An Adjunct Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving Day

I’ve spent the last three years working to make life better for adjuncts. The Adjunct Project is approaching its third birthday, and I’ve been reflecting on some of the successes that have been achieved since its launch. It’s been a good year for adjunct professors. Here are some of the things for which I’m thankful during this holiday week:

I’m thankful for the adjuncts who stand up for themselves and speak out.
For the adjuncts who recognize that they hold the power.
For the adjuncts who have decided that they alone can change their situations.
For the adjuncts who have gained the confidence to make those changes.

I’m thankful for other members of the academic community who have decided it’s time to step up.
For the tenured faculty members who have joined the cause and raised their voices.
For the administrative assistants who devote special attention to adjuncts’ schedules.
For the human-resources professionals who take extra care to pay adjuncts on time.

I’m thankful for the adjunct unions and their successes of the past year.
For Adjunct Action and the Service Employees International Union and the advancements they’ve made.
For the metro organizing strategy and the fact that it’s WORKING.
For the contracts that are being negotiated across the country to make adjuncts’ lives better.

I’m thankful for New Faculty Majority and the work they’ve done for adjuncts.
For Maria Maisto and her tireless lobbying and testimony in support of the cause.
For the attention politicians have begun paying to the adjunct plight as a result of that lobbying.
For the partnerships and collaborations that the New Faculty Majority has forged in the name of adjunct research.

I’m thankful for the media coverage that’s been given to adjuncts this year.
For the conversation that is now spreading beyond the boundaries of the campus.
For the mainstream coverage from news outlets like PBS and Al Jazeera.
For the industry coverage from Vitae, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Ed, and other blogs.

I’m thankful for the platform Vitae gives me to speak my mind.
For the freedom I have to write about any topic I choose.
For the commitment my editors have made to telling the truth about adjunct labor.
For all the important stories I’ve been able to read and contribute to over this past year.

I’m thankful for my Vitae colleagues and others who continue to thrust adjunct issues into the spotlight.
For Rebecca Schuman, Sarah Kendzior, and Kelly Baker who speak truth to power and call out injustice.
For Karen Kelsky, Joe Fruscione, and Katie Pryal who are helping adjuncts escape bad situations.
For Stacey Patton, Sydni Dunn, Audrey June, and Peter Schmidt whose news coverage of adjunct issues inform all of our discourse.

I’m thankful for the promise of the future for adjunct professors.
For the fact that, finally, adjuncts seem to be gaining ground.
For hope that things can get better.
For all of the changes that will come this year.

Always an Adjunct?

Walking Away I’m walking away, but I’m not turning my back.

Regular readers of this website know that I left my adjunct teaching position at the University of Georgia last May.  Ultimately, I’m glad I did what I did. The job wasn’t bad, but it was keeping me from moving on to something better.

In this week’s post at Vitae, I discuss some of the questions I’ve been dealing with since deciding to leave my position.

For one, it’s just kind of strange to not be prepping for classes this year like I would usually be doing. After dedicating about seven years of my life to a career track, I’m having a hard time leaving it behind.

I’m also struggling with another important question. How does my role as a writer about adjunct issues change now that I’m no longer an adjunct? My professional identity for the past couple of years has been that of an adjunct who writes about adjunct issues. Now I’m wondering what my new life outside of academe means for my legitimacy as a higher ed writer.

Should I continue to write about adjunct issues? Am I allowed to? Will I even want to?

I have to admit that part of me wants to leave the conversation entirely. I know progress is being made. I see it every day. In the two and half years since the Adjunct Project first began, adjunct issues have been pushed into the mainstream. The tide appears to be turning.

As I discuss in the piece, I’m not sure what my new role will be and whether or not I will stay connected to higher ed. I know leaving was something I had to do. Now I just need to figure out how I can continue to be useful to the growing movement.

Read more about my decision to leave academe and about the questions I’m pondering at:

Giving Up the Good.

It’s Time for the AAUP to Get Serious About Adjunct Pay

Combined Operations

Despite increased attention on the plight of adjunct professors, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) is still showing its bias against this professorial underclass.

The 2013-2014 AAUP Faculty Salary Survey data was released today and, just as in years past, it does not include a category for adjunct professor pay. This despite the fact that adjuncts and other non-tenure-track professors now make up the majority of the professoriate.

As this report reveals, tenure-track faculty members are still prioritized in the AAUP’s salary data. By the AAUP’s own statistics, tenure-track faculty make up only about 30% of professors now. The AAUP’s continued ignorance of the majority in their annual salary data is inexcusable.

