Imagine a company where every employee who works part time is also paid half the amount per hour that the full-time employees are paid. (I.e. if the full-time employees make $12 an hour, the part-time employees make $6 an hour.)
Imagine that in this company, up to 70% of the workers are part-time and only 30% are full-time.
Imagine that these part-time workers have no benefits and no guarantee of continued employment.
Imagine that the part-time workers are docked pay if they are ill or need to miss a day. The full-time workers are not.
Imagine that the majority of the part-time workers have to maintain multiple other jobs just in order to earn a living wage, because what they do earn is so low. Many require government assistance just to survive.
What would you expect the quality of these part-time workers to be, on a scale of 1-10? (10 being high, 0 being low.) And therefore, what would you expect the quality of the company’s product to be?
I would have gone with 3. How about you?
Now, here’s the scary part: the employment situation I just described isn’t happening at a large corporation like Wal-Mart or Target. And it isn’t happening in a second or third-world country where employee rights are limited. This situation is happening right here in America.
And it’s happening in almost every college in this country—including, most likely, the college you attended. These employees? They’re called Adjunct Professors.
I spent years blissfully unaware that this kind of exploitation was occurring anywhere--least of all in the many universities and colleges I have spent time in and around. It wasn’t until my husband took a position teaching in a community college three years ago that I realized what employment really looks like for the many adjunct professors in most colleges and universities.
Basically, it looks like this: every semester, you get assigned some classes. If you’re lucky, you get a full course load. You’re paid by the course. So someone given a course load of 4 classes might only be making $8,000 for the whole semester. Meanwhile, a so-called “full-time” professor is making a full salary for their teaching load—which means they’re likely making at least $22,000 for that same semester. You don’t get benefits, which is tough, because if you’re carrying a full course load, any other jobs you’re going to have are probably also going to be part-time—which means you probably don’t have benefits at all. And let’s be honest: despite the fact that you’re called a “part-time” instructor, you’re still carrying a full course load. So if you’re teaching those courses with any kind of integrity, you shouldn’t have much time to devote to other part-time jobs. Except you have to find or make the time, because not one can live on $8,000 dollars a semester. Which means that you’re probably either living hand-to-mouth or not devoting enough time to your students.
As an educator myself, I’m disgusted by this system. It’s completely de-valuing to educators and, in my opinion, can only encourage sub-par teaching. It’s such a blatant way to save money at the expense of providing a high-quality education that I feel compelled to speak out about how much it disgusts me.
The worst part? Adjuncts in America’s college systems aren’t exactly encouraged to speak out about this situation. Especially not when they need to stay in strong favor with their supervisors, who are generally their only path toward escaping the exploitation of an adjunct role and earning a coveted spot as a “full-time” instructor. Especially not when full-time faculty members are writing editorials like this one calling adjuncts "whiners" if they DO say something. And while it is true that "full-time" faculty members have some additional responsibilities in their workload that adjuncts do do not have, we're not talking about enough responsibilities to justify this level of inequality. I also think the adjuncts would happily take on some extra hours attending meetings in exchange for making a living wage.
The exploitation I'm describing here is chronicled quite nicely in this Huffinton Post article. If this kind of exploitation were happening in Wal-Mart, or in another country, I know plenty of people would be up in arms about the situation. As they should be.
So today I’m standing up, arms at the ready, to do some shouting about the exploitation of adjunct professors in America. I hope others out there will do some shouting with me.