Inside look at the adjunct struggle
Being an adjunct is hard. Unfair wages, few benefits, and little job security leaves many questioning their career choice. We talked to an adjunct professor at Loyola University Chicago to see what it takes to make life work as a part-time instructor.
Alyson Paige Warren teaches in the English department at Loyola, but she also teaches at Columbia College and a nonprofit called High Jump, as well as writing and illustrating children’s books.
While Warren has a masters degree and works three jobs, she still struggles to make ends meet.
Take a look at what a week in the life of her busy schedule is like below.
Warren spends more than 40 hours a week teaching, grading, and planning lessons. This does not account for her time spent commuting, or freelancing.
Loyola pays Warren $4,500 per semester per course. Columbia pays her $4,100.
That means, based on her current schedule, Warren makes around $17,600 a semester teaching at two universities. That’s a salary of around $35,000 a year, with no health insurance, retirement plan, or job security.
Because Warren is an adjunct, she won’t know if the university chooses to rehire for the next semester until a couple weeks before the term starts. Usually, this is too late to look for another job if the university does not rehire her for another term of teaching. Warren has been teaching at Loyola for 10 years, which means she has been let go and rehired every semester for 20 semesters.
The use of contingent faculty has been in the news more and more. But it can be hard to keep up with all the academic terms. Use the graphic below for a quick reference when you feel lost in all the terminology.
Steven Hurlburt, in a study by the American Institute for Research, documented how the shift towards more contingent faculty in the academic workforce affected students.
Hurlburt found that contingent faculty made up at least 50 percent of instructors at public research universities and more than 80 percent of instructors at public community colleges.
He also found that “Colleges and universities with higher shares of students at risk of noncompletion also have higher shares of contingent faculty, particularly among private four-year institutions.”
Warren explains how these findings are not shocking to adjuncts, and why issues like these led to a strike on Loyola’s campus.
On April 4th, some adjuncts, as well as many non-tenured and tenured faculty, canceled classes and came together on Loyola’s Lake Shore campus to strike. This followed the previous night’s failed negotiations which have been ongoing for two years.
SEIU, the university’s adjunct and NTT faculty union, has been negotiating for higher salaries, more benefits, and job security on behalf of its members. The negotiations failed after the university refused to add a clause that would allow the union to collect dues.
While the strike was supported by many, some felt the strikers were being difficult, and that the administration was working to reach an agreement. Some argued that it would be impossible for the university to offer all its instructors tenure, and having adjuncts allows the university to continually hire better and brighter staff.
Loyola’s administration condemned the strike by issuing multiple emails to students.
In their emails, they condemned instructors who were on strike for “disrupting students education.” They also presented a list of changes they offered to the union prior to the strike.
The administration stated in their emails that they offered a 33-35 percent pay raise, as well as longer appointments for both part-time and full-time nontenure-track faculty. While these changes were what many union members had been asking for, they stated that the university’s refusal to add a clause about the collection of dues is what led the deal to fall apart.
Following the strike, the university sat down with the union again for another bargaining session. The night of April 16, a tentative agreement was reached.
Matthew Williams, a lecturer in the department of sociology, believed that striking was crucial in pushing the university towards a more productive bargaining session.
“By the end of this process, after we struck, the administration was very eager to reach an agreement, but at the start, they were stonewalling,” He says. “Their strategy as far as we could tell was to stall until we went away… and we didn’t go away” – Matthew Williams
The new contract made the Loyola College of Arts and Science instructors some of the highest paid in the Chicago area, giving them a 38-40 percent increase in pay. It also established a new classification of part-time faculty known as “adjunct instructors” who would have two-year appointments.
This new contract had to be voted on by the members of the SEIU union and Loyola’s Board of Trustees before it could be ratified.
The vote count for the Union was carried out on April 25, with 97 percent voting in favor of the new contract. Union members felt the new contract represented a significant step forward for both part-time and full-time NTT faculty.
Williams said that the new contract would boost the pay of adjuncts from $4,500 to $6,200 per class for those with a Ph.D. or masters, and from $4,000 to $5600 for those without. He also said that those who meet the requirements for the new “adjunct instructor” title will receive $6,800 per class. That is a 51% increase from the initial adjunct pay.
Most importantly for union members, the university agreed to a less broad management rights clause that allowed the union to regularly collect dues, and thus be able to function.
Finally, the issue of job security for adjuncts was addressed. The university agreed to move most adjuncts away from semester-to-semester appointments to one or two-year contracts. These contracts would also be renewed unless the instructor was shown to have serious misconduct or incompetence issues. The university also added that they would be able to bar a contract from renewal if an exceptional individual expressed interest in the job which would be a disservice to students if they were passed up.
Warren said she was thrilled that the union was able to reach an agreement with Loyola administration.
“I am proud of what we were able to accomplish and eager to get ot wok implementing the strengths of the contracts in meaningful ways moving forward” – Paige Warren
Loyola’s Board of Trustees will vote on ratifying the contract during their next meeting on June 8.