Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The Continuing Demoralization of University and College Adjunct Faculty



It is well known that adjunct faculty work without job security, without the benefit of healthcare, and without an ethical living wage. Most universities’ priorities are their development of building projects and technology, renovation of infrastructure, management of revenues and investments and reducing operating costs, administrative/bureaucratic positions and salaries, and athletic programs and their resources. “…The truth is that teaching is a diminishing priority in universities. Years of American Association of University Professors (AAUP) reports indicate that budgets for instruction are proportionally shrinking. Universities now devote less than one-third of their expenditures to instruction. Meanwhile, administrative positions have increased at more than 10 times the rate of tenured faculty positions. [Of course], sports and amenities are much more fun [and profitable]…” (Birmingham).  

There is no equity for adjunct instructors. Courses staffed with contingent adjunct faculty cost the same student tuition and provide the same credits staffed by tenured full-time faculty. Adjunct faculty grade compositions and tests, write recommendations and advise students, devise and develop classes, create lesson plans and course materials and improve curricula, among other unpaid responsibilities. 

There are no due process protections for adjunct faculty. There is no equal pay for equal work. There is no professional advancement. There is no equity in the lack of health insurance and retirement benefits available for adjunct faculty. There is little to no inclusion in the way higher education’s formal decision-making procedures and structures are made. Indeed, adjunct faculty are simply part-time contractors, “lecturers,” or non-essential “marginalized” hires who are disenfranchised from high-level governance and required to carry out most of the responsibilities of the full-time faculty (and sometimes at multiple institutions), but for less than one-fifth of the salary of the full-time faculty and without meaningful job security from one semester to another. “The insecure, overworked adjunct lecturers employed en masse at most institutions of higher education… have been reduced to an army of indentured wage slaves, with little or no power [and] benefits” (Giroux, “Why Teachers Matter in Dark Times”).  

“The abysmal conditions of adjunct faculty are not byproducts of an economy… They are intentional. Universities rely upon a revolving door of new [M.A.s and] PH.D.s who work temporarily for unsustainable wages before giving up and being replaced by next year’s surplus doctorates” (Birmingham).  

It is unfortunately verifiable that universities and colleges do not make long-term commitments to adjunct faculty. “Based on data from the American Community Survey, 31 percent of part-time faculty are living near or below the federal poverty line. [Moreover], according to the UC Berkeley Labor Center, one in four families of part-time faculty are enrolled in at least one public assistance program like food stamps and Medicaid or qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit” (Fredrickson). 

“Adjunct professors earned a median of $2,700 per semester-long class during the 2012-13 academic year, according to an AAUP survey of thousands of part-time faculty members. [Most adjunct faculty at Benedictine University, where I have taught part-time for 8½ years, currently earn $2,700 per semester during the 2017-18 academic year]. While varying class loads make it difficult to calculate the typical adjunct’s annual earnings, NPR reported in 2013 that the average yearly pay for [cheap contingent appointments] was between $20,000 and $25,000, and a March 2015 survey conducted by Pacific Standard among nearly 500 adjuncts found that a majority earn less than $20,000 a year from teaching…” (McKenna).  

Though it is said that this economic privation is the result of budget rationalizations, what undoubtedly exists is the perpetuation of academic, corporate welfare. Most recent data reveal that “in 2016-17, the average salary for presidents [at a typical corporatized university] was $334,617… The average salary for chief academic officers in 2016-17 was $202,048… [Conversely], the average salary for full professors in 2016–17 was $102,402; the average salary for associate professors was $79,654, and the average salary for assistant professors was $69,206. Part-time faculty members—the largest segment of the academic labor force—saw their average total pay from a single institution [at] $20,508 in 2016–17…” (“Visualizing Change: The Annual Report on the Economic Status of the Profession, 2016-17”).

Equally demoralizing is that most full-time faculty do not sympathize with the adjunct faculty’s plight. Adjunct faculty are generally without help in their hardship. The “tenure-adjunct divide has bifurcated the faculty between the older craft producers and… [low-] waged laborers. [Privileged] tenured faculty, whatever their stated level of solidarity or sympathy for the struggles of… proletarianized academic workers may be, are reluctant to directly intervene or ally with them…” (Siegelbaum). What is more, most tenured faculty are unconcerned about the slow moral dissolution of higher education and the threats to their own security, even though these debasing administrative trends and practices persist. 


