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

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

This petition had 11,166 supporters
Lee Kottner started this petition to David Weil, Dir., Wage and Hour Div., U.S. Dept. of Labor

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

Petition Closed

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