More about adjuncts

by Michael Bérubé on February 8, 2012

So my first month as president of the Modern Language Association (MLA) has turned out to be surprisingly eventful. After receiving my very own gavel with my name on it and being given access to the nuclear codes,** I returned home from the convention in Seattle to write the president’s welcome letter, the letter announcing the theme for the 2013 convention in Boston, and my first (of four) newsletter columns (soon to be found in an MLA Newsletter near you, and of course on the MLA Web site). I then began the rigorous training regimen required for chairing the two-day meetings of the MLA Executive Council (February, May, October), which includes drinking egg-white smoothies and punching enormous hanging pieces of tofu in the MLA’s icy soy locker.

Then in mid-January, Executive Director Rosemary Feal and I decided I should attend the January 28 summit meeting of the New Faculty Majority, whose tweets I had been following on the Twitter machine. (I finally activated my account. Yes, I have a Twitter account. But I’m still not joining Facebook, now more than ever.) Washington, DC is one of the few places I can visit on short notice from my remote mountain lair, and the NFM is a group Rosemary and I want to work with during my presidential year and beyond—trying to get the US higher education apparatus (starting with the American Association of Colleges and Universities) to take seriously, and to ameliorate, the working conditions of non-tenure-track (NTT) faculty. So attending the summit, together with MLA Director of Research David Laurence, made all kinds of sense.

I reported on the summit for Inside Higher Ed, and then posted a longer (though not Holbonian—merely 2500 words) director’s cut on the MLA site. Rosemary and I then Tweeted these things to the Twitterati.

And here’s where things get interesting.

In the longer version of my essay, I had noted that the MLA publishes recommendations for per-course compensation for NTT faculty. This comes as no surprise to me; I remember very well when the Delegate Assembly authorized those recommendations over ten years ago, and when I was a member (and then chair) of the MLA’s Committee on Academic Freedom and Professional Rights and Responsibilities, I helped to update them, as we do each year. Indeed, one year we had a spirited discussion over whether our recommendations were realistic. You’re about to see why.

Apparently, few people—even among the MLA membership—know about these recommendations. So here they are, in relevant part:

Following a review of best practices in various institutions, the MLA recommends minimum compensation for 2011–12 of $6,800 for a standard 3-credit-hour semester course or $4,530 for a standard 3-credit-hour quarter or trimester course. These recommendations are based on a full-time load of 3 courses per semester (6 per year) or 3 courses per quarter or trimester (9 per year); annual full-time equivalent thus falls in a range of $40,770 to $40,800.

University of Georgia writing instructor Josh Boldt, who also attended the NFM summit, responded on his blog “Copy and Paste,” from which I will proceed to copy and paste:

Almost $7K per course! Most adjuncts have never seen anything close to that figure. I personally have taught at schools that pay right at or below $2000 maximum per course. Feel free to do the math on that one (Hint: a 5/5 pays $20,000 annually). You can be a terrible human being and still recognize that a full-time teacher should earn much more than that. Just in case you’re not familiar with the usual procedure, full-time professors generally teach much less than 10 courses per year. Some teach as few as three. The MLA’s recommendation is based on the assumption of a 3/3 teaching load, which sounds about perfect. I would venture to say most adjuncts would agree. Three courses per semester is ideal because it allows teaching to be the primary focus (as it should be), and it also permits some time for research and professional development. So, about $40,000 a year. That isn’t too much to ask I don’t think. Especially considering all adjuncts have advanced degrees in their fields.

It is not too much to ask. We think it’s the bare minimum: it certainly doesn’t constitute making a comfortable living. It merely allows NTT faculty a standard of living a bit higher than the one Boldt references later on in this post, in which college professors “eat Ramen noodles for dinner, and worry about whether or not they have enough gas in the tank to coast to work the rest of the week.”

The problem, of course, is that most NTT positions don’t offer this bare minimum. As I pointed out in the longer version of my NFM report, only 7% of the departments surveyed by the MLA offered per-course wages of $6,800 or more. I didn’t add—but I will now—that the vast majority of surveyed departments offered per-course wages somewhere between $2,500 and $6,800. And a good number of institutions paid less than $2,500.

“Wait a second,” you say. “What do you mean, ‘somewhere between $2,500 and $6,800’? That’s quite a range, isn’t it?” Yes it is. On the high end, up around $5,000 – $6,500, it’s almost like making a decent living. On the low end, it’s basically Ramenland. So we’re working on refining and updating and disaggregating the data, which is one of the many things David Laurence does as Director of Research.

But while we’re doing that, as Tedra has noted below, Boldt went ahead and did something pretty brilliant: he has begun crowdsourcing the data on NTT faculty in a Google doc. He writes:

Let’s combine forces and establish which schools are doing good work, and which are doing bad. Fill in as much information as you feel comfortable doing, and be sure to tweet this document and share it via Facebook, email, listserv, or anywhere else you can think of.

At the summit, we discussed the idea of creating a “Hall of Fame” of the best universities to work for. I would like to see hundreds of schools get added to this list. Eventually, faculty treatment might even become a standard in the accreditation process. This is a good start. If you have current information on the compensation practices for a school, check out the document and add it to the list.

So, what Josh and Tedra said: let’s combine forces. Please spread the word far and wide among the academic blogs, if you haven’t already.

For our part, the MLA will be following Josh’s survey with great interest; we have been working on our own data-gathering model for thousands of institutions, which connects to our work on the Coalition on the Academic Workforce survey project. As I type, we’re gathering current, institution-level data about per-course salaries and selected benefits—which is one of the several data-collection projects carried out by the MLA’s Office of Research and the IT department. (Just for those of you who think the MLA is basically an annual convention, or perhaps a citation style.) I’ll be sure to let everyone know when ours is ready to roll out. In the meantime, thanks to Josh Boldt for taking the initiative on this.

______

** Only one of these improbable things is true.

 

{ 93 comments }

1

SB 02.08.12 at 6:37 pm

Here’s an issue and I wonder if it might skew the data: Adjuncts are very much in competition with one another for courses. This means that adjuncts making toward the higher range may be reluctant to post data for fear of alerting competitors to their decent pay. At some universities, seniority is a factor and a new adjunct couldn’t bump out a senior adjunct. I wonder even there if adjuncts prefer not to advertise simply because the more people involved in an adjunct pool, the more mouths to feed, in a certain respect. (This depends on how adjunct jobs are allocated in a department. But there can be a significant pressure on those who allocate courses to feed all the mouths a little bit and this means fewer courses for others.)

Unionization has a significant effect on adjunct pay, I imagine. At least I hope that is true. It is a shame that more universities didn’t unionize when unions were at their peak strength and the NLRB was not kowtowing to industry and protections weren’t gutted. If there is any chance whatsoever to unionize, I urge adjuncts to consider this route.

2

Marc 02.08.12 at 6:39 pm

Is there a place where you can compare the demographics of tenured and adjunct professors? In particular, to what degree is this a 4-year as opposed to a 2-year (community) college phenomenon?

3

ben w 02.08.12 at 6:49 pm

This isn’t directly relevant to this post, but I would like to take time to register my utter flabbergastedness on reading the following, from the IHE post: “To scattered applause, she insisted that she would not be able to hire English professors at adjunct wages if there weren’t so many English Ph.D.s glutting the market.”

People applauded that? Is her position really and truly “by being exploitable, you leave me no choice but to exploit you”? (Forget the inaccuracy of the statement as regards Ph.D.s vs. MAs.)

More directly on topic: once this data is compiled, what will the MLA do with it? Censure the institutions that pay a pittance? Does the MLA do censures at all?

4

marcel 02.08.12 at 6:52 pm

Washington, DC is one of the few places I can visit on short notice from my remote mountain lair

How do you do this? Rafting down the Potomac? Have you met anyone like the Duke or the Dauphin? Also, how do you get home, then.

5

Dave 02.08.12 at 6:52 pm

These recommendations are impressive. I’m adjuncting now, and if I were making that kind of money, I would be less inclined to entertain frequent homicidal thoughts toward full-time faculty.

