Open an investigation into the labor practices of our colleges and universities in the employment of contingent faculty
  • Petitioned David Weil, Dir., Wage and Hour Div., U.S. Dept. of Labor

This petition was delivered to:

David Weil, Dir., Wage and Hour Div., U.S. Dept. of Labor

Open an investigation into the labor practices of our colleges and universities in the employment of contingent faculty

    1. Ann Kottner
    2. Petition by

      Ann Kottner

      New York, NY

Dear Director Weil,

In light of your recent appointment to the Wage and Hour Division and your policy change of targeting investigations toward industries and sectors rather than just addressing individual complaints, we the undersigned are writing to urge you to open an investigation into the labor practices of our colleges and universities in the employment of contingent faculty, including adjunct instructors and full-time contract faculty outside the tenure-track.

In a momentous but gradual change over the last 30 years, the proportion of full-time, tenured, and tenure-track professors to contingent professors has reversed itself. Now, approximately 76% of college professors are contingent labor, predominantly hired on a semester-by-semester contract and making an average of $2500 per 3-credit course. The average yearly income of an adjunct professor hovers in the same range as minimum-wage fast food and retail workers, with many of the same labor problems: lack of job security, inability to find enough working hours to support themselves, lack of health or retirement benefits, periodic unemployment, and outright wage theft. Most adjunct faculty are paid only for the actual hours in the classroom and not the much longer time spent outside prepping, grading, or meeting and communicating with students, among other unpaid duties. When that time is factored into the remuneration rate (1), many adjunct faculty are making minimum wage or only slightly more, an average of $25,000/year as highly educated—and deeply debt-ridden, thanks to the cost of education—professionals.

Contingent full-time faculty do not fare much better. They often work on short-term contracts of one to three years for far less salary than their tenure-track colleagues. Adjunct and contract faculty come to their jobs with the same level of training and experience as their tenure-line colleagues, hold the same advanced degrees (M.A. and Ph.D.), and bring their institutions acclaim through their service, fieldwork, research, and publications. Though contracts for contingent faculty often explicitly state that these contributions will not count toward future employment positions, adjunct and contingent faculty still perform above their contract stipulations because they are, first and foremost, dedicated educators.

Also unlike full-time tenured faculty, the meager pay of contingent faculty often covers only eight months of the year. Summer contracts are hard to come by, generally being the privilege of tenured faculty to earn extra compensation, and the pay periods for those contracts too frequently leave contingent faculty teaching for a month or more with no pay check at all. For example, instead of merely continuing contingent faculty who were already in the payroll system on the regular pay periods at City University of New York (CUNY), many of us have been forced to wait more than a month for our first paycheck in a two-month semester because contracts were not processed in a timely manner. And at Northern New Mexico College, contracts were altered after the fact without knowledge of the faculty to provide one third less than the pay that was contracted for to bridge the fiscal year for the college. (2) Other colleges decline to pay contingent faculty until the end of the two-month summer session, which penalizes us in payroll taxes.

While many of us belong to unions, a greater number do not, and like other laborers our efforts to unionize have been met with retaliatory firings and all-too-easy “non-renewals,” de facto black-listing from the roster of employable workers. Many of us who are unionized public employees have lost the right to strike, thanks to legislation like New York’s Taylor Law, and have virtually no bargaining power. Most of our unions are headed by our tenured and full-time colleagues, who are often not as supportive as they could be and equally fear losing their jobs in an atmosphere where tenure no longer protects them as it once did and still should. At institutions without unions, contingent faculty have even less power to change their working conditions.

