I’ve written about being an adjunct professor before. While I’m grateful for the three schools who currently employ me as an adjunct prof (St. Cloud State University, United Theological Seminary, and Fuller Theological Seminary) and those who have done so in the past (Rochester College, Andover Newton Theological School), one cannot help be see that the crisis in academia is coming to a head. Adjuncts currently make up over half of all teaching positions in the U.S. — we work without tenure, without insurance, without benefits.
The class I’m currently teaching pays me $267 to teach a 2-hour class — that does not include prep time.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette carries this story that backs up the meta-trends, about a long-time adjunct professor at Duquesne University who died in her front yard of a heart attack, penniless and without insurance (HT: JR Rozko). The writer, an attorney for the union that has tried to organize Duquesne adjuncts, writes,
I called Adult Protective Services right after talking to Margaret Mary, and I explained the situation. I said that she had just been let go from her job as a professor at Duquesne, that she was given no severance or retirement benefits, and that the reason she was having trouble taking care of herself was because she was living in extreme poverty. The caseworker paused and asked with incredulity, “She was a professor?” I said yes. The case- worker was shocked; this was not the usual type of person for whom she was called in to help.
Of course, what the case-worker didn’t understand was that Margaret Mary was an adjunct professor, meaning that, unlike a well-paid tenured professor, Margaret Mary worked on a contract basis from semester to semester, with no job security, no benefits and with a salary of between $3,000 and just over $3,500 per three-credit course. Adjuncts now make up well over 50 percent of the faculty at colleges and universities.
While adjuncts at Duquesne overwhelmingly voted to join the United Steelworkers union a year ago, Duquesne has fought unionization, claiming that it should have a religious exemption. Duquesne has claimed that the unionization of adjuncts like Margaret Mary would somehow interfere with its mission to inculcate Catholic values among its students.
I’ve got it better than Margaret Mary did. I’ve got other jobs (JoPa, sparkhouse) and other writing gigs. Nevertheless, adjuncting is a band-aid that many schools have been using, but it will not cure the deeper ailment in higher ed.
Here’s a related infographic that’s been going around:
Regular profs, do you support adjunct unionization?