“A self-ordained professor’s tongue
Too serious to fool
Spouted out that liberty
Is just equality in school
“Equality,” I spoke the word
As if a wedding vow.”
— Bob Dylan, “My Back Pages”
Leave it to the 2016 Nobel laureate to predict more than a half century ago academia’s delicate balance. I wrapped up in May teaching five courses and three independent studies at two colleges. The take-home pay puts me at the poverty level.
With adjuncts responsible for teaching about 70 percent of U.S. college and university classes, we make the biggest impact on classroom experiences. Part-time faculty members earn a small fraction of compensation that their full-time colleagues do for essentially the same work, and almost always no health benefits.
We’re cheap labor, a commodity who come a dime a dozen.
Adjuncts are considered as “contingent” workers, a term sadly accepted by the Association of American University Professors, rather than the essential motor that keeps campuses running. In the classic labor model, contingency suggests workers hired during a strike or lockout.
Last September, the union representing both the part- and full-time faculty of LIU Brooklyn held its ground after two weeks of being locked out without pay or health insurance. The administration tried to lower already-low adjunct salaries to make up for full timers’ negotiated increased compensation. Students complained loudly about classes being taught by unqualified replacements.
Unlike the LIU Brooklyn union, an Association of American University Professors rep at one of my two colleges doesn’t believe there’s strength in numbers if full-timers join forces with the part-timers, a posture clearly focused on protecting their turf — enabled by the administration. A contract clause at NYIT-Manhattan virtually prevents part-timer participation in the contract. Adjuncts must teach three consecutive years of 18 credits annually, which I did in 2015. However, the next spring I taught only one class; JOUR 101 was canceled two months before classes were to begin because the class was a few students short.
In my experience, adjuncts often prepare course plans, only to have courses rescinded the last minute and given to a full-timer whose classes don’t meet student quotas.
Why is it that adjuncts are expected to participate in open house events, without being paid for such time? Why is it that some adjuncts must wait for a full month of teaching in the classroom before receiving their first paycheck?
Unlike full-timers, adjuncts have to pay their own way to participate in out-of-town academic conferences, although we adjuncts teach the lion’s share of the classes.
As much as I admire the aims of the Faculty Forward Network, an activist group that is organizing adjuncts on some campuses, its demand of $15,000 per course — about five times the current pay scale — is ludicrous.
Graduate students are even organizing unions. Do adjuncts have such an inferiority complex to not fathom we needn’t put up with being exploited?
In my experience, tenure-track positions are an anachronism; full-timers who retire or unexpectedly die generally will not be replaced; and hiring these days is often governed by attrition. Of course, it’s the adjuncts who pick up those classes.
Something has to give. When will the part-timers ourselves — a sleeping giant — grasp it’s not us?
Larry Jaffee teaches journalism at St. Joseph’s College and the New York Institute of Technology.