[dropcap]O[/dropcap]ver time, higher education has transformed into a necessity for anyone wishing to succeed in life; however, a national crisis has reshaped the system and shifted it towards a money-focused business. Today our teachers are overworked, underpaid and underappreciated as a result of a growing trend that has turned education into a commodity to be bought and sold — the neo-liberalizing of higher education.
Higher education faculty members are typically put on one of three tracks: A tenure track position; a full-time, non-tenure track position, also known as a contingent faculty position; or a part-time, non-tenure track position. Although historically institutions have aimed to hire predominantly tenure track faculty, many universities are hiring and relying more on part-time faculty that are expected to work more while being paid less.
According to the 2013-14 American Association of University Professors (AAUP) annual report, the number of part-time faculty members and full-time, non-tenure track faculty members hired increased by 286 and 259 percent, respectively, since 1976. On the other hand, the amount of fulltime tenured and tenure track faculty members hired only increased 23 percent since 1975.
The AAUP reported that about 70 percent of university faculty members hold part-time positions today. In reality, many of these part-time faculty members are teaching the equivalent of a full-time teaching load, if not more. As a result, while adjunct positions were traditionally meant for individuals finishing up their doctoral degrees to teach about once a week, now adjuncting can be a career. This all too often leaves adjuncts struggling to pay the bills and juggling other forms of employment just to make ends meet.
Based on numbers recorded by the Chronicle of Higher Education’s Adjunct Project, the average pay reported by DePaul adjuncts was between $3,000 and $6,000 per course, totaling to between a $18,000 and $54,000 salary per year. The Faculty in Higher Education Salary Survey, conducted by the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources, reported that tenure track faculty members have an average salary of between $90,000 and $100,000 at private doctoral institutions like DePaul. In addition, 79 percent of adjuncts around the country reported not receiving health insurance at their colleges and 86 percent did not receive retirement benefits or the opportunity to buy into a group retirement plan.
One adjunct professor with a master’s degree from DePaul, who wished to remain anonymous, explained the financial struggles that an adjunct faces as a result of being a part-time faculty member.
On top of struggling to make ends meet, part-time professors are often juggling multiple teaching positions at various institutions or finding other part-time employment. Consequently, stress levels have heightened and the feeling that there aren’t enough hours in the day becomes overwhelming.
“This job as an adjunct is about mediocrity,” the adjunct said. “It’s about taking people who have the capacity for excellence — and you see this everywhere, not just at DePaul — and taking what you want out of them and appropriating it and getting credit for it, while preventing folks from becoming too brilliant.”
The fact that a severe restructuring of faculty compensation needs to be undertaken is not unique to DePaul.What scholars have coined as the neo-liberalizing of education is a national issue and one that needs to be addressed by all academic institutions.
Despite little action from universities, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), led by president Tom Balanoff, has organized adjuncts at more than 20 schools around the country. Specifically, the organization recently launched their Fight for $15 campaign, which is pushing for adjuncts to be paid $15,000 per course with benefits, a much needed improvement from the modest salaries that are currently being paid. This move mirrors a similar struggle for labor unions and fast food workers to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
Sanjukta Mukherjee, an assistant professor in DePaul’s women’s and gender studies department, explained how it is important to think of the academic institution as imbedded in the economy as a systemic, neo-liberal trend.
“This is not just a DePaul issue, it’s a structural, systemic issue,” Mukherjee said. “We see neo-liberalism’s general systemic cutback from anything that is linked to social welfare: health, education and security. There’s increased privatization.”
Mukherjee, who has experienced both sides of the coin through teaching as an adjunct before she accepted her tenure track position at DePaul, explained how adjuncts fall into a trap that doesn’t allow for them to develop to their full potential.
“I really appreciated my opportunity as an adjunct, I was able to get experience teaching and had full support from my department and was able to sustain myself,” she said. “However, I was so overwhelmed with the amount of work, teaching a class by myself, prepping and being entirely responsible for it. It made me aware of some of the systemic issues because I was directly involved.”
Some results of those systemic issues are a lack of security and stability for parttime faculty members, leading to increased frustration and having little time for grading and providing meaningful feedback for students.
“That lack of stability and security is the main source of frustration for me personally,” the adjunct said. “It really effects how much I assign and how it’s graded, particularly the grading. I can only give meaningful feedback maybe once or twice a quarter, especially when I’m usually teaching 25 to 30 students in a single class.”
Some DePaul adjuncts have commented on the positive results the university would see if its faculty system were to be restructured. Ranging from a more realistic representation of their faculty in DePaul marketing campaigns, to students receiving a much better education and being better developed upon graduation, the possibilities are largely optimistic.
