FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Do College Professors Deserve a Living Wage?

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).

 

 

More articles by:

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). 

July 19, 2018
Rajai R. Masri
The West’s Potential Symbiotic Contributions to Freeing a Closed Muslim Mind
Jennifer Matsui
The Blue Pill Presidency
Ryan LaMothe
The Moral and Spiritual Bankruptcy of White Evangelicals
Paul Tritschler
Negative Capability: a Force for Change?
Patrick Bond
State of the BRICS Class Struggle: ‘Social Dialogue’ Reform Frustrations
Rev. William Alberts
A Well-Kept United Methodist Church Secret
Raouf Halaby
Joseph Harsch, Robert Fisk, Franklin Lamb: Three of the Very Best
George Ochenski
He Speaks From Experience: Max Baucus on “Squandered Leadership”
Ted Rall
Right Now, It Looks Like Trump Will Win in 2020
David Swanson
The Intelligence Community Is Neither
Andrew Moss
Chaos or Community in Immigration Policy
Kim Scipes
Where Do We Go From Here? How Do We Get There?
July 18, 2018
Bruce E. Levine
Politics and Psychiatry: the Cost of the Trauma Cover-Up
Frank Stricker
The Crummy Good Economy and the New Serfdom
Linda Ford
Red Fawn Fallis and the Felony of Being Attacked by Cops
David Mattson
Entrusting Grizzlies to a Basket of Deplorables?
Stephen F. Eisenman
Want Gun Control? Arm the Left (It Worked Before)
CJ Hopkins
Trump’s Treasonous Traitor Summit or: How Liberals Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the New McCarthyism
Patrick Bond
State of the BRICS Class Struggle: Repression, Austerity and Worker Militancy
Dan Corjescu
The USA and Russia: Two Sides of the Same Criminal Corporate Coin
The Hudson Report
How Argentina Got the Biggest Loan in the History of the IMF
Kenn Orphan
You Call This Treason?
Max Parry
Ukraine’s Anti-Roma Pogroms Ignored as Russia is Blamed for Global Far Right Resurgence
Ed Meek
Acts of Resistance
July 17, 2018
Conn Hallinan
Trump & The Big Bad Bugs
Robert Hunziker
Trump Kills Science, Nature Strikes Back
John Grant
The Politics of Cruelty
Kenneth Surin
Calculated Buffoonery: Trump in the UK
Binoy Kampmark
Helsinki Theatrics: Trump Meets Putin
Patrick Bond
BRICS From Above, Seen Critically From Below
Jim Kavanagh
Fighting Fake Stories: The New Yorker, Israel and Obama
Daniel Falcone
Chomsky on the Trump NATO Ruse
W. T. Whitney
Oil Underground in Neuquén, Argentina – and a New US Military Base There
Doug Rawlings
Ken Burns’ “The Vietnam War” was Nominated for an Emmy, Does It Deserve It?
Rajan Menon
The United States of Inequality
Thomas Knapp
Have Mueller and Rosenstein Finally Gone Too Far?
Cesar Chelala
An Insatiable Salesman
Dean Baker
Truth, Trump and the Washington Post
Mel Gurtov
Human Rights Trumped
Binoy Kampmark
Putin’s Football Gambit: How the World Cup Paid Off
July 16, 2018
Sheldon Richman
Trump Turns to Gaza as Middle East Deal of the Century Collapses
Charles Pierson
Kirstjen Nielsen Just Wants to Protect You
Brett Wilkins
The Lydda Death March and the Israeli State of Denial
Patrick Cockburn
Trump Knows That the US Can Exercise More Power in a UK Weakened by Brexit
Robert Fisk
The Fisherman of Sarajevo Told Tales Past Wars and Wars to Come
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail