Thursday, January 18, 2018

"Adjuncts should be the recipients of a greater proportion of university resources, with benefits, salaries, and respect that reflect the value of the work they do"-Sophie Culpepper



“American universities have become notorious for their price tags. In the
 last 20 years, private university costs have increased by 157 percent, while public universities have seen an even greater rise of 194 percent, bringing the national tuition average in the 2017-18 academic year to $26,010 for out-of-state public tuition and $41,727 for private universities (US News notes these figures are not adjusted for inflation, but emphasizes that the pace of growth of tuition and fees ‘are significantly outpacing inflation’).

“Such exorbitant figures do not even account for the majority of a university’s budget, but they still beg the question: how do universities spend their profits? The answer varies, but significant proportions are devoted to administration, admissions, and new buildings and sports facilities. In fact, in 2014, less than one-third of institutions’ budgets were dedicated to paying teachers. Now, an increasing systematic reliance on part-time, contingent-worker ‘adjunct’ professors is proving detrimental to the quality of education for students, not to mention the quality of life for these faculty members.

“Adjunct is a term encompassing a variety of university teaching roles below the rank and pay of full professors. Adjuncts have temporary contracts, renewed on a contingent basis. They constitute an ever-increasing proportion of faculty teaching students in higher education in an emerging modern trend. In 1969, nearly 80 percent of college-faculty positions were tenure-track (non-adjuncts). Today, the statistics have more than flipped, with more than three in four professors now non-tenure track. Adjuncts form 68.7 percent of the faculty at community colleges, 26.7 percent at public research universities and 40.2 percent at private (nonprofit) research universities.

“In 2015 62 percent of 467 adjuncts responding to a survey reported earning less the $20,000 per year. That is compared to an average salary for full-time professors of more than four times that. More than 60 percent of adjuncts hold a second job (48 percent held one other job and 17 percent two or more other jobs in 2009), which perhaps relates to the fact that their regular income keeps nearly a third of adjuncts at or below the poverty line; a second job can be viewed as the first distraction presented from devoting full attention to teaching students.

“Magnifying and adding to financial insecurity is an irregular teaching schedule, subject to last-minute changes-or outright cancellations. Adjunct professors can have their classes canceled as late as the day before they are scheduled to start, for reasons which may include the university’s whim or a lack of demand. The uncertainty involved with being an adjunct can even have repercussions for student learning; when student evaluations play a role in determining whether an adjunct will leave or stay, in many cases an adjunct is incentivized to challenge students less or grade more generously to avoid harsh evaluations. Adjuncts must walk the tightrope between avoiding offense to their students and the university in what they say in class and write in published work, teaching under twin pressures of job insecurity that can translate to curtailment of their academic freedom.

“Many anecdotes accompany these statisticsSome adjuncts sleep in their cars to save money, especially in areas where real estate is unaffordable—such as Silicon Valley. Conversely, adjunct Tanya Paperny commutes without a car, resulting in 13-hour days. Some universities limited the number of hours their adjuncts could work in order to avoid having to provide health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. D.C. In fact, this year, Robert Ryan of the University of South Florida died of cancer, and without employer-sponsored health insurance, despite having taught at the university for 20 years.

“Adjuncts need to be better paid, and to have better health care and job security benefits. In NLRB v. Yeshiva University, the US Supreme Court ruled in 1980 that given their ‘managerial’ status, tenure-track professors at private institutions cannot unionize. This does not apply to adjuncts, which itself indicates an acknowledgment of the gulf of status and job quality between professors and adjuncts. Unionizing has helped adjuncts, resulting in annual pay increases ranging from five to 20 percent, according to the executive director of the American Association of University Professors Julie Schmid.

“Adjuncts have been able to mobilize through the Service Employee International Union, the American Federation of Teachers, and even the United Autoworkers Union, which represents a variety of white-collar workers. Another group, the New Faculty Majority, has collaborated with unions as well as the Department of Labor in efforts to rectify concerns including hour and wage violations caused by universities stepping around the Affordable Care Act. President Maria Maisto looks to legislative reform as one of the most effective potential pathways to improving the lot of adjuncts. Republican control of Congress, however, creates obstacles to the kind of pro-labor reform she is interested in.