Restructuring the system of hiring and caring for faculty is no easy task, and would undoubtedly take a significant amount of time and effort; however, some DePaul faculty have taken it upon themselves to ensure that part-time and full-time faculty members all experience the same type of inclusion and consideration.
Euan Hague, the chair of the geography department, is doing everything he can to make sure that all of his faculty are given the same type of treatment, or as much as DePaul will allow for.
“The problem I had with being an adjunct at Syracuse was that my office was in a separate building than the rest of the faculty. I felt really kind of cut off from the faculty, and one of the things that I really tried to do when I became department chair was not to replicate that experience,” Hague said.
Without question, smaller departments, such as the department of geography, have a much easier time making this sort of thing happen as opposed to larger departments like DePaul’s business school. With 10 faculty members varying in part-time and full-time employment, Hague is able to create a true communal feel within his department.
“What we’ve tried to do,” Hague said, “is integrate adjuncts a lot more so that they feel like they are an essential part of the department. I’ve made it a policy that my non-tenure track faculty members can come to staff meetings so that they’re involved in the same process as the rest of us.”
As much as these efforts have improved the morale of the geography department, other adjuncts and contingent faculty members in other departments are struggling to balance their personal and professional lives, while still being effective educators in the classroom.
One visiting assistant professor, who wished to remain anonymous, was on a contingent nine-course contract for the full academic year. The professor explained the effects on students and faculty members as a result of their adjunct status.
“Overworked teachers are not as good of teachers and the overall product that students are getting is degraded as a result,” the visiting professor said. “My professional development is suffering, that’s just the truth. DePaul didn’t hire me to develop me as a scholar; they hired me to teach a lot of classes for less money than other people will teach them. Outside of my own tight schedule, I have no research support, but tenure track faculty get a certain amount of money for research support.”
Room for professional growth and development is crucial to the overall quality of education that professors are able to provide to students. Part-time faculty members are not allowed any paid leave for research purposes, while tenure track faculty are given the opportunity to apply for a sabbatical. Typically offered every seventh year, a sabbatical is a system of paid leave used by professors on tenure track to travel or perform research to improve their professional development.
“My sabbatical was hugely useful and I finished up a couple of manuscripts that have now been published and also finished some research,” Mukherjee said. “If you’re an adjunct this doesn’t apply to you. DePaul is unique in this way, not completely, but not every university has a sabbatical system set up. It’s critical to personal and professional development and it’s one of the reasons that I took the job at DePaul, although it’s only available for folks on tenure track.”
On the other hand, the contingent faculty member who is in the process of writing a book based off the research and interviews conducted throughout their doctoral degree does not have the time needed to put meaningful efforts towards finishing the book.
“Right now I have two main blocks to get my book finished, which are from the end of fall quarter to the start of winter quarter, and then the summer months. Having a tenure track position and the opportunity to apply for a sabbatical would be huge for me,” the visiting professor said.
Mukherjee mentioned how crucial her stable position at DePaul was for her personal and professional development, allowing her to really develop her work.
“Having this tenure tracked position at DePaul has changed my life. I always used to have this sense of impermanence and being in between travels as an adjunct. It gave me an amazing sense of stability that was huge and I cannot be more grateful for that.”
Nonetheless, it’s important to remember that the state of employment in the U.S. and at academic institutions could get much worse. Those interviewed were adamant that there was no question that DePaul cares about its students and faculty, which is reflected in the extraordinary individuals that graduate year after year. However, what is more concerning is the shape that academia is starting to take as a result of neo-liberalization.
“Academia is supposed to be a community where you can develop your ideas and dialogue with people working on similar issues and problems, but when there’s this immense competitive pressure, people that should be colleagues and collaborators, you’re kind of increasingly predisposed to see them as competitors, and that’s sort of unfortunate and degrades the whole profession and it makes it harder to build relationships,” the visiting professor said.
The United States is entering down a path that is slowly undervaluing the teaching profession and educational institutions in such a way that we have lost our gratitude for the service that these hardworking men and women provide for society’s next generations.
“There needs to be a return to going into education for lofty humanist goals, and kind of modest material goals. It’s an honorable profession, but it’s not something that should make you affluent,” the visiting professor said.
The current U.S. education system has strayed far from the foundational goals that the institution was founded on. Neoliberalizing education has both student and faculty members alike suffering in a way that is diminishing the overall quality of the education being given, and has facilitated a culture of competition, rather than one of creative and open collaboration.
“Education is not a commodity to be bought and sold on the market place, its not something cheap and vulgar like that,” the visiting professor said. “It’s a lifelong process, but it also should be something transformative. What you see now is a kind of a corporate managerial model. Executive compensation is considerable and that’s made possible by keeping workers down the line working more for less.”
“You go into education to serve the public good, not to make big bucks,” the visiting professor said. “At DePaul there are some serious questions about priorities.”