Obviously, though, the pressing question this will raise for most administrators and faculty members is: But if we can’t shit all over adjuncts, who can we shit all over?

6

Sherri 02.08.12 at 7:15 pm

I’d just like to add my appreciation for your efforts as the parent of a high school junior doing the college search. I’d like to be able to know which institutions are paying lousy wages with my tuition dollars.

7

J. Otto Pohl 02.08.12 at 7:18 pm

Hey what is with the anti-Ramen noodle spiel? Ramen noodles are great. I like them with shito sauce, ketchup, and tomato paste. They are an ideal cheap and easy food and you can find them anywhere in the world. They are very popular here which kind of surprised me at first. Making enough money teaching to actually be able to afford to buy Ramen noodles was a huge step up for me.

8

Substance McGravitas 02.08.12 at 7:21 pm

Hey what is with the anti-Ramen noodle spiel?

Was there one?

9

Tedra Osell 02.08.12 at 7:22 pm

Michael, your presidency gives me hope.

10

Mitchell Freedman 02.08.12 at 7:33 pm

My uncle was president of the American Library Assn. from 2002-2003. He created a task force on promoting salaries for librarians. It has been reasonably successful in dire economic times for public employees in general. If you wish, please let me know if you’d like to speak with him. He can help MLA form a task force to help adjuncts.

It is a double shame that such highly educated people are making less than flipping burgers when one does the math of the time spent.

11

J. Otto Pohl 02.08.12 at 7:39 pm

Substance:

There was a clear implication that college instructors should not be eating Ramen noodles, but more expensive food as if eating cheap food was somehow shameful in itself. I say I will continue to eat Ramen even if I ever do make $40,000 a year.

12

christian_h 02.08.12 at 7:44 pm

Thanks Michael (and CT in general) for taking on this issue. Just a question for those who are adjuncts: I have always argued with everyone who would listen that we should not really have adjuncts paid by the course, but rather on full time (if maybe NTT) contracts with benefits and stuff. Is this something that would be preferable (but may be unrealistic to gain at this time) or is this something that does not fit with the life plans of actual adjuncts out there?

13

ben w 02.08.12 at 7:49 pm

There was a clear implication that college instructors should not have to eat Ramen noodles.

14

Tedra Osell 02.08.12 at 7:56 pm

Ramen noodles are objectively gross.

15

Barry 02.08.12 at 7:57 pm

J. Otto Pohl: “Making enough money teaching to actually be able to afford to buy Ramen noodles was a huge step up for me.”

Oh, what I would have given for not enough money to afford Ramen! I could only look longingly at the empty packages, as I rummaged through the dumpster.

16

AcademicLurker 02.08.12 at 8:01 pm

“Making enough money teaching to actually be able to afford to buy Ramen noodles was a huge step up for me.”

Oh, what I would have given for not enough money to afford Ramen! I could only look longingly at the empty packages, as I rummaged through the dumpster.

Obligatory.

17

Stacey Donohue 02.08.12 at 8:02 pm

The increasing “adjunctification” of our faculty is of great concern to me as a tenured faculty member for many, many reasons, but most importantly because of the exploitation of adjunct/part time faculty.

But my comment here is just to echo Marc’s question, one that hasn’t come up explicitly yet in the various online and Twitter discussions I’ve been reading recently.

Marc asks if there are studies out there about the very real distinctions between NTT faculty at community colleges vs. universities. While I greatly admire Josh Boldt’s effort to compile information nationally (and have encouraged NTT faculty at my community college to post), in the portion of his post copied here, he makes a generalization that is simply not true at community colleges: “Just in case you’re not familiar with the usual procedure, full-time professors generally teach much less than 10 courses per year. Some teach as few as three.” Tenured full timers at community colleges “do” teach 10 courses a year (or more) in addition to professional development work, and college and community service. Another difference is that, at least at my institution, most NTT faculty do not have a Ph.D., and many do not have an M.A.: as a result, the latter NTT faculty can only teach developmental writing courses. Since we are in a location far from any graduate students, we do not have graduate students teaching on the NTT.

I believe David Laurence at the MLA has some statistics for English/Foreign Language NTT faculty demographics, and Boldt’s project will provide even more information. But as the MLA works toward promoting awareness of and addressing this issue, it would be wise to keep in mind the distinctions between institutions.

18

Bill Benzon 02.08.12 at 8:03 pm

By way of comparison, the New York Hotel Trades Council A.F.L.-C.I.O. has just negotiated a seven-year contract with the Hotel Association of New York that would raise the pay of a typical housekeeper to $59,823 per year, from $46,337 today, over seven years.

19

MPAVictoria 02.08.12 at 8:04 pm

“Oh, what I would have given for not enough money to afford Ramen! I could only look longingly at the empty packages, as I rummaged through the dumpster.”

Dumpster? Luxury! Sheer Luxury! Oh how I used to dream of being able to rummage through a dumpster! In my day we had to eat the remains of rancid animals left by the side of the road and we were glad to have it.

20

StevenAttewell 02.08.12 at 8:10 pm

Unionization —> hiring halls —> de-casualization or unionization —> increased base pay and long-term contractual rights —> decasualization are really the only ways this gets fixed.

21

LFC 02.08.12 at 8:47 pm

There’s at least one adjunct unionization vote underway right now.

22

rm 02.08.12 at 8:50 pm

If I had a million dollars
We wouldn’t have to eat Kraft Dinner
But we would eat Kraft Dinner!
Of course we would, we’d just eat more
And buy really expensive ketchups with it . . .
That’s right, all the fanciest ke… dijon ketchups!

——————————————-

At my institution, when we instituted NTT lectureships that were full-time with benefits (still not making 40K, though), there was some discussion about the moral hazard of admitting that we have second-class professors, versus the obvious moral abomination of exploiting teachers’ labor at a few thousand a course with no benefits. Maybe, some thought aloud, we should keep heightening the contradictions until the Universities feel shame and reform their ways. Of course, now we have second-class professors (who are just as good as the TTs) and also a lot of adjuncts.

23

js. 02.08.12 at 8:51 pm

christian_h:

I’m in this position now: NNT full time appt. One thing that’s certainly better is that the benefits are automatically better because of the FTE designation (I’m not sure if this is specific to my institution, but I’d think not). Also, I think the pay is often better with FTE appointments, though I’m not sure if this is just a matter of convention (though, in this case, it’s still lower than the MLA recommendations!)

24

William Timberman 02.08.12 at 9:02 pm

I’m thinking autoworkers — or airline pilots, if you must have a professional example. Once the people paying salaries discover that they can get away with implementing piecework, part-time, no benefits, ad nauseam, for one class of employee, it’s kinda hard to stop them implementing it for everyone, not to mention justifying it with all the usual sophistry. Unless, of course, you can threaten their interests in some significant way — and keep from getting beaten up by their police forces while you’re doing it.

25

Michael Bérubé 02.08.12 at 9:30 pm

SB @ 1 and Marc @ 2, I think I can answer your questions together. (And they are very good questions.) The NTT labor pool is overwhelmingly a local labor market; only where there are very high concentrations of universities (iow, cities) would adjuncts be competing with each other directly. And as I point out in the OP @ MLA/IHE, it’s not so much a 4-year v. 2-year thing as a PhD v. MA thing: 65.2 percent of non-tenure-track faculty members hold the M.A. as their highest degree — 57.3 percent in four-year institutions, 76.2 percent in two-year institutions.

Which is why it was so distressing to hear people applaud the idea that the supply of PhDs is to blame for the working conditions of NTT faculty. It’s a factor, but not a major one.

ben w @ 3, neither the MLA nor any other disciplinary association does censures — only the AAUP does, because only the AAUP has investigative teams that actually visit campuses and interview people and pore over documents. But we’re hoping that sufficiently comprehensive data will speak for themselves.

Mitchell @ 10, thanks — drop me a line and let’s talk.

And I will not weigh in on the Great Ramen Debate unnoodling before us, except to say that I have six Ramen packets in the pantry (Jamie’s idea). As for Marcel @ 4, you should be aware that we have a saying around here: State College is equally inaccessible from all directions. Our airport has three air carriers flying to three destinations — Philly, Detroit, DC. (In recent years we have lost Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and Atlanta.) Amtrak does not run here either, and MLA HQ is in NYC, so in two weeks I will be the first MLA president in the history of the association to take the MegaBus to an Executive Council meeting.

