FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Do College Professors Deserve a Living Wage?

by KEITH HOELLER

When running for reelection last year, Vice President Joseph Biden specifically singled out professors as one of the major reasons for the skyrocketing cost of college tuition:  “Salaries for college professors have escalated significantly,” he said.  Last month President Obama released his plan to hold down the costs of tuition and make college more affordable, which would certainly make it more difficult to raise faculty salaries.

Both President Obama and Vice President Biden should be experts on professors’ salaries.  Obama was a nontenure track “senior lecturer” of Constitutional Law at the University of Chicago prior to his serving in the Senate and Biden’s wife Jill is an Associate Professor at Northern Virginia Community College.

Yet Obama and Biden have completely neglected the huge income disparity on college campuses between the comparatively well off tenure-track faculty, such as Jill Biden who earns $82,000 annually, and the deplorable situation of the nontenure-track faculty, whose plight is so bad that last year the Chronicle of Higher Education ran a story entitled, “From Graduate School to Welfare:  The Ph.D Now Comes with Food Stamps.”

Indeed, one million college professors now teach off the tenure-track with poverty-level wages that have long-rivaled Wal-Mart and MacDonald’s workers.  With the recent clamor for higher wages for unskilled labor, should our nation’s highly skilled “contingent” professors also receive the minimum wage for each and every hour they work, and time and a half for overtime?

In Clawson v. Grays Harbor Community College District (2003), the Washington state supreme court ruled unanimously that they should not, even though in Washington the average part-timer in the community colleges teaches halftime and earns $17,400 a year, or about one-fifth of Professor Biden’s annual salary.

Why did the state Supreme Court rule against the adjuncts?  Because the colleges had argued they were “professionals” who had control of their hours and working conditions, and were therefore exempt from Washington’s Minimum Wage Act.  The colleges may call them “professionals,” but do not in fact treat hoellerthem as such.

According to the American Association of University Professors, there are now one million—three of every four–professors teaching off the tenure-track.  Unlike their tenured counterparts–who have professional salaries, great benefits, summers off, sabbaticals, private offices and lifetime job protection in the form of tenure—these “contingent” faculty have none of these things, and little hope of ever obtaining them.

Could unions help?  Actually, these terrible conditions exist even in unionized colleges where the teachers unions (NEA, AFT, and AAUP) routinely negotiate inequitable contracts that force these insecure part-time workers into the same unions with the tenured faculty, who often serve as their supervisors, interviewing them, hiring them, assigning them classes, and firing them.  Adjuncts who have spoken out against the two-tier system have faced retaliation, sometimes initiated by union leaders.

Workers in bargaining units are supposed to share a community of interests and not conflicts of interest.  Yet there are conflicts between the two tracks at every level.  Tenure-track faculty, for example, are routinely allowed to teach overtime while “part-time” faculty are forbidden to teach “full-time,” with their workloads capped significantly below 100%.

But it’s not just the adjunct faculty who suffer.  Several studies have shown that the nontenure-track faculty are superior teachers.  In Off-Track Profs:  Nontenure-Tenured Teachers in Higher Education (MIT Press, 2009), John Cross and Edie Goldenberg conducted a twelve year study of student evaluations at ten elite research universities; they concluded that “Nontenure-track instructors usually (but not always) obtain higher scores than other types of instructors.”

In “Are Tenure Track Professors Better Teachers?” (September, 2013) David Figlio, Morton Shapiro, and Kevin Soter studied students at Northwestern University and confirmed the findings reported in Off-Track Profs, “We find consistent evidence that students learn relatively more from non-tenure line professors in introductory courses.”

Obamacare has led to the loss of health insurance for thousands of adjuncts since it requires employers of fifty or more to offer health insurance to employees who work 30 or more hours.  Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell has order all state agencies, including colleges and universities, to limit all part-time workers to 29 hours a week.

Nearly sixty years after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the so-called “separate but equal” doctrine in our public K-12 schools (Brown v. Board of Education), our college campuses are more segregated than ever—with massive income inequality and discrimination among the faculty worthy of the name “apartheid.”