To be fair, the AAUP has begun to get much more involved in the fair pay for adjuncts fight. They’re getting better. Now it’s time to start treating adjuncts like a part of the university by including them in the salary data survey. Adjunct salary should no longer be invisible.

No doubt one reason for the absent adjunct salary information is its relative difficulty to collect. Adjunct pay varies widely. Even adjuncts at the same university can earn different salaries based on how many classes they teach. It’s definitely not easy to glean that kind of information from the universities or even from the adjuncts themselves. But it can be done, as the Adjunct Project has proven.

The data exists; it’s just a matter of how much time and resources the AAUP is willing to invest in order to obtain that data. If the organization continues to ignore this huge swath of its constituency, it will lose relevance among the majority of faculty members. Why would adjuncts be interested in joining an organization that ignores them?

How the AAUP Can Include Adjuncts in the Annual Salary Report

Here are some steps the AAUP can take in order to start being more inclusive of the majority of professors in its salary data report.

  1. The AAUP should create a category for adjunct pay and list it on a per course basis. This would alleviate the problem of varying adjunct salaries due to teaching load. Readers can extrapolate full-time equivalents based on these per course numbers.
  2. Partner with the Adjunct Project in order to take advantage of existing salary numbers. The Adjunct Project currently has about 7,400 self-reported entries on adjunct pay and counting.
  3. Designate a dedicated researcher to contact schools directly and inquire about adjunct faculty pay. All it would take is a couple hundred schools to report their adjunct pay information in order to get a reasonable data set. This might also put pressure on other schools to divulge their information.
  4. At the very least, the AAUP should acknowledge in this annual salary report that it is missing salary numbers for 70% of the professoriate. Not acknowledging this fact is a pretty egregious misrepresentation of reality.

It’s time for the AAUP to step up and take a stand for adjuncts by committing resources to the annual salary report. Continuing to omit adjunct pay information is only hurting the organization by projecting the (certainly unintentional) message that the AAUP doesn’t care about adjunct pay.

Summer Jobs, Credit Cards & Unemployment: Surviving the Summer on an Adjunct Budget

Unemployment Line for Adjuncts

Summer is coming up and, for most adjuncts, that means 3-4 long months without a paycheck. Most adjuncts receive their final paycheck of the spring semester in May, and they won’t be paid again until September. The summer months can get pretty tight financially—especially for those adjuncts who aren’t lucky enough to find summer work.

Adjunct budgets are notoriously thin anyway without the added strain of skimming a portion each month to survive the financial dearth of the summer months. Saving money on an adjunct’s salary is nearly impossible. So adjuncts must find some other way to continue to pay rent when they aren’t teaching.

The really lucky adjuncts snap up a summer section or two, which keeps the paychecks coming. But most schools have many more adjuncts than they have summer sections, so only a few score one of these coveted assignments. Landing a summer class is the dream for most adjuncts because it means they can continue to eat without running up their credit cards.

I’ve known many an adjunct—myself included—who have had to rely on credit cards over the summer months. During graduate school, I ran up about $8,000 in credit card debt. I depended on my credit card to squeeze me through the pay gaps.

Summer Jobs for Adjuncts

Of course, the ideal solution to the strain of the adjunct summer is to find a job during those three non-teaching months. Just something that can keep the income consistent, even if it’s not glamorous. Believe me, I’m no stranger to taking ignominious jobs in order to fill gaps in employment. For most of grad school, I delivered pizzas at night. I kept this job during my first year as an adjunct while trying to dig out of my debt hole.

But never did I deliver pizzas in the same city where I taught. I couldn’t bear the thought of ringing a student’s doorbell and handing over a large pie topped with pepperoni and shame. Could you imagine recovering any kind of classroom ethos after that exchange?

The problem is it’s not that easy to pick up a job for only three months. Hiring managers aren’t stupid and they realize over-educated workers will turnover quickly. They don’t want to hire and train someone who will quit a few months later.

Therefore, your best bet might be to find a seasonal job that expects to churn employees quickly. Landscaping crews are a good example of this kind of work. I’ve done it. Seasonal warehouse jobs also fit the bill. Done that, too.

But what if one has a physical limitation that keeps him from taking a labor-intensive seasonal job? Seasonal jobs for knowledge workers are harder to come by. A couple good examples are tutoring, freelancing, and teaching for a test prep company. Temp agencies are another safe bet, but you should send your resume to them as soon as possible in order to get in the rotation for summer work.

One more idea: If you plan ahead, you can substitute teach in local public schools during the last month of the school year, after college classes have ended. I’ll be doing that in May.

