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In 2012, four-year tuition at the average public university cost more than $15,000 – not counting books, meals or housing. At the average private institution, that figure was even higher, clocking in at over $32,000. Even two-year and vocational programs ran nearly $9,000 per certificate.

With the cost of higher education skyrocketing, it’s easy to assume that professors – the men and women who educate our students – are doing quite well for themselves. In some cases, that’s true: tenured faculty members’ salaries at leading universities can top $160,000 a year. But the average adjunct professor makes just $2,700 per course, with no health care insurance or other benefits.

Here’s the kicker: 76 percent of university faculty in the United States are adjunct professors. Most have to work at multiple universities and still don’t make enough to stay above the poverty line. And considering the amount of time involved in preparing, teaching and grading each class, many adjuncts make less than minimum wage.

With statistics like these, it’s no surprise that adjunct professors nationwide are forming unions through Adjunct Action, a project of the Service Employees International Union. This past weekend, faculty from more than 20 Bay State campuses kicked off their own organizing drive with an ‘Adjunct Faculty Symposium’ in Boston.

More than 100 professors from across Eastern Massachusetts gathered at the JFK Presidential Library Saturday for the daylong conference – discussing everything from classroom challenges to coalition building. Participants also met in small breakout groups to develop campus-specific organizing strategies and plan next steps, joined by scores of student supporters who were ready to stand in solidarity with their professors.

By the end of the symposium, adjunct professors were well prepared to launch organizing drives on campuses throughout greater Boston. And soon, they’ll be standing arm-in-arm with 15,000 other faculty members who have already unionized through Adjunct Action at SEIU.

For more information on the fight to raise wages and improve working conditions for adjunct faculty, check out this great interview from WBUR’s All Things Considered – or visit Adjunct Action online at www.adjunctaction.org.

Originally posted to MassUniting on Mon Apr 15, 2013 at 09:34 AM PDT.

Also republished by In Support of Labor and Unions.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Adjunct Union (5+ / 0-)

    I was involved in organizing an adjunct union and then served for many years as an officer and a member of the negotiating committee. It is not an easy road and our national still doesn't understand who we are and why we want a union.

    •  out of curiosity (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Ojibwa, peregrine kate

      Which national were you a part of? I think this kind of organizing is essential if we are going to combat the corporate model of higher education.

      •  AFT originally (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        peregrine kate

        they weren't really sure who we were. They were never really sure how to support us.

        •  I was with AFT locals, too. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Ojibwa

          Let me just say that their track record with regards to contingent faculty is mixed, especially when they also represent full-time and/or TT faculty at the same campus or in the same system. There are clear conflicts of interest between the two populations that they do not help to resolve.

          Some DKos series & groups worth your while: Black Kos, Native American Netroots, KosAbility, Monday Night Cancer Club. If you'd like to join the Motor City Kossacks, send me a Kosmail.

          by peregrine kate on Mon Apr 15, 2013 at 02:26:43 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  AFT (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Ojibwa

          I can imagine the educational vision doesn't always overlap in the teachers union. Too bad there isn't a wall to wall university union, it would be so much more powerful if adjuncts could join together with the service staff, often Unite Here or SEIU, along with the graduate students unions that exist some places too.

          SEIU does some good work with professionals - hope this adjunct division takes off.

  •  The best to all who want to unite in order to (6+ / 0-)

    get a fair shake from the overlords enormous resources marshaled against workers.  (All the money spent opposing labor would be better spent on fair wages.  Who is profiting from this division in interests?)

    Building a better America with activism, cooperation, ingenuity and snacks.

    by judyms9 on Mon Apr 15, 2013 at 09:52:52 AM PDT

  •  I am very much in support of mass action (6+ / 0-)

    by contingent faculty, having been one myself for many years, and being married to one myself. I was, for that matter, on my local's union council for several years as well as part of the negotiating team for one contract, before moving to another campus as the union organizer. I hope that the campaign in the Boston area works; it's a good strategy to organize by area not merely by campus or institution.
    However, I think you've made a significant error of fact. The percentage of ALL post-secondary faculty who are adjuncts is around 76%. But this aggregates ALL post-secondary institutions, community colleges on up. The percentages of faculty off the tenure track at 4-year colleges and at universities are smaller than 76%. (This figure also depends, obviously, on whether graduate teaching assistants are included.)
    I mention this because it's very important to know your audiences and to have your statistics in order. Otherwise you will get a lot of pushback from people who can claim that you do not know what you are talking about.
    Good luck.