At the same time that faculty jobs have become the equivalent of Walmart employment, the numbers, pay, and perks of administrative jobs have increased at nearly twice the rate as full-time, tenure-track faculty hires. For example, CUNY, a once tuition-free public system, is currently paying $18,000/month for its new chancellor’s apartment (3)—the annual equivalent of salaries for twelve part-time adjunct faculty. At George Washington University, several senior administrators make over $1 million annually at a school whose tuition is among the highest in the nation, and several other provosts and deans make high six figures as well. (4) Not surprisingly, these kinds of administrator wages often correlate with high student debt (5) and low adjunct faculty wages. The wage disparity in these two sectors of the university mirrors the current wage disparity in U.S. society at large, and yet, without faculty, there would be no university. This especially harms students by diverting funds from the university’s primary mission, as has recently come to light at Northern New Mexico College, where “President Barceló’s Administration spent fully 18 times more on themselves than on Academic Support for students,” (6) leading to abysmally low graduation rates, while continuing to saddle students with debt.

Without sufficient income to support themselves, adjunct and contingent faculty are forced to work at several different schools each semester, often teaching far above the standard number of courses only to make ends meet, and spending hours commuting that would be better spent on the job. Some must relocate to other states, resulting in separation from children, partners, and other family members, while others must be on public assistance. Under these conditions, the quality of education in our universities is suffering, not only because of the quality of instructors run ragged by overwork, but also because of the poor quality of their working conditions and the contingent nature of their contracts. Management is reaping unfair benefits from faculty labor while cheating their “customers”—students—of quality.

There are a number of organizations and unions actively working on practical strategies to improve contingent faculty working conditions and the state of higher education. These organizations include New Faculty Majority, the Coalition Against Corporate Higher Education, Occupy CUNY, AAUP, SEIU, the United Steelworkers, and others. We urge you to learn about them and to help them and concerned and contingent faculty everywhere make the university once again a fair and just place to work for faculty and a great learning environment for students.

Sincerely yours,

Ann Kottner, M.A.,
Adjunct Professor
York College/City University of New York
New Jersey City University
AFT Local 1839 Executive Committee Member
247 W. 149th St. Apt. 4D
New York, NY 10039

Miranda Merklein, Ph.D.
President, Santa Fe Community College-AAUP
Adjunct Faculty Office
6401 Richards Ave
Santa Fe, NM 87508

Joseph Fruscione, Ph.D.
Freelance Writer, Editor, and Proofreader
Former Adjunct Professor (1999-2014)
10111 Tenbrook Drive
Silver Spring, MD 20901

Dawn Fels, Ph.D.
Freelance Educator, Writer, and Education Consultant
Former English Faculty and Writing Center Director
 at George Mason University, Fairfax VA
Former Temporary English Faculty
 at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Indiana, PA
1429 N. Euclid Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15206

Brianne Bolin
Coalition Against Corporate Higher Education
Adjunct Faculty, Columbia College Chicago
Union Steward, Part-time Faculty Union at Columbia
33 E. Congress
Chicago, IL 60605

Karen Lentz Madison, Ph.D., Contingent Senior Instructor
New Faculty Majority Foundation, Board of Directors
College English Association, Past President
MLA Committee on Contingent Labor in the Profession, Immediate Past Chair
Department of English
331 Kimpel Hall
University of Arkansas
Fayetteville, AR 72701

Seth Kahn, Ph.D.
Co-Chair, Committee on Part-time, Adjunct, or Contingent Labor, Conference on College Composition and Communication
Professor of English
West Chester University of PA
Main Hall
West Chester, PA 19380

Robert Craig Baum, Ph.D.
Dean of Academics
Lebanon College
15 Hanover Street
Lebanon, NH  03766

Maria Maisto, M.A., ABD
President/Executive Director, New Faculty Majority and the NFM Foundation
Adjunct in English, Cuyahoga Community College, Cleveland, OH
Co-Chair, Committee on Part-time, Adjunct, or Contingent Labor, Conference on College Composition and Communication
Member, Executive Committee on Part-time and Contingent Faculty, Modern Language Association
Member, Committee on Academic Freedom and Professional Rights and Responsibilities, Modern Language Association

Melissa Bruninga-Matteau, MA, PhD
Associate Professor of History, Martin Methodist College, Pulaski, TN
Adjunct Faculty, American Public University

To:
David Weil, Dir., Wage and Hour Div., U.S. Dept. of Labor
Open an investigation into the labor practices of our colleges and universities in the employment of contingent faculty

Sincerely,
[Your name]

Recent signatures

    News

    1. Reached 9,000 signatures
    2. 10K by Labor Day!

      Ann Kottner
      Petition Organizer

      We've hit 7500 supporters (the last eight in something like five minutes), and now we're into the last big push: 10K by Labor Day! That's 2499 signatures in the next 13 days. Share, Tweet, post on Facebook, send it to your colleagues, to other parents, to your corporate masters who are bitching about the quality of students coming out of our colleges (a canard!). If we want a nation that helps make the world a better place for everyone, we need an educational system that recognizes the value of good teachers and rewards them accordingly. Help make that happen.

