Response to Responses

Response to Responses

Adjunct faculty abuse is, in some small ways, like global warming. Some folks have a vested interest in denying its existence. If you see a blog or website entry on this phenomenon, watch the comments sections: there are a few comments repeated over and over that need to be addressed in a forum bigger than a comments section.

One, repeated in many forms, is this one: if you don’t like it, just work somewhere else.

Other ways this argument is made include “adjunct faculty know what they are getting into,” “this is supposed to be a part-time job,” and “the college never made any promises these jobs would lead to full-time work.” This is the whole premise of a Los Angeles Times article.

Here’s the thing: there aren’t any other jobs. Full-time jobs across the board are on the decline. Want to be a college professor? When I was growing up, this was an esteemed and respected profession. But the point of the articles on adjunct abuse is that real jobs in education are on the decline, gradually replacing education professionals with part-timers of limited vested interest who we can treat as amateurs. And if this chases you out of the field, bear in mind that virtually all the job growth since 2008 in the US has been in low-wage occupations.

So your PhD or PsyD not only does not guarantee you a job in academics (and it shouldn’t) but it doesn’t even guarantee you a shot at such a job, or even really at anything but waiter or cashier. For every job available in our country, there are three job seekers. This isn’t to say that three people apply for each job, because each job seeker applies for multiple jobs; it is to say that competition for work has never been so fierce.

It is a buyer’s market right now. Employers can afford to be extremely selective and to offer unfair compensation. This argument is just another variation of blaming the victim.

Next on the list is this: Adjuncts don’t work as hard as full-time faculty.

Variants are this: if you want the pay of a tenured professor, work as hard as a tenured professor; full-time staff do a lot more than teach class and then leave; and, I don’t know how you are calculating that rate of pay when adjuncts just teach and leave.

Ask any adjunct. Chances are, they would be delighted to have the chance to work as hard as any full-time faculty. Harder, because we are struggling to escape a poverty that the real professionals do not have to endure. Again, the jobs just are not there. Adjuncts have not chosen part-time work because it is an ideal option, but because it is the best option in a range of bad options. Sure, some folks are perfectly content to adjunct as an adjunct to their real, bill-paying job. This does not make it fair to switch the majority of a workforce from professional to contingent.

Another common response: Adjuncts get lots of fringe benefits.

Here’s the idea: I’m a researcher and a writer, seeking lots of peer-reviewed journal coverage. To get my research done, I work part-time at a university where I get access to all their online journals and other facilities, then I can do my research work basically on the school’s dime.

The truth is, adjuncts get no benefits in terms of healthcare or retirement or job security. We are contingent, meaning we can be fired for no reason or, worse, for insidious reasons (such as advocating, unionizing, promoting other schools, etc.). We generally have access to library databases—how could we do our jobs without these? But how many adjunct faculty are actually working just for the benefits? I’ve known some folks who worked at clothing retailers to build their professional wardrobes. I’ve never met a teacher who taught for the joy of research databases.

Let’s look at this rationally for slightly longer than the assertion deserves. I could get access to adequate library databases for the cost of an APA membership. That’s about $150. Does it make good sense to take a job that is contingent, pays next to nothing (considering your higher education loans and professional training), offers no opportunity for advancement, and generally is unpredictable such that working other jobs at the same time is extremely difficult? For a benefit of $150?

This is akin to the claims that welfare recipients are milking the system or that paying unemployment benefits reduces the incentive to work. Adjuncts are not riding the gravy train home every night, just trying to make a living. We have faith in a system that is treating us faithlessly, that if we work hard for a few years our experience and loyalty will be dignified with full-time, professional work.

Another: The cost is too high.

One commenter estimates it would take a 30-40% increase in tuition rates to pay for all the faculty needed to keep the system working. Seems like pretty simple math: increase faculty pay by 30-40%, increase tuition that much to cover it.

But things are more complicated than this. First, as more poor people start using the system, the rates at which we subsidize public education decreases. Maybe a coincidence, maybe not. But the community college system is the front line in the fight for equal opportunity. While costs for administration increase steadily—pay for higher executives and their offices, ever-increasing administrative positions—pay for faculty steadily declines as we are all pushed into these contingent positions.

So the first step is to restore state funding for education. The second is to wonder whether the private, for-profit model of education is best suited for the public and non-profit sector. Finally, if tuition needs to go up to fairly pay faculty, it needs to go up.

Why? First, because how can we be on the front lines of equal opportunity and simultaneously exploit labor? Is this game worth the candle? Second, if we undervalue education, the whole system is unsustainable. That is, why pay for a community college education so that you can work at Wal-Mart for $8 an hour? Why get an advanced degree so you can make $17K a year teaching community college? Once people start to see they cannot get ahead even with an education, why would they continue to pursue an education?

People are indeed slow to respond to moral economic pressures. People still shop at Wal-Mart because it is all they can afford, and they perceive they can save a lot of money, even when they are aware of the business and hiring practices that are exploitive of labor. McDonalds still does pretty good business despite awareness of employment conditions and the health consequences of fast food. However, I know plenty of folks who no longer shop at Wal-Mart. I also know some who are refusing to support their alma mater because of their school’s hiring practices. What if everyone knew how their faculty was paid—would this affect one’s choice of where to go to school? Maybe. At least for those who could afford to choose.

What you can do:
Advocate and agitate, especially if you are full-time or tenured faculty yourself. Stop voting to add part-time positions. Vote and advocate to restore budget dollars stripped from higher education. And don’t think of this as strictly a university or community college problem. This is a cultural problem that won’t be solved by blaming the victims.

— Jason Dias

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