Just for the record, I like MegaBus. It is astonishing how much it has changed life around here. Sort of like Ramen noodles, only with WiFi.

Back to serious business: Christian @ 12. I think your suggestion speaks to an important distinction in NTT labor (certainly at Penn State, and we’re not alone). Most of our NTT faculty are “Fixed-Term 1″: they are not paid by the course; they have multi-year contracts; and they accrue seniority up to the rank of “senior lecturer.” A much smaller number are Fixed-Term 2, which corresponds to what we usually think of as “adjuncts” proper — i.e., people hired on one-year contracts. So despite this post’s title, I prefer to speak of faculty off the tenure track as NTT faculty, and argue that they be put on multi-year contracts with rights of due process and roles in institutional governance at the minimum.

And thanks, Tedra — for the vote of confidence, and for posting about Josh Boldt’s crowdsourcing initiative while I while still composing this here post yesterday.

26

Patty 02.08.12 at 9:59 pm

Just a note — in Minnesota, the 2 year college contract mandates some good things — and could be used as a template for change –

1) If an instructor teaches more than 4 (it may be 6 or more) semester credits, they are put on the same pay scale as the full-time unlimited faculty (as close as we have to tenure..). So, when my part-time colleagues teach a course it costs the college as much for them to teach it as it would if I taught it.

2) Benefits, health insurance the most important among them, is provided if you are on the pay scale. The institution pays a portion in relationship to your load. So, if you have 4 courses where 5 is considered full-time, then the college pays 80% of your health insurance.

3) NTT faculty who are appointed to 6 consecutive “full” appointments become full-time unlimited faculty. This is good and bad, as it can create a job for someone who has earned it. It also motivates administrators to spread course assignments to more faculty in order to avoid having a full-time unlimited person they did not get to have a search for.

27

ben w 02.08.12 at 10:20 pm

Bérubé: “neither the MLA nor any other disciplinary association does censures”

The APA does censures.

28

mw 02.08.12 at 10:28 pm

It seems to me that the real problem here is the adjunct ‘glut’ and what it means. Because what I think it means is that there are so, so many people out there for whom a ramen-level adjunct position is, unfortunately, still their best option — either because they’ve been so thoroughly convinced that the academic life is the only one worth living or because their training has left them unsuited for any other work that’s both engaging and pays decently.

Raising the wages of adjuncts through collective action can’t possibly solve the problem of far fewer academic positions than PhDs who want them (and who apparently don’t have other attractive options). On the other hand, if PhD programs also prepared their students for other kinds of rewarding, meaningful work, then the exploitation problem would be resolved without collective action simply because newly-minted PhD’s would have other promising career options and universities would have to pay more to attract and retain good adjuncts.

29

geo 02.08.12 at 10:32 pm

I’m still not joining Facebook

My hero!

30

Michael Bérubé 02.08.12 at 10:41 pm

The APA does censures.

I stand corrected! How do they do ‘em? The MLA has passed resolutions criticizing various institutions in the past, but never a formal censure.

31

Donald A. Coffin 02.08.12 at 10:51 pm

On the unionization option: The Labor-Management Relations Act (federal labor law) does not apply to state colleges/universities (2 or 4 year), which are under state labor laws. So you need to know your state labor law.

And the NLRB has fairly consistently ruled that (full-time) faculty in private schools are not covered by the Act (the Yeshiva case), because many of their responsibilities involve “management” duties. I don’t know of a recent case that applies to adjunct faculty in private colleges/universities.

32

Andrew Goldstone 02.08.12 at 11:09 pm

I have been hoping for a while now that when Michael Bérubé, the author of "The Blessed of the Earth," became MLA president he would use the bully pulpit to address the casualization of academic labor. I am glad to see it.

But the prospect of Bérubé and MLA basically endorsing the New Faculty Majority and their way of framing the issue of casualization is distressing to me. I do admire the NFM’s efforts to speak for the full range of adjuncts, at all kinds of institutions, and their commitment to spelling out in the most practical terms what kinds of measures would improve working conditions for NTT faculty. But the statement Bérubé quotes at the end of his IHE/MLA piece, which he implicitly endorses, suggesting that the real hope is that such improved conditions would make adjunct hiring "less attractive" for administrators, strikes me as indicative of a real weakness in the NFM program as a strategy for attacking casualization. NFM is programmatically unconcerned to discuss the erosion of tenure; they are not interested in seeing the proportion of tenured positions increased but in improving the conditions of the non-tenurable. Well and good for their specific advocacy, maybe, but MLA under Bérubé could and should do better. The discussion of adjunct compensation, benefits, and status has to be only one part of a concerted, affirmative program of pressure on government and on academic institutions to reverse the dismantling of the tenure track. Limits to the proportion of NTT faculty doing the teaching at a given institution need to be on the table. So does a frank discussion of what kinds of redistributions of resources might make the reexpansion of tenure possible across the higher-education system.

33

phosphorious 02.08.12 at 11:32 pm

** Only one of these improbable things is true.

Pics of the gavel, or we have to assume the worst.

34

Jake 02.08.12 at 11:55 pm

@24 – airline pilot unions may be instructive (or cautionary). They are very strong vs. management due to FAA regulations that make quickly hiring replacements impossible. But the ALPA ends up being run for the benefit of senior captains, and regional airline pilots end up making maybe $20k a year and a chance at a captain job. The structure gets maintained by contract terms that prohibit using regional pilots on aircraft over a certain (small) size – these terms were directly responsible for the creation of 50-seat regional jets.

So… not clear that unionization will help adjuncts as adjuncts, unless full-time faculty are not included in the union in which case they’ll either get the shaft or adjunct jobs will disappear entirely.

35

JW Mason 02.09.12 at 1:02 am

or adjunct jobs will disappear entirely.

Isn’t that sort of the idea?

36

Jake 02.09.12 at 1:29 am

Maybe, but doesn’t it seem pretty odd to create a union that aims to put itself out of existence? And prolonging the average academic career (by making it less crappy) is just going to make the compensation for the remaining open positions even worse…

37

SB 02.09.12 at 1:33 am

I don’t agree that full time faculty can’t be included in the union for the union to protect adjuncts. Adjuncts need (because everyone needs) a few things that unions are often (but alas, not always) good at giving people–health care, retirement benefits, job security and a living wage.

The situation of tenured faculty is completely different than that of airline pilots–unless our departments go under, we are guaranteed work. So the adjuncts are not in competition with us for anything whatsoever. Enough full time faculty will have the decency to want to see their colleagues given health care benefits, etc. and out of pure self-interest may want a union to bargain for their benefits and wage increases. Thus, it will be very useful to have a union covering all faculty and staff and anyone not in a management position. Solidarity does work, as long as the state and local and national laws are not actively union-busting. Unfortunately, they often are.

I agree fully that adjuncts are my colleagues but to highlight the absurdity of the current system for a moment compare what an adjunct goes through for their position to what a tenured faculty member goes through. The adjunct may be hired simply because they are the top of a pile of applications or because they are the friend of another adjunct. They may be interviewed by the chair alone, without any input from the rest of the faculty. If adjuncting did not exist, some adjuncts would be employed at professors but many would not. They sometimes have less oversight from the university and fewer professional demands. This idea from the last 20 years of adjunct build-up that they are ‘filling in’ or temporarily ‘pinch hitting’ but, if they continue adjuncting, they didn’t have the chops to go the distance, partly explains faculty attitudes to adjuncts, although it does not justify them.

Service is usually the *only* thing exclusively reserved for the tenure track faculty. (Many adjuncts don’t do research but nothing prevents them from doing it and many adjuncts I know seem to keep their hand in at least a little.)

Most people who become tenured faculty do not enter academia with any sort of awareness they will be doing service. If anything, service is the ‘menial’ part of our job. So is all that crazy scrutiny (the lengthy hiring process, the tenure nightmare) to make sure we are the right folks to be running the undergraduate academic integrity committee or the graduate hiring committee? When you take a step back, it is all very bizarre and irrational.

