Academic Gossip: Measuring Public Intellectuals and Adjunct Pay

For some reason, I'm in a very education policy sort of mood this morning. I got caught up reading the latest report on adjunct pay and benefits at the Chronicle. Some nuggets from the articles:

The overall average pay for adjuncts is $2,987 per three-credit course. Adjuncts at 16 colleges earn less than $1,000. 

They have a handy calculator where you can find the pay scales at local schools. I learned that the local community college pays $2,000 per class. Tenured faculty make 6 figures.

The IRS is going to force colleges to start providing health insurance to adjunct faculty. 

Inside Higher Ed has a huge article on adjuncts today. Still reading it. 

And over at Education Week, Rick Hess has a great chart ranking the public presence of education policy scholars. Who is the biggest public intellectual in that group? Diane Ravitch. It's a little insidery. I know most of those people, but they aren't household names. Still, I like that Hess's methodology and the implicit message which is that scholars SHOULD be reaching out to the public. It would be interesting to scale up his ranking system to look at all scholars. 

25 thoughts on “Academic Gossip: Measuring Public Intellectuals and Adjunct Pay

  1. Good news for adjuncts in public schools in PA: we are still negotiating our contract, but they have taken the proposal for a two tier system for paying adjuncts off the table. According to the current proposal they will still be paid as if they were a beginning tenure track instructor, pro-rated per class. That means more than 5,000 per class. Hopefully other faculty unions will stop worrying about the tenured class and work to achieve similar results for adjuncts. I believe–and hope–that many faculty would be willing to cede salary increases and accept paying more for benefits for the sake of basic humanity and fairness.
    I know it’s easy for me to say, because I have a tenured job in an institution that has this sort of contract, but I wonder at the tenured faculty who cooperate in this exploitation. Especially if they are politically liberal. They must have to deal with a fair amount of cognitive dissonance.

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  2. The IRS is going to force colleges to start providing health insurance to adjunct faculty.
    Only if they are determined to reasonably work more than 30 hours per week. An adjunct teaching 4 courses per semester at one college would certainly be covered. An adjunct teaching one course per semester at four colleges would not. What about an adjunct teaching 2 or 3 classes? That’s where “reasonable” comes in.
    I’m guessing you’ll see more limiting of adjunct faculty to two classes than you’ll see health insurance coverage.

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  3. “. . . but I wonder at the tenured faculty who cooperate in this exploitation. Especially if they are politically liberal. They must have to deal with a fair amount of cognitive dissonance.”
    Oh, I’ve not noticed any particular guilt. Mostly, folks argue against a re-distribution of resources on the grounds that they are underpaid, too; money should come from elsewhere to increase the pay/benefits of adjuncts as well as all faculty. Second, folks argue that they do more work, the work of administration and running the university and advising students ad research in addition to their teaching work (and, thus, are in a different position than adjuncts, i.e., they are doing a different job, so different pay makes sense).
    The arguments are not all wrong. For example, faculty doing research, especially externally funded research, are doing a different job from people who teach. Then, also, changing to a system where the value of non-teaching work (“service”) is discounted continues the administrationization of the university, away from administrators whose primary job is as faculty to paid managers who are doing a different job than the teaching/research faculty. Valuing adjunct work (presuming that there are no service responsibilities associated) the same as full-time faculty work validates that model of the university.
    I see inevitable changes coming to the system without easy answers about how to guide those changes for all the different stakeholders in the current university model (which include the public-supported creation of theoretical knowledge, practical knowledge, students being educated for their future professions, students being educated in a classical sense, medical research, faculty, adjuncts, graduate students, . . . . )

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  4. Running out the door… Have to be quick…
    But adjuncts do research, too. Most adjuncts are hoping to get a tenure track job at some point, so they are also doing research and publishing. But they aren’t getting paid for that time.
    Teaching four classes, even if you aren’t doing any research, is at least a 40 hour per week job. That’s full time work. They should be paid a living wage for that work. If they teach 10 classes per year at $2,000 per class, that’s $20,000. That’s just disgusting. Nobody should feel good about that.
    How clueless are T-T faculty? One woman told me about how she managed to get nearly two semesters off after having a kid, without even considering the fact that I did not get a cent of paid childcare leave, and the university didn’t even give me health insurance.

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  5. I’m not denying the cluelessness of T-T faculty (it is, mostly, the generic cluelessness of seeing your privileges being less than others and your challenges being greater).
    TT faculty in science would say their job is usually more like 60-80 hours, with whatever is left over after teaching being devoted to research, which is required for their job. In science, faculty are often required to solicit outside funds to pay for that time they devote to research (w/ 25% being the low version and 100% being the high version). And, although science (especially biomed science) might be more different, they wouldn’t see themselves doing the same job as a adjunct whose primary job is teaching in a humanities field. Thus, they don’t feel a lot of cognitive dissonance in faculty being hired to teach those subjects (and, though they may want to do research to further their careers, it is not a requirement of their adjuncting job, right?).
    I don’t think the solution is to support a university by paying adjuncts (and post-docs, the science equivalent) a non-living wage. But given the constrains of a budget where labor costs are the biggest part of the budget and where the budget is fixed, I think it’s unlikely that many TT faculty feel stoked to give up their own benefits & pay for others. They’ll lobby the NIH/Feds for more money, arguing that’s the only way to pay post-docs a living wage, or argue that there should be more tenure-track faculty, and feel that they’ve made the right argument. But, with budgets fixed, adjunctification continues apace.
    Where do I really see this going? not where I want to see it go, but where I see it going? My suspicion is continued adjunctification, followed by degradations of tenure, followed by labor forces at universities that are basically at will employment (i.e. no tenure), except for a a privileged few super stars (for whom tenure doesn’t really matter, ’cause they are mobile employees anyway). That scheme is playing out at different stages in every professional occupation. As the institutions weaves to their steady state, adjunct pay may improve, but only when adjuncts stop wanting the jobs enough (potentially as tenure track jobs become less valuable as a payoff in the tournament, or as they become less and less likely) to accept the non-living wage they are currently offered.

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  6. “In science, faculty are often required to solicit outside funds to pay for that time they devote to research (w/ 25% being the low version and 100% being the high version).”
    I know of a science department where they are cracking down on the non-researchers. It’s no longer possible for (tenure track?) professors to teach in the summer, because you are supposed to be doing research and getting grants, right? (This is a college that is in transition from pure teaching to teaching-and-research.)

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  7. re: Hours of T-T faculty. Well, those number vary widely and vary widely throughout a year. There are a few people who are working 60-80, 52 weeks per year, but that is not the norm. On the other end of the scale, some faculty tell me off the record that they work 20 hours per week. I know one person who used a sabattical to get a degree in another line of work. Probably, those both extremes average out somewhere in the middle.
    But that’s neither here nor there, because the topic of discussion is how T-T faculty can allow co-workers, which actually do most of the teaching in some universities, to get paid wages that are under the minimum wage. Even if the TT faculty thinks that they work 10 times as hard as the adjuncts, it would still not make the sub-minimum wage morally acceptable.
    if things really go down as bj predicts, then the TT faculty will have no allies when their own wages and benefits are under attack.

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  8. “It would be interesting to scale up his ranking system to look at all scholars.”
    You’ve pitched this to your editors already, right?

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  9. I wasn’t referring to tenure-track faculty. They are in their own version of hell and working crazy hard–harder than adjuncts. They deserve every cent they get. I wince every time I talk to my tenure-track colleague (I have only one in my subject).
    But tenured faculty generally don’t have to work that hard, either. They may want to because they desire promotion or want to move to a better institution or they just love their subject. Or they are good employees and don’t want to let anybody down. Some of them do work harder than adjuncts would; but then they ARE paid a lot more, because they are higher on the salary scale. Many, many work less hard. If they ever want to get a good job they HAVE to do research (how is that optional? In reality, at many institutions, it’s more optional for the tenured!) They are often newer to teaching and have to work harder at it, and then they usually have more students per class. The one thing they don’t have to do is service, I’ll grant you that, but then they have to travel all over God’s green earth to get to their classes and teach at times that aren’t organized so as to maximize time for research.
    I should add I am in the humanities, so I can’t really speak to science; but we have many more adjuncts in the humanities where I teach than we do in science. Also, I am not at all referring to prestigious institutions where there may be immense publication pressures; but most institutions are not prestigious, and as you can see from the Chronicle article, most prestigious institions pay adjuncts better anyway.

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  10. “how T-T faculty can allow co-workers, which actually do most of the teaching in some universities, to get paid wages that are under the minimum wage.”
    That assumes T-T faculty have any power over the finance end.

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  11. I think the question is more “how tenured faculty can allow co-workers . . . to get paid wages that are under the minimum wage.”
    “How can people be so heartless?
    How can people be so cruel?
    Specially people who care about evil,
    Who care about evil and social injustice . . .”

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  12. Well, tenured faculty don’t have any control over the financial running of the university. The faculty at my institution have spoken up again and again for raising adjunct pay, but we don’t hold the purse strings. I sit on the budget committee, but I am one member of 20 and we can only make recommendations. The power lies with the administration. As higher education gets cut to the bone, misery spreads downward. every year brings bigger threats to the budget so it gets hard to make room in the budget to increase adjunct pay. My institution has responded to adjubdtification by streamlining course offerings so as to reduce our reliance on adjuncts. We only staff about 20% of our classes with adjuncts right now.

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  13. “how T-T faculty can allow co-workers, which actually do most of the teaching in some universities, to get paid wages that are under the minimum wage.”
    That assumes T-T faculty have any power over the finance end.

    Exactly. I know that the wage system is unfair in academia, but the professors are not the ones in charge of that. Why attack tenured professors for having relatively better salaries and benefits, rather than administrators who directly control those salaries and benefits?

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  14. bj,
    I’m not sure I get the analogy. In the hard sciences, do faculty hire adjuncts out of their research budgets and set their salaries? If not, then it’s not really a similar case at all. At least where I am, and I think the general model, the university hires adjuncts and sets the salaries and benefits. We’ve gotten lots more benefits for adjuncts (which I am!) through grad student collective action and bargaining with admin. Tenured professors have been very supportive, but actually don’t actually set wages or even have any ability to influence the admin in this sense.
    The bigger issue is that faculty in general aren’t as powerful as administration, and generally not remunerated as well, given their work, and don’t really control overall processes in the universities the way admin does, but on this blog attacks on how universities run in terms of salary and benefits are always aimed at faculty, and never at administration. To me, not only does it seem mis-aimed, but it actually serves to mask actual power structures. Why it particularly rubs me the wrong way, even though I am an adjunct and not a tenured professor, is it seems akin to Tea Party attacks on public employees, as though our financial problems are due to teachers and firefighters being to greedy or getting too many benefits, rather than the actions of large banks and multinational corporations, and the politicians they pay to represent them.

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  15. Sorry, I don’t buy into the idea that faculty have no power whatsoever regarding adjuncts. They are the ones who do the hiring, for instance, so they can hire people who have been adjuncts at their institutions, but instead they consider adjuncts to be untouchables and they go out and hire those who are pure–who have never had to adjunct much, at least not more than a year or so after graduating, and certainly not at their institution.
    And they have no power over adjunct salaries? They might not as individuals, but as a group they could. They could through unions, where they have unions. But their unions do not always adequately represent the interests of adjuncts. See for instance http://chronicle.com/article/Unions-Confront-Fault-Lines/129836/
    They can also immediately move to shutter, or at least reduce in size, the graduate programs that exist purely so that they can teach at the graduate level. It is the existence of those graduate programs that produces those adjuncts that are then exploited.

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  16. I’m happy to hold administrators responsible as well, and also Boards of Trustees, and chancellors, and governors, and voters too, but none of that absolves the faculty from responsibility. Many workers are powerless, and can be fired at will, but tenured faculty are not among them.

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  17. “Sorry, I don’t buy into the idea that faculty have no power whatsoever regarding adjuncts.”
    Well, no one said that, precisely. Your point about hiring adjuncts to full-time positions is a good one, however. I’ve been a victim of that “well, she was an adjunct” thinking at a place I worked and left as a result even though I could happily have stayed there forever.