Filing for Unemployment During the Summer

Finally, for some adjuncts, the option that makes the most sense is filing for unemployment during the summer pay gap. As I said, picking up a job for a couple months can be tough, not to mention stressful. Adjuncts with children are especially vulnerable during these months without pay. It’s much more difficult for them to pick up a 9-5 job cutting grass—and it might not even make financial sense once childcare is accounted for.

If you’re an adjunct considering unemployment this summer, here a couple good resources you should check out:

  • Access to Unemployment Insurance Benefits for Contingent Faculty is an excellent guide to filing for unemployment as an adjunct. It was published by the Chicago Coalition on Contingent Academic Labor (COCAL) with the help of NEA, AAUP, and AFT. Basically all the big education unions had a hand in compiling this manual.
  • The Unemployment Question is a blog post at the Adjunct Project with a discussion thread 45 comments long about adjuncts who have filed for unemployment in various states.

Surviving the summer as an adjunct without pay is rough. Many of the thousands of adjuncts at American universities suffer through this pain every year. Whether you get a summer class, find a temporary job, rack up credit card debt, or file for unemployment, know that you aren’t alone.

If you would like to ask a question to the adjunct community, feel free to post it here. I also edit the Adjunct Project blog and I’d be glad to open up your question to the group.

GradPay: Crowdsourcing Graduate Student Working Conditions

GradPay Graduate Student Stipends By State

Median Stipend by State: Reds indicate high stipends, blues low stipends; black indicates missing data.

Over the past few years, a slew of articles have warned would-be academics away from graduate school, arguing that graduate students are overworked, underpaid, and underemployed once they complete their studies. Other commentators have passionately defended graduate education, dismissing such concerns as overblown. This debate highlights the dearth of information about graduate student well-being.

Certainly, some graduate students struggle to make ends meet, and others live relatively comfortable lives. But, at the moment, it’s hard to know how much money a typical graduate student is paid, or how much work she does. There’s also little information about differences in working conditions across departments: my limited personal experience suggests that students in the natural sciences earn more than students in the humanities, but there is little hard evidence to back up intuitions like this.

To address these questions, I recently launched GradPay, a survey of graduate student working conditions. The project is inspired by the Adjunct Project, but focuses on graduate students rather than adjunct faculty.

The survey asks Master’s and Ph.D. students about the work they do, the stipends they earn, and the health benefits they receive (if any). Some results are available on the site now; many new analyses will be added in the coming months. The results are available in real time on the project site, but I’ve highlighted some of the most interesting findings here.

Although the survey has only been available since early in the year, the results have already started to shed light on graduate working conditions. Out of a total of 1,670 doctoral student respondents, the median annual stipend was $21,000. Respondents also reported working as teaching assistants for a median of 50% of their terms in school.

Nearly all doctoral students received a stipend of some kind: less than 3% of respondents reported a stipend of less than $10,000, and just 1.3% reported that they received no stipend at all. Over 15% of respondents reported that they worked as a teaching assistant every semester; 6.3% of respondents indicated that they were never required to teach. Over one-fourth of respondents reported taking out loans to support their graduate education.

Altogether, the typical graduate student is paid less than half of the average starting salary of a college graduate. Because the typical Ph.D. program takes at least five years to complete, choosing graduate school may entail taking a big financial penalty in the short term.

Factors Affecting Graduate Student Stipends

Stipends also varied widely across states, institutions, and departments. Doctoral students in Kansas reported the lowest stipends, at $12,875; Connecticutensians earned the highest median stipend of $27,500 (for a visual take on the geographic diversity of graduate stipends, check out the map visualization at the bottom of the post). At the institutional level, median stipends ranged from $11,580 at the University of Houston to $32,600 at Harvard. Last, at the disciplinary level, stipends varied from $12,000 in urban and regional planning to $30,000 in nuclear engineering.

Overall, the results of the GradPay survey paint a more complicated picture of graduate working conditions than one might expect. As warned by some commentators, some graduate students are in dire financial straits. Others, though, earn relatively respectable stipends and health benefits, and are rarely required to teach. The survey also reveals staggering differences across institutions and departments: [pq align=right]Students at the highest-paying university earned stipends over 180% more than stipends at the lowest-paying university.[/pq]

There’s still a lot of work to be done on the project. The results will become more accurate as more students complete the survey, and the website will become more informative as more analytics are added. If you want to get involved, you can forward the survey to graduate students, student advocacy groups, and university administrators: the address is http://gradpay.org/. Or, if you have suggestions for new directions for the project or want to start a collaboration, get in touch with me at jm.carp@gmail.com.

 

Written by Joshua Carp, a doctoral candidate at the University of Michigan and the creator of GradPay. GradPay was inspired by the Adjunct Project