38

JW Mason 02.09.12 at 1:44 am

prolonging the average academic career (by making it less crappy) is just going to make the compensation for the remaining open positions even worse…

Ah, the lump-of-professorial-pay theory!

Nah, not buying it. There are lots of margins the system can adjust on.

39

Millie Fink 02.09.12 at 5:15 am

Thanks Michael for these efforts, and for continuing to fraternize with the masses. It means a lot.

40

J. Otto Pohl 02.09.12 at 10:01 am

28

Actually I have found it is a lot easier to get a long term contract working at an R 1 institution in Africa than to get an interview for an adjunct position for a fourth tier institution in the US. So even though it is actually a better option as far as pay and benefits very few Americans consider emigration to work at foreign universities outside North America and Europe. It simply seems to be an option that most American PhDs think is beyond the pale.

41

Cousin Jack 02.09.12 at 11:05 am

I work in a US university that has both tenure track and non-tenure track faculty covered by the same union. That is California State University. When I started as an adjunct I didn’t have health insurance, but thanks to the union (CFA) I was eventually given health insurance, which I have had for some years, and it came in very useful when I was diagnosed with cancer a few years ago.

For a long time they kept all adjuncts at 85% maximum in order to deny them benefits, but the union managed to bargain the threshold down to 50%. So even if adjuncts are kept below 100% they get benefits, even if they are denied certain other rights that you would get at 100%.

CSU is probably one of the better places to be an adjunct. One of the key things is that there is one union for everybody. The first action from the administration is to divide the employees however they can. Set faculty against staff, set tenure-track against adjuncts.

CSU is not a paradise. Our contract says all full-time faculty, tenured or not, must teach the equivalent of 4 classes per semester. This is a higher load than you would get at many other universities.

CSU is having its difficulties. Our contract has expired and the administration is refusing to negotiate a new one. We came very close to striking a couple of years ago. The university finally agreed at that time to give us a cost-of-living raise, only to renege on the contract later and dare us to do something about it.

It’s not very nice. I really would prefer to spend my time thinking about what I am going to teach the students. But at least I know that the union is working for my interests as well as the interests of tenured faculty.

42

Mark Sample 02.09.12 at 1:29 pm

Regarding the APA’s ability to censure: I don’t know much about it, but I’m guessing it has to do with the fact that the APA is also an accreditation body. Quoth Wikipedia: “The APA is the main accrediting body for U.S. clinical and counseling psychology doctoral training programs and internship sites.”

Where there’s power to give and take away accreditation, there’s power to censure.

43

Michael Bérubé 02.09.12 at 1:58 pm

Andrew @ 32: NFM is programmatically unconcerned to discuss the erosion of tenure; they are not interested in seeing the proportion of tenured positions increased but in improving the conditions of the non-tenurable.

I don’t think this is true. My understanding of the NFM position is that they’d like to see NTT jobs converted to TT where possible — and without tossing the people in those NTT jobs out of work. Where conversion isn’t possible, then greater job security and due process for NTT faculty are the goals (multi-year contracts, role in governance, review and appeals process, etc.).

But next week I’ll follow up on this, not only because it’s critically important but also because I’ve gotten some useful criticism from a long-term NTT faculty member (now retired) from UC-Boulder, where in 2007 the NTT ranks voted for a system of “instructor tenure.”

44

Michael Bérubé 02.09.12 at 2:06 pm

And Mark @ 42: ben w @ 27 was talking about the American Philosophical Association (an organization which is having its own interesting discussion these days), not the American Psychological Association. I agree that accreditation is the key, but AFAIK the American Philosophical Association doesn’t have that power.

So the real question is, what is the force of the APA’s censure? Does it involve a full investigation and published report, as does AAUP censure, or is it a simple speech act, “I hereby censure thee”? If the latter, then “censure” might as well mean “deplore” or “denounce,” and it might not have any more institutional force than that. That’s why I’m curious as to what’s involved in the censure. Good on the APA for publishing the names of censured institutions, in any case. I understand why Bennington’s on that list, but not the other two — some explanation would be nice.

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Somewhere in Maine 02.09.12 at 2:26 pm

I can’t help but think again about nationalized healthcare, where at least you would have “benefits”, but they would come from the government. It shouldn’t be tied to a job–that is part of the problem. Perhaps we need to get more active about this point–think of what a relief it would be nationwide to take all those costs off the books in one fell swoop? Instead, we link the pockets of the middle men (and women), who take money to try and prevent care from being given. This is so wrong and could really help this situation.

46

Andrew Goldstone 02.09.12 at 2:54 pm

Michael @ 43: You are right; I do see that the NFM advocates an ideal of tenure-esque permanent employment for all teaching faculty, and I suppose that means they are talking about conversion (in place, not firing whoever holds the position) as the best option for current NTT faculty. But the NFM leaders seem to see the working conditions of NTT faculty as their most urgent concern: at least that is my reading of something like this essay by Maria Maisto and Steve Street. After some worrisome blame-on-all-sides language and bracketing of debates about “the ‘corporatization’ of higher education” (their scare quotes), Maisto and Street do affirm an ultimate goal of giving “all faculty…equal access to permanent status”–note the careful avoidance of the T word–but it’s only on the far horizon for them.

As someone teaching part-time myself, hired on a per-course basis, lacking any health benefits, sharing a single office with dozens of others, etc., etc., I can definitely get behind a program of improving NTT working conditions right now. But I don’t think it’s crazy to worry about a Pyrrhic victory in which all faculty will win an equally minuscule chance of acceding to “permanent status.” That’s why I hope the MLA will take a stronger stance than NFM can, and, instead of deferring the possibility of conversion to a far horizon, talk directly about the ways to preserve and expand tenure immediately.

I’ll look forward to reading the follow-up post!

47

Barry 02.09.12 at 3:18 pm

J. Otto Pohl: ” Actually I have found it is a lot easier to get a long term contract working at an R 1 institution in Africa than to get an interview for an adjunct position for a fourth tier institution in the US. So even though it is actually a better option as far as pay and benefits very few Americans consider emigration to work at foreign universities outside North America and Europe. It simply seems to be an option that most American PhDs think is beyond the pale.”

This calls for a guest post, IMHO.

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Bloix 02.09.12 at 3:31 pm

Do students and their parents know this? Of course not. You have people taking out tens of thousands of dollars in loans in order to be taught by instructors making $15,000 a year.

Perhaps someone can give a real-world example, but as a hypothetical, suppose an instructor makes $5000 to teach a class of 30 students, each of whom pays $12,500/semester in tuition and takes 5 classes a semester. So the school takes in $75,000 ($12,500/5 x 30) and pays $5,000. Put another way, the student pays $2,500 and gets $167 worth of instructor time. What does the school do with the extra $2,333? Obviously there’s overhead, but please. Shouldn’t the school explain to its students what they’re paying for?

I suppose instructors wouldn’t want the truth about their pay to be widely known, because they are ashamed at how little they make. But imagine the power of the information! Students already are beginnning to feel like chumps – they study and pay and then they can’t get jobs. What if they were shown figures that made them feel that they are also being cheated — not just duped, but literally robbed by thieving administrators.

You wouldn’t even have to be agressively confrontational about it. What about a campaign with the theme, “To get a quality education, you need to pay for quality instruction.”

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ben w 02.09.12 at 3:39 pm

Does it involve a full investigation and published report, as does AAUP censure, or is it a simple speech act, “I hereby censure thee”? … I understand why Bennington’s on that list, but not the other two—some explanation would be nice.

The minutes for the meeting where the most recent censuring took place haven’t been published yet, but for Houston it was because of a complaint on the part of a philosopher there that his professional rights had been violated in the course of his tenure review. There’s a committee for defense of the professional rights of philosophers that undertakes investigation of these things. (“The Committee bases its judgment and its actions on general principles of the professional rights of scholars and teachers, which have been articulated in the 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure of the American Association of University Professors, pertinent resolutions and statements of the American Philosophical Association, and precedents set by the Committee in previous cases.”)

