Dispatch from Adjunct Land II: Compensation

I make about $10 to $25 an hour. I receive no benefits other than a discount at the school store.

We perform paid labor in order to earn a wage that we can then use for goods and services. We might get personal fulfillment from our jobs, but ultimately we need that paycheck. Yet we’re not supposed to talk about it. We’re not supposed to acknowledge it in interviews or cover letters; we rarely discuss what we make with our friends (other than “not enough”). Indeed, various professors and mentors suggested I pursue a grad degree because those with graduate degrees make so much more than those who “merely” a bachelor’s. Yet no one mentioned adjuncting, the fate for many of those in the humanities.

The following data are imperfect, focusing on it does on PhDs, but Jordan Weismann’s (2013) graphs show how tenure track positions have declined over the past twenty years. (Of course, not everyone who earns an MA/MS or PhD wants to teach or otherwise work in academia. And generally speaking, tenure-track professors need a terminal degree, especially for tenure at a four-year institution. Since I have an MA, I wouldn’t be considered tenure track for most institutions; my friend has an MFA, a terminal degree, and is currently on the tenure track.)

Jordan Weismann's graph of PhD employment, 1991-2011.
Weismann’s graph shows a decline in tenure-track jobs and a rise in low paid post-doc work. This graph includes data for all PhDs, including the humanities and sciences.

I teach because I enjoy learning, knowledge, and helping people.  I never expected to be rich. But good feelings don’t pay the bills.

Adjuncts are now used so widely because they are cheap. Adjuncts are paid much less than tenured faculty, and usually receive fewer benefits, as well. A study by Keystone Research Center (2011) of community college professors in Pennsylvania found:

  • Tenured and tenure-track faculty members earned an average of $5,881 per course.
  • Full-time, non-tenure-track faculty members earned an average of $4,637 per course, or 79 percent of the tenure-track pay.
  • Part-timers earned an average of $2,547 per course, or 43 percent of the tenure-track level. (Most part-timers in the state do not receive health insurance from their college employers, the report notes.) (as cited in Jaschik, 2011, para. 6-8)

Many adjuncts piece together a living wage by working at several institutions. This is known as “freeway flying.” I also know adjuncts who have taken on other work, such as tutoring or freelancing. (One study of Chicagoland adjuncts suggests that slightly less than half are freeway flyers, but those who work for just one school still have another job elsewhere.)

Few people I think, either inside or outside of the academy, realize just how little adjuncts make. Twenty-five dollars an hour is a good starting wage for someone with a Master’s degree. Indeed, I’ve taught classes that paid me that much on paper. However, that wage was for in-class time only; that did not include the required office hours or the time I spent grading and creating lesson plans outside of class. When you factored in that other time, the wage dropped by half.

That’s the problem with teaching. It’s a profession that consumes you. In-class time, grading, creating lesson plans; the work never ends.

Adjuncts are working together to make information about pay and benefits more well-known. While far from complete, The Adjunct Project collects user-submitted information from around the country. For sure, pay varies based on subject and location. Yet this site gives insight into just what adjuncts are worth.

Two thousand dollars per course is a good basic number.  However, those numbers break down differently depending on whether one teaches semesters or quarters. A quarter is typically nine weeks, but a semester typically fifteen. One hundred and thirty to two hundred and twenty dollars a week isn’t much.

Adjunct Nation and others reported about adjuncts rising up and making public their grievances about pay: The City University of New York (CUNY) offered General David Petraeus $200,000 to run a three-credit seminar. Meanwhile, over half of CUNY’s courses are taught by adjuncts making a few thousand dollars per class. As Adjunct Nation (2013) explained, “the disgraced former CIA chief was set to be paid about eight times the salary of a first-time adjunct professor at CUNY, and all without having to teach a full course load” (para. 1).

One could argue that it’s not a surprise that someone famous like Petraeus would receive such a high salary. Yet does eight times the salary of someone actually trained to teach seem reasonable? The school’s adjuncts protested, and they and others (including various politicians) signed a petition expressing their outrage. Petraeus’s salary was dropped to $1. Whether that’s fair, I cannot say; I certainly think the general should be compensated for his time and knowledge. But perhaps at something closer to the actual adjunct rate”¦

I receive about $1500 per three-credit, nine-week course.  This is a course I enjoy teaching; because I have taught it many times, I’ve already built up a wealth of materials, and don’t need to spend a lot of time on lesson planning. I’m not required to perform any “service” (serve on committees, for example, or mentor students, something required of tenured profs), though my current and past employers expected me to continue training and performing research, and have encouraged faculty to serve on the Faculty Senate and the like. The bulk of my time is spent on grading and discussions. Suppose I spend an average of ten hours a week on this class (some weeks are heavier and others lighter), plus four in Week 10, where I finish grading final projects. That’s 94 hours. My wage, then, is about $16 an hour.

Which isn’t terrible. The minimum wage in Oregon is not quite $9 an hour, so I’m certainly making more than that. Many adjuncts make closer to $2000; my pay is on the low end for sure. At $2000, I’d make about $21 an hour. But like many adjuncts,  I never know when I’ll have classes (I work for just one school at the moment); I haven’t taught since June and won’t teach again until August. If I lived alone or even with a roommate, I would need another job, whether via freeway flying or working in another field.

I have worked for multiple schools at once. That’s the easiest answer, right? Not enough money: work more. I have taught eight and ten classes at a time. I made close to $50,000. But that was an unreasonable pace. That was a path to burnout. It’s nearly impossible to keep track of that many students. The grading never ends. One cannot be a good educator at that level; one can only do the bare minimum. Yet many adjuncts do just that, for years on end. It’s a disservice to the educators and to the students. Who can learn from someone who has no time, and can barely afford, to teach?

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Natasha

History. Hindi cinema. Hugging cats.

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