Calling All Adjuncts

by Tedra Osell on February 7, 2012

Sorry, this isn’t a job posting. Instead, it’s a request for adjuncts or recent adjuncts to add their salaries to a database, intended to “recognize the schools that are doing a great job . . . [and to] expose those schools that have chosen to ignore the basic human rights of their employees and shortchange their students and their communities by devaluing the very education they pretend to celebrate.”

Having worked, for precisely one semester, at an adjunct job that paid about $2k, if memory serves, along with other indignities, I totally endorse this project.



K 02.07.12 at 4:25 am

Here’s to hoping that transparency will serve to shame the offending institutions rather than just alerting the others to what they might get away with. The deeper problem, of course, is the (deliberate) oversupply of phds. Who are the worst offenders in terms of producing the greatest quantity of unemployable graduates? What we really need is an online database of useless degrees: Name, worthless degree, years on the dole, …


Eli Rabett 02.07.12 at 8:59 am

The top quarter of schools produces about half the PhDs, the top half about three quarters across all fields. Want to reduce the number of graduates to a manageable number, close the University of California. Oh wait, we are doing that.


J. Otto Pohl 02.07.12 at 11:31 am

The $2000 was per a class per a semester right? So that is $16,000 a year for four classes. That is a lot more than I made at American University of Central Asia as an Associate Professor. But, it is less than I make as a lecturer at University of Ghana.


ben w 02.07.12 at 4:44 pm

Actually, 16,000/4 = 4,000.


Barry 02.07.12 at 5:06 pm

I think that he meant four classes per semester times two semesters a year.


Jake 02.07.12 at 5:08 pm

Are UC graduates more or less employable than Ph.D. students as a whole? The legal education field is infamous for having a small number of schools whose degree will get you a job and many more schools whose degree is largely useless.


J. Otto Pohl 02.07.12 at 5:10 pm

Yes, I meant four classes a semester times two semesters a year.


Just some guy 02.07.12 at 5:54 pm

The only thing that would make any difference is if job placement within the field (a certain percentage within a given time frame) became part of the accreditation process. That would staunch the flow of surplus Ph.D.s in about 5-10 years.

But the proverbial snowball in hell comes to mind.


Eli Rabett 02.07.12 at 10:46 pm

See Paul Campos blog on law schools for placement and the games that are played


PHB 02.08.12 at 4:55 am

When I worked at MIT I could never work out where all the money went. I knew that for every dollar the university paid me, the university was claiming $2.70 in overhead. But quite where that all went is a mystery to me.

The lab had very few support staff compared to a UK university and they were paid worse than I was.

As for $2K for teaching a course. When I was in the training business I used to charge $4K per person for a 5 day training course which would be attended by 4-12 people. Take out the $2K for renting the room, travel etc and you are still clearing $14K in profit. I will probably go back into that business if the economy picks up.


Benjamin S Nelson 02.08.12 at 5:37 am

Of course, it’s cheaper to pay low salaries when the labor pool is overflowing. But that’s not to say the PhD’s are ‘worthless’, in that case. That’s a cruel misrepresentation. After all, adjunct faculty are doing a job that is in demand. The job just happens to suck.

Administration, on the other hand, is evidently a boom town. Ben Ginsberg claims that during the period (1985-2005) the number of administrative staff has risen 240%, and the number of administrators risen 85% (compared with faculty increase of 50%, and student enrolment of 56%). Makes you want to trade in your tweed jacket for a snazzy university lapel pin.


Tedra Osell 02.08.12 at 6:47 am

Some guy @8: Placement of people who actually get the degree is only part of the picture. You have to account for what *kind* of placement: t-t jobs? Permanent adjunct status, which is where a lot of my friends have ended up but which still leaves them earning not-quite-enough-to-get-by years later? The occasional adjunct position that turns into a “real” job (I have a couple friends who ended up in those)? Plus you’d have to factor in “attrition,” aka “people who drop out ABD because by that point the reality of their situation has started to sink in and they’re too fucking depressed to complete the dissertation, plus what’s the point anyway? And then there are folks like me, who do land t-t jobs before leaving the profession because the job turns out to be a bad fit and lightning doesn’t strike twice….


Tedra Osell 02.08.12 at 6:51 am

J. Otto @3: Yes, $17k/year. Only, of course, no one gets actual full employment because then they’d have to pay benefits. Also, keep in mind that the median salary where I live is $75k/year and that median housing costs at the bottom of the slump were still $300k; median rent is $1300.


J. Otto Pohl 02.08.12 at 10:21 am

I get health coverage and free housing in addition to my salary. But, I have factored them in already in claiming my total compensation is over 17k a year. There are lots of openings in the History Dept. here for full time and permanent work. According to our departmental strategic plan we would like to hire 25 more people.


Just some guy 02.08.12 at 4:41 pm

Tedra: I agree with you completely that using a “placement” standard would have to be VERY carefully defined by the accrediting body. I think that, at minimum, the only placements that should be counted as successful would be permanent (maybe not t.t., but not semester-to-semester contract), full-time, with benefits, in the field, within four years of degree completion.

And this would have to be attested by the individual graduate, not simply claimed by the university (yes, departments would also have to contact those losers who didn’t get jobs — how icky). If a certain percentage (say 50%) haven’t achieved this, the program is on probation; if it isn’t corrected in X years (3-5), the program’s accreditation is withdrawn. All this information would also need to be included in the application packet sent o prospective students.

The particular numbers are debatable.It’s not perfect, and it wouldn’t take care of situations like yours. But those measures alone would probably be enough to close a lot of grad programs that churn out embittered underemployables. I chose these four indicators simply because those are the ones I would advise my own children to look at before entering any graduate program. I also have advised them not to accept anecdotal evidence such as “our graduate John Smith is now at Big Tier 1, and Mary Johnson is at Prestigious Ivy.” (I have about half a dozen more embarrassing questions I told my son to ask of the grad programs he’s interested in.)

I know many dept. chairs and deans would complain about how hard it is to locate former graduates, especially those who have left the field. But, somehow, the development offices of the three institutions from which I have degrees have managed to use their digital bloodhounds to track me down. (And I left academia almost 20 years ago and have made no effort at all to keep in touch with them.) So it is possible; it just isn’t a priority — or perhaps they just don’t want to know.

But, as I said, snowball’s chance.


Tedra Osell 02.08.12 at 7:24 pm

@Some guy @15: Agreed completely.


SB 02.10.12 at 9:11 pm

Just Some Guy–I realize this thread might be dead but your suggestion made me wonder what you thought of this question:

How is it not * wrong* to have PhD programs where at least half of all those admitted aren’t gainfully employed in the field?

The one reason I’d hate to see lower tier programs gone is that they bring desperately needed diversity into my field. That is one of the problem. Top program X churns out graduates with a single view (often the view of just a few people) and they disseminate out into all the other top programs and the insularity is almost impossible to crack and would only get worse.

But that’s not a good reason at this point, I don’t think.

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