Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Highly Educated Working Poor: Adjunct Professors by Jim Hightower/ The Adjunct's Moment of Truth by Maria Maisto

“There's a growing army of the working poor in our U.S. of A., and big contingents of it are now on the march. They're strategizing, organizing and mobilizing against the immoral economics of inequality being hung around America's neck by the likes of Wal-Mart, McDonald's and colleges.

“Wait a minute. Colleges? That can't be. After all, we're told to go there to go to college to get ahead in life. More education makes you better off, right? Well, ask a college professor about that — you know, the ones who earned PhDs and are now teaching America's next generation.

“The sorry secret of higher education — from community colleges to brand-name universities — is that they've embraced the corporate culture of a contingent workforce, turning professors into part-time, low-paid, no-benefit, no-tenure, temporary teachers. Overall, more than half of America's Higher-Ed faculty members today are ‘adjunct professors,’ meaning they are attached to the schools where they teach but not essentially a part of them.

“It also means that these highly educated, fully credentialed professors have become part of America's fast-growing army of the working poor. They never know until a semester starts whether they'll teach one class, three, or none — typically, this leaves them with take-home pay somewhere between zero and maybe $2,000 a month. Most live in or on the brink of poverty. Good luck paying off that $100,000 student loan on such wages.

“Adjuncts usually get no health care or other benefits, no real chance of earning full-time positions, no due process or severance pay if dismissed, no say in curriculum or school policies, no keys to the supply cabinet. Frequently, they don't even get office space at their schools. One adjunct prof says he used the trunk of his car as his office, until one day he found that the ‘office’ got towed.

“Like their counterparts at Wal-Mart and McDonald's, college presidents don't treat adjunct professors as valuable resources to be nurtured, but as cheap, exploitable, and disposable labor. We know that the moral values of corporate chieftains rarely penetrate deeper than the value of their multimillion-dollar pay packages. But shouldn't we expect more from the chieftains of colleges and universities?

“After all, campuses are places of erudition and enlightenment, where we hope students will absorb a bit of our society's deeper ethical principles, including America's historic commitment to fairness and justice for all… This is the Wal-Martization of higher education, and it's happening at all levels all across the country… Unsurprisingly, this contingent of America's low-wage army is organizing campaigns for fairness and forming unions, just like the exploited workers at Wal-Mart and McDonald's. For information, contact New Faculty Majority:

This article was published at NationofChange. 

The Adjunct's Moment of Truth by Maria Maisto 

“…I am, improbably, helping to lead a new national organization that has been formed to advocate for such basic and unfathomably overdue rights for contingent faculty as equal pay for equal work; decent health and retirement benefits; job security; unemployment insurance; and professional working conditions, including academic freedom. In recognition of the fact that faculty off the tenure track, according to the Department of Education, now constitute nearly 70 percent of the Higher Ed teaching population — some 800,000 professionals — we’ve called ourselves New Faculty Majority: The National Coalition for Adjunct and Contingent Equity…

“When I faced the prospect of having to support my family on my adjunct’s salary alone ($20K over a year to teach the same number of courses as most full-time faculty members, and not even that when I don’t get summer work). When a colleague who -- like me -- was denied unemployment insurance over the summer because she supposedly has ‘reasonable assurance of employment’ without a contract, at the same time couldn’t get a loan because she couldn’t show adequate proof of employment without a contract.

“When I heard about an actual single-parent adjunct who had to sell her plasma to buy groceries. When a friend who has taught ‘part time’ for decades at one institution was turned down for a ‘full time’ position at twice the salary plus benefits — to teach exactly the same courses and do all of the extra work that she had always done voluntarily — at that same institution.

“When I discovered that buying into the university’s insurance plan for my family might cost more than my monthly paycheck. When an administrator on my campus actually acknowledged —publicly — that Walmart treats its part-time employees better than colleges and universities treat adjuncts and that we constitute a ‘highly educated working poor.’ 

“When 17 adjunct colleagues and I wrote a letter to the editor of our local newspaper drawing attention to contingent faculty working conditions and only one tenured professor from our department would join the two officers from our campus AAUP chapter I had invited to sign it. When I realized that my children are likely to have college instructors who are either overworked, distracted tenure-stream professors or under supported, freeway-flying contingents — in either case, effectively being prevented by colleges and universities from being given the highest quality education possible, and of particular concern given the diverse needs of so many student populations… When I saw the confusion in a bright young student’s face as I told him I couldn’t, in conscience, recommend that he pursue a graduate degree in English and a career in college teaching if he also intended to support himself, much less a family…”

Read more at Inside Higher Ed.

1 comment:

  1. Yeah, and as a secondary teacher freaking out about how in the world I am going to pay for my sons to go to college in 2 years, I am left wondering what these exorbitant college prices are paying for when it is not the professors. My son does not care what the workout facilities look like; I don't care if his dorm has cable. Where are the priorities? College prices are going up an average of 5.4% a year when the inflation rate has been under 3%. How do they justify those rates when they don't even have a full staff of tenured professors?