I can’t tell exactly what being censured involves, though. Censured institutions are listed as such in Jobs for Philosophers and their “questionable employment practices” are noted.

50

Katherine 02.09.12 at 3:41 pm

Surely one of the major problems here (and elsewhere no doubt) is the situation whereby anyone deemed “part time” can be denied benefits. I don’t know the US legal background of this, and I’m sure there have been discussions, but in the UK the law on this was changed more than two decades ago on the basis that denial of benefits to part-time employees was indirect discrimination against women, since part-time employees were and are disproportionately likely to be women, so denying them benefits disproportionately negatively affected women.

The judge in the case opined that the government, who was defending this position, hadn’t bothered to come up with any actual evidence to support their opinion that it would would surely be bad for business to require them to give benefits to part-time employees, they had merely assumed it to be true. And they hadn’t even begun to make a decent argument as to why, if that were the case, it would therefore be justified to discriminate against women in this way.

The situation cannot be that different in the US.

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Margaret 02.09.12 at 4:07 pm

The APA also has a non-discrimination statement and institutes who violate are similarly to be indicated in JFP.

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GW 02.09.12 at 5:30 pm

Bloix wrote:

“Obviously there’s overhead, but please. Shouldn’t the school explain to its students what they’re paying for?”

The great untold story here is the increase in administrative overhead. In part, this is driven by client demand, in that that there is substantial increase in the numbers of personnel providing non-academic (or, at least non-teaching) student services, but the major part is simply administrative growth, with unprecedented growth in administrative salaries to boot.

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J. Otto Pohl 02.09.12 at 6:30 pm

Barry:

Thanks for the recommendation, but being as most CT commentators view me as a troll I am quite sure I will never be invited to do a guest post here. But, I will note that African academics are radically different from the type of people that seem to dominate American academia. There is a much greater cooperative spirit here than seems to prevail in the US.

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Barry 02.09.12 at 6:40 pm

J. Otto Pohl 02.09.12 at 6:30 pm

” Barry:

Thanks for the recommendation, but being as most CT commentators view me as a troll I am quite sure I will never be invited to do a guest post here. But, I will note that African academics are radically different from the type of people that seem to dominate American academia. There is a much greater cooperative spirit here than seems to prevail in the US.”

*I* view you as somebody who’s a jerk verging on blossoming into trollhood, but this is something that you know, and I think it’d help you emotionally.

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J. Otto Pohl 02.09.12 at 6:51 pm

Barry:

If you think I am a jerk then why would you care about anything I write? You could just ignore me like everybody else outside of Africa. It seems very odd to express interest in a guest post by a jerk. But, I still appreciate the recommendation regardless.

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Liz Dorland 02.09.12 at 7:18 pm

Facebook is just a tool. Like Powerpoint.

In my youth I swore I’d never own a microwave or a dishwasher too. heheh

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Bloix 02.09.12 at 10:05 pm

Why would anyone consider Pohl’s comment to be trolling? We expect that educated Africans want to migrate to the US and the UK for better pay, security, and working conditions. Isn’t it noteworthy that, in the experience of one academic, these things can more easily be found in Africa? Hasn’t anyone else noticed that in some respects the US is becoming what used to be known as a third-world country?

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AOP 02.09.12 at 10:33 pm

Professor Bérubé, I am not alone in admiring your attention, as MLA Prez, to the growth of NTT labor, its conditions, and its implications for the future of humanities scholarship and instruction. For my part, however, I find the framing questions of this present discussion too timid to be productive. Yes, it will be helpful to gather more accurate and thorough data on just how exploited NTT teachers are, but the question that MLA and other profession-defining bodies are already late in answering is simple: what are we going to do about it? It’s exasperating that the MLA’s ability to censure is only now being broached–and not, I think, in a serious enough way to sustain the immediate, decisive action necessary to improve NTT working conditions and effectively reassert the expectation of tenure as a standard of academic freedom and excellence.

You clearly recognize that even a strong censure from MLA would amount nothing much: “I censure thee!” Who cares what the MLA thinks, really? Most of MLA’s members see the organization primarily as a clearing-house for academic jobs. Whatever the MLA thinks or says, in other words, it can *do* quite a lot to shape the search for literature teachers, and that’s precisely where MLA can help solve this problem:

1. Identify departments and institutions whose pay and benefits do not meet the standards of NTT academic employment currently advocated by MLA. Perhaps add a 10% “cushion” if MLA lacks confidence in its own existing standards, about which more below.

2. Divide institutions of higher education into categories, and apply to each category an ideal ratio of NTT to TT instructors, including graduate students in the former category. The division into brackets provides a way of recognizing that community colleges, large state schools, and small liberal arts colleges have different resources and needs and should therefore meet different NTT/TT instructor ratios.

3. If a department fails to meet either standard, MLA should send a letter notifying them of this fact, CC:ing it to the relevant dean and institutional president.

4. The letter should notify the department that MLA will not assist in that department’s job searches. For example, members of the department attending the conference but not giving talks–thus, likely, attending for a job search–will not be given conference rates on hotel rooms, even if they register for the conference.

5. During the job season, email every MLA member a list of departments that do not meet these standards, advising graduate students and others against accepting jobs in these departments.

6. Contact the ADE and other relevant jobs-lists, seeking to strike a deal by which ADE would refuse to list job searches (or NTT job searches) in departments that do not meet MLA’s standards.

7. Contact institutional accreditation authorities and inform them that, in the judgment of MLA, the following departments do not meet minimum requirements–and that their failure to meet these requirements has a negative impact upon the quality of instruction.

8. Mention, in the letters to these departments, that you have taken or intend to take steps 5-7.

The actual reasonableness of these steps–for example, the inevitably arbitrary division into institutional categories–is not directly relevant to their effectiveness. All that matters is that the hiring and exploiting of NTT instructors should become less convenient and less attractive to department chairs, deans, and presidents. The way to do this is to publicly shame offenders, attack their accreditation, and make their search for instructors less convenient. The MLA is especially well positioned to clog up hiring processes.

It is profoundly disheartening to hear this toothless speculation about whether MLA “can” censure departments or institutions–an action that, if it looks anything like a Delegate Assembly resolution, would itself be pretty toothless. I urge you and the other MLA higher-ups to do everything you can think of to make life less easy for those who find it so convenient to replace tenure lines with non-tenured positions and to egregiously underpay NTT instructors. The list of actions above is far from perfect, but I hope it illustrates that there are plenty of options for substantive action. The most important factor is that the MLA should act now and act decisively.

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LFC 02.09.12 at 10:41 pm

Pohl’s comment is not trolling, but Pohl’s tone can be a bit trying. He says everyone ignores him outside of Africa. This is false. I do not live in Africa and I have read his comments at CT, have even visited his blog a few times and left a comment or two there. What he means, of course, is that the American academics who he thinks should be paying attention to his work are ignoring him. That may be the case, but it will not be rectified by his complaining about it on CT comment threads.

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Satan Mayo 02.10.12 at 1:38 am

Why would anyone consider Pohl’s comment to be trolling? We expect that educated Africans want to migrate to the US and the UK for better pay, security, and working conditions. Isn’t it noteworthy that, in the experience of one academic, these things can more easily be found in Africa? Hasn’t anyone else noticed that in some respects the US is becoming what used to be known as a third-world country?

I agree, little or none of Pohl’s comments are trolling. His habit of posting the same comments about his own personal experiences in thread after thread after thread is not really trolling either, but is also not the sort of thing people are usually admired for doing in internet discussions. Still there is something admirable about doing such things non-pseudonymously.

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Barry 02.10.12 at 1:40 am

55

J. Otto Pohl 02.09.12 at 6:51 pm

” Barry:

If you think I am a jerk then why would you care about anything I write? You could just ignore me like everybody else outside of Africa. It seems very odd to express interest in a guest post by a jerk. But, I still appreciate the recommendation regardless.”

Because on this topic you know something, and that something might be of interest to a nuymber of people.

