Academic precariat: How is it possible to hide 75 percent of professors in the United States?
from David Ruccio
How is it possible to hide 75 percent of professors in the United States?
It seems crazy but that’s what happens until someone like Sarah Kendzior [ht: dl & db] steps forward and describes what it’s like to be an adjunct professor living below the poverty line in the U.S. system of higher education.
In most professions, salaries below the poverty line would be cause for alarm. In academia, they are treated as a source of gratitude. Volunteerism is par for the course – literally. Teaching is touted as a “calling”, with compensation an afterthought. One American research university offers its PhD students a salary of $1000 per semester for the “opportunity” to design and teach a course for undergraduates, who are each paying about $50,000 in tuition. The university calls this position “Senior Teaching Assistant” because paying an instructor so far below minimum wage is probably illegal.
But her concern is not just with adjunct professors. It’s a much larger issue:
It may be hard to summon sympathy for people who walk willingly into such working conditions. “Bart, don’t make fun of grad students,” Marge told her son on an oft-quoted episode of The Simpsons . “They just made a terrible life choice.”
But all Americans should be concerned about adjuncts, and not only because adjuncts are the ones teaching our youth. The adjunct problem is emblematic of broader trends in American employment: the end of higher education as a means to prosperity, and the severing of opportunity to all but the most privileged.
The fact is, according to the Coalition on the Academic Workforce, of the nearly 1.8 million faculty members and instructors who made up the 2009 instructional workforce in degree-granting two- and four-year institutions of higher education in the United States, more than 1.3 million (75.5%) were employed in contingent positions off the tenure track, either as part-time or adjunct faculty members, full-time non-tenure-track faculty members, or graduate student teaching assistants.
Here are some of the results from its 2010 survey:
- The median pay per course, standardized to a three-credit course, was $2,700 in fall 2010 and ranged in the aggregate from a low of $2,235 at two-year colleges to a high of $3,400 at four- year doctoral or research universities. While compensation levels varied most consistently by type of institution, part-time faculty respondents report low compensation rates per course across all institutional categories.
- Professional support for part-time faculty members’ work outside the classroom and inclusion in academic decision making was minimal.
- Part-time teaching is not necessarily temporary employment, and those teaching part-time do not necessarily prefer a part-time to a full-time position. Over 80% of respondents reported teaching part-time for more than three years, and over half for more than six years. Further- more, over three-quarters of respondents said they have sought, are now seeking, or will be seeking a full-time tenure-track position, and nearly three-quarters said they would definitely or probably accept a full-time tenure-track position at the institution at which they were currently teaching if such a position were offered.
The academic precariat continues to grow, as both a condition and a canary-in-the-coal-mine sign of the rise of the new corporate university.