      And thanks for everything you've done so far. You made this happen. Keep making it happen. We're heading for a tipping point.

    3. Reached 7,500 signatures
    4. 800 more to 7500

      Ann Kottner
      Petition Organizer

      We've had kind of a slow week since many of us have been at the COCAL (Coaltion of Contingent Academic Labor) conference or writing articles or finishing grading or writing syllabi for fall. But we're getting very close to 7500 signatures, which is fantastic. Can you give us another little push? Send a tweet, spam your colleagues, get the link up on your website, or your union's website, or your faculty association's website or your blog. And if I saw you at COCAL, don't forget that tiny url! http://tinyurl.com/ovfq23d

      Share! Share! Share!

      David Weil, Dir., Wage and Hour Div., U.S. Dept. of Labor: Open an investigation into the labor practices of our colleges and universities in the employment of contingent faculty

      Dear Director Weil, In light of your recent appointment to the Wage and Hour Division and your policy change of targeting investigations toward...

    5. 6000+

      Ann Kottner
      Petition Organizer

      Just a few days ago, we cracked 5,000 signatures and made the leap to asking for 7,500. You all have been amazing in making this thing viral and giving me hope that we'll make 10K by Labor Day. We got a little help from Harvard University Press, which used our petition to push their publication of David's Weil's book, The Fissured Workplace, ending with what I hope is a prophetic line about college and university administrators coming to regret the day Weil was appointed to his Labor Dept. post. (Read and share the piece here: http://harvardpress.typepad.com/hup_publicity/2014/08/adjuncts-petition-david-weil.html).

      But here's a sobering thought as we head up toward 10K: even when (not if, but when) we reach that number, it's only a small fraction of the number of contingent faculty in this country--and worldwide--that we're fighting for. Some won't sign for fear of backlash and blacklisting; some won't sign because they're getting a good deal, or think they are; some just won't know about this petition because we're all kept carefully in ignorance of who our colleagues are. So if you belong to a union or a list serv, get this thing out on your union's page or on the list. If you have media contacts, talk to them and send them our press release (http://tinyurl.com/olgsql2). Print the short URL (http://tinyurl.com/ovfq23d) on cards and hand them out to your colleagues and everyone you know.

      United we bargain; alone we beg and/or starve.

      In solidarity.

      The Fissured Academic Workplace - Harvard University Press Blog

      When we published The Fissured Workplace: Why Work Became So Bad for So Many and What Can Be Done to Improve It earlier this year, author David Weil was a professor at the Boston University School of Management.

    6. Reached 6,000 signatures
    7. "5100+ Adjunct Faculty and supporters protest poor wages and job conditions

      Ann Kottner
      Petition Organizer

      That's the news in our Press Release, which you can find and share here: http://tinyurl.com/olgsql2

      We're raising the bar once again because this thing has really caught fire. It took us two weeks to reach 2500 and a quarter of that to reach 5000 signatures. 10,000 signatures does not seem inconceivable at all now. Please keep sharing, and if you have contacts at news outlets of any kind, send them our press release, too. If you'd like some talking points, you can find those here: http://tinyurl.com/m33f8rs

      Our meeting with Senator Harkins's people has been postponed until after the August congressional recess, but we're planning on reaching out to even more politicos in the meanwhile. And don't let us (or #badmin) stop you from doing the same, now that you've got a toolkit.

      Go get 'em, folks. The more of us who speak out, the harder it is for #badmin to retaliate and deny. Share, share, share. There's safety--and strength--in numbers.