Not surprisingly, at Benedictine University where there is declining student enrollment but increasing student tuition ($33,900 a year—though only a fraction of this amount pays for college adjunct instruction), full-time tenured faculty are given priority for available classes each semester; thus, an adjunct faculty member’s originally-designed course will be dropped from the core curriculum, no matter how competent and dedicated the adjunct instructor is and respected by students.

Nevertheless, if the reduction of courses taught by adjunct faculty is one of Benedictine University’s severe budgetary constraints, “when contingent appointments are used, they should include job security and due process protections. Contingent faculty appointments, like all faculty appointments, should include: the full range of faculty responsibilities (teaching, scholarship, service); comparable compensation for comparable work; assurance of continuing employment after a reasonable opportunity for successive reviews; inclusion in institutional governance structures; and appointment and review processes that involve faculty peers and follow accepted academic due process. 

“The proportion of faculty appointments that are on the tenure line should be increased. This can be done by changing the status of faculty members currently holding non-tenure-track appointments. Individuals holding contingent appointments are offered tenure-eligible reappointments. Creating new tenure-line appointments. New tenure-line positions are created and open searches are held for candidates to fill them. 

“In both cases, transition to a higher proportion of tenured faculty should be accomplished primarily through attrition, retirements and, where appropriate, ‘grandfathering’ of currently contingent faculty into tenured positions. Faculty in contingent positions should not bear the cost of transition…” (Background Facts on Contingent Faculty). 

It is reprehensible that universities are becoming “increasingly oblivious to the demands of a democracy... [Universities]… disregard [their adjunct] faculty and resemble institutions governed by myopic accountants who should be ashamed of what they are proud of. The university needs to be reclaimed… where administrators… can imagine what a free and substantive democracy might look like and what it means to make education relevant to such a crucial pedagogical and political task. This could be the first step in taking back higher education as a precondition for developing a broad-based social movement for the defense of [any university’s mission for ‘Dignity and the Common Good’], one capable of both challenging the regime of casino capitalism and re-imagining a society in which democracy lives up to its promises and ideals” (Giroux, “Beyond Neoliberal Miseducation”). 

It is stated in the Benedictine University Center for Mission Identity, “[that the university’s] curriculum, policies and activities draw on the wisdom of the Church regarding ways to build a just society and live lives of holiness in the modern world. To that end, the university engages key themes of modern Catholic social teaching identified by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops: life and dignity of the human person; call to family, community, and participation; rights and responsibilities; option for the poor and vulnerable; the dignity of work and the rights of workers; solidarity; and care for God's creation…” (University Mission, Vision and Commitment Statements).  

Indeed, “[f]or the [Catholic] Church, there is no distinction between defending human life and promoting the dignity of the human person. Pope Benedict XVI writes in Caritas in Veritate [Charity in Truth] that ‘The Church forcefully maintains this link between life ethics and social ethics, fully aware that a society lacks solid foundations when, on the one hand, it asserts values such as the dignity of the person, justice and peace, but then, on the other hand, radically acts to the contrary by allowing or tolerating a variety of ways in which human life is devalued and violated, especially where it is weak or marginalized’” (no. 15) (Human Life and Dignity).  

Surely, flagrant indifference to the mental and physical well-being of adjunct faculty is incompatible with the adage “cura personalis” (care for the entire person). What remains to be seen at universities like Benedictine and across the nation is the rejoinder to an essential ethical question: “To what extent can universities be considered [moral and just] while engaging in practices or ideologies that run contrary to [their Mission, Vision, and Commitment Statements]? ...Catholic universities have to decide whether or not running a [consumerist/capitalist academic structure] that utilizes [and exploits their core adjunct faculty]… fundamentally contradicts Catholic teaching [and its ideals]. Adjunct pay, [their lack of benefits and precarious job security… are] not just a [Benedictine] issue — it is an industry wide issue...” (“The Fordham Ram Unfair Adjunct Wages Go Against Jesuit Values”).

-Glen Brown
Adjunct Faculty Instructor


Works Cited:

“Background Facts on Contingent Faculty.” American Association of University Professors. https://www.aaup.org/issues/contingency/background-facts.  Accessed 26 Oct. 2017. 