The Atlantic compared Uber and FedEx delivery drivers to adjunct professors in terms of the contingent nature of their work. Contingent workers across the board tend to have lower job satisfaction, lower pay per hour, and fewer benefits. They are most vulnerable to the latter two because of the room for them to be categorized as 1099 independent contractors rather than full W2 employees. Adjuncts, who might teach one course at six different colleges, can and do fall through the cracks for benefits; the difference is they are categorized and taxed as employees (not independent contractors), yet lack the benefits of full employees.

“This classification was challenged in the U.S. Tax Court in 2011, in WILLIAM EDWARD SCHRAMM AND STELLA LOGAN SHERROUSE v. COMMISSIONER OF INTERNAL REVENUE, but the case upheld adjuncts’ classification as full employees. If adjuncts were 1099 independent contractors, they would have to pay self-employment taxes on what they earned as adjuncts; so the court based its argument on the responsibility and actions of the university in regulating the classes taught by adjuncts as conflicting with any narrative of adjuncts as self-employed, citing ‘that the school determined the class schedule, managed registration of students, provided the web interface for the class, and bore all risk of profit and loss, along with the fact that the courses taught were part of the school’s primary business.’

“While labor regulators were able to press for Uber and FedEx drivers in California to be reclassified from independent contractors to employees instead, perhaps the best way to help adjuncts would be to pass legislation specifying and protecting specific adjunct professor benefits-or strengthening unions’ abilities to negotiate those benefits. Ideally, this would take place on a national level, for consistency, but promising examples of legislation in this spirit do already exist at the state level.

“In 2016, also in California, Assembly Bill 1690 passed to support unions in entering negotiations with universities on behalf of adjuncts, and guaranteed adjuncts at community colleges with six semesters of acceptable reviews a workload equal to that held in their sixth semester, creating one possible precedent for a way to improve economic stability and quality of life for adjuncts, benefitting their students as well.

“In order to pay adjunct professors more and give them better benefits, universities would have to spend a greater proportion of their funds on teaching. Right now, the investment of funds in amenities by universities are different instances of the same phenomenon; investments give them an edge in advertising themselves to student ‘consumers.’

“If universities are driven to spend more on buildings and sports equipment than their professors to attract students, this represents a fundamental distortion of the ethos of institutions of higher education. One way to recognize the importance of employment of professors as a marker of quality in education could be to have the number of adjuncts a university employs become a significant figure in the calculation of university rankings—which would make sense in any case, because the quality of education evidently is affected by the number of adjuncts.

“Though this would not help the majority of adjuncts in dire financial straits at community colleges and less prestigious schools, it could contribute to a key shift in mentality and a valuable increase in awareness, especially among students, of the situation of adjuncts.  

“There is another potential source to draw on for teaching funds. Between 1993 and 2009 the sheer number of university administrators increased by 60 percent, and median salaries for college presidents increased by seven percent between the 2013 and 2014 fiscal years, reaching $428,000. Both of these trends reflect another way in which higher education is being detrimentally forced into a capitalist, business-style mold; when boards of trustees at universities are dominated by businessmen, there is an expectation of a salary paralleling that of a business executive for top administrators. Why not dedicate a proportion of the swollen salaries of administrators to adjuncts?

“Adjunct positions may create flexibility for universities, and even for professors themselves with interest in only teaching one time, but the contemporary disproportionate reliance on them is damaging to the majority of that labor force, and to their students as well;  when larger numbers of students are taking classes with adjuncts or an institution employs many adjuncts, graduation rates are lower, according to the University of Southern California’s Delphi Project. 

“Adjuncts should be the recipients of a greater proportion of university resources, with benefits, salaries, and respect that reflect the value of the work they do. Economic recognition of this value would not only enhance adjuncts’ quality of life across the board, but the quality of universities themselves, and of the education for which undergraduates pay so very high a price.

For 61 articles about this injustice, click here.


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