Adjuncts in poverty

When you think about minimum-wage workers, college professors don’t readily come to mind. But many say that’s what they are these days, as NPR reports:

“Of all college instructors, 76 percent, or over 1 million, teach part time because institutions save a lot of money when they replace full-time, tenured faculty with itinerant teachers, better known as adjuncts.


“Kathleen Gallagher, a published poet and writer with advanced studies and a master’s degree, spent 20 years as an adjunct English professor at several colleges in Akron, Ohio. The most she’s ever made in a year is $21,000; last year, she made $17,000.

“After one college laid her off last summer, Gallagher was desperately short of money, so she sold her plasma. “It is embarrassing to talk on the radio and say, ‘I think I’ll have to go give some blood,’ ” she says with a sigh. “But I needed gasoline. I have applied for other work,” she says. “I had interviews, but then I remembered what I feel like in the classroom.” Gallagher tears up. She says teaching is her life, her calling. She’s always assumed that eventually, a college somewhere would offer her a full-time professorship, but that just doesn’t happen as often anymore. There’s a good reason for that, says Rex Ramsier, vice provost at the University of Akron, where Gallagher is teaching one class.

“Institutions have to be very mindful that if we simply tried to staff every course with full-time faculty that have full benefits, the cost of higher education at any institution would go up 30 to 40 percent potentially,” he says. “The public’s not going to accept that.” More than half the faculty at the University of Akron teaches part time. Ramsier says he’s sorry some adjuncts are struggling, but they know, or should know, what they’re getting into. “Part-time work is truly part-time work,” he says. “We’re not expecting, or trying, to take advantage of people.”

“Two-year and four-year colleges started replacing full-time faculty with part-time instructors in the mid-1970s. That shift has created lots of tension on college campuses where adjuncts are treated like cheap labor, according to a congressional report released last month. Initially, part-time teachers were popular because they brought “real-world experience” to the classroom, according to Adrianna Kezar, an expert on workforce issues in higher education and a professor at the University of Southern California. She says things are different today. “Higher education has begun to adopt corporate management practices,” Kezar says. “Corporations move to more contingent labor because it is a cheaper form of labor.” It’s certainly cheaper, though the amount depends on the size of the institution and whether it’s public or private. A full-time professor’s salary can average from $72,000 a year up to $160,000; adjuncts average $25,000 to $27,000 a year, andoften much less, regardless of where they teach.


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