Birmingham, Kevin. “The Great Shame of Our Profession.” The Chronicle of Higher Education, 12 Feb. 2017, http://www.chronicle.com/article/The-Great-Shame-of-Our/239148Accessed 23 Oct. 2017. 

Giroux, Henry A. “Beyond Neoliberal Miseducation.” Truth-Out, 19, March 2014,  http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/22548-henry-giroux-beyond-neoliberal-miseducation. Accessed 28, Oct. 2017. 

Giroux, Henry A. “Why Teachers Matter in Dark Times.” Truth-Out, 10 May 2016, http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/35970-why-teachers-matter-in-dark-times. Accessed 26, Oct. 2017. 

“The Fordham Ram Unfair Adjunct Wages Go Against Jesuit Values.” Editorial. Fordhamram.com. 5 Oct. 2016, 
https://fordhamram.com/2016/10/05/editorial-unfair-adjunct-wages-go-against-jesuit-values/Accessed 24 Oct. 2017.

Fredrickson, Caroline. “There Is No Excuse for How Universities Treat Adjuncts.” The Atlantic. 15 Sept. 2015, 
https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2015/09/higher-education-college-adjunct-professor-salary/404461/Accessed 23 Oct. 2017.

“Human Life and Dignity.” United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/index.cfmAccessed 25 Oct. 2017.

McKenna, Laura. “The College President-to-Adjunct Pay Ratio.” The Atlantic. 24 Sept. 2015, https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2015/09/income-inequality-in-higher-education-the-college-president-to-adjunct-pay-ratio/407029Accessed 23 Oct. 2017.

Siegelbaum, Sami.  “Once More the Values of the Humanities.”  Counter Punch. 21 Oct. 2016,  https://www.counterpunch.org/2016/10/21/once-more-the-value-of-the-humanities/Accessed 23 Oct. 2017.  

“University Mission, Vision and Commitment Statements.” Benedictine University Center for Mission Identity. http://www.ben.edu/center-for-mission-and-identity/identity/index.cfmAccessed 25 Oct. 2017.

“Visualizing Change: The Annual Report on the Economic Status of the Profession, 2016-17.” American Association of University Professors. March-April 2017, https://www.aaup.org/file/FCS_2016-17_nc.pdfAccessed 24 Oct. 2017.


This essay has been published on the following websites:

Brown, Glen. “The Continuing Demoralization of University and College Adjunct Faculty.” Web blog post. teacherpoetmusician. 1 November 2017, https://teacherpoetmusicianglenbrown.blogspot.com/2017/11/the-continuing-demoralization-of.html

Facebook: “Adjunct Professors United for Justice.” 19, November 2017, https://www.facebook.com/groups/AdjunctProfsUnited/

Facebook: “Badass Teachers Association.” 15, November 2017, https://www.facebook.com/groups/BadAssTeachers/

Facebook: “The California Part-Time Faculty Association.” 27, December 2017,

Facebook: “Con Job: Stories of Adjunct and Contingent Faculty.” 19, November 2017, https://www.facebook.com/groups/conjobdoc/

Facebook: “Kalamazoo Valley Community College Federation of Teachers (KVCCFT),” 27, December 2017, https://www.facebook.com/KVCCFT/?hc_ref=ARRT75d8s6EtijiAZu-plcwTTCcqg8lCFIYol3ViJ7RqWD8-jB-rDUF7D0py_r4eOwU

Facebook: “Precariat, Contingent-Adjunct-Labor Under Siege.” 16 November 2017, https://www.facebook.com/AdjunctContingencyPlan/?hc_ref=ARTankMrSDdcmyTWGBXwmEo-W6MV3Wa54YEp9DLsxClNHpOULFe9Xz__So4qgQF5Qcw

Facebook: “Remaking the University.” 16, November 2017, https://www.facebook.com/groups/RemakingtheUniversity/

Facebook: “Workplace: A Journal for Academic Labor.” 16, November 2017, https://www.facebook.com/groups/217153971653241/

Substance News: “Adjunct Faculty Exploited… The Continuing Demoralization of the University and College Adjunct Faculty,” 23 November 2017, http://www.substancenews.net/articles.php?page=6839&section=Article


7 comments:

  1. Regarding “The Continuing Demoralization of the Adjunct Faculty”:

    In my IDS 301 Morality and Justice class, I taught my students to pursue a life based on logic, reason, critical thinking, compassion, empathy, humility, integrity, dignity, fairness, responsibility, mutual respect, political and social justice, and life-long learning; most importantly, I taught them to discover moral purpose through meaningful discussion and action. I wanted my students to be dynamic and appalled by the prevalence of hypocrisy, indifference, immorality, and injustice in today’s world. Teaching has been my identity and my passion for 44 years.

