In February of this year, Josh Boldt, a Writing Instructor and EdTech Consultant at the University of Georgia, asked his blog’s readership to contribute to a crowdsourced document on adjunct labor working conditions in the United States, this in response to Michael Bérubé’s call, as the new president of the Modern Language Association, to address adjunct labor practices and conditions.This simple request exploded across social media resulting in thousands of people contributing to a current profile of adjunct labor in the United States. This simple document has morphed into The Adjunct Project, a place that, according to Boldt, promotes transparency in higher education employment practices, provides a quick reference for parents and teachers (et al) to gauge how much value a college or university places on education and human rights, recognizes schools that are treating faculty well (or poorly), and connects adjunct professors (and others) who are interested in “saving American higher education.” All this is fine and good, as we in higher ed need to rethink how we compensate non-tenure track faculty. (For added information, see Bérubé’s article reprinted from the MLA Newsletter, “What We Can (and Can’t) Do—and What We Have (and Haven’t) Done” and other articles he’s penned at Crooked Timber that concern non-tenure track faculty issues: “More About Adjuncts,” and “Still More About Adjuncts.”)
According to The Adjunct Project spreadsheet, the compensation that most NTT faculty receive for their work is not a living wage, as the average pay per course per semester is approximately $2,500. At the time I wrote this article, the lowest pay per course per semester amount on the spreadsheet was $714, the highest $7,000. The average was $2,000 to $3,000 per course per semester. Note that these rates span all types of institutions (public and private, large and small, profit and nonprofit) and cover a wide array of disciplines. The spreadsheet provides a fascinating read about these salaries, benefits that some universities or colleges include (most do not), and other quirks of specific institutions. (The Living Wage Calculator, created at Penn State, is another helpful tool to determine if what we pay NTT faculty is, in fact, a living wage for our specific geographic area.)
It’s interesting to think about these numbers. If a non-tenure track faculty member, for example, teaches three sections of a course (the maximum that a part-time faculty member can teach at many institutions) and each course pays $2,000, this faculty member earns $6,000 for a semester’s worth of teaching, maybe 15 or 16 weeks on a semester system. This is an average of $375 a week, and depending on the number of hours this faculty member spends with course preparation, teaching, grading, and student conferencing, this professor’s hourly rate is often below the national minimum wage. It’s important to keep in mind that this rate does not usually include any kind of health insurance or retirement benefits.
The Adjunct Project and the data it provides is a good place to start conversations about how the higher education system can change as it relates to non-tenure track faculty. Michael Bérubé, other national leaders, provosts, deans, department chairs, and in some cases, state governments have made statements defining what a “fair wage” is for non-tenure track faculty. Regardless of these various definitions, however, there remains an important question: How do you pay your rent on so little per month? (And your student loans, car payment, child care, health coverage, or any other types of expenses you might have).
This is a serious question. In some cases, 50 percent or more of a university’s faculty are part-time, and these folks are living on sometimes less-than-minimum-wage earnings, accruing no benefits or retirement. Since there are so many people underemployed in this manner, maybe we can share our survival tips.
- If your current part-time salary is below “standard” for your area, how do you (or do you) supplement your income?
- Do you teach at multiple colleges or universities? (Does your primary university/college know this and how do they respond? Some employers enforce noncompeting agreements and ask that you not “moonlight” in a similar fields/professions.)
- If so, how do you manage (effectively teach and assess) 6 or 7 or 8 sections of courses each term?
- Do you have a non-competing job, full- or part-time outside of higher ed? (e.g. in business, medicine, retail, food service, construction, etc.?)
- Do you have a partner who contributes to your financial solvency?
- Do your parents or other family members assist you, or do you have a roommate (or several)?
- Do you receive government / community / church assistance?
- In what ways do you minimize your expenses so that the salary you do receive from universities and colleges is enough to sustain you?
Please leave your comments and suggestions below. Because this topic is a sensitive one, anonymity might be preferable for commenters, which is fine. Keep in mind ProfHacker’s commenting and community guidelines, though. We want thoughtful and considered comments to these important questions.
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