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LFC 02.10.12 at 1:42 am

Re AOP @58
I understand why AOP’s comment focuses on the MLA: Bérubé is pres. of the MLA. And I have no problem at all with what AOP says, except for the phrase which concludes AOP’s first sentence: its implications for the future of humanities scholarship and instruction. Why should we only be concerned about the humanities? Doesn’t the issue of treatment of adjuncts and other NTTs affect the social sciences? the natural sciences? universities in general? I fail to see why this discussion should be limited to the humanities and focused exclusively on the MLA. Yes, the prez of MLA wrote the post, but the problem goes well beyond the MLA and the disciplines of particular concern to it.

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Jill Zasadny 02.10.12 at 2:27 am

I support my union but it’s wishful thinking that they can do anything for adjuncts, which they pretty much admit. Deans are free to harrass and subjugate anyone. As a PhD adjunct, I’ve been bumped down to 3 credit hours at 1200/cr hr. I’ve lost health insurance. It’s age discrimination, but who can prove it. Not the union; they filed a grievance on behalf of a professor and he fired her forthwith. “It’s personal now,” he said. So adjuncts are my institution fear the very organization who proports to defend them.

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ezra abrams 02.10.12 at 3:25 am

The day Yudof, or the ex president of UMass reduce their (in my opinion) obscene salarys, is the day we start talking seriously about adjunct salarys.

I would also say, if you step back and take the 100year view, the post WWII expansion is coming to an end; as H Simon said, if something can’t go on forever, it won’t .
as a molecular biologists, I see a clear example of this in NIH funded research; new PhDs double every few years; clearly, whatever the exact doubling time, money doesn’t double every few years (few<10); at some point, hte system crashes.
I would guess the same thing is happening in English and History; you can't keep growing 60,70, 120K a year profs faster then the underlying economic growth.

Also, as the proportion of the population going to college increases, and we are going from a pre WWII system where the wealthy went to college, to a system where everyone goes to college, then the shape of college has to change; adjuncts and U Phoenix are part of hte change.

When I was little, my dad and I were walking around SOHO in NYC one day, and he said see that building – that is the Typographers&Printers Union; they were GODS; nobody messed with the typographers.
And along came electronic typesetting
To put it another way, the same forces that destroyed 1,000s of middle class jobs running stationary stores and bookstores are coming to academia..you have as much chance of helping adjuncts as you do of reversing Staples.

Anyway, robots are coming along; of course, you will see it first in the poor K12 districts, they will replace teachers with min wage order keepers and robot instruction (the same thing will happen in 10 years to a lot of MDs; at that point, technology will finally save us money on healthcare)
maybe 5 years from now, all the adjuncts will be gone, replaced by software, at least at the Comm Coll level; Yalvard will keep em but more as a status symbol for the rich parents then anything else…fun times (not)

65

JustAThought--Cut the Pursestrings? 02.10.12 at 3:45 am

As an adjunct teaching at two schools and maintaining a non-teaching gig, I’ve been burning out for a while now. I do hope that the suggested reforms–or something close to them–come about in time to keep me in academia, because teaching is the best job I’ve ever had, compensation aside. It seems to me that colleges and universities rely on donations from wealthy alumni and corporations. I don’t know a lot about the fundraising side of the business, but I see enough signs around with thermometers and dollar amounts (“Only $125,000 until we reach our goal!”). If you care to know, in 6 years of teaching a full-time course load split between two schools, I haven’t made $125,000 total.

We contact the donors–I don’t know whether donor lists are public or not, but it seems large donations are generally bragged about–and let them know what the score is. Ask them to make their donations contingent on colleges paying living wages for all instructors. Something about this idea seems unethical–even if it were possible–but it would get some attention for the trying.

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Katherine 02.10.12 at 9:56 am

Anyonr know how many NTT’s are women versus how many are men? Anyone? Anyone even wondered or thought about it?

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Michael E Sullivan 02.10.12 at 10:49 am

J. Otto’s ramen comments reminded me strongly of http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QrGvhwwWP8Q, which I enjoyed and would recommend.

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Daniel 02.10.12 at 12:46 pm

YouTube. Khan academy.

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Marc 02.10.12 at 2:18 pm

@64: If anything there has been a substantial backlash against online education. Along similar lines, automated supermarket checkout lines are on the decline. The reason is pretty simple: there are some cases where it’s perceived as highly desirable to have human interaction. Teaching is simply more effective if you’re working with a person than with a web form, for instance. Online schools have very low graduation rates.

This could change, but we’ve had equivalent opportunities for a long time (correspondence courses) and they have never really made a large dent. The adjunct model is more of a concern: basically still using face-t0-face instruction, but with low salaries and poor working conditions. As far as I can tell, this is close to the situation for academics in places like France – professors who teach at universities have pretty low salaries, high course loads, and physical facilities that aren’t that great (outside of the elite ecoles). But the education is essentially free.

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Barry 02.10.12 at 3:44 pm

Marc: “@64: If anything there has been a substantial backlash against online education. Along similar lines, automated supermarket checkout lines are on the decline. The reason is pretty simple: there are some cases where it’s perceived as highly desirable to have human interaction. Teaching is simply more effective if you’re working with a person than with a web form, for instance. Online schools have very low graduation rates.”

It seems to me that online education is both a low-perceived-value field (as constituted now), and a highly parasitized field – there are a lot of fraudulent schools which take one’s loans, and give a lousy ‘education’ in return. Which, of course, lowers the value, since most people have no way of knowing whether a name on a resume indicates real education/training or not.

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Barry 02.10.12 at 3:46 pm

Marc – “As far as I can tell, this is close to the situation for academics in places like France – professors who teach at universities have pretty low salaries, high course loads, and physical facilities that aren’t that great (outside of the elite ecoles). But the education is essentially free.”

It’s amazing how often the USA seems to put together the worse parts of various systems. We have a higher education system which is more and more run by professors with ‘pretty low salaries, high course loads, and physical facilities that aren’t that great’, but the students pay out the nose for it.

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b.mit 02.10.12 at 4:37 pm

Barry said, “It’s amazing how often the USA seems to put together the worse parts of various systems.”

The features you describe are totally consistent with generating a surplus that can be appropriated by those at the top. This is the operational model of the USA. You’re right that it’s often amazing, but it’s not very surprising.

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Watson Ladd 02.10.12 at 5:59 pm

I’m still puzzled by why adjuncts continue to work as adjuncts instead of trying to branch out into other fields. For the work conditions don’t seem that good, the pay is miserable, and the qualifications adjuncts possess would open doors in many places. (Teaching at the secondary level for example). So why isn’t there a lower floor on adjunct pay because of exit? (This probably applies a lot more to the sciences then humanities, but even so…)

ezra, while we might have too many biochemists, that means some of them should do other things. It’s not clear that the problem with universities is that they are too good at training too many people who solve too many problems, who have nothing to do all day. (Or if that is the problem, it isn’t because there isn’t anything that needs doing)

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krippendorf 02.10.12 at 7:33 pm

Katherine@65. Sure. According to the National Survey of Postsecondary Faculty, in 2007, 41.8% of all full-time instructional faculty were women: 26.5% of professors, 39.7% of associate professors, 47.3% of assistant professors, 54.1% of instructors, 52.7% of lecturers, and 47.4% of “other” faculty. I couldn’t quickly find a table for part-time faculty on the National Center for Education Statistics site, but I’ve seen data elsewhere that show that the gender skew among all adjuncts, including part-timers, is even greater. No surprises there.

A lot of sociologists have studied this over the years — trends, sources, variations across fields and institution types, etc. Start with pretty much anything Mary Ann Mason has written in the last 20 years; one example is here.

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krippendorf 02.10.12 at 7:58 pm

Further clarification on #72:

1) women constitute 37.6% of full-time faculty in one of the three professorial titles, 53.7% of full-time faculty who are lecturers or instructors.

2) there’s no clear indication whether all of the faculty holding professorial titles are tenure-track. I’d guess that they could include NTT professorial titles (e.g., visiting assistant professor).

3) the data are from all degree-granting postsecondary institutions in the US that grant an associate’s degree or higher and that are eligible to receive Title IV federal financial aid.

4. source is here.

