less innovative, independent, possess less leadership skills, are less charismatic than those who are selected for tenure-track."

Physicsprof. This may be true to a point. However many of these adjuncts are people who manage to work for several institutions simultaneously, manage their money on what are often very poor wages, and still maintain some use for their degrees in a rigged situation. The better of the adjuncts are people who have a intellectual and pragmatic flexibility which some at the TT level do not possess.

"Contrary, I have seen scores of adjuncts who did not have courage to start a new career, always whining and making people to avoid them."

Some may have reason to be less than pleased, in many fields the degrees are sold as a medium into professorial stability. And in some fields these degrees are almost worthless for any application outside of that field (or in some cases most fields). There is an ethical dilemma here, academe often sells high ticket degrees on spurious promises, and then turns its progeny lose and ignores them from that point, or exploits them.

"Unfair? Yes. But life is never fair. Society without competition is stagnant."

Perhaps but the serfs can revolt. What will all of us in the privileged end of academe do when the adjuncts obtain their postmodern equivalent of Wat Tyler? At the least we'd have to give up preaching the wonders of egalitarian academe.
(Incidentally I'm not an adjunct...if I were I'd be working three jobs right now. And so wouldn't have time for all this...)

17. johnvknapp - December 15, 2009 at 02:57 pm

Dear PhysicsProf (and those wqho think like him) --

I can hear your sincerity and do not doubt that you honestly believe what you write. However, since you are a scientist, I assume you are moved (or not) by empirical evidence. I have served on countless hiring committees (am on one as I write), and I have seen the differences in my field between candidate # 1 and even # 3 as often being the thickness of a sheet of paper. Our final choice(s) have been as much related to one faculty member's pursuasive agenda, pure luck, and the pool-of-the-moment as it is to talent.

What happens to #s 2 to, say, 4 ? Some are ultimately hired elsewhere but many are not hired at all in a tenure-track job. Multiple that anecdote times thousands of hires -- in the humanities at least -- each year, and, far too many times, the race goes not necessarily to the swift, but to the range of factors listed above. Hence, your assumption that "those who end up as adjuncts are less innovative, independent, possess less leadership skills, are less charismatic than those who are selected for tenure-track" is based on something other than the facts and logic. I see all too many adjuncts in my own Dept. who ARE innovative, independent, possess leaderships skills,etc., but who, for a variety of reasons -- including dedication to remaining a teacher -- cannot get a T-T job because the system of exploiting cheap labor is against them. For heaven's sake, don't repeat that tired old Republican dogma about cream rising to the top. Sometimes it does, but not without a LOT of help from places unrelated to the individual talent. The system in community coilleges and in many many 4 year universities, esp. those with Ph.D. programs, is seriously flawed and requires exploitive labor to maintain the status quo.

I don't know if you have children (I have 4), but I would not want my daughter(s) -- all of whom went to a flagship state university -- to be taught composition by an CC. or 4 yr college adjunct who must teach 6 or 7 sections of 25 to 30 each just to make a living wage. Do the math. How much attention would a given paper (of even 5 pages) or its author get in a pile of 175 papers a week? What are we educating anyone for in such a mechanical system? I suggest you check out your own university's teaching adjuncts and ASK them to describe their worklife. You may find the evidence pursuasive!


18. observer001 - December 15, 2009 at 03:18 pm

atana09- If the adjuncts 'revolted' or simply went on strike not much will happen because there are always more where they came from and institutions that are corrupt enough to rely on them don't really care about their quality. Ideally it would force the exploiters to purge their labor pool of adjunct labor, scale down the amount of students they accept, and increase the number of real tenure track positions.

However, we all know that this won't happen in the real world and that this exercise will end badly not just for the adjuncts but the largely disadvantaged students who depend on the types of 'Prarie U.' institutions you mention that increasingly exploit adjunct labor. Grad students who want teaching experience and evidently retired professors willing to work for pittance or free will still take the crappy jobs. Those state schools that are hung out to dry by their legislatures will continue to reduce the quality of their professorate by cutting salaries and increasing the percentage of aduncts (CA, MN, FL, MI, WA, IL systems are the poster children here, but where it will really show are in the poorer, southern and plain states).

More to the point, the rich who can pay for elite university tuition will be continue to be taught by professors. The worth of a degree from a 'UC school' etc. will fall against a degree from Stanford like the dollar against the Euro. Unless Americans vote to support higher education I'm afraid that we are looking at a widening gap between rich and poor and a hardening of class lines in America.

I'm in a different field than physicsprof, but have to agree with him that he is speaking vital uncomfortable truths.

