The Exploitation of Adjunct Professors

Michael Ellis

Over the past few decades, the process of hiring teachers at colleges and universities has dramatically changed. What once used to be a reliable job with an optimistic future has now taken a turn for the worse. Universities are more reluctant than ever to hire tenure track faculty in hopes of saving money and reducing commitment, which often leads to the exploitation of university adjunct professors.

While the position of adjunct professor has been around since, at least, 1855, the demographics of the employees have changed. Now, adjunct professors are qualified individuals who seek tenured or tenure-track jobs but can only find adjunct positions. This is not a result of their qualifications, but rather of universities changing the way they hire faculty. The number of faculty who work part- rather than full-time has increased from 30 to 51 percent from 1975 to 2011. Many professors who begin working at academic institutions do so with the goal of becoming tenured faculty members, which gives job security and allows the professors to have more academic freedom in the classroom. The hiring of more adjunct professors as opposed to tenure or tenure-track professors ultimately makes it much more difficult to turn a university teaching job into full-time, reliable job.

The problem with the increase of adjunct professors is not just that the number of jobs IS increasing, but that adjunct professors are exploited. While the statistics may vary across educational institutions, adjunct professors are almost always treated differently than tenured professors or professors on the tenure-track in terms of hours, benefits and job security. However, one of the most significant differences is salary. According to NPR, in 2013, adjunct professors typically earned a salary around $20,000 to $25,000 annually — a low number compared to the average salary of full-time instructors and professors, $84,303. This makes it extremely difficult for adjunct professors to make a living by teaching alone, forcing 89 percent of adjuncts to take teaching roles at other universities. This is where the exploitation is easily visible. Despite large increases in college tuition prices equating to more revenue for universities, they are paying their professors less as well as giving them fewer benefits and less job security.

The main critics of tenured faculty, such as economist Steven Levitt, believe tenured faculty jobs should be eliminated. Levitt argues that universities should compensate professors based on job performance, and most professors settle down when they are given a tenure. On the other hand, Levitt thinks that universities should atone the tenured professors’ job security losses with pay increases. However, it is unlikely this becomes reality. Adjunct professors still receive much lower salaries than tenured faculty, and they still work longer hours without much retribution. As the number of adjunct professors increases, universities should compensate them fairly with increased pay, job security and benefits. After all, adjunct professors are also responsible for shaping the minds of the younger generation.

Opinions expressed on the editorial pages are not necessarily those of WSN, and our publication of opinions is not an endorsement of them. Email Michael Ellis at [email protected]

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