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mw 02.10.12 at 10:08 pm

I’m still puzzled by why adjuncts continue to work as adjuncts instead of trying to branch out into other fields. For the work conditions don’t seem that good, the pay is miserable, and the qualifications adjuncts possess would open doors in many places. (Teaching at the secondary level for example).

That IS the root of the problem. Unionization can’t possibly solve the fundamental issue, which is far too many PhD’s chasing after far too few jobs. The answer to your puzzle seems to be some combination of two factors:

1. The qualifications actually *don’t* open a lot of doors. A PhD, for example, does not qualify a candidate for a secondary teaching job (and I understand most public school systems are actually reluctant to hire new teachers with advanced degrees because of union contracts that require them to be paid much higher wages). In fact, some PhD’s apparently take the degree off their resume when applying for non-academic jobs, and

2. PhD’s become so convinced that the academic life is the only possible ‘soul worthy’ option, that they will accept really lousy pay and working conditions just to hang on in academia.

‘Thomas Benton’ has written a series of articles about this phenomenon:

http://chronicle.com/article/The-Big-Lie-About-the-Life-of/63937/

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Salient 02.11.12 at 3:07 am

the qualifications adjuncts possess would open doors in many places

FWIW, this doesn’t seem to be encouraged as a primary career path. I rarely hear someone suggest “well, you could always go into industry” without a tone cast over the last word that implies “…and god help you if you do.” Gives one pause before asking for a letter of recommendation for an industry job (not applicable to me personally). There’s also the possibility (also not relevant in my case) that one’s adviser has no industry or business connections to speak of, and adviser connections are everything when seeking a post-Ph.D. job. (After all, who on Earth would blindly hire a Ph.D. despite having no personal familiarity whatsoever with that Ph.D. graduate’s adviser’s work? That’s exactly like hiring someone with a BA from an institution you’ve never heard of.^1^) And there’s always the ‘overqualified’ stamp that mw touches on.

The world is sorely lacking a standardized procedure that would match Ph.D. graduates (or grad students generally) with employers that would like to hire them. When I asked an administrator about attending our university’s semi-annual Job Expo thing, the response I got was the inquiry “Aren’t you a grad student?” I forget the wording of the follow-up question but it was something to the effect of, what, isn’t your adviser giving you that information? (Which, yes, did/does happen to be the case, we talk about it all the time. I was just casually curious about other job opportunities. But still. Apparently any Ph.D. student is supposed to rely exclusively and utterly on their adviser’s suggestions for jobs. Small wonder, in a world that confers prestige on faculty who train students successful in academia, that hunting down and suggesting potential jobs outside academia would receive a low priority.)

A Ph.D. student is, in a way, uniquely stuck. With a BA, you can declare your degree on a job application, and they might ask for transcripts and stuff. The only thing a Ph.D. degree confers, really, is formal university approval of your adviser’s letter of recommendation. After all, other stuff (like published papers) are things you can point to with or without a degree; if an employer wants to know specifically how to interpret your university credential, they know transcripts are relatively useless; the only meaningful way to check ‘how well you did’ is to read your adviser’s letter-of-rec.

^1^I confess to not having known this when choosing advisers, and I lucked out rather mightily, thank the gods. I think there’s a horrible misconception among potential grad students that it’s the school, not the adviser, that future potential employers will care about most. But you’re not getting a Ph.D. from MIT; you’re getting a Ph.D. from Alan Edelman, or Victor Guillemin, or whomever, and those Ph.D. degrees would have hardly anything to do with each other (and would confer nearly zero overlap in employability) despite being authorized and sanctioned by the same institution. You apply places where your adviser knows people that will be able to understand what you’re doing well enough to defend the quality of your work to the hiring committee members; anywhere else, you might as well just have a master’s degree. In another universe, one in which I happened to seek a different adviser, I might’ve sorely and bitterly regretted not having understood this.

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David Auerbach 02.11.12 at 6:14 am

Reading this thread, which I find genuinely horrifying and infuriating (I had not known that pay for a class could go as low as $2000), I want to ask if there is anyone who does not feel a moral imperative to steer students away from enrolling in PhD programs that would make that sort of fate likely–not for the sake of the students (though there is that too), but because a decrease in the supply of cheap academic labor seems to be the only thing that could possibly alter the power imbalance that appears to have left even a conscientious president of the MLA like Berube with very little leverage in addressing what amounts to massive exploitation on a level that makes Elsevier look like the Paris Commune.

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Steven D. Krause 02.11.12 at 4:03 pm

This reminds me in some ways of the forever discussion on these topics at Invisible Adjunct years ago. In any event, a couple of thoughts I’d like to share that I see missing from this conversation:

* It is interesting to me that the MLA is taking on this cause– and it is a noble one– when the organization and many of its members doesn’t seem to think very much of composition and rhetoric, which is where most NTT faculty work in English departments. I haven’t been a member of the MLA for some time now, and the organization I most identify with professionally is the Conference for College Composition and Communication (part of NCTE).

* With all due respect, this $6800 figure is ridiculous. I’m a tenured professor at Eastern Michigan, and without going into a lot of details about it, this is close to what I get paid to teach an extra class “in load” here in the summer. And I’m expected to do a heck of a lot more than we expect of our part-time faculty, too. I would agree that $2500 is too little and maybe MLA’s strategy here is to ask for the sky and settle for something more modest, but this just doesn’t seem like a good strategy to me at all. It is also curious to me that the assumption is a 3 course load. Lots and lots and LOTS of people on the tenure-track teach more than 3 courses a term at both community colleges and BA/MA granting institutions.

* It may be true that there isn’t as much of a glut in English PhDs as there once was and I think Bérubé’s percentage of NTT who have an MA seems about right. However, there is definitely a “supply and demand” issue working against NTT. We have many more people interested in teaching courses for us part-time than we have courses to offer, which is why adjunct work–particularly in fields like English– pays poorly. Hey, I don’t make the rules, I’m just telling you what they are.

* The other thing I have to wonder about here: why is it the assumption that it is a “good idea” for someone to stay in a part-time NTT position for a long time, and for someone to adjunct teach as the only way to make a living? I was a part-time teacher after I finished my MFA in 1990 and while I had a “real” job. It was great because it kept me involved in some version of academia and I earned some extra money. That’s what adjunct work should be: part-time for people who are working/doing other things, not a part-time to string together full-time employment.

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Salient 02.11.12 at 5:06 pm

why is it the assumption that it is a “good idea” for someone to stay in a part-time NTT position for a long time, and for someone to adjunct teach as the only way to make a living?

…what proportion of adjuncts are recently graduated Ph.D. students who, having been paid about $2600/course as a TA in grad school, are now hoping to continue and improve their ‘career’ being paid about $2600/course as an adjunct, because if that’s the best you can get you’re supposed to suck it up and take it, and deciding to not do so is disparaged as ‘giving up’ and socially stigmatized accordingly?

That’s what adjunct work should be: part-time for people who are working/doing other things, not a part-time to string together full-time employment.

Then why hire, for adjunct positions, so many people who are recently graduated Ph.D. students who, having been paid about $2600/course as a TA in grad school, are now looking to continue and hopefully improve their career being paid about $2600/course as an adjunct?

Universities could quash the exploitation problem in a year if they chose to require anyone applying for an adjunct position to have anything like the qualifications you’re suggesting adjuncts are supposed to have — require having been employed in a non-university position for a minimum of one year, required candidates to have current and continuing employment in the local area, and contractually forbade working as an adjunct for any other institution. Nobody does this, and nobody will ever attempt to implement this, because recently graduated Ph.D. students are cheap and desperate and have recent experience teaching exactly the courses they’re going to be assigned to teach, and are told emphatically in their grad study programs that their only hope to jump into a good TT job, if they don’t get ‘lucky’ enough to start at one, is to take an adjunct position and continue their research program on their own time, and start climbing. (Which is what a Ph.D. striking out on the upper-tier job market is, of course, inevitably told.)

It’s really awful to be told that climbing the ladder from the adjunct bottom rung is your only hope, only to discover that even the faculty at the institution that hired you are disapproving of what you are trying to do with the position they’ve hired you into.