19. madamesmartypants - December 15, 2009 at 03:25 pm

"those who end up as adjuncts are less innovative, independent, possess less leadership skills, are less charismatic than those who are selected for tenure-track."

I don't agree with this comment at all. Adjuncts are very much an innovative group, juggling various classes at various institutions and, despite all that, their students know and like them, they get good teaching recs, often publish, and, overall, somehow manage to make it all work--with, as many have pointed out, less resources and money that tenured and tt staff. I don't think that "expendable" adjuncts would be working for 20+ years in some institutions had they not shown themselves to be university assets.

If you want to know why some people wind up as adjuncts and others on the tenure track, you'd have to look at various institutional quirks--the importance of timing and lock-step progression (which Mary Beth Mason has argued, in the Chronicle and elsewhere, disadvantages women), the thinning out of tt positions, etc--as well as, I'd argue, larger social trends, such as the erosion of mid-class wages and the spike in executive pay. In the case of the University of California system, for example, we are all wondering why UC President Mark Yudof is still earning 800,000 a year while the rest of us are on furlough...

As for the research-is-harder-than-teaching debate: I think this is a pointless argument. A university needs both good teachers and good researchers. Because these are often not the same people, universities need to hire a balanced number of both. Researchers bring in immediate grant money and prestige, which universities like, but if you short-change the number of good teachers, you still lose out on money and prestige. After all, how is the list of illustrious graduates from your university going to grow? Are parents going to send their kids to a school where the star profs ignore their precious pumpkins? And where are all those future donors going to come from?

20. atana09 - December 15, 2009 at 06:45 pm

"If the adjuncts 'revolted' or simply went on strike not much will happen because there are always more where they came from and institutions that are corrupt enough to rely on them don't really care about their quality. Ideally it would force the exploiters to purge their labor pool of adjunct labor, scale down the amount of students they accept, and increase the number of real tenure track positions."

Your statement is quite astute observer001. However there is the crises point where academe may have crushed it's own foundations. Quite true adjuncts will not strike, and most TT will not support them. But if academe purges its adjunct pools, and scales down the number of students it does indicate the core ideals they sell are deeply flawed.

The adjuncts in a indirect manner may be the force by which academe has to acknowledge that their posturing about egalitarianism is largely a fiction. At that point it will be very difficult for academe to retain the support of a increasingly marginalized middle class. And the condition you noted of the exploited being the teachers of the marginalized will only increase the possibility of that middle class loss of faith.

21. californiabruce - December 15, 2009 at 10:58 pm

All this verbiage doesn't amount to a hill of beans. The same old arguments from the same old misanthropes: it's a matter of supply and demand; adjuncts' couldn't compete for tenure-track, so they should stop whining; it's never going to change; research is harder than teaching; etc. It should be no suprise that these comments come from those fortunate few that couldn't give a damn about anyone else.

I say: It is NOT about what someone is willing to pay for.

And I like what "watermarkup" said: Organizing is not equal to whining.

22. californiabruce - December 15, 2009 at 11:08 pm

I will also add that when someone is willing to take the issue of "equal pay for equal work" to court, things WILL change without any strike or work action. This is true because a second-class tier of academic drones is inherently and unequivocally illegal. The only reason no one, including the unions, has challenged the practice is because there are two possible outcomes: either administrators will raise adjuncts' salaries to parity with tenure-track OR they will lower tenure-track to parity with adjuncts' salaries. Wanna bet which outcome is more likely? Obviously, the unions don't want to end up with "egg on their face." But until someone makes a legal challenge to the status quo, I agree: nothing will change.

23. observer001 - December 16, 2009 at 11:07 am

A equal work/pay legal challenge would get thrown out immediately if it hasn't already been attempted: institutions can legitimately argue adjuncts are not paid less because of gender (or race or age), which is the premise of cases based on the Equal Pay Act of 1963, but because a) they do less work and b) are less qualified. While you can quibble on moral grounds it won't convince a judge.

Other than political advocacy and votes, I think one of the few direct means we really put pressure on institutions to reinvest in their faculty is for it to affect their rankings and accreditation. Unlike many who are making decisions on where to go to college, those of us in academia already know, other things being equal, one of the top markers of the quality of the undergraduate education an institution offers is the percentage of fulltime, tenure track faculty that make up its instructional staff (thus where we would send our children if we could): http://www.aaup.org/NR/rdonlyres/A379B47F-C94E-432D-9C29-F1476AFBD2B5/0/ContingentAppendix1.pdf. If incorporated into ranking systems and popular perception, people would understand why some instutions (and the degrees they get from them) are more worth the tuition than others.

