Are Adjuncts the New Fast Food Workers?

From Capital and Main:

Patti Donze is a California State University, Dominguez Hills sociology lecturer doing everything right to become a tenured college professor. She has advanced degrees from well-respected universities and is teaching a full load of five classes this semester. But her net income is $2,500 a month, just barely enough to buy food and pay rent on a studio apartment in Culver City.

She has $50,000 in school loan debt — not an extreme amount considering the Juris Doctorate and Ph.D. that she has under her belt, but she said it’s not feasible to pay even the minimum monthly payment and is researching loan forgiveness programs.

Besides fast-food workers, there is another face of low-wage workers across the country. For many universities and colleges, both public and private, it’s their most embarrassing secret — paying educated professionals minimum wage salaries with no benefits. Adjuncts are paid much less than tenured and full-time faculty and typically do not have union representation.

For many adjuncts, banding together to speak up is one approach to winning better pay, benefits and some job security, such as longer and more stable contracts. These are the aims of academic unions and the New Faculty Majority, an advocacy organization committed to bringing about income equality for all college faculty in areas where unions are weak.

Adrianna Kezar, a professor at the University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education and co-director of the Delphi Project on the Changing Faculty and Student Success, is an expert on change and leadership in higher education. She believes the unionization movement has been the big catalyst for the recent focus on unfair working conditions for these highly qualified educators.

“Fifty percent of the faculty in our country make what somebody at McDonald’s makes,” she said, adding that more and more adjuncts are going on public assistance and needing food stamps to survive.

Last year in California, Local 1021 of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) began an intense campaign to organize adjunct faculty members in the Bay Area and Los Angeles, part of a national Adjunct Action campaign that is taking place in American cities. (Disclosure: Both SEIU 1021 and the California Faculty Association are financial supporters of Capital & Main.)

Recently unionized schools in the Bay Area include St. Mary’s College, Dominican University, Mills College, San Francisco Art Institute and the California College of the Arts are all in various stages of unionizing. In the Los Angeles region, Whittier College, Laguna College of Art + Design and Otis College of Art and Design have voted to unionize, with the faculty at the California Institute of the Arts voting on the matter in March.

Read the full story here.