Petition Closed
Petitioning Faculty Member, Northern Virginia Community College Dr. Jill Biden and 7 others

Tell Vice President Biden: Don't Blame Faculty for the High Cost of College; Majority Are Underpaid and Unsupported

Friday the 13th, 2012 was truly an unlucky day for college faculty when Vice President Joe Biden characterized them as supposedly overpaid and a major reason for the high cost of college. In fact, the majority of college and university professors in America, commonly known as adjuncts, now work as perpetually temporary, part-time laborers for poverty level wages, little to no eligibility for paid sick leave or health benefits, and almost no access to the basic tools of the profession, such as offices in which to meet students or computers on which to do their work. One college administrator has even admitted that "Wal-Mart is a more honest employer of part-time employees than are most colleges and universities," and that higher education has created a faculty comprising “a highly educated working poor.”

Mr. Biden claimed that “[s]alaries for college professors have escalated significantly” to $100,000. In fact, what has escalated is the number of these so-called “part-time” faculty, who together with graduate students constitute over 60.5% of the teaching faculty (often 80% at community colleges). Their average pay is $25,000 or less per year for having the same teaching loads and teaching responsibilities as their full-time colleagues. The number of part time faculty has grown by more than 280% between 1975 and 2009.

While some adjuncts are high profile, highly compensated professionals teaching on the side like then-Senator Biden when he taught at Widener University Law School, the more common profile of the adjunct is someone who can only truly afford to teach if s/he has independent income and who would not be able to repay any student loan debt on an adjunct salary alone (or get access to loan forgiveness programs because adjuncts are classified as “part time”). Adjuncts are treated like academic day laborers (remember the Doonesbury cartoons in the 90s?) but unlike other seasonal workers they are often denied unemployment insurance in between academic terms.

Adjuncts cannot support a family or attain middle class status based on the compensation structure currently in place at colleges and universities, so most are dependent on their families for economic support, and some even rely on public assistance. Yet they are dedicated professionals charged with teaching critical first and second year and remedial courses, so this means the most vulnerable students are most likely to get the least supported professors.

If only Vice President Biden had gotten some facts to share with those concerned parents and students! According to the Delta Cost Project, a nonprofit organization that has studied college costs, “over time there has been a gradual shift of resources away from instruction and towards general administrative and academic infrastructure.” It also reports that “institutions enrolling the most students spend the least on their education.”

Fortunately the news from Pennsylvania is not all bad;  Vice President Biden was right to say that “money is going into things that have nothing to do with student advancement.” And he was right to advise his audience to “challenge authority” and “not to accept orthodoxy” when faced with situations that need to be changed. Take his advice and sign this petition in order to demand that policymakers educate themselves about college faculty working conditions, work to stop colleges from exploiting faculty, and meet with advocates for adjunct faculty.  Remember:  faculty working conditions are student learning conditions!

Letter to
Faculty Member, Northern Virginia Community College Dr. Jill Biden
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan
Commissioner for the National Center for Education Statistics Jack Buckley
and 5 others
Vice President of the United States Joe Biden
Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis
Senior VP, American Council on Education Terry W. Hartle
U.S. House of Representatives
U.S. Senate
I just signed the following petition addressed to: Vice President Joe Biden.

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Dear Vice President Biden,

At a speech in Pennsylvania on Friday, January 13, you spoke movingly about the effect of the erosion of the middle class on families’ college aspirations. You said, “There’s nothing that a parent worries about more than not being able to provide what their kid is entitled to,” like a college education. However, you attributed the high cost of college to the “escalating” cost of faculty salaries. As an example, you claimed that the average salary of a college professor in the early 90s was $39,000 and that now the average salary is $100,000.

We are deeply troubled that you are perpetuating this dangerous myth. In fact, the majority of college and university professors in America, commonly known as adjuncts, now work as perpetually temporary, part-time academic laborers for poverty level wages, little to no eligibility for paid sick leave or health benefits, and almost no access to the basic tools of the profession, such as offices in which to meet students or computers on which to do their work. So-called “part-time” faculty, together with graduate students, constitute over 60.5% of the teaching faculty (often 80% at community colleges). Their average pay is $25,000 or less per year for having the same teaching loads and teaching responsibilities as their full-time colleagues.

One college administrator has even admitted that "Wal-Mart is a more honest employer of part-time employees than are most colleges and universities," and that higher education has created a faculty comprising “a highly educated “working poor.” Adjuncts cannot support a family or attain middle class status based on the compensation structure currently in place at colleges and universities, so most are dependent on their families for economic support, and some even rely on public assistance. Yet they are dedicated professionals charged with teaching critical first and second year and remedial courses. This means the most vulnerable students get the least supported professors.

While some adjuncts are high profile, highly compensated professionals teaching on the side like you did when you taught at Widener University Law School, the more common profile of the adjunct is someone who can only truly afford to teach if s/he has independent income and someone who would not be able to repay student loan debt on an adjunct salary alone (or get access to loan forgiveness programs because they are erroneously classified as “part time”). Adjuncts are treated like academic day laborers (remember the Doonesbury cartoons in the 90s?) but unlike seasonal workers they are often denied unemployment insurance in between academic terms.

You and your colleagues in the administration have made many public statements about the importance of a college education to democracy and economic stability. You have also asserted the need to revive and reinvest in the middle class. Yet the practice of exploiting adjunct faculty by denying them professional working conditions teaches students that education is not valuable and that the profession of college teaching is not a viable path to the middle class.

We are asking you to educate yourself about the real working conditions of the majority of the faculty at colleges and universities in this country, and to commit to working with professors, students, legislators, and colleges to end the exploitation of adjunct faculty in the United States. Among the concrete steps that you and this administration can take:

• Follow the example of California and direct all states to understand that the "reasonable assurance of continued employment" clause in federal unemployment law should not be used to deny unemployment insurance to adjunct faculty without continuing contracts

• Immediately include part-time faculty for eligibility for student loan forgiveness programs

• Require colleges and universities to keep and report to the National Center for Education Statistics comprehensive and accurate data about adjunct faculty

• Require colleges and universities to disclose to the public the numbers and compensation structures of adjunct faculty so that they can make informed choices about the schools to which they will pay tuition

• Require colleges and universities to provide adequate private office space in which faculty can meet with students in order to preserve students’ federally mandated right to confidentiality

• Don’t just meet with college presidents – meet with faculty, including groups like New Faculty Majority, a new national nonprofit working to improve educational quality by working for fair working conditions for all faculty. Send representatives to “Reclaiming Academic Democracy: Facing the Consequences of Contingent Employment in Higher Education: A National Summit” being held in Washington DC on January 28 hosted by the New Faculty Majority Foundation,.

Mr. Vice President, for decades adjunct faculty have been prominent among the people “worrying about not being able to provide” for themselves and their families. While no one can take away their education, higher education has taken away their path to the middle class and jeopardized the integrity of their profession. Please make ending the exploitation of faculty a priority of this and all future administrations!

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Sincerely,