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  18. Yes, I know my comments are strongly leaning in one direction, but I agree with you, Lisa V. I do think faculty should be held responsible for not wanting to hire adjuncts, or for propping up unsustainable grad programs, or not being willing to go to bat for adjuncts or help with collective organizing.
    When I write that they don’t control the hiring, what I meant is by and large faculty have little control over the adjunct-ization of a university, or the wages and benefits for adjuncts. That adjuncts are paid poorly is a separate (although related) issue to whether adjuncts can get hired as TT faculty somewhere. I think it’s related in that there’s danger of a caste system, where there’s a class of adjuncts and a class of professors, which leads adjuncts being treated less like professors and more exploitation. How they’re different issues is that the grad student getting hired over the adjunct is not fundamentally about remuneration for the adjunct.
    Maybe it got lost, but my larger point is that while faculty has some responsibility, the lion’s share rests with administration and also legislatures, for public universities. Why should we be more outraged that a chaired professor makes low 6 figures than a university president makes 7? Sky-rocketing top admin salaries, the increasing corporatization of the university, and the unwillingness of the public to fund education are all far more responsible for creating a system of low paid adjuncts than a tenured faculty member is. Attacking professors for having too cushy jobs is actually working in service of these processes, as it lends support for those forces who want to dismantle the current system and turn everyone into adjuncts.

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  19. From Michael Berube’s latest MLA speech:
    “The deprofessionalization of the professoriat cannot be reversed overnight; it has been a forty-year process that has accelerated in the last fifteen years. But to return to where I started, I hope that this will have been the year when that process became a truth universally acknowledged—and universally resisted. And if you have tenure, and your colleagues among the contingent faculty want to undertake more dramatic measures, including inter- or intra-institutional unionization, I hope you will support them, precisely because you enjoy the job security they lack and need. The working conditions of college faculty are ultimately the learning conditions for college students. If you got here because you love what you do—or even if you are just mildly happy to have a decent job—you owe it to your colleagues, to your profession, to your students, and even to yourself to try to see to it that each and every one of us can conduct our professional work with a measure of professional dignity.”

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  20. I think we should be careful about painting all tenure-track and tenured faculty with a broad brush here. As chair of my department, I have gone to the mat on many occasions with my dean to protect my adjuncts. I always make sure to slot classes first for my longest serving adjuncts, so they can keep their benefits (that’s right – we pay all adjuncts who teach two classes per semester benefits, in large part due to the fact that they’re part of our union). They are invited to all of our department meetings to participate in decision-making, although understandably, they don’t always come as some hav either jobs. I guess that’s why sometimes my hackles get raised during these debates – many of us are doing the best we can with the limited powers we have. Some faculty don’t care, but some do, and I hope we can focus less on pointing finger and more on figuring out how to improve the situation.

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  21. “The deprofessionalization of the professoriat cannot be reversed overnight; it has been a forty-year process that has accelerated in the last fifteen years.”
    Here, as elsewhere, beware “good old days thinking.”
    There’s a very good novel by Nabokov entitled “Pnin,” which is about a Russian emigre working at an American college (a hybrid of Wellesley and Cornell) in the 1950s. Nabokov was not impressed with the academic caliber of the American college. And isn’t it true that American universities have only relatively recently become a big deal? That’s very much a post-WWII phenomenon.
    Also, professors used to be scruffy barely middle class people, making barely enough to support a family on, if that (that’s the impression one gets from reading about the early 20th century and from personal reminiscences). Those bad jobs still exist (I know of a young father of a growing family that recently “landed” a $30k a year tenure track job), but what’s different is that there are also good jobs. It is certainly a question in what way the mix has changed over the past century, but if there was a golden age of both abundant, good-paying academic jobs and high academic achievement, that golden age was VERY short-lived.

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  22. Thanks, Shannon, for doing all that. I’m glad that you piped up to tell us what you’re doing and the benefits that are offered at your school. Members of the union? Benefits? Invited to faculty meetings? That’s awesome. Your school and you should get lots of attention, because it is just not happening elsewhere. Those articles in the Chronicle and Inside Higher Ed show that adjuncts are not getting benefits or living wages at most schools.
    I don’t want to be the Guilt Trip Police. I know that one individual can’t change the system. But faculty have to stand together and stop the exploitation in their midst.

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  23. The average adjunct in the US teaching four classes a semester is still earning a little more than me in total salary. I don’t know how to factor in benefits exactly. I have free access to doctors, free medicine if it is carried at the state hospital pharmacy, and free housing. So on an international scale and academics are now an internationally traded commodity the salary of adjuncts does not look too bad. But, the lack of benefits could make it unattractive. Especially, if housing ate up a big chunk of your income. It is tenured professors that are much richer in the US. A full professor here will max out at about $50,000 a year in total cash compensation.

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