Plight of the Adjuncts, Part 4: It’s Wal-Mart Over Here

See…I have this disclaimer that you should probably read if you haven’t.

I’ve written already about the problem of office space for adjunct instructors. And I’ve discussed the problem of communication with students. I have also pointed out when adjuncts have been maligned in the media.

What I haven’t really talked about is the problem with adequate compensation. I think that’s really a given. But just for the record: according to the Adjunct Project, one of our local 2-year public institutions pays between $1,344 – $2,000 per course. Adjuncts are underpaid and overworked.  I have talked on multiple occasions about the corporatization of community college. And perhaps that corporatization is never more clear than when we look at the labor force.

Adjuncts (part-time, temporary employees) teach a majority of the classes at most institutions of higher education.

The parallels to Wal-Mart are obvious: not only are our instructors overworked and underpaid like Wal-Mart employees–but they are so underpaid as to be unable to make a living from teaching. Further, like Wal-Mart’s employees, adjuncts are not offered any insurance benefits. And like Wal-Mart, colleges have opted to cut adjunct teaching loads (hours) rather than face the possibility of having to pay for such benefits. Adjuncts at most institutions are now capped at 3-4 courses per semester. So if an institution is paying $1,344-$2,000/class, and an adjunct teaches 3-4 classes/semester for 2 semesters, he is making $10,725-$16,000/year. Notably, the federal poverty level for a household of 1 in 2014 is $11,670. For a family of 2 (some of our adjuncts have one or more children, in case you were wondering): $15,730.

The only real difference between our public colleges and Wal-Mart is that Wal-Mart is a big, multi-billion-dollar-making corporation. And public colleges are non-profit.

People who work outside Higher Education have no idea, usually, what it’s like for our adjuncts.  Heck, some people who work within institutions of Higher Education have no idea what it’s like.

This conversation I had this week is a good case in point:

Adjunct: How many office hours do I have to schedule?

Colleague: Well, full-time faculty are required to hold 8 regularly scheduled office hours per week, so it’s probably pro-rated…

Me: You are paid to do 3 hours for each class.

Colleague: Oh, so 3 hours a week.

Me: No. He’s paid to do 3 hours PER class.

Adjunct: 3 hours a semester?!?

Colleague: No way. That doesn’t make sense.

Me: I know, but yes–for each class, an adjunct is paid to do 3 office hours per SEMESTER. It’s on the contract.

Anyone who has seen our adjuncts squirreled away in closet corners, conferring with students between classes know that they do more than 3 “office hours” a semester. But that’s not the point: we already know they go above and beyond the call of duty. We already know they work harder and longer and more often than they’re compensated for. But just for the record: that’s how much we pay them to do: 3 hours a semester for office hours.

What message does that send about the value of our instructors to student success? Hmmm…

1 Comment

Filed under Community College, Higher Ed, My Opinion, Teaching & Learning

One response to “Plight of the Adjuncts, Part 4: It’s Wal-Mart Over Here

  1. Pingback: CASA weekly news 22/14 | CASA

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