    8. Reached 5,000 signatures
    9. New Developments.

      Ann Kottner
      Petition Organizer

      You may have noticed that our signature goal took a large leap (well, doubled, in fact) over the weekend. That's because we got a big boost from the NPR article and because we have a bigger goal in mind for the petition itself. We're not only planning on presenting this in person to David Weil at the Department of Labor, but two of our indefatigable and intrepid activists are meeting this week with Senator Tom Harkins's senior staffers who work with him on the Health, Education, Labor, Pensions committee to discuss the petition with them. We want to get this in front of as many government people associated with labor and education issues as possible. Depending on how that meeting goes, we may set an earlier cutoff date for signatures, so help us blow this thing up, people. Share it with everybody you know. Education affects everyone, so don't limit your shares to just fellow academics. This is a national--if not an international--issue.

      And keep the comments coming. They're the most telling part of this whole petition.

    10. Reached 2,500 signatures
    11. We're on NPR!

      Ann Kottner
      Petition Organizer

      Joe Fruscione, one of our original signers, has written a cogent and caustic companion to our petition, explaining even more of the conditions we work under and why they hurt students as much as they hurt faculty. Please read and comment and share! http://www.pbs.org/newshour/making-sense/when-a-college-contracts-adjunctivitis-its-the-students-who-lose/

      Oh, and keep sharing the petition too. We're closing in on 2500 signatures and it's only been two weeks!

      When colleges rely on adjuncts, it's the students who lose

      With adjunct professors constituting over 70 percent of college and university faculty, former professor Joe Fruscione explains why adjuncts are petitioning the Department of Labor about their working conditions, and why the real losers in this situation are the students who don't get the attention they deserve.

    12. 2000! And more.

      Ann Kottner
      Petition Organizer

      It's been a busy week for our petitioners. You all have been sharing like mad and have brought us more than 2,000 signatures to take to the Labor Department. We're also looking at presenting this to various appropriate congresspersons, and may have some publicity on NPR. In the meanwhile, we've gotten some press already:

      Here we are at USA today: http://college.usatoday.com/2014/07/17/underpaid-and-overworked-adjunct-professors-share-their-stories/

      Inside Higher Ed: http://www.insidehighered.com/quicktakes/2014/07/16/adjuncts-urge-labor-dept-inquiry-working-conditions#sthash.Zi5V4n7F.dpbs

      Daily Nous: http://dailynous.com/2014/07/16/petition-to-investigate-contingent-faculty-employment/

      and in several blogs, including the Scientific American blog Cocktail Party Physics, and The Unarmed Education Mercenary, and AAUP's Academe blog

      I feel like we're really on a roll right now so I'm raising the bar again. How about 2500 signatures? I know you can do it!

      Underpaid and overworked: Adjunct professors share their stories

      Former adjunct professor Joseph Fruscione quit his part-time job teaching in the English department at George Washington University this spring. Instead, he took up freelance editing and proofreading. "I received my doctorate nine years ago. Folks with a lot of experience part-timing are seen as washed up or stale.

    13. Reached 2,000 signatures
    14. Raising the bar, raising hell

      Ann Kottner
      Petition Organizer

      People, you have totally blown me away. I never thought we'd jump from 500 to 1000 signatures in 36 hours. Clearly, we're heading into exponential territory here; the more you share the fast we collect signatures. I'm going to set us another goal line at 2000 signatures, because I know we'll get that. Remember that there are something like 1.3 million of us, so it's not unreasonable to expect a fraction of us, a substantial fraction of us, feel strongly enough about this issue to put our names to it. Promote, share, tweet and blog about it. Email it to your listservs, post on your Facebook pages. Email your friends, relatives and colleagues. Let's make an overwhelming showing by the end of September.