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J. Otto Pohl 02.11.12 at 6:06 pm

Now that I seem to be recovering from the malaria I was diagnosed with yesterday, I was very surprised to see that not everybody here thinks I am a troll. I still don’t ever expect anybody here or anywhere else on the internet to ever agree with me on anything, but it is nice to see only Barry has openly state that I am a jerk.

On a serious note from everything written here about adjuncts, working in Africa is a far better deal even if malaria is an unavoidable occupational hazard. My own institution has far more slots for history lecturers than we have applicants. In retrospect I would have applied to every history department in English speaking Africa from 2004-2007 if I had known it was an option. I really do not understand why anybody would rather be an adjunct in the US than a lecturer in Africa. Maybe somebody could explain it to me?

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ben w 02.11.12 at 6:21 pm

Nobody does this, and nobody will ever attempt to implement this, because

universities actually have no interest in quashing the adjunct “problem”, which works out just fine from their perspective.

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Bloix 02.11.12 at 6:23 pm

From the current issue (2/23) of the NYRB, p. 36 (Andrew Hacker, “We’re More Unequal Than You Think”):

[The GOP’s] business supporters seek the cheapest possible workforce – domestic, immigrant, or foreign – because bonuses and profits rise when payroll costs are low. If this strategy succeeds, the Americans who are most desparate for jobs will face a future as casual labor. (The college “adjuncts” who are poorly paid to do much of the teaching formerly done by upper-middle-class professors are one white collar harbinger.)

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LFC 02.11.12 at 8:23 pm

I think there’s a horrible misconception among potential grad students that it’s the school, not the adviser, that future potential employers will care about most.

I think you’re overgeneralizing here. Many potential (academic) employers will care about both the school and the adviser, and what your diss. was about, and other things… Depends on the particular field and the circumstances, I would say. (Written as one whose own foray into the ac. job market of some several yrs ago was not successful, but who is reasonably sure that the identity of my adviser was not the reason for that.)

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Salient 02.11.12 at 8:56 pm

I think you’re overgeneralizing here.

Granted. It’s just that as an applicant to grad school and master’s student I had no idea that that mattered at all and this seems to be generally true of new entrants into the program. It’s certainly true that people get hired at universities who don’t have any faculty that personally know your adviser and their work, but I’m claiming this tends to happen only when the university didn’t have any faculty that personally knew the advisers of the other applicants. (For some definition of tends to that’s sufficiently expansive to accommodate the overgeneralization, and some definition of personally know that emphasizes familiarity with the adviser’s work and career, and willingness to argue on behalf of the advisee because of that familiarity, e.g. that the advisee will ‘fit in’ well and be able to contribute to the department’s various research goals as a colleague. I should also mention that I don’t think there’s really anything wrong with this, it’s just a true thing that bears consideration — dependence on one’s adviser’s recommendation is quite strong in a way that dependence on one’s former boss’s recommendation is generally not.)

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musicalcolin 02.12.12 at 1:28 am

I dislike the statements on the board (that I’ve seen a few times) that the adjunct crisis is merely a supply and demand problem, not because it’s false, but because it distracts from what I take to be the important issues. Here is the trivial level at which this statement might be considered true: there are more people who want adjunct jobs than there are jobs. However, what is left out at this level of analysis is the systematic work that universities have done in order to generate this supply glut. If universities decided (or were forced) to decrease contingent faculty and increase tenured (or at least full-time) faculty this would partly solve the problem. An even more staggering idea would be if in addition universities decreased their student-teacher ratio (consequently increasing the number of course offerings). Now all of a sudden students are getting a much better education, more PhDs are employed full-time, and the adjunct problem vanishes. In other words, the adjunct crisis was created by universities realizing that they could save a lot of money by maiming the humanities.

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spyder 02.12.12 at 9:43 am

** would that be the causation of a GNF from a Soy Bomb???

Way back in my wayback machine, during the mid-70s, my university compensation was $1737 per course per quarter / up to three courses per quarter. If universities around the country are only paying $2500 per course, then the loss in wages is staggeringly abysmmal. Even the $4500 range is not appropriate.

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piglet 02.13.12 at 8:15 pm

I haven’t read through the comments and maybe this has been mentioned already. But I know of a university where departments are explicitly encouraged to hire female adjuncts – who are generously counted as faculty members – in order to boost the number of female “faculty”.

They are not faculty, not by any normal use of the word, but isn’t it nice when the head of the biology department can brag “we have ten female faculty” – when nine of the ten are adjuncts?

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Another Damned Medievalist 02.14.12 at 4:26 am

I left a comment at the crowd-sourcing post, and am repeating parts of it here, so sorry if it looks familiar.

In my experience teaching at CCs in a state in the PNW, unionization was good for adjuncts. If we taught 50% or more at any CC for two consecutive semesters (didn’t have to be at the same school) we got health benefits and were let into the retirement plan. Health insurance for as long as we were 50% time at any one campus, retirement no matter how much you taught, once you were in. Adjunct pay had similar placement and steps as FT (less, but 8 years ago I was paid about $3k per trimester course). And, union rules meant that visiting FT faculty were treated as tenure-track, just in case the position opened up, or was continued, to a point where they would normally be coming up for tenure.

The $6800 per semester course seems a bit random to me. As I suggested at the other post, it seems unrealistic. Why? because if an adjunct in Arts & Sciences made that much on my campus for a 4-4 load (FT faculty teach 4-3, because we have a course release for research), they would make almost as much as I do as an associate professor. “Almost” in this case means well under $1000 less. Lots of SLACs like the one I’m at have tiny endowments and lots of debt from trying to upgrade current facilities/expand. The university president makes less than six times what I make; there are probably more higher-level administrators than we need, but none of them make massive amounts.

Don’t get me wrong: I think if there is a consistent need for adjuncts in numbers that justify FT, TT hires, then I think that’s the best way to deal with the situation for everybody. Say the English department regularly needs faculty for 10 sections per semester beyond what the FT faculty can handle — that looks like two FT faculty to me, rather than four to five adjuncts. BUT

I think that adjunct pay should be based on a percentage of FT pay. Perhaps 80% pro rata without benefits, or 60-65% with benefits, because adjuncts don’t have service obligations, and are also seldom prevented from taking courses at other institutions. Also, the suggested wages don’t really take into account cost of living variations. that’s problematic, too. The benefits thing is the hardest part, and another reason we need universal single-payer health insurance. Take that out of the equation, and colleges worry less about an adjunct using “their” benefits while teaching for different institutions.

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human mathematics 02.14.12 at 11:02 am

Please spread the word far and wide among those considering graduate school, and those who know someone considering graduate school. I think among older Americans and American college students both, there is a perception that PhD = rank = success in life. Most are still not aware of what the reality is for too many hard-working, highly-educated people.

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Michael Bérubé 02.14.12 at 9:41 pm

Steven D. Krause @ 79:

It is interesting to me that the MLA is taking on this cause—and it is a noble one—when the organization and many of its members doesn’t seem to think very much of composition and rhetoric, which is where most NTT faculty work in English departments.

I just don’t know where this comes from. Is there a document somewhere, or a series of statements by MLA staff and/or elected leadership, that suggests that the MLA doesn’t think very much of composition and rhetoric? Because I hear this fairly often from rhet/comp teachers, and after all these years, I still don’t get it. What did the MLA do/not do to earn this rep, and what should it do to get rid of it?

Because as far as I’m concerned — and I know I share this conviction with the rest of the MLA leadership — the working conditions of NTT faculty are of critical importance for higher education regardless of whether those faculty members are teaching composition or Keats.

AOP @ 58, I’ll reply to you in a followup post — the one I’m writing right now.

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Tom Bach 02.14.12 at 10:12 pm

I liked to see the various academic associations present some kind of a united front on the payment and treatment of the adjuncts and other ad hoc faculty. This isn’t an MLA problem but industry wide and it deserves a united response.

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Michael Bérubé 02.15.12 at 12:25 am

Agreed, Tom, which is why we’re doing most of this work with the Coalition on the Academic Workforce.

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