    Some DKos series & groups worth your while: Black Kos, Native American Netroots, KosAbility, Monday Night Cancer Club. If you'd like to join the Motor City Kossacks, send me a Kosmail.

    by peregrine kate on Mon Apr 15, 2013 at 09:59:16 AM PDT

  •  Why don't all adjunct faculty... (0+ / 0-)

    ...simply quit and go work in private industry where salaries are presumably higher?

    If more of them did that, adjunct salaries would have to be higher.

    These days it is foolish to think of a long term career in academia. Get a career in industry, then if colleges need you they'll pay you accordingly. If they don't, just tell them to go screw and keep your corporate job.

    (-5.50,-6.67): Left Libertarian
    Leadership doesn't mean taking a straw poll and then just throwing up your hands. -Jyrinx

    by Sparhawk on Mon Apr 15, 2013 at 10:18:38 AM PDT

    •  some people (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      bluesophie

      believe in higher education...and don't want to work in the corporate sphere. It isn't all about getting the highest paying job...and this is a way of trying to change from within

    •  Yeah, like there is a tight labor market (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      bluesophie, peregrine kate, alain2112

      There aren't exactly a plethora of good paying jobs in the "private sector."  My summer job is working at a lawn care business making 25-30 stops a day spraying chemicals on rich folks lawns for slightly over minimum wage.

      Why don't people leave?  My guess is the $100,000 or more in graduate tuition combined with the other costs of being an academic such as professional memberships, travel and lodging to conferences, etc.  This combined with the up to ten years some people have taken to achieve their PHD, make it hard to leave the profession.  Also, see how well an advanced degree on your resume affects your marketability.  (HINT, an M.A. or a PHD. does not help, it hurts you in a job hunt.

      As for me, I went to Grad school back in the mid 1980s, nobody told me "How the University Works" ( A book everyone should read to understand how the system is stacked in favor of contingent academic labor.)  Back then the tenure track jobs were disappearing, but it was too late for my generation.  I adjuncted for five years until the mid 1990s; I  then worked in the private sector and made good money in upper middle management until I was "downsized" in Oct 2008.  I went to school to get certified to teach high school history.  My class had 89 people either get degrees or certifications.  Guess how many had jobs the following fall?  Three.  One works in Dubai, the other's father works at Unit 5 in McClean County, Illinois and that's how he got work, the third played golf at ISU and she was probably hired more as a golf coach.  BTW my GPA was 3.9 and the closest gig I could get was teaching jr high social studies 100 miles from where my wife and I live.  It was the only job I was offered, and since my wife was unable to get a job at a hospital near there, I turned it down since I had no desire to commute 100 across corn field in the winter.

      I teach a couple of classes, and I interview for both academic and non-academic jobs.  the hardest part for me was having some interviews in the aftermath of the American Historical Association convention in Chicago last year.  On two separate occasions, one of my interviewers voiced concern since my degree was 25 years old that it was "stale" or "out-of date."  I am just as up to date with current scholarship as tenured professors my age.

      Sorry for the rant.

      "The working class mind is strange and unpredictable" -- Ty Lookwell

      by Illinibeatle on Mon Apr 15, 2013 at 10:52:43 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Many of us do work in industry (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      bluesophie, peregrine kate

      When we organized, virtually all of our members held full-time jobs, usually in the fields in which we were teaching. Our issues were often about working conditions, not just money.

  •  What makes the low pay for adjunct faculty even (7+ / 0-)

    more striking - and painful- is the huge increase in administrative personnel at most colleges and universities.
    These superfluous administrators do not teach anything, but are a major factor in the escalating tuition that burdens higher education students both during and after graduation. Fire them and increase the pay of adjuncts.  

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