    15. Reached 1,000 signatures
    16. Double up and double down.

      Ann Kottner
      Petition Organizer

      Since reaching our initial goal of 500 signatures yesterday and deciding to shoot for the stars, we've almost doubled our rate of signatures today: 189 in the last 24 hours. You all have been amazing in getting the word out. Please keep it up. The more signatures we have, the more the Labor Department will see we're serious about change, and how widespread the problem is. Urge your friends, relatives, students, colleagues to sign. The contingency of academics doesn't just affect faculty; it affects all of us, and the future of our country. We're part of the trend of exploited workers, and part of the trend of those workers fighting back and changing the face of labor and education. Spread the word! Join in! Tell your stories here.

    17. Reached 500 signatures
    18. Keep Spreading the News

      Ann Kottner
      Petition Organizer

      We're hoping to get some media covering soon, and the response has been so fantastic, that we're increasing the number of requested signatures to 1,000--and we'd like to keep it going at the rate we're gathering signatures now, which is about 100/day. But we're counting on you to spread the word. There are 1.5 million adjuncts and Non-tenure track full-timers in this country; surely we can get 1,000 or even 10,000 of us to sign this petition.

      Share share share! Work your own media contacts. You know the message as well as any of us do. Got a blog? A Tumblr? Post our petition.

      We deserve better pay and working conditions. Let's take the battle to #badmin from the #madjuncts.

    19. OMG!

      Ann Kottner
      Petition Organizer

      You all are totally awesome. We're 49 signatures short of our goal of 500 signatures in four days! Keep sharing!

      And keep adding those reasons for signing. They are eloquent, heartbreaking, appalling--and revealing. Thank you for your testimony, for your courage. United, we can make the necessary changes to improve our lives, and the learning conditions of our students.

    20. Third Milestone

      Ann Kottner
      Petition Organizer

      300 signatures in 3 days. At this rate, we'll hit our goal in less than a week. Dare I hope that when the petition closes on Sept. 30th, we'll have 7900 signatures? We're averaging 100/day....

      Keep up the good work, folks. Share away!

    21. More than halfway there!

      Ann Kottner
      Petition Organizer

      You folks are awesome. Keep sharing!

    22. Reached 250 signatures
    23. Second Milestone: 200 signatures!

      Ann Kottner
      Petition Organizer

      In less than 48 hours, we've collected more than 200 signatures petitioning for a Dept. of Labor investigation into #badmin's #HigherEd employment practices. We're almost halfway home. At this rate, we'll be off the charts soon! Keep up the good work, folks. SHARE SHARE SHARE!

      In solidarity,

      Ann

    24. 150 supporters on our first day!

      Ann Kottner
      Petition Organizer

      Keep up the good work, folks, and spead this around. We'll have 500 signatures in no time!

    25. First milestone!

      Ann Kottner
      Petition Organizer

      Less than 24 hours and we're more than a fifth of the way to our goal of 500 signatures. Keep sharing, everybody!

    Supporters

    Reasons for signing

    • Maddie Butler INDIANOLA, IA
      • 24 days ago

      Im going to be one of those professors. This is not the type of life i want to look forward to. And as a college student, it is my responsibility to make sure that the money I am spending on my education is actually going towards my education.

      REPORT THIS COMMENT:
    • amy atkins WESTERLO, NY
      • 24 days ago

      I have a friend who is a very very good professor and is barely getting by. She's not the only one. It's not right.

      REPORT THIS COMMENT:
    • Katie Reichert OKLAHOMA CITY, OK
      • 25 days ago

      I am an adjunct. I make 1137$ a month for teaching 3 English Comp courses. This pay for this amount of work (four essays per semester with 90 students) is criminal, inhumane treatment of very dedicated employees. My mother has taught for over 20 years for the same university (Comp 1 & 2) and never received benefits or a raise.

      REPORT THIS COMMENT:
    • Josanne Wayman CANYON COUNTRY, CA
      • 25 days ago

      Having worked as a secondary school teacher for 25 years, I know how exhausting teaching can be. I had the support of a great union, I don't know how adjuncts do it.

      REPORT THIS COMMENT:
    • Martin Knowles KINGSTON, NY
      • 25 days ago

      I care about people being paid a fair wage for their contribution to the betterment of our communities.

      REPORT THIS COMMENT:

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