The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) has proposed that adjuncts should get paid $15,000 per course.

[O]rganizers argue that if you’re teaching a full load of three courses per semester, that comes out to $90,000 in total compensation per year — just the kind of upper-middle-class salary they think people with advanced degrees should be able to expect.

I also teach 3 classes per term, but after 12 years in the business I still don’t get paid $90,000 year. And I have advising, committeework, recruitment, and research expectations on top of the teaching load.

These are folks who think that an advanced degree creates an entitlement, an obligation on others. It doesn’t. And it misunderstands the issue of value.

“It’s not a path to competitiveness to pay knowledge workers bottom-level wages,” says Gary Rhoades, head of the Department of Educational and Policy Studies at the University of Arizona, who has assisted in various adjunct organizing efforts, including the SEIU’s.

This is word salad. Over 20 years ago Paul Krugman pointed out that “Most people who use the term “competitiveness” do so without a second thought.” In Rhoades’ claim, who is in competition with whom, and how does paying adjuncts more than necessary to get qualified ones enhance that competitiveness?

Here’s the ugly truth about adjuncts: there are far too many people willing to be adjuncts for far too many years–their problem is not stingy colleges and universities but the number of other would-be adjuncts competing for the same positions.

What will happen to that number if the pay were to go from around $2500 per class to $15,000 per class? The pool of adjuncts would increase again. People get burned out and quit on adjuncting in part because of the low pay, making room for others to get adjuncting gigs. But if someone can make $60,000/year for teaching 4 classes, instead of $15,000/year for 6 classes (which is not uncommon), they’re not going to clear the field so quickly, and there’s going to be more competition for jobs.

Employing institutions are also going to increase their standards for whom they hire. That guy with the MA and no publications who’s been teaching American Government for us for years? Sorry, we want a PhD with a publication as our adjunct.

And then there’s the question of who pays for this; ultimately it’s going to be the students and/or taxpayers, and they’re not going to get more value for their money. The SEIU doesn’t care about that, though. It’s not their job to care where the money comes from. It’s only their job to gain more dues payers by feeding frustrated academics’ sense of entitlement.

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5 Responses to Should Adjuncts Be Paid $15,000 per Course?

  1. At U-Sangamon at Big City (where I work), the faculty have unionized* and they use similar entitlement-sounding arguments, which is a big turnoff for me, and makes me embarrassed to have the union claim to speak for me.**

    That aside, I think the SEIU people would respond not that they don’t understand how “value” works, but that they envision a “world in which value is conceived of along different lines.” You’d still be right that the “different lines” would not obviate supply and demand, but they would probably insist that it’s better to go out of our way to ensure that adjuncts are paid so much. (I hope it’s clear I don’t agree with them, but I’m just trying to state how they might respond.)

    And yes, $90K is a lot no matter how you look at it. At U-Sang at Big City, even newly hired assistant profs (in humanities fields) get paid about ca. $45K. (Sometimes very marketable people do get hired as assistant profs at around the $90K mark. But that’s not as common.)

    *Their union doesn’t include most adjuncts. It would if it were allowed, but early in the bargaining process, a court decided it couldn’t.

    **There’s also a selfish reason for me to oppose the union. I’m a full-time “contingent” employee, supposedly represented by the union, but I’m in such a marginal situation at U-Sang that the new union rules make it slightly more unlikely that I can be rehired on when my contract is up for renewal. The union rules aren’t the only reason for this unfortunate situation–the main reason is that Sangamon just doesn’t have a lot of money and someone will probably have to get cut from my department, and that person would probably have to be me with or without a union. It’s not personal although it affects me personally. It’s just scarcity.)

  2. fillyjonk says:

    $15,000 per course seems like a lot. I’m a full-time, tenured full professor and I make about $70K (before taxes, natch) for teaching 4/3/2. (The 2 is summers). Doing an adjunct gig at $15K per class would mean I’d make almost double what I do now. And no committee work, no expectation to publish….

    Don’t get me wrong. I feel well remunerated for what I do and I wouldn’t be agitating for a higher salary. (These are tough times for state schools and frankly I feel lucky to make what I do)

    Granted, adjunct wages are probably too low at the moment, at least here(we are allowed to pay about $1500 per course, and it can be very hard to attract qualified folks in my department), but when it reaches a point where people who have worked their way up through the tenure system say, “Wow, it would benefit me monetarily to quit and be re-hired on an adjunct basis,” something’s wrong.

    And yes, I get that tenure really means I have job security unless I do something monumentally stupid or criminal. But still….even as an adjunct I’d probably have job security given my unusual combination of specializations.

    I’d like to see us be given a bit of free reign to pay adjuncts better; as I said, in biology, it’s hard to attract people willing to work hard at what can be a thankless task (mostly teaching intro classes and labs) for low money when there are lab-tech jobs and a person can do stuff like get dental hygienist training. But $15K….seems too steep.

  3. I don’t think I’ve ever read something like this before. So good to find an individual with some original ideas. This web site is something that’s wanted on the net, someone with slight uniqueness.

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