striking profsBy Peter Galuszka

Despite the common view on this blog that college professors are lazy, closed-minded louts always out on sabbatical, the reality may be something quite different.

Cash-strapped colleges across in the country, and in Virginia, are relying increasingly on low-paid adjunct professors to close the gap, especially when they increase the number of students without adding faculty. The result: fully-trained and capable professors with PhDs teaching seven, eight or nine courses a year  and pulling down subsistence-level money.

This is not exactly the version you find among many anti-intellectual conservatives who paint higher education as cesspools of waste and fraud.

According to a revealing story in the Richmond Times Dispatch, at Virginia Commonwealth University, the state’s second- largest school,only 35 percent of full-time faculty held tenure or tenure-tracked positions in 2012. In the early 2000s, the school added 8,500 students without adding faculty. Following this, the TD states, budget cuts made jobs even tighter.

The school has 31,000 students and 2,048 full-time instructional faculty and 686 administrative and professional faculty members. They are buttressed by 1,205 adjunct, part-time professors. Many race from course to course to make ends meet.

One is Jennifer Garvin Sanchez who makes a poverty-level annual income of $18,500 while teaching seven religious studies courses a year. She says maintenance workers earn more than she does.

Some adjuncts have had enough and are joining unions. In October, professors at Tufts University (my alma mater) voted to join the Service Employees International Union which has 2.1 million members and is targeting college professors. Profess at Georgetown University joined in May and American University’s adjunct faculty voted for collective bargaining last year.

So, welcome to yet another reality you don’t read about much on this blog. All you learn here is how expensive and wasteful colleges are and how professors are laggards that could be easily replaced by MOOCs.

But then, you sow what you reap. All the tight-money, anti-union types may someday have to confront the reality that a college is shut down because the part-time, pin money, adjunct professors who pull most of the freight are on strike.

As much as they talk about avoiding unions, this is exactly the way to breath new life into them.

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9 responses to “Rise Up and Strike, Abused Adjunct Profs!”

  1. Peter, one of these days you really should take the trouble to understand the arguments of the people whose views you criticize rather than beating up on straw men. I have never characterized college professors as “lazy, closed-minded louts always out on sabbatical” or anything remotely close to that. Some of my best friends are college professors! I respect them immensely.

    My problem with the higher education system is (1) bloated administration; (2) the perpetuation of disciplines that are no longer in demand; and (3) a failure to more aggressively explore and implement online learning (of which MOOCs are but a sub-set). The higher education system is consigning a generation of students to indentured servitude because higher-ed leaders are unwilling to restructure, reform and do what else is necessary to drive down tuition and fees.

    As for the adjunct faculty, their plight is indeed a miserable one. If there is any occupation in the United States today that probably warrants representation by a labor union, it is adjunct faculty. College administrations have a lot to answer for.

  2. One more thing… Yes, I do have a problem with the tenure system. That creates an “aristocracy of labor,” so to speak. Half the faculty lives like landed gentry, the other half like serfs.

  3. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    So, you really love adjunct professors? Gee, my mistake!

  4. reed fawell III Avatar
    reed fawell III

    I love ’em too.

    It is remarkable. Today’s greatest labor abuse has been built and enforced by tenured University Professors, and their in-house power structure.

    Workers Revolt! Throw off your chains!

    Break up this “aristocracy of labor” this cabal of overlords that abuse you,” this Upper Class faculty living like landed gentry while you live “like serfs”.

  5. I’m sympathetic to Peter’s concern for workers but I think the world is changing and education is the latest ‘victim’.

    I tend to agree with Jim:

    (1) bloated administration; – the colleges are out of control on costs and those costs are NOT to improve lot of academics.

    (2) the perpetuation of disciplines that are no longer in demand;

    used to be the phrase was to “experience living the college life” and “get an all around education” but we’re in a world now where we have veered away
    from the fundamentals of why one gets an education in the first place as we have more and more folks who matriculate in something they’re interested in but has little or no connection with being able to make a living and when
    you start off after graduation with debt up to your eyeballs and weak credentials for a job.. well.. it really does indict the whole higher education concept.

    and (3) a failure to more aggressively

    why should they pursue MOOC or for than matter anything that tightens the focus of the academics and cost-effectiveness as every tom, dick and harry is willing to sign up for 50K in loans to lean advanced basket weaving in a world that is increasingly picky about your background?

    Education is headed the way of journalism if it does not adapt and quickly.

    by the way – these days when I make a doctor appointment, I am give two choices : 1. see the “adjunct” (NP or PA) right away or see the Doc in a month or two. If I have a real problem, I go right away and if the problem is serious, I see the doc the same day.

    this is what is going to happen to more and more job disciplines… from health care to education to other things.

  6. Breckinridge Avatar

    Next installment of the long-running JLARC series of reports on Virginia higher education is due on Monday. Stayed tuned.

    I would submit that adjunct faculty know what they are getting and getting into and are free to work elsewhere. Salaries that low tell me demand for the jobs exceeds the supply. Some are doing it out of love and some are hoping to work their way onto the full time rolls. And Jim is dead right that their plight (and the plight of non-teaching staff at the schools, also badly paid in many cases) is in part due to the guild-like wall of privilege built around tenure. It is similar to the issue of partners and associates in a law or engineering firm, but the law associates are often pretty well paid for their horrible existence. Jim is also right that the working stiffs at the colleges are building a pretty nice life for the oligarchs at the top. It is hard to apply the term “public servant” to those people any more. They make fabulous salaries and benefits compared to rank and file state employees.

    1. reed fawell III Avatar
      reed fawell III

      Can’t wait!

  7. I have no disagreement with Breckinridges views and I like the comparison to law partners and the like… because it shows, in part, that this is not just a “govt” type issue.

  8. reed fawell III Avatar
    reed fawell III

    Last time I looked several years back, the starting salary for a first year just out of law school graduate at a first rate DC law firm was $160,000 a year.

    Those graduates who had clerked for a judge a year or two often ranged substantially higher. And all those salaries were raised each year.

    Such compensation bears no relation to the typical Adjunct Professor. Rather it’s often far higher than many tenured professors.

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