24. lotsoquestions - December 16, 2009 at 12:38 pm

Actually, physicsprof, many people end up as adjuncts because they have a two body problem, a chronically ill child, elderly aging parents and no one else to care for them . .. If you look at the statistics, the adjunct pool is overwhelmingly female in several disciplines. If what you assert is true, that is based on ability rather than demographics, then we would expect the adjunct pool to more accurately reflect the graduate school population as a whole -- which is does not. So unless you're willing to go on and argue that WOMEN are, on the whole, less innovative and less likely to possess charisma and leadership skills, I don't see how your argument could be true. The demographics simply don't support it.

25. californiabruce - December 16, 2009 at 07:39 pm

With all due respect, observer001, a legal challenge won't "get thrown out of court." And you don't need to rely on the Equal Pay Act of 1962, either. Furthermore, you can't demonstrate that they 1) do less work or are 2) less qualified. What planet do you live on?

26. californiabruce - December 16, 2009 at 07:40 pm

Also, observer001, if you read my post, I am not "quibbling" about moral issues. Just legal argument.

27. rrayers - December 16, 2009 at 11:34 pm

"Surge in Adjunct Activism Is Spurred by Bad Economy and Hungry Unions"

No, it's spurred by poor treatment of these workers by their employers. If the bad economy and hungry unions don't conspire to increase activism in other industries, why this one? Easy answer, and a headline ignoring it.

If academia treated adjuncts like people instead of serfs, the serfs wouldn't revolt. It's a shame so many can't see it.

28. rrayers - December 16, 2009 at 11:41 pm

Isn't it interesting that tom_washingtondc could make comments like this about white males and the report abuse option goes away...but substitute in 'black' or 'female' for 'white male' and the racist/sexist would have already been hounded off the board.

Sadly, it is entirely too common the reaction to tom_washingtondc types is to ignore their comments or worse, protect those words as reasonable dissent, but only when those words come from people of the right color or sex. It's not reasonable dissent--it's racism and sexism--and the Chronicle ought to be ashamed.

29. hoppingmadjunct - December 17, 2009 at 08:17 pm

Plenty of long-term adjuncts are sharper and more current in the classroom than their tenure-preoccupied peers, because we have to keep reinventing ourselves to get and/or keep work: a dull semester or two, and we're gone. The notion that education's about "being a professor," as someone above notes, is why college graduates can't write a memo. For years I got up at 4:45 AM myself, as the researcher/professor above brags, and drove 65 miles to an 8 AM class and another one with office hours in between, drove 65 miles back to teach two more at another campus, and on the other days of the week taught three more classes at yet a third campus, reading and evaluating some 5,000+ words of prose from each of some 175 students each semester for just over $32,000 a year. Why? Partly because I'm good at it, partly because it's unfit me for other work, and partly because, the product of professors qua professors as opposed to educators myself, I had not been made to understand my field until I taught it myself. Educational institutions must survive, of course, but education itself is not about supply and demand, institutions that can't distingush between the two are reinforcing the limited vison that education's the only real remedy for.

30. hpflanzer1 - December 18, 2009 at 11:15 pm

Barbara Bowen president of the PSC at CUNY is quoted in "Surge in Adjunct Activism Is Spurred by Bad Economy and Hungry Unions" as saying "the two tier labor system in higher education needs to be undone." These are fine words but as a long term adjunct professor at CUNY I know that these words have not been translated into change for adjuncts by Bowen in the last two contracts. In the last contract the Chancellor refused to negotiate on a stated union contract priority; movement towards job security for adjuncts and the union caved in on the issue telling us this was the best contract they could get. Any attempt to move towards equal pay for equal work for adjuncts was put off by the union till the next contract negotiations. The union recently ruled on a contractual matter not to allow waivers for adjuncts to teach an extra course. We will be prevented from earning a bit more money and the union is telling us they are protecting us from being exploited. Surely adjuncts at CUNY have been undone by Bowen and the union leadership as effectively as by college and university adminstrators and trustees.

Howard Pflanzer
Adjunct Associate Professor

31. betsycraig - December 23, 2009 at 10:35 am

An article in the MLA Journal, Profession 2009 (Laurence, p. 268), states that "the MLA recommends a salary range of $6,600-$9,500 per course section, with fringe benefits and cost-of-living increases, as the reasonable minimum compensation for part-time faculty members."

As a part-time instructor at an R-1 school, I make about half this minimum per course. Are there adjuncts that make anywhere near such a salary? If so, I'd like to know where they teach.

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