    I was told that IDS 301 Morality and Justice will not be offered at Benedictine University: “Because of the low enrollment numbers, I am having to cut back on number of sections of IDS courses offered, and give those to full time faculty first.” I assume it was also because my class would compete for student enrollment with other 301 Interdisciplinary Seminar courses taught by full-time faculty.

    Though I am deeply sadden, I am also thankful to have taught at Benedictine University part-time since 2009; I am especially thankful to the following colleagues at BU for their heartwarming camaraderie and colloquies: Jean-Marie Kauth, Cindy McCullagh, Beth Vinkler, Antony Harper, Richard Zabransky, Alan Carter, Hernice Smith, Megan Benham, Wilson Chen, Olga Lambert, Martin Tracey, Sandra Kies, Elizabeth Kubek, Vincent Gaddis, Joan Hopkins, Jennie Kamieniecki, Rafael Iglesias, Alan Neff, Seema Srivastava, Elaine Ebeling, Lynn Dransoff, and Gregory Ott.

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  2. Onward to better things and spending time with those who love, respect, and appreciate you.

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  3. Your own comment on your post, Glen, is so very vitally important to anyone reading. Teaching has indeed been your identity for 44 years, as well as you commitment in even secular institutions for the need to “link life ethics and social ethics. You armed your students entering a world where one must always spot the distinctions. Your love for the profession to which you gave yourself is palpable, and the sadness you feel for teaching’s diminishment is profound. So much is being lost as people’s craft, industry and selflessness become turned into temp labor. As you say fondly, Glen,” “Glancing over my shoulder at the past, I realize the number of students I have taught/ is enough to populate a small town…” (Thank you, Billy Collins – “Schoolsville”). And thank you , Glen, for the thousands of better people who live in that town

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  4. Important, incisive, explanatory, illuminating, courageous, chastening, edifying, fair, frank, well-researched, solutions-oriented, prophetic, and to-be-shared ... In light of the poor treatment of adjunct faculty, I suppose it's a good that thing that BenU is trying to increase its percentage of full-time faculty, even though it's heartbreaking to think that would lead to BenU's students losing the chance to study with you (and you're right that there are better and worse ways to increase the percentage) ... One nuance: I know that full-time faculty are generally expected to teach 4 courses per semester. The number of courses being offered across the board is being reduced. That leads in some cases to full-time faculty needing to find a class to "fill their load." The administration reasons that by taking a course from an adjunct and giving it to a full-timer on salary, the requisite courses are offered at least expense. So it's not about competition for students between adjunct-taught courses full-timer-taught courses so much as lowest number of fill-able courses at lowest cost (given existing contracts) ... Sad.

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  5. Very well researched article. Clearly we need more activism around this sad issue.

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  6. Let us never forget the reasons for protesting the injustice of hypocrisy and indifference. Moral revolt begins in the heart; it then moves to meaningful action through compassion for others.

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  7. From Michael Dixon:

    "Crucial point on admin: the real conflict is not between the cost of tenure track and adjuncts but between adjuncts and admin.

    "Since adjuncts are too busy racing from job to job, they are less likely to do all the committee work required to keep a campus going (and in many places barred from doing it) and since there aren't enough tenure track people to do it, those tasks devolve to admins.

    "As this article put it so well, when admins do these tasks, they are less likely to call bullshit or keep things focused on serving students than faculty would be.

    "Consequently, at one of my schools, we have posters with 'mission statements' all over the place while admins are trying to cut class sections and jam more students into fewer classes.

    "They should have cut every fucking admin who worked on the stupid mission statement instead."

    https://washingtonmonthly.com/.../administrators-ate-my.../

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