What I Did on National Adjunct Walkout Day and Why You Should Care

The first ever National Adjunct Walkout Day was this past Wednesday, a day I also happened to be teaching as an adjunct faculty member.  I didn’t walk out of my class, but I did use the first few minutes of class to highlight an issue that I think is important: the benefit-less extremely low pay of adjunct faculty in higher education.  The fast food workers of the ivory tower.  It is a population that, in some reports, takes on up to 70% of the teaching load at U.S. colleges and universities.  A figure that has increased from a still hefty 57% in 1993.

This is an important issue that I don’t think many people understand.  As a current and past adjunct faculty member, it is extremely hard to eek out a living teaching at a college or university.  For some, who are finished with their degrees and on the job market looking for full-time employment, the reality is even more bleak.

I’ve taught and or had adjunct teaching offers at a couple of different installations.  Their pay rates are essentially the same.  Teach one course, regardless of size, for $4000.  It can vary by institution, but this is pretty common.  In the United States, according to the AAUP, $4000 is the median salary for teaching one course.

Let’s break it down.

A standard semester is about 15 weeks with 3 hours of class time each week.

15 weeks x 3 hours = 45 hours

Of course, you also have to prepare to teach each week.  The amount of time required to prepare varies on a number of factors including if you’ve taught the course before and the subject matter.  Let’s set a reasonable class prep time of 2 hours a week.

15 weeks x 2 hours = 30 hours

Then you have to grade.  Again, this can vary based on class size and the type of assignment.  Our friends in English and the humanities for whom papers are the norm have it particularly rough.   Let’s set it at 3 hours a week.

15 weeks x 3 hours = 45 hours

There may also be an expectation that a faculty member hold office hours and be available for outside help.  Even if these are optional, dedicated teachers have a hard time saying no to a student that wants extra help.  There may also be an orientation for new faculty or the occasional administrative meeting on the schedule.  For this, I’ll allot 1 hour.

15 weeks x 1 hour = 15 hours

Tallying up the numbers we arrive at something like this:

Total: 135 hours
9 hours per week

Pay rate for adjunct faculty: $29.63 per hour.  No benefits.

So you’re wanting to make college teaching your full-time job?  You haven’t secured a job yet or perhaps you’re a doctoral student looking to work during your education.  Ok.  Let’s assume a standard faculty work load of 3 classes per semester.  You might also be able to pick up 2 courses over the summer if they’re available.

Fall Semester: 3 courses x $4000 = $12,000
Spring Semester: 3 courses x $4000 = $12,000
Summer Term: 2 courses x $4000 = $8000
Total annual salary: $32,000. No benefits.

So remember, you now have to pay for health care, taxes, and because you’re likely commuting to multiple schools to teach, you need to pay for transportation.  You’ve also got loans to pay back or tuition to fund because you’ve either just received your doctorate or you are a current doctoral student.  There are also pressures to research, write articles and publish, because the only way for you to get a full-time faculty position is to do these types of activities and list them on your CV. The odds are not in your favor, remember, nearly 70% of faculty are not in full-time tenure track positions.

If you’re a current doctoral student you might turn to loans.  Not the best solution, but you’ve got to live.  Congratulations, because the above-market interest rates on Federal Stafford loans for undergraduates is 4.66%, but because you’re a graduate student you need to pay a student loan interest rate of 6.21%.

Do you see the problem here?  Adjuncts are cheap and budget cuts to higher education often come at the expense of hiring full-time teachers.  The overall effect is a lower quality of education for the students.  The students have faculty that aren’t on campus, that they can’t seek outside help from, and whom are all trying to teach under stressful conditions.

The unfortunate reality is that this is not just about salaries, but about the quality of higher education as a whole.  It’s sad.

4 thoughts on “What I Did on National Adjunct Walkout Day and Why You Should Care

  1. Great summative post about the experiences of an adjunct, Paul. I recently left full time adjunct work due to workload. I taught 5 classes per semester and held a part-time position in student affairs just to make less than my previous full time job in a leadership position in student affairs. I loved what I did but, like overeating at a buffet, my plate was overflowing. I had to take a different career path in HE (in EdTech) while I build up my research agenda (or… Maybe I’ll stay in EdTech). Thanks for sharing this important issue with student affairs folks; I think it is important that they/we understand the challenges facing adjuncts (especially if we ask them to do something for/with us).

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