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Equity Week necessary, exposes ‘poverty-level wages’

Pop Quiz: Your teacher tells you that she has been teaching at the University for 15 years and that she has won teaching awards and recently published an article in a prestigious journal in her field.

Your teacher (a) is a tenured professor, (b) is a full-time lecturer, (c) is a part-time instructor, (d) could be either “a,” “b,” or “c.” Ah, wise student, you answered correctly. The answer is “d.”

Some of your teachers are tenured (and tenure-track) and others are non-tenure-track and still others may be graduate assistants. Working conditions vary considerably depending on whether a teacher is tenured/tenure-track labor or contingent labor (which includes non-tenure-track faculty, both full- and part-time, as well as graduate assistants).

Campus Equity Week (Oct. 28-Nov. 2) focuses on the working conditions for non-tenure-track faculty. This biennial event was started by The Coalition of Contingent Academic Labor which, according to its website, is “a grassroots coalition of activists in North America working for contingent faculty: adjunct, part-time, non-tenured and graduate teaching faculty.”

If you or your friends went “bobbing for benefits” at the Union, then you know that many part-time faculty find themselves tricked rather than treated by their employers.

Such activism as “Bobbing for Benefits” and other Campus Equity Week events are necessary because not only are contingent faculty now the majority of faculty teaching classes at American universities, but oftentimes part-time faculty and graduate assistants are earning poverty-level wages.

In tracking trends in faculty employment status, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) compiled data from the U.S. Department of Education, the National Center for Education Statistics and IPEDS Fall Staff Surveys to discover that between 1975 and 2011, contingent faculty increased from 43.2 percent in 1975 to 70.2 percent of total faculty in 2011. If graduate student employees are considered among the instructional staff, contingent employees rose from 54.9 percent in 1975 to 75.9 percent in 2011.

Those who are paid these poverty-level wages are not mere statistics, though sometimes it may seem that way when decision-makers talk about delivering a cost-effective, quality education. In “The Sad Death of An Adjunct Professor Sparks a Labor Debate,” NPR’s Claudio Sanchez interviewed Maria Maisto, President of New Faculty Majority, who rightly noted, “If education is really at the heart of what we do, then there’s absolutely no excuse for not putting the bulk of the resources into what happens in the classroom.”

Unfortunately, adequate compensation for teachers is not necessarily where the resources are targeted. Maisto shared the following anecdote with Sanchez: “In fact, here in Ohio, I have colleagues who have recently had to sell their plasma in order to buy groceries.” Few students would imagine that some of their professors face such dire choices. And it doesn’t have to be that way.

Several years ago, the University took an important stand for workplace equity by converting a number of part-time teaching positions into full-time non-tenure-track positions. The difference between part-time and full-time is the difference between poverty-level wages with no benefits for part-time faculty and living wages with health benefits for full-time faculty.

Unfortunately, current University administrators and decision-makers seem to be backpedaling from that commitment to full-time teaching positions. Last year, 72 full-time faculty left the University, some by choice, but most because their contracts were not renewed. Those 72 full-time faculty were not replaced. And, as reported in department and program meetings across campus this fall, more full-time non-tenure-track faculty will lose their jobs at the end of this academic year.

The loss of those full-time faculty positions will impact your college experience. Even though some decision-makers may not recognize it, the working conditions for faculty impact the learning conditions for students.

Respond to Julie at

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