How can college professors teach equality and a respect for diversity when they refuse to practice it in their own ranks?  The two-track system is not a merit system; it is a caste system.  Should the U.S. spend billions each year on a higher education system dedicated to offering better opportunities, jobs, and salaries for all of our citizens—except those who teach in the colleges and universities that make such opportunities possible?

Keith Hoeller has taught philosophy in the Washington state community colleges for 25 years.  He is the editor of Equality for Contingent Faculty:  Overcoming the Two-Tier System, Vanderbilt University Press (forthcoming, January, 2014).

 

 

Keith Hoeller is the co-founder (with Teresa Knudsen) of the Washington Part-Time Faculty Association and Editor, Equality for Contingent Faculty: Overcoming the Two-Tier System (Vanderbilt, 2014). 

Weekend Edition
April 29-31, 2016
Andrew Levine
What is the Democratic Party Good For? Absolutely Nothing
Roberto J. González – David Price
Anthropologists Marshalling History: the American Anthropological Association’s Vote on the Academic Boycott of Israeli Institutions
Robert Jacobs
Hanford, Not Fukushima, is the Big Radiological Threat to the West Coast
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
US Presidential Election: Beyond Lesser Evilism
Richard Falk
If Obama Visits Hiroshima
Ian Fairlie
Chernobyl’s Ongoing Toll: 40,000 More Cancer Deaths?
Vijay Prashad
Political Violence in Honduras
Margaret Kimberley
Dishonoring Harriet Tubman
Deepak Tripathi
The United States, Britain and the European Union
Eva Golinger
My Country, My Love: a Conversation with Gerardo and Adriana of the Cuban Five
Moshe Adler
May Day: a Trade Agreement to Unite Third World and American Workers
Paul Krane
Where Gun Control Ought to Start: Disarming the Police
Pete Dolack
Verizon Sticks it to its Workers Because $45 Billion isn’t Enough
Pat Williams
FDR in Montana
Dave Marsh
Every Day I Read the Book
David Rosen
Job Satisfaction Under Perpetual Stagnation
John Feffer
Big Oil isn’t Going Down Without a Fight
Murray Dobbin
The Canadian / Saudi Arms Deal: More Than Meets the Eye?
Gary Engler
The Devil Capitalism
Brian Cloughley
Is Washington Preparing for War Against Russia
Manuel E. Yepe
The Big Lies and the Small Lies
Dave Lindorff
The Push to Make Sanders the Green Party’s Candidate
Robert Fantina
Vice Presidents, Candidates and History
Mel Gurtov
Sanctions and Defiance in North Korea
Howard Lisnoff
Still the Litmus Test of Worth
Dean Baker
Big Business and the Overtime Rule: Irrational Complaints
Ulrich Heyden
Crimea as a Paradise for High-Class Tourism?
Ramzy Baroud
Did the Arabs Betray Palestine? – A Schism between the Ruling Classes and the Wider Society
Halyna Mokrushyna
The War on Ukrainian Scientists
Joseph Natoli
Who’s the Better Neoliberal?
Ron Jacobs
The Battle at Big Brown: Joe Allen’s The Package King
Wahid Azal
Class Struggle and Westoxication in Pahlavi Iran: a Review of the Iranian Series ‘Shahrzad’
Alice Donovan
Cyberwarfare: Challenge of Tomorrow
David Crisp
After All These Years, Newspapers Still Needed
Graham Peebles
Hungry and Frightened: Famine in Ethiopia 2016
Robert Koehler
Opening the Closed Political Culture
Missy Comley Beattie
Waves of Nostalgia
Thomas Knapp
The Problem with Donald Trump’s Version of “America First”
Jeffrey St. Clair
Groove on the Tracks: the Magic Left Hand of Red Garland
Ben Debney
Kush Zombies: QELD’s Hat Tip to Old School Hip Hop
Charles R. Larson
Moby Dick on Steroids?
April 28, 2016
Miguel A. Cruz Díaz
Puerto Rico: a Junta By Any Other Name
Alfredo Lopez
Where the Bern is Fizzling: Why Sanders Can’t Win the Support of People of Color
Peter Linebaugh
The Commons and the Centennial of the Easter Rising
Dan Arel
What Next? Can the #Movement4Bernie Accomplish Anything?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail